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Feedback archiveFeedback 2014

Taking the Bible seriously?

Published: 6 July 2014 (GMT+10)
Wikimedia commons 9522-isaiah-scroll-pan
A portion of The Great Isaiah Scroll.

This week’s feedback is a response to a critic whose real authority seems to be secular uniformitarian ‘science’. However, he also uses a common line from evolution-friendly theological colleges that hope to be considered ‘evangelical’: taking the Bible ‘seriously’ but not ‘literally’. responds.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I wish to object strongly to your ministries’ representation of the Bible’s recount of creation in Genesis as a valid scientific alternative to mainstream cosmology, geology and biology.

As a Christian I take seriously the task of reading the Bible. Seriously, but not ‘literally’. It is significant on this first Sunday in Lent (9th Mar) the lectionary readings for the temptations of Christ include passages from Genesis about Adam and Eve’s temptation. Serious exegesis leads the reader to a deeper understanding of the human duty to resist temptation while a pilgrim on the way to the Cross at the end of Easter. The details of the type of fruit or serpent or the alleged dimensions and location of Eden are not important.

As an enthusiastic astronomer and physicist I also perfectly accept that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and the Earth 4.6 billion. Evolution occurs, just as our understanding of science and the Gospel does.

Yours faithfully,
K.G., Australia

Dear Mr G.

Thank you for writing to CMI. My answers are interspersed with yours.

I wish to object strongly to your ministries’ representation of the Bible’s recount of creation in Genesis as a valid scientific alternative to mainstream cosmology, geology and biology.

Objection noted, but we have no intention of changing. For one thing, you have not in the slightest shown that it’s an invalid scientific alternative or that the current mainstream is right. I refer you to Michael Crichton on consensus science, where he points out that science is not decided by mainstream opinion but evidence. Also, while our Journal of Creation is peer-reviewed, peer review can tend to protect the consensus even to the point of admitting faulty data and blocking good science, as we document in Creationism, Science and Peer Review. Even the secular journal The Economist has picked up on this a few months ago in How science goes wrong: Scientific research has changed the world. Now it needs to change itself:

The hallowed process of peer review is not all it is cracked up to be, either. When a prominent medical journal ran research past other experts in the field, it found that most of the reviewers failed to spot mistakes it had deliberately inserted into papers, even after being told they were being tested.
As a Christian I take seriously the task of reading the Bible.

As you should. A follower of Christ should follow His example of taking Scripture seriously: indeed, He said, “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) (see The authority of Scripture). Further, He believed in a young earth, and in other parts of Scripture most scoffed at today. So why do you disagree with Him?

Photo Dr Clifford Wilson 9522-babylonian-tablet
A Babylonian tablet fragment found at Nippur, an ancient Babylonian site in the same general location that Abraham came from. The area outlined in black is a record about the Flood. There are more than 300 known records of the Flood world-wide, with about 30 of them in writing. Some are remarkably close in their details to the original—the biblical account.
Seriously, but not ‘literally’.

Actually, the ‘serious’ way to take it is governed by two principles:

  1. Recognize Scripture as ‘God-breathed’ (θεόπνευστος theopneustos, 2 Timothy 3:16), not merely the work of its human authors. God moved (literally ‘carried along’) the writers of Scripture so that they recorded exactly what He wanted. However, God did not usually dictate the words, but superintended the authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they recorded His revelation without error (2 Peter 1:20–21). Otherwise, why bother to take it seriously?
  2. The true meaning of Scripture is the meaning the original readership would have understood by the words the inspired authors used. Note that this doesn’t concern itself with the ‘original intent’ of the author, which can raise the question of how we can know what a dead author intended. Rather, this is about the original meaning of the words he chose, according to the grammatical and historical context. Hence this is often called the grammatical-historical approach to Scripture, and is analogous to the ‘originalist’ or ‘textualist’ approach to US constitutional law. That is, even if we don’t know the intent of the writer of the law, we can know what the words meant to those who voted on them and to the people of the time. This has been explained many times, including the classic Should Genesis be taken literally?

