The Bible & Science: The Conflict That Never Should Have Been & Problematic Hermeneutics
Over a few weeks I’ve written thousands of words showcasing the use of Genesis 1 as a polemic and saga for Israel. I will not readdress all of the points in this article because there is a primary focus of this article that I wanted to show why imposing science into the Bible is not hermeneutically correct.
Some prior reading and related articles: http://appliedtruth.org/theology/2019/3/11/genesis-1-the-context-the-meaning-and-the-purpose & http://appliedtruth.org/theology/2019/3/27/the-issues-with-plain-reading-of-scripture-and-ancient-texts & http://appliedtruth.org/theology/2019/2/22/introduction-to-exegesis-standard-exegetical-method
Historically, the Church has believed certain things about scripture and what they plainly mean or figuratively mean that has been wrong. We’ve shown this in the article on Plain Reading and the story of Galileo. The church cited Psalms, Job and others to show that the earth was the center of the universe, with no regard to the fact that the scriptures never attempted to prove such a thing. Later, science proved otherwise and the church adapted its view into what is now Young Earth Creationism or some other form. Therefore, we know that people have changed their understanding of scripture in light of certain (not all) scientific observations. Today, we face the same mistake that was taking place hundreds of years ago and the belief is that this paper will help rid us of that.
Genesis 1, I believe, has been proven to be a theological polemic against the Egyptian hold on Israel during the time it was written. Genesis 1 showcases from the very first sentence " בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית" a merism and that it is written in saga format. This coupled with the other evidence like the bookends of divine command and "a day" is used; the figurative language in day seven; the unique format for the days without the definite article and the ANE references and clear indicators of rhetoric against Egyptian gods, show that Genesis 1 is theological in purpose, not scientific.
There are two great debates in the Church today: The discussion of Arminianism and Calvinism & the discussion of Young Earth and Old Earth creationism. These two often overlap, but all derive from one sole purpose no matter who is debating: to find the intended meaning of Scripture. Therefore, today I am going to show you why imposing science into scripture where scripture does not ask, is hermeneutically wrong.
Example 1 is Job 26:7-14
26:7 He spreads out the northern skies over empty space; he suspends the earth on nothing. 26:8 He locks the waters in his clouds, and the clouds do not burst with the weight of them. 26:9 He conceals the face of the full moon, shrouding it with his clouds. 26:10 He marks out the horizon on the surface of the waters as a boundary between light and darkness. 26:11 The pillars of the heavens tremble and are amazed at his rebuke. 26:12 By his power he stills the sea; by his wisdom he cut Rahab the great sea monster to pieces. 26:13 By his breath the skies became fair; his hand pierced the fleeing serpent. 26:14 Indeed, these are but the outer fringes of his ways! How faint is the whisper we hear of him! But who can understand the thunder of his power?”
There have been both YEC and OEC who have attempted to use Job as a resource to prove their views. Some YEC and OEC agree that Job shows that the Bible was right about it being suspended on nothing. However, a closer look we will see Job does not say that nor does he attempt to make any scientific claim outside of his observation as a human on earth. If we take the words of Job literally in verse 7, we must also take them literally in verse 11 where he states the pillars of the heavens exist. We know that there are no pillars; we see the earth is suspended in gravity held up by the sovereign Lord. Therefore, right away we know that we cannot pick and choose what we take literally and figuratively in the same breath in Scripture. This is not how Scripture was written, and you do not find mishaps of linguistic structure in the Bible, ever.
Further, his use of the word "tohu" refers back to Genesis 1 where we see God is forming the deep watery abyss of "nothing." Therefore, Job does not mean God is hanging the universe on nothing as we scientifically know it today. Instead, Job is showing that God has the ultimate power of creation. In Job 26:11, as we read above, he talks about the pillars of the heavens; this is striking as we mentioned in the first paragraph. The word "שָׁמַי" is used often for the visible heavens, which means that Job could be figuratively speaking about mountains here. Either way, this is not written in a literal or plain sense, but rather Job is showcasing God's mighty power over creation. To attempt to draw scientific conclusions from such a text is not hermeneutically accurate or orthodox.
