There are a few items that need to be borne in mind at all times as we tackle this topic.
We need to remember, and be aware of just how complicated a thing a world is; we cannot even hope to come to a full understanding of even a tiny part of it, let alone know the whole thing. John 21:25 records that:
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Comprehending just how wide and big and impossibly complex human relations are should engender certain things within us:
We should approach these records with respect, recognizing our own limitations. We are dealing with materials from an alien culture, far removed from us in time and space and technology. Our materials are necessarily limited, as is our understanding. From the ancient world, only ten percent has survived to the present day. Of that ten percent that remains, only ten percent of it has been surveyed -- that is, someone has looked out and said, yes, there might be something of interest buried there. Of that ten percent that has been surveyed, only ten percent has been excavated. And of that ten percent that has been excavated, only ten percent has been published.
Facts which are contradictory in appearance, dates that do not seem to match, numbers that do not jibe, are perhaps only apparent discrepancies rather than real. As we approach the ancient past, we have only a tiny portion of the facts with which to make our judgments.
The Bible warns us "do not judge." The reason for the warning is very simply because we so often will misread a situation. We see Robin Nettelhorst walk out of the library with a stack of books three feet high. We assume:
a) he has checked the books out.
b) he is planning on reading these books.
c) he is planning on returning these books.
However, the reality might really be:
a) he shot the librarian and stole the books.
b) he needs kindling for his fireplace.
A silly example, no doubt, but it illustrates the point.
The records we have received from the past may be as accurate as the Los Angeles Times -- or they might be little better than Pravda was during the days of the Soviet Union.
Sennacherib III attacked Jerusalem and besieged it. According to 2 Kings 18:13-19:37, the attack was ultimately unsuccessful because God intervened and killed off a sizable percentage of the Assyrian army with a plague, so Sennacherib III broke off his attack and went away.
The official Assyrian records tell the same story, and there is nothing inaccurate in the account, but notice the impression it leaves:
In my third campaign I marched against Hatti. Luli, king of Sidon, whom the terror-inspiring glamor of my lordship had overwhelmed, fled far overseas and perished. The awe-inspiring splendor of the "Weapon" of Ashur, my lord, overwhelmed his strong cities (such as) Great Sidon, Little Sidon, Bit-Zitti, Zaribtu, Mahalliba, Ushu (i.e. the mainland settlement of Tyre), Akzib (and) Akko, (all) his fortress cities, walled (and well) provided with feed and water for his garrisons, and they bowed in submission to my feet. I installed Ethba'al (Tuba'lu) upon the throne to be their king and imposed upon him tribute (due) to me (as his) overlord (to be paid) annually without interruption.
As to all the kings of Amurru -- Menahem (Mi-in-hi-im-mu) from Samsimuruna, Tuba'lu from Sidon, Abdili'ti from Arvad, Urumilki from Byblos, Mitinti from Ashdod, Buduili from Beth-Ammon, Kammusunadbi from Moab (and) Aiarammu from Edom, they brought sumptuous gifts (igisu) and -- fourfold -- their heavy tamartu-presents to me and kissed my feet. Sidqia, however, king of Ashkelon, who did not bow to my yoke, I deported and sent to Assyria, his family-gods, himself, his wife, his children, his brothers, all the male descendants of his family. I set Sharruludari, son of Rukibtu, their former king, over the inhabitants of Ashkelon and imposed upon him the payment of tribute (and of) katru-presents (due) to me (as) overlord -- and he (now) pulls the straps (of my yoke)!
