This is Part 2 of my thoughts on science and Scripture (see Part 1).
Last time I mentioned that the Bible has been used to “prove” scientific “facts” that we now know to be false. For example, Psalm 104:5 states, “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” Yet, of course we now know that the earth rotates on its axis, revolves around the sun, and the entire solar system revolves around the center of the galaxy which is itself hurtling through space.
When Copernicus put forth his evidence that the earth revolves around the sun, Martin Luther responded with Joshua 10:12-14:
There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon. … The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth.
(It’s interesting to note that the Catholic Church initially opposed neither Copernicus’ nor Galileo’s ideas. For a fascinating article on this topic, see “The Galileo Affair,” by George Sim Johnston.)
Or, consider the accusation that the Bible teaches the world is flat. My brother-in-law John summarized this perspective on his blog, Forbidden Questions: Bible & Faith.
When the Bible speaks of a tree reaching up into heaven so it can be seen “to the end of the whole earth” (Daniel 4:10-11), and when it tells us that Satan took Jesus to a high mountain so that he could show Him “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory” (Matthew 4:8), must we not conclude that it is teaching that the earth is flat? For how else might a tall tree be seen reaching into heaven? It matters not how tall a tree might be on one side of a globe: people on the other side will never be able to see it; its height makes no difference. And, similarly, it matters not how high the mountain might be: if the earth is globular, no one could possibly see “all the kingdoms of the world.”
There are plenty of additional examples where the Bible, taken literally, makes no sense. Is weather really kept in a “storehouse”? Does God literally knit us together in our mother’s womb? Is Jesus actually a grapevine?
It’s quite obvious that the Bible uses similes and metaphors to impart truth. Many, if not most, spiritual concepts are abstract—intangible and hard to grasp—without being compared to things we already understand. I have no problem including Genesis 1 and 2 in this category. These passages aren’t meant to be a scientifically accurate explanation of prehistory any more than Psalm 135:7, Jeremiah 10:13, and Jeremiah 51:16 are meant to teach us about meteorology.
Rather, they teach us that God made the universe, that He made life, and that we are made in his image—in some way we do not yet fully understand. The lessons to be found in the first chapters of Genesis are endless.
In 2 Timothy 3:14-17, Paul states,
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (italics mine)
We should use the Bible to gain wisdom for salvation, to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness so we can be equipped to do God’s will. Nowhere does it say that it is literally true, that it is useful for learning science, etc. I think we run into trouble because we’re using Scripture in ways that it was never meant to be used.
It helps me to the remember that the Bible is not God. A friend of ours jokes that the evangelical church tends to worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible. It’s funny because it’s so often true. But Jesus is the Word. He is the one who is perfect and infallible. The Bible points to him… it isn’t an end in itself.
Part 3 is still to come. Stay tuned…