In Handling the Hard Passages, Part 1, we looked at why dealing with difficult areas of scripture matters. If you didn't get a chance to read that post yet, it would be beneficial for you to check it out as a foundation to understanding today’s topic. This week I want to take the time to look at some specific hard passages to show not only how to think through difficult questions but also why the answers to these questions are beautiful. We could look at a plethora of different issues, but we only have space for three. We’ll take a look at them in Biblical order.
Creation in Genesis 1
One question is how should we understand the creation account in Genesis 1, especially in light of modern scientific discovers.
Creation isn’t an issue we should just tolerate or be embarrassed by. For us as Christians, scriptural truth hangs upon this doctrine.
Before discussing this issue, we need to make sure we know what the Bible says. I believe in 6 (24 hour) day creation, but how did I come to that conclusion? The world might think this view is crazy but we need to show we have not crazily handled God's word.
Was it a miscommunication, myth, or myth-busting?
We can begin to think through this issue using the C. S. Lewis’s logic of “liar, lunatic, or lord.” Either what Jesus said is not real, He didn’t mean what he said, or He spoke the truth. In the same way, either Genesis is not historical (myth), there were ambiguities that allow for evolution (miscommunication), or it is history that bust myth (myth-busting).
In evaluating these views, we can first ask whether Genesis 1 is a myth. Scholars point out similarities between the Bible and other myths. For instance, both the Bible and those myths mention a firmament. But the myths talk about how a god slices a goddess in half and puts half of her body in the sky and the other half below. With that, the similarities are not that similar. The Israelites would see how different Genesis 1 is from any myth.
The next option is miscommunication. People argue that Genesis is not entirely clear on what a “day” means in the text. However, Genesis 1:5 says,“And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” The term “one” is important. As opposed to “first,” which shows order, “one” tells you what counts as a day: evening and morning (not millions of years). The Bible defines itself. Similarly, people use what's called the gap theory which says there's this big gap in the first verses of Genesis 1. But, if you go through all the instances of parallel grammatical constructions in Hebrew, you'll find out that there are no gaps in any of them. So Genesis doesn’t have the ambiguities people suggest. It is clear.
With that, the option left is myth-busting. Genesis is history. The grammatical style used in Genesis is the same used in other historical accounts. Even more, Moses (Exod 20:11), David (Ps 8:6-8), Isaiah (Isa 45:18), Paul (2 Cor 4:6), Peter (2 Pet 3:5), and Jesus (Matt 19:4-5) read this as history. This shows that what Moses claimed in Genesis is carried consistently through the entire Bible. This is the way we should read it for there is no other true way to do so.
What about science?
At this point we come to the main question, “But what about science, isn't that the problem?” We need to remember that science is fallible. Science reports what it observes but as new factors come to light, their conclusions change. Think of the issues of diet, health, and quantum physics. Developments have occurred in these areas and that should give us some perspective. Even more, origins is not science for it is not a repeatable, observable phenomena. It is more an area of philosophy and history. For these reasons, we must be very careful about elevating science as if it is omniscient. Scripture is the truth (John 17:17) from an all-knowing God (Ps 139:1-4). So we need to be confident that science will just eventually catch up to where the Bible is. We don't need to catch the Bible up to science.
Does this matter?
We might be tempted to brush this issue under the table. But it is important and amazing. The opening chapters of Genesis are the foundation for our understanding of sin (Rom 5:12-13), salvation (2 Cor 5:17), and the promise of Messiah (Gen 3:15; Rom 5:15). Furthermore, they ground our hope for this world since they show that God cares about creation. He made this world very good (Gen 1:31) and has an agenda not only to deal with sin but to make this world good again (Isa 11:1-9).
Creation isn’t an issue we should just tolerate or be embarrassed by. For us as Christians, scriptural truth hangs upon this doctrine. To the unbeliever demoralized by a wicked world, we proclaim the Creator who will resolve evil in this world for He made this world and thus is invested and able to redeem this world. We can be proud in a good sense of this doctrine. It is essential, because it points ultimately to a Creator who loves His creation and loves us enough to save us.
Old Testament law
The Old Testament law is another difficult issue in Scripture. I’ve heard believers and unbelievers ask numerous questions about the law and I can address them briefly here.
Far from being a bygone set of rules, the law is highly relevant and useful.
Is the law weird?
I’ve heard people say things like, “Well, it's just bizarre. I mean, why did they have to dress in a certain way or only eat certain things. That’s just weird.”
Fundamentally, we should remember that the law is meant to teach about God. That is what the word “law” means in Hebrew. Actions speak louder than words and so the law has Israel live in specific ways that testifies to the character of God to both Israel and the world.
This helps us see that the law is not weird but powerfully instructive. For instance, people wonder why the Israelites could not eat pork. I understand—I like my bacon and ham. So why didn't Israel eat pig? In that culture, pigs were thought of as a very unclean animal which was associated with death. Through this law, Israel shows that God is holy even in the most mundane things in life, what we eat or drink. Israel also demonstrates God’s character to the world. They show they don't support death because God is a God of life. The contrast was so clear and distinct that we can see it to this day. Archaeologist use the presence of pig bones to identify if a site is Israelite or not. Even thousands of years later, their witness about the holiness of God carries on. The law was a powerful teacher about who God is.
