Casting Lots in the Bible

What does it mean, to cast lots? Is it a Biblical mandate, or does the Bible condemn it? What should we make of this practice, used by Roman soldiers and Christian apostles alike?

 

An Introduction: The Division of the Land of Israel

Throughout the book of Joshua, God gives instruction to the eponymous character on the division of Israel among the twelve tribes. The casting of lots is used often in this section and seems to refer to some kind of random selection, like flipping a coin or rolling dice.

The casting of lots occurs 77 times throughout the Bible, with 70 of them found in the Old Testament. There are three examples that allow us to properly understand how we should understand this Jewish practice.

 

A Tool of Evil: The Casting of Lots for Jesus’ Garments

In Matthew 27:35, Roman soldiers are seen to gamble for Jesus’ clothing by casting lots. This is in fulfilment of Psalm 22:18, wherein David laments the theft and division of Jesus’ garments in the first person. So, if the soldiers who crucified Jesus are using them, lots must be evil, right?

 

A Tool of Good: The Casting of Lots for the Twelfth Disciple

In Acts 1, shortly before the coming of the Holy Spirit and the first sermon, the casting of lots appears for the seventy-seventh and final time in the Bible – and it’s for the purpose of replacing Judas. The disciples choose Bartholemew after casting lots to determine the replacement. Is the Bible advocating lots now?

 

A Tool of All Trades: The Casting of Lots for Jonah

In Jonah 1:7, Jonah is on the run from God. (That doesn’t work out too well, as you’ll find if you read it.) He’s awoken during the night as a storm rampages over his boat, bound for Tarshish. The sailors, recognising that the storm is no ill fate, cast lots to determine who is being punished by the God or gods. It turns out to be Jonah, and he’s duly cast overboard. So what do all these passages say about the casting of lots?

 

A Conclusion: The Coming of the Holy Spirit

It’s intentional that casting lots last appear just before the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Bible treats them as a pre-Spirit method of determining God’s will – or the gods’. It’s a tool that can be used by anyone – but it’s not in use today. The Holy Spirit changed that, as did the completion of the Bible.

So don’t cast lots, but don’t look down upon the disciples when they do it, or on Joshua when he does it. It’s not evil or good, it’s simply a thing that appears in the Bible.

SAB Contradictions #1

The Skeptics Annotated Bible is a website devoted to attempting to find contradictions in the Bible. And they have a lot of them – 536.

Since the SAB is one of the most popular sources for supposed Bible contradictions, it’s probably helpful to go through some of them and explain them. Many a Christian has been led astray by unfounded claims of ‘loads of contradictions’ in the Bible.

 

contradictions
A chart of supposed contradictions created by BibViz – the internet’s most popular Bible contradiction website.

 

The first of SAB’s many contradictions is found here. It states that Genesis bears two contradictory accounts of how creation occurred, pitting 1:1-2:4 against 2:5-25.

The SAB gives two supposed contradictions from these sections:

 

Contradiction 1: Man and the Animals

In the first creation story, humans are created after the other animals.

And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:25-27

In the second story, humans were created before the other animals.

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. Genesis 2:18-19

The key to this contradiction is understanding that Genesis 1:1-2:4 and 2:5-25 are written in very different styles. The first establishes a basic, indisputable chronology (which has, sadly, been disputed too many times to count) while the second focuses on the sixth day and the creation of the animals, man, and woman.

Genesis 2:18-19 has a more sweeping, general view of creation, which focuses on the creation and subsequent actions of Adam. To make the story more clear for its audience, the creation of the animals is not mentioned until it becomes important to the story. A better translation might provide the word ‘had’ in the first part of verse 19, to show that it was a past event. In fact, the ‘had’ does appear in multiple translations, including the NIV and the ESV, below:

Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (Emphasis added)

The use of the KJV in the original page feels deliberate, even more so since the NIV and ESV go unmentioned, despite solving the contradiction easily.


Contradiction 2: Man and Woman

This supposed contradiction is, if possible, even easier to refute. Here’s the post’s claim:


In the first creation story, the first man and woman were created simultaneously.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. Genesis 1:25-27

In the second account, the man was created first, then the animals, then the woman from the man’s rib.

And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them…. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. Genesis 2:18-22

Genesis 1:25-27 doesn’t state or imply that Adam and Eve’s creation was simultaneous. Likewise, you can imagine someone saying ‘I got the mail and closed the mailbox’ without believing these actions to be simultaneous – the idea is patently ridiculous. Genesis 2:18-22 simply provides a bit of clarification as to the order, though the first passage notably already places them in the correct chronological order.


In conclusion, the idea that there are two separate and contradictory accounts in Genesis 1-2 is somewhat ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is the way it is believed to have occurred since these accounts were both written by Moses – and likely at very close times, since they appear right next to each other in the Bible.

Next week, we look at the real creator of heaven and earth – God, Jesus, or both?

Minimum Viable Population

Since the early 1970s, studies have been done to determine the minimum viable population (MVP) of many species, not least among them humans. In more colloquial language, MVP refers to how many members of a species must be present for it to have a 90 to 95% chance of surviving under average condition.

Perhaps one of the most famous MVP calculations in history – though relatively obscure in other fields – is John Moore’s number of 160 – that is to say, 160 people would be needed for humans to most likely survive. New Scientist calls this the ‘magic number’ for space pioneers, suggesting that for colonisation on Mars (or even further afield) one would need 160 people.

