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Is it wrong to reinterpret Scripture?

How should we interpret Scripture and what should we use to do it? Should we use science to help better understand the Bible or should theology help us better understand science?

I think it is necessary to start with a very important point. There is a difference between data and interpretations. God has revealed two “books” to us. He has given us the book of nature and the book of the Bible. The words of the Bible and the record of nature is the data. This data does not change. However, our interpretation of this data, which is theology and science, might change and may be wrong.

So I want to suggest that it is possible to reinterpret Scripture without changing the words of the Bible. Instead of reinterpretation changing the Bible, it is us correcting our theology and something we misunderstood about Scripture.

But isn’t science man’s knowledge and the Bible is God’s word? Doesn’t this mean that God’s word is always right and science is the one that is wrong?

It is common for people to raise objections to the record of nature and the words of the Bible being in agreement. They say that these two records are contradictory because at the surface we see two different messages. Two reasons are generally given as to why these two records seem to contradict. First is the fact that Genesis 3:17-19 and Romans 8:20-22 teach that the ground has been cursed. Since the fall of man in Genesis 3, the world has been broken, groaning, and corrupted. The second reason is that man is fallen. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful and wicked. We also see in Ecclesiastes 7:20 that there is no righteous man who never sins and always does good. So, the argument is made that sinful, deceitful, and fallen men cannot correctly understand a broken world. The Bible is the uncorrupted, true, and eternal word of God. Therefore, the record of nature cannot compare to the perfect, inspired word of God.

3 Ways Science and Theology Relate

The first view called compartmentalism. This view teaches that science and theology are completely different areas of knowledge and that they need to stay separate.

A second view is called Biblicism. This view teaches that the only source of reliable knowledge is the Bible. This is usually argued for based on what I mentioned before about the world being broken and man being corrupt. In this view, we have to study the world through the lens of the Bible.

The third view is dual revelationsim. This view teaches that both God’s word and God’s world are consistent and complementary revelations when properly interpreted. These two revelations are also referred to as general and special revelation.

Image result for dual revelationWhen we recognize that both nature and the Bible are revelations from God, then we need to understand that each one should be taken with equal weight. By equal I mean
that we have to recognize that the two revelations are different and that we have to understand each one the best that we can. Both revelations are used to understand God more because they are two different ways that God has revealed himself to us.

There are many things about nature that the Bible doesn’t speak about and there are theological issues that we could never discover in nature. We will never learn that Jesus is the Messiah or the doctrine of sanctification from nature. Also, the Bible doesn’t speak about other planets or scientific discoveries like atoms. God didn’t reveal everything to us in the Bible. Therefore, it is important to understand where each revelations is limited.  So if general revelation gives us insight into special revelation, then it should be considered and inform our interpretation Scripture. The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot about how creation took place. So if we know things from general revelation that align with Scripture, then we should be able to us it to correct our interpretation.

Understand that we are not changing God’s word with general revelation but only our interpretation of God’s word. If fallen man can get correct interpretations of Scripture, then we should be able to get correct interpretations of nature.

Which view do you hold to when it comes to God’s revelations and our interpretations?

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Rethinking the Hiddenness of God

Over the last few months I have been thinking a lot about the hiddenness of God. It is usually one of the main questions that I get from students and skeptics. They say something like “If God wants us to believe in him, then why doesn’t he reveal himself to us?” Now, I have written on this topic before. You can check out my previous blog titled “Why is God so hidden?,” where I talked about the difference between belief “that” and belief “in.” I also looked at how much evidence would be necessary to convince us of God’s existence. However, I want to answer the question in a little different way for this post.

God is hidden because he wants us to look for him.

Now, before you get on me for giving some pat Christian answer, I want you to really think about it and hear me out. I think there is something to think about here. We tend to be people who are really excited about new stuff but then we get bored really easy. I was excited when I bought my first car, but now it is just a normal part of my life. It is rare when I am really thinking about it when I used to. I do remember the day very clearly when my phone notified me that my car had been broken into. I sprinted to the parking lot only to realize that I had hit the panic button in my pocket. The point is that unless something crazy happens, I don’t really think about my car because it has become a normal part of my life.

The same is true for anything that isn’t lost. I could just go down the list. If something isn’t lost, then you have no need to look for it or really even think about it. The moment your cell phone or wallet goes missing, then it begins to consume our thoughts. Panic takes over when we notice something is missing, and it usually remains at some level until the object is found.

