As many of you may know, I recently came out and announced on the official Facebook and Twitter accounts of this blog that I no longer believe concordism is a legitimate view of scripture, and I even criticized it in part 3 of my recent blog post series on biblical hermenuetics. Even more recently, I came across a blog post called “Objections To Concordism Answered” written by a man named Alexander Young. This blog post attempted to defend concordism against the criticisms frequently given by accommodationists like myself. I thought maybe it would change my mind and I would go back to being a concordist like I used to be. However, I was not persuaded. You can click on the link above to read the article for yourself.
“Defining Our Terms”
Young first states that he isn’t talking about the hermenuetical principle called concordism, but the view of inerrancy.
He defines concordism (as a view of inerrancy) as “The view of biblical inerrancy that no truth-claim in the bible is incorrect, every word is inspired (in one way or another) by the Holy Spirit to be without error, and to communicate a particular (accurate) point, or multiple (accurate) points.”
He defines non-concordist inerrancy as “The view that the bible is only correct with regard to theological matters, and the Holy Spirit wasn’t concerned with getting the science and history right in the bible (or in some cases, even the morality). So, the bible is only correct on those points, but says wrong things about science all the time.”
First of all, I’m not even sure how one would separate the hermenuetical principle of concordism with any concordist understanding of inerrancy. If you’re not reading modern science from passages, but instead are interpreting them the way the original audience would have understood it (e.g if you’re understanding raqia in Genesis 1:6-8 as referring to a transparent atmosphere instead of a solid dome holding back water), then you’re abandoning concordism by necessity. The only way to understand the “Expanse” or “Firmament” in Genesis 1 as referring to the sky in the same way as we understand it today is if you reject the cultural context principle, and read the modern scientific understanding of our atmosphere into the text. How anyone can disavow concordism as a hermenuetical principle while simultaneously holding a concordist view of inerrancy seems to me to be as impossible as driving a car without being inside of it.
But leaving that aside, his definitions of the Concordist’s and Non-Concordist’s understanding of inerrancy is problematic. While I think he accurately represented the non-concordist understanding of inerrancy (I certainly agree with it), I see no conflict between that and the way he described the concordist’s understanding of inerrancy. I agree that “that no truth-claim in the bible is incorrect, every word is inspired (in one way or another) by the Holy Spirit to be without error, and to communicate a particular (accurate) point, or multiple (accurate) points.” and many other accomadationists would also agree with that. Any truth claim The Bible makes is correct, and every word in inspired by The Holy Spirit. But does The Bible make truth claims about the natural world? Does it intend to teach its readers cosmology? Does it intend to inform us of the way the universe operates? If it did, then to argue that The Bible teaches outdated cosmology would be to undermine the inerrancy of The Bible and to assert that some of its truth claims are false. But if The Bible only intends to teach us history (e.g the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt, that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, etc.), theology, and moral lessons, then to state that it inaccurately depicts the universe wouldn’t be problematic as The Holy Spirit never intended to teach us anything about the cosmos. I believe the only truth claims scripture make concern history, theology, and morality. History, because much of Christianity theology is grounded in historical events (e.g the atonement is grounded in the histority of Jesus’ crucifixion), theology, because obviously God inspired the books of The Bible to reveal truths about Himself and His plans for us, morality, because God is holy and therefore wants us to be holy as well. If Mr. Young wants to assert that his first definition of inerrancy is incompatible with non-concordism, he has to first demonstrate that The Bible intends to teach us scientific truths. However, he hasn’t even offered an argument. He only presupposed it.
The only thing he does that somewhat resembles an attempt to argue that point is when he says that “The Bible does describe the natural world (God’s creation) and gives us many narratives about creation and history.” The problem with this is that it presupposes that accomadationism is false. The Bible does make many references to the natural world, but the accomadationist believes God used the ancients’ understanding of cosmology to communicate His divine truths. For example, when scripture says “The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure.” (Psalm 93:1, NIV), what God is trying to teach the reader isn’t any scientific fact about the Earth, but that God is sovereign and reigns, and His throne is as established and unmovable as the ancients believed the Earth was. God worked around and through the false science of the ancient Israelites to convey theological truths about himself. This is the accommodationist’s view. Pointing out that The Bible makes references to nature doesn’t prove the concordist’s position. All accommodationists realize this. The question is, are these passages describing the same thing modern scientists do or are they describing what ancient Israelites would believe about the universe? The burden of proof is on the concordist to show the former.
