Rockets, Moon Landings, and Bad Bible Interpretations

Today, I am reviewing an incredibly important and relevant book, which you have probably never heard of. It’s called The Bible and Rockets to the Moon by Edward Boone. First off, let me apologize; you won’t be able to find this work anywhere, nor can you borrow my copy. But that’s okay, because I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about this little volume. Strap in; we’re going to hit 5 Gs.

The book begins with the bold observation that, “Radio commentators, newspapers, and magazines have been talking in terms never before used in the history of the world.” This is conveyed as a bad thing, largely because recent achievements have been so far beyond the average citizen’s understanding that they “leave the human race groping in darkness like a blind man.” I know, sounds bad.

Oh, I should mention that this little booklet was written after Sputnik and Explorer, but before Neil Armstrong set foot on the lunar surface. And the “relevant issue” at hand is whether or not landing on the moon would be a sinful rebellion against the Almighty. I inherited this short, saddle-stitched volume from my late grandmother, who had a whole shelf full of similar booklets and pamphlets—some of them full of solid Gospel material, and a few of them more or less cookoo for Cocoa Puffs. I have no idea where she got them or what she thought of this particular book. Seriously, though; stick with me. I promise it really is relevant.

Mr. Boone attempts to use the Bible to build his case that a rocket to the moon would not sit well with God in Heaven. He begins by claiming there are “three heavens,” drawing this conclusion from some verse fragments (particularly 2 Cor 12:2) and rabbinical writings. The susses out the three heavens thus: 1. The realm of gravity, 2. The sun, moon, and stars, and 3. The abode of God. He finds further evidence of this in the Bible’s frequent references to “the heavens” (plural), not simply “heaven.” Of course, if he was familiar with Hebrew, he would know that the word here (shamayim) is a dual form (i.e., two, not three) and that this form doesn’t necessarily mean anything about number (for example, the word mayim, which just means water, is also a dual form).

But let’s pretend there are “three heavens” as delineated by the author. So what? Well, according to Edward Boone (I don’t know why, but I just love that name), we’re okay to go up into the first heaven (still within the realm of gravity), but not into the second or third. The biblical evidence is supposedly Genesis 1:26-28, which limits man’s dominion to the water, the air, and the earth. Also offered as evidence is Psalm 115:16, which reads, “The heavens are the LORD’s heavens, but the earth he has given to the children of man.”

Man is thus in danger, from Boone’s point of view, of trespassing in forbidden territory. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but the author seems to think that going into space gets us that much closer to God’s abode in heave (Psalm 11:4), but without going through the proper channels—some kind of cosmic-spiritual loophole. Therefore, we’re in danger of following the path of Satan. To quote The Bible and Rockets to the Moon, “Every time a Sputnik or Explorer circles this globe with its ‘beep beep,’ it is . . . declaring that judgment is soon to visit . . . the whole WORLD.” (Emphasis original)

This desire to ignore God’s “No Trespassing” sign and thrust our way into his sacred backyard is anything but new, though. No, Boone sees this as the same prideful, man-centered spirit that led to the rebellion and disobedience present in the building of the Tower of Babel. In making this case, he selectively buys into certain Targums (Jewish interpretive translations) and makes bizarre leaps to try and paint a striking similarity between the Tower of Babel’s construction—in direct defiance of God—and those evil rockets to the moon, also in direct defiance of God.

Both projects are all about humans patting themselves on the back for what they’ve accomplished in order make a great name for mankind. Just like no one acknowledged the One True God in building the Tower (and subsequent empire) of Babylon, no one is acknowledging God in this race to the moon.

Except, it didn’t really pan out that way, did it? On Christmas Eve of 1968, during the most watched television broadcast to date, the crew of Apollo 8 took turns reading the first ten verses of Genesis as they orbited the moon, thus acknowledging to some degree the glory of God in what they were seeing and doing. They were the first humans to leave earth’s orbit, the first to see the dark side of the moon, the first to watch an “earthrise.” And when all the world was listening, they did not say, “Wow! Humans are amazing!” They said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth . . . ”

Not so fast, though. Boone has other arguments against going to the moon! Arguments from moral superiority. Since man’s goal in conquering space is only “to build world prestige and to glory in his achievement,” trying—at least subconsciously—to break out of the mortal sphere and into immortality, it is a double crime to pour millions of dollars into this endeavor, while not “adequately caring for the hurting, hungry, and poor on this planet.” Instead of setting their mind on “things above,” we should be setting ourr minds on things above. You feel me.

Again, the advantage of history and hindsight blows this argument apart as well. Far from being a vain, self-promoting waste of resources, the space program has led directly to all sorts of helpful and even life-saving technologies, including breathing apparatus used by firefighters, safer runways for jets, hydraulic rescue equipment used to cut people out of crashed cars, baby food as we know it today, life-saving heart surgeries (using lasers developed for the space program), the equipment used to monitor vital signs in ICUs, better brakes, home blood pressure kits, landmine-clearing technology, functional artificial limbs, and a whole lot more.

The moral argument, then, is also built on some faulty assumptions. (Note: Boone mentions that this argument is further developed in another sweet little booklet called The Flying Saucer Conspiracy, which, sadly, I do not have and cannot find.)

But the biggest issue this book has is consistency. Mr. Boone is very much in favor of superhighways, jet travel (which apparently does not cross the border into heaven-heaven), and groundbreaking (er…sea-breaking?) submarine technology. Are these technologies really quantitatively different from a rocket to the moon? Or are they just familiar to Mr. Boone and therefore not uncomfortable-slash-a bit scary? And speaking of jets being okay, how does that jibe with Boone’s whole line of reasoning that, since Adam (the Hebrew word for “man”) is tied to adamah, (the Hebrew word for “ground” or “land”), man is therefore tied to the ground? Is this special exception for jet planes hidden somewhere in the “Bible code” of bad ‘90s Christian movies or is it simply grandfathered in because airplanes have been around longer than the author?

