Christian Cultural Confusion

A Critique of Plowing in Hope, by David Bruce Hegeman

With the growing interest in a biblical theology of culture have come two irreconcilable theories. The one salient fact with which all must deal is that Biblical culture was agrarian — and ours is not. There are only two alternative explanations of this fact.

Modernists (in the broad sense — I am not talking about theological liberals only, but anti-traditionalists of every stripe) explain this basic fact by ignoring the well-documented history of greed and the lust for power that shaped our modern world, and by claiming that the biblical agrarian culture was inferior to our own. They hold to a form of cultural evolution which assumes (but never proves) that the culture of the technological society is intrinsically superior to biblical agrarian culture. This seems self-evident to them, I think, because they share many or most of its ultimate values.

Biblical Agrarians, on the other hand, claim that our technological society is apostate and culturally degenerate, and that redemptive history will move us toward the goal of a restoration and perfection of the original decentralized agrarian social order, in which godly culture will flourish. These two theories are diametrically opposed.

Yet, a book from Doug Wilson’s publishing house, Canon Press, called Plowing in Hope: Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture, by David Bruce Hegeman seeks to reconcile the two. This is a useful book, for it gathers together most of the data of Scripture that must be systematized in order to answer the question, “What is the biblical concept of culture?” It makes the fatal mistake, however of attempting to steer a middle course between the two opposite theories. This is appealing to those who want the best of both worlds, but it cannot be done with intellectual integrity. And Hegeman clearly wants what he sees as the best of both worlds. He wants the technology of the industrialized world without the pollution, the vice, the waste, the corruption, the warfare, the destruction of life that has always gone hand in hand with it. He wants a predominately urban civilization without the agglomeration of wealth and power that have always motivated it. He wants the beauty of a garden and the peace of the rural countryside without the mass of men living by subsistence farming. This is nothing but confusion.

The False Assumption of Cultural Evolution

One of the contributions to modern thought made by the philosophers of the enlightenment is the inevitability of progress. Another is cultural relativism. These are the two ingredients of the theory of cultural evolution. It is a curious thing to see a Christian who says that he deplores the influence of the Enlightenment employing its premises to argue against distinctively Christian ideas; but that is just what we see in this book. Whereas the Bible teaches that mankind began in a state of perfection, fell from it, and is now being progressively restored to that original perfection, Enlightenment thinkers say that man began as a brute, and is struggling upward out of chaos into order. What the final perfection of man (if there can be such a thing on evolutionary premises) will be, no one can know. We couldn’t understand it if we did know. For it has no precedent in history.

By contrast, the Bible shows us just what we are to become, at least what the sanctification that takes place in this life has as its goal and standard. The plan is God’s righteous law, and the living fulfilment of the law is Jesus Christ the righteous. Perfection is not something that has never yet been realized. The world as created was perfect. The original happiness of mankind was perfect. The Law of the Lord is perfect. Jesus Christ is its perfect embodiment. The restoration of the original perfection is the goal of history.

But Hegeman’s idea of culture is evolutionary. The perfection he envisages for the world is something wholly new, and undefined. While the practical utility of traditional agrarian economics and politics are on record in Scripture and in history; the socio-economic basis and political structure of Hegeman’s conception remains a matter of speculation. Many agrarian societies have functioned well (making allowances for human sin) for thousands of years. No alternative has ever succeeded in producing an environment more wholesome and congenial to human beings.

The technological society is a murderous one. Never has man caused the death of man on such a massive scale as in the last century, when technological advancement was accelerating as never before. Massive wars fought with horrible new weapons, persecutions, genocides, repressions, abortions, murders, and man-made health hazards have accounted for the deaths of tens of millions. We can only expect the number of killings to continue upward, as we continue to move ever farther from the godly way of life from which we have long ago departed.

Confusion about Cultural Progress: Eden and the New Jerusalem

Hegeman makes the assumption that culture advances from the primitive, represented by the garden of Eden, toward something which he describes as a “garden/city”. He sees the city as the ultimate goal toward which human progress must strive.” The proof of this he finds in the fact that “the Bible begins in a garden and ends in a city.” (p.31)

My first objection to this construction of the Biblical data is that Scripture makes the clearest distinction between the uncultivated earth that Adam and his progeny were to subdue and the garden that God planted with His own hands! The garden, then, does not represent the primitive, the undeveloped, the uncultured — but exactly the opposite! Eden was the pinnacle of perfection! It was no doubt designed to inspire Adam and Eve with a vision for the creative potential of the rest of the earth that lay outside. Adam was not told to develop the garden, but simply to “keep” it. How could he expect to improve on God’s workmanship? It was the uninhabited lands that he was to cultivate and reclaim, and he would have done so in the light of what had been shown him in the aesthetic perfection of the garden of God.

Furthermore, the author has missed the fact that, while “the garden” was a literal garden in a literal landscape; the New Jerusalem is a symbolic representation of the eschatological church: a spiritual entity, rather than a literal city. I may say without fear of contradiction that this one fact invalidates his entire paradigm. There is no indication anywhere in Scripture that the final state of the redeemed is to be shut up in a giant cube for all eternity. Everything about the description John gives of his final vision is against any literalistic interpretation. Hence it is ludicrous to conclude, as he does, from the description of the city, that there will be architectural structures similar to our modern buildings in the eternal state. There are definite indications in the text that the New Jerusalem is rather intended to picture a restored paradise than a “city” as we moderns understand the term.

What is a City?

A further error lies in the unreflecting equation of the word, “city” in Scripture with the modern city. First, the largest biblical “city” was no more than a town by modern standards, and most were merely villages. There was no biblical city that could compare with the vast, sprawling putrescences of our day. The population of any ancient city could be measured by thousands, rather than millions. But the vast difference in scale is not the only difference. These small villages and towns reflected a traditional agrarian culture, rather than an urban one.

The ancient walled city of the Bible had the most in common with the modern city. It was most often a center of apostasy, a base for imperialism, a treasure-house for plundering tyrants, a monument to human pride, vainglory and rebellion against God, akin to the modern city in spirit — the City of Man. This city provides no ideal for culture, since it is opposed to biblical culture. Like Babel, it has been erected in defiance of God’s design for a decentralized, agrarian civilization.

On the other hand, the ideal of the City of God set forth in God’s word bears no resemblance to the modern city. Ancient Jerusalem was a fit type for the eschatological city of God because it was, first, a center of the true religion. In patriarchal times, it was the realm of Melchizedek, the high priest who was so great in the eyes of God that he was able to bless faithful Abraham. In David’s time, it was the city that God had chosen, to dwell there. In Solomon’s reign, the Temple was constructed, and God Himself approved it. But it was only a type of that “city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

Jerusalem means “City of Peace”. It was a castle, a walled fortress, intended to be a place of wealth, of security, of stable order, of community, and of the presence of God. The New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse represents these ideals under a figure. The enormous precious and semi-precious stones of the foundations, the pearly gates, the streets of gold — all suggest virtually unlimited wealth. The cube-shape and the massive foundations represent perfect stability. The tremendous wall represents absolute security. In words reminiscent of Isaiah’s prophecy (54:11), ” O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted, behold, I will lay thy stones with fair colors, and lay thy foundations with sapphires,” John describes the beauty and perfection of the foundations of the city. What do these precious stones represent? The doctrine of the apostles (Revelation 21:14). For the city itself is identified as “the bride, the Lamb’s wife”(v. 9,10) . This can be no other than the church, which is the community of the faithful. God himself shall dwell there, with His people forever.

The eschatological City of God, thus understood, is an ideal consistent with agrarianism. During the millennium, a few large centers of spirituality, godly culture, learning, and commerce may develop in the midst of an agricultural civilization composed primarily of thousands of small villages and tens of thousands of farms. These cities will not at all embody the spirit of the city of man, and they will look nothing like the modern city. Instead, they will be Christian communities, pointing to the ideal and perfect community of the redeemed in the New Heaven and the New Earth.

What is the Christian Concept of Culture?

I must also call into question the very idea that “culture” in its most important sense consists chiefly in the refinement of such things as artistic sensibility, good taste and manners, acquaintance with literature, and the like. Even less does it consist in the artifacts of culture. Christian culture, at least, is the culture of Christianity. It is chiefly concerned with spiritual development; and with the natural only to the degree that it serves spiritual interests. Christian piety leads to proper intellectual and aesthetic development. But “high culture”, in the world’s sense of the term, is often accompanied by the lowest spiritual and moral culture. The true high culture, therefore, may exist in the humblest of societies; where there is little opportunity for the literary and artistic pursuits of the leisured class. It is this misconception about what constitutes biblical culture that lies at the root of Hegeman’s negative evaluation of biblical agrarian society, and that explains his efforts to justify, in part, the modern world — in spite of its evident spiritual deficiencies.

Modern man is utterly convinced that life in an agrarian social order must be unbearable; but this only shows how effectively he has been brainwashed by the propaganda of the humanistic elite. There is no evidence that people in agrarian societies were necessarily more miserable than we are. It seems clear that the Israelites who lived under Moses’ agrarian law-order would have enjoyed more freedom, more contact with nature, a stronger family, richer community life, more satisfying labor, greater fertility, and better health than is usual among us. For all these things were promised to those who kept the law. They were the benefits that God designed it to secure!

But we come to the Bible with preconceptions so deeply rooted that we cannot see what is in front of us. We fail to see that the Adamic, patriarchal social order was not just the best he could figure out; but the fruit of great wisdom, eminently suited to provide the structure needed for mankind’s social well-being. We fail to see that the sin of Babel was precisely the sin of our modern world: the refusal to accept the agricultural calling that man was given by God, and the willful pursuit of security, wealth, and power without regard to our Creator’s will. We fail to see that Abraham was not just a holy man, but a man who was holy because he deliberately left the city to serve God as a sheepherder. We fail to see that the law of Moses, if fully obeyed, establishes and maintains an agrarian, rather than an urban civilization; that it assumes throughout the rightness of such a civilization; and that its ethic of love for God and man would be impossible to implement without destroying the foundations of our technological society.

Howard Douglas King, 2004

Revised September 18, 2015

The Cultural Mandate – a Misnomer

Reformed Christians often talk about “the cultural mandate”; and they usually apply this term to Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” By some it is interpreted as a commandment to develop the sciences and technology. Others see in it a basis for “taking dominion” of the culture-forming institutions of society. It is often put forth as a justification for industrialism and the technological society.

But all these views are wrong, and abuse the text by eisegesis. The text must be interpreted in the light of the context, as addressed to an original audience who were vastly different from us, and without reading things into the particular terms used that were never intended.

First, it is not a mandate, but a benediction. It does not say, “take dominion”, but “have dominion”. A benediction from God conveys what it pronounces. It is not a command for man; but words spoken when presenting a gift. If I put something in your hands and say “I want you to have this” no one would understand it as a command, a mandate, a covenant, or any of the things that this benediction has been called.

Second, it is chiefly a blessing of fertility upon early man, so that the human population would grow swiftly. We see the fulfillment of this in the succeeding history.

Third, it has to do with agrarian – not technological – culture, that is, the cultivation of the earth for the benefit of man and the family in the agrarian social order.

