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Should We Read the Bible Literally?

Dec 2, 2010

This is a question which not only many Christians ask, but is one which is also used as an objection by those who are critics of Christianity. But whatever the reasons for raising such a question, it is an important issue, and deserves a careful response.

The subject in fact is rather complex, and a short article like this can hardly do the topic full justice. But a brief overview can at least be attempted here. And to alleviate any possible suspense, let me now provide the answer to my question: yes and no.

An easy answer, but it is in the teasing out of this response that things become a bit tricky. But let’s have a shot at it. Of course many Christians pride themselves in taking the Bible literally. Or at least they think they do. But the hard truth is, none of us take the Bible literally 100 per cent of the time.

In fact, most of us practice selective literalism when it comes to Scripture. That is, we all tend to pick and choose those parts of Scripture which we think should be taken literally. Consider just a few obvious examples.

In 1 Timothy 2:8 Paul says this: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing”. While charismatics and Pentecostals will have no problems with the raised hands bit, I suspect most other Christians routinely ignore this altogether or at least downplay it.

Or take another passage from 1 Timothy: “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes” (2:9). Yikes, if we were to take this verse literally, there would be plenty of Christian women who would have to have a major wardrobe change. Hairstyles and jewelry choices would also have to be reconsidered big time.

Indeed, as many Christian men seeking to maintain sexual purity will attest, there unfortunately seems to be many women in the churches today whose dress – or lack thereof – can scarcely be described as modest, decent, and appropriate. But that is worth another article in itself!

Of course it can rightly be argued that these two examples do not so much have to do with taking Scripture literally, as to do with whether or not we really want to obey Scripture. That too is another matter. But the point is, no one fully takes the Bible literally all the time.

All this means that we need to read the Bible the same way that we read other literature. We must take it literally where the context allows, while recognizing that there are plenty of figures of speech, and so on. So as in the reading of any other book, we learn to recognize when figurative language is being used, and how it is being used.

And it must be stressed that figurative does not mean unreal or imaginary. A very real thing can be described with figurative language. Most of us can recognize when words are obviously being used as figures of speech. Think of what Paul wrote about in Phil 3:2 when he said “beware of dogs”.

We all know – or should know – that he is not giving us a warning about avoiding particularly nasty canines, such as pit bull terriers. He is referring to false teachers, and is using a rather harsh figure of speech to describe them. Of course such figures of speech are not always apparent to modern readers, so that is where some basic Bible reference tools come into play.

A good Bible dictionary or commentary will help us to understand various figures of speech being used in Scripture, and what they mean. Consider also John 6:48 where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life”. I am not aware of anyone who thinks Jesus means he is a loaf of rye bread, or pumpernickel.

But again, to use metaphorical language is not to deny the reality of what is being asserted. In this particular figure of speech Jesus is saying something very real and factual about himself, even though he is willing to use a metaphor to do so.

Consider also this figure of speech as found in a book full of symbolic and metaphorical language. Rev 17:9 says, “This calls for a mind with wisdom. The seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits”. Now either these are some very small hills, or this woman has a strangely shaped bottom! But recognizing figurative language relieves us of such concerns.

And remember that a word may be used literally or non-literally, depending on the context. The word “crown” usually refers to an actual headpiece on a king. But we can also use the word figuratively, as when we say: “if you do that again, I’ll crown you”.

It is clearly being used in a symbolic sense in places like Rev 12:1: “A great and wondrous sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head”. In most cases the reader can detect when a word is meant to be understood literally, and when it is not.

Of course sometimes it is not fully clear how we should understand a word or a phrase, or a whole concept. In Rev 20 for example we find the term “a thousand years” mentioned quite often. How should we understand this? Is it literal or figurative? Having just written on this passage, see my thoughts here: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/11/30/on-the-millennium-part-one/

Sometimes we are clearly told in Scripture what a figure of speech means, as in Dan 7:17: “The four great beasts are four kingdoms that will rise from the earth”. Similarly, John 2:19-21: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.’ The Jews replied, ‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’ But the temple he had spoken of was his body.”

As mentioned, we can take something as literal even if figures of speech are involved. That is, even hard, cold facts can be expressed metaphorically. We all say, for example, “I’m dog tired”. Here a metaphor is used to describe an actual, literal thing or condition.

We can even literally describe something that is fictitious. For example, Santa Claus is five foot, eight and weighs 185 pounds. So just because figurative language is used in a passage, that does not mean (as the theological liberals claim) that the passage is non-literal or non-historical.

For example, the birth narratives and the resurrection narratives both employ metaphors, but that does not mean the accounts are not to be taken literally. We read that the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary (Luke 1:35). Obviously the Holy Spirit does not cast shadows. But we are nonetheless reading about a real, historical event.

And sometimes a passage is clear in its literal meaning, but we need to contextualise it, or find out the cultural equivalent for our day and age. Paul in Romans 16:16 says: “Greet one another with a holy kiss”. Very few of us in the West do this today. Are we therefore disobeying God? Obviously a handshake is the appropriate cultural equivalent today.

This article has only just scratched the surface of what can be quite a deep and engrossing discussion. But it reveals that in one sense the Bible is just like any other book, and we therefore need to apply to it the same hermeneutical rules that we use with any other book or work of literature.

Of course the Bible is more than just a human book. It is actually a human and divine book, but that is also the stuff of another article.

[1299 words]

56 Responses to Should We Read the Bible Literally?

  • Bill,
    How do you view the time frame of creation, literally in days as in Genesis? Or do you view it as a trivial matter for anyone to seriously take sides on. John MacArthur takes it literally, others don’t and still others think it matters little.
    Barry Koh

  • Bill, this is another good article.

    There is also of course biblical history, for example did the Exodus happen? What about Joshua’s conquests? If so is there any evidence. (what does one call evidence) I was surprised to hear there are people suggesting these are Canaanite themselves. Or how to take the of the story of The Fall. I know they are articles in themselves.

    Carl Strehlow

  • Thanks Barry and Carl

    You both raise vital questions which I knew would crop up. These topics obviously have been subject to massive debates, and a short comment is of course not the vehicle to properly deal with them. So yes, an article, if not many, would be required to explore these very big issues. Never a shortage of things to write about.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • To God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is but a day.

