On the Pre-Scientific Nature of the Old Testament.

dome.png

People often read modern science into the Bible; something that is a problem according to Christian Old Testament professor Peter Enns (1). But that is hugely problematic for the “science” of the biblical writers was ancient; it reflected what they believed in in their time. For example, according to Genesis creatures didn’t evolve but were made by God as we see them, the world was flat (probably a round disk). Even above the Earth was a solid dome held up by pillars (mountains) which held back the “waters above” (the blue sky). And above all of these things was God’s throne. And below these things was the place of the dead called “Sheol.”

Today, however, we understand that the universe is bigger and operates quite differently to how our ancient biblical writers thought it did. Many Christians stumble over this because they think that to show the Bible is God’s word they need to demonstrate that it wholly consistent with modern science or, alternatively, rejecting modern science entirely in favour of their interpretation of God’s word. But, as Enns articulates, there is no need to feel embarrassed or unfaithful by acknowledging that ancient writers wrote from an ancient mind-set. When ancient Israelites wrote as they did about the physical world they were expressing their faith in  God in ways that fitted their understanding. If so, then I don’t think that it is an issue if they related pre-scientific ideas for it is not the intention of the Bible and the God who revealed himself within it; a God who met his people at their time in history. Of course this invites some debate, as Richard Bushey explains:

“There is a debate within the body of Christ known as the Inerrantist Vs Infallibilist debate. The inerrantist position suggests that there are absolutely no mistakes in the Bible. It is absolutely consistent in background details, history, science, absolutely everything. On the other side of the debate, the infallibilist position suggests that God’s intention was to communicate certain truths and faith and morals. God succeeded in doing that. In this way, he did not fail. The Bible is infallible because it does not fail in what it attempts to do: teach about faith and morals” (2).

Future posts will focus on these questions.

References.

1. Enns, P. 2014. The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It.
2. Bushey, R. Will The Bible Fall Apart If There Is One Error?  Available.

4 responses to “On the Pre-Scientific Nature of the Old Testament.

  1. It seems to me that if God is communicating what he wants written down as scripture he would have his inspired men write correct science. “…the world was flat (probably a round disk)” where does it say in Genesis that the earth was flat? It doesn’t. The tiny glimpses into science that we get in the bible support the idea of an earth as we understand it today. “Even above the Earth was a solid dome held up by pillars (mountains) which held back the “waters above” (the blue sky)” what is this guy talking about? The “waters above” is a vapor canopy and is not held up by the mountains. God’s throne is never said to be above the vapor canopy. It exists in a separate space that may or may not coexist in this space that we can see and touch.

    • “It seems to me that if God is communicating what he wants written down as scripture he would have his inspired men write correct science”

      -This is the problem. You are imposing a modern 21st century viewpoint on the text. God did not intend to give a scientific explanation of the evolution of the universe etc. God condescended to the ancient Israelites’ time and place in history.

      Regarding the “dome” such a reading is consensus among OT scholars (many Christians included) and is informed elsewhere by other ANE literature.

Let me know your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s