These last questions don't fit into any one category, so we're just going to group them together as Old Testament questions or New Testament questions.
Old Testament Questions
Why did God forbid eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil?
Why did He do that? What was the point? Why didn't He just put them in the garden and just leave them there? I mean, everything is fine, everything is beautiful. He saw what He had created and He said, this is very good. Why add the tree of knowledge of good and evil? Why that commandment?
The answer is in Genesis:
16The Lord God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die."
- Genesis 2:16-17
Notice first of all, there's no mention of an apple here. It just mentions a fruit. Some of the reasons why God did this: first of all, the commandment established the context for the exercise of free will. We talked about this before, you cannot be human, made in the image of God, unless you have free will. Otherwise, if you don't have free will, you're a robot, or you're a plant, or you're a rock, or you're an animal, but you're not a human being, made in the image of God. Why? Because God has free will. So God gave the command, in order to kick-start, if you wish, man's gift of free will. Humans have been created in such a way that they can discern good and evil and make moral choices. And so, the command not to eat of the fruit provided the framework or the law against which this ability of man could be exercised. In other words, you can't choose right from wrong if there's no choice to be made. If everything is right, you're not exercising your freewill. And if you're not exercising your freewill, you are not fully human.
Another reason that God gave the command was to establish the order in creation. By establishing or giving the law, God was establishing His rulership over man. Why? Because the one who's in charge makes the rules. We know this. In a family, is it the children who make the rules? Woe to the parents and the household where it is the children who make the rules. No, it's the parents that make the rules. So, by establishing or giving the law or rule, God was establishing His rulership over man. Man would always know that God was superior, because God was the One who made the rules.
Third, there may be more, I'll give you three. This rule was established to show every generation of mankind after Adam that moral authority comes from God. He is the source of moral authority. I go back to my family analogy here. Sometimes you're telling children, well, I don't want you to hang out with this certain person. "But why?" they ask. "Well," you say, "I don't like the look of him, the way he talks to his parents, other reasons, I'm not sure." You're giving your child some of the reasons for that particular prohibition and they keep coming back with, "But why? But why?"
Tired of the jousting you finally say, "Because I said so." Of course, you want to have some dialogue with your children, you want to give them reasons why you do things, but if they keep coming back with the why, it's no longer curiosity, it's a challenge. And in the end you say, well, because I say so. What's behind that phrase, because I say so? What you are conveying is the reality of your present relationship, the parent is in charge. I'm the parent. I make the rules. You obey the rules. In the same way, God makes the rules and we must obey the rules. His rules, however, were first and continue to be primary. With time, humans would create laws and rules, but these would always be secondary to God's laws.
Isn't that the big debate we're having in our society today? What has made America great? Many believe that what has made America great is its Constitution and the laws and social norms built upon it. When we review the Constitution and how it was created we realize that many of its ideas are based on laws and principles given to us by God. I hear Christians or believing politicians say that the rights that we have here in the United States are given to us by God, not the government. The government didn't give us the right to freedom. That's a right given to us by God. Try going to Russia and publicly declaring that the peoples' right to freedom has been given to them by God. Try doing that in China or Pakistan and see how those governments will respond to your public declaration. What makes America great at its source is that its ideology, government and laws have all been based in one way or another on God's law. Exercising our free will, then, is what animates us and reveals the negative or positive consequences of our choices.
Why doesn't the Bible mention dinosaurs?
The Bible doesn't use that particular word, but it does mention dinosaurs, but not with the words coined in modern science, using Latin or Greek word sources instead which were not available in the times when the book of Genesis was written. When the book of Genesis was written, Hebrew was the language. There was no Greek. The modern English word dinosaur comes from Greek words Deinos, which means 'terrible', and sauros, which means 'lizard.'
In Genesis 1:21, the Bible refers to God creating great whales or great sea monsters. The Hebrew word used here is the word tannin, which is also translated elsewhere in the Old Testament as dragons. Isaiah the prophet talks about Leviathan, the dragon of the sea (Isaiah 27:1).