As for the term ‘literally’, you seem to be using it to mean ‘woodenly literalistic’, denying any figurative language even when the text teaches it. In contrast, medieval and patristic interpreters used the term ‘literal’ to mean the grammatical-historical understanding, which could include a figurative meaning if that’s what the text taught. Thus to them, the ‘literal’ meaning of the ‘the windows of the heavens were opened’ (Genesis 7:11) would include its metaphorical usage for a massive rainfall. Rather, the ‘literal’ meaning was contrasted with a spiritualized or mystical meaning not grounded in the text.1,2 And later, the great Reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale (1494–1536) affirmed the same:

Thou shalt understand, therefore, that the scripture hath but one sense, which is but the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave, thou canst never err or go out of the way. And if thou leave the literal sense, thou canst not but go out of the way. Nevertheless, the scripture uses proverbs, similitudes, riddles, or allegories, as all other speeches do; but that which the proverb, similitude, riddle or allegory signifieth, is ever the literal sense, which thou must seek out diligently.3
9522-creation-people
It is significant on this first Sunday in Lent (9th Mar) the lectionary readings for the temptations of Christ include passages from Genesis about Adam and Eve’s temptation.

That is indeed significant—precisely because the Bible regards this temptation as a real event. In two very significant passages in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, Paul contrasts the sin of “the first man, Adam”, which brought death, with the righteousness of Jesus, “the second man” and “the last Adam”, who brought Resurrection from the dead. See our classic article First Adam—Last Adam: Both are vital to the Gospel … but exactly how? as well as deeper exegetical articles by a New Testament specialist: Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of literal Adam and Christ as the last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation narrative in 1 Corinthians 15. Indeed, the Bible repeatedly links death with sin: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), “the last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26), but your long-age dogma places death, both human and animal, before sin, thus disconnecting the biblical sin-death link. But if there is no connection between death and sin, then how could Christ’s death pay for our sin? See also The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe.

Serious exegesis leads the reader to a deeper understanding of the human duty to resist temptation while a pilgrim on the way to the Cross at the end of Easter.

Indeed it does. But the very reason it leads to this is that Adam and Eve are the real ancestors of us all, and their sin nature is imputed to (credited to the account of) us, their descendants. However, one descendant of Adam did not inherit original sin: Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah foretold this coming Saviour as literally the ‘Kinsman-Redeemer’, i.e. one who is related by blood to those he redeems (Isaiah 59:20, which uses the same Hebrew word גּוֹאֵל (gôēl) as is used to describe Boaz in relation to Naomi in Ruth 2:20, 3:1–4:17). This is possible only because this Saviour is a physical descendant of the first man Adam via Mary (Luke 3:38)—and is called ‘the Last Adam’ (1 Corinthians 15:45)—which makes him the relative of all humans in all ‘races’ or people groups who have ever existed. Thus theistic evolution doesn’t just undermine Genesis and a literal Adam, but jeopardizes this vital Kinsman-Redeemer concept as well. Believers in Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer, are saved because our sins were corporately imputed (credited) to His account (Isaiah 53:6) when He was on the cross. And His perfect righteousness was imputed to believers in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). See also The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?

The details of the type of fruit or serpent or the alleged dimensions and location of Eden are not important.

We are not told by what authority you get to decide which parts of God-breathed Scripture are not important. But this is a red herring anyway. We actually are not told details of the fruit or the location of Eden, but there was still a real fruit and a real garden. This is important to understand the future. E.g. in two famous passages, Isaiah 11:6–9 and Isaiah 65:25, the prophet clearly understood the Edenic conditions of Genesis 1:30 as real history, and used them to teach about a future with equally harmonious animals, such as the wolf and the lamb, lion and the calf. Then he says “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,” unlike the current “Nature red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson) that we see in this fallen world (see also The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals and Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?). Irish biblical scholar Alec Motyer, former Principal of Trinity College, Bristol, expands on the Edenic connection of the first passage:

