Making efficient use of time (yours and mine) this post will not elaborate the subject of the Bible where it touches authority, inspiration, revelation (and the subsequent distinctions of revelation), illumination and etc.. There are enough links from this website to others that will direct a reader to virtual tomes on these subjects. Time would be better served to stay on the “ground level” and consider the question as to whether the Bible can be considered to be literally true.
Millard J. Erickson writes, “The Bible is first and foremost a theological book. It was designed to teach us about God and our relationship to him [sic]. It was written in a prescientific age. Consequently, it does not describe events and causes in the scientific language of today.” i Erickson’s postulation provides a clue to the necessity of providing an answer to the trustworthiness of scripture.
The Bible is without doubt a theological book for from the very beginning we find God teaching mankind about Himself as not being like the creation, but rather the Creator of those things that are worshipped as gods (see Genesis 1 as polemic against the gods of Egypt, as a reintroduction of the true and living God to the people of the Exodus). In addition, while the Bible itself is not a book of science, it still remains to be a book containing science. Erickson’s statement overall is a starting place where thinkers of this age suppose that if the Bible was written in a prescientific age, it must therefore be untrustworthy or untrue.
“Science” has a wider range of meaning than our English usage allows. We have come to know “science” as “a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study.” ii While it is true that the Bible does not describe events and causes in contemporary formal scientific language, it still remains that the Bible still declares itself to be God’s Word; that is, knowable propositions (a realm of science) through direct communication (another scientific field) to humanity (yet another scientific field of study). The Bible is still trustworthy and reliable. Samuel Morse (inventor of the telegraph, a scientist) said, ““The nearer I approach the end of my pilgrimage, the clearer is the evidence of the divine origin of the Bible. The grandeur and sublimity of God’s remedy for fallen man are more appreciated and the future is illuminated with hope and joy.”
In the area of theology, to say the Bible is “pre-science” would be amiss, for theology, as found in the pantheons of cultures was challenged by theology; that is, the gods of this world have been challenged and deposed by the true and living God. “The science of theology” is the reality of Israel: divinely born as a nation; delivered in the Exodus; established civilly, morally and ceremonially. This cannot be said of cultures who were established and invoke the blessings of the gods as they created them.
This is to say nothing of those systematic developments contributed by societies through their looking up in the sky, down on the ground, into each other, and so forth. What point on the time-line is anyone able to say when science became “science?” Archaeologists marvel at the minds that built ziggurats, pyramids, aquaducts, ships, warfare, farms, medicinal practices, and the list goes on. Our everyday survival depends on science and it takes place in the kitchen: the right combination of ingredients, temperature, storage, etc.. Winemaking alone is traced back to 6000 years B.C. and the industry still cannot improve on ancient scientific technique. The point is: whether Canaanite, Egyptian, Israelite, Babylonian, Greek or Roman, it is obvious that ancient man had systematized knowledge and whether that knowledge is right or wrong, from these scientific contexts the Bible was written.
“God has revealed numerous scientific and medical facts in the Bible, thousands of years before scientists “discovered” them. As Hank Hanegraaff said, ‘Faith in Christ is not some blind leap into a dark chasm, but a faith based on established evidence.’”iii How could the Bible be written at all without the science of linguistics? Somebody had to know a language! “Science expresses the universe in five terms: time, space, matter, power, and motion. Genesis 1:1,2 revealed such truths to the Hebrews in 1450 B.C.: ‘In the beginning [time] God created [power] the heaven [space] and the earth [matter] . . . And the Spirit of God moved [motion] upon the face of the waters.’”iv
Consider further what this so-called pre-science book contains:
“Only in recent years has science discovered that everything we see is composed of invisible atoms. Scripture tells us in Hebrews 11:3 that the ‘things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.’ It is also interesting to note that scientists now understand the universe is expanding or stretching out. Nine times in Scripture we are told that God stretches out the heavens like a curtain (e.g., Psalm 104:2). At a time when it was believed that the earth sat on a large animal or a giant (1500 B.C.), the Bible spoke of the earth’s free float in space: ‘He . . . hangs the earth upon nothing” (Job 26:7). The prophet Isaiah also tells us that the earth is round: ‘It is he that sits upon the circle of the earth’ (Isaiah 40:22). This is not a reference to a flat disk, as some skeptics maintain, but to a sphere. Secular man discovered this 2,400 years later. At a time when science believed that the earth was flat, it was the Scriptures that inspired Christopher Columbus to sail around the world.”v
While we are easily able to enter the subject of inspiration here, we will instead turn attention to the more neglected (yet, still perfectly obvious) aspect in the definition of “science.”
