Bible Thumpers Aren’t the Dangerous Ones…

crusades

The use of force in historical Christianity, either by the Church itself or those believers who have acted on behalf of the State, has become more than simply a theological debate. It has also become a point of contention in apologetics as the history of violence by the Church has given atheists and academics grounds for questioning the legitimacy of Christianity. For instance, Sam Harris argues, “A glance at history…reveals that ideas which divide one group of human beings from another, only to unite them in slaughter, generally have their roots in religion.” Painting with such a broad brush is unfair in many respects, yet he is not alone. Professor John Moses notes, “It has been observed that monotheistic religions, with their claim to absolute truth, encourage their adherents to use force to impose their faith…violence therefore, is built into the religious system.” As much as Christians might protest such a statement, Church history admittedly includes the use of inquisitions, the promotion of crusades, and substantial military or social violence from one group of believers against another. While some actions could be justified, many other actions were indefensible. How is it possible that the very Church, which often expects to reign with Christ over the earth (Rev. 20:4), and believes itself to be destined to judge not only the world, but angels as well (I Cor. 6:2-3), could have brought so much suffering and violence to the Middle Ages? The answer deserves a closer look at the sources of both the violence and the reforms in church history. There are more factors at play than can be examined in this short essay, yet one surprising feature stands out with Christianity that flies in the face of modern assumptions. The source of reform in the Church, including the rejection of violence and a more limited scope of the use of force by civil authorities, came from the more fundamentalist side of Christianity. Harris decries those who “believe that the Creator of the universe has written a book,” and blames such beliefs for most of the violence in the world. The argument made here takes an opposite position with respect to Christianity. As this analysis indicates, it was the movements within Christianity to take the Bible more literally, and view the Bible as authoritative, which have in fact been a prime influence toward peace, and have inexorably led away from conflict and toward greater unity. The evidence for this can be seen from the Protestant Reformation to the present.

The Difference-Making Protestant Perspective
Of course, the very idea that placing a high authority on Scripture would lead society in the direction of peace, does not seem to match well with some portions of history or current cultural dogma. It is not without evidence that Harris and others would accuse Bible-believing Christians of being dangerous. Harris calls religious moderation “nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law.” Anyone who does fully submit to God’s law, from his point of view, moves into the realm of religious extremism and violence. This assumption, which sounds true to modern culture, nevertheless struggles to stand up under scrutiny.

There is no doubt, of course, that the Roman Catholic Church and other denominations in the Middle Ages, including Protestants, used coercion, force, and violence. Historian James Wylie wrote about the formation of the Catholic League, noting “the leading object of the League was the restoration of the Popish faith over Germany, and the extirpation of Protestantism. This was to be accomplished by force of arms.” Besides the formation of a military force against the Protestants, the Church eventually began to enforce its authority through inquisitions. Wylie again writes that Inquisitors would “search for heretics in towns, houses, cellars, and other lurking-places…Once discovered, a summary but dreadful ordeal conducted them to the stake.” Protestants and reformers have also been guilty historically of employing violence for their own means. Some like Ulrich Zwingli and Thomas Muntzer openly advocated for military actions. At least some of the Catholic-led Crusades are often held up as evidence of Christian aggression, along with the Protestant-led Salem Witch trials, or other episodes in church history. One scholar notes that during the Middle Ages, “Western peoples came to look upon groups that professed another faith as enemies of the kingdom of God who should be destroyed or converted.” The same author observes “Only one group of Reformers, the Anabaptists, practiced nonresistance.”

Significant theological changes arose with the Reformation movement, however, and those changes began to impact how the Church, and even society, viewed the use of force. What is even more notable is that these changes did not come from a movement away from the Bible, but a greater adherence to it. By this is meant a movement toward the teachings of the Bible as a whole, specifically viewing both the Old and New Testaments, as the Reformers did, as the revealed word of God. Not only did this result in interpreting the Scriptures in the light of the New Testament teachings of Christ, it more importantly meant giving authority to the Scriptures over and above the authority of any person or church.

This was a major characteristic of the Reformation. Prior to the Reformation, not only was the Church itself intertwined with government, something which continued with Protestants as well, but to follow Christ meant specifically to follow the Church. Salvation was attained by performing good works and especially the sacraments. As Millard Erickson writes, “In the historic Catholic view, the sacraments are effective ex opera operato (‘from the work done’) …It indicates that the conferral of grace depends on the act itself.” He summarizes this description by saying, “What all of this amounts to is that salvation is dependent on the church.” As a result, when it came to the Crusades, the Roman Catholic Church presented fighting in the campaign as another work that could earn the blessing and forgiveness of God. One historian notes, “By constructing an ideal of Christian holy war—in which acts of sanctified violence would actually help to cleanse a warrior’s soul of sin—the papacy was opening up a new path to salvation.” The papacy could do this because the Church was viewed as the highest authority. Wylie records that before he was burned at the stake, Jerome was rebuked for referring to the Scriptures. According to Wylie, a Cardinal scornfully mocked Jerome, saying, “The Holy Writings! Is everything to be judged by them? Who can understand them till the Church has interpreted them?”