Fourth, it has to do with man’s relationship to living things – not, as some have said, the earth’s inanimate resources. This is explicit in the text; and it surprises me that so many have missed it.

Howard Douglas King

Revised March 24, 2019

 

 

 

What is a Sinner?

A sinner is not just someone who is not quite perfect. Nobody is going to wake up in hell and say, “If only I hadn’t stolen that cookie when I was a child, I wouldn’t be here!”

A sinner is not someone who tried his best to be good, but fell short. No one is going to stand before God and say, “I admit I failed; but you are a God of mercy, so I know you won’t be so harsh as to disregard all my sincere efforts. So which way to the pearly gates?” Jesus didn’t die to make up for our shortcomings.

A sinner is someone who is under the dominion of sin so completely that he is usually not conscious that he is sinning.

A sinner may be very sure of his own goodness — or at least of his sincerity. But if he is, then he is just practicing self-deceit. A sinner is not good. He’s not even trying to be good. He doesn’t want to be good — he wants to do what he wants, even if he knows it to be evil. He sins from the heart. Yes, he sometimes shocks even himself by doing something that he didn’t know he was capable of. But this does not mean that he didn’t do it deliberately, intentionally.

There are three things that can make an act a sin. The sinner sins in all these ways:

1) He commits acts that are sinful as to the matter. These are acts forbidden in themselves by the moral law of God. He may keep some of the commandments of God in an outward sense, but not all; and none in the true and spiritual sense Jesus insisted on in the sermon on the mount.

2) He acts from an unlawful motive. Even when doing something lawful in God’s sight, often it is only for show, or for gain, or for other evil motives. Sometimes God’s interest happens to coincide with his own; but where self-interest reigns in the heart, you have nothing but sin. We ought to have God’s will as our supreme motive for everything we do. Self ought to be secondary; and the minute we see that God’s will and ours conflict, we must sacrifice our selves.

3) He sins in his method. He does something lawful, perhaps even with good intentions, but in a way that is not lawful.

A sinner sins in thought, word and deed, all day long, all the days of his life. He may be outwardly moral, and seem a good neighbor and a responsible citizen, but this is only the outside that he has learned to create to impress his fellow-man. God sees what is inside, and that is the only thing that matters. That is the true man.

We have all seen villains depicted in plays and movies and in novels that are so morally offensive that we find ourselves wanting very much to see them severely punished. We may be moved to anger, as if it was not play-acting, but something happening in real life! But there is no villain in any story that is worse than the common, garden-variety sinner is in real life. Listen to how Jesus describes the things that are generated by the evil heart of man:

And he said, “That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.” (Mar 7:20-23)

In the New Testament epistles, written to churches, or bodies of believers, there are found “catalogs of sins”; such as Romans 1:28-32, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 1 Timothy 1:8-11. I used to think that these lists referred only to those who have not been converted, or to believers before their conversion. I did not realize the truth of Paul’s words “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing”(Rom 7:18).

The Saints are Still Sinners

The truth is that saints are still sinners. They are no longer the blind and powerless slaves of sin, it is true. There is a new nature, and it increasingly shows itself; but the old self is still there, living within, fighting against the new self. We have stopped doing many things which we used to do; but we are very, very far from perfection. We need to hear this: we need to be humbled by our sins. We need to learn to see our sins as God sees them: to hate our sins, and to use all means to avoid them. We need to “watch”, which in Scripture means to “stand guard” against occasions of sin and sudden temptations. These things we will not do if we remain blind to the evil that is in our bosoms.

The very fact that the saints are unable to conform themselves completely to the will of God, even though they desire this most sincerely and ardently shows how completely corrupt the sinner is, and demonstrates the native strength of sin in the hearts of all men.

What it Means to be a Sinner

One of the most painful aspects of the Christian life is the knowledge of the sinfulness of man: both our own, and that of others. It is not a pretty picture that we see as we observe our own lives; and it is not encouraging to view the progress of human affairs without the illusions which most people embrace to make life more bearable.

In addition, it is grievous to realize how blind people are about their own miserable state. Our catechism teaches us that we are born into a state of sin and misery. (See Westminster Shorter Catechism Questions 13-19.) The Catechism explains our awful plight in the following words:

Question 19: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?

Answer: All mankind by their fall lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever.

This is a good summary of the terrible condition that we are in. There are 5 elements, which we will consider one by one:

1. The sinner is alienated from God.

2. The sinner is under His wrath and curse.

3. The sinner is liable to all temporal miseries.

4. The sinner must soon die.

5. If the sinner continues in this state until death, he will be damned forever.

1. Alienated from God

We are not born innocent, or in fellowship with God. A child does not have to be taught to rage whenever his will is crossed: he has to be taught not to. The psalmist said, “They go astray from the womb, speaking lies”. God must act to change the heart before we are even desirous of His fellowship. In our hearts, we are all God’s enemies. But alienation is a word that cuts two ways: God is also our enemy. He is, so to speak, forced to oppose us, for we are out to sabotage His holy and good plan for the world of men. Our evil words, our wicked actions, and our bad example and incitement of others to sin cannot be ignored. For example, the one who is pledged to care for the widow and fatherless cannot sit smiling while his subjects oppress them. No, we are in need of reconciliation. God is so far from being pleased with us, that he counts us His enemies. The sinner needs to understand that this is a terrible thing: the danger is extreme!

2. Under His wrath and curse

We are not to think of God as losing His temper like we do. When He is angry, it is not something He regrets and tries to repress. His wrath is like the righteous indignation with which a man fights to drive an invader from his home with deadly force. No, when the Lord God acts in wrath and fury, it is willingly, with His whole self. He is therefore “greatly to be feared”, as the Scripture says.

What is the significance of the curse of God? What does it mean to be under His curse? A curse is a maledictory oath; as a blessing is an oath of benediction. It means that God has fixed and declared His intention to destroy the sinner. God never goes back on His blessings or His cursings; for an oath of God is unbreakable. Like His wrath, His curse is not something that is owing to a moment of passion, when God “forgets himself” as we do; or “doesn’t know what he is doing” or “doesn’t mean what he’s saying”. God’s curse is deliberate, well considered. From eternity, He has always intended to oppose those who despise His good laws, and who rather choose to do evil. Nothing can make Him change His mind on this. Truly, the fact of God’s wrath and curse should make every sinner tremble!

3. Liable to all temporal miseries

There are innumerable ways to suffer; and human beings have a practically infinite capacity for pain. It requires no proof that life is filled with misery. Though we would rather dwell on our dreams and ambitions of happiness in this life, few ever approach happiness; and those who do so do not find their happiness in temporal things, nor do they live free of sorrow. Rich or poor, old or young, no one can insulate himself from pain, so that he is not touched by it. This is the will of God.

4. Soon to die

Who ever thinks about death? Our culture constantly sets before us images of death and dying; but in such a way that we rarely if ever think what it is like to die, or what it means to die. People will do almost anything rather than willingly give up their lives. The fear of death absolutely drives us. We are so afraid that we cannot allow ourselves to think that we are afraid. Billions take refuge from that fear in the various religions of the world; by trying to conciliate whatever powers there may be to be faced after death. Some try to convince themselves that there is nothing after death; but this too is motivated by their fear of death. The way that men view the world and the way they live are rarely (if ever) determined by rational consideration. The world-views that men adopt are a consequence, in large part, of the way they have chosen to hide themselves from the reality of death, and the fear of what is beyond. It may truly be said that, in the hearts of men, death reigns.

Yet, no matter how long he lives, the sinner will certainly die, and then He must stand before his Judge to give an account of his life — and enter at last into his eternal destiny as a saint in heaven, or as a sinner in hell.

5. Damned forever without repentance

Forever! What one word has more of hope or of fear in it than this one? If death is not the end — and no one really believes that it is — then what awaits us on the other side? It must needs be wonderful beyond all imagining or dreadful beyond our worst fears if only because it is our eternal destiny! Eternal life or eternal death! Everlasting joy or everlasting woe!

People refuse to confront facts that, if true, cannot be endured. If a man finds that he is ruined with no way of escape; he often loses his reason, rather than face dishonor, shame, poverty, or whatever it is in which his entire happiness consists. But no ruination that we can ever face here can compare with damnation; for all else is temporary. We find ways to bear what we must, and we have family and friends, sometimes, to help us bear up. But our chief consolation in trouble is that nothing in this life lasts forever! But damnation is forever. Oh, my friends! Damnation is forever!

What Sinners Must Do

If you have never repented of your sins and trusted in Jesus Christ to save you, you must do it now! The wrath of God is about to fall upon you with all the crushing weight of His infinity and eternity! Make your escape while you still can — tomorrow may be too late! Flee from the wrath to come! Cast away anything that will hinder you in your flight! Be assured, there is no other way! There is salvation in no other than Jesus Christ!

Stop putting it off, making excuses, clinging to the miserable life that you have been living, which is worth nothing! Go to God, confessing that you are a wretched, evil thing, that you are unworthy to be taken notice of by such a great and holy God, that you deserve to be cast away forever for the greatness and multitude of your sins. Beg Him to receive you for the sake of His dear son, who came into the world to save sinners such as you are. Remind Him of His promises to hear and receive us if we will only humble ourselves and accept His free grace. Surrender to Him unconditionally — stop your stupid, ruinous fighting against the authority of your Creator. He is your God! Fall down before Him in worship and be grateful that He deigns to invite your worship! These things you must do, or you are lost, and lost forever!

What the Saints Must Do

If you are among those blessed ones whom God has, by sovereign grace called into His kingdom and glory, this is what you must do: You must pity, preach to, and pray for those who are in such awful danger as this!

If sinners are to be saved, there must be some way for God to reconcile those who are alienated from Him. Jesus has satisfied the honor and justice of the offended majesty of God; and thus made a way for God’s forgiveness and favor. Should we not tell them?

If sinners are to be saved, there must be an appeasement of God’s righteous anger. This also was accomplished when Jesus died in the place of sinners. Is this not worthy to be proclaimed?

If sinners are to be saved, there must be a lifting of the curse. Some way must exist whereby God neither breaks His word nor carries it out. Infinite wisdom has found out the way: the curse falls on another who is by nature indestructible. He bears the awful load for us, in our place; and is not crushed because He is Divine. The elect sinner, bound to Christ in a covenantal union that has existed from eternal ages, is freed from the curse forever. Is this not good news?

God has promised to save a great number of sinners from all the families of the earth! If we are believers indeed, should we not believe this, and pray for the soon fulfillment of this blessed word? Are we not taught to pray, “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”?

Pity, preach and pray!

Glory to God! Amen!

Expositor’s Bible Commentary on the Priority of Agriculture

We must observe then the good effects which result from honest and earnest toil. But, first, we cannot help noticing what an important place is here given to agriculture. This is not accidental to the time in which the book was written. It is an eternal principle. Out of the soil comes our wealth; by the soil therefore we live; and accordingly God has ordained that in the tilling of the ground man shall find his wholesomest, sweetest, and most strengthening employment; that no community shall inwardly flourish when its agricultural life declines; and that therefore the happiest and soundest society will be that in which the largest proportional number are engaged in producing the fruits of the earth, and are directly and vitally attached to their mother soil.

