Words and Works 3

This is my final (for now) post on science and Scripture. For the others, see “Words and Works 1” and “Words and Works 2”.

In Part 1, I mentioned that when science and Scripture do not agree, either our scientific theories are wrong, or our interpretation of Scripture is faulty… or both. We are limited human beings trying to understand the words and works of an omniscient God. Of course we fall short.

Part of my ability to eliminate conflict between scientific discoveries and the Bible comes from how I view Scripture. I alluded to this last time when I mentioned the presence of metaphors, such as Jesus being the vine and we being the branches.

Far more important, to my understanding, is the fact that the Bible was written over thousands of years ago, by people with a far different worldview, living in a culture that bears little resemblance to mine. If I simple read it at face value, I’m going to miss a lot.

I was surprised to learn that Christians in other parts of the world don’t lose sleep over concepts such as “inerrancy.” A friend who is a missionary overseas explains,

… [O]ur Western struggles with concepts like “inerrancy” are an aspect of our peculiar cultural blindness and cultural inadequacy—the flip-side of our technological orientation. Once you confront the influence of culture in communication and understanding, you have to realize that every one of the original biblical documents was written and read and understood by people who simply did not think like we do, whose world view, cognition, and brain patterns were entirely different. Therefore we have to struggle mighty hard even to understand the “truth” of what they discovered and attempted to communicate in the Scripture documents. Truth is a culture-bound concept.

The parable of the mustard seed that you mention is a good example. When a Western person reads the phrase “the smallest of all seeds” she thinks about all of the other flora in the world that has smaller seeds. I believe that Jesus is horrified that our minds even go there. Those thoughts have nothing to do with the biblical message or inspiration or “inerrancy” because the phrase “the smallest of all seeds” did not carry that meaning, either intended by the author or understood by the listener. We have a very foolish Western way of breaking apart stories into tiny pieces and then judging those pieces based on a way of thinking that is alien to the original message.

I’m not a Biblical scholar. I don’t think I have the patience to spend hours poring over obscure references, archeological findings, and Greek or Hebrew syntax and vocabulary. I’m grateful for those who are willing to do so. But this friend’s perspective makes sense to me. (I even admit to doing exactly what they gave as an example; as a gardener, I know that mustard seeds aren’t the smallest, not are mustard plants the largest. This passage has always bothered me!)

When I read phrases such as “the four corners of the earth” (Revelation 7:1) or “the ends of the earth” (numerous references), I don’t immediately assume that the earth is square, or has literal ends. We still use these phrases in our everyday slang to mean places that are really far away—out in the middle of nowhere. It’s hyperbole, or a figure of speech.

In many cases, the Bible appears to be written from the viewpoint of the author. Yes, we know that the earth revolves around the sun, but from our position on the earth’s surface, it looks like it’s the other way around. Thus, verses about the earth not moving, or the sun standing still (such as Habakkuk 3:11: “Sun and moon stood still in the heavens…”) don’t contradict astronomy.

Reading about the Flood in Genesis, I apply this same principle. From Noah’s perspective, it would have seemed as if the entire earth was underwater, and every animal was taking up room (and making a mess) on his ark.

Similarly, the story of Adam and Eve’s family, through Seth, Enosh, etc., is told from their perspective. It doesn’t address any other people who might have existed at that time.

When I think of all the ways these words can be understood, it’s a miracle that we get any of it right. Long before I became a believer, I tried to read the Bible. It made no sense whatsoever. I don’t want to brag, but reading is something I’m very good at. I read constantly, and I’ve been doing so since I was four years old. Yet, I wasn’t able to make heads or tails of Scripture until I had the Holy Spirit living in me. While we must make the effort to understand the context of any passage in the Bible, we are ultimately dependent on God to open our hearts and minds to what He is telling us.

God has no issue with our desire to study science. In fact, He recommends it! Psalm 111:2 says, “Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” Both Psalm 19 and Romans 1 remind us that nature teaches us about God. There’s no reason to reject either the discoveries about our world or the words of the One who created it.

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