In the continuation of my campaign I besieged Beth-Dagon, Joppa, Banai-Barqa, Azuru, cities belonging to Sidqia who did not bow to my feet quickly (enough); I conquered (them) and carried their spoils away. The officials, the patricians and the (common) people of Ekron -- who had thrown Padi, their king, into fetters (because he was) loyal to (his) solemn oath (sworn) by the god Ashur, and had handed him over to Hezekiah, the Jew (Ha-za-qi-(i)a-u amelIa-u-da-ai) -- (and) he (Hezekiah)held him in prison, unlawfully, as if he (Padi) be an enemy -- had become afraid and had called (for help) upon the kings of Egypt (Mus(u)ri)(and) the bowmen, the chariot(-corps) and the cavalry of the king of Ethiopia (Meluhha), an army beyond counting -- and they (actually) had come to their assistance. In the plain of Eltekeh (Al-ta-qu-u), their battle lines were drawn up against me and they sharpened their weapons. Upon a trust (inspiring) oracle (given) by Ashur, my lord, I fought with them and inflicted defeat upon them. In the melee of the battle, I personally captured alive the Egyptian charioteers with the(ir) princes and (also) the charioteers of the king of Ethiopia. I besieged Eltekeh (and) Timnah (Ta-am-na-a), conquered (them) and carried their spoils away. I assaulted Ekron and killed the officials and patricians who had committed thee crime and hung their bodies on poles surrounding the city. The (common) citizens who were guilty of minor crimes, I considered prisoners of war. The rest of them, those who were not accused of crimes and misbehavior, I released. I made Padi, their king, come from Jerusalem (Ur-sa-li-im-mu) and set him as their lord on the throne, imposing upon him the tribute (due) to me (as) overlord.
As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke, I laid siege to 46 of his strong cities, walled forts and to the countless small villages in their vicinity, and conquered (them) by means of well-stamped (earth-)ramps, and battering-rams brought (thus) near (to the walls) (combined with) the attack by foot soldiers, (using) mines, breeches as well as sapper work. I drove our (of them) 200,150 people, young and old, male and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond counting, and considered (them) booty. Himself I made a prisoner in Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage. I surrounded him with earthwork in order to molest those who were leaving his city's gate. His towns which I had plundered, I took away from his country and gave them (over) to Mitinti, king of Ashdod, Padi, king of Ekron, and Sillibel, king of Gaza. Thus I reduced his country, but I still increased the tribute and the katru-presents (due) to me (as his) overlord which I imposed (later) upon him beyond the former tribute, to be delivered annually. Hezekiah himself, whom the terror-inspiring splendor of my lordship had overwhelmed and whose irregular and elite troops which he had brought into Jerusalem, his royal residence, in order to strengthen (it), had deserted him, did send me, later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold, 800 talents of silver, precious stones, antimony, large cuts of red stone, couches (inlaid) with ivory, nimedu-chairs (inlaid) with ivory, elephant-hides, ebony-wood, box-wood (and) all kinds of valuable treasures, his (own) daughters, concubines, male and female musicians. In order to deliver the tribute and to do obeisance as a slave he sent his (personal) messenger. (Pritchard, James E. ANE Texts Relating to the Old Testament, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969, pp. 287-288 -- From the Oriental Institute Prism of Sennacherib, which contains -- as does the so-called Taylor Prism (cf. Rawlinson, Vol. I, Pls. 37-42) -- the final edition of the Annals of Sennacherib. Publication: D.D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib (OIP, II, Chicago, 1924). Translation: ibid., and Luckenbill, AR, II, sections 233ff. ii 37-iii 49.)
In Sennacherib's account there is no mention of the disaster that
befell his troops. Like the former Soviet Union (or any totalitarian
regime, such as ancient Assyria was) only the positive is emphasized.
The negative is completely ignored.
The story is told about a two man race between a Soviet and an American. The American won.
The old Soviet press reported it this way:
"The glorious Soviet athlete a achieved a second place finish, while the imperialistic American managed barely next to last."
Beware of the records. Keep in mind, too, that it is very easy to misunderstand what we imagine the record is reporting.
The only document from the ancient world that can be completely and without reservation trusted is the Bible; but there are some important things to keep in mind as we consider the Bible, too.
An example of reading one's own culture into an ancient account
comes from Proverbs 31, where the woman is described in most English
translations as "virtuous" or "noble". The
actual word though, in all other uses, except when referring to
a woman, is translated "powerful, strong, valiant" or
even "army". There is little of comfort in the Proverbs
31 woman for the male chauvinists; much more, it is in keeping
with the song "I am woman, hear me roar".
