My Father’s Article on the Exodus Population Numbers

I think this issue has serious ramifications for the exegesis of the numbers of the Exodus. Many if not most commentators simply assume exaggerated numbers. They have not crunched any numbers. My father shows that exaggeration is surely not necessary in order to understand the census numbers literally in the Exodus and Numbers account. What follows here is an abbreviated summary that my father wrote, and the article itself is available here (see attachment near the bottom).

The purpose of this paper was to demonstrate (with a mathematical model) how the population of the Israelites could have increased during their captivity in Egypt consistent with the specific census numbers noted in the book of Numbers. In particular, it was shown that a family size of 6-8 children throughout the time of captivity could easily account for the census numbers without resorting to metaphorical and/or hyperbolic interpretations of those numbers.

The mathematical model was characterized by the relaxing of any implicit extra Biblical requirement that the number of generations of all lines of all the patriarchs had to be limited to five during the entire time of captivity. The model was designed to include such parameters as the average number of children per family, the rate at which the first born and subsequent male children were killed by the Egyptians, the number of live births per family before and after the Egyptian edict, and a variable associated with multiple births, all of which resulted in a range of the total Israelite population being ~1.4 million to ~1.8 million, with the most likely number being around 1.5 million at the time of the Exodus from Egypt. In all cases, the census numbers in the book of Numbers were forced to be satisfied exactly by the calculational mechanism of the model.

The results showed the following:
1. A typical exponential growth pattern of the Israeli population, similar to that of the population of the United States from 1790 to 1870. This without the unreasonable number of children per family of about 30, as a number of commentators would have us believe would have been necessary. In this case, the model (while being considerably simpler than the actual scenario) was able to account for all the numbers noted in Scripture dealing with the Exodus population. This implies that a more complete and accurate descriptive model would strain neither our understanding of Scripture nor common sense in terms of what the Scriptural numbers mean.
2. That the proportion of first born male children killed would have been considerably greater than that of subsequent male children, thus further illustrating the justice of the passover executing of the firstborn of Egyptian people. The model predicts male baby deaths by the Egyptians to be in the order of hundreds of thousands.

In general, future exegeses of Scriptural passages which contain perplexing numbers should be conducted by including questions about one’s implicit assumptions about such numbers rather than about the actual numbers themselves (In this particular case, for example, an implicit assumption made by many commentators is that the number of generations going from Judah to the Exodus was five for all descendants of Jacob). In this regard, it is hoped that this paper will stimulate further analysis of various numerical information contained in Scripture to help clarify any seeming paradoxes centered around such numbers. The results of such analyses likely may well have sermon applications beyond the details of the specific passages in question. For example, consideration of the abortion statistics in the United States as compared to the the number of deaths of Israelite baby boys suggests that a similar judgment of God upon the United States would not be out of line and that repentance as a nation for the crimes of abortion is urgent.

John 1:9-13

9-13. John’s Gospel is a Gospel of rejection. The foundational irony is that Jesus came to the very people expecting Him, and they rejected Him (Köstenberger). We might have expected the opposite: that the Jews would not have shared Jesus with the world. The great tragedy is their rejection of Him (Lenski). It is better to be the poorest child of God than the richest child of Abraham.

9. The word “true” is probably contrasted with the imperfect light of John the Baptist (Barrett). The word “gives light to” can also mean “expose” or “reveal.” This does not mean what the Quakers said it was (some kind of inner light of revelation). Rather, the true Light divides the race (Carson). The phrase “coming into the world” is to be taken with the Light, not with “man.” It is the light coming into the world in this verse, not man coming into the world.

10-11. Isaiah 1:2-3 is a good commentary here: nature knows God, but the people do not.