    David Skinner, UK

  • To take Revelation as an example, I read it literally in that I believe John really did see a woman clothed with the sun (Rev.12:1), but not literalistically in that what he was seeing was not a message about a literal woman’s position.
    Jon Newton

  • Thanks Jon

    Yes quite right. Which is why I said, “And it must be stressed that figurative does not mean unreal or imaginary. A very real thing can be described with figurative language.” Something can be quite true, even though non-literal language is being used about it.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Great subject and great article Bill. So many have got into (and caused) all sorts of trouble by dogmatically insisting on a literal reading of certain passages, but ignore others. And I have been guilty as well.
    A little humility about our human condition and failings would go a long way.
    One problem of course is when we read the scriptures we bring all that we are to bare on our understanding and see and understand through a certain set of eyeglasses. As one scholar exclaimed to me a few years back we need to see the scriptures through Jewish eyeglasses rather than gentile ones or we are bound to get it wrong.
    I have often suggested to some they sit down and read Gordon Fee’s “How To read The Bible For All it’s Worth” and consider what he and his co author are saying.
    Really the problem is we just don’t obey what is clear and when we do some that is not clear becomes illuminated.
    Rob Withall

  • Thanks Rob

    Yes Fee and Stuart’s 1982 volume is still an excellent introductory primer on basic biblical interpretation. It is now in its third expanded edition: http://www.amazon.com/How-Read-Bible-All-Worth/dp/0310246040/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1291284354&sr=1-1

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • A very interesting post; which raises the obvious questions. How can I, as an individual, be certain that my particular interpretation of a Biblical passage is the correct one? Or indeed that someone else has an incorrect interpretation if it differs from mine?
    Dunstan Hartley

  • Thanks Dunstan

    Another good question which would require another article at least. A short reply is to always stay humble as we approach the text. If we stay on our knees, that will help quite a bit. God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. But humility and prayer are not substitutes for, but supplements to, utilising proper biblical hermeneutics. As mentioned above, Fee and Stuart’s book is very helpful here. Many others could also be noted. But I may have to pen more articles on all this.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • A fine Biblical scholar, Chuck Missler, says that the more he reads and understands the Bible, the more he feels the Bible should be read literally. There are of course some exceptions with metaphorical language. However, when read literally, the Bible seems simpler to understand.

    To the creation question mentioned earlier. Exodus 20:11
    “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
    God here was talking literally because He was referring to the weekly Sabbath. A few ch’s later in Exodus this stance of 6 day creation is reiterated.

    Amen to Rob about reading the Scriptures through Jewish glasses.

    Shalom,
    Gav Irvine

  • Hi Bill
    You’re game trying to cover a topic like this in 1299 words!

    As you imply, the term “literal” is somewhat misleading since there are verses which clearly shouldn’t be taken literally, but many that should. To add to your list, my favourite to highlight verses that shouldn’t be taken literally is when Isaiah talks of the trees clapping their hands – unless of course they are ‘palm’ trees (sorry!!).

    However, there is a far bigger issue underpinning what you have written that is the cause of many of the problems in the church today and that is the method by which we should read Scripture. The trendy view being pushed in many Bible Colleges today is the framework hypothesis which is adopted by the theistic evolutionists. People holding this view generally disparage those who take a historical-grammatical approach to exegesis – the view often labeled ‘literal’.

    I take the view that a text without a context is a con! So, even memorizing our favourite, individual verses of Scripture can be a problem if we don’t know the context. I believe it is better to memorise blocks of Scripture, and even then know the context of that block.

    Take for example a passage quoted above, i.e. 2 Peter 3:8 (thousand years versus a day). The context of this particular verse is the Day of the Lord and has nothing to do with the days of Creation – and yet is often used in this way.

    The real issue of literal reading or otherwise, and that certainly can’t be covered in 1299 words, is how any reading of Scripture affects the major tenets of theology, especially the work of Jesus and the cross and the impact that has on our salvation (and why in fact we even need salvation). This opens up the even greater topic of the ever decreasing emphasis on theology in general and the need to apply logic to determine where some of these trendy views can ultimately lead.

    Roger Birch

  • David,
    Most people know that, but when is a day literally a day, and when is it a thousand years as in the case of the days of creation. Not so easy.
    Barry Koh

  • A day is literally a day, especially and emphatically, when it is given a day number and said to be ‘an evening and a morning day’, as in the case of the days of creation. How more emphatic could it be?

    A day is a literal day when God himself writes with his own (figurative!) finger that in six days God created the heavens and the earth and everything in them and that’s why He instituted the seven-day week – the week having no other logical basis such as have the year, month, or day.

    If we don’t accept the plain meaning of Genesis how do we logically and scripturally answer the challenge of atheist Frank Zindler:
    “Now that we know that Adam and Eve never were real people the central myth of Christianity is destroyed. If there never was an Adam and Eve there never was an original sin. If there never was an original sin there is no need of salvation. If there is no need of salvation there is no need of a saviour. And I submit that puts Jesus, historical or otherwise, into the ranks of the unemployed. I think that evolution is absolutely the death knell of Christianity.”

    If Adam was not a real person then when do we take the Bible for real? Ever? Does God lack the ability to explain history clearly? Did Jesus and the Apostles etc get it wrong when they discussed Adam and Eve and Noah as historical people?

    I’m waiting for an answer to Zindler’s challenge that is logical, scriptural and not semantic gymnastics. Please enlighten me. Or will my challenge for an answer again end discussion?

    Peter Newland

  • When the Bible has a numeral with the word day it always refers to an ordinary day. This is the case in the creation narrative.
    Suvi Ruokamo

  • “So the evening and the morning were the ______ day. ”
    Genesis 1
    Doug Matthews

  • As a Catholic, Bill, (who loves this site and most of your thoughts and ideas, don’t stop!), I was wondering what your thoughts are on the Catholic belief of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (blessed or consecrated bread)?
    Daniel Amos

  • Thanks Daniel

    You ask another million dollar question which whole libraries have sought to answer. All Christians agree that Christ is somehow present, but the differences arise in seeking to understand how exactly he is present. But an article at least would be needed to spell this all out. So stay tuned.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thanks Peter and Suvi for the explanation. Makes the day clearer. But still how do those who believe in a young earth explain the archaeologists view that the Chinese civilisation is more than 5000 years?
    Barry Koh

  • “All Christians agree that Christ is somehow present”
    Really! I thought all other Christians thought the bread was a symbol of Christ, and that’s it! I didn’t know they all believed he was somehow present in it! Well that’s great news (it’s half the theological battle one from a Catholic perspective! lol).
    Daniel Amos

