article by one James J.S. Johnson in the latest edition of Acts & Facts, a publication of the Institute for Creation Research recommended to my attention by Dr. Alan ("barjona") Trimble. The article has very little if any direct relevance to evolution (I hope to deal further with more evolution-relevant articles in the near future), but it offers an interesting look into the mindset of one particular creationist, and perhaps into the young-earth creationist mindset more generally.
The article deals with the interpretation of a sentence in Acts 2:5-11: "And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven." Taken literally, this is of course problematic, inasmuch as one would not expect there to be Jews from, e.g. the Andean Indian cultures present, or, most likely, from Han China or northern Europe. Johnson considers the idea that the phrase is just hyperbole (the actual list of nations runs to fifteen, all in the middle east), a position advanced by some Christians Johnson commends for their high view of scripture, and one likely to be accepted by fair-minded skeptics. But while he's not willing to rule out the idea that some passages in the Bible might be hyperbole, he doesn't like that idea for this passage. Instead, he notes that it is important to seek out what the word translated "nation" (ethnos) in the biblical text itself, and then goes on to seek, in the Bible, a use of this word or its Hebrew equivalent goy that makes the statement literally true. He doesn't appear to consider that there may be some tension between these two ideas.
Johnson finds a passage that will serve: the "Table of Nations" in Genesis 11 (he marvels "Isn’t it amazing how every major doctrine in the Bible, and every theological question, has a root in Genesis?" -- for my own part, I think I'd say that you can find the roots of every theological question there if you work hard enough to read them into the text of Genesis), which lists about seventy ethnic groups supposedly descended from the three sons of Noah. Not all these groups can be definitely identified with any historically-known group (who are the "Sinites," for example?), but most can be, and all seem to have been living in the middle eastern region. Johnson thus argues that Luke must mean that descendants of each of these seventy groups -- not, of course, the parts of these groups that had colonized Scandinavia or Australia or sub-Saharan Africa or the New World, but descendants of the original groups -- must have been present at Pentecost, and that Luke meant this.
That is neat, and slightly bizarre. After all, on the face of things, Acts was written to "the most excellent Theophilus," apparently a Roman or Greek dignitary who desired to know more about the founding of Christianity. One might suppose that Theophilus, or other early readers of Acts, may have been a bit shaky in their grasp of the Table of Nations (which Luke of course nowhere mentions explicitly), and not have been aware that Johnson's interpretation was even possible (after all, a lot of modern Christians with Genesis and Acts bound between the same leather covers apparently have missed it). Johnson's interpretation, in other words, demands that the true meaning of a passage be one that almost certainly was missed by the original intended audience.
Of course, a lot of creationist argumentation is like that. From Ray Comfort -- and may other creationists -- arguing that Isaiah's reference to the "circle of the Earth" describes the Earth as a sphere (though we know that early Jews and Christians didn't read it that way, because they referred in some of their writings to a flat Earth ) to the insistence that the same passage's mention of "spreading out the heavens" refers to the expansion of the universe revealed through galactic redshifts (which interpretation would have been unavailable to anyone prior to the 20th century), creationist surprisingly often insist that the plain meaning of the text must be something different from its plain meaning to centuries of earlier Christians and Jews. Indeed, the whole idea that "created kinds" correspond to genera, families, or suborders rather than species is something that wasn't found in the text until the mid-20th century (though granted, if you go back before the 17th century, the idea of "immutable species" was impossible as the modern concept of "species" had not yet been invented). One must wonder whether Johnson -- both a theologian and a lawyer -- could possibly reason his way to the conclusion that the real, true, hitherto undiscerned biblical meaning of the early chapters of Genesis referred to common descent with modification by natural selection.