Fellow apologist Robert Caponi recently refuted an atheist meme regarding a verse in Leviticus that seems to equate the bat as a bird. I thought I’d add my own two cents and address another problem that follows.
Lev. 11:13, 19 “And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls…And the stork, the heron after her kind, and the lapwing, and the bat.”
The objection to this verse comes from an atheist activist facebook page titled Atheist Republic. The page is nothing to get excited over, boasting the same old “religion and faith are evil” tropes heard a thousand times over. Although I can find agreement in some posts, this page features some of the most careless exegetical attempts I’ve seen in ages. I’ll be addressing these in the next few posts, starting with the argument that the above verse tells us that an omniscient God doesn’t know a bat isn’t a bird.
We can give a handful of answers to this. Firstly, even if we graciously admit an error with the English translation, we should note modern definitions of the word “bird” did not exist in ancient times or Hebrew language. Classification of animals was decided first and foremost by form and function. The Hebrew word for “bird” in this case is ‘owph, which is defined as anything with wings (i.e. anything that flies). This can include birds, bats, even insects.
This brings up another point: If God is omniscient He would have known about our scientific advancement and would have the Bible written accordingly. In reply, we could ask how the ancients would have benefitted from a system they knew nothing about. Why should the Bible have been written specifically for us and not for them? With the vast amount of knowledge we have acquired over time we can easily figure out what the author meant with some quick research (it took me thirty seconds to find that Hebrew root). In essence, why should God aid the advantaged over the disadvantaged?
What about the English translation? Could it have helped our understanding of this verse? Possibly. However, we should note that experts in Hebrew aren’t experts in animal biology so the biggest problem we have is a simple lack of knowledge by a translator. Does this hurt the Bible’s credibility? Not at all, unless we hold to complete inerrancy.
I want to make a final note regarding inerrancy. If the critic argues that God’s Word is to be completely perfect at all times for everyone it would become an omniscient Bible, something I’ve argued against here. If the critic defines inerrancy as completely as he expects it to the Bible would defy the laws of nature. To accommodate every minute change of knowledge, every individual viewpoint, even if it disagrees with common consensus, of all time it would expand the Bible to an impossible size. Those who argue this don’t want answers but validation.
In the end, as my friend James Bishop says, “This is another atheist meme for the grinder!”