End of Year

Embarrassing Bible Interpretations

There is a monthly magazine in the United Kingdom, simply called Christianity. It might be logical to suppose that contributors to this magazine would want to defend the Bible and give its readers reasons for so doing. Not so David Instone-Brewer, a Baptist minister and senior research fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge. He has written an article entitled “Embarrassing Bible Texts: Genesis 6.”1

What Brewer finds embarrassing is the idea that any Christian would believe what God actually says. Equally embarrassing is Brewer’s lack of research on the issue, which does not augur well for his Tyndale House students. For example, the article’s subtitle asks “Were six million land species really rescued in one boat?” A quick search on any creationist website, including this one, would have shown him that biblical creationists do not believe that the Ark held two of every species, but rather two of every kind—all the species having developed after the Flood from these kinds in a process known as speciation. As there were about 8,000 kinds prior to the Flood2, this would mean the Ark had to hold about 16,000 animals, whose average size was that of a sheep. Brewer believes that the Genesis account “isn’t necessarily wrong”, which is big of him to make that judgment on Inspired Scripture, but he claims that a “concentration on the literal meaning of the text can distract us from its message – the message that God hates evil and is willing to take drastic steps to deal with it.”. But if we believe Brewer, then the message that God gives is not what Brewer says. The message becomes “if you continue to do evil, God will give you fairy stories about what He might hypothetically do.” The message of Genesis 6 is not simply that God hates evil and will judge it; it is also that the historical account is true. That is why Jesus could use this actual historical event to back up His own prophecy about the events of His Second Coming (Matthew 24:37–39). If Jesus were merely referencing a fairytale, then the authenticity of His prophecy would be undermined.

I used to read Christianity Magazine in my student days — though it used to be called Buzz in those days. I remember that Buzz used to take a solid biblical point of view on issues like Genesis and creation. I find it embarrassing that British evangelical pastors have now moved so far away from the truth.

***

Following the original publication of this article, we received communication from Dr. Instone-Brewer, objecting to the article. He particularly objected to my statement that “What Brewer finds embarrassing is the idea that any Christian would believe what God actually says”. He suggested that this strong criticism of his position was libel. We do not accept that. However, I do accept that the article’s original title was perhaps unnecessarily personal, and, for that reason, I have changed it.

His most detailed email is reproduced below, and then repeated with my comments interspersed.

In the article that you quote, my emphasis is that the account in Genesis is literally true. I regard the literal meaning to refer to a local flood. My complaint is that you state that I am disagreeing with what God says and with what Scripture says. What I am disagreeing with is a particular interpretation of the text.

I say that
* the flood literally covered the “whole land” (kol eretz) as the text says
* this water was visible “under all the heavens” (kol ha-shama’im)  in the same meaning as Deut.2.25.
* it destroyed the whole civilization (kosmos) as the NT says
* it covered every high hill (har) as the text says
* at the edge of this land there were still some mountains visible while the waters STILL covered “all the land” (as Gen.8.5-9 says)
* at least one olive tree was not submerged for months because it was able to produce leaves (as the text says)

I regard the global flood as an interpretation which does not take the text seriously.
I regard Genesis to be true, and the global flood interpretation to be erroneous.

I do not mind that you disagree with me, and you are free to say so.
But you are not free to invent things which I have not said, such as stating that I do not regard Genesis to be accurate.

I think the fair way to deal with this is to allow me space for a reply on the same page where you libelled me.

Yours sincerely

David Instone-Brewer

The email is now repeated, interspersed with my comments.

In the article that you quote, my emphasis is that the account in Genesis is literally true. I regard the literal meaning to refer to a local flood. My complaint is that you state that I am disagreeing with what God says and with what Scripture says. What I am disagreeing with is a particular interpretation of the text.

I completely accept that Dr. Brewer, and other theologians who take a similar view, honestly claim to have a high view of Scripture, believing that they believe the Bible to be entirely true. The purpose of an article like this, however, is to point out that the corollorary of believing the Bible to be entirely true is to actually accept what it says. I maintain that Dr. Brewer’s views on the Flood are not in line with what Scripture teaches. He claims that he disagrees with our interpretation of the text. We maintain that we do not interpret the text at all—we teach it as it is. It is Dr. Brewer who has interpreted the text, according to his presuppositions.

