What does it mean to read the Bible literally?

John Wilson is the editor of Books & Culture, and he has penned an OP-ED for the most recent issue of The Wall Street Journal. In the article, Wilson covers the ongoing debate among evangelicals about the existence of an historical Adam. It looks to me, however, that Wilson has not framed the issue accurately. Wilson writes,

What is at stake in these disputes is not a choice between following biblical authority on the one hand or science on the other, as the matter is often misleadingly framed. Rather, we see rival theological commitments, rival understandings of how to read Genesis…

Critical to debates over “the historical Adam” are theological motifs such as Christ as “the second Adam.” These lose their meaning, many evangelicals argue, if Genesis isn’t read literally.

But an alarm should sound whenever the word “literal” is used in this context, whether as a badge of pride (“I just believe in reading the Bible literally”) or as a hint that low-browed fundamentalists are lurking nearby. No one—no one—reads the Bible literally. But some readers are more attentive, more faithful, more imaginative and more persuasive than others.

I want to comment briefly on two items from this excerpt.

First, biblical authority really is at stake in this debate. The plain meaning of scripture simply does not allow for the evolutionary model. The only way for the evolutionary model to stand is for the biblical account of creation to be set aside. Whenever this happens, the Bible’s credibility and authority is called into question. This regularly happens in the work of evangelical proponents of evolution (whether they mean for it to or not).

Second, I do not think that Wilson has accurately represented what biblical scholars since the reformation have meant by “literal” interpretation of scripture. “Literal” does not mean the inability to identify figures of speech or other non-literal genres. Since the Reformation, the “literal sense” of scripture has to do with interpreting according to the author’s intention. In his introduction to his commentary on Romans (1539), John Calvin put it this way:

“The chief excellency of an expounder consists in lucid brevity. And, indeed, since it is almost his only work to lay open the mind of the writer whom he undertakes to explain, the degree in which he leads away his readers from it, in that degree he goes astray from his purpose, and in a manner wanders from his own boundaries.”

Contrary to Wilson’s contention, there are in fact countless people who interpret the Bible literally in this sense.

51 Responses to What does it mean to read the Bible literally?

  1. John Holmberg August 19, 2011 at 1:58 am #

    Denny,

    If what you say is true (and it probably is for academics, but for the average lay person in the church I struggle to see how it is true), then why don’t we just stop using the word “literal”? The way you describe the word seems to go against the very definition of “literal.” Is the word itself really worth holding onto? I say ditch it in favor of something else. The very fact that most people don’t understand the sense of the word in which you describe should provide enough evidence to drop it altogether. It’s prone to way to much confusion because it’s just not how people use the word in everyday speech.

  2. BrianMaiers August 19, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    Dr. Burke,

    So, the Christian faith rises and falls on the evolution debate? Really!

    • Denny Burk August 19, 2011 at 7:52 am #

      Brian, The integrity of the Christian gospel very much depends on the existence of an historical Adam–for the very reasons indicated in this report.

    • formeratheist August 19, 2011 at 8:58 am #

      First a “literal” definition of faith:

      Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

      “Rises and falls” on this debate indeed, because it is a debate between two systems of faith. Does evidence exist for the theory of evolution? Yes. Does evidence exist contrary to the theory of evolution? Yes. To accept the theory wholesale requires a leap of faith. Interestingly, this is much like the Christian faith. To ultimately accept the tenets of Christianity requires a leap of faith as well. More than science, evolution itself is a pseudo-religion because of the amount of faith involved. For a couple of examples, check out the writings of microbiologist Michael Behe (“Darwin’s Black Box”) and agnostic David Berlinski. Both men can give scientists such as Richard Dawkins a run for their money.

      Christianity and evolution are as irreconcilable as Christianity and Islam or Christianity and Hinduism because they are differeing systems of faith. They ultimately have different narratives about the origins of the universe and the origin of life. Evolution itself attributes the development of life to random chance / natural selection / survival of the fittest while Christianity puts all of that into the hands and divine plan of God.

      Just take a long hard look at the evolutionist model concerning something as ubiquitous as flight and see if it doesn’t leave you shaking your head at the level of faith and lack of evidence.

      Honestly, even in my atheist days I rejected evolution because of such necessary faith. I wasn’t sure what the solution was, but I thought there had to be a better answer.

      Randy

      • formeratheist August 19, 2011 at 10:56 am #

        To clarify something that might sound wrong in what I said: one’s stand on evolution is not a litmus test for salvation. However, I thoroughly agree with what Dr. Burk has said that one who holds to the view is embracing something that is at odds with the gospel in its greater implications.

  3. Jonathon Woodyard August 19, 2011 at 7:59 am #

    I once heard R.C. Sproul address this issue. He said he interprets the Bible literally…literally having a root of litera (not sure the spelling) which is where we get literature. Thus, he interprets the Bible in accordance with what type of literature the bible passage is employing.

