Followers of this blog will remember when I published a blog post a couple of months ago responding to Alexander Young’s article “Objections To Concordism Answered” which was titled “Objections To Concordism NOT Answered”. He recently published a response to my response. So now I will publish a response to his response to my response.
For those either new to this blog or new to the terms going to be used in this blog post, let me give a couple of quick definitions of each.
Concordism = The Bible talks about the natural world and every place in which it does is scientifically accurate. Science should vindicate The Bible’s descriptions of the natural world. If scientists give descriptions of the natural world or posit a theory or theories, that contradict scripture’s descriptions of the natural world, then the scientists must be wrong. They misinterpreted the data. The Bible is God’s Word, whatever God’s Word teaches is true (because God Himself is perfect and infallible), so therefore The Bible cannot be wrong in what it teaches about the natural world. Given that The Bible is inspired, we should find that science increasingly affirms The Bible’s teachings. For example, many have claimed that Big Bang cosmology is taught in texts like Psalm 104:2.
Accommodationism = The Bible talks about the natural world, but we shouldn’t expect it to correspond to correct science. We shouldn’t expect The Bible’s descriptions of the universe and science’s to be the same. Why? Because teaching science wasn’t a priority of God. Teaching history, theology, and morality were God’s priorities. The ancient Israelites had their own conceptions about the world and how things worked, conceptions that we now know to be false. God didn’t see fit to correct those misconceptions (which pre-existed the divine revelation btw) and instead used their faulty understanding as a springboard to teach theological truths. The Bible isn’t in error for including faulty science, because it’s simply using the cosmology of the day as a basis upon which to make theological points. The accommodationist’s claim here is that you can’t blame The Bible for error any more than you could a pastor in using Santa Claus as a springboard to teach a small child the value of being giving. The point isn’t that there is a Santa Claus, but that we should be charitable. The pastor is using Santa (whom he knows doesn’t exist) as a basis upon which to make a moral point.
With those definitions out of the way, let’s take a look at Alexander’s responses to my arguments for why the latter should be adopted by the Christian instead of the former.
1: His Definitions
In his response to my response, Alexander makes note again of the distinction between concordism as a hermeneutical principle and concordism as a view of inerrancy and inspiration. He says that while these two are related, they’re separate. However, I still don’t see how that can be. It may be that they are separate in one sense, but from my analysis of the case, it seems one entails the other. If you think that God intended to teach accurate scientific details in the text (concordism as inspiration), then if you think scientists are right in their theories, you’re bound to try to find those theories in the text and conclude The Bible teaches the theories (concordism as hermeneutics). For example, Hugh Ross argues that The Big Bang is taught in passages like Genesis 1:1 and Psalm 104:2 and other passages that talk of God “stretching out the heavens”. The phrase “stretching out the heavens” found in numerous Bible passages refers to the expansion of space, it is argued. He draws that conclusion in reading the text because he believes God meant to convey scientific information in His Word. He engages in the hermeneutic of concordism because he affirms the inspiration of concordism. While Alexander Young may be right in saying they are distinct issues, I still think you can’t have one without the other. One collapses into the other. If you affirm the inspiration-concordism, you are bound to do hermeneutical concordism.
Alexander Young then wrote “I will make my statement clearer: All teachings in the Bible are 100% true teachings, all descriptions in the Bible are 100% accurate descriptions. I view descriptions as a type of truth claim, in that what you describe is accurate.” — Apparently, I hadn’t correctly understood his latter definition of inerrancy. I agreed with it in the particular way in which he worded it in his original article , which was “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.” but I don’t agree with this revised wording of his definition. I agree with the latter, but not the former.
While I do believe that all teachings in The Bible are 100% true teachings (God doesn’t lie), I don’t agree that all descriptions are necessarily accurate descriptions. And I don’t believe the latter necessarily has to be a truth claim.
