I’ve been reading and posting on Kyle Greenwood’s book Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science. Brad Kramer is beginning a series on this book as well over on his blog The Evolving Evangelical at BioLogos. Brad has an excellent and thought provoking post this week to set the stage for his series: No, Modern Science is Not “Catching Up” to the Bible. Brad has been the managing editor at BioLogos for the last year or so. With an MDiv from Biblical Seminary and an upbringing where evolution was the enemy (see his story here), he brings an important and helpful perspective to BioLogos. This latest post is centered around an image that makes the rounds on Facebook every so often. You can click on the hard to read version above to see a larger, clearer, image.
Brad starts his essay:
The chart above has been floating around social media for the past couple of months, and it recently appeared in my Facebook news feed. In trying to track it down via Google, I found many sites reposting it under the title “Modern Science is Catching Up to the Bible”. For many Christians who feel beaten down by atheist voices ridiculing the Bible as an ancient relic, this chart presses all the right buttons. I totally get this. One of the reasons I found young-earth creationism (YEC) so captivating in my childhood is that these sorts of “science prophecies” in the Bible gave me a thrilling sense of confidence and certainty in my faith. If the Bible, written thousands of years before modern science, contained scientific information that the authors could not possibly have known without divine revelation, then surely it was a supernatural book that could be trusted as God’s Word.
Of course none of the examples listed in the chart stand up to deeper inspection. Take Job 26:7 “he hangs the earth upon nothing“. But is this really a statement about a free-floating earth? The context is quite complex.
7 He stretches out Zaphon over the void,
and hangs the earth upon nothing.
10 He has described a circle on the face of the waters,
at the boundary between light and darkness.
11 The pillars of heaven tremble,
and are astounded at his rebuke.
12 By his power he stilled the Sea;
by his understanding he struck down Rahab.
The supposed scientific statement describing a free-floating earth in space is preceded by a reference to “the mythological mountain where the gods dwell.” Tremper Longman points out that “in Ugartic literature, Baal lives on Mount Zaphon.” (p. 316 Job) Not only this, the circle on the face of the waters refers to a flat earth, pillars hold up the heavens, and there is reference to the defeat of a mythological sea monster Rahab. In fact, the Sea is capitalized because it is probably a reference to Yam, a Canaanite god. The passage in context does not exactly inspire confidence in this chapter of Job as a source for modern scientific understanding. (Although Job is a powerful and thought-provoking book that reveals much about the nature of God and his relationship with his creation.)
The other examples in the table above are equally unconvincing.
But back to Brad’s post. The rest of the essay reflects on his views today and the fact that we should not find it embarrassing that the Bible, written into an ancient culture (for us, but not to us as John Walton often points out) contains elements of an ancient view of cosmology. He nails it here:
For Christians, the purpose of the entire Bible is first and foremost to reveal Christ. Therefore, it ultimately draws its authority from the fact that it truly speaks of God and his Son. Suggesting that the Bible’s authority rests on its scientific accuracy adds an artificial middleman to this chain of authority, wherein the Bible first speaks truly of science, and therefore is trusted to speak truly of Christ. As Bube argues, this is not only unscriptural but ultimately damaging to the Christian witness.
The purpose of the Bible is first and foremost to reveal God’s mission in the world and his relationship with humans, created in his image. This culminates in Christ. Our faith is God and in Christ is not grounded in the scientific accuracy of scripture but in the reality of this relationship.
Kyle Greenwood demonstrates quite convincingly the presence of ancient Near Eastern cosmology in the Old Testament (using sources, including many of John Walton’s works). Far from demonstrating the modern scientific accuracy of Scripture, the passage from Job quoted above is one of the passages where aspects of ancient cosmology are readily apparent. As early as the first centuries AD early Christian fathers, Augustine and others, were wrestling with the discrepancies between a spherical earth and their “literal” reading of Scripture. This isn’t really a new problem.
John Walton, Old Testament Professor at Wheaton, has stated it quite clearly. There is no new scientific revelation in the Bible. I’ve posted on this before, with a link to one of his talks on the subject (No Scientific Revelation in the Bible!). It is worth repeating the key quote here.
I just want to make two quick points here. The first one is that in the Bible there is no scientific revelation.That’s such an important point. Israel is not getting any new understanding of the material world, its mechanisms, its operations, or anything of that sort. No new information. Now they can observe the world, and they might make some of the same observations we make when we observe the world in our modern times. But they didn’t get that by revelation.
We need to be able to read Scripture as it is, for the story it tells and the message it brings, without turning it into an idol of our own making.
By the way, Brad has another excellent post My Trip to the Creation Museum worth a read as well.
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