I’m getting frustrated again. Why? You ask. (If you don’t ask, I can’t finish this essay – so I’ll presume you did.) Also, I want to ask the reader to finish this essay; especially if the reader does not agree with the observations, deductions and comments herein. Seriously, if the reader disagrees, I would like to know – and with some degree of reasoning, not just comments such as ‘Is not!’ or ‘That’s not what my Momma said’. Accusations of heresy are welcome, as long as the accuser can explain and argue the heresy.
It seems – and I should emphasize the word ‘seems’ – Christians are afraid of what the Bible reports. There are two embarrassing passages in the Bible that are largely ignored and superficially appears to conflict with current scientific knowledge.
Before I continue, allow me to recommend Second Timothy 1:7 “For God did not give us a Spirit but of power and love and self-control.” For a Christian, God does not incite fear in the meaning of panic and running away – not to be confused with fear as respect.
The reason they are afraid is that many modern exponents – the ‘experts’ – of the Bible claim the Bible is scientifically reliable and conforms to science – in some cases has superior scientific knowledge to current theories.
The main passage I wish to discuss is in the first part of the 38th Chapter of the book of Isaiah the Prophet. The King James Version presents as follows:
1. [new paragraph] In those days was Hezekiah sick unto death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came unto him, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order: for thou shalt die, and not live.
2. Then Hezekiah turned his face toward the wall, and prayed unto the LORD,
3. And said, Remember now, O LORD, I beseech thee, how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight. And Hezekiah wept sore.
4. [new paragraph] Then came the word of the LORD to Isaiah, saying,
5. Go, and say to Hezekiah, Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years.
6. And I will deliver thee and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria: and I will defend this city.
7. And this shall be a sign unto thee from the LORD, that the LORD will do this thing that he hath spoken;
8. Behold, I will bring again the shadow of the degrees, which is gone down in the sun dial of Ahaz, ten degrees backward. So the sun returned ten degrees, by which degrees it was gone down.
Synopsis of events.
Hezekiah was King of Judah, the southern kingdom of what was once the complete nation of Israel. He is listed as the thirteenth king of Judah in the span of 715 to 687 B. C. Hezekiah was king roughly one hundred years prior to the total conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians about 587 B. C.
Hezekiah became ill, seemingly an infection of some sort. The details are not known, other than God told the prophet Isaiah that Hezekiah would die as a result. Hezekiah appealed to God and God granted Hezekiah another fifteen years of life. Additionally, God gave Hezekiah a ‘sign’ as a promise Hezekiah would live and not die immediately. The ‘sign’ – miracle, wonder, public display – was the shadow of the sun on the ‘steps’ (which seem to indicate a set of stairs in the palace which were built to serve as a sundial, or was perhaps just a sundial) would reverse and ‘go back’ ten ‘steps’ or ‘degrees’.
The last verse shown here says, “So the sun returned ten degrees…” which literally means the sun went backward. Yes. It says the sun went backward. Please feel free to check an interlinear Bible (original Hebrew text shown in one line with English translation on the corresponding line below). If that isn’t convenient, check out www.blueletterbible.org and look at the passage; use the Strong’s Lexicon to check on the individual words.
Another passage dealing with the arrangement of the solar system is Joshua 10: 12 to 15. Please look it up and read it. For best effect, read it in the King James Version. This passage in Joshua sketches a battle between Israel (after leaving Egypt and prior to setting up in Canaan) and the Amorite forces. Joshua asks the Lord for help and the Lord extends the hours of daylight; verse 13 says, “So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and hastened not to go down about a whole day.”
These Biblical references reinforced the deeply held belief (developed by Aristotle and Ptolemy) the Earth was the center of the solar system and the Sun orbited the Earth. See, it says so right ‘there’. This, by the way, was the heresy of Galileo Galilei and Nicolaus Copernicus, about one hundred years prior to Galileo. Both Copernicus and Galileo discovered by experiment and observation the Sun was the center of the solar system.
Current astronomical observations indicate the Sun is the center of our solar system and the Earth orbits the Sun. (Nikky and Galileo were right.) So it isn’t possible with our understanding for the Sun to move backward or just stop. The Sun really doesn’t move in this sense; the apparent movement of the Sun is due exclusively to the rotation of the Earth.
