Wednesday, September 29, 2010

How Did Lions Become Carnivores?

Biblegems #8
Question: How did lions become carnivores?

This is a great question from one of our Friendship kids!
What makes it such a great question is that it reveals an understanding that man and animals were not always carnivorous (Gen. 1:29-30). If they were, then death would have been part of the original creation, as evolutionary science teaches, not the later result of man’s sin (Rom. 6:23). And if evolutionary science were correct on that point, then Jesus’ death on the cross would be meaningless. As Paul writes in Romans, “so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 5:12).

So, what does the Bible have to say about how (and when) lions and other animals became carnivores?

First, we know that lions were strictly plant-eating animals when God first created them. Genesis 1:30 says, “And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. And it was so.” This was true of the first human beings as well. Verse 29 reads, “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Secondly, we know that man was given permission by God to eat meat following the Great Flood: “Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything” (Gen. 9:3). We also know that animals were already eating meat by that time (Gen. 9:5-6).

It seems clear then that lions and other carnivorous animals began eating meat sometime between Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden and the worldwide Flood. Does that mean that a physical change took place in lions—the development of fangs and talons, for example—that made them capable of killing and eating other animals? It’s certainly possible, even as God caused thorns and thistles to grow where once only beautiful, healthful vegetation had grown (Gen. 3:18).

But it is equally, if not more, likely that animals such as lions were originally created with that carnivorous capability. God knew that Adam and Eve’s sin would radically change the balance of life across the planet, and that the struggle for survival would come to play a key role in the animal realm as well as the human realm. Although God’s command to man to rule over wildlife had never been rescinded, man’s ability to do so without force came to an end after the Fall. Man’s disobedience to God turned the garden-like earth into a dangerous place; and God probably prepared the animal realm in advance for surviving in that deadly new world.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Seven… Sevens… or Seven Pairs? in Genesis 7:2

Biblegems #7

In the account of Noah bringing animals into the ark, Bible translators seem to have some difficulty accurately conveying into English the number of clean animals that were to board the ark. Genesis 7:2 in the KJV reads:
      “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female…

The English Standard Version (ESV) reads,
      “Take with you seven pairs of all clean animals,* the male and his mate…

The question is, which translation —“sevens” or “seven pairs” best reflects the Hebrew? To muddy the waters just a little more, lets see how some other translations have handled the question.

The Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) uses a double adjective, “seven-seven (hepta hepta), male and female…,” while the New English (NET) translates it “seven of every kind of clean animal, the male and its mate…” The Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) reads, “seven pairs, a male and its female…” and the New International (NIV) has “seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate…”

Why is there so much variation? The answer to that question brings up a key sticking point of any translation from one language to another: When do you translate exactly, word for word, and when do you sacrifice exact wording to accurately communicate the sense? To show how difficult that can be at times, here is Genesis 7:2 taken from the NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament, vol. 1:
      “From-every-of the animal the clean you take with you seven seven male and mate–of-him…”

Translating word for word is not a simple matter, and often not possible at all because of how languages are structured differently from one another. However, the Hebrew clearly indicates that seven males and seven females of each kind of clean animal were to board the ark. Each of the translations listed above seek to reflect that fact, some using the principle of keeping as close to the Hebrew wording as possible, others using the principle of conveying the Hebrew meaning as accurately as possible.

What a motivation to pray for those whom God has called to the important ministry of Bible translation!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

NT Near-Quotes From The OT

Bible-gems #6
Have you ever wondered why so many New Testament “quotes” from the Old Testament are different from the Old Testament itself—sometimes vastly different?

A good example is John 12:39-40:
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.”

The apostle John cites Isaiah 6:9-10, especially verse 10, as he reflects back on the first Palm Sunday when many in the crowds that day still did not believe Jesus was the Messiah, despite the miracles they had witnessed with their own eyes (Jn. 12:37).

