In the second of a two-part blog, Operation Noah’s Chair, Rev Darrell D. Hannah, considers the Bible and its relationship with science. Read part one.
The Bible must be approached on its own terms, not ours. That means, to choose just one of the more important implications, we must read the Bible remembering that it was written in a very different historical context from our own. When I was a PhD student, I remember a conversation I had with a member of my church. She had heard I was pursuing doctoral studies in the New Testament. She said something like, ‘You are just the man; I have always wondered about this.’ She picked up a Bible and turned to first chapter of Genesis and read to me,
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’. (Genesis 1:6-8, NIV)
She then turned to me and asked, ‘what is this “vault”‘? I began to explain that the common view in the ancient near east held that the world consisted of three levels, a flat earth, surmounted by a dome, which was the sky, and subterranean sea, which led down to the underworld. A pained look came onto her face and she said, ‘But, it isn’t true!’ She knew that the world was a globe spinning in space.
The Bible was not written in a historical vacuum. Nor did God, in a Star Trek manner, beam the authors of the various books of the Bible out of their historical context and into ours when they wrote. Rather, they wrote assuming their context – just as all human writers have since time immemorial. The author of Genesis had no conception of the world as a globe spinning in space as it revolves around the sun. He (it was probably a ‘he’) did understand that all things owe their existence to God and that God, unlike many of the ancient near eastern myths, did not find creation a struggle. God simply spoke and creation flowed into being. To compel our scientific understanding of the world into conformity with the ancient near eastern assumptions of the biblical authors is to take the Bible on our terms not on its. It reflects not so much a reverence for Scripture, but an unwillingness to let go of our presuppositions and to appreciate the difference between the biblical world and our own.
Finally, the Bible makes clear in a number of places (e.g., Ps 8; 19; 104; Romans 1:18-23) that creation itself reveals to us something of the majesty and character of God. Theologians refer to this as ‘general revelation’, as opposed to the specific revelation contained in the Scriptures and, above all, in the Person of Christ. General revelation can never reveal as much to us of God as does the Bible and Jesus. Nonetheless, the Bible takes seriously the idea that creation reflects the beauty and faithfulness and wisdom of its Creator. As a masterpiece of the Supreme Artist, it bears, as it were, his signature. Science, as the study of creation, witnesses to this Artist by investigating his masterpiece. To refuse to see in scientists – and climate scientists – prophets of our age is to deny this central biblical doctrine.
Darrell is the rector of All Saints parish church, Ascot Heath. An American, Darrell moved to the UK in 1992 to pursue a doctorate at the University of Cambridge, in Christian Origins, and has lived here ever since. He moved into full-time parish ministry, in 2008, after academic posts at the universities of Sheffield, Birmingham and Oxford.
Want to learn more? Tenants of the King is a Bible-based, Jesus-centred small group study resource from Operation Noah. It is designed to help you and your church consider what the Bible has to say about today’s climate crisis.