Since my post divisions on here has been the same as those of our church going through Exodus, today we’re covering the plagues in their entirety (7:14-11:10). I’ll be making some general overview comments rather than a blow by blow exposition. For an interesting take offering a blow by blow, I found Fretheim’s analysis in his volume in the Interpretation series interesting.

For a general overview of the plagues’ structure, here is Douglas Stuart:

The plagues built in intensity. The early plagues (blood, frogs, biting insects) were relatively brief in duration, did not cause death, and affected mainly people’s patience and convenience—though certainly severely. The Egyptian magicians were able to duplicate the first two plagues (though presumably on a very small scale only; see comments on 7:14–25; 8:1–15), but they could not duplicate the third, evidence that the “quality,” not just the quantity, of the plagues was becoming more intense. None of the first three plagues produced a lasting willingness on the part of Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. Plagues four, five, and six (swarming insects, animal disease, and skins sores) were much more harmful. The fifth killed off many livestock, and the sixth brought serious disease upon humans. Even so, these plagues were not enough to result in Pharaoh’s relenting from his resistance to Israelite demands for freedom. The seventh, eighth, and ninth plagues (hail, locusts, and darkness) were even more severe since the seventh plague resulted in the destruction of both animals and certain crops, the locusts ruined what crops remained, and the darkness plague was so frightening and debilitating during its three-day duration that Pharaoh was actually willing—at first—to allow all Israelites to depart if only they would leave their animals behind as surety of their eventual return (10:24). 1

Another way of looking at the plagues is to realize that Egyptian deities were believed to permeate the natural world. A breakdown in the natural is therefore not just disastrous, but demonstrates a lack of sovereignty on the part of the Egyptian gods. Consider the following list of plagues. In parenthesis I have listed a relevant Egyptian deity:

  • Nile to blood (Hapi, Nile goddess)
  • Frogs (Heqt, fertility goddess, head of frog)
  • Mosquitos/Lice (Geb, earth god)
  • Flies/Gnats (Kephri is the god of creation/rebirth)
  • Animal death (Ptah is associated with cattle/bulls, as are Amon and Hathor)
  • Human sores (Serapis and Imhotep are goddess of healing, shown to be impotent)
  • Hail/Thunderstorms (Nut is the sky goddess and Isis is the crop/fertility goddess)
  • Locust (Seth is the god of storms and disorder)
  • Darkness (Ra is the sun god who can be blotted out)

Now, some of these might be a stretch, but there seems to be at least some connection. It is certainly part of the story, given how tightly wedded Egyptian deities were to natural phenomena. Indeed, for Egyptians and other ancient Near East people, there really isn’t a distinction between “natural” and “supernatural.” Everything is more or less supernatural, which is to say everything is a manifestation of the gods at work. To have a breakdown in nature, to the extent of basically being a “de-creation,” suggests that the gods of Egypt are not really in control after all.

Again, I think Stuart is instructive here:

The first nine plagues were special, divinely produced manifestations of God’s sovereignty over Egypt—its king, its people, its environment, and its gods—accomplished by imitations on a huge and destructive scale of phenomena thought by the Egyptians to be the province of their gods. God turned things believed to be the specialty of “the gods of Egypt” against the Egyptians, and showed himself in control of all events and powers they would have attributed to the objects of their faith. The tenth plague, on the other hand, was in no way a magnified imitation of a natural phenomenon but stood apart from the first nine as a decisive imposition of the death penalty on the nation that tried to enslave and mortally oppress God’s special people, his “firstborn son.” 2

With this in mind, I think the lesson of the plagues is that God will not tolerate the oppression of his people. He may pass over sins for a time, but eventually, those who set themselves up in the place of God and oppress his people will be judged. And the judgment will be severe. While the book of Exodus started with the Nile running red with the blood of Hebrew boys being drowned, the plagues open with God supernaturally turning the Nile completely into blood. Later, after the plagues secure the departure of Israel, the Red Sea will run red with the blood of drowned Egyptian soldiers. What Pharaoh took from God’s people comes later out of his own army.

When it comes to actually drawing applications from the plague cycle, Enns is helpful:

The key to applying the plagues is found in struggling with the theology of the plagues and how the significance of that theology is given fuller expression in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The answers are not straightforward and obvious. It takes study, contemplation, and patience. We must look again and again at what this theme has to tell us about the nature of God and how we, in Christ, are to respond to that God.

On one level, we apply this theme by simply saying, ‘Wow!’ We should not feel short-changed if our understanding of a passage does not translate directly into some overt, specific behavior. The point of the plagues for today is not so much in what we do with it, but in having our hearts and minds opened to what God has done and thereby understanding him better. Who else but the supreme judge of the universe can make the heavens and the earth do his bidding. 3

Enns then suggests that the application is primarily doxological. We see God demonstrating that he is mighty to save in the plagues against Egypt. We see his justice and his love. We see his commitment to his covenant promises finally culminate in taking Israel out of Egypt by force. And ultimately, next week specifically, we see a picture of the gospel in the Old Testament which will eventually be fulfilled in the New.


