By Keith Ward
The Bible never adopts those scientific fallacies current at the time of its writing. As often stated, the Bible is not a scientific textbook, but wherever it does touch upon scientific topics, it is accurate. However, the search to produce more evidence of this nature has led to the careless misuse of scripture, if not to the outright wresting of God’s word.
Potential Faith Destroyers
The Bible will stand on the basis of internal evidences, i.e. fulfilled prophecy, the character of Jesus, the veracity of the apostles as witnesses, its unity, et al. External evidences, i.e. archaeology, scientific accuracy, historical accuracy, et al., may enhance one’s faith, but faith should not rest on them. Many times these have been contrary to the Bible record for decades until further evidence came to light. If one tries to build another’s faith by external evidences alone, and he then discovers those evidences still contrary to the Bible, what will become of his external-evidences-faith? Furthermore, if we misuse scripture to make it foreshadow some scientific discovery (wittingly or not) how will the discovery of this misuse affect his faith which was based on what he now sees to be false foundations? What will this misuse do to our integrity and credibility concerning the meaning of other scriptures that relate to his salvation? May not such action even reflect upon the integrity of the Bible?
A simple guide to our study will prevent much of the current misuse of scripture in this area. Study the passage in its context. Ask yourself, “Would I have drawn the conclusion that it referred to the proposed scientific fact from the passage alone?” To carry the fact to the Bible, searching for a verse to foreshadow it, is no less reprehensible than carrying a doctrine to the Bible, searching for verses to prove it.
Some Valid Cases
To illustrate our key from the positive side, let us notice some cases where either the fact was discovered as a result of Bible study, or where the Bible alludes to the fact in its own context, apart from consideration of our present scientific knowledge. Without doubt, the most dramatic of these is the case of Maury, a seafarer, who read Psalm 8:8 and searched and found paths (currents) in the seas.
Job contains several statements which evidence scientific knowledge beyond that believed to have been current in his time
(1) 26: 7. The earth hangs on nothing. It is not built on pillars, nor does it rest upon a turtle’s back or upon Atlas’ shoulders. Any Bible believer would reject those possibilities, by faith, long before Newton or Copernicus. (Inasmuch as Job said this of his own will, it would behoove us to be cautious in applying Middle Ages ignorance to Bible characters.)
(2) 26:7. The north sky is an empty space. Not only is this observable to the naked eye, but even the most powerful telescopes have found no stars there.
(3) 38:25-26. Lightning causes rain. The statement is clearly not figurative, and we have to accept it, although most of us have seen it rain without seeing lightning. Science says the static discharge must be there or rain will not form.
Other cases of scientific foreknowledge in the Bible are: the stars are innumerable (Jer 33:22), earth is round (Prov 8:27), rain comes from the sea via the water vapor cycle (Job 37:27-28; Eccl 1:7), all living things reproduce after their kind (Gen 1), and life is in the blood (Lev 17:11). In all probability this list is not complete; neither is the following list of abused passages, but it is hoped that it will suffice to arouse a spirit of caution in these matters.
Figurative Made Literal
One of the more common fallacies, whether in the field of doctrine (premillennialism) or in evidences, is to apply a figurative expression literally. By doing this we can prove any doctrine, and greatly expand our list of cases where the Bible anticipates modern science.
In a highly figurative passage, God asks Job where he was when He laid the foundations of the earth, and at that time, “The morning stars sang together” (Job 38:4-7). As incredible as it may seem, some have applied this singing of the stars at creation to the modern discovery that stars emit radio and radar sounds. Next, science will discover a phenomenon that will correspond to the last half of the verse, “All the sons of God shouted for joy!” Or that the sea literally has doors with bars, rather than this being a figure for the bounds of the seashore (vs. 8-11). Even if this passage were accepted as literal, the time is wrong to match the radioemission of sounds by stars today, for the singing of this passage took place when God laid the foundations of the earth, i.e. at creation. The one who finds literal stars emitting literal sounds in Job 38 logically cannot complain when another finds a literal thousand year reign of Christ on the earth in Revelation 20.
