There are many passages throughout the Bible which appear to show that the authors believed in a three-tiered universe in which there were the heavens, the earth, and the underworld/waters. Some Christians argue that these descriptions were merely phenomenological: that is, the authors were writing as observers rather than attempting to report anything about the actual world. It is like when we say the sun rises, we aren’t actually intending to say the sun is orbiting the Earth, but rather just reporting something we experience: our perspective shows the sun rising.
Kyle Greenwood, in Scripture and Cosmology, argues that the biblical authors did, in fact hold to a three-tiered cosmology, and so the language should not be reduced to being merely phenomenological. He cites four strands of evidence for this conclusion:
First, whenever we find physical descriptions of the cosmos, it is described as three-tiered. Second, whenever we find… images or drawings of the cosmos, they are three-tiered. Third, nowhere… do we find the authors explaining their cosmology in any other terms besides the three-tiered system. Finally, we know that ancients thought of the cosmos in terms of the heavens, earth, and seas because eventually these ideas were challenged by Aristotle and Ptolemy, whose ideas were later challenged by Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler. (69, cited below)
Greenwood’s argument seems to me to be quite convincing. If we want to hold that the Bible’s cosmology is phenomenological, we should have some textual evidence that demonstrates a different perspective was in mind. We don’t. Thus, when an author in the Bible speaks of the skies being “hard” (Job 37:18, for example), this reflects an ancient cosmology.
None of this does anything to undermine the authority or inerrancy of the Bible. Inerrancy, I believe, should properly be understood as meaning “The Bible is true in whatever it teaches.” (See my article on the term “inerrancy” and its usage.) The authors aren’t trying to teach us about cosmology, that’s just a background belief. They must describe the heavens somehow, and they used the understanding they had of the cosmos.
What do you think? Can we reduce the language of the Bible to being phenomenological? What reasons might we have for doing so? How might we best understand the Bible’s cosmology in light of other Ancient Near Eastern cosmology, and how could that help us understand what the Bible teaches?
Sunday Quote– If you want to read more Sunday Quotes and join the discussion, check them out! (Scroll down for more)
Kyle Greenwood, Scripture and Cosmology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2015).
I recently finished reading Robert Sawyer’s trilogy “The Neanderthal Parallax.” I found the plot intriguing, but the worldview issues the books brought up had great difficulties in how they were conveyed and the kind of hidden premises smuggled in. Every story has a worldview, and the worldview of these books was surprisingly hostile and disingenuous particularly to Christians. I have enjoyed Robert Sawyer’s work in the past, but feel forced to interact with these books in a fairly critical fashion. There will be SPOILERS in what follows. I’ll not summarize the plot, but interested readers can see summaries on Wikipedia. I have written a review of the books here.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the books is that Sawyer seemingly did not put anything close to the amount of research and care into his portrayal of faith as he did his portrayal of biology, cosmology, and the like. On the latter topics, great detail is put into explaining aspects of various sciences and even invented science that Sawyer employs to support the plot. But people of faith are put up as frequently hypocritical but also lacking in erudition and thoughtfulness.
The central faith figure is Mary Vaughan, a specialist in ancient genetics. She consistently is put forth as the faithful counterweight to the faithlessness of the Neanderthals. However, she is an alleged Roman Catholic who later reveals she denounces and disagrees with the Roman Church’s view on abortion, women, homosexuality, birth control, and more. She rejects the doctrine of original sin. One must wonder how Roman Catholic this woman actually is to begin with. I’m not suggesting that there are no people who have great cognitive dissonance in their beliefs–obviously many people do. The problem is that Sawyer uses Mary as the central image of Christianity throughout the novels, but she is woefully inept at even holding to the faith she claims for herself.
At one point in Humans, Ponter is talking to Mary at the Vietnam Memorial about life after death(188-207). He simply asserts that if you can’t see something it doesn’t exist. But of course this is as absurd as he claims “Gliskins'” (homo sapiens sapiens as opposed to the Neanderthals) belief in things like God is. I cannot see my own thoughts, yet they exist. Neither can I observe other people’s mental life, yet I am not irrational in believing that the people around me are also having thoughts.
In Hominids, Ponter speaks to Mary about the Gliskins’ viewing of a Mass taking place and again basically asserts that Christian belief in deity is absurd on its face. Mary struggles to articulate even the slightest defense of the Incarnation and other central Christian doctrines. Again, plenty of believers would struggle in this fashion, but Sawyer uses Mary as a kind of foil for all of Christianity. She’s got the best defenses Christians have to offer, and she can’t do anything but stutter when challenges to her faith are raised.
