BIBLE 101: Old Testament & New Testament. Why two?

A comment on another blog forum wrote: “I just know that Ken Ham’s not supposed to wear clothes woven of two different materials.”

Just to demonstrate that I actually can behave like a real professor and write something didactically edifying [Translation for beginners: “I can learn ya all kinds a’ stuff!”]….here goes:

Ken Ham is only prohibited from mixing two kinds of fabrics in his clothing iff (i.e., “if and only if” in mathematical proofs) he is a citizen of ancient Israel where these symbolic “pledges of allegiance” (in terms of various rules which had great significance and meaning for the Children of Israel but which are lost on us today) are an outward demonstration of his loyalty to YHWH and the nation as a whole. All of these Torah rules are part of the national constitution of the Children of Israel and they are part of the Sinaitic Covenant (i.e., a contract) between YHWH and the descendants of Jacob, the grandson of Abraham. (Jacob later on took the name “Israel.” See Genesis.)

The reason one sees B’nai B’rith on synagogues today is because of this very significant covenant between the Jewish people and God. They are the “Sons of the Covenant” even today because they pledge themselves as they enter adulthood (some do it later on in their lives) to be loyal to that same national covenant of Ancient Israel. The ceremonies are call bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah

Is Ken Ham Jewish? I don’t think so. Therefore, he has no reason to pledge himself to obey the “Old Covenant”, aka the “Old Testament”. “Testament” was a common English word in 1611, so the KJV Bible helped preserve that archaic word in our language and culture. But I tell students to think of it in more modern jargon: The Old Contract, the name of the first part of the Bible. The Old Contract applied just between those two parties: YHWH (God) and the Children of Israel. Do all contracts apply to everybody? No. Contracts apply only to the associated parties to the contract.

As a Gentile, Ken Ham has chosen to pledge himself to the “New Covenant”, aka the “New Testament”. In more common language today, he is a “signer” to The New Contract, a contract between God and both Gentiles and Jews. That is, the message of the New Testament is “whosoever will may come.” In other words, Jesus said that he came with the Good News (in Old English, “Godspell”, which today we pronounce as “Gospel”), a contract which both Jews and Gentiles can choose to “sign”. That is, they can pledge themselves to meet the provisions of the New Contract.

Unfortunately, many people, both Christian and non-Christians, don’t understand these basics which are “RS101: Intro to the Bible” in any university Department of Religious Studies. In other words, these are facts.

So when you hear somebody chiding some Christian for “being hypocritical by forbidding adultery but eating shellfish and wearing a cotton-and-rayon blend shirt”, the Christian is certainly not being hypocritical but the person making the accusation just proved their ignorance of one of the most basic aspects of the Bible: its division into “Old Contract” and “New Contract”. (I’m not using the word “ignorance” as an insult. It is simply a statement of fact. We are all ignorant of lots of things but informed about others.)

Once that simple fact of the Bible’s natural division is understood, you can also see that–just as my home mortgage contract might have some provisions which are virtually identical to your home mortgage contract–it shouldn’t be a surprise that some rules apply to both of us. But not all do. Likewise, the Old Contract in the Bible prohibited a citizen of ancient Israel from wearing blended clothing but the New Contract has no such rule. Why the difference? In ancient Israel, the “pagan neighbors” wore blended fabrics as part of their allegiance to their gods and goddesses. It had ritualistic meanings. The Children of Israel were forbidden to worship or recognize foreign gods in any way. So for a citizen of ancient Israel to wear blended fabric, they were breaking God’s covenant (i.e., contract) with Israel, by declaring their defiance of the Torah Law and YHWH. To wear blended cloth, eat shellfish, or cook a calf in its mother’s milk (another pagan ritual of worship among the neighboring nations), that person was guilty of treason!