“The Audience It Was Written To Wouldn’t Understand It”
Alexander Young argues that “no typical concordist claim would be incomprehensible or even worldview-shattering to the ancient person.” and gives examples such as the order of creation events in Genesis 1, and “there was a time when God lifted up the mountains and sank the valleys (Psalm 104).” While it’s true that ancient people wouldn’t get confused if God described in Genesis 1 the order in which things actually came into existence, I can give several counter-examples of things that would throw an ancient person for a loop.
For example, would he not be confused if scripture described the Earth as a sphere with a transparent atmosphere? The common wisdom of the day was that the Earth was flat and had a solid dome holding back waters, which had little windows to open and shut from time to time to allow rain water to fall to Earth. If God had described Earth as a sphere, he would probably wonder “How could that be? Wouldn’t people fall off? How could you stand on the side of a sphere and not fall off? This is impossible!” as he knew nothing of how gravity actually worked. He would wonder “If there’s no dome up there, what keeps all the water from drowning us?” And (assuming evolution is true), if he had put depictions of Darwinian evolutionary processes in scripture, the ancient would have probably thought “Apes gave rise to men!? Gigantic reptiles gave rise to birds? This is insanity!” Of course, it may be the case that there is no depiction like that because evolution isn’t true, but even if it were true, I still wouldn’t expect God to describe it happening for the very reason that it would send the ancient readers into confusion.
Much of what we consider common sense would be news to the ancient Israelites. We take our spherical Earth, understanding of gravity, understanding of the atmosphere, and understanding of heliocentrism for granted. It’s something “everyone knows” nowadays, but it was something no one knew back then. This, then, leads to a problem. I think it’s highly probable that had God accurately described the universe in scripture, the ancients would have been so fixated on figuring out how people don’t fall off the Earth if it’s a sphere, how liquid water can exist in the sky without something solid to hold it back, and so on, that they would have missed the forest for the trees. They would’ve missed the theological truths God was trying to convey. In the case of Genesis 1; the truth there is that God is the Creator of everything that exists. Nothing came into being except through God’s creative power.
“Concordism Means Believing In Absurd Science”
At this point in the article, Young listed several of the things mentioned previously in this article and others I’ve written on accommodationism, such as that The Bible contains descriptions (notice I didn’t say “teaches”) absurd scientific concepts like a flat Earth, a solid dome sky, etc. I was perhaps disappointed with this section of the article most of all, as he didn’t really do anything to answer the objection. He calls non-concordism a cop-out and then links to several articles written by Richard Deem.
I understand that it would take a lot of space to respond to all of that, but my number 1 objection to concordism is a hermenuetical one. One of the widely accepted and established principles of biblical hermenuetics is to interpret scriptural passages the way the original audience would have understood it. We are not to read modern understandings into the text, we are to “get into their shoes” as my hermenuetics teacher put it. When you “get into their shoes” when it comes to passages making references to the cosmos, you end up reading them as “dome cosmology”. You can only come to another interpretation if you “get into the shoes” — not of an ancient Israelite, but of a modern day person. Even concordists agree that the cultural context principle is a sound and valid way to do exegesis, but they’re inconsistent. They read scripture according to its cultural context in every place except Bible passages talking about the natural world. At that point, they abandon the principle and start reading the passages in light of modern science. This is not only an exegetical fallacy, it’s a logical fallacy as well (i.e special pleading: making an unwarranted exception to an established rule).
Now, concordism could be rescued if one of two things could be done. Either
1: Prove that the ancient Israelites had a conception of the universe similar to ours (e.g spherical Earth, transparent atmosphere, rotating Earth around the sun, etc.)
2: Provide a rational justification for making an exception to the cultural context principle.
In regards to number 2; making an exception to a established rule or principle isn’t special pleading IF some sound argument could be given for making the exception. As long as we have good reasons for making an exception to a rule, then no logical fallacy is being committed. In regards to number 1: you wouldn’t be doing eisegesis by reading The Bible according to modern science if the ancients had that same science.