At several points, Big Bang Cosmology is challenged as something the Gliskins cling to because of their necessity of belief in a finite universe to support deity. Yet not only was Big Bang Cosmology initially rejected by the scientific community for this and other reasons (and only later accepted due to the mounting evidence for it), but even were the universe infinite, it would hardly follow that it is uncreated, as Ponter asserted without challenge. Sawyer seems to be unaware of–or at least makes his characters ignorant of–the entirety of Scholastic thought on the topic of continuous creation. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest thinkers in the history of the world, defended this view in several places in his writings. Thus, for Christians it is hardly an either/or of either eternal universe or finite universe. Either fits in with various strands of historic Christian theology. But again, Sawyer seems to have been either ignorant of this or willfully ignoring it to portray belief in deity in a more negative and indefensible light.
All of this wouldn’t be as unfortunate if Sawyer didn’t put discussions like this forward as if they were the best defenses Christians could come up with for their positions. Had they been simply believers who were also uninformed or insincere, it would not be as great an error. But Sawyer paints these interactions as though the defenses are the best Christians can come up with. As we have just surveyed very briefly, this is mistaken. I enjoyed the stories Sawyer put forward here, but his portrayal of people of faith is deeply flawed.
Sawyer uses the books to explore the notion of a God part of the brain which, when triggered, can set off religious experiences. In Humans, it is discovered that Gliskins have a part in their brain which is able to have “religious experiences” triggered through electromagnetic interaction, while Neanderthals do not have a corresponding part of their brains.
A central scene in the entire series is near the end of Hybrids in Times Square, New York City. The Earth’s magnetic field is resetting and it triggers religious experiences, UFO sightings, and the like among the crowd gathered as this part of the Gliskin (homo sapien, remember) brain is triggered. People are crying out to their deities, fending off invading aliens, and the like all over Times Square. From this, Mary Vaughan’s faith is finally shattered:
The Pope had some ‘splainin’ to do.
All religious leaders did…
“It’s all a crock, isn’t it?” [Mary] said [to Ponter].
…”Look, I’ve changed my mind. About our child… Our daughter should not have the God organ…” (389)
Thus, we find that in Sawyer’s universe, the notion that we can induce religious experiences in the brain (and other types of experience like UFOs) means that these experiences are baseless in reality. Mary decides that her child should not have the capacity to have religious experience because it is all “a crock.” The Pope and others have some “‘splainin’ to do.” Presumably they are expected to take this as some kind of major challenge to their respective faiths.
The main problem with this is that we can conceivably trigger all sorts of things in the brain. It does not seem too outlandish to suppose that if we triggered a certain part of the brain, we might bring up a memory. If we extrapolate more, Sawyer’s vision of electromagnetically triggered religious experiences could be on par with memories as well, which could (in this scenario) be triggered in the same way. Should we start to distrust our perceptions or memories if we are able to trigger them with various impulses? Certainly not. This way lies (true) madness: distrust in our own memories and senses.
So what is left? What does the notion that religious experiences might be triggered by various brain activity demonstrate? Just that: religious experience may be triggered through manipulation. Full stop. This doesn’t in any way undercut evidence for theism or other beliefs from religious experience any more than our capacity to trigger scents, sounds, or memories would undercut our rational basis for believing this things to be real (or about real events).
Sawyer uses the trilogy to attack all kinds of perceived and real social ills, from our treatment of the environment to gun control laws, and the like. But the question is how can he realistically put forward any kind of inter-cultural critique when the whole view he puts forward in the books is ultimately subjective. Mary Vaughan suffers a grotesque act of violence in a rape scene, but this is only used as an instrument in the plot (see my discussion here). Any moral critique Sawyer offers through his characters falls hollow because his only basis for it is some vague concept of pragmatism and self-preservation. Thus, it seems there is no ultimate basis for his criticisms of various ethical wrongs, and his use of several of these as mere instruments to advance the plot betrays this inability to provide an objective basis for right and wrong.
I’ve already written much on the difficulties with worldview in these novels. There are many more I could discuss. Again, I want to emphasize that it is very true that many Christians and believers would struggle to articulate their faith, be unable to defend various aspects of it, and not agree with at least some teachings of their church body. The problem is that Sawyer portrays this as the best Christianity can come up with. I was deeply disappointed to see that the overall thrust of the books was ultimately a kind of attack on my own faith, without any reasonable portrayal or interaction with stronger versions of it. Would that Sawyer had put the time into his depiction and study of faith as he had with the science behind this science fiction. For further reading, check out my reviews of the trilogy.
