Jim Elliff – My Preferred Way to Read the Bible

bible-reading It’s presumptuous for a man to suggest that he knows the best method for everyone to read the Bible. But I’m going to tell you the way that I best read the Bible . . . and why it works so well for me.

I’ve been a Bible reader for many years and the plans I’ve followed are certainly varied. At times I’ve read the Bible through every seven weeks. I believe I even read it in a month a time or two. Such “marathon” plans are a little much for most people, but can be helpful in some special situations. I’ve read in various sections each day. I’ve read books at random, making sure all the books are eventually covered before my allotted time is finished. I’ve used plans that matched certain books together to give more of a chronological feel to the reading. Most of my believing life, I’ve tried to read the Bible once a year at least, with some portions read multiple times. Some years I failed to do anything very consistent, but usually only because I did not determine a plan of action beforehand.

No plan for Bible reading is a complete waste of time, obviously, but I’ve now come to believe there is a better way of thinking about Bible reading. I’m recommending immersion or saturation in one or two books of the Bible over several months as my preferred method. Frankly, I have never known Bible reading to be so transformative and interesting as with this method, both for me and for many friends who have tried it at my suggestion.

Three Tempting Replacements for Meaningful Bible Reading:

Devotionalism

Regardless of whether you prefer my new plan or not, I want you to consider three distractions always luring the serious Christian away from his Bible. The first is devotionalism. I mean by this the view that we read the Bible mainly in order to get a spiritual boost for the day. We do want to be devoted. I don’t mean to disparage that aim. But devotionalism is a way of reading Scripture for a lift rather than for truth. It’s reading the Bible as a self-help book designed to give you nuggets to get you through the day. Most of the believers I know have been devotionalists. I was for many years. You can often tell them by the fact that they can converse about almost nothing significant biblically, even after years of reading, except how good they feel when they have devotions.

I don’t mean to say that a devotional reader never cares about truth at all, but that he will not make exceptional efforts to find it out. Not really. He would rather take whatever apparent meaning floats to the top or whatever someone has said that lingers in his mind to be the text’s meaning than to do any work at understanding himself. He will skip over the difficult and seemingly unrelated sections lying between these potent verses he thinks are most helpful to him. Sometimes the devotional reader is correct in his view of the text, but often he will be wrong, or biased in his understanding of the text. And, for all his reading over years, his understanding of Scripture never really changes that much.

Good Books

Good books are a second diversion from serious Bible reading. I’ve had a large library for many years, and have spent lots of my time reading books. I’m also an author of several books. But I can tell you without question that many people are not serious Bible readers because of the best of these books.

We should read some books, but very selectively. Recently, in another country, I stacked up a set of five large books next to the Bible. The men listening to me were receiving these books as part of a book reading seminar for the next year. The books were about five times higher than the Bible. It will take them just seven to eight pages of reading each day over the semesters to make it through those fine books. But I asked: “How many of you will read that much Bible every day?” They sighed, because they knew I was making my point. Who can spend serious time reading the Bible when there is so much else that is good to read staring at them? I said, “You can read at least three times through the Bible this year in the same amount of time it will take to read these books.”

Many people buy books incessantly and build large libraries. When I see the rows and rows of books, I think, “Can they reject these noble authors staring down at them from these shelves?” Those books say, “Read me, read me,” every time they walk through the room.

I have such a library. It’s impressive. But some years ago something died in me concerning those books. The desire mechanism inside me wilted and gave in to something more appealing. I read some still, but I don’t have the relish for those books I used to have. They seem so much less important now than the Bible that I can’t bring myself to invest in them as I used to. I’m not trying to act pious about this. It’s happened, and I can’t seem to revive the old lust for them I used to have. As a result, I’ve divested myself of a couple thousand of them, and will do more of that when I have time. I believe the death to those books came from reading a set of 66 books I own that do much more for me. I must admit, I don’t have even much relish to get people to read the books I’ve authored either, though I believe God has used them in the lives of many. It’s strange, but true.

