Friday, 21 February 2014

The Scandal of the (Fundamentalist) Christadelphian Mind

My recent post on the origin of Cain's wife has attracted a comment from someone called Tracey (no last name) who has taken exception to the argument. She has not stated whether she is a Christadelphian or not, but internal clues such as the admonition to privilege the AV for reasons of 'sound doctrine' suggest that she is, and if that is the case, its is a cause for great concern the sheer concentration of fundamentalist arguments in her post. A correction of its many errors is indicated, if only to show everything that is wrong with the fundamentalist, anti-intellectual instantiation of Christadelphian theology that has become depressingly common in our community.
Tracey begins by asserting that: 
First, Seth was appointed another SEED instead of Abel, not a replacement child - Abel was known as the seed (Gen.3v15), was slain & not until Seth arrived did God indicate that here was the promised seed (Heb. zera as Gen.3v1)
Tracey's use of the word seed reflect the disturbing tendency towards veneration of the  flawed AV in our community, but the real problem here is that her insistence on seed obscures the semantic range of זֶרַע and what English word we should use to accurately translate the meaning of זֶרַע in this context.
The semantic range of  זֶרַע includes lineage, child, seed / sperm, and grain. The context in Gen 3:15 clearly refers to a line of descent, which is why contemporary translations use the word offspring. The context of Gen 4:25 however argues clearly in favour of child, a point clearly seen by contemporary translations:
  • “God has given me another child in place of Abel because Cain killed him.” [NET]
  • "God has appointed for me another child instead of Abel, because Cain killed him.” [NRSV]
  • "God has granted me another child in place of Abel, since Cain killed him.” [NIV]
  • "God has appointed to me another child in the place of Abel, because Cain killed him.” [Lexham English Bible]
Gen 4:25 is not referring to the birth of Seth as Adam's successor (though that is clearly implied if his only other child was in exile), but referring to a replacement for the child they had lost. This is why it is critical to understand the semantic range of words, in order to avoid importing the wrong meaning into a particular instance of the word.

Tracey errs by reading theology into the text, rather than letting the text speak. Her assertion that 'Abel was known as the seed' is false. Gen 3:15 makes no overt reference to Abel at all, but rather to the offspring of Eve. Furthermore, Tracey, who assumes that Adam and Eve had many other unnamed children before Abel's death (children about which Gen 4 is silent and Gen 5 is silent with respect to when they were born) is obliged to explain why none of these children were deemed worthy of being designated the promised descendant. Far from a clear reading of the text, Tracey is simply forcing a theological view onto the text, and distorting it to fit.

Accepting the plain reading of the text - that Cain and Abel were the only children of Adam and Eve at this time - would mean that Adam and Eve would be wondering whether the Edenic promise had failed, given that one son was dead and the other exiled, leaving them with no descendants at that point. 

Her next comment: 
stick to the AV, ignore modern translations & doctrine will be sounder. 
is deeply disturbing, reflecting a tendency towards veneration of the AV, and an almost hysterical fear of modern translations. The AV is a markedly inferior translation, which is not based on the best Hebrew and Greek texts, and has many defects, such as 1 John 5:7, "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one", the Greek of which is unknown prior to the 12th century, and is clearly Trinitarian in its phrasing. As the NET notes:
Indeed, the Comma appears in no Greek witness of any kind (either ms, patristic, or Greek translation of some other version) until a.d. 1215 (in a Greek translation of the Acts of the Lateran Council, a work originally written in Latin). This is all the more significant since many a Greek Father would have loved such a reading, for it so succinctly affirms the doctrine of the Trinity.
Tracey's veneration of the demonstrably inferior AV stands in contrast to earlier Christadelphians who welcomed the RV - stylistic flaws and all - because they recognised that the AV was flawed:
While not without its faults the revision is an important and acceptable work. It will help believers to an enlarged understanding of the word, and, maybe, will encourage other classes of people to study the sacred writings. It is characterised by greater uniformity of rendering than the A. V. The Greek text which has been followed is a purer one than King James’s revisers could possess. The language, too, is in many places much plainer than that of the A. V. Yet it is to be regretted that some antiquated and objectionable forms are scattered up and down the pages. Nevertheless, the Truth receives, in many directions, support which was not before apparent. [1]
Since the time of Tyndale thousands of Biblical manuscripts have been discovered and hundreds of English words have changed their meaning. The Revised Version of 1881 thus became absolutely necessary. For an intelligent understanding of this necessity, the “Revisers’ preface” to the Old and New Testaments should be carefully read. No one to-day doubts the inevitableness and the value of the Revised Version.  [2]
The argument that the new translations are biased in favour of theological error (an argument which as the Johannine Comma shows can just as easily be applied to the AV) is demonstrably false. 