Thorkild Jacabsen wrote in Formative Tendencies in Sumerian Religion, pp. 1-2:
To the student of Sumerian religion such understanding is not readily come by. Remoteness in time and great differences of culture separate him, and the forms of religious response meaningful to him, from those of the ancients; imperfect knowledge of the language closes his ear to overtones; different habits of thought and differences in values tend to leave him uncomprehending or mistaken. He must wonder at every step whether his interpretation is leaving the ancient forms dry, empty of content, or whether he is unconsciously filling them with his own new wine only to shatter them. But no way is open to him in his dilemma other than to persevere in attempts to understand with continued attention to inner consistency in his results.
The Role of Archaeology
I. Israelite Contact with Its Neighbors
A. Historical Survey
At all periods of Old Testament history the ancient Hebrews found themselves forced into contact with the other nations of the Ancient Near East.
Abraham moved with his family and possessions from Mesopotamia to Canaan during the second millennium BC and visited Egypt briefly before settling down in the land that was to become the home of his descendants.
In the days of Moses, the Israelites who had settled some four centuries earlier in the Goshen region of the Nile delta, found themselves living under conditions of slavery in Egypt, and before they occupied the promised land, they came into conflict with the nations of the Transjordan and with the pagan inhabitants of Canaan itself.
During the time of David, the Philistines, who had migrated earlier to southwest Palestine from the Aegean, presented a grave threat to the existence of the Israelite nation and were only subjugated after a long and desperate struggle. In the days of King Solomon, there was widespread cultural and commercial contact with the Phoenicians of Northwest Palestine, and their influence is particularly evident in the construction and activity of the time.
Scarcely had the northern kingdom of Israel become an independent entity after Solomon died, than the rising power of the Syrians began to challenge its existence while to the south, Judah became the mostly unwilling victim of Egyptian military aggression.
As time passed, the Syrian empire yielded to the growing power of Assyria, and this in turn ultimately brought about the destruction of the Northern Kingdom.
Meanwhile, the kingdom of Judah, though rather more remote geographically than Israel, also had periodic contacts with the Syrian rulers of Damascus and, like Israel, was invaded now and again by the armies of Assyria.
Partly as the result of Egyptian intrigues, the southern kingdom came to a drawn-out end at the hand of the Babylonian forces of Nebuchadnezzar; its most prominent citizens were taken away as captives to Babylon.
After nearly seventy years in a foreign land, a small remnant of the Israelite nation returned to Palestine under Persian control, to begin life again among a largely unsympathetic group of neighbors, of whom the Arabs became the most troublesome.
The rise of Alexander the Great saw the rapid spread of Greek culture across the Ancient Near East, and with it came a great many customs and traditions which affected all parts of the Greek Empire, including Judea.
This situation persisted until the Romans assimilated the Greek provinces of Syria and Egypt into their own empire, and the process brought the Jews under imperial rule.
B. Effect of Geography
Needless to say, Israel did not function in a vacuum. There is a whole world out there, affecting them. It was by no means accidental that the Jewish people encountered these and other, smaller nations during their long and varied history, for the land God gave them was actually an important land bridge, linking the various cultural areas of the Ancient Near East.
To the northwest in Anatolia was the locale of the ancient Hittite empire, while to the southwest stretched the fertile land of Egypt.
Further to the east, between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers, lay the territory of the Babylonians, while to the north and east were situated the most important cities of the Assyrian empire.
Caravan trading routes extended in antiquity from northern India to the Sumerian cities of southern Mesopotamia, and from there wended their way along the length of the meandering River Euphrates to Syria, northern Palestine, and the land of the Hittites, or else traversed the Arabian desert westward and then passed to the north through southern Canaan or to the southwest into Egypt.
In the busy, thriving world of Old Testament times, the Israelites were placed in a fundamentally important, strategic geographical position.
Any travelers who wanted to pass from one part of the Near East to another generally found that their journey took them within easy reach of Palestine, if not actually through Israelite territory.
Citizens of the land of Palestine were thus members of a vigorous Near Eastern life whether they were always aware of it or not, for there were a constant interchange of cultural forms in one way or another. For example, certain fundamental building techniques developed by the Sumerians were utilized by the Egyptians in the construction of the pyramids in the Old Kingdom period.