I think that the same can be true about God. He reveals himself to us enough so that we should know that he is there. However, he remains hidden so that we will look for him. God doesn’t remain so distant that we never encounter him, but there are always things that we won’t know. This is explained by God being both transcendent and eminent. The bottom line is this. God should be someone who consumes our thoughts all day because we want to discover him. We wouldn’t have a need to seek after him and discover him if he wasn’t hidden.

What do you think?

Everyone Has To Start Somewhere – Helping Students Deepen Their Relationship With God

It was the summer of 2013 and I was on a family vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Family is so important to me and since moving away in 2008, I just don’t get to see them as much as I would like. So every chance we have to get together turns into a special time. While at dinner one evening my mom said something she has told me many times throughout my life. She began to tell me about this amazing girl that I would marry one day and how God had someone special in mind. Instead of responding with something like “Yeah mom, I know.,” which I had done many times before; I said something different. I remember looking at my mom and saying something like, “Where is she? You keep telling me about this girl, but I don’t see her anywhere. Can you please tell me where she is at? Does she even exist?” Then I quickly began to feel guilty because my mom only meant the best for me.

This story recently came back to mind as I tried to find an example for my new talk on the existence of God. I realized that this is often how we talk to students. We keep telling them how amazing God is and how he loves them, cares for them, and wants a relationship with them. While these things are completely true, we have students who respond just like I did. Where is he? Does he even exist? What we sometimes forget to realize is that everyone has to start somewhere, and we aren’t all at the same level. As I thought about this, I thought about four different relationship levels.

  1. Non-existence or blind faith
  2. Belief that the person exists
  3. Start the relationship and get to know the person
  4. Belief in the person leading to a deep, committed, and lasting relationship

This makes sense when you think about friendships. Everyone starts at level 1 and is not aware of the existence of the other person, or they are told that there is a special person out there for them creating a blind faith. Then one day we reach level 2 and meet the person (with students you check their Instagram). This is the physical evidence. But just because you believe that they exist doesn’t mean you have a committed relationship. You then have to move to level 3 and start to get to know the person. Many times we don’t move to level 3 because we have false ideas about the person. Maybe we think they are weird or that we wouldn’t get along. Other times we think we will be best friends, but after the relationship begins, we realize how different we are. And then there is a time where we get to know the person and it leads to level 4; a deep, committed relationship where we believe in the person and trust them. From that point we continue to grow deeper in our relationship the rest of our life.

That evening, in the restaurant with my mom, I experienced how a person’s place on the relationship spectrum affects how they hear what you are saying. My mom was at level 4. She understood how amazing level 4 was and because she loved me, she wanted the same for me. That is why she has continued to tell me about how amazing it will be my whole life. However, while at level 1, I can either choose to have a blind faith or will become tired of hearing it. It is easy to believe blindly while young, but over 20 years of no evidence led to becoming upset.

I think we do the same thing with students and God. We keep telling them how amazing the level 4 relationship is with God, but we don’t help them move from level 1 to 2. This either creates a blind faith or a bitterness. They ask for evidence and we sometimes don’t give it. We tell them to “just have faith,” but this can only last so long. The other scenario is that they hold on to their blind faith until college only to have it shattered by a secular professor. When evidence is demanded, our students come up short. This can lead to doubt and cause some to walk away from the faith.

Other people are at level 2. They believe that God exists, but believe that he is evil, judgmental, wrong, or a bully. Students think God will just make their life boring with all the rules. This false view of God keeps them from wanting to start that relationship. If this is where they are, then we need to show them the truth about God.

So, instead of continuing to only talk about God’s love or power, lets add to it the fact that Christianity is true. Lets provide intellectual reasons as well as emotional reasons. When our students begin to see the facts and the intellectual reasons for believing in God, then a deeper understanding and relationship is formed. This deeper understanding fills in the gaps and can lead to a more passionate love for God.

The same is true with every other hobby. I love watching baseball because I understand it at such a deep level. Other people only see someone throwing a ball fast. Those that understand art see brush strokes when I only see a building. Musicians can hear harmonies when others just hear sounds. Computer programmers understand the code while some just hope to hit a power button. This deeper understanding leads to a more complete love. When people only understand the basics, they get bored very quickly. Many of our students only know the basics of Christianity. God loves me, he died for me… that’s it. No wonder they’re bored!

Let us keep telling people about the amazing love that God has for them. Let us keep telling them about how God is powerful, holy, perfect, and just. But let us not forget that everyone has to start somewhere. Let us have the ability to understand where someone is at in their relationship with God and help them get to the next level. Moving closer to that level 4 relationship with God is something to be excited about!

Top 10 Blogs of 2016 and a Coffeehouse Questions Survey

Another year has come to an end and I am blown away at what God has done. I truly enjoy what I do with Coffeehouse Questions, and it is exciting when other people enjoy it as well. I can’t thank you all enough for the encouragement and support over the last year.

