Stars, sand and how to read the Bible

universe.jpgA recent commenter on my other blog viewed Genesis 15:5 as evidence that the Bible has errors.  The context is God promising Abraham that despite his advanced age he would have many offspring.

Genesis 15:5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Here is what the commenter wrote:

There God promises Abraham to make his offspring as numerous as the stars. Referring to the visible stars only would not make any sense as we can see only a few thousands. But it cannot refer to the actually existing stars either, because there are about 200 billion in our Milky Way alone. 200 billion people could not possibly live on Earth, let alone Jews!

And I am not even talking about the stars in all the other galaxies. This is only one example. The bible abounds with errors great and small.

I think his interpretation of that verse would make a literalist fundy blush. 

First, since we always want to read things in context here are some other verses referring to the promises of Abraham’s offspring:

Genesis 22:17 I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies . . .

Genesis 32:12 But you have said, ‘I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted.’”

God mentions Abraham’s offspring as being as numerous as the stars, then the stars and the sand, then the sand.  

So the question is, “What’s the point of these passages?”  Was God trying to make a precise statement of exactly how many offspring Abraham would have?  Was He saying that the number of stars is exactly equal to the number of grains of sand? 

Or is it possible that He was saying that not only would Abraham have one child – a highly unlikely scenario by itself – but that Abraham would have many, many descendants – physically and spiritually?

More importantly, go back in history and see how many stars people used to think existed, and how the Bible was far ahead of its time. As the commenter noted, we can only observe thousands of stars, and several thousand years ago they could view less than that.

But God knew that there were far more than that. Again, the point of the passage was the promise to Abraham, not a science lesson. But the fact remains that the earliest Bible writings asserted that there were far more stars than people thought – as many as there are grains of sand on the beach.

I think an unbiased person would see that the passage was obviously a promise that Abraham would have a great number of descendants and that there are far more stars than we can see – in fact, so many that counting them would be like counting grains of sand. And that is a claim that was thousands of years ahead of its time. Why not give the Bible a little credit for knowing that there are countless stars?


One Response

  1. I just see the sands of the sea as earthy man and the stars of the sky as those born from above, born again, born of heaven, born of God…not trying to spiritulize it….just figuratively

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