Book Reviews: “The Neanderthal Parallax” – Hominids, Humans, and Hybrids by Robert Sawyer– I wrote a review of the trilogy on my other interests site. This review brings up some of the other worldview issues in the books, in addition to a brief summary of the plot outline and look at the science fiction elements.
Aliens that believe in God: The theological speculations in Robert Sawyer’s “Calculating God”– I write about a different Robert Sawyer book that I did enjoy quite a bit, Calculating God. I even wrote a second post discussing abortion, fundamentalism, and other issues the book raised.
Robert Sawyer, Hominids (New York: Tor, 2002).
—, Humans (New York: Tor, 2003).
—, Hybrids (New York: Tor, 2003).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
I’ll say it: I’m very pleased by this lineup of posts. Here, we have posts addressing metaphysics and cosmology, the Bible and poverty, Muslim Apologetics, Creationism, and Aquinas. How’s that for a diverse lineup? Let me know what you thought of the posts in the comments here.
Cosmology and Causation- Why Metaphysics Matters by Edward Feser– Edward Feser is one of the most brilliant philosophical minds I have encountered. He’s a Thomistic philosopher and whether or not I agree with what he writes, he always challenges me to think on the points he raises. Here, he writes on the importance of metaphysics in the realms of cosmology and causation. Check this out!
Wayne Grudem Debates Richard Glover on the Bible, Poverty, and Foreign Aid– What might the Bible say about foreign aid and poverty? Here, Wintery Knight offers an analysis of a recent debate between Christians on the topic. I have reviewed Wayne Grudem’s book “The Poverty of Nations” which will provide some background to the issues discussed here.
Creationist Influence on Biblical Study Tools– Always be aware that when we’re using any sort of study tool for reading the Bible, there will be interpretation happening. Here, one of my favorite sites takes a look at some ways young earth creationism has influenced some biblical study tools.
The Gospel of Barnabas– Unfortunately, the alleged Gospel of Barnabas is often trotted out in Muslim Apologetics as proof that various aspects of Christianity are false while Islam has them correct. Here’s a great analysis of the dating of this book and whether it should impact us at all in our interfaith discussions.
Did Thomas Aquinas Believe that Sin Affected the Intellect?– Yep. Okay, there is more to it! Check out this post on the topic of Aquinas and the noetic effects of sin.
The Really Recommended Posts this week have some mixed in that are sure to get your noodle going. Can a doctrinal system which emphasizes free human choice in salvation affirm total depravity? Is the Big Bang model wrong? Would evangelicalism label some of its “favorites” heretics? Do skeptics dehumanize Christianity? These, and more, are questions for you to ponder with this week’s reading choices. Let me know what you thought, and if you liked them, be sure to leave them a comment as well. That’s a major reason why we write–to get your feedback!
Skeptics Dehumanizing Christianity– Does the “New Atheism” affirm equality across lines of religion, culture, and the like? How do some skeptics talk about people of faith in ways which may dehumanize them? Check out this thought-provoking article to read some insights on these and other topics.
Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity?– One constant point of contention between Arminians and Calvinists (and others like Lutherans) is the notion of “total depravity” and the charge that Arminianism denies it. According to this article (following Roger Olson), Arminius himself affirmed the doctrine. It was an interesting read, but I wonder how consistent it would be with the consequences of Arminianism after all. What are your thoughts?
One Very Misleading Article About Six “Heretics” Who Should Be Banned from Evangelicalism– Recently, I saw an article being passed around on how some prominent figures within Christianity often cited by evangelicals would allegedly be labeled as heretics by contemporary evangelicalism for some of their beliefs. I thought it was interesting, but also clearly mistaken on some of the figures mentioned therein. This article took the time I did not by outlining numerous errors in the argument about “consistency” and evangelicalism.
More Than a Piece of Jewelry (Comic)– The cross is more than a piece of jewelry to hang around your neck. Check out this poignant comment which puts that into perspective.
Selection Bias– The universe isn’t expanding after all! So said a lot of headlines around the web of late. Is that really the case? Check out this article from an astrophysicist explaining some difficulties with this supposed problem with Big Bang Cosmology.