I’ve often encountered Bible students in seminaries and Bible schools who say, “I don’t have time for the Bible in school since I’ve got so much reading to do.” It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it, that some students read far less Bible in seminary than they did before they went. They will come out weaker Christians if they don’t do something about this. Some men start their ministries having never read through the Bible! Some have read it only once. Reading about the Bible has replaced reading and discussing the Bible itself in many scholastic settings. Is God pleased with this?
I hope I can read more of the right books in my life, for there are some worthwhile ones, but I would far rather read and become a master of the Bible. And if there is a choice between the two, as often seems the case, I know which I’m choosing.

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Tom Ascol – 4 Truths About Hell

“There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell.” So wrote the agnostic British philosopher Bertrand Russell in 1967. The idea of eternal punishment for sin, he further notes, is “a doctrine that put cruelty in the world and gave the world generations of cruel torture.”

His views are at least more consistent than religious philosopher John Hick, who refers to hell as a “grim fantasy” that is not only “morally revolting” but also “a serious perversion of the Christian Gospel.” Worse yet was theologian Clark Pinnock who, despite having regarded himself as an evangelical, dismissed hell with a rhetorical question: “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave His Son to die for sinners because of His great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject Him to everlasting pain?”

So, what should we think of hell? Is the idea of it really responsible for all the cruelty and torture in the world? Is the doctrine of hell incompatible with the way of Jesus Christ? Hardly. In fact, the most prolific teacher of hell in the Bible is Jesus, and He spoke more about it than He did about heaven. In Matthew 25:41–46 He teaches us four truths about hell that should cause us to grieve over the prospect of anyone experiencing its horrors.

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Dominic Statham – Dubious and Dangerous Exposition: Review of John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One”

The first verse of the first book of the Bible teaches, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1) and the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews asserts, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3). Throughout history, the church has held that such statements from Scripture provide the basis for the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). The first line of the Apostles’ Creed reads, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth”, and the first line of the Nicene Creed, “We believe in one God … maker of heaven and earth and everything that is, seen and unseen.” The Shorter Westminster Catechism states, “The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing.”

According to Walton, the church has misunderstood Genesis for centuries

According to Walton, however, this view of Genesis is wrong, and the church has misunderstood its real meaning for many centuries. The first book of the Bible, he argues, does not provide an account of material origins, but functional origins. The ancients, he maintains, thought of existence in terms of function in society and culture, and, in their view, true existence is not even achieved until people and God are there to benefit from these functions (pp. 27, 36). The Genesis account, he claims, refers to a literal seven day period in history, sometime after the material creation, when God assigned the cosmos its real intended functions, prior to his taking up residence in it as his temple. So, according to Walton, the Creation Week should be understood as follows. On Day 1, God’s command, “let there be light”, and his “separating” light from darkness inaugurated temple time. The expanse (sky), ordained on Day 2, is established as the space in which his people live and would function in the new order to control rainfall and irrigation for their benefit. On Day 3, God separated the waters on the earth so that plants could grow on the dry land, providing us with food. On Day 4, the “lights in the sky” were dedicated as separators of day and night and markers of seasons, days and years. On Day 5, the roles of fish and birds are assigned their temple function, this being to fill the waters and fly in the sky. Similarly, on Day 6, the terrestrial creatures are ordained to reproduce and fill the land. Man is brought into being as a spiritual creature, carrying the image of God, and his function is established, to exercise dominion over the earth under God. Finally, on Day 7, God’s resting from his work should be understood as his taking up residence in the cosmos, thus making it his temple. Hence, the seven days refer to an inauguration ceremony where God’s temple is “created” and made functional (pp. 87–88).

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Jonathan Edwards – Of the Obligation of Christians to Perform the Duty of Charity to the Poor

edwards_0 THIS duty is absolutely commanded, and much insisted on, in the word of God. Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms, and in a more peremptory urgent manner, than the command of giving to the poor? We have the same law in a positive manner laid down in Levit. 25:35, &c. “And if thy brother be waxen poor, and fallen in decay with thee, then thou shalt relieve him; yea, though he be a stranger or a sojourner, that he may live with thee.” And at the conclusion of ver. 38. God enforces it with saving, I am the Lord thy God.