10. The first two clauses of the verse refer to the time before the Incarnation. The point, then, of verses 9-10 is that both before and after the Incarnation, there was both light and the rejection of light. The bare fact of the Incarnation is not enough to prevent people from rejecting the light. We are not saved by the Incarnation of Christ alone, as important as that doctrine is. “Knowledge” is another important theme in John’s Gospel. Knowledge of God, of course, does not refer merely to knowing things about God, but includes also knowing Him personally. Cf. the biblical use of a husband “knowing” his wife. Not knowing means rejection (Lenski).

11. The first “His own” refers to His own possessions, which could refer either to the entire world, or to the land of Israel. “His own people,” however, refers most definitely to the Jews, who rejected Him. This would favor the latter interpretation for the first “His own.”

12. There is always a remnant (Carson). “Believing in the name” means believing in that person (Morris). The word for “power” means “right” or “authority.” Now this does not refer merely to a possibility being created, but refers to a change in the person.

13. The three negations have in common human agency. The Jews would be the group most likely to see bloodlines and human agency as what constitutes us as children of God (see especially chapter 8). It is probable that John has in mind here an allusion (not explicit) to the Virgin Birth, such that our spiritual births follow the pattern of Christ’s physical birth in being initiated and empowered by God alone, quite apart from any human agency (Barrett). The first negation probably refers to bloodlines (plural for the father and mother). The second negation seems to refer to the sexual urge. The third negation refers to any possible human volition. Chapter 3, of course, is the big commentary on being born of God, which happens through regeneration and adoption. We can then truly say “Our Father.”

At Long Last!

We have been waiting for a long time for this theologian’s major works to be translated. Now, thanks to David Noe, we have an excellent beginning. Junius was an extremely important and well-known theologian during the time of Protestant Scholasticism. His debate with Arminius is not without irony, since, at the time, it was Junius who was well-known, while Arminius was a nobody. Now, everyone thinks it is the other way around. It is time to resurrect Junius and put him back in the mainstream of the Protestant canon of authors. This particular treatise is very important because of two main reasons: Junius clearly and eloquently articulates the archetypal/ectypal distinction in theology. Secondly, it was Junius’s Prolegomena here that formed the foundation for most prolegomena to follow. Tolle Lege.

Quotation of the Week

Here, our quotation is from good ol’ brother Martin Luther. This sounds eerily familiar…

[The devil’s] doctrine is easily swallowed, for it is comprehensible to reason. But here, where I am peaceful and do not seek war but strive to bring salvation to all the world and preach the Gospel, war is already at hand. The devil senses that the people are being snatched from his toils and trap and are being led into the kingdom of the Lord Christ. Therefore he agitates whomever he can, and he himself wakes up and becomes mad and furious. Thus the peaceful must have a reputation as disturbers of the peace; they must bear the blame for creating discord. But those who break the peace and start the controversy boast that they are lovers of peace. Let it go! The devil rages this way to intimidate people, lest they adhere to the Gospel. Thus he slanders Christ, His followers, and the apostles as instigators of strife and discord (Luther’s Works, volume 23, pp. 291-292).

Can anyone say “the state of the PCA today?”

Response to Gerety

Sean Gerety has written a blog post wherein he attacked my blog post quotation of Berkhof in the following way:

It’s hard to imagine a more vicious attack on the integrity of the Scriptures and the Reformed system of faith than what Keister has written above.

Gerety expounds this attack by saying the following:

If the Scriptures were irrational and violated the laws of logic, specifically the law of contradiction, would they still be trustworthy? I don’t see how? Yet, for Keister reason is not a tool by which we can discover the trustworthiness of Scripture and he confuses the laws of logic with errors in logic due to sin.

I would simply say this: go back to the original post and see if I was saying that we can’t prove the Scriptures to be correct. I was NOT saying that we do not apprehend the Scriptures by use of our reason, fallen though it is (the Holy Spirit is required for us to understand the Scriptures: this is God’s answer to correcting fallen human reason). There is a big difference between apprehending (Gerety’s word is “discover”) God’s word by use of reason (which I think is essential), versus proving God’s Word is true by the use of reason (which I believe is impossible).