The exchange highlights the contrast. What drove the Reformation was giving authority back to the Scriptures instead of the Church. Thus, when Martin Luther forcefully argued the case for his ninety-five theses to Sylvester Prierias, he tells Prierias, “You cite no Scripture.” Luther historian Roland Bainton observed, “The radicalism of (Luther’s) tract lies not in its invective but in its affirmation that the pope might err and a council might err and that only Scripture is the final authority.” Indeed, appeal to Scripture became a defining characteristic of Protestantism and has remained so.

That appeal to Scripture made salvation by faith a more personal message than salvation by obeying the Church. The works that were done, were works done for God, and involved more than regular sacraments. Modern-day pastor John MacArthur put it this way, “Salvation by faith does not eliminate works per se. It does away with works that are the result of human effort alone (Eph. 2:8). It abolishes any attempt to merit God’s favor by our works.”

Thus, for Protestants especially, pleasing God daily by how one lived, became paramount. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer opposed war as a pacifist in Germany, when the Anabaptists practiced nonresistance, when St. Augustine proposed the idea of a “Just War,” or even when the American Revolutionaries took arms against England, regardless of whether or not these people were correct in their interpretation, they nevertheless made their decisions on the basis of Scripture in an effort to do what was right in the eyes of God. They did not make their decisions based on a church edict or promise of forgiveness for the act of taking up arms. A greater adherence to Scripture, meant a greater personal concern for living life according to the will of God. A Protestant did not believe salvation could be earned by fighting in a crusade or simply by being a member of the Church.

The Tension for Protestants Between Following Christ and the Use of Force
Once free to use the Bible to guide one’s actions, theological debates and struggles over the use of force immediately ensued. A modern theologian argues, “Jesus clearly explained that the cause of God was not to be advanced through the use of physical force (John 18:36), and He criticized Peter for violently defending Him at His arrest (Matt. 26:52-54).” It is also true, however, that Jesus did not condemn the soldiers he met (Matt. 8:5-10), and He himself used force to drive money-changers from the temple (John 2:15). Thus, there have been, and continue to be, differing views on how to balance force and toleration.

A particularly extreme case, the early Protestant Thomas Muntzer believed it would be necessary to “slaughter the ungodly” and erect a theocracy. Less radical was Zwingli who looked upon the Catholic League armies and was convinced, “the gospel could be saved in Switzerland and the confederation conserved only if the Catholic League with Austria were countered by an evangelical league…ready if need be to use the sword.” Zwingli’s actions especially were intertwined with his political and military involvement, and according to one scholar he did not limit his views to defensive wars. “Zwingli’s intentions were unmistakable,” he writes, “He sought to force the Catholic opponents to accept the evangelical faith and to couple the Word of God with the military might of Zurich.”

Other Protestants, however, vehemently opposed using force to propagate Christianity. The emphasis by the Reformation on salvation by faith led to an emphasis on preaching the Scripture instead of demanding loyalty to a church. When Zwingli was killed on the battlefield, Bainton writes that “Luther considered his death a judgment upon him because as a minister he wielded the sword.” When it came to government, however, many including Luther saw a need for force, within appropriate boundaries. For instance, a key passage in Romans says:

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience (Romans 13:1-5, NIV).

The indication in this Scripture that government is to “bear the sword” and to punish those who do wrong seemed to prescribe appropriate boundaries for civil authorities, and as much as Christians were involved in government, these boundaries came into play. That Paul describes authorities, who in his day were hostile to Christianity, as established by God, led Luther and others to reject rebellion. Luther condemned a Peasant Revolt, writing “If the peasant is in open rebellion, then he is outside the law of God.” Yet as an example of the difficulty in wrestling with this issue, one could observe that Luther himself rebelled against authority by standing up against the Catholic Church. Even Paul, who wrote the above statement, ran afoul of the law for preaching the gospel.

The question of disobedience, including under what circumstances and in what way, preoccupied the American colonists prior to the Revolution as well. In fact, they worked diligently to conduct their protests, and eventual decision to declare independence, in a way they felt did not violate this passage of Scripture. The historian David Barton writes, “Reformation leaders turned to the Bible and found much guidance on the subject of civil disobedience and resistance to tyrannical civil authority.” There are indeed many instances in Scripture of resistance to authority, perhaps summed up by Peter and John with a single statement they uttered to the Sanhedrin: “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!” (Acts 4:19). In like manner, according to Barton the Founding Fathers believed “that the institution government” was not to be opposed but only tyranny. Thus, they acted in what they viewed as a defensive posture, and with a colonial government in place so that they were not rejecting government itself. These issues concerned them, and they looked to the Bible for guidance.