The pottery of the Minoan Age in Crete was widely circulated among Near Eastern nations in the second millennium BC, a fact that enabled Sir Flinders Petrie, the eminent archaeologist, to formulate a system of ceramic dating for given periods of Near Eastern history.
Again, the discovery by the Hittites of Anatolia of techniques
for the smelting of iron ore introduced the Iron Age to Israel
and her neighbors, and this eventually brought with it a great
many advances in commerce, warfare, and daily life.
From at least the seventh century BC, the Greeks had supplied mercenary soldiers in varying degrees for the armies of the Babylonians, Egyptians, and Persians, and the traditions they brought with them were quick to bear fruit when the victorious forces of Alexander the Great swept so dramatically across the Near East in the fourth century BC.
These and many other instances of cultural and political interdependence make it clear that from the standpoint of geography, history, and life in general the world of the Old Testament was co-extensive with that of the Ancient Near East.
Because of this situation it has now become evident that the people and times of the Old Testament cannot and must not be studied in isolation from the larger Near Eastern background.
Whatever information can be discovered about the history, religion,
languages, literatures, and cultures of the Ancient Near Eastern
peoples will necessarily have an important bearing on comparable
aspects of the Old Testament.
While many facets of the cultural background were only of rather incidental interest to the various writers whose works have been preserved or reflected in the Old Testament, the scriptural narratives can nevertheless be illuminated with profit at a great many points by being set appropriately in the full context of all the related ancient Near Eastern materials available.
Such a procedure has the advantage of enabling the modern reader to contemplate the Old Testament scene in a manner that was not possible until comparatively recent years, and in consequence it will give him or her a sense of participation in the labors, aspirations, trials, and triumphs of the men and women whose lives formed part of the strains of Old Testament history.
Perhaps as students we will better learn the truth of what the apostle James wrote:
Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. (James 5:17)
The people of Old Testament times, the Israelites, were people just like us; they were not super holy or super stupid. In their position, we would have believed and behaved just like them. They were heavily influenced and constrained by their polytheistic, pagan, idolatrous culture which surrounded them.
For instance, in writing a simple letter to a foreign dignitary,
the letter writer would be constrained to acknowledge the gods
of the addressee; in forming treaties with foreign peoples, the
gods were always called upon to bear witness.
The religion of the Canaanites involving sacred prostitution would have been very inviting, at least to the men; and the worship of agricultural deities and rain gods would seem the best of common sense.
But we must not be so harsh on them; we too, have our culture to deal with, a culture which, we often make the mistake of assuming is divinely favored and essentially Christian.
"I'm going to teach my kind to defend himself!" or "You can't just let people take advantage of you." Cf. Matthew 5:38-39:
"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."
"Do you BELIEVE that! He spilled coffee on my dress and ruined it! I was so embarrassed. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me!"
1 Peter 4:12-13
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
"If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.
"But that's no fun!"
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
1 Peter 2:21
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
"I want it now!"
Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
As you know, we consider blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job's perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.
"I hate this!"
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe
"You know, Anton is such a jerk. I was really bothered by the way he talked to me last week and you know what I think..."
"If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
"'Do not go about spreading slander among your people. "'Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD.
"We'll dance in the streets when Sadaam Hussein is dead!"
Do not gloat when your enemy falls;
when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice,
or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him.
C. The Meaning and Importance of the Old Testament
1. The Old Testament is the Inspired Revelation of God to the human race.
The clear witness of the New Testament concerning the Old Testament is:
2 Timothy 3:16-17
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2. The Old Testament is the indispensable introduction to the New Testament revelation.
It is the foundation upon which the entire structure of the New Testament truth is erected. It is the preparation for all that unfolds there.
One CANNOT properly understand the New Testament without an understanding
or knowledge of the Old Testament. Remember that for first century
Christians, the only Bible they had was the Old Testament.
Likewise, the Old Testament needs the New Testament to be properly understood. The Bible as a whole is the revelation of God, and if you ignore part of it, you ignore part of what it was God wanted you to know.
D. Importance of Archaeology to the Study of the Old Testament
1. Archaeology does not and cannot prove or disprove the Old Testament.
First off, the Bible does not need to be proven true -- and in point of fact it cannot be proven.
