From Mark Copeland... "ISSUES OF DISTINCTION" The Nature Of The Lord's Church

                      "ISSUES OF DISTINCTION"

                    The Nature Of The Lord's Church


1. In this series we have surveyed the following "Issues Of 
   a. The Existence Of God - which differentiates between...
      1) Atheists and agnostics, who deny or question God's existence
      2) Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Moslems, Christians, etc., who 
         believe in a Supreme Being
   b. The Identity Of God - which distinguishes between...
      1) Buddhists, Hindus, etc., who hold to many gods
      2) Jews, Moslems, Christians, etc., who believe in the God of 
   c. The Identity Of Jesus Of Nazareth - over which there is a 
      difference between...
      1) Jews, Moslems, etc., who may accept Jesus as a good man, 
         perhaps a prophet
      2) Christians, who believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God
   d. The All-Sufficiency Of The Scriptures - where again there is a
      difference between...
      1) Catholics, Mormons, JWs, etc., who deny the Scriptures are 
      2) Mainstream Protestants, Christians, etc., who profess the 
         principle of "scriptura sola" (the Scriptures alone)
   e. The Purpose Of Baptism - where there is a difference between...
      1) Those who proclaim that baptism has nothing to do with
      2) Those who teach that baptism is an integral part of the gospel
         and God's plan for saving man in Christ

2. A final "issue of distinction" I would like to examine in this 
   series is "The Nature Of The Lord's Church"
   a. This is not to say there are not other "issues of distinction"
   b. For example, the Lord's Supper is certainly an issue that 
      distinguishes those who have differing views concerning it
   c. But for this particular series, this will be our last lesson

3. In this study, we shall examine...
   a. The nature of the Lord's church as revealed in the Scriptures
   b. The trend toward denominationalism, even among those who claim to
      be nondenominational churches of Christ
   c. What is wrong with denominationalism and current trends leading
      toward it

[Let's begin, then, with...]


      1. In the UNIVERSAL sense
         a. Referring to all the saved throughout the world
         b. Used this way in Mt 16:18; Ep 5:23; Col 1:18
      2. In the LOCAL sense
         a. Referring to the saved in one particular geographical
         a. Used this way in 1Co 1:2; Re 1:11; Ro 16:16

      1. In the UNIVERSAL sense:
         a. There is only ONE church - Ep 4:4; compare with Ep 1:22-23
         b. Christ is the head; individual Christians are members of 
            His body - 1Co 12:27
         c. There is NO EARTHLY ORGANIZATION; what organization there
            may be is spiritual in nature - Ep 2:19-20
         d. The universal church never meets as such; it has no 
            "officers" except Jesus Christ and the original apostles 
            and prophets
      2. In the LOCAL sense:  
         a. There are MANY churches - cf. Ga 1:2
         b. There is to be EARTHLY ORGANIZATION within each local
            1) Ideally, each church has elders (also known as bishops,
               pastors) and deacons - e.g., Php 1:1
            2) Although churches may exist temporarily until such men
               can be appointed - cf. Ac 14:21-23
         c. Local churches meet regularly; and Christians have 
            responsibilities in connection with their brethren in the
            local church

      1. Each congregation was to submit to the oversight of its own
         elders - cf. He 13:17
         a. Certainly they were also subject to the authority of Christ
            and His apostles
         b. But no other church or human organization had any authority
            over them
      2. Elders had oversight only over the flock of God which was 
         among them:
         a. "Shepherd the flock of God which is AMONG YOU..." 
             - 1Pe 5:2
         b. "take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, AMONG WHICH
            the Holy Spirit has made you overseers..." - Ac 20:28
         -- No elder or group of elders was appointed to be over two or
            more churches!

[Such was the nature and pattern of the Lord's church as found in the
New Testament.  With such simplicity the gospel spread and 
congregations were planted all over the Mediterranean world and beyond.

But not long after the apostles died, the nature of the Lord's church
began to change, brought about by...]


      1. Let's first define "denomination"
         a. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the
            English Language: "A large group of religious congregations
            united under a common faith and name and organized under a
            single administrative and legal hierarchy."
         b. From Webster's:  "A religious organization uniting in a 
            single legal and administrative body a number of local
         c. In simple terms, a denomination is a group of congregations
            that are joined together under some governing body...
            1) The number of congregations can be as few as two or more
            2) But by their tie to a governing body above the local
               congregation, by definition they are "denominated" from
               all congregations that do not submit to the same 
         d. Some examples:
            1) The Roman Catholic Church is a denomination made up of
               those churches that submit to the pope in Rome
            2) The Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) is made up of those
               churches that submit to the synod in Missouri
            3) The International Church of Christ is made up of those
               churches that submit to  the Boston Church of Christ
            -- These are just a few of the thousands of different 
               denominations that now exist!
      2. Now let's define "denominationalism"
         a. According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the 
            English Language, it is:
            1) "The tendency to separate into religious denominations"
            2) "Advocacy of separation into religious denominations"
            3) "Strict adherence to a denomination; sectarianism"
         b. Again, Webster's dictionary defines it as:
            1) "Devotion to denominational principles or interests"
            2) "Narrow emphasizing of denominational differences: 
         c. In this lesson, I am applying the term to any effort to 
            create a collectivity of congregations in such a way as to
            denominate them from other churches

      1. It did not happen overnight, but through small, subtle changes
         in the organization of the Lord's church
      2. The first step was a change from a two-tier system to a 
         three-tier system
         a. I.e., the early churches had elders (also known as bishops,
            pastors) and deacons
         b. But then the title "bishop" came to be reserved for just 
            one of the elders, creating a three-tier hierarchy of 
            bishop-elders-deacons within a local congregation
      3. The next change involved one bishop over many congregations
         a. In the NT, there were a plurality of bishops over just one
         b. But now, there was one bishop over a plurality of 
      4. Eventually this pattern of change led to the formation of 
         various denominations
         a. E.g., Roman Catholic, Greek and Russian Orthodox, Coptic,
         b. All depending upon which religious leader was recognized by
            a group of churches
      1. The Protestant Reformation did not really help matters that
         a. While the reformers may have had the right idea, their
            followers often simply crystallized and formed 
            denominations (in some cases, over the objections of the
            reformers themselves)
         b. As denominations were formed, many of them divided even
            further, creating more denominations
      2. Efforts to restore the New Testament pattern often went awry
         a. Some restoration movements started out by following the NT
         b. But as time passed, they slowly drifted into forming 
            denominational structures
            1) E.g., many churches became the Christian Church-
               Disciples Of Christ denomination
            2) E.g., other churches became the International Church of
               Christ denomination
      3. I see this trend even among churches of Christ claiming to be
         a. By changing the nature of cooperation among local churches,
            they create de facto denominations
         b. This is especially manifested when the "sponsoring church"
            concept is adopted
            1) For by its very definition and in actuality, one church
               takes oversight of a work done by a collectivity of
            2) This "collectivity" of churches, under the oversight of
               the sponsoring church, has formed a denomination in 
               practice, if not in name!

[I can imagine that some may be wondering, "What is so bad about that?"
In other words...]


      1. That is, it is without Scriptural support
      2. We have seen that in the New Testament that...
         a. Local congregations were independent, self-governing
         b. Church organization was limited to within the local 
            congregation, with elders (also known as pastors, bishops,
            overseers, presbyters) appointed to oversee only the 
            congregation of which they were members 
            - cf. Ac 20:17,28;1Pe 5:1-2
      3. The only authority above the local church was Christ and His
         a. Once the church began, apostles were not replaced after 
            they died
         b. But through the Word of God, the authority of Christ and 
            His apostles continues
      4. Individuals, synods, conferences, sponsoring churches, etc.,
         that presume to have oversight over local congregations do so
         without Scriptural authority

      1. I.e., not only is it without scriptural support, it is 
         contrary to what the Bible teaches
      2. Denominationalism creates division, and division is:
         a. Contrary to the prayer of Jesus for unity among His 
            believers - Jn 17:20-23
         b. Condemned by Paul in his epistle to the church at Corinth
            1) There are to be no divisions among believers 
               - 1Co 1:10-13
            2) Sectarianism is a sign of carnality - 1Co 3:3-4
      1. Jesus knew that unity among His disciples would be 
          "the final apologetic"
         a. Cf. "that the world may believe" - Jn 17:21
         b. In view of Jesus' words, we should not be surprised when
            unbelievers are slow to accept the gospel coming from a 
            divided church
      2. Many people point to the divided condition of those professing
         to follow Christ...
         a. Atheists and agnostics often use division as an excuse not
            to believe in God
         b. Adherents to non-Christian religions (such as Islam, 
            Judaism, etc.) will often use denominationalism as a reason
            not to believe in Christ
      3. Denominationalism has also given support and encouragement to
         the cults
         a. Mormonism started in reaction to the denominationalism of
            Joseph Smith's day
         b. Those who call themselves "Jehovah's Witnesses" use the 
            religious division to encourage people to follow their 
            strictly-controlled organization
      4. It opposes the efforts of Christ on the cross! - Ep 2:14-16
         a. Jesus died to break down the wall of division
         b. Jesus died to reconcile man to God in ONE body
         -- Just as sinning works against the efforts of Christ on the
            cross (for He also died to put away sin), so it is with 
            denominational division!
      5. It is harmful even in it's most subtle forms (e.g., the 
         sponsoring church concept)
         a. Churches that refuse to join in with some a congregation's
            desire to sponsor some "great work" are often ostracized
         b. The change in church cooperation is a small one, but it is
            small steps away from the New Testament pattern that 
            eventually lead to the creation of something totally 
            different than what the Lord intended
            1) It happened in the second century A.D.
            2) It has happened time and again ever since, leading to the
               formation of more and more denominations!