Respected NT textual critic Daniel Wallace comments on the Johannine Comma, then makes this comment on the textual tradition behind the AV:
It illustrates something quite significant with regard to the textual tradition which stands behind the King James. Probably most textual critics today fully embrace the doctrine of the Trinity (and, of course, all evangelical textual critics do). And most would like to see the Trinity explicitly taught in 1 John 5:7-8. But most reject this reading as an invention of some overly zealous scribe. The problem is that the King James Bible is filled with readings which have been created by overly zealous scribes! Very few of the distinctive King James readings are demonstrably ancient. And most textual critics just happen to embrace the reasonable proposition that the most ancient MSS tend to be more reliable since they stand closer to the date of the autographs. I myself would love to see many of the King James readings retained. The story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53-8:11) has always been a favorite of mine about the grace of our savior, Jesus Christ. That Jesus is called God in 1 Timothy 3:16 affirms my view of him. Cf. also John 3:13; 1 John 5:7-8, etc. But when the textual evidence shows me both that scribes had a strong tendency to add, rather than subtract, and that most of these additions are found in the more recent MSS, rather than the more ancient, I find it difficult to accept intellectually the very passages which I have always embraced emotionally. In other words, those scholars who seem to be excising many of your favorite passages from the New Testament are not doing so out of spite, but because such passages are not found in the better and more ancient MSS. [3]
The blunt fact is that the AV is an inferior version which is based on flawed, dated textual evidence. Wallace notes that:
The man who edited the text was a Roman Catholic priest and humanist named Erasmus. He was under pressure to get it to the press as soon as possible since (a) no edition of the Greek New Testament had yet been published, and (b) he had heard that Cardinal Ximenes and his associates were just about to publish an edition of the Greek New Testament and he was in a race to beat them. Consequently, his edition has been called the most poorly edited volume in all of literature! It is filled with hundreds of typographical errors which even Erasmus would acknowledge. Two places deserve special mention. In the last six verses of Revelation, Erasmus had no Greek manuscript (=MS) (he only used half a dozen, very late MSS for the whole New Testament any way). He was therefore forced to ‘back-translate’ the Latin into Greek and by so doing he created seventeen variants which have never been found in any other Greek MS of Revelation! He merely guessed at what the Greek might have been. [4]
This should be second nature to any Christadelphian Bible student. It certainly was to Christadelphians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That Tracey can seriously recommend the AV is a testament to the dire state of scholarship in our community.

Tracey moves on to argue:
Second, why should members of another postulated race want to kill Cain? 
This comment betrays both a surprising lack of awareness of human nature, as well as human history, where outraged people have dispensed vigilante justice on people who are unrelated to the victims of crime. She continues:
His brothers, however, under Divine law were the appointed revengers of blood.
Ignoring the fact that Tracey erroneously assumes that Cain had brothers at this time (despite the plain reading of Gen 4 which says that his only brother at this time was Abel), she is illegitimately reading later developments back into the text [5]. Certainly, as Gen 9:6 points out, murder was a crime which demanded justice, "whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man." However, absent in Genesis 4 is any reference to any 'Divine law' appointing brothers as official revengers. Tracey is merely reading back into the text what she thinks should be there. 

Tracey's post degenerates further with her attempt to answer the incest problem:
Thirdly, why is it assumed that marrying one's sister was prohibited?  
Ignoring the fact that the Mosaic law regarded incest as a huge problem, incest is a huge problem biologically. If Adam and Eve were the only two people alive on the planet, their children would very quickly become lethally inbred due to the lack of genetic diversity. We see this with small communities that tend not to marry out such as the Amish, and communities that are geographically isolated, such as small island populations. There is also the fact that Adam, Eve, and their immediate families would be carriers of obligate human pathogens (that is, pathogens that cannot live anywhere else except in human hosts) such as tuberculosis, syphilis, smallpox, malaria, and chlamydia. Such a pathogen load would quickly wipe out such a small population, particularly given that it lived well before the advent of modern medicine. Such gross ignorance of simple scientific facts alone makes the story of universal human descent from just two people living 6000 years ago untenable.

Tracey attempts to rebut the incest problem by citing Abraham:
Abraham was married to his sister - Gen.20v12 - not an problem. 
Actually, it is a big problem, and cherry-picking an example in order to evade the force of the Mosaic condemnation of incest again reflects poorly on the calibre of her exegesis. Many Jewish and Christian commentators would have disagreed with Tracey's facile dismissal of the problem. Gordon Wenham notes that:
Later biblical law banned such unions (Lev 18; Deut 27:22; 2 Sam 13:13), so while justifying his remarks on one level, he condemns himself on another. Witness the attempts of medieval Jewish commentators and Calvin to make Abraham and Sarah cousins. [6]
Tracey forgets that Abraham married his sister (half-sister actually) in a land where ancient Near Eastern laws, not Divine Law, prevailed, and as Wenham notes:
"Other ancient Near Eastern law does not seem to have been so concerned as the Pentateuch about intermarriage between close relatives." [7]
Tracey is making the mistake of assume that God's toleration of this union, which took place while Abraham's theological loyalties were to deities other than YHWH, translates to tolerance of incest. It doesn't, which makes her glib defence:
It is only later when the Law for a nation was given at Sinai that marriage to close relatives was restricted.
yet another exercise in special pleading. Tracey is determined to back-read divine laws about avenging blood back into the Genesis narrative, but create a spurious objection to the consistent use of her hermeneutical strategy when it results in problems for her fundamentalist reading of the Genesis narrative.