This is the point at which my Christian colleagues panic. Especially the ones who heretofore have claimed the infallible nature of the Bible make information in the Bible superior to any science.
This ‘panic’ reveals in one of several ways.
1. They see that, throw up their hands and give up on the Bible as obviously fraudulent. This isn’t very common among seasoned believers, but it does happen. It is really common among non-believers as ‘proof’ of the unreliable nature of the Bible.
2. They claim the astronomers are wrong and the Earth really is the center of the Universe, the Sun orbits the Earth. This was the view of most people in Western Civilization since the time of Aristotle. Christianity was no exception, by the way. If one remembers as a child, that’s the reasonable observation. In fact as adults we all use the expressions of ‘sun up’ or ‘when the sun comes up’ and so forth. (At least in English, I rather imagine the same is true to some degree in other languages as well.) This is one of the reasons the Roman Catholic Church arrested Galileo; he discovered – and published publicly – the Sun was the center of the solar system, contradicting the Bible and was thereby guilty of heresy.
This view was not confined to the 17th Century or so, either. There was a very famous sermon preached by a remarkable man named John Jasper in 1882 called “The Sun Do Move!” That sermon cites the above references and a couple more: Ecclesiastes 1:5 “The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down…”; Psalms 1:1, 113:3 both refer to the ‘rising and setting’ of the Sun; Judges 14:18 “Before the sun went down…” also indicates movement on the part of the Sun.
I note the Roman Catholic Church has changed their position. Pope John Paul II apologized to Galileo Galilei for the Church’s error in 1633. The Pope made the statement on 1 November 1992.
3. The commonest response of modern Christians to this information is to simply ignore it. Pretend it isn’t there. Don’t see nothing. Sometimes I get the answer, ‘That doesn’t mean anything’, but the reaction is usually more deceptive than that. “Let me look into it and get back to you with a studied response rather than an off the cuff answer.” I always agree and they never ‘get back’ to me. Never. Not once. I don’t know if they ‘look into it’ or not.
This last, commonest response is the one I find the most distressing. The ‘ignore it’ response is a panic reaction based on total inability to face reality. The Almighty God who created the Universe from absolutely nothing has nothing to fear. Not to mention the phrase ‘Fear not!’ is used so very often in the Bible, especially the teachings of Jesus. (For a long time I’ve felt the phrase rendered in the modern tongue is probably closer to “Don’t Panic”.)
Once again, Second Timothy 1:7, “For God did not give us a Spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control.” A Christian should not fear the truth – even if it seems uncomfortable. (Which is not to encourage a foolhardy attitude, but that’s a different discussion.)
Somewhere along here, the typical Christian – if they haven’t run in panic by now – will ask or accuse me of denying the Bible. I don’t. I cherish the Bible and trust it as being the message of God that I actually read it and don’t skip over the controversial parts.
I fully believe the events reported were reported exactly as the writer saw and understood them. Yes, I trust the fact the Sun stayed in the sky for Joshua’s battle with the Amorites. I have no doubts or qualms about the ‘shadow’ of the Sun ‘moving back’. But the conclusion of the witnesses regarding the movement of the Sun around the Earth is not justified. I also know that doesn’t happen. So do most Christians, actually.
So why do these various passages appear in the Bible?
As a Christian, I believe in the ‘inspiration’ of the Bible; as well as ‘Divine revelation’ and efficacy, sufficiency and even authority and ‘infallibility’. So the Bible is exactly what God caused to be written and preserved as a message. It is exactly what God wanted said.
So, what is the purpose of the Bible? The Bible explains who is God. The Bible explains the existence of the Universe and the relationship between God and the Universe. The Bible then explains who man is, and the relationship between God and man. The Bible explains the problem of sin and most importantly, what God did to fix the problem of sin, man and the broken relationship between God and man.
However, the Bible is NOT the book of everything. There are no instructions for repairs or adjustments to automobiles. No recipes for brownies. It is NOT a complete history of the Universe or even the Earth (note neither the Chinese nor the Celts are mentioned.) Finally, to put a fine edge on this, the Bible is NOT a scientific textbook explaining all the workings of the Universe. Why not? Because that was not God’s intent in giving the Bible to humanity.