  1. Stuart, 187
  2. Stuart, 194
  3. Enns, 236


My wife posted the picture last weekend and I did tweet about it, but I wanted to make a formal announcement. After meeting my adviser and talking with the director of doctoral studies, I’m proud to announce I’ll be starting Ph.D studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary this fall. I was going to say I decided to take my talents to Louisville, but a) I’m not that talented (or at least I’m not as full of hubris as I once was), and b) I’m not moving. Rather, I’ll be in the modular format which will allow me to continue teaching and stay in Florida. I’ll be up in Louisville for a few weeks each semester until I finish course work.

The logistics of this will be interesting to say the least. The biggest issue at the moment is figuring out the financials. I’m leaning toward raising support and so I’ll need to figure out what that might look like. I’ve got an idea, but I don’t want to go into the details just yet. Once I’ve got it together, I’ll probably post about it on here.

As far as the actual studies go, I’m not quite sure what to expect. I did take a doctoral seminar at Dallas, so I’m guessing/hoping it will be something like that, just more condensed. I’m also hoping that phasing out book reviewing will free up the requisite time for weekly readings and online discussions.

In the end, I’m looking forward to getting back to school. I’m really excited about the opportunity to further my studies and advance as a teacher/researcher. I’m still not entirely sure about the dissertation topic, but I’ve got a general idea that I’m sure will get refined in the near future. As Fridays come along, I’ll be sure to keep you in the loop.


Last week, we started a play by play through Four Views on The Historical Adam. The opening position by Denis Lamoureux denied Adam as a historical figure. The remaining three all affirm the historicity of Adam in one way or another. Today we’ll look at John Walton’s view.

Walton’s position is called the “archetypal creation view.” He believes that Adam and Eve were real people in a real past (89). But, as Walton sees it, Scripture is mostly interested in their role as the archetypal representatives of humanity. Given this view, Genesis 2 is concerned with establishing their role as archetypes and has nothing to say about their actual scientific origins (90). This makes Adam a kind of “Primeval Man” or “Everyman.”

From this vantage point, Walton then surveys the archetypal role of humanity in Genesis 1, Adam in Genesis 2, and Eve in Genesis as a whole. Then he turns to an analysis of archetypal humanity in other ancient Near East accounts. After presenting this background information, Walton offers comparisons and contrasts with the Genesis account before turning to the role of Adam and Eve in the New Testament.

With this biblical and historical survey complete, Walton then discusses some literary issues, briefly touches on scientific/genetic factors, and then offers a hypothetical scenario. This scenario is for people who are “persuaded by the modern scientific consensus that humans are the product of a process of change over time from a common ancestor” (113). It is not Walton’s personal view, but something he offers as an example of keeping biblical and theological affirmations as well as modern science.

The scenarios runs like this: you accept the evolution of hominid like creatures in the distant past. This process would have to be guided by God (i.e. not simply random mutations), but is still essentially a natural process. At some point, by a special creative act, God endows the entire human population with his image. People continue evolving (and so dying), but are in a state of innocence (because of the absence of divine law), and so are not accountable. Later, “the individuals whom the Bible designates as Adam and Eve are chosen by God as representative priests in sacred space” (114-115). They would thus be the covenant mediators who could bring the revelation of God those outside the garden as the expanded the sacred space and fulfilled the creation mandate.

Now on the one hand, this could work. It is a way to have historical human representatives and human evolution. It takes Walton some work in his essay to make the reading of Genesis plausible. But in the end, it is just that: plausible, but not entirely convincing. Likewise, his hypothesis is almost entirely conjectural. He does say it is not his view and is just an example. But, I doubt many people will be persuaded by it. I would like to see him follow up with more on this angle, and perhaps he will in a later book or full length article.

When it comes to responses, Lamoureux pushes back on Walton’s argument that Genesis is only concerned with functional origins (and not material). I think this is a legitimate point that Lamoureux makes for the wrong reasons (he still basically reads Genesis like a young earth creationist). For Lamoureux, Genesis and science can have no compatibility, so any reading that makes it possible to be compatible is off on the wrong foot from the get go.

Likewise, Collins pushes back on the “functional only” position on origins. He is more exegetically helpful in his assessment of Walton’s argument. Additionally, Collins doesn’t want to divide Genesis 1 and 2 as much as Walton does. He still sees them as complementary accounts. In the end, while he appreciates that Walton doesn’t conflate “archetype” with “nonhistorical,” he doesn’t quite follow what Walton is trying to do by establishing Adam and Eve’s archetypal role.

While Barrick is appreciative, he still holds strongly to the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1-2 (i.e. the young earth interpretation). He also pushes back on some of the comparisons with the ancient Near East background, particularly in the realm of cosmic geography. He also has problems with Walton’s reduction of the “good”-ness of creation to its ordered functional status to the exclusion of morality and/or design (138).

In general, I’ve found Walton’s work with Genesis helpful in my developing understanding. Originally, I was all on board with his functional-only view of origins, as well as his cosmic temple hypothesis concerning Genesis 1. At this point, I’m a little more cautious in my acceptance of both of those views. The same applies here. While his hypothetical scenario is intriguing, it seems more problematic than helpful in navigating some of the issues. It seems very difficult to affirm a group of humans bearing the image of God, yet not accountable for their actions in any way simply because there has been no law given.

I would see it as more plausible (if you grant evolution) that God created the first humans by a special act that interrupted the stream of evolving hominids. Doing this would make the first Adam and the last Adam parallels to each other, in that they both interrupted the normal flow of descent and brought a heightened humanity into the picture. This seems less problematic than having the image given to a group, but then later choosing two members to be representatives. Sticking to the text seems to require de novo creation of Adam and Eve even if we affirm that it as not literally from dust or ribs. The illocutionary force of the text pushes strongly in that direction.