Is the law still authoritative?
The second common question people ask is, “You Christians say that you're no longer under the law, so doesn't that mean the law was ineffective and has lost its authority? Is part of your Bible not working anymore?” In response, the law claimed that it points people to a time when God would change people’s heart (cf. Deut 30:1-6). So when the law guides people to the New Covenant and are no longer under it, it does not mean the law failed. Rather, the law did exactly what it said and it succeeded. The very fact that we are under the New Covenant proves the law worked. It has enduring authority as it instructs about God and pushes us under the New Covenant (Rom 6:14; Gal 3:21-25).
Why do Christians still adhere to some laws?
Third, people ask, “Why do Christians apply some OT laws and not others?" To an unbeliever, we seem like hypocrites in our selectivity. Some Christians may also wonder why we do not have to live out all the laws of the OT. There's a better way to look at this. As an adult, although you are not under your parent’s rules any longer, the lessons they taught you are still there. You may not now do exactly what your parents asked when you were children, but you live out their intent. In the same way, we have learned much about God and how He demands us to live from the law. We don’t pick and choose what law to live out but rather we learn God’s character from each law and live it out in a corresponding way. That application may not be the same as the letter of the law but it certainly lives out the intent and spirit of the law.
With that, we can see how practical the law is. People might be tempted to be ashamed of the law because it seems cumbersome or weird. But the law teaches us about God’s character, points us to the New Covenant and Christ, and highlights how God’s holiness should shape every point of our lives. Far from being a bygone set of rules, the law is highly relevant and useful.
The Conquest of Canaan
Moving from the law, we encounter the Conquest. Often people will ask, “How could a loving God demand the mass slaughter of men, women and children and the seizure of land?”
Is this really historical?
This is an issue that not only bothers unbelievers but also believers. Some people argue that this really never happened and so God really never ordained such killing. Before answering the question above, we need to make sure we understand what the Bible teaches.
The writers of Scripture consistently view that what happened in the Bible is historical and the basis for theology. Jesus’s historical resurrection is the basis for a theology of hope (1 Cor 15:13-14). His death on the cross is a proof of God’s love (Rom 5:8). The Flood is a demonstration of God’s judgment (2 Pet 3:6). In all these examples, the reality of history anchors the truthfulness of theology. Thus, one would expect that the book of Joshua, written in the same type of language as all these other events, would also be real history that grounds theology. This is how other biblical writers read that passage (1 Kgs 16:34; Heb 11:30-31).
In fact, counter to what some people claim, archaeological evidence exists that supports the biblical account. At the site of Jericho, people have observed a pot amidst a layer of destruction. Archaeologists discovered that this burned pot was filled with grain. This implies that Jericho was destroyed at a point of time, without much of a siege, and soon after the harvest (for the pot was full of grain). That is exactly what the Scripture says (Josh 5:11). So archaeology doesn’t contradict the scriptural record. The biblical account records real events that have left traces to this day.
Aren’t conquests acts of hatred?
That brings us to the original question. How could a loving God do this? We need to remember that our God is not only loving but holy and that this is act is right and just. God decreed that the Conquest was in part an act of judgment against the Canaanite’s sin for centuries (Gen 15:16). He is sovereign over all (Acts 17:26), patient with a wicked people, and judged only when their sin reached a certain point (Gen 15:16). This shows God’s immense fairness.
Even more, the Conquest actually is an act of love. That may surprise us but Scripture declares it. The key question is: “Love for whom?” God gives Israel the land because of His great love for them (Deut 7:7-14). Furthermore, the Conquest is an act of love from Israel to God. In Deut 6:4-5, Moses proclaims that Israel should love God with all their heart. In the next chapter, Moses defines how Israel will display their love. They must kill all the Canaanites otherwise they would draw Israel away from God. Some people think that sparing the Canaanites would surely please a loving God. The opposite is true. That would be the most offensive act to God because it would show you loved the Canaanites more than you loved the God who first loved you. Friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4). Israel is to show God but what they hate.
On top of this, the Conquest is an actually an act of hope. In the Conquest, God demonstrates His ability and agenda to vanquish evil and fulfill His promises. In fact, certain prophesies use language from Joshua to show that God will fulfill the Conquest one day to make the whole world right (cf. Obad 17-21; Rev 16:21). Believers and unbelievers often yearn for justice to be done and for right to win the day. The Conquest is God’s precedent that He can and will do that. However, the reason people become uneasy about this is because right must deal with wrong, and the Conquest proves that all people, not just the seemingly really bad ones, but everyone are all in the wrong. That is what offends but creates an opportunity to share the gospel.
God ordained the Conquest not as His people’s normal practice (cf. Deut 20:1-18) but as a unique event. As such, it simultaneously points to the reality that God will make things right and that we are those who need to be right before a holy God. This is not a passage we should shy away from but bring forth for it thoroughly convicts all.
Hard Passages Have Answers
Don't be embarrassed about the difficulty issues in scripture, you never need to fear. Hard work is required for hard passages. But every time we genuinely study God’s Word, we will find it is not only vindicated but provides the most profound answers to our questions. It is beautiful.