Coffeehouse Questions started back in 2015 as place to post my answers to the few questions I got, and now it has turned it to so much more. In 2016, I published 85 posts that answer different questions about Christianity, science, philosophy, ethics, and more. These posts were viewed in 115 countries which completely blows my mind! I also saw an increase in views of over 500% from 2015. I owe this all to you, my readers. Thank you all for the incredible year and I am excited for 2017!

Enjoy my top 10 blogs from 2016 and come back tomorrow for my top 10 podcasts.

  1. Will Heaven be boring?
  2. 10 Self-Defeating Ideas You Should Probably Stop Believing
  3. Can Christians claim to have the On, True God?
  4. Is free will an illusion?
  5. What happens to those who have never heard the gospel?
  6. Is belief in God a rational position?
  7. Why is God so hidden?
  8. Where Adam and Eve Historical Figures?
  9. Doctor Strange and the Clash of Worldviews
  10. Why is eternal punishment fair?

Since you are the ones reading these posts, I created this short survey to better understand my audience and produce content that you enjoy. It is only 11 questions, so I would really appreciate your responses. What would you like to see in 2017?

Thank you and God bless!

Ryan Pauly

10 Self-Defeating Ideas You Should Probably Stop Believing

The idea of a two-edged sword, or a sword that cuts both ways, has a storied history. The analogy is somewhat problematic, as swords always have two edges anyway, and it is in doubt that a trained swordsman is going to be constantly cutting himself with his own sword. But regardless, we know what it means. It’s a self-defeating or self-refuting idea, where an idea basically falls on its own sword (OK fine, I’m done with the sword puns). My contention is that these ideas are more common than we probably realize. I believe it’s important, for the sake of a better-informed society and more intelligent conversation, that we drop some of these ideas.

So what makes for a self-defeating idea? Let’s look at 10 examples:

1) All truth is relative.

If all truth is relative, then this statement is also relative, and can’t apply to anything beyond itself. The statement therefore becomes almost meaningless!

2) No one can know the full truth about religion.

This seems like a great and humble statement about religion. Of course it’s arrogant to say  you know the full truth about religion, that somehow you have a full and truer view of the world than someone else. So what’s the problem and why am I bringing this up? The problem is, that statement is actually claiming a ‘full truth’ about religion. It’s like saying that there is no such thing as an English sentence.

3) You need for there to be a God.

I’ve heard this before. People think that religions believers need God as a kind of psychological crutch to face the terror of death. But this statement won’t do the trick, for a number of reasons. First, the origin of a belief doesn’t really have anything to say about the truth value of the belief. Second, saying something about someone’s psychological state goes both ways. You say people need there to be a God, I say you need for there not to be a God. The point is: Someone’s needs or desires often having nothing to do with the truth of a particular idea or statement.

The next one’s fun, it’s a pretty popular maxim that I actually found repeated at the start of my logic textbook (how ironic!).

4) “It is wrong, always, everywhere, for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence.” – W K Clifford

What evidence is there that we should believe this? There’s no evidence here for that statement being true – therefore we shouldn’t believe this statement.

5) Science is the only reliable guide to truth.

The problem: This isn’t a scientific statement, so we can’t trust that this statement is true!

6) You should doubt or be skeptical of everything.

Therefore I’m doubtful and skeptical of this statement!

7) You can’t know anything for sure.

Do you know that for sure?

8) Belief in God is a projection of your culture.

That belief about religion is a projection of your culture.

9) Determinism is the only way to understand the world.

You have to draw out the implications of determinism to show the problems of this view (also, I’m referring to hard determinism here). By making this statement, you’re trying to change someone’s mind. Why bother if it’s determined? Also, to count as a rational belief the belief must be chosen, which is impossible on a deterministic account.

10) Naturalism and evolution are true.

This is a bit more indirect, and much more heavily disputed. The key idea is that when these two ideas are combined, you undermine the reliability of your cognitive faculties. If the brain and how it thinks have just evolved from fight to survive mechanisms, then we don’t have any reason to suggest the brain comes to true beliefs, just beliefs helpful for survival. Therefore, by saying that both naturalism and evolution are true, you undercut the reliability of your cognitive faculties. This is a far more complex argument to do justice to within a short paragraph, feel free to hold this one in suspension until I return to it at a later date.

If you’ve believed some of these ideas before, I would encourage you to either refine the way in which you think about the idea, or drop it completely. Can you think of any other self-defeating ideas?