1. The nature of the Lord's church may not seem to be a significant
   a. Many would consider church organization and cooperation to be a
      matter of indifference
   b. They would certainly not put it on the same level as "The 
      Identity Of God" or "The Identity Of Jesus Of Nazareth"

2. Whether or not it belongs on the same level, I do believe it is 
   worthy of our prayerful consideration...
   a. History reveals that the departure from the New Testament pattern
      began with small changes in the organization of the church
   b. History continues to reveal that this is often the first step
      toward apostasy time and again
   -- For when one disregards the New Testament concerning the nature
      of the Lord's church, it is not long before they disregard what
      else the New Testament has to say!

It is my prayer, therefore, that we will always give careful heed to 
whatever the New Testament reveals concerning "The Nature Of The Lord's
Church", for it is truly an "issue of distinction"!

Executable Outlines, Copyright © Mark A. Copeland, 2015

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The Myth of "Factual" Bible Contradictions by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


The Myth of "Factual" Bible Contradictions

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

His preacher described the young man as a “solid Christian.” He was a devout follower of Christ who was enthusiastic about living for Jesus. From the time he was a young boy, his grandmother had taken him to worship God on the first day of every week. After becoming a Christian, he had, according to his preacher, “attended every service of the church.” He grew in the faith, and began taking part in leading the congregation in prayer. Later, he personally taught the congregation by occasionally standing before the church and reading the Bible to them aloud, at times even delivering short talks. Before departing for the university (about an hour away from his hometown), the young 18-year-old from West Virginia was considered by those who knew him best as a dedicated Christian with impressive potential—one whose shield of faith would stand strong when worldliness attacked, and whose foundation would remain firm when shaken by the devil’s doctrines.
Sadly, only a short time passed before this young man lost his faith. He went to college as a believer in the God of the Bible, and came home an “enlightened” skeptic. One of the first classes he took at the university was an elective course on world religions. Initially, he thought he could handle whatever questions came his way about Christianity. He had memorized numerous verses in the Bible. He knew all about the uniqueness of the church. He even could tell people what to do in order to have their sins forgiven. It took, however, little time for one teacher in one class in one university to turn this “solid Christian” into an unbeliever.
What led to the demise of this young man’s belief in God, and the Bible as His Word? Why did this young Christian’s faith crumble so easily? It all began with his inability to handle the “factual discrepancies” that his newly found friends had convinced him were in the Bible. When asked to explain to his teacher and fellow classmates how hundreds of “Bible contradictions” are not contradictions at all, but simply misunderstandings on man’s part, he would not...because he could not. After being bombarded with hundreds of questions that he was incapable of answering, eventually he began denying the truths he once believed. Not long after this young man’s “transformation,” he gave one of his childhood mentors (the preacher of the church where he was reared) a document titled “Factual Discrepancies.” That document (of which I have a copy) contains nearly seventy alleged “factual” contradictions that supposedly are found within the Bible. Because this frustrated young man from West Virginia (who had been taught the Bible his whole life) was unable to answer these allegations, he gave up on the God of the Bible. His faith in the inerrant, inspired Word of God was replaced with the vacuousness of a skeptic’s uncertainty—all because he was unable to defend the Truth against the vicious, frequent attacks leveled against it by infidelity.
I wonder how many times this true story could be rehearsed by mothers and fathers all over the world? How many grandmothers (like the one mentioned above) have seen their “work” (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:12-15) destroyed at the hands of infidels? How many young college students leave home as “solid” Christians, and return four years later as “enlightened” skeptics?
This issue of Reason & Revelation is dedicated to answering six of the list of seventy alleged “factual” Bible contradictions the young West Virginian was presented at the university. It is my hope that you will see how easily these allegations can be answered—logically and truthfully. [The numbers of each “contradiction” match those on the list given to the young man. Our responses to most of the others can be found on the “Alleged Discrepancies” section of the Apologetics Press Web site.]


Animals or Man Created First?

After reading the first two chapters of the Bible, some skeptics, in an attempt to disprove the Bible’s inerrancy, have accused the writer of Genesis of erring in regard to the record of events occurring on day six of creation. While Genesis 1:24-27 plainly indicates that man was created after the animals, critics claim that Genesis 2:18-19 teaches that man was created before animals. Skeptics assert that such language by the author of Genesis proves that the Bible is not divinely inspired.
Some Bible students resolve this alleged contradiction by explaining that the Hebrew verb translated “formed” could have been translated “had formed.” In his Exposition of Genesis, H.C. Leupold wrote:
Without any emphasis on the sequence of acts, the account here records the making of the various creatures and the bringing of them to man. That in reality they had been made prior to the creation of man is so entirely apparent from chapter one as not to require explanation. But the reminder that God had “molded” them makes obvious His power to bring them to man and so is quite appropriately mentioned here. It would not, in our estimation, be wrong to translate yatsar as a pluperfect in this instance: “He had molded.” The insistence of the critics upon a plain past is partly the result of the attempt to make chapters one and two clash at as many points as possible (1942, p. 130, emp. added).
Hebrew scholar Victor Hamilton agreed with Leupold’s assessment of Genesis 2:19, as he also recognized that “it is possible to translate formed as ‘had formed’ ” (1990, p. 176). Keil and Delitzsch stated in the first volume of their Old Testament commentary that “our modern style for expressing the same thought [which the Holy Spirit via Moses intended to communicate—EL] would be simply this: ‘God brought to Adam the beasts which He had formed’ ” (1996, emp. added). Adding even more credence to this interpretation is the fact that the New International Version renders the verb in verse 19, not as simple past tense, but rather as a pluperfect: “Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air” (emp. added). Although Genesis chapters 1 and 2 agree even when yatsar is translated simply “formed,” it is important to note that the four Hebrew scholars mentioned above, and the translators of the NIV, all believe that it could (or should) be rendered “had formed.” And, as Leupold acknowledged, those who deny this possibility do so (at least partly) because of their insistence on making the two chapters disagree.
The main reason that skeptics do not see harmony in the events recorded in the first two chapters of the Bible (especially regarding the order of God’s creation—whether vegetation, birds, land animals, man, etc.) is because they fail to realize the fact that Genesis 1 and 2 serve different purposes. Chapter one (including 2:1-4) focuses on the order of the creation events; chapter two (actually 2:5-25) simply provides more detailed information about some of the events mentioned in chapter one. Chapter two never was meant to be a regurgitation of chapter one, but instead serves its own unique purpose—to develop in detail the more important features of the creation account, especially the creation of man and his surroundings. As Kenneth Kitchen noted in his book, Ancient Orient and Old Testament:
Genesis 1 mentions the creation of man as the last of a series, and without any details, whereas in Genesis 2 man is the center of interest and more specific details are given about him and his setting. Failure to recognize the complementary nature of the subject-distinction between a skeleton outline of all creation on the one hand, and the concentration in detail on man and his immediate environment on the other, borders on obscurantism (1966, p. 117).
Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe summarized some of the differences in Genesis 1-2 in the following chart (1992, p. 35).
Genesis 1Genesis 2
Chronological orderTopical order
Creating animalsNaming animals
The fact is,
Genesis 2 does not present a creation account at all but presupposes the completion of God’s work of creation as set forth in chapter 1.... Chapter 2 is built on the foundation of chapter 1 and represents no different tradition than the first chapter or discrepant account of the order of creation (Archer, 1982, pp. 68-69).
In short, Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are harmonious in every way. What may seem as a contradiction at first glance is essentially a more detailed account. The text of Genesis 2:19 says nothing about the relative origins of man and beast in terms of chronology, but merely suggests that the animals were formed before being brought to man in order to be named.
CreationIf one still rejects both the possibility of yatsar being translated “had formed,” and the explanation of the two chapters being worded differently because of the purposes they serve, a final response to the skeptic’s allegations is that the text never says that there were no animals created on the sixth day of creation after Adam. Although in my judgment it is very unlikely that God created a special group of animals to be named by Adam (after creating all others before the creation of man—Genesis 1:20-27), some commentators do hold this view. After his comments concerning the translation of yatsar, Victor Hamilton indicated that the creatures mentioned in 2:19 refer “to the creation of a special group of animals brought before Adam for naming” (1990, p. 176, emp. added). Hamilton believes that most all the animals on the Earth were created before Adam; however, those mentioned in 2:19 were created on day six after Adam, for the purpose of being named. In U. Cassuto’s comments on Genesis 2 regarding the time Adam named the animals, he stated: “Of all the species of beasts and flying creatures that had been created and had spread over the face of the earth and the firmament of the heavens, the Lord God now formed particular specimens for the purpose of presenting them all before man in the midst of the Garden” (1961, p. 129, emp. added). Both of these long-time Bible students recognize that the text never says there were no animals created after Adam, but that all animals were created either on day five or day six (before and possibly even after Adam’s creation). However unorthodox (or unlikely) this particular position might be, it does serve as another reason why skeptics have no foundation upon which to stand when they assert that a contradiction exists between Genesis 1:24-27 and 2:19.