    So, that means we interpret the Bible literally, that does mean we do not allow for figures of speech, hyperbole, and other genres guide how we take a passage.

    My two cents…

  4. Glenn August 19, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    Thanks Denny! I find this such an interesting debate because it seems such a recent development. In general terms, all orthodox believers subscribed to a historical Adam/Eve. It’s even Catholic dogma. How quickly times are changing!

  5. yankeegospelgirl August 19, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    Well, I can give an example of biblical literalism gone seriously awry: An erstwhile friend of mine has said, in complete earnestness, that he has misgivings about fictional stories/songs because he worries that it might violate Paul’s “whatsoever things are true” injunction. Not making this up. Wish I were.

  6. Micah August 19, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    Dr. Burk – Please help me understand something, in practical terms. Here is a real-life scenario.

    A good friend of mine is a cancer researcher. The fundamentals of her research are predicated on biological evolution…so it goes without saying that she holds to the theory. She is also a faithful and committed Christian.

    What is it exactly that you are saying about her belief in Christ? I’m a bit unclear on the practical implications of what you’re saying.

    Thanks,
    Micah

    • Denny Burk August 19, 2011 at 10:40 am #

      Micah, Nobody’s arguing that it’s impossible for believers to hold to evolution. They sometimes do. But when they do so, they are holding to a paradigm that is fundamentally at odds with the gospel that they profess. Proponents of evolution don’t always properly perceive the implications of their view.

      • BrianMaiers August 19, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

        Explain “paradigm that is fundamentally at odds with the gospel.” This is a fairly loaded statement. How is a theory of natural origins a “paradigm” and how is at odds with God’s reconciliation of the world through Jesus Christ. Also – If cancer research assumes evolution and her research makes advances in treating cancer, what does this says about evolution. And does that mean we as Christians have to deny these advances.

        I am not convinced that a “historical Adam” is necessary for the gospel to be true. The gospel is the starting point to understand everything else.
        We end up demanding things of the text that I don’t think we can and it ultimately elevates science higher than it needs to be. More to the point, I don’t think the best way to witness for Christ is to try to debunk a near consensus in a very specific scientific field that is beyond most of our capabilities.

        • Denny Burk August 19, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

          Brian, see Romans 5 where Christ’s redemptive work is set in parallel with historical Adam. See also texts like 1Timothy 2:13 and 1 Corinthians 11 which plainly assert the existence of historical Adam. Do you think the Bible is in error at these points?

          • BrianMaiers August 19, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

            Dr. Burke

            Thanks for your response. If Paul’s assertions are to be put into the discourse of modern biology than Paul was wrong. The problem is that modern biology didn’t exist in Paul’s day. I still think Paul’s argument still stands regardless, I think he works backward from Christ’s death and resurrection to “man’s problem in Adam.” I don’t have all the answers. I will lay my cards on the table and say that I think that these “evolutionary evangelicals” (biologos and the like) are on a good track for thinking about these things.

            I am not trying to be a jerk, but I think this is an important conversation. Here is may main concern. If we want to dig our heels in the sand and state that evolution (as a description of natural origins) and Christianity are “rival paradigms” then we are getting ourselves into a vortex in which there is no way out. I think that the danger is that the gospel also loses its center place in all of this as well.

          • Donald Johnson August 19, 2011 at 3:00 pm #

            Denny,

            As you use the phrase “historical Adam” can you please provide a historical timeline that locates on the timeline all the info found in Gen 1 and 2?

            I do not see how this can be done, hence my question. This is STRICTLY a question on what the Bible text says.

          • JohnnyM August 22, 2011 at 9:30 am #

            Its not just the historical Adam that is at odds with evolution, it is the whole concept of death entering the world through Adam. If Adam, or man, were the result of evolution, then death was in the world long before Adam. To believe evolution, is to deny the very foundation of the problem of sin and the redemption of man.

            JM

        • Brent Parker August 20, 2011 at 12:52 am #

          Brian,

          The theory of natural origins is a “paradigm” and while one may affirm macro-evolution while claiming allegiance to Christ, doing so does greatly distort the storyline of Scripture, and does undermine the gospel. First, macro-evolution is paradigm because it is seeking to answer critical world-view questions, one of them being our origins, which has major philosophical/theological import. The Bible teaches that man and man alone is made in the image of God; animals are not made in the image of God. Those holding to a macro-evolutionary framework (or really, buying into the philosophical naturalism that undergirds such a view) and the gospel most then explain the Bible’s teachings regarding the imago dei, since fundamentally man is nothing more than an evolved animal with a more highly evolved brain.