The next example can be found in several places and fact is used by both YEC and OEC to attempt to show scientific accuracy of the Bible. However, I will show that none of these scriptures are trying to be scientific but rather theological in purpose as the Bible intended. I will also show the danger of attributing these certain texts as scientific rather than theological.
Creationism.org (and AIG) and Reasons.org both use the following Scriptures to attempt to show that the universe is indeed expanding the Bible proclaims it. The verse above and the exegetical reasons below.
Before our beginning of going through these beautiful Scriptures, I want to make an informed statement. The word "יְרִיעָה" garment, curtain or tent is of utmost importance when dealing with the Old Testament writers because in the Ancient Near Eastern and Hebrew culture the "tent" was a concept of covering, haven, and restfulness. Therefore, whenever the Old Testament writers attribute the universe to being like a curtain, they are stating two things (1) God is the creator of this haven and (2) we can find peace under His authority.
2 Samuel 22:10 “He bowed the heavens also, and came down, and darkness was under his feet.”
Nowhere does this scripture say God is stretching the universe in expansion using redshift or blueshift. It should be clear to any reader that this is absurd. However, linguistically we see "And darkness was under his feet." The word here used is not the common one for "darkness." It is used chiefly in poetry, and signifies a dark cloud, dense gloom (Job 22:13; Isaiah 60:2). [The Septuagint renders it by gnofos (Greek #1105), black, tempestuous darkness (see Hebrews 12:18).] The representation of 'darkness being under his feet' is borrowed partly from Exodus 19:16, and "there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount," and partly from Deuteronomy 5:22, "These words spake the Lord ... in the mount, out of the midst of the fire, of the cloud, and the thick darkness." Therefore, showing that this is precisely what scholars say it is: a poetic psalm.
Job 9:8 “Which alone spreadeth out the heavens, and treadeth upon the waves of the sea.”
Job 26:7 “He stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.”
Job 37:18 “Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?”
I have chosen to put together the Job verses because their context does not shift much from our original standpoint. Again, in verse 6 before these, we see the word "pillars" to attribute the hanging of the heavens. Ironically, it should be proven in this verse that Job does not mean mountains because in verse 5 he uses the word for mountains. Interestingly enough, we see him use the word "וְחַדְרֵ֥י" which means "chamber" or "private room" to describe the placement of stars in the sky. Any translations that use the word "constellations" have added that into the text to convey a more explicit meaning to the English reader. The stretching refers over to Isaiah 40:22 which we will take a look at because that is a crucial verse the drives home the hermeneutical point. However, again we are faced with a choosing issue here of what to take scientifically and what not to - this is the bedrock of improper exegesis. We do not get to pick and choose what we make of the text, and we must take the text as a whole to introduce its authorial intent. The entire structure of these Job verses is figurative, entirely and without a shadow of the doubt. To take them literally or scientifically is a grave mistake. The word " תַּרְקִ֣יעַ" means to hammer, which is why Job uses the word "יצק" following it — Hammer and molten paint a unique picture of God creating the world, but still a figurative intent.
Psalm 18:9 “He bowed the heavens also, and came down: and darkness was under his feet.”
Psalm 104:2 “Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a tent.”
Psalm 144:5 “Bow thy heavens, O LORD, and come down: touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.”
| I'm going to do the same for Psalms as I did with the Job verses, in as much as pushing them together here. I'm not sure I need to convince any serious reader of the Bible that Psalms is poetic and figurative in nature because they are in fact poems and songs. Therefore, I will only take a look at Psalm 104:2 and how that relates with Isaiah 40:22. The word tent in Hebrew means a safe haven, a place of rest and peace. In Isaiah 54:2 it is used figuratively to show Jerusalem’s prosperity. Therefore, it is clear that Psalms is not attempting to make any scientific notion but rather a theological one that correlates to other texts like Psalm 23 or Isaiah 40. |
Isaiah 40:22 “It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.”
| See above |
Isaiah 42:5 “Thus saith God the LORD, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it; he that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein.”
Here we have Isaiah declaring exactly what we know to be true: the LORD is the sole creator. Now, did the LORD spread forth the earth? If we are to take this verse plainly and scientifically we get an interesting image of the earth; flat, actually, because the word "רקע" means to stamp, flatten and spread. Therefore, to attempt to attribute "stretched them out" in the same breath, you will have to admit something else about the earth which we know to be false. Isaiah is not making a scientific claim, nor does God correct Isaiah because there is a theological and prophetic meaning to this text, not a scientific one.