It is mentioned in Scripture, not only as a duty, but a great duty. Indeed it is generally acknowledged to be a duty, to be kind to the needy; but by many it seems not to be looked upon as a duty of great importance. However, it is mentioned in Scripture as one of the greater and more essential duties of religion: Micah 6:8. “He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord thy God require of thee, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Here to love mercy is mentioned as one of the three great things that are the sum of all religion. So it is mentioned by the apostle James, as one of the two things wherein pure and undefiled religion consists: James 1:27. “Pure religion, and undefiled, before God and the Father, is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

So Christ tells us, it is one of the weightier matters of the law: Matt. 22:23. “Ye have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith.” The Scriptures again and again teach us, that it is a more weighty and essential thing than the attendance on the outward ordinances of worship: Hos. 6:6. “I desired mercy, and not sacrifice;” Matt. 9:13. and 12:7. I know of scarce any duty which is so much insisted on, so pressed and urged upon us, both in the Old Testament and New, as this duty of charity to the poor.

The reason of the thing strongly obliges to it. It is not only very positively and frequently insisted on by God, but it is most reasonable in itself; and so, on this account, there is reason why God should much insist upon it.

1. It is most reasonable, considering the general state and nature of mankind. This is such as renders it most reasonable that we should love our neighbour as ourselves; for men are made in the image of our God, and on this account are worthy of our love. Besides, we are all nearly allied one to another by nature. We have all the same nature, like faculties, like dispositions, like desires of good, like needs, like aversion to misery, and are made of one blood; and we are made to subsist by society and union one with another. God hath made us with such a nature, that we cannot subsist without the help of one another. Mankind in this respect are as the members of the natural body, one cannot subsist alone, without an union with and the help of the rest.

Now, this state of mankind shows how reasonable and suitable it is, that men should love their neighbours; and that we should not look every one at his own things, but every man also at the things of others, Phil. 2:4. A selfish spirit is very unsuitable to the nature and state of mankind. He who is all for himself, and none for his neighbours, deserves to be cut off from the benefit of human society, and to be turned out among wild beasts, to subsist by himself as well as he can. A private niggardly spirit is more suitable for wolves, and other beasts of prey, than for human beings.

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Amie Patrick – For the Days You Don’t Like Your Spouse

couple-168191_1280 My husband, Darrin, and I are a classic case of opposites attracting. We are aligned in our faith and core values and in our commitment to and love for each other and our children. We have some common interests, and our life together includes a lot of fun and laughter.

In general, though, we’re wired very differently. The ways in which we approach life often lie on opposite ends of the spectrum. Much of the time, we’re profoundly grateful for God’s design in our union. Our respective strengths and weaknesses create a helpful and beautiful balance. We don’t have far to go to find an opinion or perspective that will likely be quite different from our own. We’re less likely to excuse one another’s sins and weaknesses. The flip side of the coin, however, is that we also have to work really hard to understand, accept, and appreciate the differences in each other. Frankly, learning to do this has been significantly more difficult than we expected.

As an engaged couple, we received plenty of general encouragement along the lines of “marriage is really hard.” We appreciated the mostly good intentions behind this admonition and were thankful for the advice. Living in covenant with another sinful, imperfect human being is messy and, while full of many beautiful moments, is not a constant fairy tale. Whether you and your spouse are opposites like us, or you find yourself married to someone very similar to you, no married person lives in a difficulty-free union. It was helpful to be aware of this truth before actually experiencing it, and to know that struggling was normal.

Embrace Their Differences

However, knowing that marriage can be hard and knowing how to practically and specifically love well in the nitty gritty day-to-day are two different things. In our case, this has often meant struggling to understand the perspective and actions of each other in situations where our differences make unity a challenge. We’ve always taken our marriage covenant seriously and know we’re committed to each other and to God for life. We aren’t looking for a way out. We also want more than a “business partner” relationship, or to give into the temptation to let bitterness and anger grow and drive a wedge between us. We truly desire a marriage where we honor and enjoy one another’s differences as gifts from God. Over the years we’ve definitely found that the hard work that helps us appreciate and enjoy one another more is usually practical and specific. We’re learning to approach our moments of tension and irritation with each other as God-ordained opportunities to build a stronger marriage. In light of that goal, there are a couple steps of repentance and action we try to practice regularly.