In the end, Walton’s argument is intriguing and helpful in some areas, but I didn’t find the archetypal view that convincing. His hypothetical example does better justice to the text while affirming modern science than Lamoureux’s does. But, “better” isn’t hard to do when the comparison is to someone who simply denies in total what the text is saying (or reduces the illocution to simply “God guided creation”). Walton does much helpful work in bringing the background to reader’s attention and his careful argument is worth tracking closely.

Book Notes 4.8.14

April 8, 2014 — 2 Comments


This probably won’t be a weekly post. Instead, every now and then, I’ll collect brief thoughts on what I’ve been reading. I imagine it will predominantly be books that I don’t plan on reviewing (or more accurately, do not feel obligated to review). But sometimes, if I think the book is going to be a long review, I might preview it here. We’ll see.

The Soul by J. P. Moreland

This book ended up being more intense than I expected. While it is an introductory treatment and a slim volume, it is dense. Moreland tries to make it as accessible as possible by defining terms all over the place. Also, the recaps at the end of the chapter work as detailed analytical outlines of what you’ve just read. Still, the chapters are long and I could see someone not used to philosophical depth on the soul getting exasperated. I was exasperated at Moreland’s defense of libertarian freedom, but that’s a different issue altogether. In the end, if you’re looking for an introductory treatment of the soul from a philosophical vantage point that is both biblical and theological, this is worth checking out.

Who’s Afraid of Relativism? by James K. A. Smith

I just started this, but I already like it, which surprises me. Mainly because I’m one of the people Smith talks about in the beginning who is anti-relativism down the line. In contrast, Smith wants to argue for a type of relativism properly conceived. I’m only a chapter in, but in it, Smith gives an exposition of Wittgenstein. The second chapter covers Rorty, and the following Brandom (one of Rorty’s students who advanced his thought). Interestingly, Smith uses a movie at the end of each chapter as a cinematic illustration of the points he is making. The opening chapter utilized Lars and The Real Girl, just to give you an idea what kind of movies we’re talking about. Overall, I’m looking forward to finishing this up by this time next week and hopefully offering a critical review (that I’ll post elsewhere).

Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart

While this book seems like it is aimed primarily at the New Atheists, it is much more sweeping in scope. Hart basically goes through the history of Christianity and explains the long history of atheistic attacks on Christian thought and practice. One by one he shows how they got the facts wrong and misinterpreted things. I’m guessing this is building up toward the present time when Hart will show how the New Atheists are basically just standing in a long line of misguided attacks. He is devastating in his criticisms and has a command of church history that is exemplary. My favorite line so far: “The Da Vinci Code is probably the most lucrative novel ever written by a borderline illiterate.” Ouch.

Can We Still Believe the Bible? by Craig Blomberg

I’m about halfway through this one. I didn’t get it for review, so I doubt I will. I will however recommend it to anyone who shares a question with the title. The chapters are long and unfortunately have endnotes. But, in the course of answering the main question, Blomberg covers the following sub questions (these are chapter titles):

  • Aren’t the copies of the Bible hopelessly corrupt?
  • Wasn’t the selection of books for the canon just political?
  • Can we trust any of our translations of the Bible?
  • Don’t these issues rule out biblical inerrancy?
  • Aren’t several narrative genres of the Bible unhistorical?
  • Don’t all the miracles make the Bible mythical?

I like how the questions are structured toward the skeptical mindset. While this book will be good for interested Christians, I can see it being helpful for someone who is a skeptic, but is genuinely seeking. I’m only through chapter 3 at this point, but I’ve found Blomberg’s explanations helpful. I think he spends a bit too much time on the gender neutral language controversy in his chapter on Bible translation, but that wasn’t totally unexpected. His explanation of the history of the various translation was fascinating nonetheless. His defense of the manuscripts underlying the New Testament is solid, and his defense of the canon will satisfy most questions (if you need more, there is always Michael Kruger’s two books). I’m looking forward to the next chapter, but considering I’m at T4G today and tomorrow, and then back on the road to Florida Thursday, it probably won’t be until this weekend. But, you know what? That’s perfectly ok by me.

Russell Crowe as Noah

Now that some of the hype has died down, I want to comment on the Noah movie. Actually, to be more accurate, I want to comment on the response to the Noah movie, and what it teaches us about interacting well with movies. When it comes to analyzing movies, we need nuance. I think this is the biggest lesson from the Noah movie. I still haven’t seen it, so I won’t offer extended comment. I also don’t want to review the reviews. I’m just going to assume that you’ve either a) seen it, or b) read a review (or several). Also, if you say “you know what happens when you assume,” I’ll just respond by saying, “It sounds like you’re assuming I know what happens when you assume.”

The best way to offer nuance in a movie review is to look at the film from multiple perspectives. Not surprisingly, I’m going to later advocate you use John Frame’s triperspectivalism to make sure your analysis is 3D. For now, I just want to point out that you can look at film like Noah from a few angles.

