Friday, September 9, 2016

Binary Sets and the Binary Worldview

A reader has asked what is meant by the terms "binary set" and  "binary worldview" of the Bible.

A binary set refers to a universally observed pattern in nature where two entities are naturally linked and complementary. One of the entities in the set is recognized empirically as greater in some observable way than its complement. Biblical theology hinges on this binary view of reality. We find the binary view expressed in the biblical assertions that 1) life is greater than death; 2) God is greater than Man; and 3) the heavenly realm is more glorious than the earthly realm.

Binary sets attest to the fact that there are some fixed patterns in Nature. The east-west axis of the solar arc is an example. The person of faith believes these patterns to be fixed by the Creator. They stand as a witness to the Creator's existence, divine nature, and eternal power. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in Romans 1:19, 20:
For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.

Genesis 1:6 speaks of the Sun as the greater light that rules the day. This implies masculine because the male of the species is anatomically larger than the female. In the ancient world objects commonly were perceived as reflecting male or female attributes. This is evident in many languages even today. For example, the Spanish word for ship is el barco (masculine), but the Spanish word for boat is la barca (feminine). A pond is el charco (masculine), but a puddle is la charca (feminine). The Spanish word for Sun is el sol (masculine) and the Spanish word for Moon is la luna (feminine).

In terms of the biblical understanding of complementarity, the Sun and the Moon are not equals (dualism) because the Sun is the "greater light" and the Moon reflects the greater light (reflugence). This is the main distinction between the binary worldview of the Bible and the dualism of Asian religions that developed in the Axial Age.

In the book of Genesis the Sun - Shemesh - is masculine, as in Genesis 19:23. A later Hebrew word for the Sun is Chammah, and this is feminine. It is clear that the Sun was regarded as having masculine attributes among Abraham and his ancestors. The binary worldview of Genesis comes from them and is older than the Hebrew language.

Abraham’s ancestors were Nilotic peoples who regarded the Sun as the symbol of the Creator. Both the Creator and the Sun were called Ra, and Ra is said to be the "Father" of Horus. The masculine designation is emphatic.

The masculine terminology also is apparent in Psalm 19:4-6:
…the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; It rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, And its circuit to the other end of them; And there is nothing hidden from its heat.

The ancient Sumerians were culturally like the cattle-herding, Proto-Saharan Nilotes. In the Sumerian language, the word for the Sun was Utu and he is called a “son” of Nanna and Ningal.

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