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Steve Pixler – What’s Love Got to do With It?

A couple of days ago, I noticed that a friend of mine had “Liked” a picture on Instagram, which showed up in my Facebook feed. It was a snap of a text in support of gay marriage. I read the text, and it said something like, “I believe that if two people love each other, they should be able to get married.” My first thought was of a cartoon I saw a couple days earlier showing a pirate standing in front of a court requesting to marry his parrot. They were in love. The floating “heart” symbol gave it away. The judge was on his feet spluttering indignantly that this has gone too far.
That tickled me for some reason. You see, that is exactly where the gay marriage thing is headed. Already a fellow in Denmark (I think it was Denmark) has sued for the right to marry his dog, and no doubt there are cowboys everywhere wanting to marry their horse. I mean, think about it, a horse never gave a man near ’bout much trouble as a woman. And if love is the reason, then why not, I ask you, why not?

But love was never the reason. Love may be the result, but never the reason. And this is no attack on love. I love my wife dearly, more than life itself. And she loves me, too, bless her heart. It’s a beautiful thing, as the man sang. But that is not why we are married. We are married because the Creator of the universe commanded us, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill up the earth and subdue it. Take dominion over the sky, earth and sea.” That is why we are married.

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Dominic Statham – Scrambling Scripture: Denis Alexander and Original Sin

Augustine, a church father who believed in a young earth, (painting: Botticelli, c. 1480).

Denis Alexander is one of the UK’s leading theistic evolutionists. As an accomplished molecular biologist and Director of the prestigious Faraday Institute, he holds a prominent and influential position within the evangelical Christian community, and his book Creation or evolution: do we have to choose? reviewed here and here, has undoubtedly influenced many.

A few days before Christmas, he published an article in The Guardian in which he admitted that belief in evolution is incompatible with the doctrine of original sin. Since humanity evolved through the deaths of countless chimp/human intermediates, he claimed, it’s clear that death preceded human existence and sin. How, then, can it be said that evolution is compatible with the Bible? According to Dr Alexander, the answer is very straightforward;there is no doctrine of original sin in scripture. Nowhere; he argued, does the Bible teach that physical death originates with the sin
of Adam, nor that sin is inherited from Adam.

Dr. Alexander’s view is that Adam’s sin led to spiritual death, rather than physical death. According to Alexander, Nowhere in the Old Testament is there the slightest suggestion that the physical death of either animals or humans, after a reasonable span of years, is anything other than the normal pattern ordained by God for this earth. How can he, as a professing evangelical Christian, make such a bizarre claim? Part of God’s judgement upon Adam’s sin was that he would ‘return to the ground’. ‘You are dust’, God said, ‘and to dust you will return’ (Gen. 3:19). This clearly refers to physical death.

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J. D. Greear – Our Everyday Obedience is Our Best Witness

Greear A few weeks ago I reflected on the ways that Titus 2 showed gospel change in four different life stages. (You can read that series here.) As I compiled that series, though, something began to jump out at me. Paul might have been giving different specifics to young women than he did to old men, but they were clearly all on the same team, all headed in the same general direction. A common theme began to emerge: Paul was encouraging each of them to extraordinary obedience, even thought the applications were often seemingly ordinary.

Here are three truths about extraordinary obedience in ordinary situations:

1. Our everyday obedience is our best witness.

Look at some of the values in Titus 2:1–6, and you’ll quickly find a few that our culture finds antiquated and foolish. The most striking are the virtues of self-control and submission. You may find some Americans who cherish the idea of self-control, but few who live it out. And you’ll find even fewer who will voluntarily say, “Yes, submission, that’s my favorite!” Instead, our culture praises those individuals who follow their hearts and defy convention.

