Today’s conversation is a continuation of the previous one. In a previous article, we saw that when the Bible touches on the topic of astronomy, it is right. In particular, the Bible indicates the spherical nature of Earth, the fact that Earth hangs in space, and that God has stretched out of the heavens, long before such things were discovered by scientific means. This makes sense in light of the fact that the Bible is written by inspiration from God. It is God’s Word and as such it cannot be mistaken about any topic that it addresses and is not limited to the scientific knowledge available at the time it was written. Some critics complained about the article, and we addressed their criticisms in the last article. Rubin has graciously continued his conversation with me, and before I get to that conversation, some background material may be helpful.
Recall, Rubin had complained that the article was mistaken and that the conclusion that the Bible teaches a spherical Earth that hangs in space, etc. was based on “translation tricks.” He further claimed that the “Hebrews who wrote the Bible” actually believed in a flat Earth that floats in water which was encased in a physical dome. However, this view is not taught anywhere in Scripture, but is actually similar to the ancient pagan cosmologies of Egypt, Babylon, and early Greece. In fact, the Hebrews who wrote the Bible clearly believed in a round Earth, because that’s what they wrote (e.g. Job 26:10, Isaiah 40:22, Genesis 6-8).
Rubin thought he could demonstrate that the Bible teaches a flat Earth by “looking at other documents from the time period.” Of course, other documents are irrelevant to Rubin’s claim that the Bible has been mistranslated. To see if a text has been mistranslated we must examine the text and its translation. To get at the meaning of a text, we must examine the text. We must avoid the temptation to read into a text based on other texts which may contradict it. That would be eisegesis, not exegesis.
Rubin then suggested the Talmud as a specific example of a work that should be consulted in order to properly interpret the Bible; he apparently believes it is one of those “other documents from the time period.” Of course, the Talmud is not a document “from the time period” in which the Bible was written. The Talmud was written many centuries after the books of the Bible, and over two thousand years after the passages in Job!
The Talmud is essentially a Jewish commentary, a collection of rabbinic teachings regarding Old Testament law. It was compiled in the 4th and 5th centuries AD. The Talmud consists of two parts: the Mishnah and the Gemara. The Mishnah is the compiled written version of oral rabbinic traditions regarding opinions and debates on the Old Testament commandments. The Gemara is then a commentary and analysis of the Mishnah. There are two versions of the Gemara: the Jerusalem Gemara, written in the 4th century, and the more commonly used Babylonian Gemara, written in the 5th century. Conversely, all the books of the Bible were finished by the end of the first century AD.
In our previous discussion, Rubin had claimed that I was reading into the Bible based on modern cosmology. I asked him what evidence he had for this, and specifically how my understanding of “stretching out the heavens” was allegedly mistaken. But he was not able to provide any. He instead suggested that I must use the Talmud to understand the passages in question. I pointed out that this would be eisegesis, not exegesis. Perhaps the most important principle of biblical interpretation is that the text is the best interpreter of the text – the analogy of faith. I also pointed out that Rubin’s thinking was inconsistent; while he criticized me for reading into the text based on modern cosmology, he simultaneously suggested that I should read into the text based on 5th century cosmology, 2500 years after the passages in Job. Here is the rest of our conversation. Enjoy.
|Rubin: Wow, Jason. I’m surprised you were able to finish graduate school with such a persecution complex.
Dr. Lisle: Wow. Another question-begging epithet fallacy. I wish I could say I’m surprised.
Rubin: I’ve criticized your sloppy methods, not yourself.
Dr. Lisle: You have certainly made the assertion that my methods are sloppy. What you have failed to do is back up that assertion with any sort of rational support. So it amounts to a question-begging epithet.
Rubin: And now it seems like your latest gambit is to try and play the martyr…
Dr. Lisle: How so? That appears to be yet another irrelevant question-begging epithet fallacy.
Rubin: …instead of addressing my criticism.
Dr. Lisle: I addressed your criticism and demonstrated it to be entirely without rational merit. Namely: you had accused me of “reading into the text” based on modern cosmology (providing absolutely no support for this claim), while simultaneously recommending that I should read into the text based on ancient non-biblical cosmology. Your position is contradictory and self-refuting.
Rubin: When I was working on my doctorate in biochemistry long ago, one of the things I learned to do was to begin my research by conducting a literature survey on my topic of interest — to see what had been done before, and what the standard methodology involved.
Dr. Lisle: That’s good, and it is important when dealing with operational science. But that is not the right approach to interpreting a text. And that seems to be one of your main errors. For example, Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species…” was written in a time and culture where most everyone believed in some form of creation. Now would it be proper, would it be rational, to interpret Darwin’s book as a metaphor for biblical creation, since that is what most of the other books at the time promoted? Would it be fair to say, “Darwin obviously believed in the historical Genesis account of creation because almost all the other books besides his were along these lines. That’s what people believed then, so he must have as well”? If not, then neither would it be rational to conclude that the Bible means the opposite of what it says on the basis of other non-biblical works, especially those works like the Talmud which were written much later.