I say that
* the flood literally covered the “whole land” (kol eretz) as the text says
* this water was visible “under all the heavens” (kol ha-shama’im)  in the same meaning as Deut.2.25.
* it destroyed the whole civilization (kosmos) as the NT says
* it covered every high hill (har) as the text says
* at the edge of this land there were still some mountains visible while the waters STILL covered “all the land” (as Gen.8.5-9 says)
* at least one olive tree was not submerged for months because it was able to produce leaves (as the text says)

A little common sense needs to be applied here. Dr. Brewer is correct that kol eretz could refer to a limited area. He is also correct that kol ha shama’im appears in Deuteronomy 2:25, where it might not refer to the whole world (though it is certainly arguable that it could refer to the whole world). Where the common sense comes in is to look at all these facts together. Dr. Brewer seems to imagine that a Flood in the region of Mesopotamia could cover “every high hill” to a depth of 15 cubits (Genesis 7:20) and yet remain as a local, albeit very large event. This is simply not credible. It makes far more sense to accept the plain meaning of the text, which is that the water covered the entire planet, covering every high hill. Dr. Brewer suggests that there were mountains visible at the edge of the Flood area, quoting Genesis 8:5-9. In fact, the obvious meaning of this passage is that some mountains had become visible, as the waters were abating.

Dr. Brewer also makes use of the Greek kosmos. This is found in 2 Peter 3:6, referring to the Flood.

“By which the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water.”

The Greek word for world is kosmos and it would seem to me that Dr. Brewer is arguing here that this refers to civilization, not necessarily the entire population of the world. Alternatively, some people, and Dr. Brewer may be one of them, suggest that the entire population lived in the Ancient Near East, so that such a local Flood could, in fact, be global.

Like many words, kosmos can have slightly different meanings in context. For example, the meaning of kosmos (world) in 1 John 2:2 is different from its meaning in 1 John 2:15, in the very same chapter, yet the context clearly allows us to understand the meaning of each.

And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

I regard the global flood as an interpretation which does not take the text seriously.

That is an opinion. AS I have shown, the concept of a global Flood is not an interpretation, but the plain meaning of the text.

I regard Genesis to be true, and the global flood interpretation to be erroneous.

Yet, these two clauses are contradictory. I will accept that Dr. Brewer believes that he regards Genesis to be true. Our contention is that it is not possible for Genesis to be true, if the Flood were not global, since that is the plain meaning of the text.

I do not mind that you disagree with me, and you are free to say so.
But you are not free to invent things which I have not said, such as stating that I do not regard Genesis to be accurate.

I think the fair way to deal with this is to allow me space for a reply on the same page where you libelled me.

It is not libel for a Christian scholar to point out that another is in error. I will repeat one more time—the global Flood is not an interpretation of Genesis 6 through 8, or the other biblical passages which refer to it. It is the plain meaning of the text.

For readers who are struggling with this concept, and my seeming dogmatism on the subject, let us finish by looking at two consequences of whether or not you choose to believe in a global or local Flood.

First, Jesus believed in a global Flood. When Jesus was talking about His own Second Coming, he said this.

But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. (Matthew 24:37-39, emphasis added)

Throughout Matthew 24, Jesus has expounded the global nature of His return. Why would He do this, with reference to a local event? It makes far more sense to suppose that Jesus is referring to the entire population of the world (other than Noah and his family) being destroyed by a global catastrophe.

Second, consider the promise of God.

Never again shall there be a Flood to destroy the earth. (Genesis 9:11)

If the Flood were a local event, then God has not kept his promise. Could the local Flood advocate honestly preach the promises of God in Boscastle (flooded in 2004), Workington (flooded in 2009) or vast areas of Pakistan (flooded in 2010). If the Genesis Flood were local, then God did not keep His promise.

But, if the Genesis Flood were the global event that the Bible maintains that it was, then God has indeed kept His promise. Yes, there have been natural disasters, but at no time has God sent a Flood to destroy all flesh again. A local Flood really means nothing positive. Why did Noah need to build an Ark? He had 100 years to move to a dryer area! Why did Noah need to take birds on the Ark? They could easily have flown to dryer areas.

I understand why the local Flood concept is popular with people. But, if we are really to take the Bible at its word, then the local Flood concept simply does not work. If we really take the Bible seriously, then we should accept what it says, whether accepting that is convenient for our presuppositions or not.

  1. Brewer, D.I., “Embarrassing Bible Passages: Genesis 6,” Christianity Magazine, June 2011, < http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/embarrassingbible/genesis6.aspx >, accessed August 25th 2011
  2. See Woodmorappe, J. (1996), Noah’s Ark: A Feasibility Study, (Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research)

, ,

Comments are closed.