“He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread.” (Proverbs 28:19)  When a nation is in the case of the sluggard, when you pass by its fields and its vineyards and see them grown over with thorns and nettles and its stone walls broken down, you will find pauperism coming as a robber, and want, gaunt and hideous, stalking through the land like an armed man. (Proverbs 24:30-34)

“Be thou diligent,” therefore we are told, “to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds” (take care that no foolish pride or negligence prevent you from seeing that the agricultural life is properly maintained, for it is the only sure basis of prosperity); “riches are not forever, and even the government of kings does not endure to all generations.” But in the sweet ordinances of nature the great Giver provides His unfailing wealth: “The hay is carried, and immediately the tender grass begins to grow again, and even the barren mountains yield their herbs for ingathering. The lambs appear every spring with their wool for our clothing, and the field will maintain goats equal in value to its own price. And from these miraculous sources of eternal reproduction our food and our maintenance are to be drawn.” (Proverbs 27:23-27)

Thus at the foundation of all industries is the agricultural industry. At the root of all social and economical questions is the land question. When you wish to commend diligence and to discourage idleness in a nation that is “lazy diligent,” the first thing is to inquire into the condition or the use of the land. The land is God’s gift to a people. English land is God’s gift to the English people. If it is misapplied, ill-used, neglected; if it does not produce its full tale of wealth; if it does not support its full burden of living creatures, and give employment to its full number of hands, we are flying in the face of God’s ordinances; we must not expect to prosper; His gracious will is frustrated, and we must have the shame and sorrow of seeing our million of paupers, and our second million of enforced idlers, and our myriads of lazy cumberers of the ground, and our whole population disorganized and unsettled, torn with the frenzy of insane work, or gangrened with the corruption of destroying idleness. For the gifts of God are without repentance, and the abuse of His gifts is without remedy.

Selected from commentary On Proverbs 20:4

What Was God Doing Before Creation?

A Commonsense View of Time and Eternity

A Disclaimer

I have the greatest respect for Ken Ham, and the marvelous work that he is doing at Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. I have learned a great deal from him and the other authors whose works adorn his excellent website. I stand with him in his claim that Genesis, interpreted as true history, is the foundation and key to the whole rest of the Bible. Let nothing that is said here be taken as a personal attack. In this piece, I am only trying to advance the cause of truth by critiquing the consensus view of time and eternity. I might have picked any number of Christian authors who have made similar statements. This one came to my attention and seemed as suitable as any for my purpose.

The Question

In an article entitled, “What Was God Doing Before Creation?” Ken Ham stated:

Because of my stand on a young universe, a man approached me and said, “But it makes no sense to believe in a young universe. After all, what was God doing all that time before He created?”

I answered, “What time do you mean?”

The person answered, “Well, it doesn’t make sense to say that God has always existed, and yet He didn’t create the universe until just six thousand years ago.” Apparently, he was worried that God once had a lot of time on His hands with nothing to do.

I then went on to explain that because God has always existed, then it is meaningless to ask, “What was God doing all that time before He created?” No matter how far you were to go back in time, you would still have an infinite amount of time before He created! So even if the universe were billions or trillions or quadrillions of years old, you could still ask the same question.

So far, so good! But then Mr. Ham makes a common mistake:

I then answered, “But you are missing the fact that there was no time before God created.”

Absolute versus Relative Time

So there was no time before creation! Really! Here I must insist upon a crucial distinction between absolute and relative time. In his definition of “time”, Noah Webster states:

Time is absolute or relative; absolute time is considered without any relation to bodies or their motions. Relative time is the sensible measure of any portion of duration, by means of motion. Thus the diurnal revolution of the sun measures a space of time or duration.” (An American Dictionary of the English Language, Noah Webster, 1828)

In this he follows Sir Isaac Newton:

Absolute, true, and mathematical time, of itself, and from its own nature flows equably without regard to anything external, and by another name is called duration: relative, apparent, and common time, is some sensible and external (whether accurate or unequable) measure of duration by the means of motion, which is commonly used instead of true time; such as an hour, a day, a month, a year.” (Principia, p.77, Motte translation, 1846)

I grant that relative time may be said to have begun when the world was created; but absolute time must have been passing from all eternity. God is called “the ancient of days” because He is by far the Oldest Being. One does not grow old if there is no time. God always was – that is, He was from eternity. Always means “at all times”. When we say God was “from eternity”, the word, “from” is used in the same way as we would say, “from the day that…” It indicates a span of time which has passed since that day. One must get rid of the idea that eternity is something separate from time or opposed to it; for eternity is just time without beginning or end.

But Mr. Ham fails to recognize this all-important distinction. Time as he defines it had a beginning. Next he says:

“Time is actually a created entity. The first verse of the Bible reads: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'” (Genesis 1:1, emphasis added).

But wait a minute. This verse says nothing about God creating time! Rather, it uses a phrase, “in the beginning”, that implies time already existed when He created. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” is not the same as “In the beginning God created time, space and matter.” Nor does the text read, “God created the beginning”. This text, therefore, says absolutely nothing in support of his hypothesis. I will have more to say on this later; but let us first see if he has any other proof. He next asserts:

“A study of this verse reveals that God created time, space, and matter on the first day of Creation Week.”

What Does the Text Say?

Alright then, let’s study the verse.

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)

Genesis 1:1 says that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” – that is, what was to become our familiar heaven and earth. Then it briefly describes their original condition. Then follows a record of the six days of creation, in which by further creative acts, God turned this formless, chaotic world into a finished cosmos. Moses elsewhere summarizes:

“For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Exodus 20:11)

The second text contemplates the finished, “very good” heaven and earth as it was before the fall of man, and calls it “heaven and earth”.

God created heaven and earth out of nothing. Genesis 1:1 is not a summary of the following account of creation, but a statement about the fiat creation of the universe in its original mode of existence: an unformed mass of water and primeval substance in the midst of the unlighted heavens. Keil & Delitzsch point out that the use of the word “and” at the start of verse two requires verse one to be understood as having already taken place. Verse one is not a heading, and verse two is not a subordinate clause of a longer sentence.

If verse one is not a statement of ex nihilo creation, then there is none in this whole chapter; which I find incredible. For verse two obviously contemplates an existing world; but gives no hint where it came from. Verse one must explain this fact.

There are two key questions that concern us:

1. What was it that God is said to have created?

2. What is meant by “in the beginning?

1. What was it that God is said to have created?

The answer is “heaven and earth”. This is not a scientific description: nothing in the creation narrative is written in terms of twenty-first century scientific terminology. Nothing should be more apparent; but nothing is more common than the attempt to read it in terms of modern scientific concepts and models. The great diversity of opinion among modern commentators tells against this approach. The older commentators understood the text to be written in anthropomorphic and phenomenological language; which supposition yields a natural and understandable sense, and a general agreement.

It was addressed to ordinary men in an ancient agrarian culture; to be understood by them, and by all succeeding generations, regardless of the scientific model in vogue at any time. To import into the term, “heaven”, the idea of the astral heavens revealed by modern telescopy and exploration, would be an abuse of language. Barnes thinks that the heavenly bodies must be included, but these were not made until the fourth day. Gill thinks the celestial heavens, where God manifests Himself to the angels and His redeemed, may be included; but I believe that this is beyond the scope of the narrative.

The man of the first century Anno Mundi would know no other “heaven” than the visible sky, which appears as a solid dome, and in which appear the clouds and the astral bodies; and no other “earth” but the land upon which he stood. He would not need to know that the earth is a gigantic sphere, or that the sky is an ocean of gases surrounded by largely empty space. All of the particularity that we moderns ascribe to these words would be foreign to this context, which is characterized by concreteness and an elegant simplicity.

Every attempt that has been made to derive a description of the universe as scientists now understand it from the language of Genesis one has proved unsatisfactory and strained. For example, I refer you to Henry M. Morris’s influential The Genesis Record. While there is much in this book to appreciate, his attempt to expound Genesis 1:1 is not, in my opinion, very helpful.

To Morris, “the heavens” means what we call space, and “the beginning” is the beginning of time. This is plainly an importing of Morris’s idiosyncratic cosmology into the text. Newton would have said that this cannot be right, for it is self-evident that space and time are not created entities; and that they had no beginning. Morris says that “the earth” means matter, but the text says not “matter”, but “the earth”. It is obvious that the sun, moon and stars were not made out of “the earth”; for the latter was already fully-formed when the former were created. (I suspect that they were made ex nihilo, like the earth; but the text does not say.) Morris says that the universe is a “trinity” which he defines as “a continuum in which each component is itself co-existent and coterminous with the whole. That is, the universe is not part space, part time and part matter, but rather all space, all time, all matter, and so is a true tri-unity.” I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. But I am fairly sure that nothing like this was in the mind of the original author.

There are many opinions about the interpretation of verses one and two, but after consideration of all the principal views, I think Calvin is right when he says regarding them:

“…Moses simply intends to assert that the world was not perfected at its very commencement, in the manner in which it is now seen, but that it was created an empty chaos of heaven and earth. His language therefore may be thus explained: ‘When God in the beginning created the heaven and the earth, the earth was empty and waste.'”

He further states:

“There is no doubt that Moses gives the name of “heaven and earth” to that confused mass which he, shortly afterwards (verse 2), denominates waters. The reason of which is, that this matter was to be the seed of the whole world. Besides, this is the generally recognized division of the world.”

Calvin is referring to the fact that ancient Hebrew had no word equivalent to “cosmos” or “universe”. Accordingly, we find the phrase, “heaven and earth” used as an equivalent to “all creation” in many places in the Old Testament. But again, this should not be pressed as proof that the whole cosmos as now known to us was intended by the author in Genesis 1:1.

The purpose of this chapter of sacred narrative is to show us how our own familiar world came into existence by the omnipotence of a sovereign God, and what our place is in this world; not to exhaustively describe the entire universe. That this record is not meant to be exhaustive is seen in the significant fact that the creation of the angels, even, is not addressed at all! When He made the angels is not revealed; unless Job 38:7 is speaking of the angels, in which case they were made at some time before the earth was.

Keil and Delitzsch says concerning the first day:

“Though treating of the creation of the heaven and the earth, the writer, both here and in what follows, describes with minuteness the original condition and progressive formation of the earth alone, and says nothing more respecting the heaven than is actually requisite in order to show its connection with the earth. He is writing for inhabitants of the earth, and for religious ends; not to gratify curiosity, but to strengthen faith in God, the Creator of the universe. What is said in Genesis 1:2 of the chaotic condition of the earth, is equally applicable to the heaven, for the heaven proceeds from the same chaos as the earth.”

And Calvin, commenting on the waters above the firmament in 1:6 says:

“For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. Here the Spirit of God would teach all men without exception; and therefore what Gregory declares falsely and in vain respecting statues and pictures is truly applicable to the history of the creation, namely, that it is the book of the unlearned. The things, therefore, which he relates, serve as the garniture of that theater which he places before our eyes. Whence I conclude, that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive.”

Note: I am not saying that God did not create all things, visible and invisible, during Creation week. My remarks are only meant to confine us to the meaning of the terms of the text intended by the author. On the first day, God made the earth; and on the second, “the expanse” or “heaven”. On the fourth day, He made all the heavenly bodies that appear in our sky. The description is of things visible and familiar, according to the common perception of mankind.