Rubin: It’s pretty obvious that you skipped that step when you were formulating your little Ancient Aliens eisegesis.
Dr. Lisle: Again, that is what you are doing. Reading into the biblical text in light of non-biblical texts like the Talmud is eisegesis – by definition. You seem to believe without any evidence that the Bible is just like a myth, that it is not inspired by God, and therefore likely reflects the views of other cultures at the time. Presumably, that is why you recommend reading into the text eisegetically based on non-biblical sources. This is not rational interpretation. The text determines the meaning of the text – not the opinions of others. The Bible itself teaches many things that are contrary to the common beliefs at the time, such as a stretching out of the heavens. I have asked you repeatedly how I am supposedly reading into the text by taking it to mean what it says, but you have no answer.
Rubin: You’ve already demonstrated that you didn’t check the Talmud, for instance, despite it being a key resource for understanding Judaism.
Dr. Lisle: That would be eisegesis – reading into the text based on outside information. Did you check all the writings of Newton to find out what Einstein believed? If not, then your statement is nothing but the fallacy of irrelevant thesis. Namely, non-biblical documents have absolutely no effect on the meaning of a biblical text. This should be obvious.
Rubin: (It still cracks me up that you erroneously consider the Talmud to be “pagan.”)
Dr. Lisle: I am disappointed that you have chosen to repeat this lie. I challenge you to point to any place where I have claimed that “the Talmud is pagan.” I suppose it is easier to lie about my position and knock down that straw-man than it is to refute what I have actually written. But it is not scholarly, nor honest. The Talmud is not the Bible, was written later, and therefore has absolutely no effect on the meaning of any biblical text. It is irrational and unscholarly to interpret a text eisegetically to conform to a different text written much later.
[Notice that not only is Rubin not reading the Bible properly, he is not reading my comments properly either. Often, when people fail to apply proper exegesis to Scripture, they similarly fail to apply proper exegesis to other texts.]
Rubin: I’ve included a short list of works on the ancient Hebrews’ cosmology …
Dr. Lisle: This is the fallacy of irrelevant thesis, because the question at issue is not what the Hebrews in general believed (many rejected biblical teachings – see Exodus 32:1-4), but rather what the Bible teaches. That is what my article was about. Did you actually read it?
Rubin:…for your reference below for you to get up to speed on how rational researchers operate and what their key findings are.
Dr. Lisle: It would be unscholarly, and irrational to read into the Bible based on the opinions of others.
[Recall that Rubin had earlier criticized me for reading into the text based on later cosmology ideas, the very thing he is now insisting that I do! He just can’t seem to make up his mind about whether I should or should not read into the text based on external documents.]
However, I have decided to apply your recommended research approach (on interpreting a text) to your own comments. Rather than allowing your own comments to be the final authority on what you mean, I will consult the surrounding material and interpret your comments in this light. Since most of the people commenting on my Facebook page are 6-day creationists and affirm the inerrancy of Scripture, I must interpret all your comments in this light. Clearly, therefore, you affirm that the Bible is indeed the inerrant Word of God, you believe in 6-days of creation, that the Bible indeed teaches a round earth, expanding heavens, and so on, and is correct on every matter. I thank you for posting your comments of agreement here. 😉
Rubin: It’s interesting to see they don’t rely on your superficial method of cherry-picking isolated pieces of scripture.
Dr. Lisle: Can you give an example of where I have supposedly done this, and actually back it up with evidence? This will be necessary if we are to have a rational conversation. I realize that you have asserted this over and over, but you have yet to provide any actually support.
[It is common for critics of the Bible to simply assert their opinions repeatedly rather than make a rational argument.]
Rubin: I know you physicists like to believe you’re experts on everything, but you really should leave the historical and linguistic analysis…
Dr. Lisle: To biochemists? 😉
Rubin: …to the historians and linguists…
Dr. Lisle: Historians like Dr. Terry Mortensen, and linguists like Dr. Steven Boyd? They have helped me tremendously. And of course, they agree with my conclusions, or rather, I agree with theirs. I have to tell you though, you don’t come across as someone who has studied textual interpretation, because one of the most important rules of interpretation is that the text itself is its own best interpreter – not external documents, especially those that were written much later. If you want to find out what Einstein believed, you read Einstein, not Newton.
Rubin: … instead of sloppily trying to twist a few out-of-context snippets of scripture into supporting your predetermined conclusion.
Dr. Lisle: Isn’t this precisely what you are doing? If I have taken a text out of context, please demonstrate this by showing me the correct interpretation and by supporting your conclusion rationally from the text itself.
Rubin: Maybe it’s time to admit that you aren’t an inerrant interpreter of scripture after all.
Dr. Lisle: I have never claimed to be. But you haven’t provided me with any rational reason at all to believe that I am mistaken on my understanding of the particular texts I exegeted in the article. Rational people provide support for their claims. For example, I have asked you what “stretching out the heavens” means if it isn’t “stretching out the heavens.” You will have to make an actual argument based on the text of Scripture to show me an error. Non-biblical texts are logically irrelevant to the meaning of the biblical text. Isn’t this obvious?