Protestants, Revolutionaries, and even modern government officials have also hearkened back to Augustine’s idea of a “Just War.” For Augustine that required “proclamation by a ‘legitimate authority’…a ‘just cause’…and prosecution with ‘right intention’, that is, with the least possible violence.” Of course, despite Christians best efforts, however, it is difficult to know for sure whether a war is just, and mistakes have certainly been made. There continues be debate over the justice, or lack thereof, regarding the Crusades. Although the call to war for the first Crusade was made on the basis of atrocities against Christians and the danger of Muslim aggression, Thomas Asbridge writes that Pope Urban II’s “accusations bore little or no relation to the reality…but it is impossible to gauge whether the pope believed his own propaganda or entered into a conscious campaign of manipulation and distortion.”

Whether Asbridge is correct or not, the point is that Bible-believing Protestants did not commonly launch into Crusades or revolutions with blood-thirsty zeal to expand the faith. Instead, they began to even wrestle with how to use force in government, and with only a few exceptions, were theologically disposed to use preaching to expand the faith, instead of using the sword. Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides a thought-provoking example. A scholar notes Bonhoeffer’s stance as a Christian pacifist, quoting him as saying, “Every form of war service, unless it be Good Samaritan service, and every preparation for war, is forbidden for the Christian.” Yet, even Bonhoeffer may have had second-thoughts as he watched the rise of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. Although some argue he was unaware, the pacifist Christian minister did get involved with an organization that attempted to assassinate Hitler. The vast majority of people would applaud him, but for Protestants who gave the Scripture authority over every church and government, the question was about pleasing God first. Thus, they wrestled with what to do. They looked to the Scriptures for guidance.

The Protestant Trajectory in History
It made a difference although for centuries, and certainly during the beginnings of the Protestant Reformation as battles raged between Christians during the Thirty Years’ War, it could be argued that God refused to answer the prayer of His Son. Christ had prayed for future believers, asking that, “all of them may be one”(John 17:21), and that Christians would experience “complete unity” (17:23). For much of the Middle Ages and in the years that followed, there was little that could be characterized by unity. Christians were guilty of inventing ways to reconcile wars and violence with Scripture. Prior to the Reformation, Arthur Ripstein notes that “Augustine defended punitive wars” and later “Suarez defended the Spanish conquest of the Americas on the ground that the indigenous inhabitants were likely to resist settlers and missionaries.” Deep divisions also separated Protestant denominations. Those divisions were reinforced by governments that tended to officially recognize a particular church denomination, which was then promoted over the others. Douglas Sweeney writes,

“The Protestant world was broken apart, and its state churches were not the only signs of division. Its theologians developed competing Protestant confessions, or doctrinal statements…They fought theological battles with their fellow Protestant leaders. They encouraged the laity to think of themselves primarily as Calvinists or Arminians, as Lutherans or Anabaptists, rather than those who shared in the words of St. Paul, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism.’”

If the story were to stop here, the argument that the efforts to return to the Bible did not cause more peace, but in fact, more division. In some respects, the accusation was true. Just as changes from monarchies to more democratic governments handed over responsibility to millions of citizens, thus resulting in an increase of political discussion and disagreement from person to person, in like manner the increase in Bibles and literacy, coupled with the view that the Bible held more authority than any church, gave each person an opportunity to form their own spiritual opinions.  A multitude of groups sprang up, including Puritans and Pietists who encouraged the study of the Scriptures, yet often found themselves with doctrinal divisions.

The divisions, and the proliferation of the Bible, weakened any sort of centrally-powerful church, however. Indeed, it can be argued that the sheer number of churches, and various Christian groups, weakened the ability of any church to use force. In general, preaching replaced armies, and doctrinal disputes, while argued passionately, did not usually result in someone being burned at the stake or arrested by Inquisitors. The arrival of the Great Awakening demonstrated a reliance upon preaching the word instead of advancing Christianity by force, and it was clearly more unifying in nature. Timothy George noted, “The awakenings were international, transatlantic movements of ecclesial and spiritual renewal embracing Pietism in Germany, Methodism in Great Britain and revivalism in the American colonies.”  It wasn’t unity for the mere sake of unity, but it became a unity of purpose, of working together worldwide. George writes, “The awakenings spawned a host of interdenominational ministries, including orphanages, Bible societies…and above all, an evangelical missionary movement of global proportions.” Today, the very group of Christians that emphasizes the authority of Scripture, often goes by the ecumenical label “Evangelical” which encompasses Christians from various denominations all over the world. While the prayer of Christ may not have been answered for centuries, the trajectory of many Protestants has indeed moved closer to unity. 