A Slip of the Mind?

In 1 Corinthians 10:7-10, the apostle Paul gave four “examples” of how God’s chosen people in the Old Testament had sinned by lusting “after evil things.” At one time or another, the Israelites had been guilty of worshipping false gods (v. 7), committing sexual immorality (v. 8), as well as tempting God and complaining against the Almighty (vss. 9-10). It is the second example Paul gives in this list (involving the Israelites’ sexual immorality) that has been the brunt of much criticism. Allegedly, this verse is in direct opposition with what Moses recorded in the Pentateuch. Whereas Paul stated, “[I]n one day twenty-three thousand [Israelites—EL] fell” as a result of their sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 10:8), Moses recorded that “those who died in the plague were twenty-four thousand” (Numbers 25:9).
Some apologists (Archer, 1982, p. 401; Geisler and Howe, 1992, pp. 458-459) have attempted to resolve this infamous case of “the missing thousand” by claiming that the Old Testament event to which Paul alluded was the plague Jehovah sent upon the people after they made a golden calf (Exodus 32:35), and not the plague recorded in Numbers 25:9. The problem with this explanation is that Exodus 32 focuses on idolatry, not sexual immorality. Although idolatry sometimes included sexual immorality, most likely Paul was not referring to the events that took place after Moses’ descent from Mount Sinai (Exodus 32).
So how can we explain Paul’s statement in light of the information given in Numbers 25:9 (the probable “sister” passage to 1 Corinthians 10:8)? The answer lies in the fact that Paul stated that 23,000 fell “in one day,” while in Numbers 25 Moses wrote that the total number of those who died in the plague was 24,000. Moses never indicated how long it took for the 24,000 to die, but only stated that this was the number “who died in the plague.” Thus, the record in 1 Corinthians simply supplies us with more knowledge about what occurred in Numbers 25—23,000 of the 24,000 who died in the plague died “in one day.”
It is troubling to see how one particular apologist attempts to explain this alleged contradiction. In the popular book, Hard Sayings of the Bible, Peter Davids made the following comments regarding “the missing thousand” in 1 Corinthians 10:8:
It is possible that Paul, citing the Old Testament from memory as he wrote to the Corinthians, referred to the incident in Numbers 25:9, but his mind slipped a chapter later in picking up the number.... We cannot rule out the possibility that there was some reference to 23 or 23,000 in his local environment as he was writing and that caused a slip in his mind.
Paul was not attempting to instruct people on Old Testament history and certainly not on the details of Old Testament history.
Thus here we have a case in which Paul apparently makes a slip of the mind for some reason (unless he has special revelation he does not inform us about), but the mental error does not affect the teaching. How often have we heard preachers with written Bibles before them make similar errors of details that in no way affected their message? If we notice it (and few usually do), we (hopefully) simply smile and focus on the real point being made. As noted above, Paul probably did not have a written Bible to check (although at times he apparently had access to scrolls of the Old Testament), but in the full swing of dictation he cited an example from memory and got a detail wrong (pp. 598-599, parenthetical comments in orig., emp. added).
Supposedly, Paul just made a mistake. He messed up, just like when a preacher today mistakenly misquotes a passage of Scripture. According to the repetitious testimony of Davids, Paul merely had “a slip of the mind” (thereby experiencing what some today might call a “senior moment”), and our reaction (as well as the skeptics’) should be to “simply smile and focus on the real point being made.”
Unbelievable! Walter Kaiser, Peter Davids, Manfred Brauch, and F.F. Bruce pen an 800-page book in an attempt to answer numerous alleged Bible contradictions and to defend the integrity of the Bible, and yet Davids has the audacity to say that the apostle Paul “cited an example from memory and got a detail wrong.” Why in the world did Davids spend so much time (and space) answering various questions that skeptics frequently raise, and then conclude that the man who penned almost half of the New Testament books made mistakes in his writings?! He has concluded exactly what the infidels teach—Bible writers made mistakes. Furthermore, if Paul made one mistake in his writings, he easily could have blundered elsewhere. And if Paul made mistakes in other writings, how can we say that Peter, John, Isaiah, and others did not “slip up” occasionally? The fact is, if Paul, or any of these men, made mistakes in their writings, then they were not inspired by God (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21), because God does not make mistakes (cf. Titus 1:2; Psalm 139:1-6). And if the Scriptures were not “given by inspiration of God,” then the Bible is not from God. And if the Bible is not from God, then the skeptic is right. But as we noted above, the skeptic is not right! First Corinthians 10:8 can be explained logically without assuming Paul’s writings are inaccurate.
Sadly, Davids totally dismisses the numerous places where Paul claims his writings are from God. When Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, he told them that his teachings came to him “through revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). In his first letter to the Thessalonian Christians, he claimed the words he wrote were “by the word of the Lord” (4:15). To the church at Ephesus, Paul wrote that God’s message was “revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (3:5). In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter put Paul’s letters on a par with the Old Testament Scriptures when he compared them to “the rest of the Scriptures.” And in the same epistle where Davids claims that Paul “made a slip of the mind,” Paul said, “the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Paul did not “invent” facts about Old Testament stories. Neither did he have to rely on his own cognizance to remember particular numbers or names. The Holy Spirit revealed the Truth to him—allof it (cf. John 14:26; John 16:13). Just like the writers of the Old Testament, Paul was fully inspired by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Samuel 23:2; Acts 1:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 3:15-16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17).


A Coin Called “Daric”

