biblical literalist

There are many reasons I am not a “biblical literalist,” but one of the major ones is that it is just so young and unbiblical. The early Christians, Jews, and thus the authors and compilers of the Bible saw the Bible with nuance. Allegorical, ethical, and historical/literal interpretations were all used and often overlapped. Biblical literalism, rather than being conservative, originated within the last 150 years as the “conservatives” adopted Enlightenment concepts on textual interpretation.
—  Kevin Daugherty

A Christian who drinks isn’t automatically a drunken alcoholic leading people into sin, just as a Christian who abstains isn’t automatically a conservative prude who is a legalistic fundamentalist.

A Christian that believes that men and women have different roles doesn’t automatically mean they’re misogynistic woman-haters, and Egalitarians aren’t automatically progressive liberals.

Biblical literalists aren’t necessarily old-fashioned traditionalists, just like non-literalists aren’t automatically heretical post-modernists.

Because of our cynical, prideful, and judgmental nature, we’re quick to use exaggeration, hyperbole, and outright dishonesty in order to help promote our own beliefs, agendas, and opinions. But reality is much more complex, complicated, and muddled.

As Christians, we’re often guilty of using the worst-case scenario and pretending it’s the norm, when usually most people hold their specific beliefs, theologies, and practices due to more innocent, logical, and understandable reasons.

Let’s try to practice grace and humility instead of being pridefully judgmental.

Is the Earth 6,000 Years Old, 9,000 Years Old, or 13,000 Years Old?
How biblical literalists get their numbers.

Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., called evolution “lies from the pit of hell” in a speech and argued that the Earth is 9,000 years old. Scientists have determined the Earth’s age is 4.5 billion years, based on evidence from meteorites and molecular decay rates. How do biblical literalists come up with their estimates?

Using Greek history. The Bible provides plenty of internal chronological information. Adam lived 930 years, and his son Seth 912 years. The Israelites lived in Egypt for 430 years “to the very day.” Saul reigned as king of Israel for 42 years. Summing up the dates is tedious, but it’s doable. The real challenge is that the Bible is a “floating chronology:” It doesn’t date the beginning or ending of its story. Irishman James Ussher, the 17th-century archbishop of Armagh, famously solved this puzzle by comparing events in the Bible with histories from other civilizations. Most critically, Ussher found a reference to the death of Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the Second Book of Kings. Ussher then used Ptolemy’s history of Babylonian kings, combined with Greek historical events of known dates, to pinpoint the death of Nebuchadnezzar in 562 B.C. Adding together the generations of Old Testament begetting and the reigns of kings, Usher surmised that 3,442 years passed between the creation and Nebuchadnezzar’s death. Ussher thereby arrived at his now famous estimate for the Earth’s creation: 4,004 B.C. He eventually went one step further, marking the Earth’s birthday as 6 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, 4004 B.C.

Many biblical chronologists have come up with roughly similar estimates. Second-century St. Theophilus of Antioch guessed 5529 B.C. In his 1583 work De emendatione temporum, Frenchman Joseph Juste Scaliger put the creation in 3949 B.C. There are, however, occasional outliers. American doomsday evangelist Harold Camping believes that time began in 11013 B.C.

Most of these variations result from differences in Old Testament interpretation. For example, one of Ussher’s greatest dilemmas was choosing which text to follow. The Greek Septuagint version suggested that 2,242 years elapsed between the dawn of time and the biblical flood. Ussher rejected that estimate because, if it were accurate, Armageddon should already have occurred. (Seventeenth-century theologians thought the earth would end after 6,000 years.) The Samaritan Pentateuch suggested 1,307 years between the creation and the flood, but Ussher eventually went with the traditional Hebrew text’s 1,656-year-estimate. Harold Camping’s methodology in arriving at a vastly different date is perplexing. He added together the lifespans of Old Testament fathers and sons, assuming that their lives didn’t overlap.

It’s not clear how Rep. Broun settled on 9,000 years, but Ussher’s creation date of 4004 B.C. is by far the most cited. It was, and possibly remains, the most meticulous Bible-based calculation ever attempted. Ussher’s estimate for the death of Nebuchadnezzar is still the authoritative date. Perhaps more importantly, Ussher’s research yielded an auspicious number. Theologians and astronomers of his day estimated that Christ was born in the year 4 B.C., based on the mention of a lunar eclipse in the work of first-century historian Josephus. Ussher’s creation calculations thus suggested that precisely 4,000 years passed between the creation and the birth of the Christian messiah. The 1960 film Inherit the Wind also cemented Ussher’s place in the American imagination. In the movie, Matthew Harrison Brady insists on the witness stand that Ussher’s estimate is “literal fact.” When the crowd turns on him, Brady is reduced to hysterics, turning to his wife and memorably declaring, “They’re laughing at me, mother. I can’t stand it when they laugh at me!”

Credit: slate.com

Atheists and Christians Arguing About Nothing

Tonight, Bill Nye the Science Guy is going onstage at the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky, to argue about evolution with the museum’s founder Ken Ham, who is a young-earth creationist, meaning he thinks the world is only a few thousand years old. Nye is going to “win” the debate in the eyes of anyone who thinks that science is right about anything; Ham’s going to be similarly celebrated by a lot of hardcore Biblical literalists. The debate is the WWE for pseudointellectuals who spend too much time on Reddit, a made-for-YouTube event that will serve as a soapbox for Nye and Ham to stand on and shout.

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