Conclusion
In many respects, this analysis is subjective, and there are many theological and historical details that lie outside the scope of an essay of this size. However, while admitting that Christianity of all types has struggled to coexist peacefully with others, it becomes undeniable that something has changed in Christianity since the Middle Ages. The most obvious change is the Reformation Movement which emphasized Scriptural authority over the authority of the Church, and emphasized personal faith over seeking salvation by obedience to the Church and the sacraments. As a result, salvation could not be forced upon anyone since it required faith, and the highest official in any church, could be opposed on biblical grounds since Scripture held the authority. While the ramifications of these changes took centuries to work through Protestant, Bible-believing Christians, history has demonstrated a notable difference. It has been the Christians who have gone back to the Bible that then began to wrestle the most with the use of force in society, and who have ultimately experienced a greater unity of purpose and fellowship. The effect has since spilled over into all of Christendom so that today, the Catholic Church is a strong voice for peace. In doctrine, most would agree with Erickson who writes, “The church is to show concern and take action wherever it sees need, hurt, or wrong.” The point here is one of the most crucial factors that has led to this attitude, has been a return to seeing the Bible as the authority. One could then argue the Bible isn’t a danger, and never has been. The Christians who returned to the Bible have reformed Christianity. They have limited the use of force in society, eliminated it in the Church, and encouraged greater unity.
Bibliography

Asbridge, Thomas. The Crusades, The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 2010.

Bainton, Roland H. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1978.

Barton, David. “The American Revolution: Was it an Act of Biblical Rebellion?” WallBuilders.com. May 5, 2009. Accessed Dec. 15, 2016. http://www.wallbuilders.com/LIBissuesArticles.asp?id=24548.

Clouse, Robert G. “War” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Second Edition. Edited by Walter A. Elwell. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology. Third Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013.

George, Timothy F. “Why I Am an Evangelical and a Baptist,” in Why We Belong: Evangelical Unity and Denominational Diversity. Edited by Anthony L. Chute, Christopher W. Morgan, and Robert A. Peterson. Wheaton,, IL: Crossway, 2013.

Gordon, Bruce. “Huldrych Zwingli,” The Expository Times. Vol 126, 4 (Dec. 12, 2014): 157-168. Accessed Dec. 16, 2016. DOI: 10.1177/0014524614560493.

Harris, Sam. The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2005.

MacArthur, John. The Gospel According to Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988.

Moses, John A. “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Repudiation of Protestant German War Theology” Journal of Religious History. 30 (2006): 354. Accessed 12/15/16, DOI:10.1111/j.1467-9809.2006.00498.x.

Ripstein, Arther. “Just War, Regular War, and Perpetual Peace,” Kant-Studien. 107, no. 1. (March 2016): 179-195. Humanities International Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed December 16, 2016. DOI:10.1515/kant-2016-0009

Sweeney, Douglas A. The American Evangelical Story: A History of the Movement. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005.

Wylie, James A. “The Thirty Years’ War,” in The History of Protestantism: A Complete History of the Christian Church. Book Twenty-one. Harrington, DE: Delmarva Publications, Inc., 2013.

Did the Sun Really Stand Still?

sun2

Interpretative Issues Concerning the Long Day of Joshua 10

The account of the sun standing still, and all of the associated events recorded in chapter 10 of the Old Testament book of Joshua, have inspired a great deal of both derision and debate. Popular skepticism and many in academia reject the description of the miraculous, particularly in this account, due to the scientific difficulties involved.  Meanwhile, biblical scholars themselves have proposed several explanations, each with its own set of problems. The effort to explain the statements about the sun and moon standing still in the sky as Joshua and the Israelites pressed the battle against their enemies is where most interpretations diverge. The traditional viewpoint takes these statements at face value, while other viewpoints argue for alternative understandings of the text, or reject the truthfulness of the text altogether. One noted scholar admits, “None of the explanations is entirely satisfactory,”[1] while another concedes that, “Many plausible elements can be found in almost every solution.”[2] But where then is the average reader to turn, and what then can be believed, when it comes to this account? With such an unsettled state among even the scholars, how much confidence can be placed in any particular interpretation?  To begin to answer these questions, a refocusing on the details present in the Scripture itself, and a careful consideration of where those details lead, is necessary not only to limit unsupported speculation, but may also help in bringing to light a more unified view. With such a goal in mind, this brief examination will attempt to show that closer attention to the text itself will not only narrow the interpretive options, but also highlight that a real event took place, which was intended to bring refreshment and victory to a tired Israelite army.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the CONTEXT of Joshua

The book of Joshua reads as an ancient record of the conquests of the Israelites as they entered, fought, and eventually settled in Canaan. Geographical locations are spelled out in detail, along with the descriptions of battles and the strategies used. Nevertheless, many interpretative views substantially sever the connection of the text with a real event. One scholar suggests for instance, that the story of Israel and the Gibeonites was likely nothing more than a fable added to the book for political purposes. “The YHWH temple at Gibeon,” he writes, “was probably abolished in the course of Josiah’s religious reform. The Gibeonites’ strong opposition to the closing of their temple is reflected in the satirical polemic initiated by a [Deuteronomic] author against the Gibeonites and their elders.”[3] Thus, it is alleged that the story in Joshua was invented, “in reaction to the resistance of the Gibeonites”[4] to Josiah’s reforms. Such a viewpoint dismisses the idea that the sun or moon stopped in the sky as pure fiction. The alternative offered, however, is entirely speculative itself, and ignores the context of Joshua as a detailed, ancient record, claiming (without any actual proof) this part of Joshua was just thrown in for a political reason.