The Bible refers to animals in groups and uses the word tannin to refer to various animals in one group. What animals fit into the group that the Bible refers to as tannin? Well, serpents, great lizards, monsters, sea monsters. Dinosaurs, therefore, would have fallen into this category, as one of God's creatures, which like many others of that time, are now extinct. Animals becoming extinct has been going on for thousands of years, and it continues today.
In answer to the question, "Do I believe in climate change?" Absolutely, I believe in climate change. The climate started to change drastically after the great flood, and will continue to change until the end of the world when God will destroy the earth and the heavens, and the new heavens and earth will be established (II Peter 3:10-14; Revelation 21:1;4).
Where did Cain and Abel get their wives? Was this incest?
First of all, the Bible only mentions Cain having a wife and he had children who intermarried within their own families. This was part of God's plan before the great flood to populate the earth. At that time this type of intermarriage was not considered immoral, and not dangerous genetically. After the flood when mankind was significantly weakened and subject to greater vulnerability to disease, family intermarriage (incest) was slowly discontinued until it was strictly forbidden by the time God gave the Law to Moses (Leviticus 18:7-18)
Is there life on other planets?
I heard on the news that the government spent $220 million dollars on a search for UFOs. Some people say, "Well, how come you don't believe in extra terrestrials? There are billions of stars and billions of planets, surely there must be another planet where there is intelligent life?" My response is that I don't believe in extraterrestrials because of Genesis 3:20. It says, "He called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living." That would be all the living created in the image of God which constitutes all intelligent life since there is no intelligent life unless it has been created by God. This passage states that Eve is the source of all the intelligent life born.
Remember, I said that the Bible teaches that the world was populated from these original two people and it was then repopulated after the great flood with only eight people - Noah and his family. Alright, getting back to the question. Cain married one of his many siblings, because this is how the world began to be populated. Before the flood people lived for centuries. If you read the genealogies of the early patriarchs you find that many lived beyond five hundred years, some even to 900 years (i.e. Methuselah 969 years). People who lived this long were able to have a great number of children who multiplied in ever-widening circles, as people moved further away from their original families.
It was not considered incest when someone married within their family because God commanded them to multiply and populate the earth. It became incest only after the flood, when man's human nature was weakened by centuries of sinfulness, and closed marriages began to be a risk to society and to one's health.
By the time of Moses, the law against intermarrying was finally established and codified, and we read about that in Leviticus 18:9 but until that time we read about Bible characters marrying their cousins or their step sisters, and there was no immorality attached to that. Eventually, however, these unions were forbidden by God in His laws.
How do you answer those who say that because they didn't experience death, Enoch and Elijah are the firstborn from the dead and not Jesus?
Enoch, who appears in Genesis 5:24, and Elijah the Prophet, who appears in the Old Testament but referred to in Hebrews in the New Testament did not see death. In other words, they didn't die of natural means and were subsequently buried. Aaron died and was buried. Moses died and was buried. Joseph died and was buried, but these two have no mention of their death. Some say that because of this they are the firstborn from the dead, and not Jesus, since they did not die and were taken up to heaven.
How to answer this question? You start from the Bible.
21Enoch lived sixty-five years, and became the father of Methuselah. 22Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. 23So all the days of Enoch were three hundred and sixty-five years. 24Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.
- Genesis 5:21-24
The Bible says that he was not here anymore. God took him to heaven. He didn't experience physical death. Let's read another passage.
By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; and he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.
- Hebrews 11:5
The Hebrew writer clarifies and explains what is written about Enoch back in Genesis.
As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
- II Kings 2:11
This means that Elisha did not experience death. While he was still alive on earth, he was taken up to heaven.
These are the records of how these men were spared the agony of physical death and were brought directly to God. Some people say, since they did not die and went straight to heaven, they are the firstborn and should be the "firstborn" that the Bible mentions and not Jesus. Let's examine what Paul teaches about this point in Colossians. In this passage Paul refers to Jesus.