As with any other field, whether it be biology or geology or religious studies, when people who are ignorant of the field start making accusations and bombastic statements, they generally sound foolish to anyone who is well acquainted with the subject matter. That’s why Bill Nye (and Richard Dawkins and Neil Degrasse Tyson for that matter) makes huge tactical errors when he starts pontificating on the Bible instead of focusing only on science when he addresses Christian audiences, whether in debates or in TV interviews. Frankly, when I listen to Nye, Dawkins, and Tyson, they sound nearly as foolish as Ken Ham when they speak outside of their fields of expertise. Each tends to blubber the most absurd, and often myth-plagued nonsense, when speaking on the Bible, history, and philosophy. At times they even quote-mine and fall into Arguments from Personal Incredulity fallacies. Christian audiences know this, and that is why many quickly assumed Bill Nye a fool when he made claims about Biblical studies topics. Once you’ve convinced a young earth creationist that you are ignorant of the Bible and telling howlers, your credibility is gone to teach them anything about science. Like it or not, that’s the way it is. Can you blame them? At times, Bill Nye sounded just as foolish to the YECs in the debate audience as Ken Ham sounded to Bill Nye.

As an educator (retired), I’m an equal-opportunity critic of nonsense. Opinions on subjective matters is one things. Data/facts are another.

{I hadn’t intended to write another essay tonight but this is an important item of factual information that I needed to address. I hope that readers will find it helpful for understanding Bible topics. If the natural division of the Bible into two parts is not correctly understood, a great deal of unnecessary confusion results.}

(c) 2014. Professor Tertius & the Bible.and.Science.Forum
All rights reserved.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “BIBLE 101: Old Testament & New Testament. Why two?

  1. I gladly confess to writing the offending comment on the other blog. I responded there recently but the comment and post are now buried.

    The gist of my response is that guys like Ken Ham pick and choose which parts of the OT need to be followed (and NT, too). I really don’t care if he wears polyester and rayon suits, sows both corn and soy seeds in his field, or eats shrimp cocktail. I just want him to be consistent.

    I enjoy your posts and your comments at the other blog.

  2. BTW, I’m ignorant in probably millions of matters and subjects in this great big world. What’s one more thing? 🙂

  3. “The gist of my response is that guys like Ken Ham pick and choose which parts of the OT need to be followed (and NT, too)” Yes, he often does cherry pick which scriptures he interprets LITERALLY and which not….but if you’ve read the Bible 101 article , you will see that he is NOT INCONSISTENT when he doesn’t adhere to CONTRACT PROVISIONS which were part of the national constitution of ancient Israel (all Jews) but were NEVER directed at Gentiles.

    Those “inconsistency criticisms” commonly leveled by people in media represent—99% of the time—a total ignorance of the OLD CONTRACT versus THE NEW CONTRACT.

    The aforementioned blog also explains WHY not mixing fabrics and not cooking a calf in the mother’s milk were law.

    If you read that and STILL THINK KEN HAM IS “INCONSISTENT”, post a comment here and somebody will eventually take it up, even if not Prof T.

    (And by the way, all of these topics are addressed in a light-hearted way and reader comments are taken likewise. On the Internet, words are often semi-rancorous but we aren’t taking offense or angry. So your comments are welcomed Mark. In fact, what you are bringing up is probably one of the most important basic “foundational facts” that people need to know to understand the structure of the Bible. The “inconstancy” argument about what laws to obey is usually bogus. What usually IS quite true is that Ken Ham and most YECs don’t realize how they pick and choose which scriptures they read and interpret literally.

    Indeed, we often tell them that a “theistic evolutionist” Christian, for example, often reads Genesis 1 FAR MORE LITERALLY than Ken Ham does.

  4. By the way, sometimes a comment write for the comment sections of this blog also appear elsewhere also. So instead of doing multiple versions, a comment on these blog may make what seem like redundant references to the very blog on which the comment appears. We sometimes provide overly-specific information so that the comments CAN appear elsewhere and still make sense to the reader.

  5. I agree with Mark when it come to average folk. Maybe Ken Ham is more consistent, but in everyday life, I run into people using the OT that way all the time. They don’t want to be bothered with the details. Until the whole of Christendom can get together, agree on, and publish the official list of which items are literal and which are allegorical and what applies to whom, I’ll assume they interpret the passages to further their agenda.

    Joe

  6. No doubt about it, when it comes to the rank-and-file, general citizenry in regards to virtually ANY concept, inconsistency and bad logic abounds. Of course, as a scholar of ancient texts, I deal with the ancient text’s author meant and how it was understood by the original audience. Depending on the type of course, it may also include the history of various interpretations.