  • Thanks Daniel

    Well it is not quite that simple. My key word there was “somehow”. Some, like Zwingli, for example, believed that Christ was present symbolically. But as I say, to do this topic justice, a short comment will not suffice. At least a whole article will be needed to tease out the various options. So that may yet be forthcoming.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Dear brother Daniel I’m anathema as far your church is concerned and it seems you are struggling under their teaching too. you need to find a good bible beleiving church and soak up some really good teaching like what Bill gives us, you also needs strong fellowship to encourage you in our Lord.
    Doug Matthews

  • Perhaps archaeologists should tell God he’s wrong! But then that is the objective of some archaeologists and geologists. Lyell’s objective in geology was to “free science from Moses” – and he was a key input to Charles Darwin’s thinking re the age of the earth.
    If we take the Bible at face value as God’s infallible word, and without elevating man’s opinions about dating higher than the Bible, then we know that archaeologists are wrong because Noah’s flood, less than 4,500 years ago, must be older than Chinese civilisation.
    Doesn’t science show we can’t take Genesis literally? Science can’t prove the age of the earth. Beliefs about ages depend on many assumptions used to interpret the measurable evidence. Both young and old earth beliefs are held by faith – not by any objective experimental science.
    Isn’t radiometric dating objective? No one can actually ‘measure’ an age or a date. They measure isotope levels objectively: then subjectively interpret the data using assumptions held by faith.
    But is their faith warranted? Why believe radiometric dating when it often defies common sense? E.g. a lava flow, less than 50 years old, being dated at millions of years. And carbon dating diamonds and coal at less than 100,00 years when geologists insist they are millions and billions of years old. So taking Genesis literally begins to look more rational,
    The very existence of humanity demonstrates a young earth. Humans accumulate at least 200 deleterious mutations per person per generation. Even Richard Dawkins can’t point to any mutations that add the sort of new information necessary to counteract our genetic decline. So, if we had been around for millions of years, then by now we, plus the animals, should be extinct due to genetic melt-down.
    Taking Genesis as literal history reporting an actual 900+ lifespan of the ancients followed by genetic decline after the fall makes perfect sense with the facts of extinction and genetic deterioration that science can measure – whereas millions of years of evolution are impossible.
    Peter Newland

  • Barry
    I suggest you go to creation.com which will provide you with detailed answers to that – and many other questions on this topic.

    However, maybe your question is actually the wrong way round.

    There are many questions that are the inverse of the one you pose. e.g. why do some Christians believe what is essentially a naturalistic worldview in preference to the straight reading of what God has caused to be recorded – always assuming of course that one’s belief is that God DID cause it to be written and that His omnipotence stretches to Him being able to get it accurately recorded and preserved. Failure to believe this has very significant issue for your doctrine of God.

    I might add that there are many scientists with advanced degrees who work within a young-age worldview without problem (except for getting their papers printed in journals histile to Chritianity – try watching the DVD ‘Expelled’).

    Furthermore, if the earth is billions of years old and there was life (and death) before Adam – or Adam was not a literal person – there are many problems in both the New (e.g. Rom 5:12) and Old Testaments (e.g. Ex 20:11 as mentioned by Gav above) which need to be explained away. Also, the challenge for that belief system is to arrive at a consistent doctine of man and the consequential work of Jesus and the cross.

    Roger Birch

  • Whereas I generally consider myself a “literalist”, I agree with Bill that there are limitations to a literal approach. After all, I have 2 eyes and 2 hands and so have not literally obeyed Mt. 5.29-30. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell”.
    Graeme Cumming

  • Thanks Graeme

    Yes, an important part of responsible Bible reading and study is to recognise the genre being used. In this case we have hyperbole, or exaggeration. Matt. 23:24 would be another clear example of this. In the case of the passage you cite, we recall what Jesus also said about lust – that it was basically an inner matter, a matter of the heart (Mark 7:20-23). So lopping off a hand or gouging out an eye would not deal with the real problem. But this passage does nonetheless make the important point that we must be willing to take radical steps to deal with sin in our lives.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill,
    Maybe you can do a more objective article explaining the different views of Christian bible teachers and scholars many of whom are godly and hold very orthodox christian doctrines and who firmly reject evolution of any kind but yet are not over concerned about a 5000 years young earth stand. Do their position put the christian faith in jeopardy.
    Barry Koh

  • Young earth beliefs are a serious problem for Christianity. The vast majority of Christians accept the scientific view on the ages of the earth and the universe, yet young-earth creationists continue to promote a quaint and absurd hypothesis. Christianity needs to come to terms with scientific discovery, not be threatened by it.

    Paul Martin, Brisbane

  • Barry
    Your question again raises others.

    However, specifically, why do those who “firmly reject evolution of any kind” find any necessity to accept a worldview that the earth is significantly more than 6,000 years old?

    What was God doing in the 5,999,994,000 years that those who believe an old earth would claim the earth has been around?

    In reality, the old-age view is inexhorably linked to life before Adam, and hence evolution of at least some kind. So, I would suggest that it is not really possible to “reject evolution of any kind” and then claim to believe in an old earth.

    I know many people who, as you say, are “godly and hold very orthodox christian doctrines” but simply refuse to deal with this issue. I used to be in that category myself (at least the second half of the statement anyway!).

    Roger Birch

  • Roger,

    The earth is actually about 4.5 billion years old, the universe 13.7 billion years. These figures are the result of painstaking research over many decades using different methods of measurement which all give the same answers. If all this evidence is wrong, we need to ask ourselves why God would leave such a complex trail of false evidence.

    What was God doing all that time? God is beyond time, so it’s a meaningless question, irrespective of whether you accept the classic Plotinian-Augustinian concept of God’s eternity, or the more recent Relativistic model.

    But if you insist on limiting God to earthly time, you could equally ask the question about the last 2000 years, or the last 6000 years.

    Paul Martin

  • Roger,
    Please ask them, don’t ask me! I don’t know their reasons and that is why I asked Bill to do a write up on other views… If you know what the other views are, please make them known objectively so that I may be enlightened. Without knowing other views, it becomes unreasonable for me or anyone to assume that just because they are not fixated or overly concerned with the age of the earth, that they must therefore share a similar heretic world view as that manufactured by the secular scientists of the world…
    Personally for me, I am just at stage of inquiry and getting information on all points of views. At the end of the day I might see the validity of the points raised by both sides, very much like how I see the validity of the views of those holding the doctrine of election and those who emphasize on free will (both of which accuse each other of having a wrong doctrine of God and salvation).
    Barry Koh.

