Category Archives: Hermeneutics

The Million Years March

Did you know it took Joshua and the Israelites millions of years to destroy the city of Jericho?

My daily (24-hour period) Bible reading took me into Joshua 6 this morning.  In chapter 6, the Israelites encircled Jericho, walking around the city once a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day.  This week of Jericho’s destruction reminded me of another week: the week of Creation.

Many Christians wrap themselves around an axle debating “young earth” or “old earth.”  Most cannot really explain their positions very well.  One has “faith” in what his parents told him, or in some cursory reading of scripture.  Another has faith in what atheistic scientists tell him. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if an eyewitness to Creation wrote an account of the events?  Then we could know what really happened.

What?  You say there is such an account?  In Genesis?  Oh, but we don’t really know what God meant by “day,” huh?  There are two hermeneutical approaches to interpreting scripture.  One is exegesis and the other eisegesis.  The exegesis of a text involves deductive reasoning.  Deductive reasoning is allowing a set of premises, if true, to lead to a proper conclusion.  The most famous example is:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

“Exegesis” comes from the Greek language which literally means “to lead out” or “to guide out.”  Exegesis looks at the words of the text to build on one another in order to come to a proper meaning of the words. 

Smartest Man In America

Smartest Man In America

Exegesis seems to be the Justice Antonin Scalia approach in constitutional and statutory interpretation: the plain meaning of the words.  Unless it leads to an absurd result, the plain meaning of the words should be followed.  That way you don’t get “emanations from penumbras” that insist abortion and same-sex “marriage” are constitutionally protected.

Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutics

Humpty Dumpty Hermeneutics

The other hermeneutical approach is eisegesis.  Eisegesis is an approach to understanding a text and is contradictory to exegesis.  Eisegesis comes from the Greek meaning “to lead into.”  A person employing eisegesis brings to the text his own ideas of what the text should mean.  In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty approaches words the same way an eisegete approaches scripture: the words mean precisely what he intends for them to mean.

Here is a little dialogue between Humpty Dumpty and Alice:

Humpty Dumpty remarked ‘And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

If we are to interpret the word “day” (the Hebrew word “yome” or “yom”) in Genesis 1 as an indefinite period of time (“meaning millions of years” because people who claim the authority of science insist on it), are we to insist on the word “day” (the Hebrew word “yome” or “yom”) in Joshua 6 as an indefinite period of time, to include millions of years?

Genesis 1:5 reads in the King James Version “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”  “Day” is found twice in that verse.  According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, both “days” in English are the same Hebrew word “yome” or “yom.”  The word can mean a period from sunset to sunset, the hot part of the day (daylight hours), or even a space of time that is defined by an associated term.  The associated terms that we find in Genesis 1:5 (and the other portions of the Creation account) are “evening” and “morning.” 

And the evening and the morning were the first day.”

“Evening” is the Hebrew word “ereb” which means “dusk” or “night.”  The word “morning” is the Hebrew word “boqer” (pronounced “bo-ker”) which means “dawn” or the “break of day.”  Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance does not offer “figurative” meanings for these words.

If we simply read the text and understand the words to have their plain, ordinary meaning without adding what we think the scientists are saying, Genesis 1:5 reads “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the dusk and the dawn became the first day.”  An exegetical reading of God’s words leads us out to a 24-hour understanding of day.  This is certainly not an absurd reading of the text.

On the other hand, those who have an interest in disproving the words of God, (and those who are simply ambivalent to Him) use radiometric dating methods that appear to show layers of rocks to be very old.  They ignore the grand assumptions required to make the radiometric dating methods work and cling to millions of years.  These “science” guys then use the data they collected through faulty dating methods to make philosophical conclusions: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be” as Carl Sagan said in the introduction to the Cosmos series.  Sagan also said this “scientific” gem: “The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard, who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by ‘God,’ one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God.”

Because “science” supposedly makes God out to be a liar, well, God must not have meant what he plainly said in Genesis, right?  We have to fit these millions of years somehow into the text.  And a scriptural eisegete is born.  For me, I prefer not to argue young or old earth.  I argue for the plain meaning of the text.

So, in approaching Genesis 1, which is to be master?  The Author of the plain meaning of the language or the eisegete who believes in millions of years?

I guess another way of phrasing the question is “Did God really say…?”