Jump: Hiking the Transcendent Trail– I can’t describe how aesthetically pleasing this site is. But, apart from that, Anthony Weber outlines a basic argument from aesthetics towards the existence of God. I found this post really interesting and mind-opening. Check it out!
Was Adolf Hitler a Better Man Than Martin Luther King, Jr.?– Relativism cannot make sense of moral heroes. Arthur Khachatryan makes an excellent argument towards this end here.
Maverick Philosopher: Why Do Some Physicists Talk Nonsense about Nothing?– A discussion of Lawrence Krauss’s position on the universe from “nothing.” [Warning: There are a few curse words here.]
My recent discussion of the moral argument had many up in arms about the fact that I didn’t explicitly defend its premises. [Note that that was never the intention of the post, as its title explicates.] Glenn Peoples has an excellent post defending P1 of the moral argument: that If God did not exist, there would not be any objective moral values or duties. Check out his “The conditional premise of the moral argument.”
Ehrman’s Problem: He Misreads the Bible and Impugns God’s Fairness– Clay Jones discusses a number of difficulties with Bart Ehrman’s interpretations of the Bible. Check out the entire series. Part 2: Free Will and Natural Evil Part 3: God Could Have Made Us So We’d Always Do Right Part 4: Why Don’t We Abuse Free Will in Heaven? Part 5: God Should Intervene More to Prevent Free Will’s Evil Use He’s Confused About the Free Will Defense
Alexander Vilenkin: “All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning.”- Discussion of reasons to hold the universe began based on cosmology.
There has been much philosophical and scientific discussion on the topic of the multiverse. Recently, a lot of this discussion has been happening within philosophy of religion. Some attempt to use the multiverse to overcome classical theistic arguments like the Kalam Cosmological Argument, while others try to utilize it to avoid the teleological argument. Atheists and skeptics are not the only ones who are interested in the multiverse, however. Recently, a few prominent theistic philosophers have utilized the multiverse in inventive ways.
The Multiverse and the Problem of Evil
Some theistic philosophers have argued that the multiverse can provide a new type of theodicy. As eminent a philosopher as Alvin Plantinga writes:
…a theist might agree that it is unlikely, given just what we know about our world, that there is such a person as God. But perhaps God has created countless worlds, in fact, all the… universes… in which there is a substantial overall balance of good or evil… [A]s it happens, we find ourselves in one of the worlds in which there is a good deal [of evil]. But the probability of theism, given the whole ensemble of worlds, isn’t particularly low (Plantinga, 463).
Does such a theodicy help theists with the problem of evil? It seems to me that it may, but that it is not particularly strong. It could be included in a cumulative-case type of theodicy, however.
First, Michael Almeida offers a critique of this position. Suppose that God did, in fact, create such a multiverse. It seems plausible that such a universe would be infinite in the number of worlds (after all, for every “good” world, there seems one can always imagine a “better” world). Here Almeida ingeniously applies William Lane Craig’s arguments about the infinite, not to show that the set of universes cannot be infinite, but to show that in an infinite multiverse one could subtract specific worlds from this set without decreasing the good of the multiverse (Almeida, 305-306). Suppose God did in fact actualize an infinite multiverse–all the worlds which are, on the whole, good. If that’s the case, then God could easily not actualize any one (or infinite!) world(s) without decreasing the total good of creation. After all, it would remain infinitely good!
Timothy O’Connor offered a possible response to this argument, noting that “It may well be that [God] would have a distinct motivation to realize every fundamental kind of good-making feature, some of which are incommensurable. If so, this would put a further constraint on universe types… within a candidate infinite hierarchy” (O’Connor 2, 315). God could have chosen to actualize each individual type of good–some of which may exist in our own world to a maximal extent. This doesn’t seem implausible given the tremendous goodness of an event like the Redemption.
Some may be concerned that an appeal to the multiverse may undermine more traditional theodicies such as the “greater good theodicy” or the “free-will defense.” One might envision the multiverse as a kind of “throwing in the towel” on the traditional theistic defenses. I don’t see why this should follow, because any of these traditional theodicies would be just as applicable to our own universe whether it were one or one of many. There are, however, a few problems I see with this defense, which I’ll put off until the section “On the Possibility of a Multiverse” below.