The remainder of Genesis one details the progressive development and perfecting of the world whose original creation is recorded in the first verse. None of the elements of created reality that are essential from a human perspective are omitted. But of the origin of space itself, or of time in a generic sense, there is not a word!

2. What is the referent of the phrase “in the beginning”?

We might ask, “The beginning of what?” Since no reference point is explicitly stated, it must be clearly implied. Otherwise, the author has left us to guess, which is absurd. What does the context suggest? Since the subject is the creation of the world, it is obvious that the beginning of the world is meant. John uses the same expression in the same way in the prologue to his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3). The meaning is clear. The eternal Word already “was” with God the Father in the beginning of the world. At that time, He made all things.

One can assert that it means the beginning of time itself; but to prove it from the words in Genesis 1:1 is another matter, since generic time is not referred to at all in any of them! The words rather denote a particular time period. Once again, the most natural meaning of the text in question is, that the world which we now know in its completed state was, in its beginning, created by God in an amorphous, undifferentiated, and undeveloped condition – and was subsequently perfected in the space of six days.

But Mr. Ham gives us no exposition of the text. This is fair, considering the nature and purpose of his piece: and no doubt his views are accessible in his other writings. I simply note the fact. What we are given is an unfortunate mix of bare assertions and shaky deductions, as follows:

“No one of these can have a meaningful existence without the others. God created the space-mass-time universe. Space and matter must exist in time, and time requires space and matter. Time is only meaningful if physical entities exist and events transpire during time.”

This is almost word-for-word from Henry Morris. The first statement, “No one of these can have a meaningful existence without the others”, is simply not true. Time and space can conceivably exist without mass or energy. In fact, they did exist before the material world, which is what the Bible says God created. God always existed, which could not be said if there was no always. “Always” has never meant anything else than “at all times”. And absolute space was already in existence from all eternity. For I cannot understand God’s immensity apart from the “void”, the infinite space which He fills.

First Key Idea: Duration

Another way of saying it is that God is of infinite duration, and duration is synonymous with time. As Sir Isaac Newton (who was reputed to know something about science, and also the Bible) said,

“He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient ; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things and knows all things, that are or can be done. He is not eternity or infinity, but eternal and infinite; he is not duration and space, but he endures and is present. He endures forever and is everywhere present; and by existing always and everywhere, he constitutes duration and space. Since every particle of space is always, and every indivisible moment of duration is everywhere, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and nowhere.” (Principia, p.505, Motte translation, 1846)

Mr. Ham’s next statement is a mere assertion: “God created the space-mass-time universe.” There is not a single text anywhere in God’s Word to support this; but nevertheless it seems to be the consensus view today among Christians who are scientists, old- and young-earthers alike.

Then he says, “Space and matter must exist in time, and time requires space and matter”, which is half true – the first half, that is – the second half isn’t. Time doesn’t imply the existence of matter at all! God was here for an eternity of time before He created the material world. When we say that God is “eternal”, we mean that He is infinitely extended in time; as God’s “immensity” means that He is infinitely extended in space.

I assert that there is no other way for us to think about these things. There is no other clear and definite concept of eternity, than that God is always; or of omnipresence, that God is everywhere in any man’s mind. To think of God in terms that have no temporal or spacial implications is impossible. All the words and phrases that Scripture uses to represent eternity are derived from temporal terms (See Addendum). No doubt God alone understands the true nature of time and space; but if we try to escape the bonds of the categories of reason which he has implanted in our finite minds, we will only end up in confusion.

Second Key Idea: Succession

But Mr. Ham thinks otherwise. He supports his claim that “time requires space and matter” with the following argument: “Time is only meaningful if physical entities exist and events transpire during time”. I take it that he means that the word, “time” has no meaning unless “physical entities exist and events transpire during time”. So he defines time more narrowly than I do, and limits it to the realm of what I would call history. But notice that Mr. Ham has recognized the two elements that belong to the essence of time. Without naming them, he points to the existence of duration (“entities exist”) and succession (“events transpire”).

It is necessary to distinguish these two aspects of time: duration and succession. I have before proved that duration must be as eternal as God. Now we must consider the other aspect of time, succession. Succession is implied in duration; for without a succession of moments there can be no duration.

Our innate idea of time is of something that moves. Moment succeeds moment. There is past, present and future; but what is now future will become present, and then past. This sequence is continuous, without intermission, and unending. This is what I mean by succession. Mr. Ham also has an idea of succession, but it is limited to created entities and events in history, and is inapplicable to the time before creation. Thus he makes the mistake of thinking that time began at creation.

The succession of which I speak is as real for God as it is for us. God reveals Himself as the One who “was, and is, and is to come”. He reminds us of what He has done in the past, tells us what He is doing in the present, and predicts what He will do in the future. It is not just our time in which He exists and acts; but the time that is common to us and Him. Or rather, it is His time, in which we have been made to share by virtue of our creation.

Immutability Implies Time

One of God’s perfections is unchangeableness, or immutability. If a perfect being were to change, He could not become more perfect; for perfection does not admit of degrees. And He could not become imperfect; for if He did, that would imply that He was already imperfect – that is, capable of corruption. God is incapable of any such thing. But God’s unchangeableness implies the existence of time; since change implies time. The word, “immutability” is only meaningful if there is a hypothetical possibility of, or opportunity for, change. There is nothing outside of God, or in the nature of the circumstances in which He exists, that can prevent Him from changing: only His own nature makes it impossible.

I am confident that Mr. Ham would never say that God became immutable only when time began: He was always immutable. But the reason he was immutable in eternity past was not because there was no time in which He might change. Rather, from moment to moment, as time went by, He remained the same, all the time, as a necessity of His perfect nature.

The Living God

But while God’s being is forever immutable, God is active – not stationary, immobile, inactive. God has never been anything else but the living God. He did not wait until Creation to start doing things. He has been knowing, willing, determining, loving, communicating, and all the other things He does within Himself, from all eternity. These are internal acts of God, if I may so speak – things done within Himself, within the triune Godhead. His external acts required the existence of something outside Himself. He had to create that something first. At the beginning of this mysterious world in which we find ourselves, He was there, and spoke it into being. This was His first external act.

Time is therefore not meaningless apart from the existence of matter and events involving materiality, as Mr. Ham asserts. Neither were the eternal ages of time before the beginning of the world, in which only God existed, meaningless. Ask what God did then, and I will tell you that, among other things, He loved His people and willed their salvation. He loved them every second of every minute of every day, just as He does now, and always will. Eternity is not the absence of time; nor is it the annulment of time: it is time infinitely extended into the past and the future.

Plain Contradictions

Mr. Ham concludes:

In the beginning…” is when time began! There was no time before time was created!

He does not realize that he has just involved himself in a contradiction. What, after all, does “before time” mean? How can there be a before where there is no time? The word “before” implies succession, and therefore the existence of time. The claim that time had a beginning is therefore self-contradictory and nonsensical.

And if time is defined as the realm of change; then the beginning of time, which would be the greatest change of all, must take place at some time within the realm of change. Change cannot occur until time exists. Therefore, time must have existed before time, in order for time to come into existence. There is no escaping this plain contradiction.

And if there was no time before Creation, then God existed at no time before Creation.

The Mystery of Time: There is Only the Present

While time goes on forever, it is important to realize that, in an ultimate sense, the past and the future are nonexistent. Only the present exists. The past is so perfectly, exhaustively and persistently remembered by God that it is nearly real to Him; but He does not live, exist, or act in the past, any more than we do.

Likewise, the future is perfectly foreknown by Him, and He has always willed that it should become present and exist at the proper time; but the future does not yet exist. Else how could Paul use this language of God?

“…God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were.” (Romans 4:17)

God “called” Abraham “a father of many nations” long before it was true of him. Even now, the fulfillment of this is incomplete; for the whole number of the elect have not been gathered in. God was able to say this because with Him, the promise is as sure as if it had been kept. Notwithstanding, there is an absolute antithesis between “those things which be not” and those things that are.

A God who experienced as existent that which did not exist would not be a God of truth. The claim often made that time is irrelevant to God – that He exists “simultaneously” in the past, present and future – is therefore impossible.

The past leaves behind its consequences: that is all. It cannot be undone or altered, even by God. That is why our past sins cannot merely be erased. That would have solved everything, wouldn’t it? God could then have said, “Adam, Eve, that was a terrible thing you did, but I see that you are very sorry and will never make that mistake again; so I am just going to undo it, and we will start all over again at the beginning.” No, nothing can be done to change something that occurred in the past. But the consequences of sin – alienation from God, guilt, defilement – these can be fully dealt with by a God of infinite wisdom and power. And they have been!

Conclusion

There is no doubt that our mode of knowing is finite and imperfect. God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, as the prophet declares. They are infinitely above our own. There is mystery everywhere in God’s creation; to say nothing of the mystery of mysteries: God Himself. We know nothing now as we shall know someday; and we will never know anything as God does, for what it really is.

Nevertheless, we do have true knowledge of a sort that is appropriate for us in our role as the image and representative of God. The ultimate ideas – time, space, matter, energy, causation, etc. are not uncertain or debatable. They are the foundations of intelligence, the roots of understanding. When they are perverted by men who have abandoned the Rock of Scripture; or when, in trying to reach higher than we were meant to, we lose our hold on the fundamental ideas, we end up understanding less – not more.

This age, with all its technical competence, is far inferior in understanding to the time of Bacon and Newton. Our theoretical physicists know nothing of metaphysics, and think everything can be measured and reduced to mathematical formulae; but the infinite, the eternal, the absolute are beyond the grasp of mathematics. Neither God nor truth can be computed, proved or disproved by calculation. The priceless gift of right reason will always, when exercised within its proper limits and subordinated to revelation, lead to the truth in such matters. We only need to be aware of what we really know and how we really think to solve many a riddle and untie many a Gordian knot.

I am aware that these remarks, and this view of things, will (to say the least) be met with skepticism. After all, Mr. Ham represents a consensus view that in some respects goes back to Augustine. But all errors are old; and many have been widely accepted at times. I only ask for a prayerful and careful consideration of the substance of my argument. If I am wrong, it should not be hard for Mr. Ham (or for someone else among the very many others who are wiser and abler than I am) to prove it.

ADDENDUM: THE BIBLICAL VOCABULARY OF ETERNITY

If we take the language of scripture as it stands, we find no trace of a non-temporal concept of eternity. The Hebrew and Greek words used are all temporal words, and picture eternity as the extension of time without limit.

The Hebrew words for “eternal” and “everlasting”

Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternalH6924 GodH430 is thy refuge,H4585 and underneathH4480 H8478 are the everlastingH5769 arms:H2220

WORD/ STRONG’S NUMBER/ LITERAL MEANING


keh’-dem   6924   “the front” from the beginning

From a root, 6923 that means to precede, or go before. To the Hebrews, the front of anything was the east side, so it is used often of “the east”. But in temporal contexts, it refers to that which is ancient, which is before some reference point, or before all things else. This is the language of temporal succession.

o-lawm’   5769   “concealed” always, forever

Strong gives the following: “properly concealed, that is, the vanishing point; generally time out of mind (past or future), that is, (practically) eternity”. The idea is time infinitely extended into the past or the future.