If the concordist can do either 1 or 2 (or both), I will gladly go back to being a concordist.
I’ve read the Richard Deem articles he linked to, and all those articles showed was that you can contrive interpretations of biblical passages that fit with modern science. For example “The Earth is established and never moves” can be re-interpreted to mean that The Earth is in a steady orbit around the sun, and it can’t be ejected from that orbit. But again, unless the ancient Israelites and biblical authors were thinking that when they wrote that statement down, interpreting it that way would be eisegesis.
Abandoning Concordism Has Dangerous Implications?
Young finally made a list of “dangers” that he thinks an abandonment of concordism entails. I don’t think any of these “dangers” are real.
“1: It corrupts the traditional doctrine of inerrancy and confusing unbelievers who could potentially come to faith in Christ.”
Perhaps it does prompt us to re-define what we mean by “inerrancy”, but I would argue that embracing concordism forces us to abandon sound hermenuetics by causing us to read modern understandings into the text. Does Young read modern understanding into any other text or does he just do this with passages that speak about nature? If he adheres to the cultural context principle in the former, why not the latter? Does he think ancient peoples had similar understandings of the natural working of nature (1) or can he come up with a rational justification for abandoning the principle when it comes to nature passages (2)? If neither, then he’s an inconsistent exegete at best and an eisegete at worst.
“2. It underestimates the power of the Holy Spirit to ensure the Bible is without error.”
No, it doesn’t. If God wanted to teach Big Bang cosmology, heliocentrism, a spherical Earth, etc. He certainly could have done so. He could have gotten Moses to describe the “firmament” as something transparent, but in His wisdom, He knew that doing so would cause His original audience to miss the forest for the trees, so He chose to use their understandings of nature (which pre-existed the biblical text) to teach them theological truths. He “accommodated” their scientific understanding (hence why the view is called “accommodationism”). If it were really important that the Israelites have correct scientific views, God both could and would have put them in scripture. But evidently, being their science teacher wasn’t on His To-Do List.
“3. It lowers the importance of certain chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1, for example, is reduced to a mere polemic against other ancient near-eastern theologies, hardly fitting for the beginning of a book meant to communicate to *all* generations.”
Genesis 1 communicates the point that God is the creator of all things, that nothing that came into being came into being except through Him, and that human beings were created to love and serve Him. It also teaches that God is sovereign over His creation. Genesis 1 — as are several other passages about creation throughout scripture — is about the who and the why of creation. Just because Genesis 1 isn’t a journalistic, literal, chronological account of natural history doesn’t negate that fact. And therefore, I don’t see how Genesis is any less important than it was when I thought it was supposed to describe natural history like a news article would.
By the way, you know what’s “hardly fitting of a book meant to communicate to all generations”? Describing that which only people from the 1800s to the 21st century would understand. Just saying.
“4. Most importantly (in my opinion), it cripples scientific apologetics. One of my (many) reasons for coming to faith was the historical/scientific accuracy of certain passages in the bible, such as Genesis 2, Psalm 104, and many chapters in Job.”
This is only a half truth. While it’s true that non-concordism keeps you from making arguments like “Look at how scientifically accurate The Bible is! It predicted X thousands of years in advance! It must be inspired!”, it doesn’t follow that it “cripples scientific apologetics”. I still use The Big Bang and the second law of thermodyanmics to support the second premise of The Kalam Cosmological Argument. I also use The Fine Tuning Argument and The Local Fine Tuning Argument to argue for the existence of a designer of the universe. On that basis, I would still recommend books like Hugh Ross’ The Creator and The Cosmos and Improbable Planet for people wanting to know if there’s any evidence for a Creator.
By the way, I talk about The Kalam Cosmological Argument, The Fine Tuning Argument, and The Local Fine Tuning Argument in my book Inference To The One True God: Why I Believe In Jesus Instead Of Other Gods. This book provides a lot more detail about the arguments than the blog posts on this site. Anyway, my point is, you can still use science to a certain extent to reach skeptics.
All 4 of these “dangers” are fallacious arguments from consequence, but more than that, these consequences don’t even follow anyway!
Concordism is exegetically fallacious. Accomadationism still seems to me like the way to go.