First, you should analyze what is front and center. No not how faithful it is to the book. Rather, a movie is primarily a story, so your primary analysis should be about the plot. Is it a good story? If so, why? If not, why not? Deal with the nature of the story first. This is also the first step to bracketing out whether you liked it, and whether or not it was good. You can concede it was good but not necessarily like it. Conversely, you can like it, but at least be willing to concede it might not be good. And of course we are not talking of moral goodness here, but whether it is a well-told tale or not.

Second, you should analyze the actual cinematic elements. Is the acting good? Is the cinematography good? Would they story have been better had someone else told it, or someone else acted in it? I think this is more difficult to do than the story, but it is worth the effort. It is an area I could grow in, since my focus has mostly been on the ideas in the movies. Speaking of which…

Third, you should try to discern what the moral of the movie is. Not the moral content, but the actual moral message of the movie. It’s in there because a screenwriter put it there (usually). It can be seen in how the protagonist’s physical journey and psychological journey meet. Sometimes it is blatant. Sometimes it is pretty obscure (or potentially nonexistent). Closely tied to the moral is the philosophy of the movie. This is sometimes a hodge podge of philosophical ideas, not necessarily a clearly articulated philosophical system. I like to think through this in three questions:

  • What does this movie tell me is real?
  • What does this movie tell me to believe?
  • How does this movie suggest I should live?

That should be much less cumbersome than wondering what the metaphysical vantage point of the auteur is. But, in asking those questions, you’ve covered your philosophical bases.

Lastly, you can do a meta-analysis of the movie. This would be where you would ask how faithful the film as a whole is to its source material. Often, the movies we watch are based on books, we (meaning Christians) just usually don’t care. We do care however if it involves Tolkein, and the Bible (and some to a lesser extent Rowling). In general, I don’t think this is a very important question. Because a film is necessarily an adaptation, it is a creative product in its own right. It doesn’t need to strictly follow the story it is based on. It is by nature a creative re-telling that the director or screenwriter makes his or her own. I can see how people get all up in arms about a Bible movie not being all that biblical. But at the same time, when has a movie version ever a) been better than the book or b) been more or less identical? Usually, the director and/or screenwriter have to pick what gets left out. In the case of Noah (and this was what made it problematic for most people), there was so little to work with, they got to pick what got put in instead.

Now, for meta-analysis, there are other angles you could take. You could ask how the particular movie relates to other films by the same director. You could compare to others in a similar genre (is it better than competitors? worse?) Is the movie having significant cultural impact? Unfortunately, this is where most analysis starts and finishes. It is tempting to jump straight to this level of analysis. But, your analysis here will be much better if you’ve done the ground level analysis, or at least thought through it a bit. It is, to use an analogy, kind of like a sermon. You want your pastor to read the text (watch the movie), then explain the words, grammar, and syntax (analyze the plot/cinematography). Then you talk about the biblical-theological connections (meta-analysis) as well as application (moral message). A sermon that is basically a theological lecture is like a movie review that is all meta-analysis. It might be interesting and even helpful, but it’s not really about the text in question. But, when ground level analysis is coupled with analysis from 30,000 feet, now you’ve got nuanced movie analysis.

I’ll probably expand on this more since this is just a sketch. The bottom line is that when you want to offer a review or analysis of a movie, make sure it starts with the story and expands from there. The review that of Noah that do this are the most helpful. The ones that only focus on whether it is faithful to the Bible are missing the point of a movie. They are, in a word, cinematically illiterate. And that’s not something any Christian cultural commentator should be.

In the past, I had a weekly digest-type post. I’ve been thinking for a while about resurrecting it, and today is the day. I’ll let the format speak for itself. From now on, look for this post every Sunday afternoon.

Top Links

4 Things I Liked And 3 I Didn’t About The New Noah Movie (Aaron Armstrong):

This weekend, director Darren Aronofsky’s epic Noah made its way into theatres with many a feather ruffled. Much ink has been spilt discussing concerns about the filmmakers’ liberties in bringing the story of God’s wrath against humanity to the big screen.

It’s the kind of movie that, honestly, if it’s you’re temperament, you’re guaranteed to find something to hate about this movie. But frankly, that’s every movie. Nevertheless, the movie isn’t all bad, nor is it all great. Here’s a look at four things I liked and three I didn’t:

Eyewitness Documents Affirming Jesus’ Resurrection (Triablogue)

One of the apologetic issues that often comes up during the Easter season is what documents we have from eyewitnesses testifying to Jesus’ resurrection. It’s often claimed that some letters of Paul are all we have. Even if that were true, all of us frequently accept historical claims from historians, news reporters, and other sources who aren’t eyewitnesses. Still, eyewitness accounts have some advantages, so it’s worth asking what eyewitness documents we have affirming Jesus’ resurrection.

The Desiring God Theme Park (Jeff Medders)

One of the funny elements of Twitter is the parody/fake accounts. One of the best is Fake John Piper, @fakejohnpiper, run by pastor and author, Jared Wilson, @jaredcwilson.The real John Piper is a good sport. He thinks Fake John Piper is funny.

[T]he prime choice of @fakejohnpier comes in the slew of tweets scheming up a Desiring God Theme Park.

A Guide To Christians At The Movies (Michael Patton)

I love movies. Probably too much. Definitely too much. I always think about whether something is beneficial or not. I am continually asking if such and such movie is promoting good or evil in myself. I often don’t know. However, I have come up with three rules of thumb that I use in evaluation. This is especially helpful when it comes to what I will let my kids watch. With the movie season on the horizon, I pray that this will guide your discernment, producing grace and truth, freedom and a protection.

