This article will deal with difficulties regarding the scientific or logical validity of certain events that are recorded in books of the Bible other than Genesis. [Note: The scientific or logical validity of events in the book of Genesis are addressed in three of our other articles: “Origin of the Universe,” “Origin of Humans,” and “Genesis Passages (Excluding Creation) Versus Science and Logic,” each of which can be accessed by clicking on the respective title.]
The following difficulties will be discussed in this article:
- Why should a person believe in the miracles reported in the Bible, since they violate scientific laws?
- How could Pharaoh’s wise men, sorcerers, and magicians perform several miracles similar to those performed by Moses, as indicated in Exodus 7:11-12, 22; 8:7?
- Was it really possible that the sun “stood still” for an entire day, as stated in Joshua 10:12-13, so the Israelites would have ample daylight to enable them to complete the defeat of their enemy?
- Was a witch actually able to cause Samuel, who had previously died, to appear to King Saul, as recorded in 1 Samuel 28:7-19?
- Why does the Bible state in Proverbs 22:6 that, if a child is trained in the correct way to live, he (or she) will not depart from this training, since experience indicates this is often not true?
- Is it true that Jonah lived for three days in the belly of a large fish, as noted in Jonah 1:17?
- Was Jesus Christ incorrect in stating in Matthew 13:31-32 that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds and that it can grow into a tree big enough for birds to nest in its branches?
Why should a person believe in the miracles reported in the Bible, since they violate scientific laws?
Josh McDowell and Don Stewart provide two good reasons to believe in the miracles reported in the Bible. They note on page 82 of their book entitled Answers to Tough Questions, “The straightforward account[s] of the supernatural works breaking into the natural order are recorded for us in the Bible by eyewitnesses to these events.” In other words, the accounts of the miracles were not based on reports that could not be confirmed; the reports could be verified by the people who wrote them.
Then, on page 86 of their book, McDowell and Stewart state,
The basis for believing in the miraculous goes back to the biblical conception of God. The very first verse of the Bible decides the issue. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1, RSV).
If this verse can be accepted at face value, that in the beginning an infinite-personal God created the universe, then the rest should not be a problem. If He has the ability to do this, then a virgin birth, walking on water, feeding 5,000 people with a few loaves and fish, and the other biblical miracles become not only possible but expected.
[I]f there is a God, then certainly miracles are possible.
How Could Pharaoh’s Wise Men, Sorcerers, and Magicians Perform Several Miracles Similar to Those Performed by Moses?
Norman Geisler, Ph.D., and Thomas Howe, M.A., on page 71 of their book entitled When Critics Ask, state, “The Bible indicates that one of Satan’s tactics in his effort to deceive humankind is to employ counterfeit miracles. . . .” Geisler and Howe go on to say that each of the scriptural passages declares that the feats “were performed ‘by their [magical] enchantments.’” And, they add, “Some commentators assert that the feats of the magicians were merely tricks.”
Likewise, Gleason L. Archer, on page 113 of his book entitled Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, asserts,
Scripture indicates that Satan has power to perform ‘lying wonders’ (2 Thess. 2:9) through his wicked agents for the express purpose of leading mankind astray.
Counterfeit miracles, then, are Satan’s stock in trade. Yet it should be carefully noted that Satan-empowered miracles are based largely on deception and illusion and generally involve some kind of clever trickery. Pharaoh’s magicians showed a skill not much different from that of professional magicians today. . . .
Was It Really Possible That the Sun “Stood Still” for an Entire Day, So the Israelites Would Have Ample Daylight to Enable Them to Complete the Defeat of Their Enemy?
Archer, on page 161 of his previously mentioned book, says,previously
The Book of Joshua records several miracles, but none perhaps as noteworthy or as widely discussed as that pertaining to the twenty-four hour prolongation of the day in which the battle of Gibeon was fought. . . . It has been objected that if in fact the earth was stopped in its rotation for a period of twenty-four hours, inconceivable catastrophe would have befallen the entire planet and everything on its surface. While those who believe in the omnipotence of God would hardly concede that [He] could not have prevented such catastrophe and held in abeyance those physical laws that might have brought it to pass, it does not seem to be absolutely necessary (on the basis of the Hebrew text itself) to hold that the planet was suddenly halted in its rotation. Verse 13 states that the sun “did not hasten to go down for about a whole day” (NASB). The words “did not hasten” seem to point to a retardation of the movement so that the rotation required forty-eight hours rather than the usual twenty-four.