The words “science” comes from the 14 century Latin scientia, from scient-, or sciens, meaning “having knowledge” which is derived from present participle of scire “to know.” Specifically, the primary definition of “science” is “the state of knowing: knowledge as distinguished from ignorance or misunderstanding.”vi
Guess what the following list of people have in common (besides the fact they were scientists):
Physics: Newton, Faraday,Maxwell, Kelvin
Chemistry: Boyle, Dalton, Pascal, Ramsay
Biology: Ray, Linnaeus,Mendel, Pasteur
Geology: Steno,Woodward, Brewster, Agassiz
Astronomy: Kepler, Galileo, Herschel,Maunder
The one enterprise these had in common was how they considered their calling as scientists to “thinking God’s thoughts after Him.”
If the Bible was written in a pre-scientific age, then the Bible was written before an age of knowing, or in an age of ignorance. This does not follow, for what is known is well articulated in scripture. The Bible was written in the context of systematized knowledge!
What is the Bible’s critique of geo-centricity (the concept that the Universe rotates around the earth)? “Have you commanded the morning since your days; and caused the day spring [dawn] to know his place? . . . It [the earth] is turned as clay to the seal” (Job 38:12,14).” The earth is described as the one turning as on a potter’s wheel. Luke 17:34-36 describes the return of the Lord occurring both in daylight and at night, another indication of a revolving earth. The First Law of Thermodymics was not yet catalogued by men when the God “finished” creation and the fiery end to come was established in His purpose before the Third Law of Thermodymics was penned as well.
What a scientifically ludicrous statement did God make to Job when He asked, “Can you send lightnings, that they may go, and say to you, ‘Here we are?’” (Job 38:35). Light can be sent and manifest itself in speech? If you are reading this on wireless internet, you are using enjoying the product of ludicrous pre-scientific knowledge. Is the Bible trustworthy? Somebody tell James Clerk Maxwell that electricity and lightwaves are ludicrous. Of course you would have to time-travel back to 1864 . . . through the practice of science fiction.
Does Job 38:7 (“When the morning stars sang together. . .”) mean anything to those headphoned men and women at their radio telescopes?
While it is difficult to tell exactly what anyone would mean by saying the Bible is written “pre-science,” the need for giving an answer becomes all the more clear.
“The Bible served as a basis for modern scientific pursuits. Modern science was born in the seventeenth century because of a belief in an unchanging God of order, purpose, and consistency—the God portrayed in the Bible. In addition, our modern concept of law and order are based on the Bible. The Bible says that God has set standards of right and wrong behavior. Many of our current laws are based upon biblical morality.”vii
“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” GALILEO GALILEI
Sir John Frederick Herschel, an English astronomer who discovered over 500 stars, stated: “All human discoveries seem to be made only for the purpose of confirming more and more strongly the truths that come from on high and are contained in the Sacred Writings.” His father, Sir William Herschel, also a renowned astronomer, insisted, “The undevout astronomer must be mad.”
i Erickson, Millard. Does It Matter What I Believe? Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
ii Merriam-Webster, Inc. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. Includes index. 10th ed. Springfield, Mass., U.S.A.: Merriam-Webster, 1996, c1993.
iii Comfort, Ray. “The Bible.” The School of Biblical Evangelism.
iv Comfort, ibid.
v Comfort, ibid.
vi Merriam-Webster, Inc.
vii Comfort, ibid.