          Further, without an historic Adam as you propose, is there a historic fall? Without a historical Adam and a historical fall, what then is the problem with the human condition? How does sin enter the world? The whole storyline of Scripture provides the answer, and it the gospel where our hope is grounded as those formerly “in Adam” (original sin and all the entailments of Adam’s fall) may now be found in a new covenantal head – Jesus Christ. So Denny’s suggestion that macro-evolutionary views can undermine and be at odds with the gospel are correct. Work out the assumptions and implications, this is why I’m pursuing further study as a systematic theologian, affecting one area of theology will always have a bearing on other areas of theology.

          Lastly, I wanted to address the so called scholarly consensus argument on the issue of macro-evolution. Having a BS in Chemical Engineering I was taught at secular universities that the scientific method involved making observations, forming a hypothesis, testing and verifying the hypothesis through analysis and experiments, and then forming a new hypothesis if new information and details come to light, and then cycle through the procedure again. The problem with macro-evolution, which actually belies commitments to philosophical naturalism, is that no one has actually observed one species becoming transformed into a new species (naturally, no one contests micro-evolution). How is such a theory verifiable and testable? My assertion then is that the process of the scientific method is not being fully carried out and how could it when “scientists” are seeking to extrapolate what exactly happened long ago in history? Similarly, Stephen Jay Gould’s theory of punctuated equilibrium (where significant evolutionary changes occur not gradually, but rapidly, a theory derived because the fossil record did not show gradual macro-evolutionary results) is again, not verifiable, how could one ever test such a hypothesis?

          I think Christians today give way too much creedance to the assured results of science and the so called scholarly consensus. But the truth of the matter is that most scientists hold to the worldview of philosophical naturalism, and when it comes to questions of origins, no one is able to check their belief systems at the door, this inevitably colors the way that one does “science.” So, no, the BioLogos groups and theistic evolutionists are not on the right track, because in the case of origins, the authority is on the “science” of macro-evolution and not the testimony of Scripture. Not just one minor area of doctrine is up for grabs here, but the origins question impacts one’s anthropology, how one views the problem of the human condition (transmission of sin, original sin, etc), and the whole question of the imago dei. These in turn are no trivial matters, but areas where the gospel of Christ are directly impacted.

          • Denny Burk August 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

            Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Brent. Thats a good word!

          • Donald Johnson August 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

            I disagree that evolution means one must be a philosophical naturalist. You confuse science’s METHODOLOGICAL naturalism with a belief that material is all there is, that is, philosphical naturalism. This confusion is taught by both some atheists and some believers, as a way to claim that only their 2 positions exist, which is false.

            Just as I call upon Dawkins and other atheists to stop their false claims that evolution implies atheism I also call upon other believers to stop their false similar claims.

            I believe that the Bible teaches that humans are in the image of God and I accept that teaching as a believer. I accept that the evidence for the theory of evolution is overwhelming. There are lots of former YECs who studied science at the college level and accepted the evidence, which was very contrarty to their expectations going it. Some have written books about it. But do not try to make a false dichotomy, forcing people to choose between God and evolution, as SOME will fall away from the faith and it will be because of the false teachers of the false dichotomy.

          • BrianMaiers August 20, 2011 at 4:36 pm #

            Brent,

            I disagree with you. I think you confused and conflate philosophical naturalism with evolutionary theory. One is a metaphysical theory about the meaning and significance of the natural world and the other is based on the best of observations of the natural world. One theological problem is that hidden somewhere is the assumption that God’s creation and natural are somehow at odds with one another.

            This relates a bit to the imago dei. God’s image in man is not a result of special creation (as I understand it) as much as his dominion and authority over the world. God’s breath his spirit in Adam, making him God’s representative over creation. Not because man is made of different “stuff” than the rest of creation. I mean for crying out loud Adam’s made from the dust.

            I don’t think having a BS is in Biology makes you an expert. I mean I have two masters degrees in New Testament studies and I am just scratch en the surface. We shouldn’t accept everything uncritically but we should at least be critical of ourselves and not view everyone we disagree with with suspicion. I think this is the Christian route at least,

            I agree the Adam thing causes some problems and I think we can ultimately say at the end of the day that historically man fell. We are working with the same thing Paul is working with he encountered the resurrected Christ and Christ called him to repentance. Working from the that seeing the history Israel and the gentile world that Christ’s salvation was to rescue people from the sin and death that has been a part of human existence from the beginning.

    • Jerry Corbaley August 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

      Hi Micah,

      It would seem that a scientist conducting research would pretty much deal with the data from existing evidence, chemistry, and the laws of physics. One can do this with the young earth creationist point of view, an intelligent design point of view, or a time and chance point of view.

      But any success will come from the data, chemistry, and physics.

      All three points of view may gain insight from changes through genetic adaptation.

      How does evolutionary theory help a cancer researcher at all? All three points of view readily accept adaptation.

