Four questions about the physical world

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Why did God make us with vestigial structures, such as a coccyx, appendix, ear muscles, etc.? Aren’t they useless? Also, if the Old Testament laws talk about an eye for an eye, why did Jesus speak against it? What was/is the firmament? Is it still around? At what point did it go away? Why was it so discussed in the Bible? Finally, why doesn’t the Bible distinguish the Sun as a star?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries.

Concerning vestigial structures in the human body, although we can live without them, they are not necessarily “useless.” Their purposes are up for debate. Got Questions Ministries has an article in their database about this, and rather than merely regurgitating it, I’ll have you read it for yourself. Click here to see that article.

Answers in Genesis also has reliable information on this. Their link is an index, however, so make sure you click on the individual topics (like “appendix”) to see their Bible-based perspectives. Click here to see that article.

On the other side of the spectrum, many Christians are comfortable with the idea that biological evolution is true, and that mankind was given a soul after they had reached the point in development where they were physically and mentally able to accomplish God’s purposes.

If this is true — and even if it is true that the vestigial organs are now “useless” — it would be part of God’s plan for us to have useless appendixes. Leaving those types of bread crumbs would reveal his processes. He would have changed us gradually over millions of years, and when we were ready, he would assign us our souls.

Concerning an eye for an eye, Jesus did not speak against it as much as he brought it into line with his much higher standards. He gave a parallel example a few verses before the eye-for-an-eye section that I think shows the principal at work most clearly. Here is that text.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27–30, NIV)

The parallel to the eye-for-an-eye teaching is the “You shall not commit adultery” teaching. In the Old Testament law, adultery was a physical act. People had to “do” the sex act to be guilty of it. Jesus did not countermand this law. Sex outside of marriage was still adultery. What he did was lower the threshold for what should be considered adultery. Jesus revealed that even thinking about extra-marital sex was adultery in the eyes of God. Let’s see how that relates to an-eye-for-an-eye.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” (Matthew 5:38–42, NIV)

With an-eye-for-an-eye, the same principle is at play — only backward. As in the previous example, Jesus did not countermand this law. But here he taught to raise the threshold of offense rather than lower it. So, how do we account for the directional difference amounting to the same thing?

In the first, we are the offenders. In the second, we are the ones who are offended. Jesus wants us to be like him and “take one for the team.” Just as Jesus gave up everything and absorbed the sin and the insults of humankind, so should we. When offenses come our way, we should not respond in kind.

The Jews still had the right under the law to exact an eye for an eye… although we have no evidence that anyone actually did this. The point is that the law did not go away. Jesus told them to give up that right... to absorb the offense... and even volunteer to go the second mile with the people who oppress you. That would be the tone of Christianity going forward. This is part of what Jesus meant when he said that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17).

Let me throw a few fancy words at you before we go on to the next section of your question. We call God’s information output his “revelation.” We call the art and science of interpreting the Bible “hermeneutics.” One of the principles in hermeneutics is that God’s revelation is progressive. This means that he distributes newer information throughout time. The result is that knowledge is cumulative.

So, it was “appropriate” for people in Moses’ time to exact an eye for an eye. That was the information they had at that time. But Jesus gave a newer perspective that was appropriate to his day — and is still appropriate today.

Now, the law is still “appropriate.” The Apostle Paul called it our “schoolmaster” in Galatians 3:24-25. Newer information — like the gospel of grace — is a natural outgrowth of the old. This is why, logically speaking, we can never say that Jesus’ New Testament teachings conflict with the Old Testament teachings... which I think was your challenge.

For another perspective, you might want to look at Got Question Ministries’ article on an “eye for an eye.” Click here to see that article.

Concerning the firmament, this is the word used by the King James Bible for what Ancient Near Eastern people called “the heavens” — the observable universe. It’s an antiquated term that is not “so much used” as you suspect.

Following is Genesis 1:6 in the King James Version, the New International Version and the Amplified Bible. Note that the term “the firmament” only appears in 400-year-old English… and the modern translations describe it as the observable physical phenomenon of the sky.

“And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” (Genesis 1:6, KJV 1900)

“And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” (Genesis 1:6, NIV)

“And God said, “Let there be an expanse [of the sky] in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters [below the expanse] from the waters [above the expanse].” (Amplified Bible).

People often use the term “the firmament” to say that the Bible teaches some kind of weird cosmology. That’s not true. The word only appears 17 times in the King James Bible — and nowhere in the contemporary translations. So, the word “firmament” has indeed gone away from common usage. But what it refers to — the physical “heavens” above — are still there. Just look up.

Here too, Got Questions Ministries has a helpful article about “the firmament” in its database. Click here to see that article.

Concerning the sun as a star, the Bible does not distinguish the sun as a star because it was under no obligation to do so. The newest section of the Bible is 2100 years old! — and no book — including the Bible — has any obligation to give accurate scientific information consistent with discoveries that were future to its writing. That’s not a reasonable requirement for any book... and in this respect... the Bible is like any other book.

Remember, only 600 years ago the scientific consensus was that the earth was at the center of the universe — and the sun, moon and planets revolved around it. When ancient people looked up and recorded the movements of the sky, they did so phenomenologically; they did not do so accurately according to modern cosmology and Newtonian physics.

The language in the Bible merely reflected what the people saw… and God used the common language of common people to communicate uncommon truths in his word. The Bible is not a “magic” book... revealing scientific phenomena that could not have been known during the author’s lifetimes. It is a common book that people have no trouble reading. That being said, it is the only book that is also God’s word... which is the right kind of magic.

I pray that these answers helped.

 

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