Compromisers and Hebrew eisegesis
Published: 14 October 2006 (GMT+10)
14–15 October 2006
A friendly reader called Kevin Robertson had some questions about some pseudo-biblical arguments from a compromising website. Dr Jonathan Sarfati responded, and Mr Robertson said:
Your answers were quite helpful to me and I plan to go through them again at a later time. You are also more than welcome to print my e-mail where ever and edited however you best see fit.
Thanks to his generous permission, we are posting this below in case it might help others.
I recently read some criticisms of young earth creationism on a different website by someone who seems to believe in the ‘day-age’ theory. Most of what I read I could refute myself because of the good information which you provide, however there were two points which I would appreciate you clearing up for me. Please understand that I am now a young earth creationist and neither these points, nor any others I may come across, will ever dissuade me from trusting in God’s Word again. Thank-you.
The first one is a question of the Hebrew language.
Unfortunately, many old-earth compromisers practice bluff and bluster on Hebrew, although many of them don’t know much about it. This is especially true with the way they butcher the clear teaching about יום (yôm) in context of Genesis 1, resorting to an obvious exegetical fallacy called ‘unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field’; or Hugh Ross of ‘Reasons to Believe’ claiming that the word ‘high’ is not in the Hebrew original of Genesis 7:19 although he knows hardly any Hebrew.
The Hebrew words used for lion and owl and other carnivores speak about those animals carnivorous natures—they come from root words describing carnivory if I understood correctly. If these Hebrew words are the ones Adam used to name the animals on Day 6, before the Fall, then doesn’t that mean Adam knew that animals would die without him bringing death into the world because of his sin? If Adam spoke a different language, giving the animals non-Hebrew names, because of the confusion of languages at Babel, then how did Moses know what the history of the world was prior to Babel? It would be recorded in a different language. I understand that God could have revealed it to him but since the nature of this revelation isn’t recorded couldn’t it have been like the visions of Daniel, symbolically describing reality, a metaphor?It is important to note that modern Bible-believing scholars regard such ‘strolling through Strong’s’ as a very naïve form of exegesis. When Strong’s Concordance was written, deriving meanings of words from their etymology (derivations) was all the rage. But research a few decades ago has shown the completely fallacious nature of this idea. The book "Exegetical Fallacies" by the evangelical New Testament scholar Dr D.A. Carson warns of ‘word-study fallacies’, and has a whole section on ‘the root fallacy’ (pp. 28–33).
An example in Hebrew is the word for bread, lechem (לחם, Strong’s 03899), which is claimed to be derived from lacham (לחם, with different vowel pointing, Strong’s 3898), the main usage of which is ‘to fight’, and is contained in the Hebrew word for war, milchama (מלחמה, Strong’s 04421). On this point, Carson cites (p. 30) the Hebrew expert James Barr:
‘It must be regarded as fanciful whether the influence of their common root is of any importance semantically in classical Hebrew in the normal usage of their words. And it would be utterly fanciful to connect the two as mutually suggestive or evocative, as if battles were normally for the sake of bread or bread a necessary provision for battles. Words containing similar sound sequences may of course be deliberately juxtaposed for assonance, but this is a special case and separately recognizable.’
There are many examples even in English where it would be totally misleading to claim that the meaning of a word comes from its etymology, e.g. ‘pineapple’ is neither an apple, nor does it grow on a pine tree. The word ‘nice’ comes from the Latin nescius, meaning ‘ignorant’, but nice certainly doesn’t mean anything like ‘ignorant’. ‘Trivial’, comes from Latin tri– and via meaning ‘three roads’, thus the public street corner where three roads meet, then referring to the things people talked about at such a place that was regarded as common, vulgar; but we can’t claim that trivial actually means a three-road junction.
The second point I would appreciate you clarifying for me is about Adam’s physical immortality. Do you believe that Adam was immortal by his own created nature before the Fall or that his immortality was dependent on eating from the Tree of Life and miracle’s provided by God to ensure he didn’t die from accidents like falling and breaking his neck?
Here is a section from the book Refuting Compromise, which also contains much on the origin of carnivory and pathogenicity:
Adam’s sin just brought spiritual death?
However, Ross dismisses the above argument by claiming that the death referred to was ‘spiritual death’, not physical (Creation and Time pp. 60–61):‘“Death through sin” is not equivalent to physical death. Romans 5:12 addresses neither physical nor soulish death. It addresses spiritual death. … He died spiritually. He broke his harmonious fellowship with God and introduced the inclination to place one’s way above God’s.
‘In the same manner, it has been established that 1 Corinthians 15:21 (“since death came through a man”) also must refer to spiritual death rather than to physical death. As the following two verses explain, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then when he comes, those who belong to him” (verses 22–23).’