As God's special revelation to humanity, its own message and meaning, its own claim of inspiration, and internal evidence, its own fruits or results in the lives of individuals, are its best proof of authenticity.
It demonstrates itself to be what it claims to be to those who believe its message. Since God has made the realization of spiritual truth on the basis of faith and not sight (2 Corinthians 5:7 - "We live by faith, not by sight." and Hebrews 11:6 - "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."), whatever contributions archaeology or any other science might make toward corroborating the reliability of the Bible, can NEVER take the place of faith. Scientific authentication may act as an aid to faith, but God has so ordained that simple trust (which glorifies Him) shall always be necessary in dealing with Him or His revealed truth.
Archaeology's primary role is to illuminate and illustrate the periods in which the Bible was written.
It has, of course, served as a corrective to some of the nonsense
written in the last hundred years by those who viewed the Bible
as less than reliable. Archaeology has exploded strange theories
that plagued biblical scholarship. No longer can the Hebrew patriarchs,
for instance, be dismissed as mythological; no scholar would seriously
deny that Moses was capable of writing, though in the early years
of the documentary hypothesis this was certainly the common view.
However, making the Bible more fully intelligible to the human mind is undoubtedly the real function of archaeology.
However, the Bible as a revelation from God, does not need archaeological light to make it understandable and spiritually vital any more than it needs to be proved authentic or true.
Multitudes were spiritually regenerated and made fully knowledgeable of the treasures of divine wisdom contained in Scripture long before the advent of modern archaeology.
However, it must be remembered that the Bible is not only a divine book, but a human book as well. As the product of God's revelation communicated to and through people, on the human side the Bible may be rendered more fully intelligible as a result of light shed upon it from external sources -- whether it be ancient history, modern archaeology, science, linguistics, or any other branch of learning. And anyone who would wish to understand the Bible as fully as possible has no right to neglect light that can be obtained from extra-biblical sources.
As W.F. Albright observed:
It is only when we begin to appreciate the Bible adequately in its human side that we can fully appreciate its greatness as the inspired revelation of the Eternal Spirit of the universe.
What are Some Basic Guiding Principles for Bible Study?
Certain presuppositions -- those hypotheses that are accepted at the start of an argument as self-evident (like axioms in geometry) -- should be stated at the outset. They can be listed as a series of eight points. The first three are basic presuppositions which underlie modern science, and these same basic presuppositions should also underlie anyone's approach to theology.
1.There is an actually existing external universe. The world, and everything in it -- the entire universe -- is real. That it should be necessary to state explicitly something so obvious should not be viewed as strange. Certain eastern philosophies and religions would deny the validity of just this point, leading inevitably to solipsism. Thus, I would assume that the Bible -- God's special revelation -- is real in the same way that I assume the universe -- God's general revelation -- is real.
2. The external universe is attainable accurately by our senses. It is possible to gain an accurate understanding of the world and everything in it by looking, hearing, feeling, and tasting. In the same way, I would assume that we may gain an accurate account of the Bible -- God's special revelation.
3. The external universe is orderly, endowed with cause and effect and it follows the laws of logic. Likewise, the Bible -- the special revelation of God -- is orderly and endowed with cause and effect and follows the laws of logic. That is, we can, theoretically at least, gain a correct understanding of the Bible because the Bible will be consistent, orderly, and sensible. A consistent hermeneutic (interpretation or explanation) is possible in examining the universe, and so a consistent hermeneutic is possible in examining the Bible.
According to Irving M. Copi of the University of Hawaii, a professor of logic and author of Introduction to Logic there are three fundamental laws of thought necessary and sufficient for thinking to be "correct". Traditionally, these are called:
A. The Principle of Identity
B. The Principle of Non contradiction
C. The Principle of the Excluded Middle
A. The Principle of Identity Simply stated, the first of the fundamental laws is a tautology. If any statement is true, then it is true. Some have criticized this first principle on the basis that things change. For instance, in 1790 one could make the statement: "The United States of America is made up of 13 states." But obviously such a statement is not true today. However, the fact of change in human affairs does not negate this principle of logic. Statements which change over time are said to be elliptical, or incomplete statements. Thus, the statement "The United States of America is made up of 13 states" is a partial formulation of the statement, "The United States of America was made up of 13 states in 1790." Such a statement is as true today as it was in 1790. Thus, as Copi said, "When we confine our attention to complete or non elliptical formulations, the Principle of Identity is perfectly true and unobjectionable."