However, the passage in Isaiah 6:10 reads a little differently in the Old Testament:
“ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”

Why is there this difference? For that matter, this same reference in Isaiah is referred to two other times in the New Testament, once by Jesus (Matthew 13:15) and once by the apostle Paul. Each time the passage is not quoted exactly as it is found in the Old Testament. Again, why not?

John, Jesus and Paul are seeing the prophecy in Isaiah as being fulfilled before their very eyes. In each case, they apply the truth of Isaiah’s prophetic message while changing the wording (not the meaning) enough to fit their particular circumstances. The truth was, the Jewish people had become spiritually blind and deaf, and would remain so even to the coming of the Messiah, the “Holy Seed,” in the midst of a desolate existence (v. 13). Jesus and the apostles were not intending to quote Isaiah word for word, but to paraphrase the passage as an application to their specific circumstances.

We often do the same: “He will never leave you or forsake you,” we say to someone in need of encouragement, applying the truth—but changing the wording—of Hebrews 13:5: “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you

When the New Testament authors use this “applicational” approach to Scripture, they do so under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Consequently, God Himself guarantees the Truth is being conveyed accurately, even if the words are altered for the occasion. The New Testament application of Old Testament Truth becomes Scripture itself. God, the author of His Word, has the privilege of rewording to get His point across.

The Isaiah passage highlights just one type of New Testament uses of Old Testament passages. Below are a few more ways the New Testament writers handle the Old Testament under the inspiration of God’s Spirit.

Often, in fact usually, the NT writers quote from the Greek translation of the OT (the LXX), because Greek was the common language of the day. If the apostles needed to clarify the wording of the Greek version they frequently amended the common translation by inserting a more literal wording from the original Hebrew where needed, sometimes translating the Hebrew themselves. A modern preacher uses this same technique, clarifying a portion of Scripture in an English translation by inserting the original Greek and its more literal (or more colloquially useful) translation for his listeners.

Sometimes an OT idea or teaching is being drawn out in the NT by condensing an OT verse or taking a familiar OT phrase and allowing the abbreviated reference to trigger the listeners recall of the larger passage. This use of Scripture was a common teaching device called the remez. Again, we use similar teaching aids when we use Scriptural phrases like “the blood of the Lamb” or “every knee shall bow,” expecting that our hearers will fill in the blanks in their own minds.

The New Testament treats the Old Testament as “living and active,” not wooden and stagnant. It never changes the Truth, but always seeks to apply it in a fresh and meaningful way.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The “Sons of Korah”

Biblegems #5

Question: Who are the "sons of Korah"?

Psalm 42 is the first of eleven Psalms in the Bible authored by the “Sons of Korah” (42—49; 84; 87; 88). This Psalm opens with the beautiful words that have often been applied to new music over the centuries, As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. But this longing testifies of a time when the Jewish people were cut off from their homeland (v. 6) and abused by their captors (v.3, 9-10). Leading worship in the temple was a memory for the psalmist (v. 4); and it was this painful reality that brought forth the words, My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (v.2).

Who are these Sons of Korah, writing during one of Israel’s long periods of captivity, long after king David’s reign? How did they come to the privileged place of composing psalms under the inspiration of God’s Spirit that would minister to future generations from the pages of God’s Word?

Korah was a descendent of Levi. The sons of Korah were Assir, Elkanah and Abiasaph. These were the Korahite clans (Ex. 6:24). Korah, like his brothers, Rueben and Simeon, wrestled with a strong rebellious streak all his life. It cost him (and his brothers) their inheritance (Gen 49:3-8), and the tribes descending from Rueben and Simeon eventually became absorbed by the other tribes.

Levi’s descendants faced this same prospect as well. However, by God’s grace, the tribe of Levi was appointed by Moses to assist Aaron in his duties as Israel’s priest, and ultimately became Israel’s priesthood clan, entrusted with overseeing the worship and the care of the temple. Even so, Korah abused this position of trust by organizing a rebellion against Moses in the Wilderness, for which he and his followers were all killed (Numb. 16). That might have ruined any future ministry for his Sons. But they had not engaged as a clan in the uprising. Once again, God’s grace intervened and they were allowed to continue serving the Lord in the sanctuary.