Color Code Your Day To Make Sure You’re Spending Your Time Right (Lifehacker)

Time for some coloring fun, folks. This might be the easiest way to see how you’re really spending your time. Color in the “Wheel of Productivity” and (optionally) see how it matches some of the world’s most famous creative people.P

The Daily Muse offers a template you can color in. Either print it out or open it up in a graphics program and color in each hour block based on the type of activity you normally do each day. Are you spending your time most where it matters?

A Pastor’s Guide To Evernote (Pastors Today)

I have a lot of tools in my garage. I’ve noticed though that no matter the project there are always a couple of tools that I reach for. I use them frequently because I’ve learned how to be effective with them.

In pastoral ministry we have numerous tools available. The key, though, is not collecting tools but knowing which tools to use and how to use them effectively. When we have good tools at our disposal, we are able to be more intentional and effective husbands, fathers, and pastors. The cloud-based service Evernote is a tool to be used to help you be most effective in your pastoral ministry particularly in the arena of sermon preparation.

How Should You Respond When A Fellow Believer Is Excited About Untruth? (Mike Leake)

So what should he do? What is a person to do whenever fellow believers get really excited about something but the thing they are excited about is filled with untruth? Do you whack them upside the head with your Bible? Do you just laugh like a nervous school boy and pretend you loved the movie too?

I’m convinced that none of the above options is the path to go. Instead the best response is to be like the little boy in the beginning of the story—though perhaps with a bit more tact.

Random Thoughts

  • I think I’ve reached my road trip quota for a while. I just finished my second drive (10 hrs) to Tennessee in just over two weeks. After a couple days in Louisville, I get to try the Louisville to Orlando drive, which looks like it’ll be about like the Dallas to Knoxville drive. That seems fitting.
  • I’m looking forward to meeting up with people tomorrow and the next few days while in Louisville. Looks like I’ll be able to go to T4G after all, thanks to a friend of a friend not being able to go. I was looking forward to just going to Band of Bloggers as well as the CBMW pre-conference, but now I can do the whole shebang.
  • Back to the road trips, I forgot how therapeutic listening to the archives of my iTunes library is. Since I mostly listen to instrumental music now when I’m studying/working, it’s nice to get back into my more melodic rock classics.
  • I haven’t been reading as much lately, and honestly, it hasn’t bothered me too much. Less reading for me is still more reading than most, but I’ve had other things to focus on and take care of. I guess considering what I’m getting into this fall, I should enjoy the break while it lasts
  • Ali and I have really done well on the healthy eating business this year. Now we’re embarking on a more intensive exercise plan. I’ve been pretty consistent about the gym this part school year, and my body is grateful. Even still, I’d like to continue getting in better and better shape, as is Ali.

Amazon Deals

Normally, I’ll list some ebook deals here. Today, I’ve got a list of pre-order books that you might be interested in:

Song of The Week

This has been my jam for the past couple of weeks. Thankfully there is a tab, so I’ve been learning to play it. Animals as Leaders is a three piece instrumental progressive metal band that dabbles in jazz. Pretty much my ideal study music. This track, Another Year, is from their most recent album The Joy of Motion.



Most people have heard of the 10 plagues. At least people familiar with Bible stories that is. Before we get to the 10 plagues there is a slightly less known episode in the beginning of chapter 7. Some commentators (Stuart) note that it is more biblical to see 11 signs of sovereignty rather than 10 plagues. This is mainly because the latter word is not sufficient to cover all that happens. Given this understanding, the first of the 11 signs of God’s sovereignty takes places at the beginning of chapter 7, before the actual plagues themselves begin to descend.

Exodus 7:1-7

Chapter 6 had ended with Moses questioning God one last time. Things had not gone well the first time he went to Pharaoh and said Israel needed to go have a wilderness festival. As we pick up the narrative, God is giving Moses final instructions before he returns to Pharaoh:

And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh. (7:1-7)

In the same way that God speaks to his people in the Old Testament through prophets, so shall Aaron speak on behalf of Moses to Pharaoh. This complicates things a bit, since now we have God telling Moses to tell Aaron to tell Pharaoh what’s up. If that were not enough, God promises this time that Pharaoh won’t listen, but will instead have his heart hardened. Though some object to this, it’s not as if Pharaoh was willing to listen to begin with. When we first encounter Pharaoh, his heart was already rather hard. Because of that, he is now going to be locked into his position in order that God might punish Egypt for her sins and rescue his people Israel.

Exodus 7:8-13

Before he does that, there is a kind of foreshadowing event which constitutes the first “sign of sovereignty.” As the narrative continues, God gives the instructions for this next showdown with Pharaoh:

Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’ ” (7:8-9)

God doesn’t specify why they should do this, or what will happen. But between verse 9 and 10, Moses stops questioning, tells Aaron what to do, and he does it:

So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. (7:10)

Just like those Upworthy links, what happens next shocks the casual reader:

Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. (7:10-13)

It is perhaps hard for us to grasp the cultural significance of what all goes on here. Clearly, Aaron’s staff swallowing up the staffs of Pharaoh’s magicians implies some kind of superiority. When we peek into the background a bit, we can see that snakes mean something a little different in Egyptian culture than they do in ours. Fretheim is so helpful here, I’m going to quote him at length:

The encounter between Pharaoh and Moses/Aaron in 7:8–13 is sometimes considered formally to be the first plague. There are some structurally common elements that suggest this (cf. v. 13), but its scope and effect are very limited. It is more likely a preface to the plagues, setting the stage for what follows and providing some interpretive clues.