    That said, when a specific person is labelled INCONSISTENT, I evaluate that charge against what THAT PERSON says and what the relevant text says. Is Ken Ham “inconsistent” in his interpretations of how specific Torah Law applies to him as a Gentile? I have no data/evidence indicating that he is inconsistent. I had no idea that some third party’s consistency was at issue.(Yes, even lots of Christians are ignorant of what the Old Testament says. Many Christians ONLY read the New Testament. Indeed, many Bibles have published as “NT plus Psalms & Proverbs” for that reason.) To me, charging Ken Ham with inconsistency merely because there are other American fundamentalist Christians with similar theologies who are inconsistent makes no sense to me, especially when they are not ministry leaders or associated in any way with his ministry organization.

    I do sense in many Internet discussion forums, there is a presumption that a Ken Ham or a Ray Comfort or a Kent Hovind speaks on behalf of all fundamentalist Christians or even all Christians. Frankly, I’m often confused in reading some of those discussion threads because I’m often not quite sure who or what group(s) are being lumped together. (Indeed, probably the greatest confusion–and one that is no great surprise–is over the distinctions between fundamentalists and evangelicals. While it is not a topic of much interest to me, it probably deserves to be tackled at some point so that people would realize that not only are they not necessarily the same people, there’s a lot of fundamentalists who consider the evangelical term a horrendous insult! I learned long ago that I had best be careful in choosing my terms when dealing with some Christians.)

    For me, one of the biggest inconsistencies with Ken Ham is when and where he chooses to interpret a Biblical text literally or non-literally. I would think that his followers would be baffled when he never gives me them any heuristic rules or guidance.

  7. For me, charging Ken Ham with inconsistency merely because there are other American fundamentalist Christians with similar theologies who are inconsistent makes no sense to me.
    Moreover, while Ken Ham is clearly a spokesmen for YECism and “creation science”, he is not at all a spokesman for or even clearly doctrinally representative of all American fundamentalists.

    If I had to explain this phenomenon–where (1) some negative label is applied to some individual (inaccurately) but later (2) more than one person will say “but lots of Christians do do that”–can we agree that it is because some are assuming that the general target of the thread or website is that individual or a particular group united by some stance, while many others assume that the actual purpose of the thread or website is to discredit one of the following in general: the Bible in general, fundamentalist Christians, all Christians, all theists, or all religious people?

    My question is not rhetorical or an accusation. It is a genuine question. I’m asking if that is the dynamic that is often underway when discussion forums polarize.

    Another dynamic that fascinates me is that if the target is indeed Ken Ham or Young Earth Creationists in general, there is often an assumption that he/they are ALWAYS wrong–and any claim that sometimes he/they get something right is immediately countered. I’ve tested this on various forums because of my interest, as an academic, in how factionalism in the human species operates. It is one of many dynamics which are actually quite similar and even equivalent on both sides of various debates.

    For example, American “Tea Party” conservatives often will refuse to believe any truth was ever spoken on MSNBC News network–and a lot of American liberals similarly deny that truth has ever been broadcast at Fox News. [For me, I disdain both networks as simply telling their audiences what that audience wants to hear.] Of course, common sense would dictate that both networks broadcast a lot that is not only true, but would be agreed upon by both ends of the political spectrum. But because of the passion of the disagreement and the debates, some participants are sure to go out of the way to deny anything that could at all be considered positive or correct in the other side.

    Once I started applying various measures to quantifying and comparing various characteristics of “polarized forums and websites” (i.e., Internet venues where the admins and commenters were virtually all on one side of some issue/debate), it was interesting to see that the “sides” exhibit many of the same characteristics, including the human foible of cognitive dissonance. In fact, it is rare that I cannot find measurable cognitive dissonance in virtually every venue. (The cognitive dissonance may not be evident in the primary topic of the venue, but it generally comes out and becomes evidence somewhere on some topic that arises within the group–if the debates are at all energetic and N>8 or so. That is, I can’t give an exact N but it is clear that the dynamics get easier to identify as the population of the group gets larger. At low N, “best behavior” is more evident than at larger N.))

  8. Thanks for replying, Professor T. Of course, your understanding of the Bible appeals greatly to my rational side, but my stubbornness will always win over reason when it comes to directing snarky comments at Ken Ham!

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