Let it also here be said unequivocally that I believe that all logic and infallible reason belong to God, and there is not one single contradiction in all of Scripture. Indeed, God, through Scripture, has given us the very source of logical and rational thinking.

The problem here is that Gerety equates my statement of the limited, derivative nature of our reason (which requires an external starting point precisely in order to be valid!) with irrationality. The only thing I was saying in the post (and what Berkhof was saying, as well!) is that Scripture is our starting point, and that we cannot prove a starting point, any more than we can build a foundation under another foundation. The proof is in the pudding, shall we say, and the pudding is one hundred percent logical, when God and Scripture are our starting points.

My questions for Gerety are simple: would Gerety claim that human reason is more foundational to our thinking than God’s Word is? I thought God’s Word WAS truth, the very definition and encapsulation of truth. God’s Word is the very thing that enables us to think truly logically and rationally. Second question: does sin affect fallen man’s logic and rationality at all? I thought human beings were depraved in every aspect of their being, the mind included. Now, I do not claim that unbelievers are incapable of agreeing with a logical proposition. There is such a thing as common grace. However, if Scripture is not the alpha point, the omega point is irrationality. The unbeliever will always start from the wrong place. If you start in the wrong place (i.e., with false premises), then the conclusion will be wrong as well.

In conclusion, I do not believe I have issued any attack whatsoever on the Christian faith, or the Reformed faith, let alone one than which a more vicious attack could scarcely be imagined. Since Gerety is banned from this blog, he will need to respond on his own blog.

Quotation of the Week

This is from Berkhof’s Introduction to Systematic Theology.

The Word of God presupposes the darkness and error of the natural man, and would therefore contradict itself, if it submitted itself to the judgment of that man. It would thereby acknowledge one as judge whom it had first disqualified (p. 172).

In other words, reason cannot prove the trustworthiness of Scripture. This is because reason only comes packaged in damaged goods. Even the regenerate person still has sin clinging to his reason. How could any untrustworthy instrument prove perfection to be correct? To do that, we would ourselves have to be more foundational than the Bible. No, the Bible is our axiom.

Getting into the Acts

(Posted by Paige)

Two research questions for the scholarly amongst us:

1. Do you know of any book or article-length treatments of Luke’s Greek, covering both Luke and Acts? He uses so many unique words that I’d love a guide through the Lukan Lexicon.

2. Has anybody ever written about the similarities between Stephen’s speech and the book of Hebrews? I’m noticing some intriguing connections, both lexical and conceptual. Don’t know what to make of them yet, but I find them striking. Who else has thought this through?

Thanks, all!

Douglas Bond hit it out of the park in Grace Works!

Posted by Bob Mattes

Bottom line up front: Take a little of your Christmas cash and buy this book, then read it cover to cover. The gospel is under attack on many fronts, even from those with advanced degrees who claim to be Reformed. Mr. Bond sets record straight in the modern battle over the gospel of grace.

I have to admit my skepticism when I first received a copy of Douglas Bond‘s Grace Works! (And Ways We Think It Doesn’t). In this day and age, we see the free use of euphemisms like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is anything but democratic or accountable to the people. The history of the Church records power and sovereignty of God in preserving Christ’s bride, but it also contains the record of heretics and their heresies that claimed to be true to the Scriptures whilst gutting the gospel of grace.

Douglas Bond’s book, though, remains true to its title and will prove to be a great blessing to the modern Reformed church if widely read. Mr. Bond serves as a ruling elder (RE) in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and writes as one with first-hand experience with the errors that he corrects in his book. Given the presbytery in which he serves, I have no doubt of what he sees on a regular basis. Overall, RE Bond displays an excellent knowledge of both church history and current controversies over the gospel.