  • Paul
    Sorry, I disagree, not only with the ages you cite as fact but also the comments in your 12pm post.

    My major concern here is not to debate the assertions of the scientific academy, nor the assumptions used to underpin those assertions, as I suspect from your choice of language that you are not open to considering alternatives to your own. Suffice to say, these issues are more than adequately covered elsewhere, especially http://creation.com.

    My intent here is to focus on the theological issues involved as this is the basic topic of Bill’s original article, i.e. whether certain verses or passages of Scripture – in this case Genesis 1-9 – should be read ‘literally.’

    The basic issue of how we read ‘information’ is precisely the same for Scripture as it is regarding what you call ‘evidence’ in the natural world. I have a science degree – albeit in Engineering – and am fully familiar with all the arguments regarding evolution and long ages. However, like with Scripture, this debate is not about what we can see, it’s about how we interpret what we can see.

    To state that young earth beliefs are a “serious problem for Christianity” suggests you have not thought through the theological issues involved nor, dare I suggest, have you really looked at, and critically analysed, the ‘evidence’ you cite. The only ‘serious problem’ here is for those who prefer to place conclusions based on the assumptions made by fallible man above the writings of an infallible God. Now, I suspect you may question this statement, but in so doing, you need to consider how your view undermines many basic theological doctrines, especially the attributes of God.

    The framework within which you are making your assertions is an evolutionary, humanistic one. Although many people taking this view frequently attack the young-earth position as being anti-intellectual – or worse – I would assert that the same data you look at with your worldview can be looked at equally validly with another worldview and, using valid rules of logic (and intelligence), can arrive at a completely different conclusion.

    However, it is when the framework you appear to be using to interpret what we see in the universe is applied to Scripture that I take issue. At that point, my assertion is that it is not young-earth believers who are the problem, but those who share your views. If we were just debating the ‘literal’ reading of just one verse, or even one chapter, then I might agree with you. However, if you are to be consistent, then your position requires the ‘reinterpretation’ of many verses scattered throughout the Bible.

    Finally, for you to cite the young-earth position as a “quaint and absurd hypothesis” is somewhat surprising as this is not a recent position, but one that has been the orthodox position in Christianity until comparatively recently.

    Roger Birch

  • Barry,
    I’m more than happy to send you a copy of my theology course, but I suspect Bill might object at its length if I tried to put it in a post here!

    Roger Birch

  • Roger,
    Thanks for your offer but I will read whatever information I can obtain on the net, both sides of views. That should be enough for me to get the gists of all views
    Your statement that the young earth position “is not a recent position, but one that has been the orthodox position in Christianity until recent times” does not ring a bell in me. Has that ever been a part of the doctrine of historic Christianity? Since when has a 5000 years earth been widely accepted as orthodox. Which early reformer preached it, I really like to know. In the last 30 years I have heard sermons preached on many orthodox doctrines including creation as against evolution, but never have I come across any of them mentioning the age of the earth like a orthodox doctrine. It is only in recent years that this young earth teaching has begun to be mentioned more frequently but not in the church , only by young earth proponents. I am not jumping to conclusion to say that the young earth teaching is right or wrong but just that it has never ever been preached as an orthodox doctrine.
    Barry Koh

  • Barry
    After further thought, I will try to answer your question/challenge in what I hope is an acceptable number of words.

    Theology is basically the study of God, but is complicated by a philosophical issue, namely how do we define ‘God’?

    All theologies essentially have just 3 possible starting points, i.e. a belief in 0, 1 or many gods. Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, beautiful, internally consistent structures can be built on each of these foundations. The only problem is whether those foundations are solid.

    Space precludes expansion here of the zero or many gods options, and even Islamic and Jewish versions of a single god. However, looking at the different ‘Christian’ views is not trivial – and open to criticism, especially when addressed in a very simplistic response such as this.

    At the highest level, there is the Roman Catholic versus Protestant divide. Although there are many differences, the Reformation was fought on the catch-cry of ‘by faith alone’ meaning salvation can be achieved by going directly to God rather than through the Church.

    However, there are also major differences between Protestant denominations. Luther’s ‘protest’ was the start of genuine Protestantism, but even he only moved to consubstantiation in the Eucharist and the Church of England was formed on the basis of a political, rather than a theological reformation.

    Remaining at a high level, there is the liberal versus evangelical divide on the interpretation of Scripture, two very slippery words where definitions keep changing. Very simplistically, I consider evangelicals to be those who believe the Word of God to be true (or inerrant), whereas liberals tend to pick and choose which bits are ‘inspired’ and which are not.

    Protestantism itself has created a freedom for people to examine the Scriptures. This has resulted in variations of beliefs, even within an overarching framework of ‘orthodoxy.’

    As a result, many denominations have formed through a focus on one particular aspect of Scripture to create a particular distinctive: Both Luther and John Wesley were very godly and both tried to reform from within, but both faced massive hostility in so doing; Baptists focused on the need for baptism; and, more recently, the Pentecostal movement majored on ‘gifts.’ There is nothing inherently wrong with this: after all, Baskin and Robbins sell more than one flavor of ice-cream – but it’s all ice cream.

    Going somewhat deeper, there are a number of underpinning theologies, such as Arminian, Calvinism, Dispensationalism, etc. All are defended as ‘biblical’ but analysis shows they all use a particular starting point or emphasis to build their own particular structure. Calvinism, for example, is based on the Sovereignty of God with a consequential ‘once saved, always saved’ doctrine, whereas Arminians use free will and God’s love to conclude salvation can be lost. Any debate as to which is ‘right’ should not focus so much on a ‘verse count’ but rather whether we can elevate one attribute of God above another.

    However, virtually all these differing Protestant denominational or theological positions emerged before Charles Darwin and have generally been built on the presumption of the inerrancy of Scripture. Most are very valuable in different ways. However, this past century has seen a subtle, but very significant change to the definition of what is meant by inerrant. As such, original beliefs are being cast adrift from their underpinning assumptions without people necessarily realising such changes have occurred nor that they pose an attack on some of God’s attributes, specifically His unchanging nature and His power.

    In the case of the Bible, if God doesn’t have the power to record what He wants, nor the power to preserve it over the centuries, it is not just the age of the earth that needs to be considered, but whether He has the power to raise you and I from the dead to spend eternity with Him.