Isaiah 57:15 ForH3588 thusH3541 saithH559 the highH7311 and lofty OneH5375 that inhabitethH7931 eternity,H5703 whose nameH8034 is Holy;H6918 I dwellH7931 in the highH4791 and holyH6918 place,

ad’   5703    “terminus” of perpetual duration

Strong gives: “properly a (peremptory) terminus, that is, (by implication) duration, in the sense of perpetuity”. With its equivalent, 5704, ad’ appears 112 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It is commonly used in conjunction with o-lawm’. When used alone, it is most often translated “ever” (meaning always) or “for ever”. This highlights the temporal idea of duration.

Only in Isaiah 57:15, in the memorable phrase, “who inhabitest eternity” is ad’ ever translated as a noun in the A.V. Though this makes beautiful poetry, there is no linguistic necessity for this unique translation. The verb rendered “inhabitest”, coming from the root, to lie (down), means to dwell or to remain; it would therefore be proper to translate, “who abideth eternally”. Brenton’s English translation of the phrase from the Septuagint reads, “who dwells on high for ever”. Delitzsch gives us “the eternally dwelling One”. This text gives no color to Augustine’s speculation that God somehow “dwells outside time”.

The Greek words for “forever”, “eternal” and “everlasting”

Matthew 6:13 ForG3754 thineG4675 isG2076 theG3588 kingdom,G932 andG2532 theG3588 power,G1411 andG2532 theG3588 glory,G1391 for ever.G1519 G165

165   αἰών   “age” forever

Strong: “properly an age; by extension perpetuity (also past)”. An aion or age is a long period of time. The phrase eis tous aionas (into the ages) used here means perpetually or forever.

Romans 16:26 ButG1161 nowG3568 is made manifest,G5319 andG5037 byG1223 the scripturesG1124 of the prophets,G4397 accordingG2596 to the commandmentG2003 of theG3588 everlastingG166 God,G2316 made knownG1107 toG1519 allG3956 nationsG1484 forG1519 the obedienceG5218 of faith:G4102

166   αἰώνios  from αἰών, “age” eternal, everlasting

This word is just an adjective formed from αἰών that means perpetual.

All of the words and phrases used in the Bible to express the idea of eternity have the quality of temporality. They imply succession and/or duration, both of which are temporal concepts. There is nothing in any of these words to imply that eternity is anything other than time extended infinitely into the past and the future.

What’s Wrong with the B.C. Dating System?

Most Christians do not appreciate the importance of chronology (or, by the way, geography) to the proper understanding of Scripture. They tend to read the Scriptural record as a collection of isolated episodes, rather than a continuous history. Only an acquaintance with biblical chronology can correct this tendency.

It does not help that an artificial system is being used to date the events of Old Testament history. This system is no improvement – but rather a detriment – to the understanding of the Bible. I refer to the system of B.C. dating. This is the system used in nearly all the Bible dictionaries and other sources used for studying and teaching the Bible.

There are several problems with B.C. dating. To start with, it is inaccurate. Our Lord was not born in the first year A.D., but probably in what is now called 5 B.C. (The inventor of the system made a mistake at the outset.) Besides, B. C. dating is backwards, counter-intuitive and difficult to keep straight. Moreover, as Anstey has shown, many of the accepted B.C. dates are contradicted by Scripture.

But the basic problem is that it is a system that no one has ever used in real life. It is completely unnatural. No one has ever been able to date an event he has witnessed from an event yet future. Every dating system known to man has measured the passing of time from some defined point in the past. This odd feature of B.C. dating passes unnoticed; but it is highly significant. Because of this, all the B.C. dates are artificial, and must be derived indirectly, from calculations that make assumptions about the validity of the dates that are the basis of those calculations.

By contrast, the Bible dates events naturally, by eyewitnesses and other authorities, in their relation to the dates of past events; and connects them to a continuous chronology that is ultimately anchored at the creation of the world. These dates are called “Anno Mundi” (A.M.) which means “Year of the World”.

If the Bible gave us the exact count of years from the creation to the beginning of the A.D. era, then we might easily date the creation in terms of that many years B.C., and other biblical dates could then be converted to B.C. dates by subtraction from that number. So, for example, if Christ was born 4041 years after the world began, but five years before A.D. 1, creation would be correctly dated at 4046 B.C., and other dated biblical events could likewise be dated in B.C. terms. So, the Exodus, which is dated 2513 A.M., might be said to have occurred in 1533 B.C.

But Scripture does not give us the exact count of years from the creation to the birth of Christ. Rather, it gives the count of years from the creation to the baptism of Christ, when he was anointed with the holy spirit and was formally revealed as the “Messiah”, or “anointed one”. Daniel predicted that Messiah would appear at the end of 69 “weeks” from the year of Israel’s deliverance from the Babylon captivity in the first year of Cyrus. (Daniel 9:25) Actually, the word “weeks” in our English Bibles is misleading. The Hebrew text uses the word, “sevens”. The prophecy specifies the time using the unit of a hebdad. It is obvious from the time of fulfillment that these were sevens of years.

The Old Testament chronology is linked at the point of the decree of Cyrus to a sixty-nine week (four hundred and eighty-three years) span. This is arrived at by adding the “seven weeks” to the “threescore and two weeks” of Daniel’s “seventy weeks” prophecy. That span of years terminates at the public appearance and anointing of Messiahhis baptism, not his birth – in the beginning of the seventieth week.

His exact age at that time may have been thirty years, depending on how one understands Luke 3:23, translated in the A.V. as “And Jesus himself began to be about thirty years of age”. A. T. Robertson however, approves of William Tyndale’s translation: “Jesus was about thirty yere of age when he beganne” [that is, to teach]. Robertson claims that the AV translation is grammatically “impossible”. But whether Jesus’ baptism was as early as 25 A.D., or as late as 28 A.D. is uncertain. Hence we cannot be as precise with B.C. (or A.D.) dates as we can with A.M. dates, which are accurate to the year, and are anchored at the creation of the world. So that we can say with certainty that Christ was baptized in the year 4072 A.M., according to the inspired and infallible Word of God.

True, the use of the B.C. method suggested above yields results close enough for most purposes. Even allowing for the inherent range of error, it shows how far off most of the chronologists are in dating the Exodus, which occurred in 2513 A.M. or @1533 B.C. One runs into dates as wide of the mark as 1652 B.C. (Fausset), and 1490 B.C. (Ussher, Barnes, Smith, Easton). Ussher is an interesting example, because he gives the correct A.M. date for the Exodus; but because of errors in the latter part of his chronology, his B.C date for it is way off.

One reason for these discrepancies is that there is not enough solid data from secular or biblical sources to construct a history of the period from the close of the canon of Scripture, during the Persian period, to the era of Alexander the Great, that succeeded it. There is nothing that can be called a true history apart from the Hebrew Scriptures before Alexander. And as to the Jews, this was the period in which Israel had no prophet, the centuries of God’s silence that ran from Malachi to John the baptist. The chronology of this period was, of course, recorded by the Jews, in their “Seder Olam”; but that is not inspired Scripture.

For these reasons, I conclude that unless one accepts and correctly uses the prophecy of Daniel’s seventy weeks, he cannot know, even approximately, how long this period was. But it must be known for any B.C. date earlier than this period to be correctly reckoned. The “canon of Ptolemy” is supposed to be reliable, and it is the only apparent “bridge” between Cyrus and Alexander. But it is really useless because, despite the genius and learning of Ptolemy, his chronology must be rejected as conjectural. Ptolemy was not himself a witness to the length of the Persian period, living, as he did about 700 years after the reign of Cyrus; and he also failed to cite any ancient sources for his chronology. But most important, the acceptance of his dates runs into conflict with the dates given in the biblical chronology. (For further discussion of the problems with Ptolemy’s chronology, see The Wonders Of Biblical Chronology, by Philip Mauro, page 8.)

The ancient Romans dated everything from the supposed date of the founding of their city, which was, according to the Julian calendar, in 754 B.C. This would be approximately 3292 Anno Mundi, the 14th year of Amaziah, King of Judah. However, there is no synchronism — no dated event specified in both Roman and biblical records — by which we can directly connect the biblical chronology and the Roman without using B.C. dates.

We should not be surprised, therefore, to find that the dates given in, or deduced from, the chronological statements of Scripture do not agree with the accepted dates for events in ancient history. But what do we do when discrepancies occur? Which is more certain, the dates derived from holy Scripture, or those assigned by the uncertain traditions of men?

The unprejudiced student of chronology will soon discover that secular B.C. dates often rest on a combination of facts and conjecture that is by no means rock-solid. Whatever problems may exist in systematizing the Bible’s chronological statements; at least Scripture contains a continuous record of successive events that were given their dates by contemporaries, working within a common framework, counting from the creation of the world. There is no other such record in all the annals of the ancients – nothing that even makes a pretense of it. (Admittedly, if there had been any such record besides the one handed down in the fifth chapter of Genesis, it would have perished in the Great Flood.) Moreover, an orthodox doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture requires us to believe that all the chronological statements of Scripture are infallible.

I submit that Christians would be a lot more conversant with the Bible’s history, and much less confused about its chronology, if Anno Mundi dates were used as the ordinary way of referring to the times of biblical events. Let the scholars use their B.C. dates while they debate about the reconciliation of this or that pagan nation’s historical records with the Bible’s. A Christian chiefly needs to know the chronological information that the Omniscient Author of holy Scripture has seen fit to reveal in the Bible itself. The Christian thus equipped will find his understanding of the Bible clarified and enriched thereby.

Howard Douglas King

May 6, 2015

Revised July 4, 2015

Last revised May 26, 2020

The All-Conquering King of Psalm 110

1 Jehovah said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. 2 Jehovah shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. 3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. 4 Jehovah hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. 6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries. 7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

The psalm is composed of two parts: the first, in which Jehovah speaks to the Messiah, and the second, in which David speaks about Him.

Barnes gives the following outline:

I. The appointment of the Messiah – acknowledged by the author of the psalm as his “Lord” – to that high office, to be held until he should subdue all his enemies, verse 1.

II. His being endowed with “power” needful for the accomplishment of the design for which he was appointed, verse 2.

III. The assurance that his people would be made “willing” in the day when he should put forth his power, verse 3.

IV. The special characteristic of his reign, as that of a “priest-king,” after the order of Melchizedek; combining the two functions of king and priest in his own person and office, verse 4.

V. His conquest and triumph, verses 5-7.

A Concise Exposition

1 A Psalm of David. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.

The author is certainly King David. Jehovah (the LORD) first addresses Messiah (David’s Lord) with a command/invitation to sit at His right hand while Jehovah makes Messiah’s enemies His footstool. This psalm describes the phase of the Kingdom of God that we are in today, wherein Christ reigns over a kingdom that is in general revolt. The suppression of that rebellion is as sure as if it were an accomplished fact; for Jehovah himself has promised His Son that these rebels will submit to Him.

