What is Concordism in Bible-Science Discussion?

From the forthcoming Dictionary of Christianity and Science, edited by Paul Copan, Tremper Longman III, Christopher L. Reese, and Michael G. Strauss.

CONCORDISM. Concordism refers to the position that the teaching of the Bible on the natural world, properly interpreted, will agree with the teaching of science (when it properly understands the data), and may in fact supplement science. The concordist not only believes that nature and Scripture will harmonize, but sees specific references in the Bible to current scientific understanding of the universe. The concordist, then, looks for those close parallels in order to show that Scripture concords or agrees with scientific conclusions.

Because the concordist holds Scripture as entirely truthful, there cannot be any ultimate contradiction between Scripture rightly interpreted and nature rightly interpreted. In both Scripture and nature, of course, there is the potential for error in the interpretation. Concordism, however, assumes that correlations can be made, believing in a degree of accuracy of interpretation (though not infallibility) in current science and in showing he Scripture supports clear scientific conclusions.

Building from the increasing recognition of Copernican astronomy (beginning in the seventeenth century) and the argument that God was accommodating himself to man using man’s common language to explain theological truths, the growing authority of the sciences going into the nineteenth century paved the way for science to have a recognized impact on the interpretation of Scripture and for the growing desire to show the harmony of the two disciplines (Davis 2003, 35-42). This desire to show harmony led to the reexamining of Scripture and the championing of views that allowed that harmony, such as the day-age view of creation in Genesis 1. Those who find strong specific parallels between science and Scripture present a strong concordist position. More recent concordists see fewer specific parallels and argue for a more general correlation, promoting a moderate concordism.

The young-earth position adheres to a similar fundamental principle and so is sometimes considered concordist, but adherents approach the issue from the reverse direction. Young-earth theorists also presuppose that Scripture and science cannot contradict each other if rightly understood. The young-earth proponents begin with Scripture, however, supposing the accuracy of their interpretation of Scripture. They then reexamine science try to show that it actually accords with their recent view of creation. At the core, the same conviction that both Scripture and the natural world are from God and must ultimately accord drives both systems of concordism.

An alternative view in the origins debate agrees that in the end science and Scripture will accord in what they affirm. However, this position believes that we are missing the point when we try to read Genesis in light of modern science or to interpret scientific data in light of Genesis. Instead, we need to read the text in light of its ancient context for its original intent. In this view, the Genesis creation account does not affirm a position on modern scientific questions and so does not speak to the expected scientific issues directly (Miller and Soden 2012). Since Genesis 1 does not present scientific claims, such things as the age of the earth can be left to scientific investigation without needing to demonstrate specific correlation.

By John Soden (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary), who is a professor and program director of the Master of Arts in Bible program at Lancaster Bible College.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.