Others claim portions of the text are prose, comparing them to the poetic references of stars fighting for Israel mentioned in Deborah’s song (Judg. 5:20), or the sun and moon standing still in Habakkuk’s prayer (Hab. 3:11). Richard Hess notes the specific phrases about the sun and moon follow a chiastic structure.[5] David M. Howard, Jr. suggests, “The language is similar to the psalmist’s who urges the rivers to clap their hands and the mountains to sing for joy.”[6]

Indeed, the book of Jashar, mentioned by Joshua as a record of this event, is believed to refer to a book that preserved nationalistic songs.[7] It is plausible that phrases in Joshua were quoted from such a book and would indeed be poetic. Nevertheless, this does not preclude those statements from any historical accuracy. As mentioned above, the context of Joshua implies the account was making every effort to be factual. As one scholar notes, “Remarkably, every geographical aspect of this campaign—from the ascent of Beth-Horon to turning back to Debir—fits the geography of the regions in which the events transpired.”[8] He then asks the obvious, “Why would the Joshua conquest accounts offer such specific and verifiable geographical data were they not reflective of actual historical events?”[9]

Thus, the weaknesses of the preceding interpretations are that they impose solutions that are contrary to the context of the book of Joshua as a whole, which presents itself as a detailed record of events with real geographical places. The accuracy of the geographical detail alone, attests to this.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the TEXT of Joshua

In fact, there are interesting clues to be found in the text itself. For instance, Joshua prays, “Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and moon, over the Valley of Aijalon” (Josh. 10:12b, HCSB).[10] Gibeon was east of the Valley of Aijalon implying Joshua was not asking for the sun to stand directly overhead, but for the sun to remain in the east, while the moon remained in the west. This is apparently contradicted by the next verse, which says, “So the sun stopped in the middle of the sky” (Josh 10:13), but the Hebrew word translated “middle” is far more often translated as “half.” The apparent contradiction is reconciled if Joshua was asking the sun to remain on its half of the sky while the moon remained on the other half. Furthermore, the fact Joshua asked the sun to stand still in the east implies it was still morning when Joshua spoke. This suggests Joshua was not asking for more daylight to finish a battle, but for a cooler day in which to fight it. The Israelites had, according to verse nine, just marched all night long.

Many interpretative views latch on to some of these details, but often fail to account for all. A scientist suggests Joshua’s long day could be explained by a meteor. He writes, “A night-time airburst comparable in energy to a nuclear bomb explosion many times greater than Hiroshima would be seen as the sun shining at night.”[11] Perhaps, but only for a few seconds. The event in Joshua 10 lasted for “almost a full day” (Josh. 10:13b). Benedictus de Spinoza believed Joshua’s long day could be explained by “the presence of hail in the air, together with the empirical knowledge that hail in the air causes additional light.”[12] It is entirely unconvincing, however, that anyone would mistake hail for the sun itself. Hail storms, meteors, and other suggestions such as solar eclipses simply do not last for an entire day as the text of the story describes.

Another view argues the description of the sun and moon, especially the statements that the sun or moon “stood still” or “stopped,” merely reflect the normal language of ancient omens regarding the movement of the sun and moon across the sky. John H. Walton argues that when the full moon occurred, “on the wrong day” it was, “believed to be an omen of all sorts of disaster, including military defeat and overthrow of cities.”[13]  While at least addressing a contextual matter from ancient times, this view has two primary difficulties. First, there simply is no mention in the text that the opposing armies viewed this as an omen, or any mention that omens were important enough to the Israelites that Joshua would ask for one. The book presents miracles as factual accounts, and thus it seems more likely that the same book that described the Israelite force crossing the Jordan after God divided the waters, would likewise be clear that merely an omen was in view if that was the case in Joshua 10. Instead the natural reading of the text, especially after the Jordan crossing and the miraculous victory at Jericho, is that something miraculous happened here with the sun and moon. Secondly, the appearance of the sun and moon in opposition at any point, is not something that would last for “about a whole day,” as the text describes unless the sun and moon indeed stopped their motion.