This brings me to the obvious question: why bother to refute such an outlandish, outdated publication, almost sixty years after it was briefly in circulation?

I’m glad you asked. The reason I’m taking the time to answer such a silly argument is that it wasn’t silly to Edward Boone. It was deadly serious. It was a matter of grave spiritual importance, and he even had the Scripture to back it up.

Isaiah 14:13, speaking of the downfall of the king of Babylon, identifies his main crime as declaring, “I will ascend into heaven” and “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God.” Boone assumes this passage is really describing Satan (it may or may not be) and he can’t help but make the obvious connection that this is also the crime of the newly-formed NASA. It’s easy for us to see the flawed leap in logic (as if ascending physically into the sky is the same as a prideful spiritual ascent), but it was anything but clear to Boone in the middle of his anti-rocket crusade.

That’s why this is still relevant today. As history marches forward and the world changes around us, Christians are continually met with new issues to which we must apply millennia-old Scriptures—Scriptures which we believe to be inerrant, eternal, and containing all we need for life and doctrine. But how do we avoid going down a silly road like Edward Boone or, worse, a condemnable road like those who used Scripture to justify slavery?

In most Bible interpretation, we have the voice of the church going back two thousand years to help keep us from wandering way out into Wackyland or falling into a new version of some old heresy. “Little ships should stay close to harbor” and all that. But with the world and our culture changing so quickly, we are increasingly facing issues for pretty much the first time in Church history.

Entire books have been written on this topic (some good and some worse than the ramblings of Edward Boone), but let me give you a few guidelines for Bible interpretation when it comes to the next “rockets to the moon” hot-button issue:

  • Take each text in its context. Are you looking at every passage of Scripture you consider in its original setting or are you looking for a bunch of little Bible-Legos that you can use to construct a particular case? Would your use of that letter/oracle/Gospel make sense to the original recipients, or are you pulling a passage out of its contents and re-purposing it? A paragraph or ten chock-full of parenthetical Bible references can be an impressive thing, but it’s worthless if the references don’t pan out.
  • Let Jesus and the Apostles lead the way in interpreting the Old Testament. I am assuming here that most readers of The Blazing Center embrace the redemptive-historical approach to Bible interpretation. (If not, I recommend some further reading.) So remember, all Scripture points to Jesus. And the Gospels and Epistles show us just how the Old Testament was pointing forward to him. Let inspired Scripture interpret inspired Scripture wherever possible. This will require a lot more study, of course, but it’s worth it when you consider the stakes.
  • Remember that not all Scripture applies to our lives in the same way. For example, the Old Testament ceremonial law (e.g. dietary, clothing, and cleanliness laws for Israel; feasts and festivals; etc.) were shadows pointing forward to Christ. Now that he has come, the shadows are still valuable, but no longer binding. In fact, these old covenant elements are “rendered obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). Christians have been known to build large rhetorical cases from Leviticus, while wearing a cotton-poly blend shirt and eating a lobster dinner, both of which violate Levitical law. These passages are still useful in illustrating the utter holiness of God, but be sure to keep the covenants in mind and read all of Scripture in light of its place in redemptive history.
  • Let the Bible speak for itself. I once attended an ordination council where the candidate, after waffling all over the place with his limp answers, was finally asked, “Are you subject to the Bible or is the Bible subject to you?” To which he fidgeted under a layer of flop sweat for about ten seconds before muttering, “I’d like to think I’m subject to the Bible.” Don’t be that guy. There are 788,000, give or take, in an English Bible. And when you consider the poetic and symbolic nature of much of the language, it’s no surprise that people have been able to twist it into saying whatever they want. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you when you are tempted to impose your agenda on his Holy Word and surround yourself with brothers and sisters who will call you on it as well.
  • Our culture is also subject to God’s Word. While it’s more popular than ever to remind ourselves that God is bigger than the first century culture in which the New Testament was written, this is usually (ironically) followed by a sloppy and arbitrary imposition of our 21st century culture upon the text. Remember that God, who is bigger than any culture, chose to speak in a particular time and place to convey truth that endures in every time and every place.
  • Don’t let your rockets obscure the cross. You know what’s conspicuously absent from The Bible and Rockets to the Moon? The Gospel. There are two hurried paragraphs about salvation at the very end, disconnected from all the Scripture that came before and just waiting to be disregarded in light of how stupid the book is as a whole. Our lives and our doctrine must pour forth from the cross! The cross can never be an addendum or afterthought. Be sure that the way you read and apply the Scriptures puts Jesus, his sacrificial death, and triumphant resurrection at the blazing center!
  • Don’t worry about being the next Edward Boone. No, you don’t want to misinterpret Scripture in bonkers ways that distract from the Gospel, but don’t worry about whether the church of tomorrow would laugh at the stand you take today. Whether you might be on the “wrong side of history” shouldn’t even factor in. We know that the world will hate us (Matt 10:22, John 15:18) and that even the visible church will largely turn away from the truth (2 Thess 2). If we are faithful to God’s Word, subject to it, and rooted in the cross of Jesus, the derision of men won’t matter a bit.

Zach is pastor at Judson Baptist Church in Lansing, MI and the author of Playing Saint, The Last Con, and a few other books. He's husband to Erin, father to Calvin, and lover of gourmet coffee and fine cigars. He's the author of Playing Saint, The Last Con, and The Christian Gentleman's Smoking Companion