How should we interpret Proverbs 22:6? (Podcast)

Years ago I remember looking at Proverbs 22:6 and viewing it as a promise. I had created an argument from it that went something like this:

  1. If we train children then they will not depart when they are older.
  2. Youth are leaving the church.
  3. Therefore, we are not training them correctly.

The problem was that I was incorrectly interpreting the this verse. Proverbs are not absolute promises from God but instead are probable or likely truths. Listen this week as I discuss some basics of biblical interpretation and then apply them to Proverbs 22:6 and Psalm 1:1.

You can follow the Coffeehouse Questions Podcast and have it automatically downloaded to your device by subscribing on iTunes. You  can also find it and follow on SoundCloud or search “Coffeehouse Questions with Ryan Pauly” on your Android podcast player.

Listen to the Coffeehouse Questions radio show on Active Reliance Radio every Wednesday from 4:30-5 PM PT.

This broadcast is also being live streamed every Wednesday on Facebook Live at 5 PM PT immediately following the radio show. Like the Facebook page, watch live, and interact with Ryan by asking questions and commenting. Send in your questions on Facebook on Twitter

Were Adam and Eve Historical Figures?

Just yesterday I finished reading The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief. It was writing by Dr. Francis Collins, who holds a PhD in Physical Chemistry from Yale University. Dr. Collins is most famous for his work as the head of the Human Genome Project. As one of the leading scientists in the field of DNA and a believer, it was very interesting to hear Dr. Collins’ approach to the topic of science and faith. He understood that many Americans have trouble reconciling their faith and science and this leads many believers to become agnostic or atheist.  It was his journey in science that actually took him from being an atheist to a Christian.

The main reason for writing The Language of God was to help believers understand that they can hold to both science and faith. Dr. Collins approach however can be a bit confrontational. Instead of aligning science and faith like many Old Earth Creationist do, Dr. Collins instead hold to Theistic Evolution. In his view, God was the cause behind the Big Bang and got everything into motion, and then Darwinian evolution took over and explains the complexity of life. In Dr. Collins’ view, God did not create Adam and Eve. Instead, humans evolved as a result of natural selection. It is for this reason that I wanted to do a deeper study of the importance of a historical Adam and Eve.

What connection do the New Testament authors draw between Adam and Christ?

One of the major problems with theistic evolution and Christian doctrines is the doctrine of man. Those that hold to theistic evolution generally take issue with the Bible’s teaching of Adam and Eve. It is normally believed that Adam and Eve either didn’t exist, or they weren’t created like Genesis 1 and 2 explain. It is for this reason that it is important to understand what the Bible says about the importance of Adam and Eve.

We first have to understand that it isn’t only Genesis that talks about Adam and Eve. Even if we concluded that Genesis 1 and 2 are not strict scientific accounts, we still need to be careful with how we view the first Man. Adam is referred to throughout the Bible. And each time the Bible mentions him, it does so in a way that points to him being a historical figure. We first see this in the genealogy in Luke 3. The genealogy of Jesus is traced back all the way to the beginning where it begins with Adam.

We even see Jesus refer to Adam and Eve in Matthew 19 when he is speaking about divorce. Jesus says in verse 4, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female.” Jesus is very clear here on the fact that God created Adam and Eve in the very beginning. They did not evolve from a prior species. Jesus then references Genesis 2 in that a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife. For these two reasons, it seems like even Jesus believed and taught that Adam was a historical figure. If Jesus believed it, then we can bank on it.

Other than Jesus and the Gospels, Adam is referred to by Paul in Romans and 1 Corinthians. Each of these references refers to how sin came into the world through Adam and that Jesus came to restore the world. 1 Corinthians 15:45-47 says, “’The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit…. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.” This also seems to show that Paul believed in the biblical Adam as a historical figure.

Romans 5:17 talks about original sin and how death came through one man. This is speaking about the fall of Adam in the beginning. Paul then goes on to say that as death came through one man (Adam), righteousness will also come through one man (Jesus). Paul repeats this in 1 Corinthians 15:22 when he says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” It is clear here that Paul makes a very strong connection between Adam and Jesus.

What level of importance should we place on a literal historical Adam and Eve?

If Jesus believed in Adam as a historical figure, and Paul making the connection between Jesus and Adam, then it is important for us to believe as well. If theistic evolution is true, and Adam never existed, then a serious problem is created with it comes to original sin. Scripture is clear that Jesus came as the second Adam to forgive humans from their sins. Without the original sin of Adam, it doesn’t make sense to have Christ be the second Adam. If common decent is true, and Adam never existed, then there are some serious problems with the doctrine of man and salvation. If Jesus referred to Adam as historical, then I’m convinced he was historical.