Some have argued theism is irrational because they hold God is a perfect being, which would entail that God would create the best possible universe–itself an incoherent concept. It is possible that God need not create the best possible world. Robert Merrihew Adams, for example, doesn’t agree that God is obligated to create the “best possible world.” Rather, God could choose to create worlds which manifest His grace (Adams, 62). O’Connor cites William Rowe as providing an effective counter to this by arguing that there would then be a possible being better than the perfect being (O’Connor 1, 114). I’m unconvinced by this counter. If there is no best possible world, God cannot be obligated to create it (because it doesn’t exist).
O’Connor anticipates this response and seems to grant that it may be plausible (115). However, he among other theists, seems to believe that God would actualize a multiverse. He writes, “God’s choice isn’t between… single universes, but between the super universes [‘super universe’ being a ‘collection of one or more totalities that are mutually disconnected save for their common origin within God’s creative choice’]” (O’Connor 1, 116). God, on this view, actualizes many “good” worlds. He writes, “the creative motivation would be not to settle for a finite limit on the individual organic goodness of any of His products” (O’Connor 2, 315). God’s creation of many universes shows his “artisanship” (Ibid).
Such arguments are both interesting and compelling. Those who attack theism based upon the “best possible world” objection may be thwarted by the hypothesis of God’s creative multiverse.
On the Possibility of a Multiverse
Theistic proposals of a multiverse are clearly sometimes motivated for entirely different reasons than naturalists. What difficulties are there with such a proposal?
First, some theists object to the multiverse by arguing that it undermines several theistic arguments. It does not seem that the multiverse would do so, however. The cosmological argument would stand strong in spite of a multiverse, because any inflationary multiverse would still have a beginning in time. Design arguments would similarly be unchallenged because one would have to explain the fine-tuning of the multiverse. These objections to the multiverse, therefore, do not do much damage.
Other objections to the multiverse require more discussion of the meaning of the term “multiverse.” Jeffrey Zweerink notes several levels of multiverse. Some of these are uncontroversial. For example, the “Level I” multiverse is simply a description of other regions beyond the observable universe (Zweerink, 28). Of course, this is hardly what many mean when they refer to a “multiverse.” What is meant by multiverse here is a Level II or higher multiverse, such as inflationary bubble universes or other generative scenarios (Zweerink, 28-29). The difficulty with these is that there doesn’t seem to be any reason to hold that these universes exist. Zweerink notes that the Level II multiverse is predicted by some models of string theory, but to believe there are literally other unobservable universes on the basis of theoretical predictions alone hardly seems convincing.
Given these observations, it seems initially that while theism is unthreatened by the multiverse (and perhaps even bolstered by its possible existence), there is no better reason to think it exists on theism as on other worldviews. But perhaps that’s not the case. One can reflect once more on O’Connor’s belief that the multiverse shows God’s creative artistry (O’Connor 2, 315). Not only that, but one may even predict that God would actualize many worlds in order to bring about His desire to actualize various goods (O’Connor 1, 112ff). Perhaps one could argue that theism may even predict many universes. In that case, the multiverse is more likely than not.
Clearly, I think there may be some merit in the use of the multiverse in theistic arguments. I think it would amazing if, somehow, we made a discovery which confirmed the existence of other universes, and I do believe people could hold that theism might even predict such a discovery, but color me skeptical. I think it would generate an enormous amount of metaphysical baggage to hold to the existence of a multiverse. While the previous arguments may have shown that theism increases the likelihood of a multiverse, I don’t think it increases it enough to justify belief in a world ensemble. I remain open to the possibility, and indeed some compelling arguments have been offered in its favor, but for now I remain unconvinced. That said, I think theists could still utilize the multiverse in response to the problems illustrated above, because even a hypothetical multiverse could be used to bolster these defenses. Those opposed to theism might here object, saying that I condemn their own uses of the multiverse to try to get around theistic arguments. They would be incorrect. I condemn the use of the multiverse on competing views because I don’t think the other views can justify belief in the multiverse, nor do I think their usage actually defeats the difficulties with their own positions.
Is there a theistic multiverse? Maybe. Can theists utilize a hypothetical multiverse in their philosophical speculations? Absolutely.
Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York, NY: Oxford, 2000).
Timothy O’Connor 1, Theism and Ultimate Explanation (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008).
Timothy O’Connor 2, “Is God’s Necessity Necessary? Replies to Senor, Oppy, McCann, and Almeida,” Philosophia Christi 12 (2010), 309-316.
Michael J. Almeida, “O’Connor’s Permissive Multiverse” Philosophia Christi 12 (2010), 297-307.
Robert Merrihew Adams, “Must God Create the Best?” in The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology 51-64 (New York: Oxford, 1987).