      Not trying to be contentious; it just seems like a good question to me.

      • Donald Johnson August 20, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

        The theory of evolution is the unifying idea of modern biology. If you take away that, you take away THE major tool for understanding how biology works and which allows biologists to make predictions and explain what they find.

        • Brent Parker August 20, 2011 at 1:27 pm #

          Donald,

          No, that is not the case, and I can certainly appeal to personal experience as taking upper division microbiology and biochemistry courses never interfaced AT ALL with the theory of evolution. So, that you claim its the unifying idea of modern biology is completely bogus. Also, I would recommend you to a survey of textbooks. I can think of two in my college experience at UC San Diego and UC Davis where macro evolution was given much focus and attention in the introduction of the texts, but then had very few references throughout the remainder of the book. Scientists can do just find dealing with modern phenonmena without recourse to the theory of macroevolution. The basis of the predications and explaining does not hinge on macroevolution as you claim, but builds on research that is verifiable and so carried along by the scientific method. One can do cancer research while not even drawing upon a macroevolutionary framework, so again, for those who have actually done science, not least of all those in the “hard sciences” like engineering, know that your claims here are false.

          As for the methodological naturalism, the interpretation of facts and data cannot be done in a vacuum. Our worldviews impinge on not only the questions we ask, but on our interpretations. The problem with macroevolution is that the data is inconclusive – genetics, fossil record, complexities that Darwin never envisioned, etc. So while appealing to neutral methodological naturalism sounds good, the truth is that something else is entering into the discussion here, and that is philosophical naturalism.

          • Donald Johnson August 21, 2011 at 8:38 pm #

            Among the most important topics are five unifying principles that can be said to be the fundamental axioms of modern biology:

            Cells are the basic unit of life
            New species and inherited traits are the product of evolution
            Genes are the basic unit of heredity
            An organism regulates its internal environment to maintain a stable and constant condition
            Living organisms consume and transform energy.

            From wiki. It seems possible to work in biology and not touch the 2nd item perhaps.

        • Jerry Corbaley August 20, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

          Hello Donald,

          I do see Genesis as real history. So did Jesus and the Apostles. The ordered and chronological timeline is in Chapter One of Genesis. While I do believe in inerrancy, I do not think inerrancy extends to the chapter and verse distinctions commonly accepted by modern versions of the Bible. I would think that a better ending for Chapter One would be Chapter Two, verse 3.

          I interpret Chapter Two as non-sequential to Chapter One in a chronological sense. Chapter One is clearly chronological. Chapter Two could have been given hundreds of years after Chapter One. Chapter Two begins with calling attention to the nature of Eden before sin entered the world through Adam and Eve. Chapter Two begins with calling the listener back to the time before man, before rain, before vegetation, and then speaks of the creation of man. The revelation of Chapter Two is not a contradiction to the chronological revelation of Chapter One. Chapter Two is not dealing with Creation Chronology. Readers may prefer to see a contradiction if they wish.

          In regards to a further ordered timeline: Chapter Two follows Chapter One.

          Now, I would like to ask a couple of questions. Can you give me an ordered sequence of events regarding the creation of Jesus’ first cell in Mary’s womb? At what point did the Infinite God take residence in the physical body of Christ?

          • Donald Johnson August 20, 2011 at 4:17 pm #

            I agree the Gen 1 pericope ends with Gen 2:3, as do most scholars I have read. Chapters and verses were added by humans, as such they are subject to human error and in some cases confuse things, so we need to try our best to not let them do that.

            On Jesus in the womb, there was the normal process of human cell division to provide an ordered sequence of events. I accept that the conception of Jesus was a miracle. The Bible does not say much about it, so I hesitate to say more.

            If you read Gen 2 as happening years after Gen 1, how do you handle Gen 2:19? In Gen 2:19 every bird is formed after the human, in Gen 1 birds are created before humans. Some translations obscure this, but this is what the Hebrew says.

          • Jerry Corbaley August 20, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

            Hello Donald,

            Genesis 2:19 (ESV) reads: “Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.”

            I see no difficulty regarding this text contradicting the text in Genesis Chapter One. Even if the verb tense may be translated ‘formed’ instead of ‘had formed’, I see no difficulty. Genesis Chapter One is clearly superior in its intent at being chronological in its presentation of events. In regard to historical chronology, I am skeptical of a method of interpretation that would use less clear texts to change the meaning of more clear texts.

            A method of Bible interpretation that denies the very clear chronology of the six day creation is also likely to deny a world-wide flood in the days of Noah. Does your method of interpretation see the flood of Noah as a local event?

            Thank you for your interaction.

