How Old Was Methuselah?

How Old Was Methuselah?
One question that keeps coming up is how ancient people recorded in the Bible lived so many years. How old was Methuselah? Genesis 5:27 tells us that Methuselah lived 969 years. How can that be?

As I hit my eightieth birthday with all the aches and pains that go with old age, I have to ask why anyone would WANT to live that long. The ancient Hebrew texts tell us that people in those days had aches and pains too. You might say that their bodies were different from ours, but that isn’t what the evidence shows. You can date a human bone by a careful study of the bone material itself and studies have shown that people in ancient times had very short lifespans by our standards.

We have discussed this issue in the past, and one possible explanation we have mentioned is that they weren’t using our method of measuring time. Julius Caesar gave us the calendar in 45 B.C., and Pope Gregory adjusted it long after the time of Christ, but ancient people used celestial objects to measure time. Some scholars have given another possible answer to the time issue. Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith (Volume 55 #4, pages 239-251) and Brevard S. Child’s book Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture pages 152-3 suggest a cultural answer to this question.

Sumerian King List
In Mesopotamia, great people were honored by assigning them an age that was symbolic of their character or accomplishments rather than reporting their chronological age. The ancient Sumerian king list records, “In Eridu, Alulim became king; he ruled for 28,800 years.” The picture shows one surviving copy of the Sumerian king list. The list also tells of other kings with even longer reigns. It should be pretty obvious that this is not referring to chronological age. Other cultures of that time did the same thing. The Chinese recorded their rulers as having very long lifespans comparable to Methuselah’s.

So how old was Methuselah? Remember what it means to take the Bible literally. It means you look at who wrote it, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how people of the time would have understood it. The age of Methuselah is not an error, but rather it may be an accurate recording of what the author had in mind when he gave credit to this great man of faith.
–John N. Clayton © 2018
Reference: Child, Brevard S., Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, Fortress Press, © 1979, ISBN 0-8006-0532-2

Peaceful Death and God

Peaceful Death
One of the things that old age brings you is that you are constantly brought face-to-face with death. Since the start of 2018, eight people that I knew well have died. The most recent was my younger brother who died from a combination of cancer and Parkinson’s disease. All eight of those people died slowly over a period of months. All of them were aware of their impending death within their last week of life. None were sudden deaths due to an accident or an unexpected stroke or heart attack. Discover magazine (March 2018, pages 66-68) published an article about the connection between spirituality and peaceful death. It tells about a radiation oncologist named Tracy Balboni who is a researcher at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. A major part of the thrust of Dr. Balboni’s work is helping patients make important decisions about the end of life. They can choose whether to use every possible medical technique to prolong their life, or they can decline major interventions and use hospice care and medication for pain control.

I watched my brother die, and I have observed the difference between his dying and the death of atheists I know who died with similar ailments. Every atheist that I have observed exhausted every medical resource possible in an attempt to stay alive. Not only was it expensive, but it brought much suffering to them and anxiety to their family members. One man told me “If this life is all I have been given, then I want to hang onto it as long and as hard as I possibly can.”

In my brother’s case, two years ago this past November I baptized him into Christ. That was the culmination of a great struggle between the atheistic traditions he had grown up with, and the influence of his wife and myself encouraging him to embrace spirituality. When he accepted Christ, he was not facing death, but his mortality was obvious. In the last three months of his life, he became very weak, and his quality of life deteriorated significantly. In the last three weeks, he and I talked extensively. He was resolute in his determination to have no more medical treatments and to be in hospice. His death was a peaceful death.

Balboni has received a two-million-dollar research grant designed to put spirituality on solid ground. To those who would complain that you are measuring nothing in such studies, Balboni says: “No, no, no. There are too many associations that we’re seeing to say it’s spurious and meaningless. That argument doesn’t hold if you care for dying patients.”

A patient’s spirituality gives huge support at the end of life. In our day of rapidly expanding medical technology, faith is a very important tool for peaceful death.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 2)

Anatomical Bible Words
Yesterday we began to examine anatomical Bible words. We talked about what it means to take the Bible “literally.” We said that taking it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it. We looked at the Hebrew word for “kidneys” which is kelayot.