(1) It sets the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in place. The plagues follow from Pharaoh’s initial refusal and begin (7:14) with the recognition that Pharaoh is in a stubborn mode. (2) It puts the staff front and center as the instrument for God’s activity through Moses and Aaron. The staff takes on a virtually sacramental status in these texts. (3) Pharaoh himself ironically requests a wonder. God has only to give him what he asks for. He will live to see many more! (4) Pharaoh asks, again ironically, that Moses/Aaron establish their credentials. They will more than “prove themselves” over the days to come establishing with clarity that Yahweh stands behind all they do. (5) The “wisdom” character of what follows is established with the activity of the “wise men” (cf. 1:10). Whose wisdom regarding world order will prove to be superior? Ironically, all that the magicians can do is make matters worse: more snakes, more bloody water, more frogs! This is also established as a battle of wills. Whose will will come to prevail?

The important hermeneutical clue to what follows is found in the sign character of what happens, particularly the swallowing of the magicians’ staffs by Aaron’s. This does not represent Aaron’s superior power to do magical tricks! Only indirectly is it concerned with God’s power. This act functions as a sign of things to come in a very specific way: the fate of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. The only other use of the verb “swallow” (bala‘) in Exodus occurs in 15:12, where it refers to the swallowing of the Egyptians in the depths of the earth beneath the sea. This results from God’s “stretching out his right hand,” a reference to the staff (see 7:5; 14:16).

That the word for serpent is here different from that used in 4:3 supports this interpretation. Tannin is a much more terrifying creature than any snake. A closer look at the symbolism shows this to be an ironic reversal. The staffs of the magicians also become tannin. Aaron’s tannin swallows theirs. Elsewhere, this word refers to the chaotic forces that God defeated in the exodus (see at 15:1-21; Ps. 74:13; Isa. 51:9). Even more, it is used elsewhere as a symbol for the Egyptian Pharaoh (see Ezek. 29:3-5; 32:2; and for Babylon as a swallower of Israel, Jer. 51:34); God is imaged as a fisherman who will catch him and give him to the animals for food. Here God turns the tables, using a dragon to swallow up the chaos monster.

The seemingly innocuous reference to snake swallowing is thus an ominous sign for Pharaoh: it is a signal of his fate. This connects with the pervasive creation language of the text; God defeats chaos and reestablishes the creative order.” (Fretheim, 112-114)

It is here then that we have a foreshadowing of not just the oncoming plagues, but the eventual destruction of Egypt and redemption of Israel. When God acts to redeem, save, and restore, there are often signs. It is hard for us to read these signs ahead of time, and I’m not even sure we should try. But, reading backwards, we can see God’s providential hand at work guiding things along to his intended conclusion.


James N. Anderson. What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, January, 2014. 112 pp. $10.99.

On Wednesday over at The Gospel Coalition, my review of What’s Your Worldview posted. Here’s an excerpt:

Ronald Nash once said, “One of the more important things a philosopher can do for others is to help them realize what a worldview is, assist them in achieving a better understanding of their own worldview, and aid them improving their worldview.” Nash took this job seriously and has many books to prove it. In the book from which this quote derives, he provides criteria for how to choose a worldview, as well as several avenues for evaluating worldviews.

While Nash’s presentation is helpful, it isn’t what you’d give someone who reads few books. In a world where people aren’t often interested in thinking critically, a philosopher has to get creative in his presentation. When many are more interested in taking the latest online quiz to figure out which character from Harry Potter or The Hunger Games they really are, getting them to think about philosophy is difficult to say the least.

This is where James Anderson enters and drops a methodological game-changer on the philosophical playground. In What’s Your Worldview: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions [interview]Anderson, professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, synthesizes the “choose your own adventure” genre with worldview analysis.

Read the rest here.

9780310499282Originally, this post was scheduled for Tuesday. But, a) I decided to move this review series to Thursdays and b) I didn’t want to send the wrong message. Even though as you’ll see below, Denis Lamoureux’s view is the one I find least convincing, I didn’t think it was fair to post his position on the one day of the year it’s ok to sit on a throne of lies. So here we are.

The first view in Four Views on The Historical Adam is that of Denis Lamoureux. You may have noticed from the table of contents I presented earlier that the views run along a spectrum. We start with a view that has no room for a historical Adam, and end with a view that has no room for the majority position of modern science. In the middle are two mediating positions. Of the contributors, 2 of them (Collins and Lamoureux) have backgrounds in science. 3 of them (Walton, Collins, and Barrick) are Old Testament scholars. Interestingly, it is the three Old Testament scholars that still hold to a historical Adam, while it is the contributor with a Ph.D in biology who doesn’t believe in a historical Adam.