          • Donald Johnson August 20, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

            In the Hebrew, Noah’s flood is not required to be read as a world wide flood. They had no conception of a global earth. If you make some interpretation word choices, then you are moved to the flood being larger and if you make other interpretation word choices, you are moved in the direction of the flood being less that world wide, but still big.

            It is possible to refer to a literary figure that is a part of the common culture, but this does not mean the person thinks the figure is real. If I say “I am having as hard a time as Hamlet in making this decision.” I hope you recognize that I am not claiming Hamlet was an actual person in history, rather that we share a common culture that includes knowing some about the play by Shakespeare.

            On less clear and more clear texts, I think both Gen 1 and Gen 2 are clear, I just think they are 2 distinct narratives. Jews before the advent of science knew about the stories not being able to be merged and wondered what it meant. But somehow today people teach that they can be merged, but as I see it, that is disrespecting the actual text we have.

          • Jerry Corbaley August 20, 2011 at 9:30 pm #

            Hello Donald,

            While the atheistic western culture denies the virgin birth, I am happy to hear that you believe it. Denying the supernatural in that instance would be perilously close to denying the deity of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

            You say, “On less clear and more clear texts, I think both Gen 1 and Gen 2 are clear, I just think they are 2 distinct narratives.” I think we are in agreement on that statement. But I don’t understand why you appear to think they are disharmonious if you think they are distinct.

            In regard to the flood of Noah, I think it is an unreasonable leap to conclude what mankind knew and did not know before the flood. They lived in excess of 900 years over a time span that was about 1500 years. A rather significant amount of information and exploration would be accumulated during that time.

            The statements about the world-wide flood in Genesis, Chapters 6, 7, and 8 are rather clear. The only reason to deny the repetitive statements regarding a world-wide flood is a bias to believe in evolutionary theory. If I were to write all the passages in Chapters 6, 7, and 8 that speak clearly to a world-wide flood, then it would be (by far) the longest comment of this post.

          • Donald Johnson August 21, 2011 at 8:56 pm #

            Hi Jerry,

            It depends on the translation that one uses for the extent of the flood. Some key words in the Hebrew have a range of meanings, if you take the modest meaning then it is a large flood in Mesopotamia.

            I see 3 Creation accounts in Gen, starting in Gen 1, Gen 2:4 and Gen 5, as each uses Hebrew bara/create, which I understand as functionally create, per John Walton’s book “The Lost World of Genesis One”.

            Gen 1 and Gen 5 flow together and there is no problem merging them. Gen 2:4-4 is a different story with different problems addressed. I do not see how to merge it with the Gen 1/5 narrative. It is simply a different perspective, for example, in Gen 1 there is lots of water, in Gen 2 there is a lack of water for irrigation. The order of the things being done is different in each story and Jewish scholars noticed this long before the beginnings of science, the point being it was not in reaction to any perceived problems with reconciling Genesis with science.

            Gen 1 assumes an ancient cosmology which is different from modern cosmology. The ancient one was based on appearances, such as the sky being a hard dome/raqia on which the lights in the sky were placed, see BDB def, for example. Per Walton it is not a material creation being discussed, but rather a functional creation, God is putting things in order to make a working Creation in a cosmic temple inaguration.

      • Micah August 22, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

        Hi Jerry – I’m certainly no expert…i work in software…fairly far removed from biology :). I’d have to defer to my friend and let her answer your questions. Regardless, i really was not trying to state a reason for believing in evolution. The main purpose of my question was to understand why it matters what a Christian believes on this issue. Practically speaking, it doesn’t appear to have any impact on her faith. Dr Burke responded to my question by saying that proponents of evolution don’t often realize that the gospel is in conflict with their belief and that they don’t understand the implications.

        I still don’t understand what the implications are. Seems like folks who believe evolution and are Christians are not as dogmatic in their approach with non-believers…maybe this is the implication Dr. Burke is referring to, but i don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing.

        What are your thoughts? Do you believe that it is important that a Christian believes the correct way with regard to HOW the creation occurred. If so, why is this important and what happens if they believe incorrectly?

        As far as my personal opinion on this debate, i tend to lean towards the evolutionary side of the debate….i’ve read books on both sides and the science on evolution side appears to be more solid (in my opinion), but take that with a grain of salt as I’m certainly no scientist.

        Micah

        • Jerry Corbaley August 23, 2011 at 12:55 am #

          Hi Micah,

          I’m certainly no expert either. I’m an old guy with a young mind that loves learning. I’ll try and answer your question.

          Here is the rock-bottom-line: The Infinite God extends spiritual life to those who will trust Him. When God reveals Himself through Jesus Christ, and a person repents and surrenders their will to Christ as Lord; then God will change them spiritually (born again) and Christ becomes their Savior. But there are many who freely use the name of Jesus Christ; and yet they do not believe what He has said, and they do not believe what He has done. Unbelief is sin. Sin kills.