The text provides several other clues as well. For instance, verse 12 begins with a Hebrew word that is translated into English as “then.” This is not a sequential ordering, however. Howard writes the Hebrew specifically, “introduces important action that took place at the same time…That is, somehow the hailstorm of v. 11 and the phenomena of vv. 12-13 either were one and the same thing or (more probably) they happened at the same time.”[14] Even in English, the text prefaces Joshua’s prayer with: “On the day the LORD gave the Amorites over to the Israelites, Joshua spoke to the LORD in the presence of Israel: Sun stand still over Gibeon…” (Josh. 10:12a). Accordingly, Joshua could have prayed this at any time during that day. A morning prayer is consistent with the position of the sun and moon mentioned earlier, and again indicates Joshua’s motive was more than simply having extra time.  Thus, the text itself strengthens some views, but weakens others.

Conforming Interpretative Views to the CIRCUMSTANCES of Joshua

Beyond the context of the book and the text, the circumstances surrounding scene in Joshua 10, also impact interpretative views. As has already been mentioned, the Israelite army had marched all night. It is reasonable that Joshua would not ask the sun to stop overhead where the heat of the day could weaken his army. D. Ralph Davis takes this further, noting that the Hebrew verbs translated “stand still” and “stopped” can be translated to say the sun and moon gave less light than normal. He writes, “Which activity of the sun and moon is Joshua prohibiting? Most assume it is their movement. But why could it not be their shining?”[15] This view gains strength from the circumstances of the story, although the historical circumstances regarding the interpretation of these words are less supportive.

Re-translating these words would mean some of the earliest interpretations of the Hebrew by Jews and Christians alike would have been wrong for thousands of years. The Wisdom of Sirach, written in the second century BC, references Joshua 10, saying “And didn’t one day become as two” (Sir. 46:4, WEBA). Writing in the first century AD, Josephus notes, “That the day was lengthened at this time, and was longer than ordinary, is expressed in the books laid up in the temple.”[16] That the Hebrew has been interpreted this way for thousands of years, strengthens the position that the movement of the sun is the correct understanding.

However, tradition is not the same as proof.  It must be admitted that the Hebrew word translated “stand still” also means “hold peace, quiet self, rest” and many other descriptive terms. The Hebrew word translated into English as “stopped,” is also flexible enough to include “standing behind” or “cease,” perhaps in the sense of shining less, or standing behind the clouds. Since the hailstorm is specifically connected to this event by the Hebrew text, it could be argued the storm had something to do with the sun shining less than usual, or the sky remaining darker than usual.  This particular natural phenomenon certainly could have lasted “about a whole day.”

The circumstances of Joshua 10 do indicate a more refreshing day was a reasonable motive, even if the sun was stationary or appeared to remain in the east, which is consistent with the text. The hailstorm would have certainly blocked any overhead sunlight, perhaps only allowing sunlight to the east, while raining deadly judgment upon Israel’s enemies. Although Howard rightly observes “the traditional interpretation cannot be ruled out merely because it involves a phenomenon of colossal magnitude,”[17] it is nevertheless true the traditional interpretation does not rule out that a cooler day was the whole point. It is also consistent with the text, albeit not with historical interpretation, that the cooler day was accomplished by lessening the intensity of the sun’s shining, a possibility in which the storm may have played a role, therefore not necessitating a stoppage of the actual motion of the sun and moon across the sky.

Conclusion

This analysis therefore proposes that the context of the book of Joshua argues in favor of a real event, and when all details are considered, many speculative interpretations of Joshua 10 can be reasonably rejected. The interpretation that the sun and moon stopped their motion in the sky is a natural and traditional reading of the text, which is consistent with the context of the book and the power of God. However, the text itself also allows for an interpretation that the sun was shining with less intensity throughout the day. It is even possible from the text that this was because of the clouds surrounding a hailstorm sent by God. Thus, the interpretative options are narrowed, leaving out some views, but the text continues to allow some flexibility.  Nevertheless, whether the sun and moon appeared to stop their motion, or whether the intensity of the sunlight was lessened, the circumstances including the position of the sun in the east, the condition of the army after a long march, and the presence of the intense storm, suggest the primary motive of Joshua’s request, or at least the ultimate result of it, was the refreshment of his army for the day’s battle and the subsequent destruction of Israel’s enemies by God.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Richard S. Hess, Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 6 of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed. Donald J. Wiseman (Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996), loc. 3069, Kindle.

[2] David M. Howard, Jr., Joshua, vol. 5 of The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, ed. E. Ray Clendenen and Kenneth A. Mathews (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1998), loc. 6672, Kindle.

[3] Nadav Na’aman, “The Sanctuary of the Gibeonites Revisted,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 9 no. 2 (2009): 117, accessed December 8, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156921109X12520501747714.

[4] Ibid., 112.

[5] Hess, Joshua: Introduction and Commentary, loc. 3044, Kindle.

 [6] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6743, Kindle.

