#1 – Fact Checking Christians: Bible & Science, and the New Testament.

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This is my first post in a new series. My motive behind this series is to keep Christians in check; in other words, to keep an eye on them. What I find is that often Christians claim things that are false, misrepresent facts, or they tend to claim too much in hope of evidentially grounding the Christian faith. As a Christian myself I will be analyzing what I find. Also bear in mind that I am a convinced Christian myself because I think there is good evidence for [1] God’s existence and [2] Jesus’ deity and resurrection; so skeptics of Christianity (and fellow believers) should keep that in mind when reading this content.

See Article 2 in this Series – Answering Christians Defense of Biblical Genocide.

There is an interesting article on common misconceptions about Christianity at the Faith Facts website. The article does a nice job and I found myself benefiting from much of its content, however, I do find some details questionable. I invite readers to engage the actual article because I will only be reviewing what I disagree with. My evaluation of this article would take form over several posts of which this is the first.

Point 7: The New Testament and Mythological Embellishment.

Under point 7 the author rightly defends against the charge that the New Testament was penned too early for mythological embellishments to creep into the texts (though he does not make any mention of A.N. Sherwin White’s argument that myth becomes an issue only after two generations which is roughly 70 years). This I wholly agree with even if we accept consensus scholarship that dates the earliest gospel at 70 AD and the final one at 90 AD (the author obviously does not accept consensus in terms of dating). The Apostle Paul also wrote early since the earliest Pauline epistle was penned at around 50 AD. What the author fails to mention, however, is that we have hypothetical sources behind our gospels themselves. We have unique material L, and M, as well as hypothetical Q. We also have a pre-Markan passion source and pre-John signs source. We also have early creeds and hymns. It is this data that is important when we wish to learn about who Jesus really was at the earliest of times post his death. This is important data and the author should make reference to it in the future.

However, the author writes that “Many of the books were written within 25 or so years of Christ’s death, and many scholars—both liberal and conservative—are moving toward the view that all of the books of the New Testament were written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD.” This is a very good example of what I mean by saying Christians claim too much. For instance, who are these scholars “both liberal and conservative” who are dating the books prior to the destruction of Jerusalem? Apparently it’s just two contemporary scholars worth directly mentioning: John Robinson and Kenneth Gentry. However, to the author’s credit he does link an article that mentions 62 scholars who accept that Revelation, the final book of the New Testament (consensus puts it at around 90 to 95 AD; at least according to what I’ve read and what my New Testament Studies course material affirms), was penned prior to 70 AD. However, considering that, according to one informed Christian scholar I’ve watched in a debate, there are roughly 6000 scholars in the Western world who teach on historical subjects relating to Jesus and the New Testament, a total number of 62 is very small. That equates to about 1% of all historians supporting the argument that this author forwards. However, what the author does not make mention of is the fact that a good number of these 62 scholars aren’t all alive today. There are, for instance, a couple of them from around the very early 20th century. Thus, how this relates to the contemporary climate of academic scholarship would be even more minimal (less than a 1%).

Personally, I believe there really is something to this argument; namely the argument in favour of dating of the gospels and Acts earlier than academic consensus currently holds. But at least make a mention that such a position, at this current time, is a minority viewpoint. Yet if we were to get a general feeling of the academic climate from this Faith Facts article, the author would have us believe that it is a large number of scholars who date the gospels early and prior to 70 AD. It is not.

However, although the author claims too much we can agree we him that two generations (within which the entire New Testament was penned even if we accept general consensus in dating) is too shorter period for mythological embellishments to impugn the texts.

Point 10: The Bible and Science.

Point 10 has the author defending the Bible against its conflicting with modern science, “While the Bible was not written as a science textbook, a careful analysis of the Bible reveals that the Bible does not conflict with science at all. Charges leveled at the Bible turn out to be red herrings.”