          If God says that He has done something, and I tell people that He didn’t; what am I?

          When people cast doubt on the Bible, they are casting doubt on what God has said. The Bible is God’s word, and it is as accurate as if God breathed it Himself (2 Timothy 3:16). What this amounts to is: God told the world the truth and people tell the world that what God said is wrong.

          At the same time; sincere Christians who are born again still need to get free of the lies of the world one fact at a time. It is not up to me to decide who is a Christian and who is not. It is not up to me to decide “who learns what”, or “when they learn it”. But I do think God has given Christians the responsibility to speak in favor of believing what He has said. That is our responsibility (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Jude :3, 4).

          Genesis has been under attack for a long time. God has built His truth precept upon precept from the beginning. Genesis is the foundation of the following truths: Power and Majesty of God, the Character of God, Jesus as Creator, mankind as the Image of God, eternal life, marriage, origin of sin, origin of evil in the world, origin of a cursed planet that will kill you, forgiveness through blood sacrifice, promise of a savior, awareness of nakedness, salvation through grace and faith, judgment of sin, and the judgment of the entire world.

          The truth of the entire Bible is based on the accuracy of Genesis. If a Christian can be tempted to believe that the truth of the entire Bible is based on superstitions or the myths of primitive peoples, then they are susceptible to lies.

          Let me give you two examples.

          Exodus 20:11 states, “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day.” This is from the Ten Commandments. It is based on the truth of Genesis. If the Ten Commandments contain truth that is based on myth, then they are subject to being “interpreted away”.

          Matthew 24:37, 39b, Jesus says, “For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man”. Is Jesus teaching truth or myth? If He is teaching myth, then perhaps His second coming is only for Israel (local) or perhaps it is only figurative to get people to repent out of fear of what will not happen?

          If Genesis is not historical fact, then how can you trust people who treated it as historical fact? Are they not wrong? How can you trust what they say if you know that much of it is wrong? Most of the Old Testament and New Testament books treat Genesis as real history.

          It would be worthwhile to check out these verses. (Col. 1:16-20; Heb. 1:1, 2; Heb. 11:1-7)

          It would be worthwhile to find some authors and teachers who you can sit down with and talk about why this issue is important.

          Consider: The United States is built upon trillions of trillions of tons of direct evidence that God has already judged the earth once (sedimentation), and American evolutionists interpret that data to mean that man has never been better. Is this negligible?

          And we send our children to learn it so that it will affect what they believe and how they live.

          Are there more implications? Oh yeah, thousands.

  7. Donald Johnson August 19, 2011 at 10:32 am #

    There are some believers who have an INTERPRETATION of Scripture that is incompatible with the theory of evolution (or other parts of science for that matter, see Galileo). There are other believers who have an INTERPRETATION of Scripture that is NOT incompatible with the theory of evolution (or other parts of science for that matter).

    For some reason there are SOME in the first group that claim if one does not INTERPRET the Bible as they do (or at least close enough to how they do), then one is not really a believer. This seems to me to be an arrogant claim.

    And there is also a claim to a supposed “plain meaning” to ALL of Scripture, even though the various books of Scripture were written 1000’s of years ago in different cultures by different people to different audiences. Again, it seems to me that the claim to a plain meaning of ALL of Scripture is arrogant. Yes, the original protestants DID make a claim to the plain meaning of Scripture in regards to salvation, contra the Roman church’s claims that one needed the Roman church to be saved; but they also said that there were other parts of Scripture that were not so clear. So how did this doctrine of the limited clearness of Scripture on salvation get transmogrified into the supposed pervasive clearness?

    I read Genesis as the preamble to the Mosaic Sinai covenent. But who reads this type of genre today in everyday life? Perhaps only a few scholars.

    For those that read the whole book of Genesis as being all historical narrative I offer a challenge. Show me a historical timeline according to the narrative that incorporates all the text from Gen 1 and 2 as I do not think it can be done without distorting the meaning of the text. And this challenge was known long before the birth of science.

  8. Ryan August 19, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Aren’t there almost two different versions of the creation story in the first two chapters of Genesis? Or at least two passages that tell the story somewhat different? I do not doubt the creation account, but it seems there must be more than meets the eye when it comes to Genesis’ account of creation.

  9. Christianes August 19, 2011 at 10:57 am #

    My own faith is aligned with the following ideas:

    “”. . . . . . the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God.
    The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.”

    “. . . . . the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth”.

    For me, there is no battle between God and our discovery of His Creation through scientific exploration . . . if anything, the further scientists uncover the secrets of nature, the more profound becomes our admiration for the One who spoke all that exists into being and Who opened His Hand and lovingly gave life to all living beings.

    No conflict. Science honestly ‘reveals’ to us the wonders of Our God’s handiwork.

