Names and their Meanings

Recently I read this quote from Dr. Karl Giberson, formerly VP of BioLogos:

The key for most people is developing an understanding of the Bible that goes beyond what they learned in Sunday School. Sunday Schools teach Bible stories about the early chapters of Genesis that are appropriate for children, but then they don’t revisit those stories to help young adults find a “grown up” way to read Genesis. Discovering that the Genesis stories contain all sorts of clues indicating that they are not literal history can be very liberating for Christians. If we encountered the Genesis stories of creation first as adults we might not be so quick to assume that this account of talking snakes, a magical garden, God “coming down” to walk with Adam and Eve every day was supposed to be actual history. Even the names of the principal characters are an important clue. The Hebrew word “Adam” simply means “man.” “Eve” means “life.” Imagine a story in English about a couple named “Man” and “Life” in a magical garden. Wouldn’t we immediately understand that this is not intended to be historical?

Dr. Giberson’s point is that the meanings of Adam and Eve’s names should be a clue to us that we aren’t meant to read the stories as history. But, is it unusual for Biblical figures to have names with special meanings?

Abraham’s name was changed from Abram when God promised to make him the father of a multitude of nations. His name, Abraham, means “father of a multitude.” Sarai, his wife, was renamed, Sarah. Her name means “Princess.” So, in this case, “Father of a multitude” and “Princess” are promised to be the ancestors to a multitude of nations. Are their symbolic names an indication that they didn’t really exist or that their account isn’t historically accurate?

Jacob’s name is changed to Israel after he wrestles with the “angel of the Lord.” Israel apparently means “struggles with God.” Does this mean that he didn’t actually wrestle with the angel of the Lord?

Before Rachel dies after giving birth to Benjamin, she names him Ben-Oni, which means “son of my trouble.” Jacob changes his name to Benjamin, which means “son of my right hand.” Does the symbolic meaning of the name mean that Rachel didn’t die after giving birth to him?

Hosea is told to name his children Lo-Ruhamah and Lo-Ammi which mean “not loved” and “not my people,” respectively. Given the symbolic meanings of their names, does that mean this is a clue that Hosea didn’t really name his children such odd names?

What about the best example of a Biblical figure with a symbolic name? Jesus’s name Yeshua, or Joshua, means “savior.” Does the fact that He is named “Savior” mean that He is a symbolic literary figure and not actually historical?

While many people may want to argue that there are symbolic elements in the Genesis 1-11 accounts, I don’t think that there is a strong Biblical argument for Adam and Eve as non-historic figures based on the symbolic nature of their names.

Clarifying: BioLogos, Michael Ruse, and the Resurrection

**My original post on this subject was not as clear as I would have liked. I have expanded my post to reflect the topic more fully.**

As I have discussed before, BioLogos is dogmatic about evolution, but flexible about everything else. My point is that while BioLogos states that they believe there can be harmony between evolutionary science and Christianity, they believe that the evolutionary science is settled, and therefore the Scriptures must give way. Karl Giberson, formerly Vice President of BioLogos, wrote in an essay for BioLogos:

I am happy to concede that science does indeed trump religious truth about the natural world.

The problem with allowing “science to trump religious truth” is that eventually all of the central claims of Christianity are subject to being overridden by naturalism. For example, according to naturalism, dead men do not rise from the grave. The most central tenet of Christianity is the death and resurrection of Christ. According to “science,” Christ could not have risen from the dead.

Now, BioLogos believes in the “historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” However, they appear to be more concerned with supporting their claim that evolutionary science and Christianity are compatible than with addressing how various scholars make them compatible.

For example, Michael Ruse has written a series of posts for BioLogos called “Accommodationist and Proud of it.” In the intro for the essay, BioLogos states:

Michael Ruse is an author and philosopher of biology well known for his works on the creationism and evolution debate. Though not a believer in God, he takes the position that Christianity and evolution are not incompatible.

So, even though Ruse is an atheist, what matters here is that he believes that evolution and Christianity are “not incompatible.” What is interesting is how Ruse believes evolution and Christianity are compatible. In his essay for BioLogos, Ruse says:

My first work in this area was Can a Darwinian be a Christian?: The Relationship between Science and Religion, in which I lay out in a fairly standard way what it is to be a Darwinian and then I go through the main claims of Christianity as they might be impacted by the science.

His book, Can a Darwinian be a Christian?, used to be listed as a recommended resource by BioLogos, although the link appears dead now. As he says, he addresses various claims of Christianity in his book. What does he say about the Resurrection?

[T]he supreme miracle of the resurrection is no law-breaking return from the dead. One can think Jesus in a trance, or more likely that he really was physically dead but that on and from the third day, a group of people, hitherto downcast, were filled with great joy and hope (96).

He goes on to say in his BioLogos essay:

What the Christian cannot do is encroach on the domain of science. That is why I offer no hope to the Creationist, because that position does clash with science. (Expectedly, I don’t have any time for those who would alter science to fit with Creationism.)

And then he concludes with:

Am I an Accommodationist? It all depends.

If it means thinking that the Christian religion is true, then I am not. If it means thinking that religion, and Christianity in particular, is a valid way of knowing, and that as such I should not criticize it, then I am not. I think religion is a delusion and that faith is chimerical.

I really do.

However, my form of Accommodationism says that science can only go so far and that after this if religion wants to take over, science as science cannot stop it. You can use other arguments, theological and philosophical, and this I myself would do. But these are not scientific arguments. Note the caveat that my Accommodationism allows only those aspects of religion that do not encroach illicitly on science. So Creationism is ruled out. (emphasis added)

So, BioLogos believes in the Resurrection. Michael Ruse does not. In his essay, Michael Ruse writes in support of BioLogos’ chief purpose which is:

exploring and celebrating the compatibility of evolutionary creation and biblical faith.

But this compatibility comes at what cost?