Another anatomical Bible words example is the word leb, which occurs 853 times in the Old Testament. It means “heart,” and that is the way it is translated even though it doesn’t refer to the physical organ. We all know that the heart is the organ that pumps blood through our body, but the word leb is seldom used in that way. First Samuel 25:37-38 says that Nabal’s “heart failed him and he became like a stone. About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.” The word “heart” is used in many different ways in the Bible. Psalms 27:14 tells us that God may strengthen one’s heart–meaning to give courage. Proverbs 23:17 tells us that mood or temperament arise in one’s heart. First Samuel 27:1 and Genesis 17:17 tell us that the heart is a place for thinking and inner reflection.

The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek term for heart is kardia. That word is used in the New Testament to refer to various intellectual activities. (See Romans 1:21, 1 Corinthians 2:9 and 4:5, 2 Corinthians 3:15 and 9:7.) Jesus uses “heart” in the same way in Matthew 15:18-19 and Mark 11:23. In Luke 5:22 Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “thinking these things in your hearts.”

Also in the New Testament the Greek word splagchnon, translated “bowels” is used to refer to the intestines in Acts 1:18 and to the seat of emotions in many other passages. (See Colossians 3:12; Philemon 7, 12, 20; Philippians 1:8, 2:7). It is translated “bowels” in the King James Version but usually heart, mercies, or emotions in newer translations.

These biblical passages were written to common people in an ancient time, not to cardiologists or other medical doctors living in the twenty-first century. But let me ask you a question. Have you ever referred to someone having a “broken heart?” Have you talked about sadness as “heartache?” Did you ever refer to having a “gut feeling?” I am sure that you know these emotions do not come from those organs of the body. Did you and those who heard you understand what you were saying? How can we criticize the Bible authors for using language that people in ancient times could understand when we use the same expressions today?

Robert Branson in an excellent article in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (Volume 68 Number 4, December 2016, page 229-236) says it this way:

“…God accommodates His message of salvation to the ability of humans to understand. Cultural factors such as language, view of the physical world, and political practices are not overridden or corrected.”

The Bible is the perfect guide for how to live and how to have a restored relationship with God. We have to spend some energy making sure we understand its message, and we have many tools to help us do that. In today’s world, it is easier than ever to read and understand the Bible. There is no need for us to get hung up on anatomical Bible words. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) involves “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), and that means understanding the intent of the passage.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Anatomical Bible Words (Part 1)

Anatomical Bible Words
One of the most ambiguous words used by believers and atheists alike is when they say they are taking the Bible “literally.” It is ambiguous because of the underlying assumptions people make about the biblical translations. Word meanings can change over centuries and sometimes over decades. We can think of words, such as “gay,” which have changed in meaning in our lifetimes. Sometimes believers get confused by the meaning of Bible words in the King James Version. Skeptics especially like to criticize anatomical Bible words for being inaccurate.

At one extreme, some Bible fundamentalists insist that the King James Version was given by direct revelation from God to the translators in 1611, and that it is 100% correct. There are massive difficulties with that view. There are both translation mistakes and antiquated vocabulary in the KJV. Many words used in the KJV have gone out of use or have different meanings today.

A translation error we have mentioned before is in Genesis 6 where nephilim is translated “giant.” That mistranslation was a carryover from the earlier Latin Vulgate translation. In the Vulgate, the Latin scholars translated nephilim as gigantus which means “giant.” The KJV translators didn’t go back to the true meaning of the word nephilim which is “fallen ones.” The Hebrew word nephilim is derived from naphal which means to fall, fall away, or be cast down.

At the other extreme, atheists, skeptics, and biblical minimalists have claimed that the Bible is full of errors. They say that anatomical Bible words show a lack of understanding of basic science. The Hebrew word for kidneys is kelayot and it was used by the ancients in the sense of “mind” or “interior self.” We find it used eleven times in the Old Testament in reference to humans. In the KJV it is usually translated “reins.” We all know that the kidneys filter our blood and remove wastes, but the Bible never identifies the kidneys with that function. In Job 19:27 kelayot is translated “heart” or “mind” in most translations. In Proverbs 23:16 most translations read “innermost being.”