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
- Colossians 1:15-18
In Colossians, Paul uses the term firstborn, not to say that Jesus was the first one ever to be created or the first one ever to be resurrected from the dead. This would be in contradiction to the Bible. As far as we know, angels were the first beings that were created. Angels were created before men. Satan's fall took place before man was created. Angels, therefore, were the first creatures or beings that were created. We know that Satan was displaced because he did not remain in the position that God had originally given him. Therefore, God cast him down to earth (my own theory, and it's just my own theory, is that Satan, originally a beautiful angel, refused to minister to men as angels were assigned to do and this was the cause of his and other angels' rebellion).
Paul uses the term firstborn to refer to Jesus' rank or His position in creation and in the church. Mankind was created not born. Paul says Jesus was the "firstborn" not the first created. Jesus' divine nature gives Him the first position, the first rank in creation because of His power, perfection and of course, because of His divinity. He has the first rank even if He wasn't the first one to go from earth to heaven like Enoch or Elijah. However, unlike these two men, Jesus as the "firstborn" went from heaven to earth and then back to heaven, something no one but Him has ever done thus confirming His title and power as "firstborn".
Note also that the passages about Enoch and Elijah only say that they were taken up without seeing death, not that they themselves were glorified. Jesus is the first among those who are resurrected unto glory. All others, including these two, will follow Him into glory and eternal life.
Why aren't the apocryphal books included in the Canon of the Bible. How did they know which books to put in the Bible?
There were many books circulating in the first century. Many of these were about Jesus, so how did we select the 27 books that now make up the official New Testament record? Also, what about the books sometimes included with the New Testament canon referred to as the apocryphal books. The Greek word Apocrypha means 'hidden'. This term refers to a number of books written during the Old Testament period, but because of uncertain authorship or accuracy were not considered inspired works. They were, nevertheless, valuable for study purposes because they provided historical and cultural information about biblical times and people.
There were many such books produced and circulated, but in the 16th century the Roman Catholic Church collected twelve of these apocryphal books and included them in the Catholic edition of the Bible. These twelve books had names like First and Second Esdras, or the book of Tobit, the Epistle of Jeremiah or the four books of the Maccabees. The Maccabean period was a time of uprising in Judea. Between the times of Malachi and John the Baptist there were 400 years when no inspired works were produced. We refer to this era as the inter-testamentary time period. During this time there was a revolt among the Jews against the Greeks (the world power at the time) and other surrounding nations. These books describe the politics, social customs, religion and wars taking place during that time. They are fascinating because they describe the lifestyle and issues that were happening during that period in history. There was a hunger by the people for a word from God and since no prophet appeared the vacuum was filled by writers of the times who speculated and predicted about the end times and the coming of the Messiah.
When compared to the New Testament books it is easy to see their inaccuracies and failings but, as I mentioned before, they did provide a look into the lives of the Jewish nation during the inter-testamentary historical period. Some of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church are based on information that comes from this material.
For books to be considered part of the biblical Canon (means - a measure) or official inspired texts they had to fulfill certain criterion:
- They had to be written by a chosen servant of God: Moses, David, Solomon; or a prophet: Samuel, Isaiah; or in the New Testament, an apostle: Peter, Paul; or the disciple of an apostle: a person like Luke, for example, who was a disciple of Paul; or Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark (who was Peter's secretary). The first criteria, therefore, was that the book (letter)had to be written by a chosen servant of God.
- It had to be recognized as inspired when originally circulated or spoken. The book of Matthew, for example, was immediately recognized as inspired writing because Matthew was an apostle of Jesus. He had been empowered by the Holy Spirit to remember all of Jesus' teachings (John 14:26). Jesus had promised to give him understanding and remembrance of everything that He taught for the very purpose of putting it in his record.
- The books that became inspired were books that were already considered inspired and well circulated among the apostolic church in the first century. The church already considered the writing to be inspired of God. It was simply a matter of formality to add that book to the list of official texts..