 [7] Hess, Joshua: Introduction and Commentary, loc. 3072, Kindle.

[8] John M. Monson, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture, ed. James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary (Wheaton IL: Crossway, 2012), loc. 10718, Kindle.

[9] Ibid., loc. 10861.

[10] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible

[11] Euan G. Nisbet, “Joshua 10, the Gibeon strewn meteorite field in Namibia, and the Chelyabinsk fall,” The Expository Times 125, no. 11 (August 2014): 572. Accessed December 10, 2015, http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0014524614529867.

[12] Steven Nadler, “Spinoza and Scripture: A Colloquium Introduction,” Journal of the History of Ideas 74, no. 4 (October 2013): 662. Accessed December 8, 2015, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/1443782250?accountid=12085

[13] John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), loc. 4755, Kindle.

[14] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6532, Kindle.

[15] Dale Ralph Davis, Commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel (Escondido, CA: The Ephesians Four Group, 2015), loc. 1133, Kindle.

[16] Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews 5.1.17, trans. William Whiston, Josephus: The Complete Works (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 115.

[17] Howard, Joshua, loc. 6611, Kindle.

 

Bibliography

Davis, Dale Ralph. Commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel. The Ephesians Four Group: Escondido, CA, 2015.

Hess, Richard S. Joshua: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 6 of the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Edited by Donald J. Wiseman. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996.

Howard Jr., David M. Joshua. Vol. 5 of The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. Edited by E. Ray Clendenen and Kenneth A. Mathews. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishers, 1998.

Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews 5.1.17. Translated by William Whiston. Josephus: The Complete Works. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.

Monson, John M. Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture. Edited by James K. Hoffmeier and Dennis R. Magary. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.

Na’aman, Nadav. “The Sanctuary of the Gibeonites Revisted.” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 9 no. 2 (2009): 117, accessed December 8, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/156921109X12520501747714.

Nadler, Steven. “Spinoza and Scripture: A Colloquium Introduction.” Journal of the History of Ideas. 74, no. 4 (October 2013): 662. Accessed December 8, 2015. http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/docview/1443782250?accountid=12085

Nisbet, Euan G. “Joshua 10, the Gibeon strewn meteorite field in Namibia, and the Chelyabinsk fall.” The Expository Times 125, no. 11 (August 2014): 572. Accessed December 10, 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0014524614529867.

Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament: Introducing the Conceptual World of the Hebrew Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.

THIS is Christianity

Mottel Baleston
check out this video (it will pop up in a new window)
     For many people religion is more of a cultural thing to appreciate and keep around like one does a family heirloom. It looks good on the shelf in the living room, but you don’t really use it all that much in real life.  For others, it’s just …foreign. At least, that’s often the impression given by the comments and reactions to religious expression we see from the talking heads of media and/or Hollywood.
     I’m probably being generous. Hollywood hasn’t understood Christianity or the Bible since the twelve apostles were still available to hire as consultants.
     And some of you… it’s okay to admit it…. won’t even get through the five-minute video above. After all, the Pew Research Center just informed us that Christianity is shrinking in America while the numbers of people with no affiliation with any religion, including atheists, and agnostics are growing. That’s especially true for anyone more youthful than 36 years of age.  So hey, if that’s you, then perhaps you don’t really care that some guy named Mottel Baleston decided to become a Christian after growing up Jewish.

     I understand. And I’m not posting this video to win any of these arguments. I’m posting this because THIS is Christianity.

Continue reading

Dear Senior Class 2014…

Thirteen years ago when you got home from your first day of kindergarten, most of us parents picked you up and asked, “How was your first day of school?”  A lot has happened since then. You tried to make good grades, you excelled in sports, in music, in art, or maybe in science.  It’s really amazing the talents you have developed.

This past week I picked up my daughter from school and this time my question was, “How was your last day at school?”  You have reached the last day, and just like that first day, we are excited for you and proud of you as we cheer for your success in life.

Did you know God cares about your success, too?  The Bible says “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.”  Knowledge can help you achieve the desires of your heart, of course, but God can do things no one else can. He has ultimate control over our success or failure.

I don’t know if you believe that or not. The Bible predicted “scoffers” would come in the last days and they’re here.  People will make fun of you for believing in Jesus. Religion is old-fashioned. We are evolving past it they say.  Bill Mahr says religion is the source of all our problems, and Bill Nye seems to think you can’t be a scientist or help the human race advance if you believe God created everything.

They can sound convincing, but that road doesn’t end well. The Bible talks about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but it’s worth noting that it should have been Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.  Esau was the oldest son and should have been the next in line. His father loved him, wanted to pass everything down to him, but Esau just didn’t care.

He only cared about the here and now, and agreed to sell his birthright to his brother. The Bible says, he “despised” his birthright.  That decision destroyed his future.  That’s why we remember Abraham, Isaac, and his younger brother Jacob instead of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau.