2 The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.

The first clause is obscure, but the second illuminates it. Jehovah will impart strength to Messiah’s scepter; so that He will be able to rule in the midst of His enemies. The rule of Jehovah and Messiah His Son is coordinate. Christ is not passive, but He does the works of His Father. He exercises His rule from the heavenly Zion; while His powerful word commences and goes forth from the earthly Zion.

3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.

The ancient Oriental poetry is difficult, and interpretations vary; but the point seems to be that the power of Christ is such that He makes the unwilling willing. There is therefore no limit to the success of His gospel in the world. Whole kingdoms of men can be converted in one day; as one morning can bring forth numberless drops of dew.

4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.

There are three things that distinguished Melchizedek from the Levitical priest:

1. Melchizedek was, as Barnes has stated, a king-priest. In Israel, the priesthood belonged to Levi, and the kingship to Judah. These offices were to be combined in the Messiah, along with the office of prophet.

2. Melchizedek did not have to qualify for the priesthood by genealogy.

3. Melchizedek served as priest of the Most High God “for ever”, that is, for as long as he lived.

The longest that a Levite could serve in the priestly office was 20 years. By law, the Levite could not begin before he was 30 years old, and he must retire at the age of 50. (This is what is meant by the terms “beginning of days” and “end of life” in Hebrews 7:3.) By contrast, Messiah was to be a priest literally forever; for not only was there no law requiring him to retire; but He was after the resurrection incapable of death.

5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.

The Lord” (Hebrew adonai) here, could conceivably refer to either Divine person; but I think it refers to Messiah for the following reasons:

1. The word is used to distinguish Messiah from Jehovah in verse 1.

2. Messiah is invited to sit at the right hand of God in verse 1.

3. The reign of Messiah is what this psalm is describing.

4. It would be needless to say regarding Jehovah, that He would judge kings; but this is important information, if the Messiah is in view.

5. If we take the contrary view, Messiah becomes a passive spectator of God’s acts, instead of a powerful and active Monarch defending His rights.

As to the pronoun, “thy”, David is addressing Jehovah at this point. This abrupt change in address is not uncommon in Scripture.

The most powerful despot on earth is nothing more than clay in the potter’s hand, as Pharaoh found, to his ruin. Messiah will exercise all the power of the Godhead over the kings and rulers of the earth. (See Psalm 2.)

6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.

Messiah is here represented as invincible in battle. No matter how many are arrayed against him in battle, or how many wars he has to fight – His victory is sure and complete. That kingdom and nation that will not serve Him shall perish. As the ruler of the whole world, Christ will literally destroy many of His enemies. In his arsenal are many weapons: war, pestilence, famine, earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, plagues of insects… Some say that this is figurative – that the battle is only spiritual. To be sure, as the Redeemer of God’s elect, He shall transform many of them into loyal, obedient subjects. But what is in view here is His wrath – not His mercy. The point is the futility of resistance.

7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.

Messiah is never wearied by these contests. He is infinitely superior to his mightiest foe. In the pursuit of them he is relentless, only stopping a moment for a refreshing drink on his way.

Psalm 110 in the New Testament

Psalm 110 is, of all the Psalms, the most often quoted in the New Testament. The true Divinity of Christ, His exaltation to Supreme Lordship at the right hand of God, His call to a perpetual priesthood, and the completeness of His victory are all supported by citations from this Psalm. Here is a list of 25 different texts that quote some part of the psalm:

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 Saying, What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David. 43 He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, 44 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? 45 If David then call him Lord, how is he his son? (Matthew 22:41-45)

41 And he said unto them, How say they that Christ is David’s son? 42 And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 43 Till I make thine enemies thy footstool. 44 David therefore calleth him Lord, how is he then his son? (Luke 20:41-44)

32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:34-36)

24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all. (1 Corinthians 15:24-28)

But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? (Hebrews 1:13)

12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; 13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. (Hebrews 10:12-13)

Verse 4 is quoted to prove the superiority and perpetuity of Messiah’s priesthood:

As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. (Hebrews 5:6)

Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. (Hebrews 6:20)

For he testifieth, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec. (Hebrews 7:17)

(For those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, The Lord sware and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec:) (Hebrews 7:21)

Psalm 110:1 is the only place in the Old Testament where we read of one who “sits at the right hand” of God. Therefore all the following verses in the New Testament must be seen as alluding to that verse:

Matthew 26:64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

Mark 14:62 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

Mark 16:19 So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.

Luke 22:69 Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.

Acts 2:33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.

Acts 7:55 But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

Acts 7:56 And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

Romans 8:34 Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.

Colossians 3:1 If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

Hebrews 1:3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

Hebrews 8:1 Now of the things which we have spoken this is the sum: We have such an high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens;

Hebrews 10:12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;

Hebrews 12:2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

1Peter 3:22 Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.

The Theme of Victory

I want now to concentrate on one of its major themes, one that I believe is crucial to the invigoration and the success of the church in our day.

The Psalm speaks of the complete and utter victory of Christ over all his enemies. In this respect, it is reminiscent of Psalm 2, another psalm quoted in the New Testament. Note that this victory will be achieved while He is sitting at God’s right hand:

1 A Psalm of David. The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool. 2 The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies. 3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth. 4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek. 5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath. (Psalms 110:1-5)

While it may seem strange to speak of a king as fighting battles while seated on a throne, we need to understand the idiom. It is not about the physical posture of the Lord Jesus per se. Our Lord is a priest, and a priest normally does his work standing, not sitting. When we speak of someone “sitting on a throne” this is sometimes simply a metaphor for reigning. This is true in ordinary prose, and we should not be surprised to find it in a poetic composition like this psalm. In this sense, David, while sitting on the throne of Israel, made war on all the enemy nations surrounding him, and conquered them.

Psalm 2 says the same thing:

2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, 3 Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. 4 He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision.

5 Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. 6 Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.

7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. 8 Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. 9 Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. (Psalms 2:2-9)

One of the keys to understanding biblical eschatology is found right here. The claim of many, who say that Christ must return to earth and reign here, enthroned on the literal Mount Zion, flatly contradict the psalmist, who equates the right hand of God with the true Mount Zion. David’s throne on the earthly Mount Zion was a type of the throne on which the Greater David would one day sit. Consider these words in the book of Hebrews, where Paul has just told his audience of Hebrew Christians that they are not come to Mount Sinai (v.18):

22 But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, 23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel. 25 See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: (Hebrews 12:22-25)

In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, he makes it clear that Psalm 110 has in view the Messiah presently at God’s right hand in heaven:

32 This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear. 34 For David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 Until I make thy foes thy footstool. 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ. (Acts 2:32-36)

David is not ascended into heaven, but Jesus is! Else how could David say “ The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand…” So runs his proof. This psalm therefore cannot refer to a future period, after the second coming, with Jesus back here on earth. It must refer to the present age; and it is in that time context that we must apply the words,”Sit thou on my right hand, Until I make thy foes thy footstool.” There can be no doubt that this psalm predicts the universal conquest of Christ over all the rebellious powers that oppose him before He leaves that heavenly throne to return to earth.

Our Lord will not return to earth until the victory is already won, as 1 Corinthians 15 clearly states:

20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. 21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. 24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

The text is talking about the order of the final events of history (v.23). Since death is the last enemy (v.26), then the resurrection of the dead cannot occur until the rest of his enemies have been overcome. But the resurrection occurs “at his coming” (v.23). The “end” referred to in verse 24 is the end of Christ’s Mediatorial Kingdom. He has been given His kingdom for the purpose of applying the redemption that He accomplished on earth. All power in heaven and in earth has been given to Him (Matthew 28:20) so that He might gather in all His elect people, and put an end to all rebellion against the rule of God forever. When this work is finished, “when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power” (v.24), then “he shall deliver up the kingdom to God, even the Father“ (v.24). This truth is then proved and enforced (v.25) by alluding to Psalm 110:1, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.”

Part of our heritage as Reformed Presbyterians is this eschatology of victory. From the time of the Reformation in the sixteenth century until the nineteenth century, the biblical doctrine of the victory of Christ in history was generally understood and believed. There was a corresponding advance of Protestant Christianity throughout the world. Since then, this view has been widely repudiated, and a deep pessimism about the future of Christianity in this world has become dominant. Accordingly, Christianity has been in general retreat wherever the expectation of defeat has reigned. Psalm 110 needs to be re-emphasized, and the victory of Christ preached and believed, if we are ever to recover the lost ground. That this will occur, and that the ultimate triumph of the gospel is assured, cannot be doubted while Christ sitteth at the right hand of God, from henceforth expecting until His enemies be made his footstool!

I close with these words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

Away from the shame and suffering of his earthly life, Jehovah calls the Adonai, our Lord, to the repose and honours of his celestial seat.

The mediatorial kingdom will last until the last enemy shall be destroyed, and then, according to the inspired word, “cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God even the Father.”

The monarch of the greatest nation shall not be able to escape the sword of the Lord; nor shall that dread spiritual prince who rules over the children of disobedience be able to escape without a deadly wound. Pope and priest must fall, with Mahomet and other deceivers who are now heads of the people. Jesus must reign and they must perish. (Charles Spurgeon, commenting on Psalm 110 in his work, The Treasury of David)

 

 

Unbelief and Biblical Chronology

Let me begin by saying that I do not claim expertise in this field. And expertise of a high order is required to both construct a complete Scriptural chronology, and to confute the gainsayers. The sheer mass of material to be read and mastered effectively prevents any but the most devoted from conquering this field of knowledge. The source materials are in many different ancient languages. There are difficulties like the distinctions between lunar and solar and regnal years, different ways of expressing intervals, different ways of dealing with partial years. There is the fact that there is no single complete chronological record any place in Scripture. And to make things even more complicated, there are the conflicting opinions, the speculations, and the many mistakes of chronologists ancient and modern that have to be winnowed out.

Let me also say that I do not claim infallibility for any chronology, but regard Martin Anstey’s as the “state of the art” believing chronology of the Bible. It is the choice of a biblically-sound approach and method, that seems to me to be of paramount importance. That, I deem any serious student of God’s word to be capable of judging. Only Anstey derives his chronological system entirely from the pages of Scripture.

My purpose is to show that, while the mainstream churches of Protestantism have been sliding into Modernism, they have also been losing faith in the chronology of the Bible. In fact, the modern defection from the traditional interpretation of Genesis 5 and 11 came from the same cause as the modern re-interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. It is no wonder that Christian scholars who are on the conservative end of the current theological spectrum are now openly rejecting the literalness of the days of creation, for most of them have long since surrendered their faith in the chronological accuracy of Scripture.

Let a warning then be given — once you have begun to adjust your interpretation of Scripture to fit the prevailing opinions of scientific experts, there is no logical place to stop. If you cannot believe that God created the world out of nothing in six calendar days, or that men once lived to be 900 years old, or that the chosen kept accurate chronological records from the beginning, or that the world is not much more than 6000 years old, then what will you do when the experts in another field say that children must not be spanked? Or that homosexuality is not aberrant behavior? Or that it’s harmful to deprive teenagers of the freedom to express themselves sexually?