That’s why the confusion between those who claim ‘…the Bible says…’ and Galileo. At times, ‘…the Bible says…’ faction try to make the Bible into something it is not. I find that futile and tragic. Remember the Lord’s comments about ‘…stiff necked Jews…’? I really think He says the same thing about ‘stiff necked Christians’ as well.
The passages which speak about observations of the Sun ‘moving’ in ways not normally seen are absolutely true from the standpoint of the witnesses. These are NOT made up stories; they are not fairy-tales or conspiracies. The only error is the human error of misperception. So why did God allow this misperception in the inspiration of both writing and assembly of the Bible? The God who sees all, knows all, and orchestrates all actions of man, beast and nature surely didn’t just let these bit ‘slip by’, did He? I cannot think so.
I think they are just to remind us – to tell us – the Bible is not other than what He wants it to be; His message to us about how to get along with Him.
You know , of course, this means war. (Thanks, Bugs.)
Not so much the killing and slashing sort of war, but there are going to be many, many people who won’t agree to any of this, simply because it means they have been (taught) wrong all their life and they are comfortable with the rather minor gaffe. I expect a period of ‘denial’ and ‘adjustment’. How long with the ‘denial and adjustment phase go on? Check with Galileo.
I will no doubt be attacked for ‘heresy’, despite all the evidence in the Bible. The real offense in this is telling people what they do not want to hear. So many Christians are ‘comfortable’ in their world of belief. That’s a good thing, by the way; a Christian needs to be comfortable in God through the power of the Holy Spirit. It gets to be a bad thing when a Christian limits himself to certain boundaries, the boundaries of comfort.
Acknowledging this slight change in doctrine will NOT result in anyone losing their salvation. No one will be kicked out of Heaven, no one will be shunted off to Hell. No Bishops or pastors will be defrocked. There will probably be a rise in taxes, but that has nothing to do with this. There will be some books re-printed. The ‘serious theologians’ will be able to argue about this and write books for years. And attitudes on the limitation of God’s authority and power will be challenged.
Most Christians limit God by their understanding of God. Essentially, if I cannot understand how God works according to you, then you are incorrect in your belief. Or in other words, if I believe God is ‘this big’ and I’m comfortable with it, then you demonstrate God is ‘bigger’, I’m uncomfortable with it. Hopefully, I’ll adjust and realize God is much bigger than I thought. (Which He is, and I’ve ‘adjusted’ several times now.)
My late father was a Christian, rather devout and a proud (yes, proud) fundamentalist. One day while watching something on television about scientific investigations in the history of the Universe, the program was talking about the Big Bang Theory (the Cosmological model, not the comedy show). As they finished explaining how this theory was derived, and what calculations, observations and ‘stuff’, my father stated it was all “…a bunch of hooey.” I thought it made sense, so I asked him why he thought as he did.
His explanation was simple and to the point: They didn’t even mention God. Which, to my father was denying God’s existence.
So I asked my father, “How much is two and two?”
He looked at me with that expression of “…kid’s gone around the curve again…” and carefully said, “Four”.
I replied, “You didn’t say ‘God says two and two is four’, did you?”
He looked away and said, “That’s different”. I asked him why it was different. If we are to give God the credit for the laws of physics, aren’t we to give God the credit for the laws of arithmetic?
My father felt ‘tricked’ of course. Only his view of God was really valid and counted, certainly not the view of his son, who was a dumb kid anyway and thinks he’s too smart for his own good. However, I did see a hint of him considering the proposition. Why is arithmetic so different from the origin of the Universe? Is it possible we don’t think of God as the reality behind arithmetic because we use arithmetic all the time? Is it possible that arithmetic is more familiar than the origin of space-time?
Along this line of thought, why is not having sexual relations with a person not one’s spouse part of God’s moral law, and drawing to an inside straight is just good sense? Isn’t ‘good sense’ part of being created in God’s image? Or one of the abilities God issued and expects us to use?
Is God big enough to orchestrate the scientific view of the Universe? Or is God bound by my knowledge?
Is God bound by your knowledge?