Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” — Gen 3:1 NIV
Bible translation is open to much discussion. There are those who believe God, or his angels, dictated the entire text to a person who wrote it down. This dictation is usually thought to be in the language of the present day person who believes this. As you might expect, which language is the perfect one is a question. The original texts were Hebrew, Aramaic, and koine Greek.
How the texts came into being will forever be under discussion. Then, once the texts had been received by the Church as the proper versions, the process of converting them into other languages began in earnest . Even Hebrew, Aramaic , or Greek scholars must then decide how to translate words and thoughts into modern Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or some other language.
This is not as easy a task as you might imagine. For example. the original manuscripts had no punctuation, and the letters had no spaces between them. They were basically a long string of letters. No verse or chapter divisions were present.
The GeoChristian, whose blog is found on my blog roll, has written an illuminating post on the whole process of translation. Below is his post on this subject.
The root of human sin, whether we look back to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or at our own sin that is all too persistent, is the desire to put our word and our will above the word and will of God. Somehow, we don’t think that God is enough, or that we know better than God. In my mind I know that only God knows what is best for us, and that God’s revelation of himself in the Bible is true from Genesis through Revelation. But any time I choose my own path, I act as if God doesn’t exist, or as if I know better than him.
Young-Earth creationist organizations, such as Answers in Genesis, take the phrase “Did God really say?” and extend it to cover their narrow interpretationof the Bible. If you don’t read the opening chapters of Genesis the way they do, then you are listening to the lies of Satan himself. Answers in Genesis recently posted a couple devotionals as part of what looks like will be a longer “Attacking God’s Word” series. The first two parts in this series are Did God Really Say? and Did God Really Say the Flood Was Global?
I find it rather humorous that these appeared on the AiG web site above a couple of Charles Spurgeon sermons. Spurgeon accepted an age for the Earth that is in the millions of years.
The YEC “Did God really say…?” tactic goes something like this: A Christian says, “I believe Earth is 4.5 billion years old.” The YEC responds by saying, “That is just compromise with the world; you are listening to the lies of the Devil, just like when he asked Eve, ‘Did God really say?’”
Let’s consider Noah’s flood. The YECs say that it was a global catastrophe, that wiped out all life except what was on Noah’s ark, and that it is the cause of most geologic features we see in the world today. Almost all old-Earth creationists will say they believe that the flood was a local event, perhaps in Mesopotamia, the Persian Gulf basin, or even in the Black Sea. The YEC will respond by saying that this violates the plain reading of the text, and comes one way or another from the hissssssssing of Satan in the ear. As the “Did God Really Say the Flood Was Global?” article puts it:
To adopt the belief in millions of years, many Christians have placed uniformitarian philosophy into Scripture to account for their interpretation of the rock layers. Because of this compromise, they have reinterpreted the Flood account as being merely a local event. Therefore, they must also believe God didn’t really mean that the mountains were covered, that everything that lives and breathes on the earth died, and that He wouldn’t flood the whole world ever again.
The Genesis 3 attack seeks to cause a person to doubt God’s Word.
Do old-Earthers compromise when they claim that Noah’s flood was a local event, rather than a global catastrophe? The answer to this isn’t found by looking at geology or archeology, but by taking a close look at what the text of Genesis 6-9 actually says (and doesn’t say) about the flood, its extent, and its work.
Bible translators often have to make choices as to which word to use when they translate a Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek word into English. At times, it is possible to translate one Hebrew word with more than one English word, and the translator’s choice can significantly affect how we understand the text. This is certainly the case with the flood account in Genesis. Take, for instance, the translation of Genesis 7:17-24. In the New International Version it reads:
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet. Every living thing that moved on the earth perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. The waters flooded the earth for a hundred and fifty days.
The English text you just read is the product of some difficult translation decisions. Consider the following:
- “earth” could be just as legitimately translated as “land“
- “mountains” could be just as legitimately translated as “hills“
- “heavens” could be just as legitimately translated as “sky“
Also consider the NIV footnote on verse 20, which states that an equally valid translation would be “rose more than twenty feet, and the mountains were covered.”
Now read the text again, with the footnote inserted, and with land, hills, andsky substituted for earth, mountains, and heavens:
For forty days the flood kept coming on the land, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the land. The waters rose and increased greatly on the land, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on theland, and all the high hills under the entire sky were covered. The waters rose more than twenty feet, and thehills were covered. Every living thing that moved on the landperished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the land, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the land was wiped out; men and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds of the air were wiped from the land. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark. The waters flooded the land for a hundred and fifty days.
A few completely valid changes to the text give it a completely different sense. It no longer reads as a global event that destroyed absolutely everything on the entire planet. Instead, it reads as something that was vast from Noah’s perspective, but not necessarily more than that. It may have been only twenty feet deep in places, covering low-lying hills at the edges of a wide plain. There is more to the Biblical case for a local flood than just this, but it is clear that a plain reading of the text doesn’t necessarily lead to the global catastrophism of young-Earth creationism.
I think that the “Did God really say…?” tactic can be turned back on the young-Earth creationist movement. They actually read many things into the text that are not there, and then hold these up as standards of orthodoxy for the rest of the church. I would ask them the following questions:
- Did God really say that Noah’s flood was global? (The answer, as I’ve just explained is “no.” The text can be translated to make the flood appear to be global, or it can just as correctly be translated to make the flood appear to be less than global. At best, the Bible is ambiguous on the complete extent of the flood)
- Did God really say that the flood laid down most of the world’s sedimentary rocks? (The answer to this one is also “no.” The Bible says nothing whatsoever about how the geological record was formed, so it is not a compromise to state that evidence points to a certain layer as being the remains of a coral reef ecosystem, rather than insisting that this complete ecosystem somehow was placed there by a global flood.)
- Did God really say that the flood killed the dinosaurs? (The answer to this one is also “no.” While I affirm that God is behind all of creation, including dinosaurs, I see no Biblical reason to suppose that humans and dinosaurs lived together, that there were dinosaurs on the ark, or that they were wiped out by Noah’s flood.)
I could ask many additional “Did God really say?” questions, as there are many more examples of things that the YECs read into the text.
As I stated a few weeks ago in my Creation creeds post:
As an old-Earth creationist
I believe that the universe was created by the triune God of the Bible
I believe that the Bible does not dictate when this creation took place
I believe in a real Adam
in a real garden
in a real fall into sin
in real consequences for that sin
and in Jesus Christ as the only solution for sin
Belief in an old-Earth or a local flood does not lead to a compromise in regards to the inerrancy of Scripture or the core doctrines of the faith. I’ll stick to what God really said, and not hold my beliefs on secondary matters up as the standards of orthodoxy.