  10. Dillon August 19, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    I believe Dr. John Stevenson gives a wonderful exposition of Genesis in this study:

    http://www.angelfire.com/nt/theology/genesis.html

    If Dr. Burk will allow the link. 🙂

    The first five sections give a lot of insight.

  11. Donald Johnson August 19, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    On the 2nd point, on literal interpretation, countless people MAY THINK they are doing it, but believers disagree with other believers on what various parts of the Bible means (literally), so they simply cannot ALL be doing it correctly.

    I think Mohler is misreading some parts of the Bible and from what he has written I believe he thinks I am misreading parts. And among protestants, there is simply no higher authority to appeal to. What each then does is gather others around them that understand the text similarly, trying to convince others to join them. I do not see a way around this diversity in faith until Jesus returns, but we are still supposed to do our best to maintain the unity of the Spirit, per Paul. I accept Mohler as a YEC believer and I am a EC believer, but am unsure if he accepts me.

  12. Jerry Corbaley August 19, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    I think it is quite possible that the current creation-evolution debate among Christians is just a symptom of an older, larger disagreement.

    The atheistic western culture rejects the supernatural events of the Bible. I hope you will not be ‘put-off’ by that term. But the western culture rejects the notion that there is a God who began the world. The western culture rejects the notion that there is a God who intervened in the history of the world.

    An Infinite God could create the heavens and the earth just the way He said He did in Genesis. The real history of the earth can be accurately understood from the book of Genesis.

    It is quite probable that Christians who trust the atheistic western culture instead of the apostles and the prophets will continue to reject the supernatural record found in the Bible.

    • Donald Johnson August 20, 2011 at 10:01 am #

      If you see Gen as all real history, please provide a ordered timeline (without specific dates, just in order) for the events in Gen 1 and Gen 2.

      • Chris August 20, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

        I am always puzzled with Christians who fall back on logic to determine their beliefs. What is logical about raising the dead to life?

        • Jerry Corbaley August 20, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

          Hi Chris,

          It is logical that the all-wise, all-powerful, omnipresent God could resurrect every atom, molecule and cell of a dead body and give it life.

          It is not anti-intellectual ‘magic’. It is a matter of the God who designed physical laws being able to intervene in the physical world and historically act in the world He created.

          The Bible speaks of real events that occurred with real consequences.

          By the way, I think your question is worthy, not frivolous!

          • Chris August 22, 2011 at 11:53 am #

            Hey Jerry thanks for the response but I think you may have misinterpreted my intention based on my lack of clarity.

            What you say is theo-logically correct but certainly not logical to those that believe in the inerrancy of “natural” law.

            Hopefully this is much clearer: I am puzzled by Christians that demand a logical explanation about certain events detailed in the bible (like creation) while believing in the resurrection. Death to life is completely “naturally” illogical. Do they not take the resurrection literally? If they do why is it difficult to believe the biblical account of creation? Why demand scientific proof for one and not the other?

        • Jerry Corbaley August 22, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

          Hey Chris,

          Thanks for your clarification. I did misunderstand your first statement. I am entirely capable of misunderstanding, no matter how clear someone may be.

          I am so impressed with the accuracy of the Bible that I don’t require scientific proof about the Bible’s accuracy. The Bible is spot on regarding what I can personally verify, so I believe the things that I can’t personally verify. As I live and learn about history and science, I am reduced to worship when I consider how real God and His actions have been though-out history. The evidence of what God has done glorifies the God who did it.

          But when I see people tempted to doubt the accuracy of the Bible, based on presuppositions that are inaccurate; then I am tempted to see if I can get them to rethink their presuppositions. In this article’s context, the acts of God in real history have left real evidence that remains to this day.

          I understand your point about the resurrection. People are given the gift of faith, or they aren’t. From the human point of view; a discussion about real history that includes real acts of God can provide a time where such faith might be contemplated and received.

          • Chris August 22, 2011 at 5:29 pm #

            I agree Jerry but my issue is with those that already say they believe: “I believe in the Resurrection but I refuse to believe the Genesis account because it conflicts with science.”

            I mean if anything conflicts with science its the Resurrection.

          • Donald Johnson August 23, 2011 at 8:39 pm #

            God’s word is true but just like in cars the major problem is the “nut behind the wheel”. (This is an attempt at humor.) The point is that we can misread Scripture and sometimes misread it badly. Context is everything in trying to figure out what a text means and as it gets older it is just expected that the culture will be more and more different than ours today, so figuring out the cultural context in which to read ancient text can be challenging.

            John Walton’s book “The Lost World of Genesis One” is very good in trying to establish the cultural context of the first teaching unit in the Bible. I recommend it to all Bereans.