John Moore’s calculation is in the main correct, but New Scientist is but one of many who misuse or misunderstand the meaning of MVP. In the article, it is suggested that MVP could be ‘halved’ to 80 via social engineering (the idea is that later pregnancies will extend the lengths of generations), but this idea is flawed. Not because it wouldn’t work, but because MVP becomes an invalid source of measurement. Wikipedia states that ‘MVP does not take human intervention into account’, and this is a form of intervention – in this case, social scientists back on earth suggesting lengthening generations.

Now, why am I addressing MVP?

Minimum viable population is an attack used on creation by some evolutionists, so it’s important to know how to counter it. The argument is that Adam and Eve – two people – fall far below the MVP claimed by such surveys as Moore’s. There are a number of ways to refute the argument, which typically refers to the population bottlenecks of Adam and Eve as well as Noah and his relations (the latter less commonly than the former) as impossible.

Here are the rebuttals:

 

DNA Defects

Josephus states that, according to tradition, ‘The number of Adam’s children…was 33 sons and 23 daughters’. Whether or not this number is likely (and it seems to be when comparing the extended period in which Eve would have been giving birth to children). All of these children would almost certainly have had essentially perfect DNA – with no defects or mutations. And fertility is one of the scientifically observed facets of humanity which genetic mutations affect, making childbirth less common and more difficult.

Adam and Eve, being created perfect, would have an optimal set of circumstances, genetically speaking, to give birth to many children.

 

Evolution and MVP

There is evolutionary evidence – or at least, it’s interpreted as thus by many evolutionary scientists – that there was a population bottleneck eight to ten millennia ago (right before the most recent ice age), wherein human population dropped to about twelve. Yes, twelve.

Related image

Not only does this match the Flood timeframe reasonably well, it also provides the exact same problem for evolution. And all of these other solutions don’t work with it since they’re based on the ideas of a pure creation and divine intervention.

 

Extended Lifespan

To say ‘extended’ here is an understatement. Adam lived 930 years – not even 40 behind Methuselah, the oldest known person in history according to the Bible. (Don’t make the mistake of thinking Methuselah is definitely the oldest person in history. The Bible isn’t a categorical list of all people, and thus it’s possible – in fact, reasonably likely – that someone older than him is simply not listed in the genealogies.)

Scientifically speaking, since Adam lived about ten times as long as he would today (give or take a decade or two), Eve’s period of fertility would be extended tenfold – from 35 years to a staggering 350-year period. Since MVP is based on the prior length of time, it would probably decrease significantly in light of the new figure.

 

Divine Intervention

MVP is probabilistic. Even ignoring the other arguments, the elephant in the room is that God is, after all, a God of more than the improbable – He’s a God of the impossible. If Abraham can have a son at ninety-nine, if bread can fall from the sky in the Sinai desert, if David can defeat tens of thousands of Philistines single-handedly, then surely Adam and Eve can ‘be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:28).

 

Conclusion

Minimum viable population is a scant argument at best. With a bit of thought, the problems with it are clear, but that’s the problem – most people don’t give it enough thought. The principle problem – not just with the refutation to the problem of MVP but with apologetics as a whole – is that people give in too easily. How many times have you heard someone say ‘The Bible is full of contradictions’ and seen others accept it without proof?

So MVP should be a sign of the average Christian’s difficulty dealing with tough questions like these. If that’s you, don’t let it be. Study the Bible. Learn apologetics. And most of all, use it.

 


Sources

New Scientist

Children of Adam and Eve

Genesis 1:28

Minimum Viable Population

Population Bottleneck Chart

Creation and Science

It is an all-too-common argument: why, if they comprise more than a third of humanity’s religious beliefs, do Creationists have such low numbers of scientists?

meta-chart (1).png

First, let us address the premises. Christians comprise roughly one-third of word religions, depending on whether you include Catholicism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Latter-Day Saints under their name. Most non-Christian assessments place this figure around 30% of Earth’s population – some 2.2 billion people.

The other premise is that evolutionary or atheistic scientists vastly outweigh Creationist ones – by anywhere from 70 to 98 percent. Is this true?

A 2009 survey by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) found that while 83% of the general public believe in God (or, as the survey put it, a ‘higher power’), only 33% of scientists do. A bit disparaging, one might think – but that wasn’t all.

The same poll (conducted on AAAS scientists on behalf of Pew Research Center for the People & the Press) found that a surprising thirty percent of scientists were either Protestant or Catholic.

What to make of this?

An important point to consider is that manipulation is worryingly common in surveys – the famous claim that 98% of scientists believe in global warming is actually swapping global warming for climate change: only 30% of scientists believe it’s our fault. Also, consider that we may have already turned this tide – in the 1970s, the popular chemical chlorofluorocarbons were banned under grounds that they were causing the ozone layer to begin to vanish…unsurprisingly, over Antarctica, where the sun’s rays would shine ever more harshly on icecaps. It takes about fifty years for such changes to work their way into the climate system and the ozone layer, so the effects of this change will probably soon start to be felt.

But returning to the point, there’s one more thing to ponder.

The AAAS scientists surveyed here – and the survey’s results – don’t exist in a vacuum. They affect what our children believe in ways we can’t begin to guess at. After all, aren’t children being taught this? Isn’t the persistent banning of religious acts in the education system what’s causing this disproportionate representation of atheists?

When thinking about this survey, it’s helpful to remember a quote from, of all people, Adolf Hitler – ‘If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.’

So evolutionist scientists are more common than they logically ought to be. Does that make Creationists stupid?

If they keep saying it, it will.

 


Sources

Pew Research Poll

Worldwide Division of Religion

Hitler Quote