Before Solomon began building the “holy house” of God, his father David challenged the Israelites to consecrate themselves by bringing an offering to the Lord that would be used in the Temple’s construction (1 Chronicles 29:3-5). The text indicates that “the leaders of the fathers’ houses, leaders of the tribes of Israel, the captains of thousands and of hundreds, with the officers over the king’s work, offered willingly” (29:6). They gave 5,000 talents of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze, and 100,000 talents of iron. First Chronicles 29:7 also indicates that these Israelites gave 10,000 darics of gold.
The use of currency known as darics in a narrative that predated the invention of the currency by 500 years has led some to believe the author of Chronicles lacked divine guidance. These critics correctly assert that the daric was a coin of the Persian Empire (probably derived from Darius the Mede). Furthermore, it is true that even though the chronicler used the daric to evaluate a Temple offering that took place around 970 B.C., this coinage was unknown to David (Wycliffe, 1962). It was not minted before 515 B.C. (Dillard and Longman, 1994, p. 171), and probably was not known in Palestine until the fifth century B.C. (when the book of Chronicles likely was written). So why does thisnot invalidate the inerrancy of the Scriptures? After all, a narrative that has things (like money) in it that obviously did not exist when the narrative took place is nothing but a fairy tale, right?
Actually, the use of the term “daric” by the writer of Chronicles in the fifth century B.C. does not mean that he believed (or wanted his readers to believe) that the Israelites in David’s time possessed darics. The chronicler merely expressed—in language that would be intelligible to his readers—the sum of the gold donated by the Israelites, without intending to assume that there were darics in use in the time of David (Keil and Delitzsch, 1996). He simply used a term that was popular in his own day to help his readers better understand the sacrifice of those who gave the gold (cf. Ezra 2:69; 8:27; Nehemiah 7:70-72).
Darics courtesy of ancient-coin-forum.com
The chronicler used a figure of speech known as “prolepsis” (the assignment of something, such as an event or name, to a time that precedes it). People often use prolepsis for the sake of convenience, or so that the reader or audience can better understand what is being communicated. For example, I might say, “My wife and I dated two years before we got married,” when actually she was not my wife when we were dating, but a very dear friend. We may see a special on television about when President Ronald Reagan was a boy, but the fact is, Ronald Reagan was not president of the United States when he was a boy. From time to time, even the Bible uses this kind of accommodative language. In John 11, the Bible speaks of a woman named Mary who “anointed the Lord with ointment” (11:1-2), yet this anointing actually did not occur for about three months. John merely spoke about it as having already happened because when he wrote his gospel account, this event generally was known. Another example of prolepsis is found in Genesis 13:3 where we read that Abraham “went on his journey from the South as far as Bethel.” This area actually did not wear the name Bethel until years later when Jacob gave it that name (Genesis 28:19). However, when Moses wrote of this name hundreds of years later, he was free to use it even when writing about a time before the name actually was given. Likewise, the chronicler used accommodative language when explaining the free-will offerings given to help in constructing the Temple of God.
Admittedly, the writer of Chronicles used measures of his period familiar to modern readers even when writing about events that took place 500 years beforehand. However, converting measures does not destroy the inerrancy of Scripture!


Motives Matter

In roughly 841 B.C., the commander of Israel’s army, Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat, was anointed king over the northern kingdom and was commanded by the Lord to “strike down the house of Ahab” and “cut off from Ahab all the males in Israel, both bond and free” (2 Kings 9:6-10). After receiving this command from the Lord via one of “the sons of the prophets,” Jehu began his assassination of Ahab’s family. He started by slaying Ahab’s son, Joram (also known as Jehoram), who was ruling Israel at the time Jehu was anointed king. He then proceeded to kill Ahaziah (the king of Judah and grandson of Jezebel—9:27-29) and forty-two of Ahaziah’s brothers (10:12-14). Later, he slew (or had others slay) Jezebel (the mother of Joram and former wife of the deceased Ahab—9:30-37), all seventy sons of Ahab who were living in Samaria and “all who remained to Ahab in Samaria” (10:1-10,17), and “all who remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel,” including “all his great men and his close acquaintances, and his priests” (10:11). Jehu’s final stop was at the temple of Baal where, upon gathering all the Baal-worshipping leaders of Israel into the temple, he locked them up and had them massacred (10:18-27).
After Jehu had carried out his orders to obliterate all males from the house of Ahab, the Lord said to him:
Because you have done well in doing what is right in My sight, and have done to the house of Ahab all that was in My heart, your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation (10:30).
Jehu had taken the most thorough means of suppressing the idolatry in Israel, and thus was granted protection on his throne, along with his sons after him, unto “the fourth generation.” The following chapters of 2 Kings indicate that the Lord was true to His word (as always; cf. Titus 1:2). Although the reigns of Jehu’s sons were described as kings who “did evil in the sight of Yahweh,” the Lord allowed them to reign to the fourth generation in order to fulfill His promise to Jehu.
Several years after the above events took place, the prophet Hosea expressed words that many skeptics have claimed are in opposition to what is stated in 2 Kings 9-10. When Gomer, Hosea’s wife, bore a son, Hosea declared that the Lord said, “Call his name Jezreel, for in a little while I will avenge the bloodshed of Jezreel on the house of Jehu, and bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (1:4). Those trying to discredit the Bible’s integrity argue that Hosea put himself into obvious disagreement with the inspired writer of 2 Kings, who thought that Jehu had done “all” that was in God’s heart. Skeptics claim that the author of 2 Kings heaped praise on Jehu for the Jezreel massacre, but Hosea contradicted him when he said that the Lord would avenge the blood of Jezreel, and bring to an end the reign of the house of Jehu in Israel. What can be said about this “obvious disagreement”? Are these two passages harmonious, or is this a legitimate contradiction that should cause Bible believers like the young man from West Virginia to reject the book that has been tried and tested for hundreds of years?
First, we cannot be 100% certain that Hosea 1:4 is referring to the events recorded in 2 Kings 9-10. Although nearly all skeptics (and Bible commentators) link the two passages together, it must be understood that just because 2 Kings 9-10 is the only place in the Old Testament that describes suitable events located at Jezreel, it does not mean that Hosea must have been referring to those events. The honest student of God’s Word has to admit that Hosea could have been referring to Jehu’s sons who reigned after him. Perhaps his sons performed serious atrocities in Jezreel that are not recorded in 2 Kings. One cannot be certain that Hosea was indeed referring to the events recorded in 2 Kings 10. Having made such a disclaimer, it is my position that these two passagesshould be linked, and thus the alleged contradiction raised by skeptics deserves an adequate explanation: How could God tell Jehu to destroy the house of Ahab, and then later condemn him (his house) via the words of Hosea for having done so?
The answer really is quite simple. As Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe observed: “God praised Jehu for obeying Him in destroying the house of Ahab, but condemned Jehu for his sinful motive in shedding their blood” (1992, p. 194). Skeptics are fond of citing 2 Kings 10:30 to support their position, but they often conveniently overlook verses 29 and 31, which state:
Jehu did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who had made Israel sin, that is, from the golden calves that were at Bethel and Dan.... Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart; for he did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, who had made Israel sin.
Jehu obeyed God’s command to “strike down the house of Ahab” and utterly exterminate his descendants (2 Kings 9:7-8; 10:30), but he did not obey God in all that he did (cf. Genesis 6:22). The passage in 2 Kings 10:29-31 indicates that even though Jehu had done what God commanded, “he did so out of a carnal zeal that was tainted with protective self-interest” (Archer, 1982, p. 208). It seems obvious that since Jehu followed in the footsteps of Israel’s first wicked king by worshipping false gods and not walking according to God’s law, he did not destroy Ahab’s descendants out of any devotion to the Lord. Furthermore, in commenting on Jehu’s actions, biblical scholar Gleason Archer noted:
The important principle set forth in Hosea 1:4 was that when blood is shed, even in the service of God and in obedience to His command, blood-guiltiness attaches to God’s agent himself if his motive was tainted with carnal self-interest rather than by a sincere concern for the purity of the faith and the preservation of God’s truth (such as, for example, animated Elijah when he had the 450 prophets of Baal put to death after the contest with them on Mount Carmel) [1982, p. 209, parenthetical item in orig.].
Considering Jehu’s actions by examining the motives behind those actions solves the alleged contradiction. Jehu’s failure to obey God’s commands and depart from the sins of Jeroboam revealed that he would have equally disobeyed the other commands as well, had it been contrary to his own desires. The story of Jehu’s conquest teaches a great lesson, which Albert Barnes acknowledged in his commentary on Hosea: “[I]f we do what is the will of God for any end of our own, for anything except God, we do, in fact, our own will, not God’s” (1997). Indeed, just as the apostle Paul taught in his discourse on love—motives matter (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)!


In What Order Did Satan Tempt Jesus?