I take no great delight in negative posts such as this, but the intellectual disease of fundamentalism has taken a heavy toll on our community. This can be seen in magazines such as The Testimony, where members of their steering committee openly admit to being YEC fundamentalists:
I believe that as a community we have now  moved on from their “re-creation” view as being a totally unnecessary compromise with “science falsely so called”.  I am a member of “The Testimony” committee – (which is by no means geriatric – we have several committee members who are in their 20s & 30s) all of whom take the Bible literally and therefore believe in a 6 day Creation.  We will continue to publish articles opposing the “wisdom of men” which is “foolishness with God”.  It is good to see that “The Christadelphian” is now doing the same thing! [8]
That anyone can seriously believe that the universe is 6000 years old and created in six days is incomprehensible, given the overwhelming weight of evidence in favour of an ancient Earth [9]. Furthermore, the tired refrain of "science falsely so called" not only takes 1 Tim 6:20 hopelessly out of context [10], but reflects an obscurantism which would have horrified early Christadelphians:
‘Go on, therefore, ye scientists, but be very careful that you stick close to what mother earth tells you, and do not seek to draw from your imaginations, and then attempt to hold the good old dame responsible therefor. And, ye “pious clergy,” let the scientists alone, and go search the Bible and learn, in simplicity of heart, what it really does teach. [11] 
‘Every thing in art and science are but copies of the workings of God’s spirit in nature. And it is by the study of nature and by meditation, on the discoveries which have been made as communicated to him through books, that man acquires his knowledge in the science of life, and so inhales this inspiration of God’s spirit.’ [12] 
‘They say that the true mode of interpreting the scriptures is by “literal interpretation:”2 just reading it as it stands; that it needs no explanation—it can explain itself. We say “No.” For Paul lays down another rule in his letter to the Corinthians, where he says that “he spoke not the words which man’s wisdom taught, but which the holy spirit taught, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”’ [13] 
The last quote in particular stands as an indictment of the fundamentalist, hyper-literal reading of the Bible exhibited by Tracey's appalling comment, and apparently championed by Burt and other members of The Testimony, who have the temerity to claim that Thomas, Roberts, Walker and other early Christadelphians, were 'compromising' the word of God [14] by accepting the facts of an ancient earth and a local flood. Far from compromisers, men such as CC Walker were careful students of the Bible who recognised that: 
‘Moses’ testimony is not so “plain” that it cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood….‘Moses’ testimony was given to Israel in what might be called the infancy of the world, when men did not know the extent of the earth, let alone that of the sun, moon, and stars. And, as we believe, it was given (by God through Moses), not so much to instruct Israel in cosmogony in detail, as to impress upon them the idea that The Most High God is the Possessor of Heaven and Earth (Gen. 14:22). And this against the claims of the gods of the nations, as was abundantly proved in Israel’s history.’ [15]
Ultimately, the problem underlying the fundamentalist eisegesis masquerading as informed scholarship as seen in Tracey's post, and (regrettably) magazines such as The Testimony is unvarnished anti-intellectualism. When a Christadelphian layperson with zero demonstrable competence in ANE studies, Second Temple Judaism or any other subject critical to a proper understanding of the vexed problem of how to understand Genesis and Paul in the light of the fact of evolution blithely dismisses professionals as idiots, we have a major problem, one that will ultimately result in the intellectual enfeebling of our community.