What this means is that when people live the way Paul describes, the world will notice. Not only that, but they’ll often be pleased by the counter-cultural life that they see. As Tim Chester says,

“People may not like it when we talk about self-control and submission. But they find it attractive when we live it. Unbelievers who are repelled by the Christian teaching on headship within marriage are attracted by the Christian marriages they see. Unbelievers who find Christian morality restrictive are attracted by the good lives of the Christians they know.”[1]

The Apostle Peter would say it like this: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15). When is the last time the way you treated your spouse, or ran your business, or spent your money, made someone ask you to tell you about your hope?

Walking in obedience to Christ isn’t always flashy. But it’s that everyday obedience—in our marriage, in our jobs, in our schools—that acts as a theater for bringing glory to God and demonstrating his grace to the world.

2. The best testimony to the gospel happens in the “mundane.”

Paul was a missionary, and his life was chock full of dramatic sacrifices. So when he takes up the pen to instruct Titus, you might expect him to say things like, “Give all your money away! Leave your home to preach the gospel to the nations! Be prepared to die for Jesus!” But instead he addresses the seemingly mundane reality of the home. What gives?

We often think of great Christianity as revealing itself in grand sacrifices and heroic missionary stories. And it does. But heroic Christianity isn’t born on the mission field. It’s born in the “small” areas of life, in the home. Your Christianity is best measured by the relationships most people don’t see.

That’s a chilling thought for a lot of people. If God judged your faith only by your relationships in your home, how would you measure up? As Robert Murray M’Cheyne said, “It is the mark of a hypocrite to be a Christian everywhere but home.”

But for many of you, this doesn’t need to be a rebuke; it can be an empowerment. For those men who feel like failures because they haven’t achieved all of their life’s ambitions, know that your integrity in your career matters. For those women who sacrificed more than we can quantify to stay home and raise children, that faithfulness matters. Books probably won’t be written about the way we treat our spouse and kids, but that doesn’t make the home any less a theater for the extraordinary. Because if what Paul says is true, miraculous power comes through mundane faithfulness.

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Book Review – Archon Invasion

Archon-Invasion In recent months, I have become exposed to and as a result have become quite interested in theological research and writings regarding the events described as taking place in Genesis 6:4. Those not familiar with this passage arguably are not aware of what possibly took place because at first glance it seems to be a rather benign passage of Scripture. Furthermore, some scholars have suggested the “sons of God” were merely humans who took for themselves wives and the nephilim referred to in that verse were nothing more than some people who were famous during that period of history or who might have become a bit taller than the rest of humanity. Speak and author Rob Skiba, in his fascinating book Archon Invasion: The Rise, Fall and Return of the Nephilim provides the reader with valuable insight and interesting research into this subject matter, noting the reality of something more taking place than humans marrying and taking human wives for a mate. Additionally, Skiba explores whether this event took place on more than one occasion in history.

I will start off by reiterating what a fascinating subject this has become for me in recent months. When one begins to unpack Genesis 6:4 as well as other locations in Scripture when this event and the result of this event are mentioned, some of the more shall we say bizarre elements of Scripture begin to come into greater focus. Those who attempt to stifle conversation on this subject or brush it aside instead promoting that nothing really much took place are avoiding an important element of Bible study.

Some, as Skiba notes, promote the Sethite Theory, the idea that Genesis 6 is simply describing the sons of Seth engaging in relations with the ungodly offspring of Cain. Even a cursory look at Scripture as well as Jewish and Christian commentary on the subject reveals major holes in the Sethite Theory. Skiba aptly comments “if the sons of God are supposed to be a representation of the good sons of Seth mating with the bad daughters of Cain, why is it that the supposedly “good guys” are the ones doing the bad thing?” Indeed something more nefarious took place, namely that of fallen angels leaving their proper estate and coming to earth in an attempt to corrupt God’s plan.

Skiba also takes an in-depth look at the Multiple Incursion Theory or the belief that these fallen angels not only acted in a pre-flood context but also after the flood. After engaging with the Biblical text and extra-biblical texts such as Enoch, Skiba rejects a multiple incursion approach, instead averring that the corrupt seed was carried by the wives of Noah’s sons and thus was passed down to future generations. One can see this in Scripture with the existence and mention of generations of offspring, albeit of a much smaller size that potentially existed in a pre-flood time period. It is interesting to engage a passage such as Numbers 13:31-33, specifically the declaration by the Israelite spies that they were but “grasshoppers” when compared to the inhabitants of the land. This is not just mere symbolism but rather a reality given the spies encountered remnants of the Nephilim who were still alive during this time of history.