Why are these experts wrong? How do we know? Because they are in plain conflict with God’s word! How is it then that we cannot see that the same is true in matters of Biblical chronology? Indeed, it would make more sense to defer to social scientists, who at least have access to the data of human behavior; than to defer to paleontologists, archaeologists and secular historians on the origins and early history of man, on which subjects they can only offer guesses — not facts. But to defer to either when God has spoken to the contrary in clear terms is blasphemous!

The Traditional Approach

The Reformers and Puritans would be shocked by the way that many are now handling the chronological material interwoven with the historical persons and events of the Old Testament. Notice that, in the text of Genesis 5, genealogy is mingled with history and chronology:

1 This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; 2 Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. 3 And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: 4 And the days of Adam after he had begotten Seth were eight hundred years: and he begat sons and daughters: 5 And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died.

6 And Seth lived an hundred and five years, and begat Enos: 7 And Seth lived after he begat Enos eight hundred and seven years, and begat sons and daughters: 8 And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died…

21 And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: 22 And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters: 23 And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years: 24 And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him…

28 And Lamech lived an hundred eighty and two years, and begat a son: 29 And he called his name Noah, saying, This same shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the LORD hath cursed. 30 And Lamech lived after he begat Noah five hundred ninety and five years, and begat sons and daughters: 31 And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died. 32 And Noah was five hundred years old: and Noah begat Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

John Calvin (d. 1564) begins his comments on Genesis 5 this way:

In this chapter Moses briefly recites the length of time which had intervened between the creation of the world and the deluge; and also slightly touches on some portion of the history of that period.

Notice that, in Calvin’s view, the chronology of the passage is primary. It is the main thing that God intended to reveal through these words. This is the natural impression given by a reading of the passage, since the numbers of years are given a prominence which underscores their importance. There is a built-in check against copyist’s errors in the way that the years before the birth of each Patriarch’s heir, the years after, and the total years of the Patriarch’s life are given. (Perhaps the more important element is the genealogy, which leads ultimately to the “Seed of the Woman”, Christ, but this is less obvious.) Calvin’s view is representative of the strict literalism that the church has always used in interpreting the chronological material of Scripture until now.

Archbishop James Usher (d. 1656), whose chronology is the best-known, was himself a highly distinguished scholar, widely respected even outside his own Anglican church. His chronology, while defective at some points, because (unlike Anstey’s) it incorporated some bad data from extra-biblical sources, was not rendered useless thereby. For the worst effects were to give false BC dates for any event before the Persian empire — and to obscure the fulfillment of the “seventy weeks” prophecy of Daniel. Anstey’s refinements to Usher’s scheme altered the overall length of the period from Adam to Christ by only 42 years.

John Gill (d.1771), an intellectual giant among the godly scholars of his age, in his Exposition of the Whole Bible, treated the chronological data in the historical portions of Scripture as inspired and infallible, just like the rest of Scripture. In his introduction to Genesis, the only statement regarding chronology is that, “…according to Usher, it contains an history of two thousand, three hundred, and sixty nine years.” (This is the only number one can come up with, if he takes the numbers as they stand.) Commenting on Genesis 5, he never raises a question about the accuracy of the Hebrew text, but rather dismisses without hesitation the contradictory numbers given in the Septuagint.

Many, many more examples of the Reformed taking the traditional approach to Bible chronology could have been cited, but this suffices.

Chronology Since Darwin

Bible believers once took the chronology of the Bible seriously. But that was before the rise of uniformitarian geology, which teaches that the earth is many times older than the Bible says it is. The idea that the earth is millions of years old was already well established long before 1859, when Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species appeared. In fact, he was strongly influenced by Charles Lyell, whose book on geology was written to indirectly attack the biblical chronology. Soon after, we find the entire chronology of the Old Testament being abandoned in an attempt to show that the Bible did not conflict with the new science, and the massive elongation of earth history that it required.

Charles Hodge (d. 1878), in his Systematic Theology, Vol. II, p.40, spoke of “the extreme uncertainty attending all attempts to determine the chronology of the Bible”. He claimed that, because there were known gaps in the various genealogies of the Bible, the Bible was not intended to provide a chronology: “The Scriptures were not intended to teach us how long men have existed on the earth. Their tables of genealogy were intended to prove that Christ was the son of David and of the seed of Abraham, and not how many years had elapsed between the creation and the advent.” But why assume that God had only one reason for giving us the records, and that the only reason was genealogy? The obvious question is, if this is so, why does the Bible give us, in addition to the genealogies, a stream of chronological data that runs (with a few apparent breaks) from the beginning to the end of the Old Testament?

Augustus Strong, in his Systematic Theology (1907), presents a synthesis of evolution and Christianity, claiming that the ape became a man when God gave him a soul. Since the scientific consensus of the time required the belief that man had existed for more than ten thousand years, the chronology of the Bible had to be scrapped. Like Hodge before him, Strong claimed without proof that the chronology of Scripture is incomplete, and that it was intended to be so. He suggested that the appearance of completeness in the chronological record may have resulted from alterations in the text through the course of transmission. It is tragic that a man of Strong’s stature and influence among the Baptists of the nineteenth century was so thorough a Modernist.

B. B. Warfield (d. 1921), in his article, “On The Antiquity And Unity Of The Human Race” (Works, vol. IX) sets at nought the consistent literalism of the universal church and all the chronological work done up to his time with the statement that “The Bible does not assign a brief span to human history: this is done only by a particular mode of interpreting the Biblical data, which is found on examination to rest on no solid basis.” (p.236) His way of explaining away the chronological content of Genesis 5 and 11 is sophistical and impious. He asserts that “the genealogies were not constructed with a chronological purpose.”(p.237) He claims that the attached counts of years give the false impression that these genealogies give us complete and useful chronological information. But there is more information included than is strictly needed for the purposes of chronology. Only the age of each patriarch at the birth of the next is needed: there is no need to know the age of the Patriarch at death, or the years between the birth of his heir and his death. Therefore, there must have been another reason for including the information. And that reason is, to impress us with the great vitality of the new race of man — nothing else!

Having thus found a reason which will account for the insertion of all the items of information which are given us, we have no right to assume another reason to account for the insertion of some of them. And that means that we must decline to look upon the first item of information given in each instance as intended to give us chronological information.” (p.241)

Again, he admits that it looks like chronology, but he says that is only due to the arrangement of the data:

It is only when the names, with the accompanying comments, are put together, one after the other, that a chronological inference is suggested. The chronological suggestion is thus purely the effect of the arrangement of the names in immediate sequence; and is not intrinsically resident in the items of information themselves.

By this means the great defender of the faith rationalized away God’s truth to allow for the long ages of human history that science falsely-so-called demanded.

In A Dictionary of the Bible, by John D. Davis, fourth edition (1924), article “Chronology”, three alternative methods of interpreting the chronology of Genesis 5 are given, and it is stated that there is no way to prove which one is right. The three methods given are the traditional literal view, the view that there are gaps, and the view that the names stand for dynasties rather than individuals. Both of these modern “alternatives” were inspired by the need to lengthen the history to accommodate the evolutionary development of man. Neither of them arose as a result of new knowledge about the Hebrew language or ancient history, nor did they result from improvements in the science of exegesis. Just like the attempt to lengthen the creation week to millions of years, they proceeded from a desire to accommodate the claims of the scientific establishment at the expense of reading Scripture in its natural sense.

The New Bible Dictionary, ed. J.D. Douglas, 1962, begins its article “Chronology of the Old Testament”, by K. A. Kitchen and T.C. Mitchell, by devoting one paragraph to dismissing the “Older method” before plunging into a lengthy and detailed description of “Present methods”. The paragraph reads:

Until about a century ago Old Testament dates were calculated almost entirely from the biblical statements (so Usher). Two difficulties beset this approach. Firstly, the Old Testament does not provide all the details necessary for this task, and some sequences of events may be concurrent rather than consecutive. Secondly, the ancient versions, e.g. the LXX (Septuagint), sometimes offer variant figures. Hence, schemes of this kind are subject to much uncertainty.

The first premise is simply false, as Anstey demonstrates. The second is irrelevant for those who believe that Scripture in the original language texts is God’s infallible word. The Hebrew text is all that matters, and it has been marvelously preserved! The alleged “uncertainty” is a wished-for conclusion without factual foundation. The bottom line is — you can’t have millions of years of evolution if the Bible chronology is true.

Not surprisingly, the chronological chart that goes with the article begins with Abraham — not Adam. (As we have seen, among respectable scholars since at least the time of Hodge, the chronology of Genesis 5 has been discarded by consensus.) The entire chart is fabricated from pagan sources, and anchored in dates that unbelieving scholars will accept. This makes it impossible to correctly date the biblical events, and so makes a laughing-stock of the Bible!

It used to be that the fundamentalists held fast (at least in theory) to a literal interpretation of Scripture, but now it appears that even they, in their passionate desire to be regarded as intellectually equal to establishment Liberal theologians, are abandoning the chronology of Scripture as well. In Nelson’s The King James Study Bible, (copyright, Liberty University, 1988) with contributors such as Jerry Falwell, Ed Hindson, and other fundamentalist dispensationalists, there are numerous study helps, footnotes, charts and illustrations, but no chronological table is given! In a footnote to Genesis 5:3-20, it is baldly asserted that “no strict chronology can be determined from any of the lists [of Scripture]”.

Where We Are Today

Modernists would have us believe that they know too much to believe in Scripture without reserve. They tell us that we shouldn’t try to hold on to our “illusions” of inerrancy or infallibility, because objective scientific inquiry has been proving us wrong for a hundred years. And they really believe what they say. They look on us with the sincere and kindly condescension of psychiatrists treating the insane. But if the Bible is really God’s word, we should not be intimidated by their learning – God knows a lot more than they do! We can be absolutely sure that any unresolved questions we have about Scripture are the result of our limited knowledge – not a defect in the Bible.

It appears to me that what’s going on is a repetition of the process of apostasy described in Romans 1:

When they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools… And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind… (vss. 21-22,28)

Each year brings the professing church of God farther from the faith of our Protestant forefathers. Each seminary graduating class is more indifferent to our heritage of Reformed theology and experimental Calvinism. Why? I think, because our scholars have not been thorough enough in rooting out the subtle elements of Modernism bequeathed to us by Hodge, Warfield and others in areas such as apologetics, hermeneutics, chronology and textual criticism.

While these men made great contributions, they employed a faulty, rationalistic apologetic, which led them to make unwarranted concessions to the Modernists. They thought that if they could only show that there is no conflict between the Bible and science, they would win the day. They ought to have held to Scripture, and waited for the scientists to come around. It’s a tragedy that they did not. But somehow they thought that no harm could be done by accommodating the scientific consensus, even if it meant abandoning the traditional understanding of some texts. They were taken in by false claims of “the assured results of unbiased scientific research”.

But science is not infallible — only God’s word is. And a correct apologetic takes its stand on God’s word — regardless of what any merely human authority may say. If God’s word teaches something, then it is ultimate truth. This does not mean that it is all the truth that may be known about that fact — that nothing new can ever be discovered; but it does mean that we will not discover anything contrary to it. The fact is, archaeologists do not augment the Bible when they teach that man has been on the earth for hundreds of thousands of years — they contradict it. There is no way that the iron measuring-chain of Biblical chronology, given in literal calendar years, (and sometimes literal months and days), connected link by interlocking link, can be stretched to accommodate even ten thousand years of human history, much less hundreds of thousands!

