Evolutionary Creation 5 (RJS)

We’ve been working through Denis O. Lamoureux’s book Evolutionary Creation: A Christian Approach to Evolution – a book that describes a way to move beyond the creation and evolutions debates. Chapter 4 of this book describes the role that ancient science plays in the text of scripture. This is something that totally blows past most modern readers of the Bible.  A little understanding of context helps to put many things into place. We will look at this from several directions over the next couple of posts.

To begin, consider Genesis 1:1:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

Most modern readers of the Bible will immediately take this phrase and picture something like the image to the right, a photo from NASA taken during the Galileo mission in 1990.  The earth hangs as a ball in space, facing the sun with the moon alongside also reflecting the sun.

Nothing even remotely resembling this image arose in the mind of the ancient writer or reader of Genesis. The vision of earth brought to mind in ANE thought was a three tiered universe with a flat earth surrounded by water. This understanding is apparent within the text of the Old Testament.

This brings to the front a very important question as we consider the relationship between modern science, our faith in God, and our reading of scripture.

How do we know when we are projecting our view, foreign to the original authors and readers, on the text?

How do we recognize and interpret the Ancient Near East (ANE) views of cosmology and biology within the pages of scripture?

We tend to read the text of scripture instinctively with 20th or 21st century science embedded in our understanding. Words, phrases, passages that make little sense in our context are rendered or assumed to be poetic in our understanding. Sometimes they are twisted to match our view of the cosmos.  This misreads the text and misunderstands the ANE context and intent. Pete Enns commented on this issue in a video just recently posted on BioLogos.

In his comments Pete suggests that projecting our understanding of cosmology onto the biblical writers and readers undermines a truly high view of the Bible – one that takes the Bible on its own terms as the word of God.  “Ironically,” he says, “a high view of the Bible is one that recognizes its lowliness in some respects —it is a positive thing to keep in mind, that God is not afraid to speak in ways that people understand.”

Dr. Lamoureux is making the same point in chapter 4 of his book. It is hard, with a knowledge of Hebrew or a good English translation, to miss the ANE cosmology embedded in the text of the Old Testament. Or let me modify that a bit. Once it is pointed out, once the clues are identified, it is easy to identify and hard to miss these concepts throughout scripture. Until it is pointed out we look at the text with our own presuppositions and expectations coloring the interpretation of the words and consider this an example of the divine perspicuity of scripture.

As an example consider Genesis 1:1-8 Days One and Two:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day. And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

The vision embedded in the text here is not a modern view of a globe hanging in space. Rather the text is written from the context and vision of the ANE understanding of the universe as sketched in the figure below (4-1 from the book, the word translated by vault in the NIV2011 above is firmament in the KJV). In the first section of this chapter, pp. 111-131, Dr. Lamoureux describes the features of this ANE view of the world and how it plays into many texts, from Genesis to Job to Psalms and more, ultimately pulling it together:

To summarize, the Bible definitely presents a 3-tiered universe as illustrated in Fig. 4-1. This view of the cosmos was the best science-of-the-day thousands of years ago in the ancient Near East, and it was embraced by the inspired writers of God’s word and their readers. References in Scripture to the earth set on immovable foundations, the heavens similar to a tent canopy, and the rising and setting sun are not fanciful poetic statements. These verses were intended to describe the literal structure and actual operation of the world. The use of common objects, like tents and building foundations, were models meant to convey the genuine arrangement of the heavens and the earth. But it is clear that the biblical understanding of geology and astronomy does not correspond to physical reality. Scientific concordism fails. (p. 131)

Reading the Bible within a framework of contemporary perspective is not an issue limited to science or to the modern era. This has been a problem throughout the ages, with a mix of reading from the text and reading into the text present as each generation grapples with scripture. The issues come up, as Pete suggests in the video above, in other areas as well, including what it means to present a written history of an event or a biography of a person. In all of these areas imposition of our modern view on the text does violence to the intent and meaning of the text.

This leads to some important questions, including those given above.

How do we recognize and interpret the original views and contexts within the pages of scripture?

How do we know when we are projecting our view, foreign to the original authors and readers, on the text?

How does the this impact our understanding of what it means for scripture to be the inspired word of God? How does it impact our understanding of the message of scripture?

It you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

For those who find the full book (400+ pages) somewhat daunting Dr. Lamoureux has condensed the book into a more accessible version, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution. He also provides audio and slide summaries of each chapter of Evolutionary Creation online.

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