It really depends on what kind of description we’re talking about here. Are we talking illustrative descriptions or historical descriptions, for example? In the latter, we would be talking about records of events that actually happened, like Abraham’s calling into Canaan, Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt, David’s adultery with Bathsheba, Jesus’ death by crucifixion, His resurrection, etc. etc. And I certainly think God is concerned with His chosen authors getting these things correct. After all, so much of our theology is grounded in history. If there’s no death and resurrection of Jesus, for example, there’s no atonement and thus our faith is futile and we are still in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).
So describing accurately what happened would certainly be a concern of God’s as well as a concern of the Christian. However, illustrative descriptions need not be something that corresponds to reality. I already alluded to this earlier in giving a brief description of my position. Imagine a pastor trying to teach a small child the value of being charitable. He says to him “Santa Claus and his organization of elves make toys for all the world’s children and gives them away for FREE. He gives the toys away, never expecting to get anything in return. That’s how God wants you to live your life. Give to others and expect nothing in return.” Can anyone accuse the pastor of being in error because he speaks of a person who doesn’t actually exist? Of course not. His point isn’t that a man named Santa Claus actually exists, but that the child should be as charitable as he believes Santa is. Likewise, when The Bible 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), God’s point is not that the Earth doesn’t move, but that God’s throne (His sovereignty) is as established and unmovable as the ancients believed the Earth was. Just as the pastor could use a false belief of the child’s to teach a moral truth, God used a false scientific belief to teach His initial recipients a theological truth. Neither the pastor nor the Lord could be accused of being in error because the existence of Santa Claus and the immovability of Earth wasn’t what they were trying to teach. Indeed. Neither of them needed to teach such, for the child believed in Santa Claus prior to receiving the teaching. The Israelites believed the Earth was motionless prior to receiving the revelation. The pastor and God simply used false pre-existing beliefs as a springboard to teach something that is true.
So, the point here is that a description is sometimes a truth claim, sometimes it’s not. It depends on what you’re describing and the purpose of giving the description. If you’re trying to tell something that happened (historical description) or if you’re trying to illustrate a point (illustrative description). I would include all of Jesus’ parables in the latter category, and I would also include ancient near eastern cosmology as well. Therefore, the accommodationist doesn’t necessarily disavow the inerrancy of The Bible.
Alexander Young then wrote “He makes the point that concordism violates the rules of hermeneutics he has been taught. The trouble is, I don’t think those rules allow a complete understanding of God’s Word. The message God communicates to us through the writings of a given author are not limited to the author’s own mind. The author can write a text with a certain thought behind it, yet that thought be completely contrary to God’s own purpose in the text. Scripture is more than what the author was thinking.”
This argument, from my interpretation of Alexander’s writing, is an argument for dual-meaning in the text. Back when I was a concordist, I would frequently use this argument in response to accommodationists. The Dual-Meaning Argument (my name for it), goes like this: we know from The New Testament that certain Old Testament texts had meanings that transcend the author’s own original intent. For example, Psalm 10 and 45 are actually about a conversation between God The Father and God The Son. It’s not likely that the author of those psalms had any trinitarian conceptions in mind when he wrote them, but Hebrews 1 informs us that the divine author (The Holy Spirit) did. Likewise, Matthew 11 informs us that Hosea 11:1 had a deeper meaning. I can understand why someone would argue on that basis that therefore, some passages of scripture may have modern scientific teachings in them even though the original human authors probably didn’t have a clue. In fact, as I already said, I used to use this argument all the time when I was a concordist. I used this in my now recanted article “Are Concordists Reading Science Into The Text?”
The problem is that we have additional divine revelation to shed light on OT passages like the aforementioned. The Holy Spirit told us in the NT that passages in the OT had additional meaning. But we don’t have a third Testament to tell us that passages like Genesis 1:20 is supposed to refer to bird evolution (as my theistic evolutionist friend Robert Rowe argues) or the Cambrian explosion (as Hugh Ross argues), or that Genesis 1:1, Psalm 104:2, and Romans 8:20 are talking about aspects of Big Bang Cosmology. We have no divine revelation telling us that Psalm 93:1 is referring both to the ancient Israelites’ belief in geocentrism, and is also, simultaneously saying that the Earth never moves from its orbit.