So does this mean that the Bible is not the word of God because our creator should have understood that kidneys are not the seat of our inner self? We believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. We have stated before that we must understand the Bible literally. To take it literally means to look at who wrote the passage, to whom it was written, why it was written, and how the people of the day in which it was written would have understood it.

The biblical passages we have referred to were written to common people in an ancient time in words that they could understand. If they could not understand it, they would never have passed it on to us. Our knowledge of human anatomy is far beyond that of the ancients. We can understand what the Bible is saying and so could those who lived in ancient times. The Bible is God’s word for all time, not just today. We will continue with more on anatomical Bible words tomorrow.
–John N. Clayton and Roland Earnst © 2018

Cloned Monkeys — Humans Next?

Cloned Monkeys — Humans Next?
Reuters.com reports that the Chinese Academy of Sciences has solved the technical problems of cloning higher life forms. Mu-ming Poo announced that two long-tailed macaques named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong were produced using somatic cell nuclear transfer in which transferred DNA was taken from fetal monkey cells and put into cells from which they had removed the DNA. By stimulating these eggs, they developed into embryos which were implanted in female surrogates and two live births of cloned monkeys resulted.

The question of cloning has many dimensions to it. Cloning can be used to solve many problems. An article in The Week (February 16, 2018) says that this process could “revolutionize research on diseases including cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.” The potential to address food shortages could lie within cloning of unusually large plants and animals or food stocks with special characteristics such as protein content, resistance to pests, etc. Cloning could also be used destructively to produce diseases or science fiction products like human androids.

The question remains whether scientists will clone humans. Since scientists at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland cloned “Dolly” the sheep in 1996, others have cloned 22 mammal species including cows, dogs, horses, and rabbits. Now the Chinese researchers have broken the primate barrier with cloned monkeys.

In cloning the macaques, 127 eggs resulted in 79 embryos which led to only six pregnancies and two live births. The ethics of such an inefficient process with humans raises a whole new set of abortion questions and Frankenstein type scientific, moral issues. Scientists will address the physical issues with future improvements in techniques, but someone must address the moral issues before they attempt human cloning.

The Bible defines a human as a being created in the image of God. A cloned human would be as human as one produced by artificial insemination or surrogacy or by the old-fashioned method. What we CAN DO and what we SHOULD DO are not necessarily the same. We need people with Christian moral values making the decisions on what we should do.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018

Evolution Weekend and Darwin Day 2018
February 12 has been designated as Darwin Day by the U.S. government with Senate Resolution 374 and House Resolution 699 both being pushed by the American Humanist Association. The stated goal is “..support of designating February 12, 2018, as Darwin Day and recognition of Charles Darwin as a worthy symbol of scientific advancement on which to focus and around which to build a global celebration of science and humanity intended to promote a common bond among all of Earth’s people.” With Darwin Day comes the return of Evolution Weekend in which various churches use the weekend of February 9-11 to promote their view that “evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.” The Clergy Letter which Michael Zimmerman circulates among denominational congregations states that “Evolution Weekend makes it clear that those claiming that people must choose between religion and science are creating a false dichotomy.”

All of this is a strange mix of good ideas and bad ideas along with fact and opinion. It is also replete with attacks on the Bible and denigration of those who claim that bad science is involved. The stated goals are wonderful. The failure to define what is meant by evolution and accurately present what Charles Darwin actually discovered dilutes the value of the weekend and of Darwin Day itself.

It would be wonderful if Darwin Day not only commemorated the birth of Charles Darwin but presented his primary discovery. What Darwin discovered was that living things are designed so that they can change and adapt to environmental conditions and changes humans make to improve crops and animal husbandry. Unfortunately, atheists attempt to add the writings of those who oppose the idea that humans are special. Instead, they suggest that all of life has equal value because they deny the spiritual dimension of humans.

It would also be wonderful if, on evolution weekend, religious bodies would present to their constituents the evidence that claimed conflicts between science and the Bible do not exist. The conflicts are caused by bad science or bad theology–not because of what the Bible actually says or what science has factually proven to be true.