How Can There Be a Trinity?

There has always been confusion when it comes to the Trinity. However, when properly understood, it isn’t a contradiction and it makes so much sense. Watch this short response in order to get a better understanding.

It is important to remember the distinction in the language we use. The Trinity is not three Gods in one God or three persons in one person. If that were true, then it would be a contradiction. Instead, we are talking about different categories. The Trinity is three persons in one God or three who’s in one what. It is one Divine nature with three centers of consciousness. That is not a contradiction.

Is Christianity based on an argument from ignorance?

I received a lot of responses after last week’s blog, “Is atheism a ‘lack of belief’ in God?” Most of the responses came from atheists which I expected. I also expected an immediate request for proof of the Christian God which is what happened. Over the last year I have had to reduce the amount that I interact with followers on Twitter, but when I do respond to this type of request I always ask the same question. If Christianity were true, would you become a Christian? I learned this from Dr. Frank Turek, and the reason this question is important is that it lets you know whether the person you are talking with really wants the evidence. They may ask you for it, or demand that you show it, but they might not really be looking for it. So, if they respond with a long explanation or flat out say “NO!” to your question, then it isn’t evidence they are looking for because evidence wouldn’t change their mind. However, if they say “Yes!” then you might present some evidence.

When it comes to presenting evidence, there are a lot of different topics that could be discussed. You could discuss the cosmological, teleological, or moral arguments. You could also bring up the complexity of biochemical systems. Or, you could go with my response this last week and talk about the existence of the mind. Each of these topics clearly points to a creator, but we need to be careful how we present the information. There are two ways that we can go, and if we aren’t careful, our point may be mistaken for an argument from ignorance or a god of the gaps argument.

Probability Argument

The first way to present evidence for God is by using the probability argument. It is absolutely remarkable seeing the discoveries that scientists have made over the years when it comes to complexity of life, origin of the universe, and origin of life. We can talk about the probability of these things coming into existence without God and how it is practically impossible. However, simply pointing out the probability can be insufficient because someone can always appeal to chance. The quote from Dumb and Dumber comes to mind. When Lloyd talks to Mary about the chances of them dating, she says he has a 1 in a million chance. Lloyd quickly responds, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.” Some may always say that if given enough time it is possible with natural processes, and students are quick to point this out.

It is also common to hear a response like this, “Just because you don’t know how it happened doesn’t mean it was God.” Skeptics claim that this is an argument from ignorance. God must have done it because there is no scientific explanation. They might also say that this is a god of the gaps argument. Christians simply have a gap in their knowledge and so they plug it up with God. This was done in ancient times to give a reason for the rain or thunder. The gods were sad or angry. 

The reason for these responses is that the probability argument is a negative argument. It states that the probability of this complex system is very low and so it must be designed. I think that the probabilities can be very useful, but we need to use them along with our main argument.

Argument from Analogies

We can more effectively making a case for design using the complexity of life’s chemistry and universe by using analogies. Instead of an argument from ignorance or appealing to probabilities, we are able to make a positive case for design based on specific features of the object. We can look at the complexity of the bacterial flagellum and show that it functions better than any motor that has been intelligently designed by humans. DNA is similar to a message written in a book except it would fill millions of books. We only see motors and books coming into existence from intelligent minds because they contain information, so therefore it is reasonable to conclude that a mind created the complexity of life and DNA.

We can also make a positive argument by looking at characteristics of the thing we are discussing. The beginning of the universe points to an immaterial, uncaused, purposeful, intelligent, powerful cause that is outside the universe. Christians are not ignorant of how it happened so it must be God, but there are certain characteristics that point to a creator outside the universe. 

I chose to discuss the existence of consciousness and the mind this week. I was quickly met with a response like, “No one knows how consciousness came to exist, so saying God did it is an argument from ignorance.” But, I am not arguing from probabilities or a lack of knowledge. Instead, I am making a positive argument based on characteristics of consciousness. It is undeniable that we are conscious beings, and consciousness is not physical. It cannot be produced through physical processes. This information makes a positive case that it is created by a non-physical mind.

In conclusion, is Christianity an argument from ignorance? No, it is not. Christians are able to make a positive case for Christianity based on scientific and philosophical data. It isn’t filling a gap in our knowledge with God, but God is the best explanation given the evidence. 

Check out these aditional resources if you are looking for more evidence for God. I hope these help.

Who created God?

Do objective moral laws point to God?

Is free will an illusion?

Is our mind the same as the brain?

Has our universe been designed?

What best explains the origin of life?

Has our universe been fine-tuned for life?

What best explains the beginning of our universe?

Is belief in God a rational position?

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