A Question Session With a Professor of Divinity

Recently I visited a professor of Divinity at Regent University. Originally built by Pat Robertson in 1977 as CBN University (Christian Broadcasting Network), the graduate-level institution had its name changed as its curriculum expanded beyond broadcast communications. Today it offers degrees in Law, Government, Divinity, Business, Counseling and Human Services, Education, and Communication and the Arts.

I have not identified the professor because I have yet to obtain his permission to do so. The conversation we had lasted only 45 minutes, and it is impossible to go into the detail necessary for any one of these questions in that amount of time. So please keep in mind that these questions were by no means anticipated; his responses were "off the top of his head".

I have paraphrased his answers to the best of my recollection based on the notes I took and the input from a friend who was also there. I have also refrained from including my own comments now, because it would be unfair to do so based on his impromptu responses and the fact that he can't offer a rebuttal.

I was pleasantly surprised that he didn't take a fundamentalist viewpoint, and that he sincerely tried to answer my questions instead of giving me canned responses. He definitely thought about what I was asking as well as his answers, especially for the last question.

Q:I've heard that "Elohim" in Genesis, referring to God, is a plural feminine word. Doesn't that seem to imply more than one god instead of the traditional singular? Or does this indicate the idea of the trinity?
A:Elohim here is somewhat like the royal we. God may have been speaking in plural, to his "heavenly court", which one could describe as the beings that did his will, but we're not sure. So the "Let us make" in Genesis is an announcement by God to the court. One shouldn't assume that this plural form means the trinity, however. We don't know that.

Q:Then what does "No other gods" mean? Isn't God saying in this case that there are other Gods?
A:First one has to understand this statement in the context of the early Israelites. At the time they were worshiping many gods, such as the fertility god. Suddenly they were asked by God to worship him, a shepherd god. So this statement is made by him in order to make sure that they understand that indeed He is the one to worship.

Q:I've heard that the Aramaic word "almah" has been mistranslated, and that the Old Testament text does not mean "virgin" so much as "young woman".
A:This was mistranslated, as we see in the Septuagint, where Greek was first used. But note that young woman does not mean that she can't be a virgin too. Matthew refers to the old testament and mentions virgin, which seems to corroborate the concept of Mary's virginity. Likewise Luke mentions Mary's virginity without reference to the Old Testament, which may be seen as as "independent evidence".

Q:How do we know that Jesus is God? Didn't he pray to God, referring to him as father, and saying "Father, why have you forsaken me?" Didn't the Council of Nicaea vote on the subject of Jesus' divinity?
A:This idea that Jesus was both man and god is inconceivable to humans. I think that the three parts of God are distinct, such that it is possible for one aspect to speak directly to another.

Q:Why should we expect God to answer our personal prayers and help us solve our problems if he will not fix the larger problems the world faces?
A:Jesus speaks of the coming Kingdom of God in the New Testament, where all of the world's problems will be eradicated. But Jesus' message was not on a large scale -- he did not want to be king, for example. Jesus' first coming was not a physical, large scale event, but he said that his second would be. One could say that Jesus' work is on the "grassroots" level, and continues to this day. Later we will see God respond to our major problems.

Q:Speaking of major problems, I thought the purpose of the flood was to get rid of sin. Does the fact that sin is still here mean that God was not able to do what he intended?
A:After the flood sin still existed because it was a spiritual problem instead of a physical one. Because Noah and his family were humans, the sin still remained.

Q:The flood seems very similar to myths in other cultures of the time. The snake in Genesis is a pagan symbol of immortality because it sheds its skin, and the apple because its core looks like a star when cut crosswise. Is it fair to say that the stories of the Bible are drawn from other cultures?
A:Other cultures had similar myths, but this doesn't necessarily mean that one came from the other or vice-versa. It's very possible that after the time of Noah, the Babylonians and Israelites both got versions of the story in differing forms. The story originated from the same source, but differed a little as it was passed on from generation to generation.

Q:What do you think of the stories of the Bible, such as the Genesis account and the flood? Surely they seem to contradict what we know from science?
A:I think of the stories as a poetic explanation of the beginnings of the universe, and not as scientific accounts. It's the meaning that's important, and not the details. When I read the story of the flood, I see the meaning, and am not concerned with whether or not the animals had food, etc. It's a mistake for scientists to try to be theologians and for theologians to try to be scientists.

Q:What about contradictions within the Bible?
A:There are contradictions resulting from the fact that the books were written by different authors. I would have to stand on my head to try to reconcile the gospel accounts of the resurrection, for example. The New Testament was originally transmitted orally, because it was believed that Jesus would return within the disciples' lifetimes. But when the original people started to die, their accounts were taken and written down.

Q:Why aren't some commandments followed? I'm thinking of eating pork and shellfish, and of clipping one's hair, as well as slavery.
A:We have to realize that God's original message was for ancient Israelites, and that God presented himself in a manner that they could understand. This is the idea of "Divine Accommodation". In the Old Testament, for example, divorce is allowed. But it is not in the New Testament.

Q:Would it be fair to say that God reveals himself in small increments, and that the idea of slavery is wrong is something that we've come to realize since the time of the Bible?
A:Yes, I think so. God has revealed his message in incremental steps, slowly bringing us up to his level.

Q:In the Old Testament, we often see God portrayed as a harsh judge. While the New Testament admittedly pertains mostly to Jesus, it seems that God is seen as very loving. What are your thoughts on this?
A:I don't want to get into the subject of a two-headed God, but we do see Jesus saying "shape up or you will end up like Sodom and Gomorrah". There are many examples in both the Old Testament and New Testament of both God's love and judgment.

Q:It seems that God isn't as overt today as he was in the time of the Old Testament. Why don't we see evidence of his power today?
A:I'm not sure we don't. It may be that his work is still powerful, but is being done in a much more subtle way. There are many things that have happened over the last 2000 years that could be regarded as miracles.

Q:Many things are unique, and many things are old. Other than these arguments, why is Christianity true? There are many other religions where its adherents say that their god is true...
A:I could go into apologetics here... I think when it comes down to it, each person must find the truth themselves. And it's the holy spirit that guides one to this truth.

Here he said I should read Why Believe Anything by James Sire and Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, and I said that I have read the latter. I told him that I agree that there is a "Law of Human Nature", but that this doesn't necessarily come from God. I gave the example of wearing long hair -- that seems to have spread around the country, but that doesn't mean God has an influence.

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