Isaiah 44:24 “Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself.”
| See above |
Isaiah 45:12 “I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded.”
| See above |
Isaiah 48:13 “Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together.”
See above. However, I would like to point out that "my right hand" is a sign of authority and direct power in the ANE culture. This is why we understand later in the New Testament; Christ is at the right hand.
Jeremiah 10:12 “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.”
Again, we see the statement of power and authority by God that He is the sole creator of the earth. The imagery of "stretched out the heavens" is related directly to "tent, covering, garment" which means that He alone is the protection and the authority and controller of the heavens and earth. This is in no part a scientific notion. We must read our scientific understanding into this text if we wish to make it this way. That is not exegetically or hermeneutically accurate.
This issue is exceptionally prevalent because both OEC and YEC attempt to showcase these scriptures that God is expanding the universe and science agrees. However, there is plenty of data, and peer-reviewed journal entries that show the universe may not be expanding. Therefore, what then? If it is proven that the universe is NOT expanding - does that mean the Bible is wrong? If we continue to make such claims like Creationism.org and Reasons.org than yes we will be in a problem. However, if we allow scripture to follow its authorial intent, the Bible makes no such claim, and we can adjust our understanding of the universe accordingly. This allows the debate to be solely scientific and neither party can attempt to use the Bible as their supreme authority over the other in terms of these specific scientific notions and discoveries. Instead, we can agree on what the Bible does claim scientifically which is: (1) The Universe had a beginning, (2) God is the cause of the universe (3) Humans are made in the image of God and (4) we can rest in His authority over creation. Therefore, both parties should agree that any model of origins showing (1) no beginning and (2) evolution defined as non-special creation; can be tossed out because they are not Biblically accurate. Stepping outside of these claims only brings the Bible down not upward.
As we've seen, attempting to showcase a scientific discovery backward into Scripture is not only harmful but not executed adequately through exegesis or hermeneutics. We cannot allow ourselves to pick and choose what is scientific and what is poetic within the same breath and verse; the Bible does not allow for it. The Bible makes no claims as to the scientific discoveries of today.
The attempts made by both parties to invoke scientific notions from the Bible or into the Bible are well-intended efforts to show unbelievers that the Bible is scientifically accurate. There are ways to do this without ripping scripture from its context and intended use. For example, we can show the unbeliever why evolution (defined as non-unique creation) is false because of the Imago Dei doctrine. We can show the universe had a beginning because of Genesis 1 and other scriptures. There are several others.
The debate can hopefully shift to a scientific one and leave the Bible to do what it was meant to do which is showcase Yahweh as supreme over all and share the Gospel with the unbelieving world. YEC have much to offer in the realm of science, and they should be taken seriously in journals. OEC must also stop making attempts at reconciling a conflict that was never ought.
The Bible and Science are in zero conflict when both are correctly interpreted and executed.
As a bonus example, outside the debate of expanding universe, we’ve shown this in another article but simply to further compound our thesis:
Psalm 89 (19-28).
19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one and said: "I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. 20 I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; 21 my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. 22 The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. 23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. 24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; in my name, his horn shall be exalted. 25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right side on the rivers. 26 He shall cry to me, 'You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!' 27 I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. 28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm.
The concept of setting the right side on the rivers and his hands over the sea is not a geological statement. You would not, or should not, render this Scripture to say that the seas will be geologically under His throne. Rather, from the cultural context of the Ancient Near East, these are creation symbols of peace not martial symbols of war. The "battle" images refer to God bringing peace and justice into the chaos and disorder of the world (cf. Isa 11:1-9), which is always symbolized by water in such contexts ("sea" and "rivers" in v. 25; Genesis 1). Note that a feature of the New Jerusalem is that there will be no more sea (Rev. 21:1). That is a theological statement, not a geographical one.
For information on redshift/blueshift theories see: (1) for the non-expanding universe: http://aoi.com.au/bcw/RIPExpanding/index.htm
(2) for the expanding universe: https://arxiv.org/abs/1712.10315
For resources on Hebrew:
Lexham Hebrew Bible, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew, Dictionary of Biblical Languages.