Geisler and Howe take a similar position. On page 141 of their previously cited book, they state that the wording in verse 13 “could indicate that the earth’s rotation was not completely halted, but that it was retarded to such a degree that the sun did not set for about a whole day.” They go on to say, “[T]he Bible speaks in everyday observational language. So the sun did not actually stop; it only appeared to do so. . . .”
Finally, in support of the veracity of Joshua 10:12-13, Archer claims on page 161 of his book,
[R]esearch has brought to light reports from Egyptian, Chinese, and Hindu sources of a long day. [One source] reports that some astronomers have come to the conclusion that one full day is missing in our astronomical calculation. . . . [Several sources have] traced this missing day back to the time of Joshua. . . .
Was a Witch Actually Able to Cause Samuel, Who Had Previously Died, to Appear to King Saul?
On pages 167-168 of their book, Geisler and Howe offer the following possible explanations regarding the ability of a witch to cause Samuel, who had previously died, to appear to King Saul:
First, some believe that the witch worked a miracle by demonic powers and actually brought Samuel back from the dead. In support of this they cite passages which indicate that demons have the power to perform miracles. . . . The objections to this view include the fact that death is final . . ., the dead cannot return . . ., and demons cannot usurp God’s authority over life and death. . . .
Second, others have suggested that the witch did not really bring up Samuel from the dead, but simply faked doing so. . . . The objections to this view include the fact that the passage seems to say Samuel did return from the dead, that he provided a prophecy . . . that actually came to pass, and that it is unlikely that demons would have uttered truth of God. . . .
A third view is that the witch did not bring up Samuel from the dead, but God Himself intervened . . . to rebuke Saul for his sin. In support of this view is the following: (a) Samuel seemed to actually return from the dead . . ., but (b) neither humans nor demons have the power to bring people back from the dead. . . . (c) The witch herself seemed to be surprised by the appearance of Samuel from the dead. . . . (d) There is a direct condemnation of witchcraft in this passage (v. 9), and thus it is highly unlikely that it would give credence to witchcraft by claiming that witches can actually bring people back from the dead. (e) God sometimes speaks in unsuspecting places through unusual means. . . . (f) The miracle was not performed through the witch, but in spite of her. (g) Samuel . . . utters a true prophecy. . . . The major objections to this view are that the text does not explicitly say that God performed the miracle, and that a witch’s tent is a strange place to perform this miracle.
Archer seems to support the third explanation of Geisler and Howe. On page 181 of his book, Archer says,
The oracle delivered by this shade or apparition sounded like an authentic message from God with its announcement of doom on the guilty, unfaithful king. It even sounded like something Samuel himself would have said, had he remained alive. . . . Therefore, it is entirely possible that this apparition was the actual shade of Samuel himself. . . .
Why Does the Bible State That, If a Child Is Trained in the Correct Way to Live, He (or She) Will Not Depart from This Training, Since Experience Indicates This Is Often Not True?
Geisler and Howe declare on page 248 of their book,
This proverb does not contradict experience because it is only a general principle that allows for individual exceptions. Proverbs are not designed to be absolute guarantees. Rather, they express truths that provide helpful advice and guidance for wise living by which individuals should conduct their daily lives. It is generally true that the diligent training of godly parents will influence children to follow that training in later years.
Archer essentially agrees with Geisler and Howe. On page 253 of his book, Archer provides the following perspective:
[W]hen a godly parent gives proper attention to the training of his child for adult responsibility and for a well-ordered life lived for God, then he may confidently expect that that child – even though he may stray during his young adulthood – will never be able to get away completely from his parental training and from the example of a God-fearing home.
Does this verse furnish us with an iron-clad guarantee that all the children of conscientious, God-fearing, nobly living parents will turn out to be true servants of God? Will there never be any rebellious children, who will turn their backs on their upbringing and fall into . . . a Satan-dominated life? One might construe the verse that way, perhaps; but it is more than doubtful that the . . . author meant it as an absolute promise that would apply in every case.
