October 31, 2020

The Council

Proclaiming the truth to the world.

It is a time of great liberalism we find more and more scholars maintaining positions that undermine the Biblical writers. It comes in the idea of open theism, denials of inerrancy, polytheism, and the Flat Earth. It is good not all have gone that route such as Dr. Vern Poythress and others. Dr. Poythress wrote in his book Inerrancy and Worldview on pages 39-41 this:

An Alleged Three-Decker Universe?
Similar principles help us to understand the passages where the Bible makes a tripartite distinction in spatial regions. Exodus 20:4, for example, says, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” The three regions here are “heaven above,” “the earth beneath,” and “the water under the earth.” Some critics have said that this language belongs to a “three-decker universe.” They allege that ancient people had a cosmological picture with three flat “layers”: the water below, the earth on top of it, and the “heaven” above.

We should be more precise. There are many ancient peoples, and variations among them depend on both the peoples and the times. There is some evidence that when Babylonians began their astronomical work hundreds of years before the coming of Christ, they used mental pictures giving distinct space to waters, earth, and heaven. Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that the Babylonians had a detailed geophysical “theory” involving three flat “layers.”5 Does Exodus 20:4 endorse or evoke this theory? We have to be aware of the flexibility of language. Modern people may talk about their “ego” without endorsing everything in Sigmund Freud’s psychology, which introduced the word ego in a technical sense. We can distinguish between a common, everyday meaning and a technical concept of ego belonging to a full-fledged theory. The same holds with respect to any detailed theory that early Babylonians may have held. The Bible uses ordinary language to talk to people of all kinds. It is not using language in some technical sense, even if such a technical sense existed among Babylonian specialists.6

Moreover, the starting point for any Babylonian speculations lay in ordinary observations. You can observe (1) things going on above (“heaven”), (2) the ground and the land on which you stand and on which are land animals and plants, and (3) water that is lower than the land that is visible.7 Hypothetically, elaborate speculations might be built on these basic observations. But a person does not endorse the speculations merely by referring to these three distinct regions.

The Greeks by the time of Plato and Aristotle thought that the earth was a globe.8 Details of celestial motions with respect to the globe were worked out by Eudoxus of Cnidus (fourth century BC), Apollonius of Perga (third century BC), and Hipparchus of Bithynia (second century BC).9 Paul of Tarsus, as a result of his Hellenistic education,10 would have known the basics of Greek astronomy. The Hellenization of Palestine introduced Greek ideas even among Palestinian Jews. Against the background of these ideas, Paul continued the practice of referring to three distinct spaces: “. . . every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). So did John: “And I saw every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them” (Rev. 5:13), and an announcing angel: “. . . worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water” (Rev. 14:7).

This language functions literally to distinguish the spatial regions. There is nothing outmoded about it, because the distinct regions still exist, and have existed since the completion of creation. The language can also function by analogy: God dwells “in heaven.” That does not mean that he is physically confined or literally located in some region within the physical space above us (1 Kings 8:27; Jer. 23:24;), but that he is exalted and that his presence with the angels is not accessible to us. God designed physical space in analogy with his heavenly dwelling so that physical inaccessibility represents by analogy the spiritual exaltedness of God. In addition, dead people are sometimes analogically described as dwelling “below,” because dead bodies are buried below ground (Isa. 14:9). These descriptions, occurring as they do in ordinary language with its flexibilities (see chap. 9), do not commit the writers to any detailed physicalistic theory.

Bibliography:
5 In fact, the scattered evidence that we have is complex. See Noel K. Weeks, “Cosmology in Historical Context,” Westminster Theological Journal 68, no. 2 (2006): 283–93.
6 The distinction between common ordinary meaning and a theoretical system with detailed concepts is related to the distinction between word and concept mentioned in chap. 9.
7 More fine-grained observation can distinguish between salt water (sea) and fresh water (the “Sea” of Galilee and fresh water springs and rivers): Rev. 14:7; 16:3, 4. Springs issue from water that is within the earth and literally beneath its surface.
8 Encyclopædia Britannica (Chicago: Benton, 1963), 2:644; 18:61.
9 Ibid., 2:644.
10Demonstrated in Acts 17:22–31.