Unfortunately many members of the clergy, such as the “Jesus Seminar,” join the atheists in denigrating the Bible by suggesting that it is full of errors. The National Center for Science Education reports that 182 congregations in 42 states are participating in Evolution Weekend. That is a very small percentage of American churches.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Voodoo in Haiti, the Bahamas, and Massachusetts?

Voodoo
In the newspapers on February 4, 2018, there was a story from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, about a five-year-old girl who was permanently disfigured by a voodoo ritual. Two sisters tied her down and engaged in a ritual intended to rid her of a demon. The sisters say that they perform “cleansing baths” for family and friends and the children sometimes get burned as spirits leave their bodies. Voodoo rituals like that are practiced in Haiti, the home country of the sisters.

Missionaries working in Haiti tell about an evil black pit where animals and occasionally humans are thrown into a putrid bubbling mass to appease evil spirits that cause illness. A man from the Bahamas told us that on some of the islands there, this same kind of activity is common.

The Bible makes it clear that God forbids anything associated with witchcraft, voodoo, evil spirits, or sorcery. The Old Testament law said that a person who performed this type of activity should be put to death (Exodus 22:18). Any activity of that type was forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10, 2 Kings 9:22, Micah 5:12). We might think that is extreme, but these things can and do result in human sacrifice. That is serious.

The New Testament included witchcraft with other immoral acts including murder (See Galatians 5:20-21). People have done horrible acts of violence in voodoo activities, and humans are frequently disfigured or violated in some way. The New Testament tells us the human body is the temple of God, and that as Christians the Spirit of God dwells in us. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

Ignorance produces the kind of horrible thing that just happened in Massachusetts, and which happens every day in Haiti and the Bahamas. That is why it is so important for us to educate anyone we can on what God wants from us, and what evil can do. We should never underestimate the power of evil, but God has given us tools far superior to anything evil can produce. James tells us, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Unnecessary Surgery and the Human Body

Unnecessary Surgery
“I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful; I know that full well” (Psalms 139:14). I suggest that if you can’t agree with that statement of David, you don’t understand your body very well. A medical doctor friend of mine says that 90% of the patients he sees every day would not need him if they would just take care of themselves and not run to him every time they have an ache or a pain. There is also concern about unnecessary surgery.

In the February 2018 issue of Scientific American (page 22), there is a follow up to an article that first appeared in the British medical periodical Lancet. The article in Scientific American is titled “Why Fake Operations Are a Good Thing.” The basic theme of these articles is that a lot of common operations like angioplasties are unnecessary surgery and that most of them do not reduce the risk of heart attacks or death. They are used to relieve symptoms such as chest pain, known as stable angina, and shortness of breath. Data in the British study shows that drugs could control the cardiovascular disease without the risks and expense involved in angioplasty.

One-hundred patients with blocked arteries were given a real stent operation, and 100 were told that they were given the operation, but weren’t. Six weeks after the operations there was no difference in how the two groups felt with both groups reporting less pain and performing better on treadmill tests.

A local brother had a blockage, but his doctor said that the body was building blood vessels around the blockage and he didn’t need a stent. That seemed plausible, but several weeks later he had a near-fatal heart attack, and EMTs had to shock him twice to keep him alive. It seems that there is no sure technique 100% success. At the same time, running to the doctor with every ache or pain with cost factors being what they are, may not be a good choice for many of us.

Cardiologists will take issue with not jumping on heart difficulties, but the idea of unnecessary surgeries applies to many other areas of concern. Patients receive two-million arthroscopic knee surgeries every year. The British study shows that a vast majority of them offer no advantages that patients could not get with physical therapy, weight loss, and exercise. Twenty-two percent of migraine sufferers when given sugar pills had reduced frequency of headaches. Fake acupuncture helped 38% of the same group, and fake surgery helped 58%.

The point of all this is that our bodies are incredible. Diet and exercise could eliminate a lot of medical expense. If the cost factors are eating you alive financially, there may be an answer other than unnecessary surgery or expensive drugs.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Hygiene Hypothesis and Disease

Hygiene Hypothesis
A new medical study is looking into something called the hygiene hypothesis.