B. The Principle of Non contradiction Simply proposed, this asserts that "no statement can be both true and false." Or to take it a step further, "a given thing cannot be and not be in the same way and to the same extent at the same time." This is a vital principle, without which reasoned thinking is not possible. While it may seem obvious that a given object cannot be both an apple and a peach, this principle is often ignored or twisted out of shape by both secularists and theologians.
The word "paradox" is used sometimes to describe contradictions -- contradictions that, some would say, must be accepted. For instance, the famous experiments with light, which indicate that under certain experimental conditions, light can be demonstrated absolutely to be made of particles, while under other experimental conditions, light can be demonstrated absolutely to be made of waves. A contradiction! In some circles it has been concluded that light is both and neither and we must live with the contradiction.
Occam would shout "poppycock" to that conclusion. The simpler explanation, by making use of Occam's razor, is to say that the experiments have settled nothing, and that further study is needed. We can't just throw up our hands and say, "oh well, it's both; lets say light is made of 'wavicles'." What the heck is a 'wavicle'?
The same thing arises in theology in attempts to explain the Trinity, the relationship of free will to divine sovereignty, or how a good, all powerful God could permit sin. Too often, theologians are satisfied with the paradox -- "the apparent contradiction" -- and leave it at that. Again, Occam's razor would simply slice through the gobbledygook and tell the theologians that they have more work to do. Frank Wilczek and Betsy Devine, writing about nature (the general revelation of God), made a very perceptive point, which has definite implications for understanding the Bible (the special revelation of God):
Nature poses many riddles but contains no contradictions. By solving one of her puzzles, therefore, we are guaranteed to learn something -- and the weirder, the more impossible the paradox seems at first, the more mind-expanding will be its ultimate resolution. [F. Wilczek and B. Devine, Longing for the Harmonies: Themes and Variations From Modern Physics, New York: W.W. Norton, 1988, p. 218]
What all this means then, is that contradictions cannot be real. Such a conclusion is a very hopeful and useful tool, and has been of immense impetus to scientific research, because this principle of non contradiction assures the researcher, in whatever field, that there is, indeed, an answer to any conundrum. And if there is an answer, then it is possible to find it.
On a personal level, this principle of non contradiction has some serious implications. Every day, we discover people who, within their lives, are not living up to the principle. George Orwell described the problem as "doublethink". An older word for this sort of person is simply "hypocrite". The Bible calls such a person a "double-minded man":
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. [James 1:5-8]
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [James 4:8]
Notice the sheer idiocy and irrationality of the hypocrisy: a person goes to God to request something that He has promised to give, but then doesn't believe God will give it. Such an attitude irrationally contradicts the truthfulness and goodness of God, not to mention explicit biblical statements that God does not lie.
The second passage in James 4:8 goes even further, equating hypocrisy with sin, or better yet, portrays the sinner as being a hypocrite by definition. After all, a Christian claims to be filled with the Holy Spirit, cleansed by the sacrifice of Christ, a new creature, and yet he sins. Contradiction.
Of all things a nonbeliever delights in most, it is to point out
the inconsistency of believers. I give two examples:
Catholic theology teaches that the Pope and Church are infallible. The doctrines and traditions handed down from the fathers are as much the words of God as the Bible. Yet, thousands who claim to be Catholic, feel perfectly justified ignoring the Catholic Church's teaching on birth control, abortion, or women in the Church. How can this be?
Doublethink; hypocrisy; inconsistency. To be a consistent Catholic, to obey the concept of non contradiction, the follower of Rome must accept what the Catholic Church says in all things. Otherwise, that one becomes by definition, no longer Catholic -- but Protestant.