Grace Works! provides an easy read. RE Bond broke the book into seven parts, each with several short chapters that end with discussion questions. Thus, the book would make an excellent Sunday school or small group resource. RE Bond wrote Grace Works! for real people in real pews, easily digestible yet powerful in its defense of the gospel of grace. You won’t find any clever, human “cutting-edge” theology here, just the matchless gospel of Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

RE Bond starts the book by appealing to history to show that any church can lose the gospel, and very quickly. He cites Calvin and Screwtape, C.S. Lewis’ demon from The Screwtape Letters, to illustrate Satan’s scheme for undermining the gospel down through the ages and even today. The strategy never changes because people never change. RE Bond doesn’t speculate or pontificate, he cites specific examples from church history of the slide into apostasy, of which there are no shortages. The worst of it lies in the fact that when a denomination slides into apostasy, it puts the orthodox on trial, not the heretics.

RE Bond hits the nail on the head on page 30 early in the book:

In our hatred of strife and controversy and in our love of peace and unity, we Christians sometimes play the ostrich. We hope controversy and gospel attack will just go away; we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that it won’t happen to us.

Those of us in the PCA have seen this time and again. I saw a popular teaching elder who started a secret political party in the PCA turn around and publicly declare as “cowards” 29 ordained church officers who together took a public stand against serious gospel error. The sizeable audience apparently missed the blatant hypocrisy displayed, but then it wouldn’t be polite to question a popular teaching elder, would it? The orthodox make easy targets because they just won’t change or compromise the gospel of Christ. How intolerant are the orthodox!

RE Bond goes on to lay the groundwork by clearly explaining the gospel from Scripture and the Reformed confessions. The gospel presents the matchless grace of God freely given to all those who will trust in Christ alone for their salvation. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone – how simple! Yet, sinful human beings prefer to obtain their salvation the way Smith Barney claimed they made their money, the old fashioned way – by earning it.

Then in creeps the mixing of works into justification, replacing  or “augmenting” grace with some form of legalism. RE Bond does a great job of tackling the errors and consequences of legalism. He adroitly covers the order of salvation (ordo salutis), the confusing of justification and sanctification, the Scriptural use of law and gospel, the proper place of faith and works, and the correct rules for Biblical interpretation – the analogy of faith.

In Part 6 of Grace Works!, RE Bond then deals with current errors creeping into the conservative Reformed denominations, including the mythical “objective covenant”, confusion on the sacraments, and final justification. He does so without naming names, although anyone who has been paying attention to the last 20 years or so can easily fill in the blanks. RE Bond clearly demonstrates the corrosiveness of those who take an oath that the Confessions contain the doctrines taught in Holy Scripture, yet write and teach against those same Confessions and doctrines. He also cautions against the “fine print,” where officers espouse orthodoxy but then caveat with fine print that guts the orthodox statement. I’ve seen this myself during Internet debates and even in church trials. As RE Bond quotes from various sources on page 222:

The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.

RE Bond encourages us, citing the apostle Paul, to be Bereans. Don’t accept the clever words or “cutting-edge” theology of PhD holding teaching elders at face value. Dig into the Scriptures and the Confessions to see if they are right. Paul commands us to do no less. We’ve seen several prominent examples in the PCA of officers denying errors at trial that they later lead and teach openly in seminary-like settings after their acquittal. The Enemy stands proud of such tolerance.

Grace Works! closes by encouraging readers to catechize their children, to actively teach them what Scripture teaches about the gospel of grace. If we don’t, apostasy is just a generation away. RE Bond lastly encourages us to stand in unity on the gospel and the law of Christ, the means of grace rightly understood and administered, and in our Reformed Confessions without small-print caveats. Only then will our denominations remain orthodox for the next generation and those to come.

Your church officers need to read Grace Works! Your congregation needs to read it. And not just read it, but stand for the gospel of grace and teach it to your congregations, your children, and you children’s children.

Full disclosure: Bob received a courtesy copy of this book from P&R for review.

Pity Whom?