    This is why I assert that the age of the earth is not some peripheral issue, but goes to the very core of our individual beliefs and theologies. Furthermore, it specifically attacks the doctrine of the Bible, that of man and, finally, the very nature of God.

    Again I must stress that this is a massive subject that could fill many books and my treatment here of all this is overly simplistic – with all the consequences that can flow from that!

    Roger Birch

  • Roger,
    My question (not a challenge as you want to put it) was just a simple and honest one. I just expected a simple answer to the question (without having to make the water muddy) as I am quite certain that in the last 40 years of hearing sermons in conservative evangelical circles, I have never heard of any sermon that insisted that the earth is 5000 years old. It’s not an orthodox teaching as you claimed but a recent one. Again, I not saying that it is right or wrong. But because it is not an orthodox doctrine, many will just tread cautiously on this new teaching but keep an open mind. Caution is wise, as this is not the same as putting one’s complete trust and faith in the finished works of Christ for one’s salvation or our holding fast to other orthodox doctrines of historical christianity.

    Thanks Roger for the time and effort put in. I’ll go on reading all views first and I think I will end our discussion here.God Bless you.
    Barry Koh

  • Barry
    You ask: “Since when has a 5000 years earth been widely accepted as orthodox.”

    Your repetition of 5,000 years would indicate you have not been exposed to much creationist material as I know of no one in those circles who suggests anything less than 6,000 years.

    However, to answer your question, the concept of a six day creation and a date for that Creation no more than 5,000 years before Christ was the general belief until around the time of Darwin in both theological and scientific communities. Isaac Newton, for example, was comfortable with such a belief. The basis for this was the authority of Scripture and the basic time lines found therein.

    The main work which provides a specific date for Creation was that of Bishop Ussher which was published in 1650 although even Shakespeare (died 1616) some half a century earlier had his character Rosalind say “The poor world is almost six thousand years old.” (As You Like It, Act IV Scene 1).

    So, if you go back to the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, there is no mention of Scripture simply because its authority was a given. However, by 1646, such doctrine was published in the Westminster Confession.

    Regarding inerrancy, Chapter 1, Para IV states: “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.”

    Para IX then states how Scripture should be interpreted: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

    As for a literal 6 Day creation, Chapter 4 reads: “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.”

    Roger Birch

  • Roger,

    If Genesis did not exist, there would be no argument about the age of the earth. The scientific view would be accepted as beyond reasonable dispute. The young-earth believer can only justify his belief by calling into question the very basics of science – the laws of physics and the constancy of physical constants. Yet there is absolutely no empirical basis for doing so, i.e. no evidence that physical constants are anything but constant from the beginning of time. Therefore, given that Genesis does indeed exist, one has to conclude that:
    (a) it is inspired by God but is allegorical,
    or
    (b) it was not inspired by God, but is a product of man’s imagination,
    or
    (c) it is true in every respect, the laws of science are an illusion, and God is capricious.

    Based on many years of study and reflection, I conclude that the answer cannot possibly be (c). If you find comfort in thinking otherwise, you have every right to do so. But there’s little point in relying on theology to shed light on the issue, because theology itself is subjective, personal and faith-based. It does not deal in facts.

    Paul Martin

  • Thank you Mr Muehlenberg for this rather succinct article.
    The Bible is a human book you say, I would agree.
    Jesus did not write in it- there is no “testimony of Jesus”
    There is testimony of men who write about a man called Jesus of Nazareth- many years after he died in some instances.

    I’d be curious to know what you have to say about that- I do have these arguments with colleagues , I claim that the bible is a hearsay tale of a man called Jesus- because he did not write anything in it. Surely you can’t deny that, i’d like an answer if you will.

    Another question that troubles me, is that the bible has no mention of things like, bacteria, viruses, their role in disease and the methods to cure them. It contains nothing about the number of planets in the solar system, or about gravity, physics, chemistry, biology- the list is endless.
    If the bible was indeed divinely written, by God who knows all because he created it, then why not include it in the book- seems rather strange does it not?
    I can anticipate your reply, “yet another cheap attack from basic atheist websites…”
    But surely if you had an answer, you would provide it.

    Deryn J Plathley

  • “A day is literally a day, especially and emphatically, when it is given a day number and said to be ‘an evening and a morning day’, as in the case of the days of creation. How more emphatic could it be?”

    A problem with the point made by Peter and Gav is that their use of evidence is selective. Take Exodus 31:17 where it says that the Sabbath is “a sign forever… that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.” Now do we take this literally? Does God need to be refreshed? Of course not! God’s actions on those week and his work week are not the exact equivalent to ours. He is not beholden to our biological needs and limits.

    The Gen 1 work week is written to establish a work and rest pattern for the Israelites. The significance of the evening and morning clause is that this is when the worker rests. Did God rest and rejuvenate between each day? That is a ridiculous notion unless you have an anthropomorphic conception of God but it is the interpretation that strict literalists like the YECs are forced into.

    As C. John Collins points out, the prose in Gen 1 is broad sweeping and patterned (the content is also unique) and is thus “exalted prose narrative”. Its purpose is not to be taken absolutely literally down to the letter. Of course it is not myth. But things are more complicated than commonly supposed.

    Damien Spillane

  • Thanks Deryn

    Given that you have come to this site quite often recently, always pushing the same atheist foolishness, without the slightest indication of really being interested in seeking truth or getting honest answers, then yes, we have every right to suggest that you are in fact simply regurgitating more tripe from “basic atheist websites…”

    But for the sake of others, a few quick thoughts if I may. In typical atheist fashion, you play fast and loose with the truth. Of course I never said the “Bible is a human book”. What I did say was the Bible “is actually a human and divine book”. There is a huge difference between such claims.

    How the divine and human authorship of the Bible plays out and is to be understood is a major topic which cannot be accurately dealt with in a short comment. The short answer is God accommodated himself to human cultures, language, thinking and so on, as he inspired these writers to present his truths.

    So despite your smart-alec remarks, you are of course simply being anachronistic here. Since no one knew about bacteria, viruses, etc back then, they of course were never mentioned. There is nothing strange about that whatsoever.

    And the claims which Christ made, and the overwhelming reliability and trustworthiness of the gospel accounts, cannot here be properly discussed. But scholars have penned hundreds of books on this, for those who are really interested. But that is the real question: are you really interested, or do you simply like playing your shallow little atheist mind games? Only you can answer that one.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Paul,
    It’s one thing to suggest that if Genesis didn’t exist, you could draw certain conclusions. But, Genesis DOES exist and there about 200 NT allusions to it, over half of which are to the first 11 Chapters, 63 are to the first 3 Chapters, and 25 of the references were from Christ Himself (including references to 7 of the first 9 chapters).

