Important Messages

Monday, November 25, 2013

Thankful for Skeptics

This past week I had the opportunity to engage one of my co-workers in a conversation about God, the Bible, Jesus Christ, the Gospel and the like. He is an atheistic skeptic who hates God, at least the God that he has fashioned in his mind. One thing that occurred to me during our conversation is that the god that he is rejecting, is not the God of the the Bible. It is not the true and living God. He is rejecting a god that he has framed in such a way that suits his own criteria for rejection. And I think this is true of most atheists and skeptics. They have a caricature of the true God in their mind and the caricature they build is the same god they wind up rejecting.

One objection in particular that he brought regarding the Bible's credibility was the value of Pi. He claimed that the Bible says Pi=3 which means that the Bible can't be trusted. I have to admit, this is the first time I heard that objection. I have read the Bible several times and have never come across a passage where the Bible discusses the value of Pi. In any case, I told him that was interesting and that I would look into it.

After looking into it, I found out the passage in question is 1 Kings 7:23-26. After reading it and running some calculations on my own I found out that the value of Pi is not explicitly stated but could be calculated indirectly from the information given in the passage. As the passage describes the diameter and circumference of a round object, it says:

Now he made the sea of cast metal ten cubits from brim to brim, circular in form, and its height was five cubits, and thirty cubits in circumference....It was a handbreadth thick, and its brim was made like the brim of a cup, as a lily blossom; it could hold two thousand baths.
1 Kings 7:23-26

With a 10 cubit diameter, it would follow that the circumference would be 31.4 cubits, not 30 cubits, as the passage states. So what is going on here? There are a couple ways I suppose one could look at it.

First, the measurements could be approximations rather than exact numbers. This would be entirely consistent with the genre of literature that this is written in. It is not a mathematical discourse. If the diameter were 9.5 cubits and written down as 10, that would lead to a circumference of 29.9 which could be approximated as 30 cubits. This is a perfectly valid explanation by itself.

Second, if you take into consideration the outer brim, which is a handbreadth thick, then you really have an outer and inner circumference. The passage does not say whether or not it is describing the outer or inner circumference. The above scenario where Pi=3 is for the outer circumference and it could very well be an approximation. However, if the passage is describing the inner circumference then you could calculate for Pi directly. Based on the historical value of a cubit (18 inches) and a handbreadth (4 inches), you can calculate for Pi from the equation:

Wow! Solving for pi we get Pi=3.14. This is the same approximation we use today for Pi in everyday calculations! So, either way you look at it, the Bible's credibility is not called into account, rather it is supported!

In the end, the trustworthiness of Scripture is validated once again when you take the time to investigate the claims of skeptics. The more I witness to people, the more I come to realize that this is the usual outcome whenever I investigate objections against Scripture. I always come away with more confidence and trust in the absolute authority, reliability and trustworthiness of Scripture. For this reason, I thank God for skeptics and I thank God the the opportunities He gives to reach out to them. I'm looking forward to sharing this discovery with my co-worker in the near future.
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