Atheists often challenge the existence of God based upon their belief that the presence of diseases shows that there is no God. They conclude that an all-powerful God would not disease to exist. We have pointed out that a huge percentage of the maladies that afflict humans are the result of human abuse–pollution, drug use, foolish use of chemicals. etc. (See the doesgodexist.today articles for January 23, 2018; November 25, 2017; November 15, 2017; November 7, 2017; October 18, 2017).

Another dimension to the question of diseases is whether we have catalyzed the rates of contracting diseases by defeating the design of our immune system—the hygiene hypothesis. Major outbreaks of polio first began in the late 1800s. Multiple sclerosis doubled worldwide in the second half of the twentieth century. Type 1 diabetes rose dramatically in the 1950s. All of these diseases involve immune system problems.

In MS the immune system attacks the protective covering around certain nerve cells. In type 1 diabetes the body’s immune system destroys the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. The hygiene hypothesis says that exposure to various viruses or bacteria allows the immune system to protect the individual against what seem to be unrelated illnesses. It is not completely understood yet, but somehow the infections allow the developing body to learn how to deal with pathogens. The absence of exposure can prompt the immune system to attack the body itself.

In the early 1900s, one or two children under the age of 15 developed type 1 diabetes. In Finland, that number is now 60 children per 100,000. Between 1998 and 2010 the incidence of type 1 diabetes jumped by 40%. We need to point out that this is not caused by obesity. Type 1 diabetes happens in children who are not obese at the same rate as in those who are.

The evidence seems to indicate that there is a viral trigger and the type of viruses causing the diabetes are enteroviruses which are normally found in the intestines. A child exposed to those viruses at an early age develops a resistance to the enteroviruses and is not likely to contract the disease. If the viruses are not present in the environment, then later in life the immune system is defenseless against the enterovirus, and the immune system attacks the pancreas. At least, that is part of the hygiene hypothesis.

There is a great deal that science does not understand about how the immune system works. It is very complex, but it has worked remarkably well in humans throughout our history. Some of the diseases we are facing today seem to be occurring because the immune system of children has not been “tuned” by the viruses in the environment. Perhaps God’s design which served humans well in the past has been shut down by our rules for hygiene and the overuse of chemical agents. On the positive side, this study may eventually provide us with a vaccine which will eradicate the germ-caused diseases.

To read more about this see Scientific American for February 2018, page 56-59, or click here.
–John N. Clayton © 2018

Mental Health and Christian Faith

Mental Health
A recent mailing by the National Alliance on Mental Illness said that one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness. Seventy-five percent of all lifetime incidents of mental health issues occur by age 24. It goes on to say that 90% of the people who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. As a public high school teacher for 41 years I was frequently associated with students who threatened suicide, or in a few cases committed suicide.

There are cases in the Bible of people who were mentally disturbed. King Saul and his relationship with David certainly shows some severe mental problems. (See 1 Samuel 18:10-16 and 28, 29.) In Luke 8:26-39 we see Jesus dealing with a man who was deeply disturbed. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14 Paul tells us that Christians should help those who are struggling with mental issues.

Biblical Christianity is a guilt-relieving faith. Many people who call themselves Christians have bombarded their followers with a guilt message. You don’t see hell mentioned as a motivational tool in the preaching of the apostles. The word is only used twice in the New Testament by the inspired writers–once in James 3:6 in reference to the tongue and once in 2 Peter 2:4 regarding angels. The gospel is good news, not threats of damnation. Christians are called to a message of love, not to a fear-driven faith based on condemnation. God does not want anyone to be lost. (See John 3:17 and 2 Peter 3:9) God wants to restore everyone to the relationship Adam and Eve had with Him in the beginning.

Christianity should not be adding to the guilt-load that people in our world have today. Instead, Christian faith should be reducing fear and stress. “Hell-fire and damnation” preaching may have motivated people to run to obedience out of fear, but it is not helpful to peace and mental health. Love for God and His love and care of us is a far better motivator both mentally and spiritually.
–John N. Clayton