You’ve heard people say God has a plan for your life, but you don’t have to care either.  The world will tell you not to worry about it. The world cares more about the here and now, but I believe if you go down that road, like Esau, you’ll miss out.

So here are three old fashioned things to hang on to no matter what the world says: Continue reading

Neuroscience and the Bible

Be afraid. Be very afraid. 

Or not.

When it comes to advances in science regarding the brain and our understanding of where our thoughts, emotions, consciousness, perceptions, choices, and more come from, some of our religious notions like the idea of the immaterial soul, or free-will, or sin might be shaken.  That shaking however, so far seems to involve religious traditions and a few interpretations of the Bible, but not the Bible itself.  Turns out the actual Scripture is holding up just fine.

Neuroscience, thanks to the use of brain scan technology, is a rapidly growing field of science that is in the process of revolutionizing psychology and our understanding of ourselves, but ironically Jesus and the Bible seem to have been saying similar types of things.

Some logical premise building first: If God is real, and the Bible was truly inspired by him, then it stands to reason that it would remain consistent with much of our own science.  That’s not the case with church traditions or some interpretations of the Bible. Those things change all the time. In fact, discovering the truth about most anything, means also discovering what was not true.  So while Christians may have to wait until reaching heaven before some arguments over interpretations are settled, it may be that some new scientific discoveries could actually help resolve some long standing debates.

Yeah, that’s probably wishful thinking, but at least the discoveries make the debates more interesting.

For instance, if neuroscience could prove (and some research makes a strong case) that our brain makes a decision BEFORE we are conscious of it, that seems to take away our ability to have free will over our own actions.  If we have no real choice, then what about sin? How could God judge us? Continue reading

Coming to Grips with the Christmas God

There are several details about the Christmas story that don’t exactly match up with… well the actual Christmas story.  It makes for some interesting trivia during this time of the year, which could make you a hit at parties perhaps, but it is also symptomatic of our culture.  Are we content to believe a tradition-filled caricature of the Bible, or are we interested in the real thing?

Take the 3 wise men for instance, or magi, or kings or whatever you want to call them.  Their story is in Matthew chapter 2, and here we find one of the more glaring instances of tradition versus the Bible.  We can start with the fact the Bible never said there were 3 wise men, but only that there were 3 separate gifts.  The Bible never said they traveled on camels, ( John MacArthur’s research says they traveled on Persian steeds and with a sizable cavalry) and the Bible never said their names, or the color of their skin.  In fact, the Bible never calls them kings, and we know from history the magi were advisers to kings, but likely not kings themselves.

Nevertheless we have an entire tradition about the magi, which is often assumed to come from the Bible, but doesn’t.  Ironically, we even sometimes we try to prove the Bible to be false, or a myth by disproving things the Bible never said.  A youtube video called Zeitgeist claimed that the Christian story was simply made up of earlier myths, which also included stories of 3 wise men and births of a Savior on December 25, etc…  While the video is largely a hoax (those earlier religious myths did not make those claims either) it nevertheless convinced a lot of people who assume the Bible talks about things like 3 wise men, or December 25, or being born in a stable, when the Bible actually says nothing about these things.

How much do you think you know about the actual Christmas story?

Continue reading

Knowing Jesus Rose from the Dead

This claim is the center-piece of Christianity. As all four Biblical narratives about Jesus life and death attest, Jesus died from severe torture and crucifixion at the hands of the Romans and the blessings of the leadership in Israel. On a purely human level, Jesus’ teaching was obviously threatening the power and status of those in the theocratic leadership of Israel, and Rome was wary of anyone causing disruptions. It created a perfect storm which resulted in Jesus’ execution. On a spiritual level, Jesus life and death fulfilled over 108 distinct prophesies and became the culmination of the Old Testament religious covenant to the Israelites and the world. The New Testament Scriptures indicate that perfect storm was actually God-orchestrated, for the purpose of providing forgiveness and grace to the human race.

It’s powerful stuff, and the deeper you get into it, the more powerful it becomes. Jesus was the culmination of the Jewish sacrificial system for sins because He was the ultimate sacrifice, taking away sins once for all according to the book of Hebrews. (It’s why John the Baptist once announced Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!” -Lambs were often used as sacrifices)

Taking away sins once for all, meant a person no longer had to feel separated from God by sin, and provided a way for anyone to approach God, without a priest to intercede. It’s one reason three of the four Gospel accounts record the curtain of the temple being torn in two by an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ death. The curtain of the temple is what separated “the Most Holy Place” -where the presence of God was- from the outside world. The meaning being that humanity no longer had to be separated from God because of Christ.

And that only begins to scratch the surface how in Jesus, or through Jesus, so much of the Old Testament religious teaching is fulfilled, or reaches the highest order of magnitude. But none of it matters, if Jesus never got out of the grave. Continue reading