If the church of God can neglect, ignore, and finally set aside something as definite, as clearly revealed, as integral to Scripture as its chronology, there will be no longer any effectual restraint on those who wish to twist the Scriptures to their own — and others’ — destruction. It will be a complete waste of time to try to defend the literalness of the six days of creation in such a milieu. I fail to see how the Hugh Rosses of the world can be answered, the doctrine of creation sustained, or the historical reliability of any part of Scripture maintained if we fail in the defense of the chronology of the Bible.

The Multi-verse Theory Exploded

There is another incredibly stupid idea going around besides evolution; and that is this idea of what is called a “multi-verse”. We are all familiar with the word, “universe”; and we are accustomed to thinking that the word means “everything that exists” within a certain sphere. We speak of a “universe of discourse”, and of “universal principles”, etc. The etymology shows that it refers to a unified, but diverse system. When the word is used without a qualifier, it means simply, everything that exists (God excluded) – the natural world, or the whole cosmos – what Christians call “the Creation”. So what is a “multi-verse”? It is another kind of universe, containing our universe and a very large number of other universes.

It is speculated that there may be a virtually infinite number of these universes, each of them slightly different from our own, but so many that some of them would invariably be quite similar to our own. It is claimed that this is mathematically possible; and therefore may be really possible. It is claimed that quantum mechanics explains how this might be. It is claimed that this would explain why our universe seems to be designedly “fine-tuned” to support the existence of all life in general, and of human beings in particular. (It only seems so, we are told, because when a universe came along that was perfect for life, life naturally happened!)

It is the last point that explains where this idea came from. Evolutionists, confronted with the fact that life requires a very precisely-adjusted environment that could not possibly arise by chance (even assuming that “chance” could really be the cause of anything, which is idiotic), have fled to the idea of a multiplicity of universes to try to escape the heat. Nothing shows the intellectual bankruptcy of evolution as clearly as the desperate and often dishonest measures its proponents resort to when confronted with real facts.

What is so wrong with this theory? Well, first, the “Universe” (the one that we know exists) contains everything that exists, excepting only the transcendent God who created it. So there can only be one, by definition. The Universe, like God, is unique. The “multi-verse” fantasy requires a re-definition of the word to mean something totally different, something that can exist in multiples. This re-definition is done without explanation or justification, or even a footnote to mark it! It would be more honest for them to say that they imagine that our “universe” is not a Universe at all, but just a very small part of all the things that exist; just one of very many such “worlds” that make up an even vaster “multi-verse”. Sensible people will never fall for this “bait and switch”.

The second problem with the multi-verse theory is the contradiction involved in rejecting creationism on the basis that there is no evidence for it, and then advancing an alternative theory for which there is no evidence.

The third problem is the contradiction involved in rejecting creationism because it’s not testable, while proposing a theory which, if true, could never be tested. For each of these “universes” is assumed to be wholly self-contained, independent, and insulated from all the others. Only our own world can ever be observed by us.

A fourth problem is the contradiction inherent in assuming that logic, mathematics, quantum mechanics, relativity, and all the physical laws are the same in all these alternative universes; while yet maintaining that causal randomness is ultimate everywhere. Does that make sense to you?

The fifth problem is that this futile theory merely pushes back certain ultimate questions which they can’t answer, rather than answering them: such questions as, how complex order arose from blind causes, how life arose from non-living substances, how matter and energy and all that is came from nothing, where intelligence came from, why there are physical laws and mathematics and logic – questions like that.

The sixth glaring weakness of this theory is that it violates the axiom called “Occam’s razor”. This axiom states that the simplest explanation for any fact is the most probable. It is sometimes stated this way, ”You shall not multiply entities without necessity.” The theory in question not only multiplies entities on a scale never thought of before; but it does this in the face of a simple and completely adequate alternative explanation that it irrationally refuses to credit.

The seventh dumb thing is the futility of trying to escape the fact that evolution is mathematically so improbable that it may be said to be impossible, by inventing a scheme that is even more improbable. For they now need to account for the origin of all those “universes” – not just one! And consider that in every one of those imagined universes (assuming, as they do, that the same physical laws apply there as here) the same problems remains that make evolution impossible here: order does not come from blind causes, matter and energy do not spontaneously appear, life does not come from non-life, consciousness is inexplicable by random processes. So instead of making evolution more probable or possible or even necessary, they have only deepened their dilemma.

But maybe the dumbest thing of all is that they know it’s not true; and yet they want to believe it anyway. The Bible says:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools…” (Romans 1:18-22)

Howard Douglas King

Revised October 27, 2014

The Rights of God

We hear much these days about “human rights”. It seems as if new ones are invented every day: the right to abortion, the right to marry a person of one’s own sex, the right to free “expression”, to free education, free health care, free support, free everything, the right to have one’s choice of gender respected, etc. These “rights”, we know, are merely devices for one group to get what it wants.

Real rights are those which come from God, and they include the right to receive justice from the government, the right to own, enjoy and dispose of our property, and to be left alone in the lawful use of it. We have the right to life, unless we commit a capital crime. We have the right to manage our own affairs (unless we are incapable of doing so; or we are minor children, soldiers, or prisoners).

All these true rights are just claims which we have on other men, by the ordination of God; and if they are infringed upon or denied; we have a right to recourse via the courts. We also have a duty to respect the rights of others; so that they have a similar claim upon us. Every right which any man possesses implies a duty on the part of others to accord him that right, and to respect it. This is one of the foundations of civil society; and without it, what we call civilization would soon be reduced to a violent chaos.

When imaginary rights are claimed, and supported by the government, inevitably it means a violation of the true rights which come from God; because by implication they create a correlative legal duty on our parts to respect them. This is an infringement on our right of liberty, because every human law imposes legal limits upon that liberty. For example, if someone claims a right to build a house on our land, (whether we want them to or not) because they have a “right” to shelter; and the government makes a law protecting that supposed new right; then our right to property will be compromised. We will be obliged, from that time on, to open our property to everyone; which violates the exclusive nature of property. The effect is to deprive us of our property; for its very nature is exclusive.

Human rights are not absolute: God alone has absolute rights. For example, our right to the exclusive use of our property is limited in many ways because we are ultimately only His stewards, responsible to Him for our use of it; and we are obligated to make use of it in such a manner that His rights are respected, and that He receives a return on his investment. Human rights are therefore always limited by the parameters which God has set forth in His Word. To refuse a poor man a piece of bread is to violate the right of God which requires us to share the good things that He has given us with those who are destitute.

Our rights are really privileges graciously granted by God that men might live together in peace and reciprocal relationship. This is because we can have no claim at all upon the Author of our being. Mankind was created by Him, which placed us infinitely in His debt. We are further indebted to Him, in that He allows us to live, though all of us have sinned against Him continuously from the day that we were born! Those who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, owe Him an even greater debt; for they have been rescued from the eternal punishment which was absolutely due to them because of their sins! No, we have no claims upon God, and so no absolute rights — only privileges. We have rights only in respect to our relationships with other human beings.

God has absolute rights. Most people have never thought about this great fact. God has a right to demand anything He pleases from us, to give life, and to take it, whenever it pleases Him. He has the exclusive right to be worshiped. He has the right to demand perfect and perpetual obedience to His laws — every single one of them. He has the right to judge, to reward and punish us. He has the right to use us by His providence in any way He pleases, to accomplish His designs. He has the right to choose the place and time and circumstances of our birth and of our death. He has the right to make us tall or short, thin or heavy, wise or unwise, rich or poor, homely or handsome. He has the right to either afflict us, or to give us an easy and comfortable life. He even claims the right to determine who will be the recipients of His saving grace, and who will not.

This is the way it is. This is what it means that He is God; and what it means that we are creatures of God. It is the inescapable reality which we must all learn to accept. For to contest these rights by complaining of His providence or by refusing to acknowledge them is very sinful. God is serious about upholding His own rights. He will not hold us guiltless. Judgment is certain, and God’s wrath against sinners is terrible!

But He is a benevolent God; and wishes well to everyone. He gives us laws and upholds them because it is necessary that He govern us. If He did not punish sin as it deserves and reward the righteous; who would respect His government? What would hinder the strong from inflicting pain upon the weak? Moreover, to live in sin is the worst punishment that we can inflict upon ourselves; for it brings the pangs of conscience and makes us miserable; both in this life, and in that which is to come. God takes no pleasure in the sinner’s sin, in his unhappiness, or in punishing Him; but He must punish, for He is holy. What gives Him joy is when a sinner repents of His sin and turns to Him in faith.

As God is accountable only to Himself, only He can defend His rights. It is His Divine prerogative. He would not be God if He allowed his goodness to be affronted, His honor offended, His justice violated, His kindness abused forever. There must be a day of reckoning.

That day comes to each of us when we die. It may come for you tomorrow. Are you ready? Are you going to ride out the flood of God’s judgment in the ark of safety? Or will you be overwhelmed and destroyed by that flood of wrath? Only you can know the answer to that question. You can know it! You can know that you are Jesus Christ’s. Do you know Him?

Now is the time to examine your heart and be sure, while the breath is still in your body, and your mind is yet capable of understanding. You — we all — are living on borrowed time. We do not know when the time appointed for our departure from this world will come; but it will be soon. Depend upon it, a year or ten or twenty is nothing compared to eternity! Even if you live that long, it will be gone before you know it. Be ready! Be sure!

Sinner, it is time to render to God His rights; and though it may be late in life for you, it is not too late. Surrender your life to Him. Stop foolishly doing things your own way! What good has it done you? What happiness has it brought you? And whatever happiness you may have now will soon come to an end. What will you have to comfort you then? You must then leave behind everything that is dear to you: will not that be painful? And yet it will be nothing to the eternal wrath that you have treasured up for yourself!

You have heaven to gain! Yes, heaven; for Christ gives that unspeakable gift to all who trust Him. He is willing to save you if you are willing to be saved on His terms. All that He requires is that you believe in his goodness, mercy and grace, and power to save. He will forgive your sins. You are unworthy; but so are we all! If only the worthy were saved, none of us would be; but Christ has pledged Himself to save an innumerable multitude. Why not you?

I beg you to have pity on yourself, and come empty-handed to the cross. That is the only rule that He insists upon. You must acknowledge that you have nothing to boast of. You have no worthiness, no righteousness of your own. Let Him clothe you in His! He gives His righteousness to us! He took our sins upon Himself, and was punished in our place. He took away the sins of the world. God will never hold you accountable for sins that have already been punished in our substitute. His rights have been upheld — He is satisfied. There is free and full forgiveness for even the worst sinner.

Come to Christ. He will receive you. Don’t put it off! It may be too late! Are you willing to miss out on the single greatest — the most important — offer ever made? Such a generous offer is not to be despised. Stop provoking the One who holds your life in His hand, before it is too late! You are in great danger every moment! I beg you, in Christ’s name, be reconciled to God — now, today! The choice of life and death is before you. Choose life!

 

Howard Douglas King

February 28, 2019