    I should add that marriage has its first mention in Genesis and so, using your logic, if Genesis wasn’t there, there’d be no need for this site (and others) to fight for marriage. Equally, if marriage is allegorical or the product of man’s imagination, why do we bother to support it?

    Furthermore, your response again confuses ‘fact’ with interpretation of data. As such, you have missed an option regarding Genesis that your particular views preclude, i.e. (adding to your list):
    (d) Genesis is true in every respect, the laws of science are true, fallen man misinterprets many pieces of information, and that God is truth.

    It is not the ‘laws of science’ that give the age of the earth but an interpretation of the data based on some very significant assumptions, which, as I have previously stated, is more than adequately covered elsewhere.

    I do not doubt you have studied the topic – but then so have I. My scientific training was from an evolutionary standpoint and my theology training was far from being creationist. As such, I am fully aware of both sides of the argument, but know of no physical constant or law of science that my views breach. I do, however, know of many theological problems your stance poses.

    You conclude there are only two acceptable ways to interpret Genesis, namely God-inspired allegory or the non-God-inspired product of man. Your conclusion is the perfect summary of why I have been trying to state this IS a theological issue. My dictionary definition of allegory includes words such as ‘fictional characters’ and ‘myth.’

    Have you any idea the implications of Jesus dying for a myth, or in fact what your belief does to the credibility of the Bible as a whole? Furthermore, if the Bible is not God’s Word – which, interestingly, you do not rule out – then Jesus Himself could have been a myth. What does that say about God?

    You are effectively denying all the central tenets of Christianity and saying it is not relevant! I guess if you find comfort in doing that, then you also have every right to do so.

    Roger Birch

  • If we don’t read Genesis 1-11 literally, but accept old earth beliefs, then there are problems for Christianity as outlined above (2.12.10: 11pm) re Zindler. For years I’ve tried to get a response to Zindler, via this blog and elsewhere, but no one has answered him from an old-earth position.

    I suspect that any old-earth response would justify Dawkins comment: ‘Oh but of course the story of Adam and Eve was only ever symbolic, wasn’t it? Symbolic?! Jesus had himself tortured and executed for a symbolic sin by a non-existent individual. Nobody not brought up in the faith could reach any verdict other than barking mad!’ The root of all evil? Channel 4, 16/01/2006.

    Dawkins, despite commending Christians for their honesty in admitting that the Bible is wrong, also says: “It seems to me an odd proposition that we should adhere to some parts of the Bible story but not to others. After all, when it comes to important moral questions, by what standards do we cherry-pick the Bible? Why bother with the Bible at all if we have the ability to pick and choose from it, what is right and what is wrong?”

    Creation.com makes an excellent case that it’s easier, scientifically and theologically, to read Genesis 1-11 as literal history. Yet most Christians accept the current majority view on the ages of the earth and the universe, and haven’t come to terms with the many inconsistencies this causes. So Dawkins and dudes delight in our dilemma while most Christians deny the dinosaur in the den.

    Hmmm, Old Earth Christians are ‘barking mad’. Yet atheists are quite happy to humour them as ‘honest’ and as having ‘worth’: atheist Eugenie Scott said: ‘One [old-earth] clergyman with a backward collar is worth two biologists at a school board meeting any day! … What we [old-earth clergy and atheists] have in common is that we want to see evolution taught in the public schools … ’.

    Even kids in state-run primary schools can see the issues and ask how dinosaurs fit in the Bible and in Noah’s Ark! If they don’t get answers, they’re unlikely to respect the bible. So where are the godly old-earth Christians defending the Bible against atheists? OK, creation.com does a good job from the young-earth position. But are there any old-earth Christians giving answers that people can understand and that answer Dawkins, Scott and Zindler?

    It’s not just a side issue. Alister McGrath and Peter Jensen are two top-rate Christian scholars – yet even they seem powerless to answer such questions: Alister was interviewed re the Dawkins Delusion on radio in 2007 but sidestepped a question on dinosaurs. Peter Jensen put a good biblical case against homosexuality in 2003, but Roger Magnusson countered that “Romans 1:26-27 seems pretty clear in its condemnation of men who ‘burn with passion for each other’. But Genesis 1 is equally, and literally, clear that the world was created in just 7 days.” Jensen did not reply.

    When we ignore the plain literal meaning of the Bible we drop our shield.

    Peter Newland

  • Peter

    There are plenty of valient defenders of Biblical inerrancy that would accept a literal reading of Adam and Eve and the fall; from William Lane Craig to Norman Geisler to C. John Collins to Hugh Ross.

    Personally, I think Dawkins (and most other enemies of Christianity) is quite thrilled with Young Earth Creationism because it makes Christianity look as ridiculous as flat earthism and hence easy to marginalise.

    Damien Spillane

  • Roger,

    If our hopes of salvation are realised, we’ll both get to study Physics of the Universe 101 as freshmen at the University of Heaven, and we’ll find which of us is closer to the truth 😉

    A few points:
    – Marriage pre-dated Genesis in human history, so we don’t need it to recognise the importance of marriage.

    – The word allegory can also imply symbolism.

    Genesis itself is thought to have been put together from various sources, so there may well be different degrees of symbolism in its passages.

    – God gave us brains to work out what’s important in Scripture. Age of the earth simply isn’t important theologically. The only reason I take YECs to task is because they are discrediting Christianity by portraying it as an irrational faith that is at war with science.

    – You must be aware that YEC beliefs aren’t mainstream Christianity. Such beliefs are promoted by a few small ministries which market themselves largely to the under-educated. That’s why AiG and CMI in the USA are based in the Deep South, a fertile market for quack science.

    – If you have studied mainstream theology then you must surely be aware that the mainstream churches have a well-developed theology that doesn’t depend on a literal reading of Genesis. Christ died for the sins of all humanity, past, present and future. None of the great Creeds of Christianity mention age of the earth, or Adam for that matter.

    – I didn’t say theology wasn’t relevant, I said it couldn’t resolve disputes about the age of the earth. Such questions are best left to science, as the church learned from the Galileo debacle.