Is It True That Jonah Lived for Three Days in the Belly of a Large Fish?
On page 301 of his book, Archer says,
The Book of Jonah has often been challenged as to its credibility and historical value because of the amazing adventures it narrates. . . . How could a man be saved from drowning by the friendly offices of a whale (or “large fish”), who kept him safely in his stomach for three days and then ejected him safely onto the shore?
Geisler and Howe, on pages 307-308 of their book, provide several reasons to believe that the events recorded in the Book of Jonah are “literal historical events.” Those reasons are as follows:
First, the tendency to deny the historicity of Jonah stems from an antisupernatural bias. If miracles are possible, there is no real reason to deny that Jonah is historical.
Second, Jonah and his prophetic ministry is mentioned in the historical book of 2 Kings (14:25). If his supernatural prediction is mentioned in a historical book, why should the historical nature of his prophetical book be rejected?
Third, the most devastating argument against the denial of the historical accuracy of Jonah is found in Matthew 12:40. In this passage Jesus predicts His own burial and resurrection, and provides the doubting scribes and Pharisees the sign that they demanded. The sign is the experience of Jonah. Jesus says, “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” If the tale of Jonah’s experience in the belly of the great fish was only fiction, then this provided no prophetic support for Jesus’ claim. The point of making reference to Jonah is that if they did not believe the story of Jonah being in the belly of the fish, then they would not believe the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
Fourth, Jesus went on to mention the significant historical detail. His own death, burial, and resurrection was [sic] the supreme sign [sic] that verified His claims. When Jonah preached to the unbelieving Gentiles, they repented. But, here was Jesus in the presence of His own people, the very people of God, and yet they refused to believe. Therefore, the men of Nineveh would stand up in judgment against them, “because they [the men of Nineveh] repented at the preaching of Jonah” (Matt.12:41). If the events of the Book of Jonah were merely parable or fiction, and not literal history, then the men of Nineveh did not really repent, and any judgment upon the unrepentant Pharisees would be unjust and unfair. Because of the testimony of Jesus, we can be sure that Jonah records literal history.
And, Archer states on pages 301-302 of his book,
The coming experience of Christ, which certainly was historical, would serve as an antitype to the experience of the prophet Jonah. If the antitype was historical, then the type must also have been historical. No fictional past episode can serve as a prophetic type of a future literal fulfillment.
Subsequently, on page 302, Archer adds,
Jesus claimed that the men of Nineveh really did repent and set an example for the Israelites of His time to follow. But if the Ninevites did not repent and Jonah was only a folk tale, their example could not shame Jesus’ contemporaries because of their unbelief.
Was Jesus Christ Incorrect in Stating That the Mustard Seed Is the Smallest of All Seeds and That It Can Grow into a Tree Big Enough for Birds to Nest in Its Branches?
On page 329 of his book, Archer says,
[I]t is highly questionable whether Jesus was discussing all plant life on planet Earth when He made this statement. No one yet has proved that ancient Palestinians planted anything that bore a smaller seed than that of the black mustard, and that was the framework within which Jesus was speaking.
Likewise, Geisler and Howe state on page 345 of their book,
Jesus was not referring to all the seeds in the world, but only those that a Palestinian farmer sowed in his field. This is made clear by the qualifying phrase “which a man took and sowed in his field”. . . . And it is a fact that the mustard seed was the smallest of all seeds which the 1st century Jewish farmer sowed in his field. So there is no contradiction here between science and Scripture. What Jesus said was literally true in the context in which He said it.
[Furthermore], there is evidence that some mustard seeds grow into trees about ten feet tall. This would certainly provide enough branch space for a bird to build a nest. . . .
We have attempted to provide a plausible explanation in response to each of the questions that are addressed in this article. Most of the explanations necessitate a belief in the supernatural, particularly in God. In any case, it is our belief that all of the explanations are sufficient to strengthen trust in the Bible by those who believe it is the infallible Word of God and to cause those who have not previously regarded the Bible as credible to give more thought to the possibility that the Bible is reliable. [For additional reasons to believe that the Bible is credible, click on “Is the Bible Reliable?”]