If you have ever compared Matthew’s account of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness with Luke’s account, you likely noticed that there was a difference in the sequence of the recorded events (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). Both Matthew and Luke agree that Satan first tested Jesus by challenging Him to turn stones to bread. However, while the two disciples of Jesus agree on the content of the next two tests, the second and third temptations recorded by Matthew are “flip-flopped” in Luke’s account. Matthew recorded that Satan’s second temptation involved him trying to persuade Jesus to throw Himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. The third temptation listed by Matthew was Satan’s attempt to get Jesus to worship him. Even though Luke wrote about the same two events, he listed them in reverse order—Satan first desired adoration from Jesus, and then challenged Him to throw Himself down off the pinnacle of the Temple. Based upon this difference, skeptics claim we have a clear-cut “factual discrepancy.”
The problem with this allegation is that it is based upon an assumption. Those who claim that the “disorder” of temptations is a contradiction, presuppose that history always is written (or spoken) chronologically. However, common sense tells us otherwise. Open almost any world history textbook, and you will notice that even though most events are recorded chronologically, some are arranged topically. For example, in one chapter you may read about the European civilization in the late Middle Ages (A.D. 1000-1300). Yet, in the very next chapter you might learn about Medieval India (150 B.C.-A.D. 1400). Authors arrange textbooks thematically in order to reduce the confusion that would arise if every major event in those textbooks were arranged chronologically. Even when we rehearse life experiences to friends and family, oftentimes we speak climactically rather than chronologically. A teenager may return home from an amusement park, and tell his father about all of the roller coasters he rode at Six Flags. Likely, rather than mentioning all of them in the order he rode them, he will start with the most exciting ones, and end with the boring ones (if there is indeed such a thing as a “boring” roller coaster).
Had Matthew and Luke claimed to arrange the temptations of Jesus chronologically, then the skeptics would have a legitimate case. But, the fact of the matter is, neither Matthew nor Luke ever made any such claim. Either one of the two gospel writers recorded these events in the exact order in which they occurred, or both of them wrote topically. Most biblical scholars believe that it is very likely that Matthew was concerned more with the order of events in this story because of his use of words like “then” (4:5, Greek tote) and “again” (4:8, Greek palin). These two specific adverbs seem to indicate a more sequential order of the temptations. Luke simply links the events by using the Greek words kaiand de (4:2,5-6, translated “and”). [The NKJV’s translation of kai as “then” in Luke 4:5 is incorrect. It should be translated simply “and” (cf. ASVKJVNASV, and RSV).] Similar to the English word “and” not having specific chronological implications, neither do the Greek words kai and de (Richards, 1993, p. 230). In short, Luke’s account of the temptations of Jesus is arranged topically (or possibly climactically), whereas Matthew’s account seems to be arranged chronologically.



Perhaps the most famous alleged Bible contradiction centers on Peter’s triple denial of Jesus and the crowing of a rooster. For years, skeptics have charged that Mark’s account of this event blatantly contradicts the other gospel accounts, thus supposedly “proving” the imperfection of the Scriptures. Even Bible believers have questioned the differences surrounding this event, yet relatively few have taken the time to understand them. Whenever people ask us about Peter’s denials and the differences within the gospel accounts, we often fail to give an adequate answer to their questions (see 1 Peter 3:15). This lack of understanding, and poor defense of God’s Word, has led skeptics to become more confident in their position (i.e., that the Bible is not God’s Word), and has caused some Bible believers (like the young West Virginia man I mentioned earlier) to abandon their position on the infallibility of the Scriptures.
The passages in question are found in Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, and John 13. Matthew, Luke, and John all quoted Jesus as saying that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed.
Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you that this night, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34).
Then He said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster shall not crow this day before you will deny three times that you know Me” (Luke 22:34).
Jesus answered him...“Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times” (John 13:38).
After the third denial actually took place, these three writers recorded that Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled exactly the way He said it would be.
And immediately a rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:74b-75).
Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Luke 22:60-61).
Peter then denied again [for the third time—EL]; and immediately a rooster crowed (John 18:27).
Matthew, Luke, and John all indicated that Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. Mark’s account, however, says otherwise. He recorded Jesus’ prophecy as follows: “Assuredly, I say to you that today, even this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30, emp. added). Following Peter’s first denial of Jesus, we learn that he “went out on the porch, and a rooster crowed” (Mark 14:68). After Peter’s third denial of Jesus, the rooster crowed “a second time.... Then Peter called to mind the word that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times’ ” (Mark 14:72).
Mark differs from the other writers, in that he specified the rooster crowed once after Peter’s first denial, and again after his third denial. But, do these differences represent a legitimate contradiction? Absolutely not!
Consider the following illustration. A family of three went to a high school football game together for the first time. The father and son had been to several games prior to this one, but the mother never had been fortunate enough to attend a high school game until now. After entering the stadium, Ricky tells his 16-year-old son, Cary, that they will meet him right outside Gate 12 after the buzzer sounds. Having filed away the instructions, Cary races to the stands to ensure that he sees the opening kickoff. Ricky’s wife, Vickie, who did not hear the instructions he gave Cary, then asks him when they were going to see Cary again. He responds, “We are going to meet him right outside the gate we just entered after the fourth buzzer.” After the fourth buzzer? But he told Cary after the buzzer sounded they would meet him. Did Ricky contradict himself? No. At this particular stadium, the time keepers normally sound a buzzer after each quarter. But, when we say “at the buzzer,” or when we speak of “a buzzer beater” (such as in basketball), usually we are referring to the final buzzer. Cary was familiar with sports lingo, and thus Ricky told him they would see him “after the buzzer sounds.” Vickie, on the other hand, having never attended a football game in her life, was given different instructions. In a more precise way, Ricky instructed her that Cary would meet them, not after the first, second, or third buzzer, but after the fourth and final buzzer that marks the end of regulation play. Ricky knew that if he told Vickie, “Cary will meet us after the buzzer sounds,” she would have expected to meet him after the first buzzer sounded. Thus, Ricky simply informed Vickie in a more detailed manner. Surely, no one would claim that Ricky had contradicted himself.
In a similar way, no one should assume that because three of the gospel writers mentioned onecrowing, while Mark mentioned two crowings, that a contradiction exists. Realistically, there were two “rooster crowings.” However, it was the second one (the only one Matthew, Luke, and John mentioned) that was the “main” crowing (like the fourth buzzer was the “main” buzzer at the football game). In the first century, roosters were accustomed to crowing at least twice during the night. The first crowing (which only Mark mentioned—14:68) usually occurred between twelve and one o’clock. Relatively few individuals ever heard or acknowledged this crowing (see “cock,” Fausset’s Bible Dictionary, 1998). It is likely that Peter never heard it; else surely his slumbering conscience would have awakened.
The second crowing took place not long before daybreak. It was this latter crowing that commonly was called “the cockcrowing.” Why? Because it was at this time of night (just before daybreak) that roosters crowed the loudest, and their “shrill clarion” was useful in summoning laborers to work (see “cock-crowing,” McClintock and Strong, 1968, 2:398). This crowing of the roosters served as an alarm clock to those in the ancient worldMark recorded earlier in his gospel account that Jesus spoke of this “main” crowing when He said: “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning” (Mark 13:35, emp. added). Interestingly, even when workers were called to their labors via artificial devices (e.g., bugles), this time of the night still was designated by the proverbial phrase, “the cockcrowing” (see “cock-crowing” in McClintock and Strong, 2:398). If you lived in the first century, and your boss said to be ready to work when “the rooster crows,” you would know he meant that work begins just before daybreak. If he said that work begins at the second crowing of the rooster, likewise, you would know he meant the same thing—work begins just before daylight. These are not contradictory statements, but rather two ways of saying the same thing.
When Jesus said, “Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times” (Matthew 26:34), it is obvious that He was using the phrase “the rooster crows” in the more conventional way. Mark, on the other hand, specified that there were two crowings. In the same way that the husband gives his wife more detailed instructions concerning a football game, Mark used greater precision in recording this event. It may be that Mark quoted the exact words of Jesus, while the other writers (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) saw fit to employ the less definite style to indicate the same time of night (McGarvey, 1875, p. 355). Or, perhaps Jesus made both statements. After Peter declared that he never would deny the Lord, Jesus could have repeated His first comment and added another detail, saying: “[E]ven this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times” (Mark 14:30, emp. added). We cannot be certain why Mark’s account is worded differently than the other writers, but by understanding that “the rooster crowing” commonly was used to indicate a time just before daybreak, we can be assured that absolutely no contradiction exists among the gospel writers.


In just over six thousand words, six of the seventy “factual” Bible contradictions given to the young West Virginian who abandoned his faith in the inspired, inerrant Word of God have been radically downgraded from “factual” to “fictitious.” If space permitted, each one of the “factual” contradictions could be refuted rather easily with the proper use of both “reason” and “revelation.”
What would have happened if the young man from West Virginia had taken the time to investigate these matters? Where would he be today, had someone been able to show him how all these “factual” Bible contradictions are anything but factual? Surely, by now you realize that the blows of the critic’s axe need not shake the Christian’s faith. Indeed, after almost 2,000 years of “skeptics’ blows,” God’s forest of inspiration still stands unmarred.