    – If YECs really were onto something, an independent scientist would by now have astounded the world, turned science on its head, and been awarded the most acclaimed Nobel Prize of all time. Despite what YECs claim, there is no global conspiracy among scientists, and science is not a front for atheism. It’s a very competitive profession, and if a young earth/universe were an empirical/observable reality, the secret would have been well and truly exposed by an ambitious mainstream scientist.

    Paul Martin

  • I’m not an atheist, I deal in reason, but not reason alone, I find reason alone not to be enough, reason coupled with creativity, imagination, art, philosophy and culture is what drives me.
    I do not believe we are all here by chance though.
    I would like to know of these books, I find the conversation intriguing, because neither you or I can claim to know the truth with absolute certainty, which is what makes it exciting.

    Deryn Jane Plathley

  • Thanks Deryn

    As I have said many times before on this site, I am not in the least bit interested in playing little debate games, or tickling someone’s intellectual palette. If this is just something you find “intriguing” or get “excited” about, then I encourage you to go elsewhere. I prefer dealing with those who are genuinely searching for truth, not those who just get their jollies out of arguing. As Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Only you know where you stand in this regard.

    That said, two points. It all depends on what you mean by truth. That none of us has 100% absolute truth goes without saying. But the issue is, can we have substantial truth on a whole range of issues? Of course we can. But if you believe that such knowledge is unobtainable, then we should call it quits right now. If we are simply adrift in a sea of epistemological relativism, then there is no point in discussing anything at all.

    As to books, I have had people here claiming to be interested in reading lists, but when I offer same, I never hear back from them. So only you know whether this is a rhetorical question or not on your part. But here are two basic volumes for starters. When you have read them, then feel free to come back for more discussion.

    Blomberg, C.L., The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. IVP, 1987.
    Bruce, F.F., The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? Eerdmans, 1943, but still in print.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Is it possible for a writing to be both literal & figurative at the same time? Literal in what it is teaching while still figurative in not being historically exact?

    The line of reasoning – If no Adam therefore no Original Sin therefore no Fall therefore no need for Redemption – seems ludicrous to me.

    There is obviously Sin in the world, we see it everywhere. If there is Sin there is need for redemption. The literal history of how it got here is of less importance than the fact that it is here.

    I might believe that someone other than Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. I might look for or manufacture evidence to support my belief, write a thesis on it etc. Fact is, regardless of the truth of the matter, we still have light bulbs. Who invented them doesn’t change that fact.

    It is interesting that CS Lewis and Billy Graham (not exactly a liberal theologian I wouldn’t have thought) are happy to accept a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1. (Google Billy Graham Evolution)

    In fact, if the entire Old Testament was mythology or fable, would it change in any way the message to mankind? I personally think not.

    David Williams

  • Thanks David

    The age of the earth was not of course the main topic of discussion in this article. But I lose either way here. If I do nothing, people complain that I am allowing things to go off track. If I do step in, people accuse me of censorship. So I can’t win. (Let me encourage everyone here to set up their own interactive blogsite and see how much fun all this can be! Let’s share the headaches around a bit!)

    But the very short answer to your last question David is no. The NT makes zero sense without the OT. The whole purpose of the coming of Christ is to undo what took place in the OT. The Christian Bible is 66 books, not just 27. Both contain factual and historical truth which stand or fall together.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Paul
    The one thing that continues to disappoint me in a discussion of this nature is that people taking your particular viewpoint inevitably seem to revert to a stereotypical characterisation that YEC believers don’t use their brains, are ‘flat-earthers,’ and try to market their beliefs to the “under-educated” with all the associated implication of intellectual superiority on your side. Such insinuations, coupled with words such as ‘irrational,’ and ‘absurd’ are hardly conducive to a meaningful, constructive exchange of views.

    If your intellectual arguments are so strong, why is it necessary to trot out all the old, discredited strawman arguments like YEC beliefs being from the Deep South and hence equated to quack science, or that YEC belief is at war with science, or is changing physics constants, or even questioning the very laws of science, and – of course – the claim that if it were genuine, it would be winning Nobel Prizes?

    Surely, if you are to lay claim to the intellectual high ground, there should be at least a hint that you are aware of the basics of the YEC position – or the answers to your strawman questions. I therefore find the content of the anti-YEC comments in this discussion so far extremely surprising when I have yet to see ANY awareness regarding the major creationist writings from those taking such a position but instead find quite a lot of distortion and misstating of that position.

    Given your comments so far, I therefore see little point of critiquing yet more logical fallacies in your latest post, nor your continued use of interpretation of the data you cite as fact.

    The debate that Bill started was over the interpretation of Scripture, but again I have not seen any defence of your position from a theological perspective, or any attempt to deal with the issues it raises other than generalized claims to ‘mainstream theology.’ Not only is such a claim logically invalid (even if the majority of the population believe homosexuality is acceptable, it doesn’t make it right), it also suggests a lack of awareness of the influences that have taken place on such theology over the past 150 years or so.

    I therefore see no value in continuing this discussion unless there is some meaningful, and polite, comment to show where the YEC theological position is wrong, or why the old-age, evolutionary position does not harm the Bible.

    Roger Birch

  • Damien,
    Hugh Ross doesn’t believe the biblical time-scale of creation as recorded by Moses. It twists scripture and stretches credulity to imply that Ross & Co. defend Genesis as history. They believe in death of both animals and of soul-less men, millennia before Adam. That implies that God is the approving author of death, disease, carnivory and suffering long before He falsely declared creation to be very good with vegetarian animals! How is that supposed to defend Genesis and defend against Dawkins and Co.? It makes a mockery of attributing the fall, death, and a groaning creation to Adam. So Dawkins jibe re ‘barking mad’ stands!

    Paul,
    There are clues in Genesis that Moses used early documents with their ‘colophons’, which indicated the beginning, end, and author of each source document. So perhaps Moses edited documents inherited from the patriarchs Adam, Seth, Noah etc. Interestingly the first colophon, covers material where no man was witness and doesn’t indicate an owner/author – God is an obvious source. Whatever the case, we can trust Genesis because Jesus himself said: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say

    As for a well developed theology that doesn’t depend on a literal reading of Genesis! Well, there’s convoluted reams of it! Reduced to its essentials, it says that God didn’t create the way He said He did. Is God a liar? Dawkins is right, such theology is “barking mad”. Were we too dumb, too primitive on the evolutionary scale, to understand that God took a long time to fluke the right recipe? Isn’t that why preachers avoid the topic and the obvious charge that they cherry-pick which bible bits to believe or bin.