  13. Broken Arrow August 20, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    Micah,

    “Over the last one hundred years, almost all of biology has proceeded independent of evolution, except evolutionary biology itself.”
    -Marc Kirschner, Harvard University

    “I recently asked more than seventy eminent researchers if they would have done their work differently if they had thought Darwin’s theory was wrong. The responses were all the same: no. I also examined the outstanding biodiscoveries of the past century: the discovery of the double helix; the characterization of the ribosome; the mapping of genomes…I even queried biologists working in areas where one would expect the Darwinian paradigm to have most benefited research, such as the emergence of resistance to antibiotics and pesticides. Here, as elsewhere, I found that Darwin’s theory had provided no discernible guidance, but was brought in, after the breakthroughs, as an interesting narrative gloss.”
    -Philip S. Skell, The Scientist, August 2005

  14. Bevets August 21, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Whoever takes another meaning out of Scripture than the writer intended, goes astray, but not through any falsehood in Scripture. ~ Augustine

    Probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience; . . . Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the “days” of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know. ~ James Barr

    It was obvious that both the general theory of evolution and its extension to man in particular must meet from the first with the most determined resistance on the part of the Churches. Both were in flagrant contradiction to the Mosaic story of creation, and other Biblical dogmas that were involved in it, and are still taught in our elementary schools. It is creditable to the shrewdness of the theologians and their associates, the metaphysicians, that they at once rejected Darwinism, and made a particularly energetic resistance in their writings to its chief consequence, the descent of man from ape. ~ Ernst Haeckel

  15. Christianes August 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    What does it mean to read the Bible literally?

    first thought was ‘narrowness’

    second thought was ‘shopping mall’ selective reading making some passages to be ‘literal’ and others ‘not’ in order to conform to pet doctrines in one of thousands of denominations

    third thought was if Christ spoke some things ‘literally’ and people who read the Bible ‘literally’ don’t think He did, they might be ‘getting it wrong’ by not sticking with their literal reading consistently where His actual Words are concerned

  16. Jerry Corbaley August 22, 2011 at 2:33 am #

    Hello Donald,

    Assuming a large flood in Mesopotamia:

    The wickedness of man was great in the earth and every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was evil continually; and the earth was filled with violence (Gen. 6:5, 11). Why would these people stay in Mesopotamia?

    These same people lived almost a thousand years; and in about 1500 years of history they never migrated elsewhere?

    God decided to blot out man and animals and birds (Gen. 6:7, 17; 7:4, 21, 22, 23; 8:17-19, 21; 9:8-10) from Mesopotamia? Yet these people and creatures could not walk away from a flood that took 40 days to reach its height?

    This flood continues in Mesopotamia for the majority of a year, and yet the ark somehow ends up in Ararat?

    Why couldn’t Noah and his family just herd their animals away from Mesopotamia?

    No one else could just walk, ride or said away; they have to stay there and die?

    It says in Genesis 7:4, “I will send rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and every living thing that I have made I will blot out from the face of the ground”. There was nothing living outside of Mesopotamia?

    It says in Genesis 7:19, 20, “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.” Yet this flood was only in Mesopotamia?

    It says in Genesis 9:11, “I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” Yet there are regional floods just about every year?

    It says in 2 Peter 3:5-7, “For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” If the flood was only a large flood in Mesopotamia, then is the judgment of fire only in Mesopotamia?

    Brother Donald, the Theistic Evolutionary world view you appear to hold is not a world view that came from the Scripture. It is a world view that accommodates the atheistic western culture’s alternative to the existence of God. From the big bang through the multiple theories about macro-evolution; none of these ideas came from Scripture. Why do people who profess that the Scriptures are the inerrant word of God prefer Theistic Evolution?

    There is not even a quality scientific basis to prefer macro-evolution. While we may all have been indoctrinated into macro-evolutionary thought through our culture, many great sources of superior scientific apologetics exist that show that God left evidence of what he said he did in the book of Genesis.

    For those who are just browsing the blogs to form your world view (?!!); I would suggest you take advantage of the search engines at http://www.answersingenesis.org/ and http://www.icr.org/.

    Donald, I want to say I have thoroughly enjoyed your attitude throughout your conversation. You have not been rude, or condescending, or arrogant. Thank you! I hope I have not been offensive to you. Regarding, different ways to translate Hebrew (or Aramaic, or Greek), it might be worthwhile for the groups who believe your way to publish their own Bible version.

    If we meet on this planet, I would like to have lunch with you.

    • Donald Johnson August 22, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

      The short answer is that the words can mean land instead of earth, hills instead of mountains, and other translation choices, etc. Mesopotamia was/is very flat, so any flood would move quick. Even during Paul’s time, they did not know about the Americas. We should try to avoid teleporting our knowledge back into ancient texts, as the result can easily be a mishmash. Instead we should try our best to read the texts while using ideas and worldview from their culture.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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