But this is amazing, since the whole of 1 Corinthians 15 is about the bodily (physical) Resurrection of Christ, who was physically dead. In fact, Ross, in the quote above, neglected to quote the second half of 1 Corinthians 15:21. This makes it very clear that the death Adam brought was contrasted with the bodily Resurrection brought by the Last Adam, ‘For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.’ If Adam died only spiritually, then, logically, Jesus must only have needed to rise spiritually. This goes against the whole tenor of Paul’s chapter, and a non-bodily resurrection would have been nonsense to Jews.
The actual Curse
Even Genesis itself shows that Adam’s punishment could not just have been spiritual death. In Genesis 3:19, God pronounces judgment on Adam:‘In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
Returning to the dust can mean only physical death, and there would be no point to this punishment unless there was no physical death before. Otherwise, Adam could have said,‘So what? That was gonna happen to me, anyway!’
Actually, in one sense, the Curse of physical death has a benefit to man, in that it prevents an even worse evil: living forever in a state of sin. And it provides the means of redemption, via the physical death of the God-man Jesus Christ on the Cross.
Was immortality part of Adam’s original state?
God prevented Adam from eating from the Tree of Life after the Fall, lest he live forever in sin (Genesis 3:22). From this, some argue that Adam was not created immortal. However, this does not follow, because God ordains both the means and the end. RTB theologian Kenneth Samples is a Calvinist, so would argue that God predestines who will be saved (the end) as well as the means (preaching the gospel). Similarly, in the original creation, the end is that Adam would be without death, and part of the means could have been the Tree of Life. I won’t argue for or against Calvinism because it’s outside the scope of this book, but it shows that an RTB staffer can have no problems in principle with my explanation. In the Eternal State, where death and Curse will be no more, the Tree of Life will once more flourish (Revelation 22:2).
In this view, God had ordained the Tree of Life as providing eternal continuance of life. Since God’s will cannot be thwarted, even by the Fall (which He foreknew), the tree’s property would need to be true even after the Fall. Since Adam and Eve would not be allowed to live forever in sin, they could not be allowed to eat any of this fruit. If they had, God would have been forced by his own perfect truthfulness to keep them alive forever. So the Tree of Life was not to become accessible till the Eternal State, when we will no longer have even the possibility of sin.
Another argument is made in 1 Timothy 6:16, quoted as God ‘who alone has immortality’. But here the Greek text is saying that God alone possesses (Greek έχω echō) everlasting undyingness (Greek αθανασία athanasia). So in God’s case, immortality is part of His essence, while creaturely immortality is based on God’s moment-by-moment sustaining power (Col. 1:16–17). This passage has nothing to do with teaching that Adam would have died without sin.
Commentators on sin-death causality
That death was not part of the original creation is hardly a novel view of the Bible, as shown by commentators before the rise of long-age ‘science’:
Calvin agreed that physical human death is the result of sin:‘And therefore some understand what was before said, “Thou shalt die”, in a spiritual sense; thinking that, even if Adam had not sinned, his body must still have been separated from his soul. But since the declaration of Paul is clear, that “all die in Adam, as they shall rise again in Christ” (1 Corinthians xv. 22), this wound was inflicted by sin. …Truly the first man would have passed to a better life, had he remained upright; but there would have been no separation of the soul from the body, no corruption, no kind of destruction, and, in short, no violent change.’
Wesley answered the ‘problem of pain’ explicitly by man’s sin, in particular the Fall of Genesis 3:‘Why is there pain in the world; seeing God is ‘loving to every man, and his mercy is over all his works?’ Because there is sin: Had there been no sin, there would have been no pain. But pain (supposing God to be just) is the necessary effect of sin. But why is there sin in the world? Because man was created in the image of God: Because he is not mere matter, a clod of earth, a lump of clay, without sense or understanding; but a spirit like his Creator, a being endued not only with sense and understanding, but also with a will exerting itself in various affections. To crown all the rest, he was endued with liberty; a power of directing his own affections and actions; a capacity of determining himself, or of choosing good or evil. Indeed, had not man been endued with this, all the rest would have been of no use: Had he not been a free as well as an intelligent being, his understanding would have been as incapable of holiness, or any kind of virtue, as a tree or a block of marble. And having this power, a power of choosing good or evil, he chose the latter: He chose evil. Thus “sin entered into the world”, and pain of every kind, preparatory to death.’
Thank-you very much for your time in reading this. You have done an excellent job in teaching young earth creationism through this website and have helped me to be more secure in trusting the Bible. I recently have gone back and looked at some of the prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament and even though I had studied them before I believed in YEC, I now find that they speak much more clearly to me, and find myself amazed at how accurate and detailed they are. I never noticed this before, presumably because, without realizing it, I distrusted the Old Testament on an emotional level since it contradicted the evolutionary stories, including secular archaeological ones, which I once believed in. Thank-you for this blessing.
Yours in Christ