My wife and I were talking about today’s world, and images came into my mind of what today’s cosmopolitan looks like, and so I decided to write this poem. The lack of rhyme and meter is intentionally self-referential to today’s world.

Pity Whom?

Imagine a man, so connected, wireless, viral;

Two lives he lives. One is public, the outer shell.

He texts, tweets, and emails (what’s the USPS?).

He Facebooks, blogs, and builds a digital life.

His work is constant distraction.

 

The other life, the inner shell. Video games, anonymous online presence.

Chat rooms for many purposes. Pirated movies, streamed.

Thinking no one sees him, he builds a secret double persona,

Oblivious to the real danger.

His play is constant distraction.

 

What could have been personality streams out the digital highway.

Building two shells cross-ways to one another

Around a vacuous space. No core. How can a machine

Of MB and GB and TB connect to life and meaning?

He is the machine. We become what we worship.

 

Pity whom? I thought we were supposed to pity

The poor, benighted tribes in earth’s remotest regions.

Then again, how can a person pity who has no self?

Maybe the tribes have a center

That can connect to God through the God-man

 

Much more easily than we can. Good night,

Modern machine. It’s nice to write all of this

On my shiny new computer, on my blog.

Reflections on My First SBL Meeting

I just got back yesterday from my first ever attendance at a Society for Biblical Literature (SBL) meeting. The motto for the SBL is “fostering biblical scholarship.” This I think they do very well. Of course, they foster many, many different viewpoints. Most of the participants are Christians, Jews, or secular. The spectrum goes from radical liberal to conservative (though there are very few conservatives). I went there on the recommendation of Iain Duguid, who said that the Ezekiel group was very collegial and encouraging of new scholarship. This I found to be true. All were very welcoming and encouraging. Disagreement never equaled attack there (so there is definitely maturity in this group).

The positive things from the conference: 1. Some very interesting lectures on individual passages. A lecture on the Zebulon prophecy in Genesis 49:13 was fascinating, and quite stimulating. There was also a lecture on the shape of the Psalter that I found largely convincing. Many of the Ezekiel studies were helpful as well, especially one by Casey Strine on the inadequacy of the term “exile,” and one by Madhavi Nevader. Daniel Bodi’s lecture was also very interesting. 2. The Ezekiel group in particular was a very welcoming and talkative group. It was very easy to meet people there and talk. 3. The book sale was remarkable. Many specialist books were available for actually reasonable prices. I got an absolute steal on John Gray’s recent commentary on Job, which is usually over $100 on Amazon, and I got for about $32. 4. The worship service on Sunday morning had an excellent sermon by Mark Strauss. 5. San Diego is gorgeous. There is simply no other way to describe it. I had a view of the marina, the bay, and the downtown from my 24th floor window. 6. The hotel was very comfortable (as it should be for those prices!).

Some negative things: 1. The predominance of lectures were from a very liberal-critical perspective. As a result, many of them were not useful to me, as I disagreed with their starting points. Especially unhelpful were the lectures on source criticism. While it is a valuable exercise indeed to seek to determine which verses quote which other verses, such studies can (and in many cases here, often did) atomize the text to the point of unrecognizability. In particular, I was dismayed to find that many scholars at SBL still hold to the Documentary Hypothesis. Honestly, I had thought that old beast dead and gone. I was hoping for more literary and rhetorical analyses of individual texts. 2. The presidential address was by a thoroughly liberation-critical scholar who spent the entire time talking about current politics and about 10 seconds talking about the Bible. 3. This is not really a negative, but it shows me how far I have to go, but the lectures on Ezekiel presupposed a huge amount of knowledge which I did not have, just beginning my research on the book. Fortunately, if I go next year (and I probably will), I will have a year to get up to speed (or at least further along than I was), and maybe get a copy of the lectures ahead of time.

Overall, the positive things outweighed the negative things, and I think that the Ezekiel group will prove invaluable in my research on Ezekiel.

« Older entries Newer entries »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 417 other followers