    But what of science? The rate of human genetic decline is at least 300 mutations per person per generation. So, with zero mutations known for genetic improvements, we should be extinct if we had been here for a million years. Can we measure the age of the earth or universe? Nope! Only measure parameters and make faith assumptions. Off topic, yes, but relevant to your continued citing of opinions as facts when the ‘evidence’ you cite is about opinions based on blind faith assumptions about the measurable evidence. That’s not science, it’s faith bordering on mythology – like your mythology of the Galileo ‘debacle’ – debunked on creation .com.

    A final myth is that an ambitious scientist will always be feted for revealing a new truth that turns science on its head. Just read the history of how long it took to overturn the establishment’s faith in false ideas such as ‘Phlogiston’ and ‘Puerperal Fever’. Or watch “Expelled!” and read ”Slaughter of the Dissidents”. But basically I agree with Roger: there’s no point in further discussion unless you politely show where the YEC theological position is wrong, or that the old-earth evolutionary position does not harm the Bible.

    Peter Newland

  • ‘Hugh Ross doesn’t believe the biblical time-scale of creation as recorded by Moses. It twists scripture and stretches credulity to imply that Ross & Co. defend Genesis as history. They believe in death of both animals and of soul-less men, millennia before Adam. That implies that God is the approving author of death, disease, carnivory and suffering long before He falsely declared creation to be very good with vegetarian animals! How is that supposed to defend Genesis and defend against Dawkins and Co.? It makes a mockery of attributing the fall, death, and a groaning creation to Adam. So Dawkins jibe re ‘barking mad’ stands!’

    Peter those scholars I mentioned are highly reputable defenders of Biblical Christianity so it is surprising to hear you label them as scripture twisters and denies of a historical Genesis just because they don’t adhere to the Young Earth Faith.

    There is nothing Biblical about no animal death before the fall, it is read into the text. Gen 1:29-30 doesn’t say that they did not eat meat. It only says that they ate plants. And even if this was a prescription for vegetarianism it doesn’t mention the many carnivorous animals that live in the water.

    Also, it is impossible to read Psalm 104 as anything other than God being the praiseworthy author of carnivorous activitiy!

    “The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God.”

    The psalm concludes by praising God for his works in creation.

    So is God being praised for creating sinful carnivorous lions and supplying their food?

    Damien Spillane

  • Thanks Bill

    Maybe ‘age of the earth’ is a bit off topic, but the topic was Literality of the Bible. And you didn’t have to be God to predict the direction it was going to take LOL.

    I’m certainly NOT saying that the Old Testament IS all mythology. My point is that it is the MESSAGE that is important, not the way the message is delivered. The message I get from early Genesis is:

    1.God created heavens & earth, life & everything else.
    2. At some stage modern human-kind came into knowledge of God and a realtionship with him.
    3. Man (Adam) was given a choice of two paths to follow and chose the wrong one. The rest is history.

    That’s the MESSAGE and it is all I need to know. To put it another way, if either ‘Old Age’ or ‘Young Age’ was proven without possible doubt tomorrow, my Christian faith would not change in any way.

    But my faith also has to take into account reality & the evidence for an ancient earth is so overwhelming it cannot be ignored. But as I say it doesn’t matter to me personally. But I do fear, like some other commenters here, that people will be turned away from accepting the Chriatian faith if they feel that it means rejecting ‘reality’ in favour ‘nonsense’.

    David Williams

  • Thanks David

    All these issues deserve a book-length treatment, not a short comment, but let me give a few short replies anyway. Both the message and the delivery of the message are important. Even secular communication and language theory experts acknowledge this (recall The Medium is the Message?).

    It is God who took the initiative to communicate with us. He chose the means, as well as the message, thus both have to be taken seriously. Sure, he used – in part – human words and human language, which is why we must know the basic rules of language and interpretation, understand the various genres, and so on.

    But the Bible everywhere claims to present truth – historical truth, theological truth, redemptive truth, and so on. Admittedly, in our fallen and finite condition, we will never fully get it right in interpreting either God’s word or God’s world, but we are called to try, and promised divine aid along the way.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Damien, apologies for my loose wording in the larger context. “Ross & Co.” was intended to cover Ross’ Reasons to Believe organisation; not necessarily applicable to the others you named.

    Even theologians who don’t believe Genesis as history, admit that scripture plainly says that: the heavens and the earth and sea and everything in them were created in six days about 6,000 years ago; animals were given vegetation to eat; death entered the world due to Adams sin; we are now in a fallen state; there will be restoration where lions will eat straw like the ox etc, and death will be no more. So to claim, as do Ross and others, that there were thousands of years of life and death before Adam, sounds like twisting scripture to me.

    Does poetry re lions seeking their food from God praise God as the author of carnivory? If God is “the praiseworthy author of carnivorous activity”, then doesn’t that make God the praiseworthy author of death, disease and suffering? Seems to me Dawkin’s is spot on: ‘barking mad!’

    But nothing you have posted shows that the theologians you cite actually address the explicit attacks of Dawkins, Magnusson, Zindler etc that I’ve cited above.

    Christianity bleeds from a frontal-attack claiming the Bible is wrong right at the start. Yet many of the defenders are busy defending elsewhere and deny that the frontal attack is important. Worse, many even attack the defenders at the front. Wake up church we need to co-operate and defend on all fronts.

    Peter Newland

  • I do find it sad that old-earth believers attribute either one or both of the following attributes to God.
    – Incompetence, for his inability to communicate how creation occurred in a literal sense;
    – Falsehood, for his desire to tell us a lie about how creation occurred.

    I personally once believed in evolution and an old earth, until I realised firstly that it came down to either believing what God’s word had to say or what fallible man has to say, and secondly I started to read into the topic and found a phenomenal wealth of logical information on the topic that truly showed that God’s word in Genesis 1, taken literally was right all along.

    I would strongly suggest that those who wish to take the intellectual high ground on this topic should let go of their pride and not rubbish those who do believe in a young earth. I have found that more often than not, intellectuals who do believe in a young earth have spent a greater deal of time looking into both sides of the argument, rather than just writing off those who disagree as having a lower than average intellect, and have also come to their conclusions through examining testable, repeatable scientific hypotheses and matching them up with that which the scripture clearly states, without having to make excuses for why the scriptures don’t match the opinions of secular scientists who refuse to even acknowledge God’s word as truth.

    Mario Del Giudice

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