1. The Christadelphian (1881) 18:360
2. The Christadelphian (1939) 76:487
4. ibid 
5. In tribal societies, the nearest male relative was usually the appointed avenger of blood, so there was nothing particularly 'divine' about this. In fact, the whole point of Num 35:9-28 was to regulate the punishment of murderers, and stop the land spiralling into the sort of honour killings that plague traditional societies even today
6. Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 16–50. Vol. 2. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998. 
7. ibid
9. See for example Dalrymple GB "The Age of the Earth" (1991: Stanford University Press). Allan Hayward's "Creation and Evolution: The Facts and Fallacies" (1985: Triangle Books), while hopelessly wrong in its attacks on evolution is still on target with its demolition of YEC arguments)
10.  Burt and other Christadelphian fundamentalists are making an exegetical error by reading the modern meaning of science into the word used in the AV. The context of 1 Timothy 6:20 has nothing to do with modern science, but opposing theological views. As George Knight notes:
What Timothy is to avoid is also called ἀντιθέσεις** (a biblical hapax), “opposing arguments or ideas,” a term that crystallizes what Paul says elsewhere concerning the false teaching and those who are involved in it (cf. 6:3–5; Tit. 1:9–14, especially v. 9; 2 Tim. 2:25; 3:8; cf. Schlarb, “Miszelle zu 1 Tim 6 20”). It is possible, as Bernard observes, that βεβήλους is to be taken with ἀντιθέσεις as well as κενοφωνίας, since the article appears only before κενοφωνίας. Paul acknowledges that these opposing arguments or ideas are called “knowledge” (γνῶσις), but asserts that in fact they are “falsely called” such (ψευδώνυμος,** a biblical hapax; cf. 1:7; 6:4). - George W. Knight, The Pastoral Epistles: a Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1992), 277.
11 Welch 'Knowledge.- No., 12 Geology’, The Christadelphian (1819) 27:344
12. Jardine WD, ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age, (1864) 1:93-94  
13. Paterson, ‘False Literalism’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age (1867) 4:328
14. This is a frankly insulting claim which implies that Roberts, Thomas, and Walker were stupid enough to be taken in by false scientific claims. In actual fact, it is the modern YECs who have glibly swallowed YEC and flood geology, views which owe everything to the apocalyptic visions of Seventh Day Adventist founder Ellen G White. Seventh Day Adventism. As physicist Karl Giberson notes:
By mid-19th century, when White’s visions began, geologists, almost all of them bible-believing Christians, had concluded that Noah’s flood was confined to the mid-east. Its effects had been largely erased over time. This interpretation of the story, which Hebrew scholars have determined is a faithful interpretation of Genesis, was uncontroversial and accepted by most educated Christians. 
White rejected what she thought were geologically motivated “compromises” as inconsistent with the plain account given in the Bible, though she read this in English without consideration of the context in which it was written. She insisted Noah’s flood was global and that it had produced all of the geological layers, a claim that even the most conservative Christian geologists had rejected as impossible, based on the evidence. The flood, argued White, reshaped the surface of the earth and the fossils testified to the cataclysmic nature of the flood, even though the fossils are stacked in such an orderly way that it is impossible to imagine how a chaotic flood could have deposited them like that.
Earth history prior to the flood was obliterated, but the flood itself left the clearest evidence imaginable. Here is White’s vision:
The entire surface of the earth was changed at the Flood…As the waters began to subside, the hills and mountains were surrounded by a vast turbid sea. Everywhere were strewn the dead bodies of men and beasts. The Lord would not permit these to remain to decompose and pollute the air, therefore He made of the earth a vast burial ground. A violent wind which was caused to blow for the purpose of drying up the waters, moved them with great force, in some instances even carrying away the tops of the mountains and heaping up trees, rocks, and earth above the bodies of the dead… 
At this time immense forests were buried. These have since been changed to coal, forming the extensive coal beds that now exist and yielding large quantities of oil.”
White’s interpretation of the biblical narratives attracted little interest outside Adventist circles, but within the Adventist tradition her writings acquired a stature comparable to scripture. Her interpretation of the Flood became widely known outside Adventist circles through the writings of George McCready Price (1870-1963). A self-taught geologist with limited education beyond high school, Price was a gifted writer, amateur scientist, and tireless crusader in the cause of anti-evolution. His 723-page The New Geology, published in 1923, was catapulted into relevance by William Jennings Bryan, who prosecuted John Scopes at the famous trial in Dayton, Tennessee, in 1925. But even Bryan, the most important anti-evolutionist of the first half of the 20th century was not a young-earth creationist, seeing no reason to interpret the Genesis creation account as taking place over a literal seven-day week. 
Because these creationist ideas were basically limited to Seventh-day Adventist biblical interpretation, most Christians outside that group paid no attention to them, and were fine with the idea that evolution was simply God’s method of creation. A few decades later, however, all this would change when respected fundamentalist scholars John Whitcomb and Henry Morris joined forces to move Price’s ideas from Adventism to mainstream evangelicalism. They co-authored The Genesis Flood, the book that launched the modern creationist movement and convinced millions of Christians to accept White’s vision of earth history. But what is not widely known, because the authors of The Genesis Flood left it out of their book, is that the arguments in the book are really just Price’s arguments, updated to provide a more scientific presentation.
The truth is that Burt and his fellow committee members have uncritically accepted second-hand Seventh Day Adventist dogma with an Evangelical veneer.

15. Walker, ‘Is it wrong to believe that the earth is a sphere?’, The Christadelphian (1913) 50:348