Also, in the same passage, God asks, “Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened? Or who laid the cornerstone thereof?” Until 1964, any who read this carefully would conclude only that God created the earth and that the reference to foundations was a figurative equivalent for he “hangeth the earth upon nothing.” But when seismic reports from the 1964 Alaska earthquake established that the continents had foundation-pillars averaging 310 miles deep into the mantle rock, suddenly Biblical scholars (?) discovered that “earth” here contrasted to sea and meant the dry land earth as in Gen 1:10. Sounds good, but since the interpretation came after the discovery, it is, at best, suspect. Like most doctrines which search for a text instead of deriving from one, it fails under careful study.
Note expecially the question, “Whereupon were the foundations thereof fastened?” If God were referring to the continents, then a schoolboy could have replied, “In the inner parts (mantle rock) of the earth.” God’s rhetorical question is intended to be unanswerable, of the type asked by philosophers, “Where did Atlas stand? What held up his standing place?”
Normally, in Job as in other scripture, the term “earth” refers to the globe and is not limited to the dry land. Whenever it is so limited, the immediate context so indicates as in “dust of the earth,” “grass of the earth,” etc. In the absence of such a qualifier here, we conclude that earth is used in the normal sense of the whole terrestrial ball.
If there is a commentary that examines this passage and concludes the dry-land-earth must have pillars fastened within the central parts of the earth, and advises us to accept such on faith since God said it and/or advises scientists to search for proof-bring it forth. Delitzsch concludes, as above, that it is equivalent to the “earth hangs on nothing,” but then he had no post-1964 theory to uphold.
Another stretch of figures is to find literal springs and canyons in the sea in Job 38:16. Consider the verse in light of our key and note the following points. Both the KJV and marginal reading of the ASV have “search” instead of “recesses,” upon which the canyon theory rests. We paraphrase the question thus, “have you known (walked NASV) the extent of the ocean depths.” To get from search (or recess of the deep, the entire ocean, to canyons within the ocean is quite a stretch. The same shifting of prepositions, from “of’ to “in” is needed to make this verse match the discovery of freshwater springs in the ocean. All my limited sources (KJV, ASV, Delitzsch, NASV) agree in the use of “of.” The Missouri river has many springs in it, but when we speak of the springs of the Missouri, we are referring to source. Also note that God points out Job’s ignorance in a series of questions that concern source: “Gates of death, Dwelling of light,” Place of darkness, “Treasuries of the snow . . . of the hail” (vs. 16-24). None of the context is literal. By subject matter and by choice of preposition the Holy Spirit speaks of source. Therefore, to literalize the passage, then to change prepositions to make it match a modern discovery does violence to God’s word.
Twice the scriptures speak of the heavens waxing old like a garment (Psa. 102:26; Isa 51:6). The Psalm is a hyperbolic contrast between their longevity and God’s. Likewise, the passage in Isaiah is an exaggeration to emphasize the abiding nature of God’s salvation and righteousness. That truth cannot be deduced from the exaggerated figure of a hyperbole should be patent. Consider another hyperbole, “It is harder for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Many have deduced there must be a gate in Jerusalem called the needle’s eye where camels had to kneel to enter and this represented the humility necessary for a rich man to enter. It is true, humility is necessary, but if there was such a gate, why did the apostles not understand (since they would know of this hypothesized gate) instead of believing it impossible for the rich to be saved? And why did Christ accept the impossibility of this for men and say it would take the power of God, if the answer were to be found in a narrow, low gate? Archaeology has found no such gate. Do not forget the point this illustrates, “A deduction cannot be made from the figure in a hyperbole.” It does happen that entropy, the law that everything is wearing out, fits with the idea in the figures of the heavens waxing old. However, to say that entropy is inherent in either statement, i.e. that it may be deduced from them, would logically force one to apply the same method of interpretation to all hyperboles and go needle-gate hunting, and take sillv positions on other exaggerations for emphasis found in the scripture. Entropy is true. The heavens are wearing out. In neither context does that phrase point to or foreknow the modern law of entropy.
Some other instances where figures are misused are: radio foreshadowed (Job 38:35), aviation developed beyond present refinement (Isa 60:8), Earth’s rotation revealed (Job 38:14). Check these, and any others not reviewed, carefully within their context lest you repeat error. (Concluded next week.)
Truth Magazine XXII: 46, pp. 748-750
November 23, 1978