Archer, Gleason L. (1982), An Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Barnes, Albert (1997), Barnes’ Notes (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
Cassuto, U. (1961), A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: Magnes).
“Cock” (1998), Fausset’s Bible Dictionary (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).
“Cock-crowing,” McClintock, John and James Strong (1968 reprint), Cyclopaedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Dillard, Raymond B. and Tremper Longman III (1994), An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Geisler, Norman L. and Thomas A. Howe (1992), When Critics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books).
Hamilton, Victor P. (1990), The Book of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Kaiser, Walter C. Jr., Peter H. Davids, F.F. Bruce, and Manfred T. Brauch (1996), Hard Sayings of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press).
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1996), Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament (Electronic Database: Biblesoft), new updated edition.
Kitchen, Kenneth (1966), Ancient Orient and Old Testament (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press).
Leupold, Herbert C. (1942), Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
McGarvey, J.W. (1875), Commentary on Matthew and Mark (Delight AR: Gospel Light).
Richards, Larry (1993), 735 Baffling Bible Questions Answered (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell).
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (1962), (Electronic Database: Biblesoft).

Scientists, Soldiers, and Fish Scales by Eric Lyons, M.Min.


Scientists, Soldiers, and Fish Scales

by Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Operating on a grant from the U.S. Army, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are developing better body armor for soldiers. Surprisingly, the inspiration for their work comes from a foot-long African fish known as Polypterus senegalus.
According to scientists, the fish’s “armor” is able to protect it from others of its own species, as well as other carnivores. Its overlapping armored scales “first dissipate the energy of a strike, then protect against any penetrations to the soft tissues below and finally limit any damage to the shield to the immediate area surrounding the assault” (Crane, 2008). What makes the fish’s armor so effective? Aside from its four layers of overlapping scales, “researchers believe the dermal scales’ different composite materials [including bone and dentine—EL] and the geometry and thickness of various layers” all contribute to the armor’s strength and effectiveness in protecting the animal (Crane, 2008). Dr. Christine Ortiz, lead MIT researcher on the Polypterus project, stated: “Such fundamental knowledge holds great potential for the development of improved biologically inspired structural materials” (Bryner, 2008).
Brilliant scientists in the 21st century are spending an untold amount of time, energy, and money studying the scale structure of a fish, in hopes of designing new and improved armor applications forU.S. soldiers and military vehicles. Scientists admit that the “design” of the overlapping scale layers is “fascinating, complex and multiscale” (Crane, 2008). Yet, at the same time, we are told that this fish, which is inspiring state-of-the-art human armor systems, had no Designer (Bryner, 2008). Once again, naturalistic evolution allegedly was the great cause of a “fascinating” and “complex” creature. But design demands a designer. An effect (especially one of this magnitude) demands an adequatecause. In truth, blind chance, plus non-intelligence, plus random mutations, plus eons of time, neither designed nor caused Polypterus senegalus. Only an intelligent Designer could make such an awe-inspiring creature. As the psalmist wrote: “This great and wide sea, in which are innumerable teeming things, living things both small and great. O Lord, how manifold are Your works! In wisdom You have made them all” (104:25,24, emp. added).


Bryner, Jeanna (2008), “Incredible Fish Armor Could Suit Soldiers,” LiveScience, July 27, [On-line],URL: http://www.livescience.com/animals/080727-fish-armor.html.
Crane, David (2008), “Flexible Biological Scalar Body Armor for Future Soldiers?” Defense Review, July 31, [On-line], URL: http://www.defensereview.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article& amp;sid=1159.

Ethics and Darwinism [Part I] by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.


Ethics and Darwinism [Part I]

by Trevor Major, M.Sc., M.A.

Charles Darwin never lived to enjoy the popularity of his own theory. It would take another few decades for “descent by modification” to dominate the biological sciences. Certainly, he won some important victories. The Origin of Species (1859) gave impetus to the growing naturalism of the day. It devastated the prevailing religious dogma of species fixity, and thus undermined ecclesiastical authority on scientific matters. This success attracted a host of social and political reformers who wished to attack the conservative influence of the Anglican church. If evolution could challenge the status quo in science, then perhaps it could challenge the status quo in fields as far flung as law, economics, social policy, and ethics. Yet Darwin, who shared the reformers’ liberal leanings, saw no application of his theory outside biology.
The willingness to appropriate evolution, and the motivations behind it, has changed little in the last hundred years. Darwinism continues to attract an enthusiastic bevy of supporters who see the work of natural selection in every part of the Universe, from physics to psychology, and from genes to human culture.
As I hope to show in this article, the attempt to derive ethics from Darwinism is flawed fundamentally, and the implications certainly are not consistent with a Christian world view. Also, I would like to look at a relatively new idea that attempts to extend biology into the realm of sociology via an extremely bad analogy. Darwin, it seems, was right to be suspicious: even he would not condone the subjecting of all human endeavor to the workings of natural selection.


The Obsession with Progress

It is easy to underestimate the social and historical context in which Darwin operated. This is not to say, in the spirit of relativism, that natural selection, like any theory of science, is true only for a certain time and place. However, we have to remember that Darwin wrote during the Victorian era—a time in which Englishmen and women were enamored with the ideal of progress (Gregory, 1986, p. 379). This, really, was a carryover from the Enlightenment. It was an optimistic view that humanity would improve itself through education and liberty.
The beneficiaries of England’s spreading empire and booming industry could see how far they had come, how “right” it seemed that their nation should be so great, and how this exalted condition must be written into the course of “nature.” The liberals of that day wanted government to step out of nature’s way. They thought that an individual could improve his lot in life only by greater personal freedoms and less government interference (Desmond and Moore, 1991, pp. 217,294-295).
When putting on its kindest face, this view seemed to express a hope that God was working providentially through some sort of natural process to bring about a better world or, what really mattered, a better England. There was hope for the poor after all, but God, not man, would see to it. In its grimmest form, progress came by blind, ruthless competition. Nature had sorted society into the privileged few and the starving masses. Laws that favored the poor were futile because they ran contrary to the what the forces of nature had wrought. One day, the poor might find themselves in a better position, but only if the conditions of nature changed accordingly.
Serious proposals along these lines existed long before Darwin’s views on the natural world took shape. For instance, the seventeenth century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, described humanity as being in a “war of all against all.” As far as he could tell, a properly organized society was just a convenient way to rise above that constant struggle. In 1798, Thomas Malthus put forward his “principle of population,” which argued that strife and famine occurred when the rate of population growth exceeded available resources. It was in this period that Europe was starting to experience a population boom, mainly through a decrease in mortality. In 1800, the world’s population numbered perhaps one billion; it doubled in the next 130 years. Celibacy was about the only form of population control entertained at that time, although it was no more practiced than it is today. This left only two possibilities: either provide more resources, or allow war, disease, and starvation to run their course.
The work of Malthus attracted Darwin’s attention, too, although more for its scientific applications. Darwin realized that the descendants of a single pair of mice, or humans, or elephants, would overrun the world in a few generations. Yet this was not happening. Why? Because, Darwin concluded, nature preserves only those individuals that have the instincts, behaviors, and physical traits necessary for survival. Producing more offspring than can possibly survive “is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms” (Darwin, 1859, p. 63). This suited some of Darwin’s readers just fine. Seeing the Malthusian principle in all of nature served only to reinforce their belief that large “adjustments” in population were a fundamental feature of the world, and not something to be avoided by social welfare.
English philosopher, Herbert W. Spencer, became the most famous proponent of this reading. His utter commitment to the inevitability of progress led him, on principle, to adopt a strongly evolutionary outlook. In his view, progress permeated everything; nothing could stay the same. Matter, animals, and human societies began in an indistinguishable, homogenous form, and progressed to a state of increasing specialization and individuation. Just as there were many types of bees, and many types of deer, each adapted to its own special place in nature, so an advanced human society was one in which there was a “division of labor.” Of course, this just happened to describe industrialized Britain of the nineteenth century. If this were the latest stage of development, then it must be the highest stage of evolutionary progress. Those individuals who survived this stage would be “the select of their generation.” When Spencer penned these words in an article on Malthus in 1851, the Great Famine in Ireland had taken a million lives, and blindness due to malnutrition was becoming widespread. But for Spencer, Ireland’s misfortunes merely showed what happened when people multiplied beyond their means of support (Desmond and Moore, 1991, p. 394). The best course of action, Spencer argued, was an extreme laissez-faire economy and government. Individuals should be allowed to do whatever they want. Let them exercise restraint or multiply at will—nature would determine the outcome.
After reading Darwin, Spencer came to adopt natural selection as the force behind this progress, but the exchange of ideas went both ways. Spencer convinced Darwin to adopt his own phrase, “survival of the fittest,” in place of Darwin’s cherished “natural selection.” According to Spencer, and others, Darwin’s phrase left the impression that nature might have some sort of intelligence or mind that was doing the selecting. Darwin agreed only grudgingly, and the evolutionist never had a high opinion of Spencer’s work. Ironically, the volatile mix of inevitable progress and Malthusian theory came to be known as “social Darwinism.”
Spencer garnered respect both at home and in the United States. The momentum grew in this country with the work of sociologist William Graham Sumner. As in England, social Darwinism was seen to endorse the uneven distribution of wealth and power, and lend credence to ruthless business practices. Not surprisingly, the famous tycoons of the late 19th century adopted Spencer and Sumner as their intellectual guides. After reading Spencer, Andrew Carnegie “remembered that light came as a flood and all was clear.” James J. Hill proclaimed: “The fortunes of railroad companies are determined by the law of the survival of the fittest.” Similarly, John D. Rockefeller concluded: “The growth of the large business is merely survival of the fittest.... This is not an evil tendency in business. It is merely working out of a law of nature.” Both Hill and Rockefeller ran operations that were found to be in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Apparently, competition was good, but no competition was even better! After making their fortunes, Rockefeller and Carnegie won renown as philanthropists, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to education, museums, and research, but rarely if ever to the poor directly.
As a popular doctrine, Spencer and Sumner’s social Darwinism fell out of favor on both sides of the Atlantic. Several horrifying events, such as the American Civil War, and certainly the First World War, dashed the romantic, Victorian illusion of inevitable progress. Also, scientists—the people who handled Darwin’s theory on a day-to-day basis—came to realize that the biological process of evolution had little or nothing to do with the organization of human society. It was impossible to judge that one form of society, or one group of individuals within a society, was “more evolved” than any other.