By his own account, Lamoureux was originally a young earth creationist (40-41). But, after he first got a Ph.D in theology (41), and then in evolutionary biology (42), he is now an evolutionary creationist. You could probably interpret his pathway as one where the seminary study made young earth creationism untenable, and then his study in evolutionary biology completely shifted his paradigm so that he can now say “I have yet to see evidence that falsifies biological evolution” (40). 1

Given that perspective, it is hard to shake the feeling that Lamoureux is interpreting Scripture to fit his scientific paradigm. If you accept biological evolution wholesale, then you cannot simultaneously accept a historical Adam, and so can’t interpret Genesis to teach that, unless you’re comfortable saying “Scripture teaches this, but it’s wrong.” Lamoureux’s essay then is focused on defending his understanding of Genesis 1-3 in particular, and Genesis 1-11 in general. Of the latter, he says that “real history in the Bible begins roughly around Genesis 12 with Abraham” (44). This would be convenient, but Lamoureux more or less just asserts this, and doesn’t really defend or prove the position.

Having de-historicized the early chapters of Genesis, Lamoureux then explains why scientific concordism, of any kind, is wrongheaded. That is, any view which seeks harmony between modern science and ancient text is out of bounds. The reason for this is that Genesis represents ancient science through and through, which we now know is wrong. God accommodated the ancient understanding to communicate big picture ideas (that He created), but not details (the manner and sequence in which things actually happened).

With this perspective, Lamoureux then provides brief commentary on Genesis 1-2, as well as Romans 5. While he acknowledges that much of what he is saying represents a “counterintuitve way of reading Scripture,” (63) it is nonetheless the best way to make sense of the text in light of his presuppositions (as well as what he thinks are the text’s presuppositions). Ultimately, God’s Word only tells us that he created, and in no way explains how he created. While I would grant that position to a certain extent, this would still seem to suggest that God directly created Adam, even if the rest of nature were allowed to unfold by “supernatural” selection. Lamoureux insists that this is not possible, and that pinning Adam on the tail end of an evolutionary sequence is “categorically inappropriate” (64).

When it comes to responses, first up is John Walton. He sees several indefensible leaps in logic and is inadequate in his treatment of the New Testament (68). He also points out that is untenable to suggest that real history doesn’t start until Genesis 12 (67). From another front, John Collins questions Lamoureux’s understanding of what concordism is when it comes to understanding the Bible and science (76-77). He sees Lamoureux as mainly reacting against an overly literal concordism (young earth creationism), and not allowing room for other varieties. Lastly, William Barrick and subtly questions Lamoureux’s salvation. 2 Beyond that, he is having none of Lamoureux’s position. Because it starts off on such a negative tone, it is hard to not read his response with disdain.

Lamoureux is allowed a short rejoinder to the responses, but for space sake, I’m not going to comment on it. In the end, Lamoureux does his best to defend the position that Adam didn’t exist. Though he presents his case from Scripture, it is hard to not see it as springing more from previously accepted scientific conclusions that now require major revisions to how we read the early chapter of Genesis. While some of his points about God’s accommodation in revealing truth, the implausibility of concordism, and the difference between modern science and ancient science may stand, his reading of Scripture does not. It would be hard to validate that you could reach the interpretations he reaches without having your presuppositions driving the train of thought there. That may be unavoidable for all of us, but in this case, if you’re not convinced of the full evolutionary story, there is not enough textual evidence to follow Lamoureux’s reading as well as the implications that follow.

Considering that Lamoureux’s view is the only one in the book that denies the existence of a historical Adam, you can see why this is necessary. Lamoureux’s view general view is called “evolutionary creationism,” and as Tim Stafford noted in The Adam Quest, the biggest problem with that view is the Bible.


  1. Speaking as someone who experience his first paradigm shift, but not his second, I would say “I have yet to see evidence that validates common ancestry for humans and other animals. In other words, my paradigm is still one of disbelief in the narrative of the past until more solid evidence emerges. In the case of human evolution, I don’t think it is forthcoming. However, I’ll concede there is quite a bit of evidence for evolution, even at the macro level. The question is more to what extent this happened in the past, a question I don’t think can be answered with much certainty because of the nature of scientific inquiry.
  2. That is the way Lamoureux takes it in his rejoinder. Here is the quote: “Perhaps a born-again believer could deny Adam’s historical existence without losing his or her saving relationship to Christ and everlasting forgiveness of sins” (80). Seems way out of bounds to talk like this. Lamoureux wisely doesn’t dignify this answer with a response. I feel bad for him that it seems like his genuine faith is probably often questioned. I’m gathering that from this response, some anecdotes, and the fact that his essay opens with a long defense of his Christian journey’s authenticity, something none of the other contributors feel necessary.

The Adam Quest

April 2, 2014 — Leave a comment


Tim Stafford, The Adam Quest: Eleven Scientists Who Held on to a Strong Faith While Wrestling With the Mystery of Human Origins. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, December, 2013.  240 pp. Hardcover, $22.99.

Buy itAmazon

Visit the publisher’s page

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the review copy!

I had intended to post this review yesterday, but given what day it was, I declined. Also, other things were more pressing than writing a book review. I just decided not posting on April Fool’s Day was ok.

Today then, I want to tell you about Tim Stafford’s book The Adam QuestThe book is in large part motivated by an experience Stafford’s son in his late teenage years. Having grown up in the church, Silas Stafford became enamored with geology. The more he learned about the field though, the more it clashed with views his friends had about what Genesis teaches. Ultimately, their insistence in arguing for young earth creationism drove Silas away from the faith (2). Stafford presents this story not in a way that vilifies the views of young earth creationists, but does drawn attention to how demanding people with a scientific background adhere to that reading of Genesis seems to do more harm than good. To help remedy this situation, Stafford wrote The Adam Quest.