There is an ‘Edenic’ element in Isaiah’s thinking … the life of nature itself is transformed. Verses 6–8 offer three facets of the renewed creation and verse 9 is a concluding summary. First, in verse 6 there is the reconciliation of old hostilities, the allaying of old fears; predators (wolf, leopard, lion) and prey (lamb, goat, calf, yearling) are reconciled. So secure is this peace that a youngster can exercise the dominion originally given to humankind. Secondly, in verse 7 there is a change of nature within the beasts themselves: cow and bear eat the same food, as do lion and ox. There is also a change in the very order of things itself: the herbivoral nature of all the creatures points to Eden restored (Gn. 1:29–30). Thirdly, in verse 8 the curse is removed. The enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent is gone (Gn. 3:15ab). Infant and ‘weaned child’ have nothing to fear from cobra and viper. Finally, in verse 9 the coming Eden is Mount Zion—a Zion which fills the whole earth. Peace (9a), holiness (9b), and “knowing the Lord” (9c) pervades all.4

The end of the Book of Revelation comes around to a future state even better than Eden, lacking any possibility of sin, but with some of its features: the Tree of Life, no death, crying, or pain, because the Curse would be abolished. Indeed, the whole point is the restoration of something that was lost, but under your long-age dogma, never existed. So what do you hope the creation to be restored to? Millions of years of more death and suffering? Randy Alcorn puts it like this:

God has never given up on his original creation. Yet somehow we’ve managed to overlook an entire biblical vocabulary that makes this point clear. Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. Each of these biblical words begins with the re- prefix, suggesting a return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design. Likewise, He sees the earth in terms of what he intended it to be, and he seeks to restore it to its original design.
As an enthusiastic astronomer and physicist I also perfectly accept that the universe is 13.8 billion years old and the Earth 4.6 billion.

As an enthusiastic Ph.D. physical chemist, I disagree, as do physicist and cosmogonist Dr John Hartnett, physicist Dr Russell Humphreys, astrophysicist and black hole expert Dr Markus Blietz, and nuclear physicist Dr Jim Mason. The baneful effects of long-age dogma on Christian theology are explained above, but the dogma also fails the scientific test—see Age of the earth: 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe.

Evolution occurs,

A blanket statement without defining terms. Yes, there is change, even variation and speciation, as opposed to the ‘fixity of species’ dogma of the old-age propagandist Charles Lyell, Darwin’s mentor and foil. However, the dispute is about the real general theory of evolution aka from goo to you via the zoo, which requires huge increases in information content (see The evolution train’s a-comin’ (Sorry, a-goin’—in the wrong direction)).

just as our understanding of science and the Gospel does.

If the Gospel is really ‘evolving’, one must wonder how it resembles the one revealed in Scripture, or is it a “different gospel” that Paul anathematized (Galatians 1:8)? Consistent evolution really does lead to a “different gospel”, disconnected from its connection to Adam and sin. I’ve explained the baneful consequences of evolution appeasement before. It has also led to a downplaying of biblical morality, including support for ‘gay marriage’ by a former lecturer from the once sound Moore College, now a bastion of theistic evolution—see Gay ‘marriage’ and the consistent outcome of Genesis compromise.

I hope this explains our position. Bottom line: we focus on Biblical authority, while the young-earth position is just a corollary of this, i.e. it follows logically from the propositions of Scripture. However, you could easily have found this out for yourself, and more since our website has over 9,000 articles. Too many critics of biblical creation fail to pay us the courtesy they would expect for themselves: that is, find out what our real position is and the reasons we hold it.

Yours faithfully,

K.G., Australia

Yours faithfully

Dr Jonathan Sarfati
Head scientist, CMI–USA (formerly of CMI–Australia)

References and notes

  1. See also Nemetz, A., Literalness and the Sensus Litteralis, Speculum (A Journal of Medieval Studies) 34(1):76–89, 1959 | doi:10.2307/2847979. Return to text.
  2. See also Cosner, L. and Sarfati, J., Non-Christian philosopher clears up myths about Augustine and the term ‘literal’, J. Creation 27(2):9–10, 2013. Return to text.
  3. Tyndale, W.; cited in Packer, J.I., ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God, pp. 101–114, 1958. Return to text.
  4. Motyer, A., The Prophecy of Isaiah, p. 124, 1993. Return to text.

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