I also appreciated the attention paid by Skiba to the principle of the seed. Grasping the battle that exists between the seed of the woman and the seed of the enemy, truly sheds additional important insight not only to Genesis 6, but also the entirety of Scripture. Genesis 3:15 sets the stage for this battle, noting God’s statement of “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” I found Skiba’s statement “this whole issue of not mixing seed was the whole purpose of circumcision” to be quite important. He goes on to submit that a “covenant is always sealed in blood. Circumcision is a blood covenant, made in the “dispenser of seed” as a permanent reminder to stay pure.” Such a comment shed great insight into the underlying purpose of circumcision and God’s purpose in having His people faithfully perform that act.

Archon Invasion contains a plethora of interesting information that will provide the reader with much to consider. I guarantee that some paradigms will be challenged for those willing to take the time to read Skiba’s research and comments. What took place in Genesis 6:4 was not some unimportant historical incident. It was an overt attempt to thwart God’s plans. When one takes the time to look back in history and put some puzzle pieces together, the picture of what took place and what could take place once again in the future becomes a bit clearer. One thing is certain which Skiba consistently reiterates and that is God’s plans can never be thwarted. Regardless of what plan the enemy hatches, God is in control and just as Caleb and Joshua led the charge against the giants of their day, we too if we remain faithful to God and His Word can defeat whatever the enemy brings our direction.

I highly recommend this book for any even remotely interested in this subject matter. I know I find it fascinating and I am confident those who read this book and other works by Rob Skiba and others who have diligently researched this subject matter will find themselves engaged and more importantly, they will find themselves digging deeper into the Word of God.

This book is available for purchase from Kings Gate Media by clicking here.

Simon Turpin – Did Death of any Kind Exist Before the Fall?

Introduction

Death and disease are a heartbreaking reality of the world we live in and daily we hear news stories of people dying as a result of natural disasters, terrorist attacks, disease, and crime. People often ask why death exists in the world if there is a loving God, and many simply assume that death is a natural part of life. However, this has not been the belief of the church for much of its history. The orthodox Christian understanding of the origin of death has been commonly understood in terms of the “Fall” of mankind found in Genesis 3. Death was brought about as a result of Adam’s disobedience to the command of God in Genesis 2:17. As Vos states:

On the basis of these words the belief of all ages has been that death is the penalty of sin, that the race became first subject to death through the commission of the primordial sin (Vos 1975, p. 36).

Nevertheless, many scholars in recent years have taken issue with the orthodox view of Genesis 1–3 and the origin of death. Pannenberg notes that “From the 18th century onward . . . the opinion gained ground in Protestant theology that . . . death is part of the finitude of our nature” (Pannenberg 1994, p. 267). Lyn Bechtel argues that the orthodox Christian understanding of the origin of death and the Fall found in Genesis 3 is not seen as being original to the text, but as a development over the last few centuries of the first millennium BCE (Bechtel 1995, p. 4). Meanwhile, James Barr, in The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality, writes:

My argument is that, taken in itself and for itself, this narrative is not, as it has commonly been understood in our tradition, basically a story of the origins of sin and evil . . . (Barr 1992, p. 4)

There can be no doubt that the eighteenth century’s emphasis on rationalism combined with the nineteenth century’s belief in the great age of the earth and the later acceptance of Charles Darwin’s theory in The Origin of Species has impacted the interpretation of Genesis 1–3 more than anything else. Darwin’s evolutionary understanding of the world has had a devastating effect on how many people interpret Genesis 1–3. In his book he wrote what was essentially a history of death and suffering. He described the modern world as having arisen from “the war of nature, from famine and death” understanding death to have always been a permanent part of the world (Darwin 1859, p. 459). The late evolutionary astrophysicist Carl Sagan said,

The secrets of evolution are time and death: time for the slow accumulations of favourable mutations, and death to make room for new species (Sagan 1980).

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