Jeffrey Zweerink, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? (Reasons to Believe, 2008).
The Theological Attraction of the Multiverse– An interesting post on the theology of the multiverse.
Christological Implications of the Multiverse– Another post worth reading on theology and the multiverse.
Living in the Multiverse- Is It Science?– Discussion of scientific evidence for the multiverse.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Thesis 5– Genesis 1 – 2 describes the whole of creation as God’s (pre-fall) Temple.
When examining the seven days of creation we see several factors that indicate something cultic (meaning religious) taking shape. The first three days show a forming of the earth which (in v. 2) was “without form.” In the second set of three days you see a filling of the earth which (in v. 2) was “void.” Walton, in keeping with his functional model suggests a better translation of these words tohu and bohu (without form and void). Similar to bara’ he provides a survey of tohu’s use in the Bible (bohu occurs three times, always with tohu) and shows that the word “describes that which is non-functional, having no purpose and generally unproductive in human terms (48-9).” In light of this, the state of tohu and bohu means that the earth has a functional non-existence. Thus, when God begins His bara’ work, the functional bringing into existence of all that He does, Genesis 1 wants us to see what purpose everything serves.
Examining the functions in Genesis 1 we will find many parallels to the religious life of ancient Israel as studied in Exodus, Leviticus, and the rest of the OT. I’d like to turn now to days 4 – 7 of the Genesis 1 account (1:14 – 2:3) to examine the indicators that the Genesis 1 cosmology is a temple cosmology.
Genesis 1:14-19 (ESV) – “And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.”
So let’s look at what functions these lights in the sky are given:
1) to separate the day from the night
2) to be for signs and for seasons (moed) and years
3) to give light upon the earth
4) to rule the day & night
5) to separate the light from the darkness
Now you may be asking yourself, “I don’t see anything here that is particularly temple focused. First I would like to point out that in a society where watches & clocks are not present, the Sun, Moon, and stars are what tell you when it is time to worship (they did so much more often than once a week). Second, we can see throughout the OT that specific days of specific months are given festivals and holidays. These were mapped out by using these very lights, after all that is their given purpose in point two, “to be for signs and for moediym and years.”
The word moed occurs 223 times in the OT, so we have a large cross section of uses to help us nail down the possible meanings and the intended meaning within this context. The basic lexical entry is “appointed time.” However it is important to note that in Exodus 23:15, God says, “You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread. As I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the moed in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.” At the very beginning of the cultic/religious life of Israel upon exiting Egypt this word is tied to their religious festivals! Throughout Exodus, Leviticus, & Numbers moed is unanimously used in the phrase “tent of meeting (moed)” for the tent in the centre of the Tabernacle (the travelling version of the Temple before Solomon builds the first Temple). Now, beyond this there are countless uses of moed as “appointed time” in the worship life of Israel. I would thus maintain that Genesis 1 claims the functional purpose of the Sun, Moon, and stars is to indicate the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly worship schedules of God’s people. In other words, when the ancient Israelite children asked their parents, “why is that moon shining in the sky?” the parents would answer in accord with Psalm 104:19 and say, “God made the moon to remind us when to observe the Feast of Passover and the other feasts/festivals.”
There is one more minor indicator that I would like to bring up when discussing the functional creation of Light. When we examine Genesis 1 as a Temple cosmology we realize just why something seemingly inconsequential like the Golden Lampstand (Ex. 25:31ff) is present in the Temple. Not only does it serve to light the room, but it is absolutely necessary to have this light in the Temple because this Temple reflects the Cosmic Temple corrupted in the Fall. If the Cosmic Temple has Light (Gen 1:3-5, 14-19) so must the Tabernacle/Temple have that Light (Ex. 25:31-40; 2 Chron 4:7).
Genesis 1:20-23- “And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.”
Granted, there is not much here that we would directly relate to the Temple if we did not first see that days 4-6 are paralleling days 1-3. Now, when we look back to verses 6-8 and read it in the light of other ancient Near Eastern cosmologies we see that on days two and four more than any other we find the physical shape of a temple. The Lutheran Study Bible footnote on these verses is very helpful in pointing out the structural/functional aspect of how the “expanse” works and the image it evokes. “The point of the image is the function rather than the substance: the sky serves as a divider. The Israelites often used figurative terms to describe the cosmos as it appeared to them (cf. Is 40:22, where the sky is described as a “curtain” and a “tent”).”
[Further expansion of thesis 5 coming later this week]