By contrast, Baptists claim (in the Protestant tradition) that the Bible alone is authoritative, that the individual Christian is free to interpret the Bible for himself, and that all believers are priests, equal before God. Yet in practice, the standard, traditional interpretation of the Bible is the true authority, and to dissent from that interpretation (particularly if you act upon it) will often result in church discipline, censure, and possible expulsion, as the pastor alone is really in charge of things. Where then is biblical authority? Where then is soul liberty? Where then is the priesthood of all believers? They are swallowed in doublethink.
What is in our heads rarely matches our practice, and often contradicts other ideas in our heads. Humans are strange that way. Listen to George Orwell:
The Party said that Oceania had never been in alliance with Eurasia. He, Winston Smith, knew that Oceania had been in alliance with Eurasia as short a time as four years ago. But where did that knowledge exist? Only in his own consciousness, which in any case must soon be annihilated. And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed -- if all records told the same tale -- then the lie passed into history and became truth. "Who controls the past," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past." And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. "Reality control," they called it; in Newspeak, "doublethink."
"Stand easy!" barked the instructress, a little more genially.
Winston sank his arms to his sides and slowly refilled his lungs with air. His mind slid away into the labyrinthine world of doublethink. To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which canceled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then to draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again, and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself -- that was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word "doublethink" involved the use of doublethink. [George Orwell, 1984, pp. 35-36]
C. The Principle of the Excluded Middle The principle of
the excluded middle asserts that "any statement is either
true or false". Some have objected that if this principle
is accepted one is forced into a "two-valued orientation"
which implies that everything is "either-or", with no
middle ground possible. Such an objection results from a misunderstanding
of the principle. If you have something that is gray, for instance,
the statements "this is black" or "this is white"
are both false. When faced with a situation where one is given
such statements, "this is white" or "this is black",
while both statements cannot be true, they very easily might both
be false. When one restricts oneself to statements that are unambiguous
and precise, then the principle of excluded middle is perfectly
In other words, what this principle asserts is that REAL paradox is not possible, only APPARENT paradox, the result of limited language or data. By the principle of excluded middle, when faced with the question of whether light is made of waves or particles, since the experiments contradict each other, it is best to assume that light is neither wave nor particle, but something else: GRAY.
4.The Bible is unique. The Bible should not be viewed as equivalent to a work of Shakespeare. Shakespeare was brilliant, but his writings are a purely human creation. The Bible, on the other hand, is not a purely human creation: it is the very Word of God--God's special revelation of himself to the human race.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. [2 Peter 1:20-21]
5.Stand in humility before the text of scripture. When something in the Bible seems contradictory, or when something does not appear to make sense, the reader should assume that he or she is failing to understand something. One should question his or her own reasoning abilities and knowledge, since our reason and knowledge are in a finite, corrupted, and fallen state. Do not question the reliability of the Bible.
Trust in Yahweh with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make your paths straight. [Proverbs 3:5-6]
Yahweh said to Job:
"Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!"
Then Job answered Yahweh:
"I am unworthy--how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but have no answer--
twice, but I will say no more."
Then Yahweh spoke to Job out of the storm:
"Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you will answer me.
Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
Do you have an arm like God's,
and can your voice thunder like His?
Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
Unleash the fury of your wrath,
look at every proud man and bring him low,
look at every proud man and humble him,
crush the wicked where they stand.
Bury them all in the dust together;
shroud their faces in the grave.
Then I myself will admit to you
that your own right hand can save you." [Job 40:1-14]
6. The reader must always ask "Where is it written?" Just because a good Christian says it or writes it, just because the pastor says it, or just because "that's what I've always believed", does not necessarily make it true. What does the Bible really say?
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. [Acts 17:11]
7. Do not be afraid of the Bible. The ultimate source of authority for Christians is the Bible, not our theological preconceptions, not our cultural preferences or fears. If what the Bible says does not square with one of our theological ideas, then we must change our theological idea! We must not go through strange contortions to get the text to support our preferred viewpoint.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light for my path....[Psalm 119:105]
8. Conform to the Bible. This is the hardest thing of all. The reader must be careful to make his or her life conform to Scripture, not Scripture to his or her life. Be aware of one's own cultural biases. Do not read into the text what is not there.
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with 'unclean' hands?"
He replied "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:
'These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
And he said to them: "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is "Corban" (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that." [Mark 7:5-13]
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