The author is correct in his claim that “the Bible was not written as a science textbook” because it clearly isn’t. In fact, the Bible, specifically in places within the Old Testament, is as primitive as ancient texts come. The Bible, for a start, has its fair share of pre-scientific myths (also see Noah’s flood myth and a closer look at Genesis). In fact, next to no scholar who is not either a Christian or an inerrantist accepts that the Bible is consistent with modern science (and this is not to mention the many Christian scholars who do note this fact). The only reason the author, and other Christians, argue that the Bible must be consistent with science is because of their allegiance to inerrancy; namely the belief that the Bible gets everything it touches on wholly correct – this includes ethics, philosophy, science and history. Thus, argues the inerrantist, if the Bible gets a fact wrong, whether historical or scientific, how then can we trust it elsewhere? Or how can we claim that it comes from God? Well, if this is how the Christian defines biblical inspiration (personally my argument is that inspiration and authority are not the same things as full blown biblical inerrancy) then he’s going to run into problems. Let us briefly mention a few pre-scientific beliefs on the part of the biblical authors. Denis Lamoureux, a Christian and prominent professor of science, mentions the following pre-scientific myths:

1. The earth is flat. The word “earth” appears over 2500 times in the Old Testament (Hebrew: ‘eres) and 250 times in the New Testament (Greek: ge). Never once is this word referred to as spherical or round. Instead, the universe in the Scripture is compared to a tent with the earth as its floor (Ps 19:4, Ps 104:2, Is 40:22).

2. A circumferential sea borders a circular earth. Proverbs 8:22-31 and Job 26:7-14 describe the creation of the world. The former states, “God inscribed a circle on the face of the deep” (v. 27); and the latter, “God has inscribed a circle on the surface of the waters” (v. 10). The Bible also asserts that the earth is circular. Isaiah writes, “God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in” (Isa 40:22).

3. The earth is immovable. The Bible records three times that “the world is firmly established; it cannot move” (1 Chr 16:30, Ps 93:1, Ps 96:10). The stability of the earth is understood to be like that of a building set on the solid foundations. The biblical writers frequently refer to this solid base as “the foundations of earth” (Job 38:4-6, Prov 8:29, Jer 31:37). For example, “God set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved” (Ps 104:5).

4. A solid domed structure, termed the “firmament,” holds up a body of water over the earth. Created on the second day of creation, the firmament separated the “waters above” from the “waters below” (Gen 1:6-8). Notably, this heavenly dome and body of water did not collapse during Noah’s Flood. As the psalms of King David’s day reveal, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament proclaims the work of His hands” (Ps 19:1); and God “stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of His upper chambers [i.e., God’s celestial temple] on their waters” (Ps 104:2-3).

5. The sun moves across the sky. Created and placed in the firmament on the fourth day of creation (Gen 1:14-18), the daily movement of sun is found in King Solomon’s observation: “The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises” (Eccl 1:5). It also appears in the psalmist’s praise, “The sun rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other” (Ps 19:6).

So obviously, as we’d expect since the Bible is very much a product of the ancient world that produced it, we find a fair number of pre-scientific myths and primitive beliefs. However, is this a problem for Christians who believe in the deity and resurrection of Jesus? Not at all. The Bible was not set up to be, as the author rightly points out, a scientific textbook. It is also here that I agree with Peter Enns and his model of incarnational theology. Basically the model holds that God descends and adopts the mythical categories of the ancient authors in order to reveal himself. God makes do with what he has in front of him. I believe Enns provides a concept of his model, “[the] opening chapters of Genesis participate in a worldview that the earliest Israelites shared with their Mesopotamian neighbors. To put it this way is not to concede ground to liberalism or unbelief but to understand the simple fact that the stories in Genesis had a context within which they were first understood. And that context was not a modern scientific one but an ancient mythic one.”

Lamoureux, in much agreement with Enns, believes that God “came down to the level of the ancient biblical writers and employed their understanding of the physical world in order to communicate as effectively as possible life-changing spiritual truths.” Therefore, in closing, I think we should agree with Lamoureux in that we should not “go to the Bible to find scientific facts; [we should] go to Scripture to meet Jesus.”

One response to “#1 – Fact Checking Christians: Bible & Science, and the New Testament.

  1. Pingback: #2 – Fact Checking Christians: Answering Christians Defense of Biblical Genocide. | James Bishop's Theology & Apologetics.·

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