- It also had to withstand close scrutiny. Church leaders and the scholars of the day studied and examined these books. They were looking for errors in doctrine or inconsistencies that would demonstrate that they were not truly inspired. In addition to internal scrutiny, the Bible has had to withstand the criticism of unbelieving scholars over the centuries but none of these have been able to disprove what the Bible teaches or point out errors or inconsistencies that would belie the Bible's inspired nature.
- The book itself had to speak with divine authority and sincerity. The writers spoke with the authority of one who spoke on God's behalf. The Bible assumes that the reader accepts that it is God's inspired word without doubt or hesitancy.
The Old Testament Canon or list of inspired books was collected and set by the first century, probably after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. It was an effort by the Jews at the time to preserve their written history. Therefore, when we read the Old Testament, we are reading what Jesus and the Apostles were reading in the first century. However, the Jews divided the 39 books of the Old Testament differently compressing the material into 22 books.
The New Testament Canon or list was collected and finally set at the Council of Hippo in 393 AD, and the two sets of books were assembled into the Bible as we know it today in 400 AD by Jerome who produced the first translation of the Bible from the original languages (Hebrew and Greek) into Latin.
Is the Living Bible a good translation?
The original manuscripts for the Bible were in Hebrew, Greek, and parts of it in Aramaic, which was a common language in first century Israel. At first, the translation from these original texts and languages were made into Latin and then into other languages, so more people could read the Bible for themselves. It is important to note, however, that each new translation was based on the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, copies of which were plentiful and continue to be preserved in various museums around the world (mainly the British Museum).
When my wife Lise and I first became Christians we were new at reading the Bible. That was not something we did growing up. We used to test to make sure that our Bibles said the same thing. Since we were both bilingual (we each spoke and read both in English and French), we would test the accuracy of the Bible in the following way. She would read a certain passage in her French Bible and I would read the same in my English Bible. We would then compare what was written to see if there were any discrepancies from one language to another. We soon learned that what was written in my English version was exactly the same in meaning and context in her French Bible. Of course, the reason for this accuracy was the fact that both translations were based on exactly the same source material, the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Bible.
Versions are Bibles in the same language, but ones that have a different style of language. For example, you have the King James Version Bible. It uses what we refer to as Elizabethan English (i.e. Thee and Thou etc.) as its style. The reason for this is that it was translated in 1611 and that was the style of the English language used at the time.
A modern English Bible like the New American Standard Bible, for example, is the Bible that I use. It's a solid translation, accurate to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The New International Version is known as an easy reading Bible where the translators strive to make the English as literate and easy to understand as possible. This feature makes it a good reading Bible but not necessarily one used for serious word study. Then you have the Living Bible which uses conversational English. It's called a paraphrase Bible because instead of translating the language, the translators converted the biblical ideas into their own words. This approach often misses the original intent of the authors in the selection of words and phrases which are not always easy to translate smoothly into another language. The reason I use the New American Standard Bible is because it has a proper balance. It is a relatively easy to read Bible, but it is also a good study Bible because it follows carefully the original version.
Most versions are designed around how the text is to be used: will it be used as a serious word study; is it for first-time readers; is it for someone who's going to be using it in order to preach? Most of these versions are exactly the same in meaning, only the style of language is changed.
However, one word of caution. You need to be careful with versions that leave out certain books of the Bible or change the original intent and meaning of the original Greek and Hebrew. For example, versions that change God's name to Mother God, or eliminate male reference where the man is dominant. Others change references to kings or slaves or killing, so that the version will be politically correct for one group or another. Another example, versions that eliminate the teaching that homosexuality is a sin, so as to not offend readers who happen to be Gay. There are versions that change any passage that supports male spiritual leadership in the church, so it'll be more acceptable for those who promote women's leadership roles in the church. Again, there should be no agenda in a version, other than making it clear to understand. Remember, the original texts tell us not to change, add or subtract anything from God's Word.
I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book;
- Revelation 22:18
A version, therefore, is not accurate or authoritative if it presents different versions of God's teachings or commands. You can have different styles of language, but not different teachings or commands.