As Israel’s worship leaders, the Sons of Korah would bring more to the worship experience over the years than simply guiding thousands through the rituals of worship in the Temple services. God used the often trying life-experiences these descendants of Levi endured to bring from the depths of the heart a hunger for God’s presence that resonate in our own hearts to this day.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Who Are “Those Two”? Proverbs 24:21-22 (NKJV)

Biblegems #4

Question: In the New King James Version, Proverbs 24:21-22 reads, My son, fear the LORD and the king; Do not associate with those given to change; For their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin those two can bring? Who are “those two” in verse 22?

The New King James provides some clarification over the KJV, which reads, My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?

The confusion likely comes from our misunderstanding of another phrase in verse 21, “those given to change” (lit., “people who change1).When the proverb says, “Do not associate with those given to change,” reference is being made to those people who don’t fear the LORD or the king and are willing to rebel against (change) their laws. Verse 21 teaches, then, to fear both God and the government, and not to hang out with people who are inclined to rebel against either one. The NIV seeks to make this idea in verse 21 very clear: “Fear the LORD and the king, my son, and do not join with the rebellious…”

Both the apostle Peter and Paul draw from this verse in their instruction to believers to honor both God and the government in everyday life. Peter says, “Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king” (1 Pet. 2:17). In similar fashion, the apostle Paul writes, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. …Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves” (Rom. 13:1).

Verse 22 describes what can be expected by those who rebel against God or the government: their calamity will rise suddenly, And who knows the ruin those two can bring? (NKJV) So then, the phrase “those two” refers back to “the LORD and the king” in verse 21. They are the two who will bring great calamity and ruin upon those who rebel against them. What a great word of caution for those who are inclined to justify a rebellious spirit as if such rebellion were pleasing to God!
1 THE EXPOSITOR’S BIBLE COMMENTARY, Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, in loc.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Interpreting Proverbs

Biblegems #3

Question: Is the Book of of Proverbs to be understood literally?

For example, Proberbs 15:1 teaches that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Taken literally, doesn’t this mean that a gentle anger always turns away wrath and that harsh words always stir up anger? The obvious answer seems to be “no,” that this proverb is making a general point. But if that is the case, what does that do to a literal understanding of Scripture?

The Bible is comprised of many different types of writing—history, poetry, instruction, prophecy, teaching, etc. Proverbs is a teaching style. Each kind of literature style has its own rules of interpretation. For example, Matthew 27:5 records that Judas Iscariot, after betraying Jesus, “threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.” The writing style is narrative—it tells us of an event that took place. Mark 16:15, on the other hand, is instruction. Jesus is giving His Great Commission to the church through His disciples: “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” From that instruction the doctrine and practice of evangelism and world missions developed, and rightly so. That was Jesus’ intent and purpose.

Both the Mark passage and the Matthew passage are to be understood literally. Fortunately, however, the purpose of the Matthew 27 narrative was to tell us what happened to Judas, not instruction on what we should do if we make serious mistakes we later regret. The purpose of Jesus’ instruction in Mark 16 was to launch world evangelization. So also, the purpose of the teaching in Proverbs 15:1 is to guide our behavior in a tense interpersonal situation. If this were a prophetic writing style, prophetic rues of interpretation would take over and the passage might be understood to tell us what will happen in the future …but that is not the case. 

Understood literally, as a teaching, God is giving us guidance in how to conduct ourselves in situations where tempers might get out of control. It does not tell us prophetically that every time we respond to someone’s angry outburst that our gentle reply will instantly calm the person down. It does show us what we can do to help turn an ugly situation into one that will honor the Lord and restore peace much better than a shouting match!