Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

The Interplay of Science and Biblical Interpretation

Studying and preaching the opening chapters of Genesis over the past little while has forced me to think about the relationship of science and biblical interpretation all over again. It was with great interest that I read Richard Belcher’s review of C. John Collins’ new book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? (HT: Challies)

I have not read Collins’ book, so I’m in no position to comment on it (spoiler alert: Collins affirms the historical existence of Adam & Eve). But something Belcher said stuck out to me.

The line in the sand must be drawn concerning the interpretation of Genesis 2:7 and the historical nature of Genesis 1-11. The reason is that the nature and authority of Scripture is at stake. The current discussions of Genesis 2:7 are being driven by science. Scholars are willing to allow the findings of science to determine which interpretations of Genesis 2:7 are acceptable. In fact, the findings of science are the basis for denying clear statements of Scripture. We must make a stand on what Scripture says; otherwise, Scripture is not our highest authority.

This stuck out to me for at least two reasons: (1) I recently argued in my first sermon on Genesis 1 that if we spend a lot of time in Genesis 1-2 trying to determine dates, times, methods, and arguments against evolution, it is at that moment that we are actually letting science drive our interpretation. Put another way, Moses didn’t have refuting evolution on the mind, so why do we? It’s because we’re allowing science to drive our agenda when we go to interpret the text. So for many who preach Genesis 1-2 as if it is a rational and cogent argument presenting the case for a young earth with no evolution, they are actually the ones being driven by science.

(2) We are silly and naive if we think biblical exegesis should be done entirely apart from scientific inquiry. I find the following quote by Derek Kidner, from his commentary on Genesis, quite helpful.

Secondly, it may be thought that this whole discussion allows science too much control over exegesis. This would be a serious charge. But to try to correlate the data of Scripture and nature is not to dishonour biblical authority, but to honour God as Creator and to grapple with our proper task of interpreting His ways of speaking. In Scripture He leaves us to find out for ourselves such details as whether ‘the wings of the wind’ and the ‘windows of heaven’ are literal or metaphorical, and in what sense ‘the world cannot be moved’ (Ps 96.10) or the sun daily ‘runs its course’ (Ps 19.5-6). Some of these questions are answered as soon as they are asked; others only by the general advance of knowledge;¹ most of them are doctrinally neutral. We are asserting our own infallibility, not that of Scripture, when we refuse to collate our factual answers with those of independent inquiry².³

In other words, sometimes we think we’re defending the Bible (‘the nature and authority of Scripture is at stake’) when in actuality, we’re just defending our interpretations of Scripture. What Belcher finds to be ‘clear statements of Scripture’ may or may not be indicative of what was clear to the ancient Israelites receiving this narrative text from Moses. The more we understand what they would have seen as ‘clear statements’ the better position we’ll be in to do our exegesis. And the more we study creation the more we’ll understand the Creator. These two studies, however, must be seen as friends, not enemies.

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¹ It was Galileo’s telescope, not his church, that conclusively refuted the interpretation of Ps 96.10 as a proof-text against the earth’s rotation. Galileo incidentally realized that the new astronomy discredited only the expositors, not the Bible.

² ‘It is tempting … to deny the problem, either by discounting one or other set of facts, or by locking them into separate compartments in our minds. … The truth is that the facts of nature yield positive help in many ways for interpreting Scripture statements correctly, and the discipline of wrestling with the problem of relating the two sets of facts, natural and biblical, leads to a greatly enriched understanding of both.’ J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (IVF, 1958), 135.

³ Derek Kidner, Genesis (IVP, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series, 1967), 30-31.

1 Comment

  1. Moses certainly wasn't ( knowingly ) attempting to refute evolution – he predates Darwin by a few millennia – so your premise confuses me. I don't understand how accepting the plain language of Genesis 1 & 2 is allowing science to drive the interpretation. If my primary commitment is to scriptural authority and perspicuity ( especially in light Genesis' historical record ) ie. before I consider anything else, how is science affecting my interpretation ?

    Many pay lip service to the "clear statements of scripture" while at the same time engaging in exegetical gymnastics in an attempt to prove that those "clear statements" are really anything but.

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