Arguments Against Social Darwinism

Apart from going out of fashion, social Darwinism made a number of critical errors. First, the people most in tune with Darwinism consciously rejected the idea of progress toward fixed goals or ideals. In the process of evolution, there must be no design or purpose. Bertrand Russell diagnosed this obsession with progress as a “human conceit” first staggered by its kinship with the ape, and then recovered through a “philosophy” of evolution (1981, p. 24).
As Darwin envisioned it, a species may appear to make progress one moment, only to become extinct the next, depending on the whims of nature. In an early notebook, Darwin wrote: “In my theory there is no absolute tendency to progression, excepting from favourable circumstances.” His young disciple, Thomas Henry Huxley, took pains to get this message across. In his view, the idea that evolution leads to perfection is a fallacy that pervades “the so-called ‘ethics of evolution’” (1896, p. 80). Huxley drew a distinction between the “natural process” of change at the biological level, and the “ethical process” of change in society. Progress in human societies would come by resisting, not following, our natural desires. Although he denied it at first, Darwin eventually came to believe that humans were able to rise above their “natural” states. He even sent money to the South American Missionary Society so that they could “civilize” the natives of Tierra del Fuego (Desmond and Moore, 1991, pp. 574-575).
Huxley’s distinction highlights a second and fatal weakness in social Darwinism. From the process of natural selection, people like Spencer wanted to derive an ethical system. They wanted to suggest what was right and wrong, or good and bad, based on Darwin’s observations. Yet such a move from nature to morality always has proved highly problematic. How, exactly, do you get from is to ought? We may be able to describe the actions of the majority, for instance, but why should this prescribe the standards of morality? Many people may find a certain activity pleasurable. Does this make the activity good or right? One law may benefit more people than another. Does this make that law good or right? Most people traveling on a particular stretch of highway may be going 10 miles per hour above the posted speed limits. Should we now condone the actual average speed?
So, even if natural selection works in nature by changing the size of finch beaks or preserving antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, how can it be right or wrong in a moral sense? If a lioness attacks and kills a baby zebra, is that right or wrong? If a late snow storm kills a newborn lamb, in what way is this good or bad—morally speaking? Human sensitivities aside, we understand that this is “nature’s way.”
Is that not the whole point, though? We cannot put our sensitivities aside. We imagine ourselves in the place of the zebra or the lamb, and we cringe because we would not want to be in their place. Yet, despite these feelings, we cannot hold nature responsible for what it does.
This is what makes recent talk of extending human rights to animals, such as great apes (gorillas, chimps, and orangutans), seem fundamentally confused. Since these animals appear to have a consciousness or self-awareness like humans, so the argument goes, we ought to include them in the moral sphere. Other activists feel that this is too narrow: we need to extend the moral sphere beyond ourselves and great apes to any sentient creature that can suffer or feel pain. But is this enough? What about fears, beliefs, or hopes? By reasonably good analogy we extend our own knowledge of such mental states to other people. But the analogy begins to break down as we go further afield. What does suffering really mean for a chimp? a sparrow? a trout? a newt? These questions are not just rhetorical. The fact is, we don’t know what it’s like to be a newt, and vice versa.
And why stop at consciousness or sentience? People who advocate bringing animals into the moral sphere have a name for their opponents: “speciesists.” It’s a mouthful, but the comparison to “sexist” or “racist” is supposed to be obvious. So why don’t we call these advocates “consciousnessists” or “sentientists” or some other equally unpronounceable slur, depending on where they happen to draw the line of admissibility into the moral sphere? The problem with all these suggestions is that they are just as arbitrary as any attempt to draw the line based on skin color or sex. The boundary of the moral sphere is drawn, not by brain functions or biology, but by the potential for moral agency. Being a moral agent means being able to choose between right and wrong, and being able to act on that choice. Only then can the results of our choosing be judged worthy of blame or praise, yet judging involves others deciding whether we could have acted differently. As far as we know, humans are the only earthly creatures capable of being moral agents. This is not to say that animals could not be the recipients of moral concern, but this makes them moral patients, not moral agents. As agents, we hold other agents responsible for their actions, regardless of whether those actions are directed toward plants, animals, people, property, or whatever. If a man acted cruelly toward an animal, it is not the animal that judged those acts to be cruel, but other moral agents. The animal may have experienced pain or suffering, but we have no idea whether it could grasp the concept of cruelty in any moral sense.
This is not intended to be the last word on the animal rights movement. What I hope to have shown, however, is that all sorts of difficulties arise when we go to nature for our morality. Animal rights advocates make comparisons between animal and human suffering, and leap from there to a demand for moral equality, ignoring the significant question of what it is to be moral. Social Darwinism makes the same sort of mistake. As Huxley saw so clearly, you cannot leap from evolution (which has little if anything to do with human social relationships) to morality (which has everything to do with human social relationships). The processes working on human biology, and the processes working within human society, operate at two different levels.

Social Darwinism and the Bible

At the risk of stating the obvious, the teaching of Christ is incompatible with social Darwinism. This is not to say that the Christian life does not include competition and struggle. After all, it was Paul who said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). He assured the Ephesians that we wrestle, not “against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (6:12). And the apostle Peter, perhaps more than any other New Testament writer, reinforced the inevitability of suffering for one’s faith, and encouraged watchfulness and strength in the face of adversity (e.g., 1 Peter 1:6-7,13; 2:19-21; 3:14,17-18; 4:1,12-16,19; 5:8-9).
In Christianity, however, competition and struggle are means to an end, not an end in itself. For someone who believes he lives in a dog-eat-dog world, the aim is to be top dog. But for Christians, the ultimate goal is to spend eternity in heaven with God, the highest good is to love God, and the second highest good is to love our neighbor (Mark 12:29-31). When an argument broke out among the disciples, Christ assured them that if “anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). And it was Christ Who left us the greatest example by putting the whole of humanity ahead of His own life (John 3:16-17). In this world, at least, an ethic that always puts the interests of others above the interests of self is not the best survival strategy.
As we have seen, the better course of action for the social Darwinist is to allow “nature” to take its course. At most, like the great American philanthropists mentioned earlier, he would allow the poor to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps. We may think this has a parallel in a famous biblical passage: “If anyone will not work, neither shall he eat” (1 Thessalonians 3:10). However, the Bible shows a great deal of compassion toward the poor. Under the Mosaic law, for example, the poor were granted the following provisions: they were not to pay interest on loans (Exodus 22:5); they were allowed to use a field, vineyard, or olive grove that was left at rest every seventh year (Exodus 23:11); they were allowed to gather from the corners of the field, and to pick up any grain, grapes, and olives left over after the harvest (Leviticus 19:9-10); they were not to be discriminated against, and the rich were not to be favored, in judicial matters (Leviticus 19:15); their labor was not to be abused or exploited (Leviticus 25:34ff.; Deuteronomy 24:12-15); and when in need, they were to receive loans (interest-free) or outright gifts (Deuteronomy 17:7-11; cf. 17:1).
We should note, also, that Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians applied to those who could work, and chose not to. It did not apply, for example, to orphans and widows without any means of support (James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:3-16). Finally, there were times when the will and ability to work were not enough, and direct donations were needed (as we see in the relief sent to Judea; Acts 11:28-29).
A critic might allege that such examples prove that we are, in the end, selfish brutes. Human society has adapted by inventing rules that keep our overwhelming desires for self-preservation and self-gratification in check. Did Paul not say, “with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Romans 7:25)? Actually, this seems to be a classic chicken-and-egg problem. In other words, which came first: the desire to lie, wage war, steal, and murder in a peaceful society, or the desire for harmony, love, and compassion in a dangerous, violent society? Evolution would have us believe that the second scenario is true—that ethics came along after the emergence of the human species from an ape-like ancestor. However, the Bible comes down on the side of the first scenario—that it was man’s initial condition to be peaceful, and then came Satan. If the rules had not been violated—if there had been no sin—then Adam and Eve would have remained in paradise (Genesis 3:22-24). God’s laws exist, not to stop us from being who we are (rational creatures able to make choices both good and bad), but to judge the choices we make (2 Corinthians 5:10).