The subtitle gives you the outline of the book. Each main chapter profiles a different scientist, who as a person of faith, had to come to terms with the worlds of science and Scripture. Tim Stafford went to interview them, and then tells their stories in the as a kind of mini intellectual biography. Each profile is around 20 pages long, and in that space, Stafford helps readers to have a clear picture of how that scientist wrestled with the issues related to creation and evolution. Specifically, as you can guess from the title, the focus is on the historicity of Adam. But, as you’ll see when we talk about Four Views on The Historical Adam, you can’t really discuss Adam without addressing larger concerns about creation and evolution.

The subtitle may give the substance of the book, but the internal structure is a different story. Here are the eleven scientists profiled:

  • Kurt Wise
  • Todd Wood
  • Georgia Purdom
  • Michael Behe
  • Fazale Rana
  • Mary Schweitzer
  • Darrel Falk
  • Ard Louis
  • Denis Alexander
  • Simon Conway Morris
  • John Polkinghorne

Of this list, I had only heard of 4 before reading the book (Behe, Falk, Alexander, Polkinghorne). Part of this, I think, is because I am more familiar with the other side of the debate (usually involving OT scholars and theologians). Though I’ve heard of 4, I haven’t read any of their writings. Not to say I’m not interested in the scientific aspects, but just to let you know I was able to approach the book somewhat objectively with only little background knowledge of the scientists profiled.

Of the 11 scientists profiled, there are (in order): 3 are young earth creationists, 2 are devoted to intelligent design, and the remaining 6 are different forms of either evolutionary creationism or theistic evolution (not identical I know). Stafford tells readers they are free to skip around from profile to profile (10). There isn’t an explicit narrative the ties the chapters together in a certain order. But, Stafford suggests that “you will get the most from this book if you take the chapters in the order presented.”

That is the last sentence of the introduction. At the beginning of the conclusion, Stafford explains how he alleviated the concerns of the scientists about his agenda (or lack thereof):

I told all of them the same thing: I was going to get out of the way and let them tell their own stories. I wasn’t going to try to referee who was right and who was wrong. My goal was for readers to get to know them and to understand their points of view.

I told them that I approached the subject of origins with well-deserved humility. I know I am no expert. I know what I don’t know – and it’s a great deal. The issues involved in creation and evolution are complicated and highly technical, and they involve many disciplines. (199)

He then goes on to offer commentary on the range of views and discloses where his sympathies lie. He gives the greatest strengths and weaknesses of each view. To it out, I’ll start with the strengths (203-205):

  • Young earth creationism’s fundamental commitment to the Bible
  • Intelligent design’s assault on the New Atheists and their assertion science disproves God
  • Evolutionary creationism’s offering a coherent scientific account that is attractive to many types

Then the weaknesses:

  • Young earth creationism’s lack of cohesion with the actual world we live in (specifically when it comes to geology)
  • Intelligent design’s wholesale rejection by mainstream science
  • Evolutionary creationism’s lack of harmony with Scripture

Now, keep in mind, these are strengths and weaknesses as Stafford sees them, so read them in light of the block quote above. I think that for the most part I would agree with him, though I don’t think being rejected by mainstream science is that big of a weakness (it’s a problem for sure, but the least problematic of the three weaknesses). It is certainly interesting that in Stafford’s analysis, evolutionary creationism and young earth creationism mirror one another. The strength of one is the weakness of the other, and vice versa.

When Stafford then explains why his sympathies ultimately lie with evolutionary creationism, the overall structure of the book makes more sense. As you can see from the above outline, we move progressively through the book from strong young earth creationism, on to intelligent design, and then to a wide spectrum of evolutionary creationists views, the latter of which is from the only theologian in the group. In this way Stafford unfolds his profiles, it parallels the intellectual journey many people take that were once young earth creationists, but now are not.

At the very least, it humanizes the different viewpoints so that readers will see those they disagree with as other thoughtful individuals who have wrestled (or are still wrestling) with the issues. Ultimately, I think that is the value of the book. Especially in reading through the Four Views on The Historical Adam, which is mostly focused on ideas and positions, one can easily lose sight that this debate involves flesh and blood people, who are also made in the image of God. The The Adam Quest helps avoid this by giving you an inside look at how those with the relevant scientific knowledge wrestle with the issues.

That being said, I don’t think this book will ultimately convince anyone who is confident in their position that they should reconsider. Whether or not Stafford structured the narrative to help young earth creationists along down the road toward evolutionary creationism is hard to know for sure. He doesn’t come out and say it, but I could see it being presented for that purpose (among others). I’m also not a mind-reader. Even if he did, I don’t think the overall purpose is to convince anyone to change their mind. The book is mainly written for people like Stafford’s son who are struggling with reconciling what they know from scientific studies, and what they’ve been told the Bible teaches. It could probably serve as a mini apologetic for evolutionary creationism, but the issues with Scripture aren’t only noted, not dealt with. In the end, I think people from all sides of the debate ought to read this book. It will help to reduce stereotypes, and mostly importantly, will remind us that even when we disagree, we are still interacting with real people, and not just pixels or pages.