God, the Bible and Science
Many people approach the Bible as if modern science is embedded in it. I guess that is the reason why there are a number of different responses to the Bible. If you were an atheist or a non-Christian, you could point out a number of scientific inaccuracies found in the Bible. And you will be right. If you were a Christian who took the Bible literally, then you would read the Bible as a science text-book and you would agree or disagree with scientists depending on what the Bible says. And you will believe you are right. If you are a Christian who read the Bible with the scientific understanding of today, you will keep on struggling to make the Bible fit with every new scientific discovery. You would think you are right in seeing certain Biblical texts as irrelevant for today. The danger is that in all these cases we are determining what the text is saying when it actual fact we have misread and misunderstood the intent of the text.
However, if we approach the Bible as the Word of God to the world instead of a science or history book, we can grasp some beautiful truths about God and His redemptive purpose in the world. My understanding of the Bible is that God communicated His ways and His will originally to a people who had limited understanding of science and history, in a way they could understand. For us in the 21st century, we need to understand God’s Word, not with our 21st century lens on, but with the lens worn by the first recipients of that Word. God chose then, and still chooses now, to speak to the world in the way they could understand.
So when the Bible talks about the sun standing still in Joshua 10:13, the author would have literally believed the sun stood still. The idea of the earth moving around the sun was first proposed in the 3rd century BCE by Aristarchus of Samos. But it was not until the 16th century that Nicolaus Copernicus presented a mathematical model of a heliocentric system that got people realizing that the earth does move round the sun. So the writer of the book of Joshua would only have the understanding of his time that the earth stood still and everything else moved around it.
Or when the Old Testament authors used the bowels as the seat of the emotions, that would have been their literal belief. So when we read Genesis 43: 30 or Song of Solomon 5: 4, it would be easy to either ridicule the Bible as scientifically inaccurate or we translate the Bible to English using words like ‘heart’ that our modern generation could understand or we just ignore these verses and pretend that these verses do not exist. Or we could see God speaking to an ancient culture in a language they could understand and we need to interpret the text in light of that culture before applying it to our own. So for me this is a very important part of Biblical Hermeneutics and that is God reveals Himself and His ways in the Bible within that culture of the Bible. Understanding that culture is paramount in understanding God’s Word.
The Bible then should be approached in a way where we do not impose our own cultural, scientific and historical ideas on the text without doing proper hermeneutics. We need to understand how people in the biblical culture would have understood God’s Word. Only then can we apply it to our own culture and generation. In that way we remain faithful to the unchanging and powerful Word of God. So for me, when I come to look at Creation, the downward cycle of humanity from the Fall or other important truths found in the Bible, I need to put on the lens of the original writer so that I can understand the intent of God as He reveals His ways in the Bible. In that way I can apply it to my own life and mission in the world in the 21st century. It governs my theology, my values and my practice. It governs my ministry, in developing vision and strategy and in my preaching and teaching. And I am very comfortable with that.