Social Darwinism, in the form advocated by Spencer, has not survived to the current era as a viable intellectual idea. You still may hear people mention “survival of the fittest” to justify some particularly ruthless business practice or political strategy. Unfortunately, in cases like these, any justification will do, including an appeal to Scripture (this is one reason why I wanted to lay out the biblical view).
Nonetheless, new Darwinian views of society arise on occasion. A few paragraphs earlier, I took sides with Huxley in arguing that the process of natural selection has little if any application to human social relationships. Today, there is a view that the course of evolution has everything to do with human society. This is a subtle shift. It is not a case of going back to Spencer. No one would be foolish enough to bring up social Darwinism—at least not in so many words.
Let me begin by casting this new approach in a generous light: Rather than trying to invent an ethical system based on evolution (as did Spencer), these new ideas attempt to explain morality in evolutionary terms. Usually these ideas fall under the heading of sociobiology—a term coined by Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson. As he defined it, sociobiology is “the systematic study of the biological basis of all social behavior” (1980, p. 4). The “all” here refers to all animal societies, and not just human society. According to evolutionary theory, humans are just animals descended from other animals. There is no comfortable divide, not even in morality. Regardless of quaint words such as “marriage” or “adultery,” what we find in the mating strategies of chimps, rats, or fruit flies applies directly to human practices and conventions.
Yet, is it reasonable to reduce morality to biology? As we saw in the case of animal rights, there does seem to be a fundamental divide between humans and animals. This is not because they have feathers or scales and we don’t, but because they lack the capacity for moral agency. Is there something, therefore, about our “quaint” morality that we can explain away as nothing more than animal urges? Is the propagation of our genes our sole mission in life?
Sociobiology nearly always seems to answer, “Yes.” For example, a survey among university students in Australia found that women were more attracted to slim men. There does not seem to be much of a story there, so medical reporter Melissa Sweet (1997) went digging for something more interesting to say. She ended up consulting Dr. Tim Flannery, of the Australian Museum, who simply dismissed this trend as a “passing fad.” In reality, women could care less about appearance. To ensure “evolutionary success,” all women really care about is their prospective mates’ “status, power and money.” So, wives think mistakenly that they came to love their husbands, perhaps attracted initially by a sense of humor, or strength of character, or even good looks. But no, when a wife tells her husband, “I love you,” she really is saying “I value your ability to pass my genes on to the next generation.” What, then, could cause these young Australian women to disregard their evolutionary dispositions? Is this a behavior that will prove evolutionarily unsuccessful and, as a result, a whole generation of Australians will have less chance of survival? Will those women who desire status, power, and money in a man, and ignore “less important” features such as kindness or good looks, pick the best mates, and in so doing pass this “superior” sense of survival on to their daughters? Eventually, will the behavior trait of preferring-slim-men go the way of the dodo? Perhaps there are a number of “cuddly” young men who hope so.
The strongest, and most sobering examples can be found in the area of marriage and family. There is, for example, the “Cinderella effect,” which shows that stepchildren occupy a dangerous position in society (Daly and Wilson, 1988). In the U.S., according to homicide statistics from 1976, infants (aged 0-2 years) living with one or more substitute parents are 100 times more likely to suffer fatal abuse than infants living with natural parents. Similarly, statistics from Canada for 1974-1983 show that children in this same age group are 70 times more likely to die at the hands of stepparents.
The explanation for this effect, according to Daly and Wilson, is that evolutionary selection has favored such homicidal behavior. It is in the interests of the stepfather to withhold parental support from offspring who do not carry his genes. He does this by killing any stepchildren, especially babies that require a long-term commitment of resources. As proof, scientists cite similar behavior among nonhuman populations. In the case of the Hanuman langurs (a type of monkey that lives in India), males eventually lose their harem to a challenger. The new male frequently will kill his predecessor’s infant offspring. Theoretically, the mothers would stop nursing, thus making them available to mate and produce the successor’s own offspring. This behavior would ensure that a new male would make as many living copies of his genes as possible before he, too, was chased out of the harem (Zimmer, 1996, pp. 73-74).
If similar behavior occurs in humans, so the argument goes, then culture does not exempt us from such evolutionary forces. How, then, do we explain the “Brady Bunch” effect? That is to say, why is it that most stepparents get along quite well with their stepchildren without murdering them? According to Daly and Wilson, this is a matter of reciprocity, otherwise known as “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” Or, to put it in evolutionary terms, “I’ll not get in the way of your genetic legacy if you’ll not get in the way of mine.” What we interpret as love or altruism becomes a cultural mask for genetic self-interests.
However, the evidence does not demand this interpretation, even in those few cases where stepparents mistreat their stepchildren. The statistics seem to show no more than the following: (a) people are more likely to be in conflict with someone nearby that they know (i.e., a family member), than with someone further away whom they do not know (i.e., a perfect stranger); and (b), when family conflict occurs, the most defenseless members are vulnerable to a person with the least parental attachment. It is quite a leap to conclude that unknown genes from some unknown past are predisposing men to kill other men’s babies.


Where, in fact, is the proof that evolution has selected a trait for wiping out one’s stepchildren? Another way of posing this question is to ask, “Where is the gene for infanticide?”
The point is this: genes store the code that a cell uses to make proteins. These proteins may have one or more roles to play in forming structure (hair, bone, etc.), regulating functions (hormones), transporting substances, defending against intruders (antibodies), or catalyzing chemical reactions (enzymes). So, what proteins incite a man to kill his stepchild? Does a child emit some sort of chemical, like a pheromone, that causes a violent reaction among all genetically unrelated people in close proximity? [We may have met some children like that, but it would be nice to see the evidence supporting those feelings!] Would it not be evolutionarily more advantageous to preserve a gene for something (again, like a pheromone) that endears a child to both its parent and stepparent? Does a human adult male really benefit from infanticide? If he murders the children of his wife’s former marriage, would the reciprocity principle not go by the way side? Could the wife trust her infanticidal husband if they had children of their own?
These questions, and their lack of answers, highlight the problem of applying natural selection to features of human populations. In this case, it is very difficult to say how or why natural selection would have preserved a genetic trait for infanticide. This especially is true given the relatively low incidence of infanticide in human societies when compared to animals such as the Hanuman langurs. Thankfully, infanticide remains an abnormal behavior, and cannot be an important survival strategy in our own species.
A comment by Stephen Jay Gould seems appropriate at this point. While he admits that evolution could have programmed humans to, say, distinguish between members of our own group and members of other groups, this in itself does not compel us to wipe them out. Here is an outspoken evolutionist who rejects the idea that genes determine behavior. His comments relate to genocide, but they could apply to infanticide, rape, adultery, or other behaviors attributed to our supposed evolutionary heritage:
An evolutionary speculation can only help if it teaches us something we don’t know already—if, for example, we learned that genocide was biologically enjoined by certain genes, or even that a positive propensity, rather than a mere capacity, regulated our murderous potentiality. But the observational facts of human history speak against determination and only for potentiality (Gould, 1996).
Stepfathers have the potential to murder their stepchildren. Ethnic groups have the potential to wipe out other groups. Spouses have the potential to be unfaithful. As crime statistics and news stories show, humans seem to be capable of nearly unlimited wickedness and cruelty. However, we know that most humans for the majority of history have survived quite well without engaging in these activities on a widespread, consistent basis. It is very difficult, therefore, to invoke natural selection—a supposed regularity of nature—to preserve such traits.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: This article was extracted, and has been significantly revised, from a chapter I wrote for inclusion in Dangerous ’Isms, edited by B.J. Clarke (Southaven, MS: Power Publications, 1997).]


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