The only reason I don’t accuse the NT writers of bad hermeneutics is because I know Who was guiding their pens. I don’t dare argue with The Holy Spirit. But I have no qualms arguing with Robert Rowe and Hugh Ross. If we had a New New Testament telling us that Genesis 1:20 referred to bird evolution and the Cambrian explosion, and we knew the New New Testament was divinely inspired, then I would gladly stand alongside concordists in their claims. The issue here is an epistemological one rather than an ontological one. The question isn’t whether a text can have more than one meaning, but how does one verify that the additional meaning actually exists? We can verify that meaning 1 exists through the standard principles of hermeneutics, but if one claims that meaning 2 exists, how do we verify that meaning 2 exists? In the case of Psalm 45 and Hosea 11:1, we have The New Testament to verify that meaning 2 exists. But what verification exists for Genesis 1:20 and Psalm 104:2 and other texts concordists use in their case for “The Bible’s scientific accuracy”?
I’m not sure about who exactly bears the burden of proof here, but my intuition says it lies on the one claiming that (A) God cared about the scientific details as well as the theological lessons contained in the nature passages, and (2) that verses like Psalm 104:2, Psalm 93:1, Genesis 1, and so on and so forth have a deeper meaning than their ANE context.
Ontologically speaking, Bible passages could go beyond their ancient near eastern (ANE) context. But, how do we know Bible verses talking about the natural world go beyond their ANE context?
I think we should conclude that the author’s original intent is the only intent unless and until we have some rational justification for thinking an additional meaning exists, as we do for Psalm 45, Hosea 11:1, etc.
If we don’t take such an approach, I fear that it could lead to a sort of unrestrained chaotic study of scripture where authors are drawing all kinds of additional meanings from all kinds of texts, with the justification behind these exegetes being that sometimes the human author means one thing and The Holy Spirit means another.
I said in my previous response, the concordists’ claims can be justified if either
1: It is shown 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.
Young has helped me realize that my criteria were incomplete. I should add another one to accommodate (pun not intended) the Dual-Meaning Argument.
3: Provide a rational justification for thinking Bible verses talking about the natural world transcend their ANE context.
Unfortunately, I haven’t seen Young meet any of the 3 criteria. So I’m still unmoved to re-adopt concordism.
3: Ancient Cosmology
Young simply goes on his article to re-interpret the ANE Cosmology of the text to fit with our modern understandings of the world. I used to do this all the time as a concordist. I would be like “Nah, the writer doesn’t really mean that he thinks with his heart. This is only a metaphor for his emotional faculties. He doesn’t really mean his heart organ is the organ that processes his emotions.”. Believe me as a former concordist that it is typical of the concordist to relegate the descriptions of the world to metaphors or non-literal statements, but what justification is given for thinking that the ancients really believed these statements in non-literal ways? Young doesn’t provide any. He simply expresses personal incredulity that they did mean them literally.
It’s well documented that this kind of cosmology is what the ancients actually believed. Not just the Israelites held this view, but even their neighbors did. It would make this blog post way too lengthy to do a historical investigation into the extra-biblical historical evidence demonstrating that this is the case, so the interested reader is recommended to check out the following sources:
*”The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate” by John Walton
*”The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate” by John Walton
*”In the Beginning… We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context” by Johnny Miller and John Soden
*”Scripture and Cosmology: Reading the Bible Between the Ancient World and Modern Science” by Kyle Greenwood
*”Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology” by John Walton
*”The Biblical Cosmos” by Robin Parry
*”Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography” by Wayne Horowitz
*”Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the Problem of the Old Testament” by Pete Enns
Young wrote “It was plainly obvious to the ancients that mountains vary greatly in height and come to peaks, they obviously are not pillars holding up a solid sky.” — While it’s true that they knew the mountains varied in height, it doesn’t follow that they, therefore, didn’t believe they held up the sky. According to the pictorial descriptions of ANE Cosmology, there were two mountains of each edge of the flat Earth that held the sky up. Certainly, there can be shorter mountains in between the pillars which aren’t touching the solid dome sky.
Young wrote “It is akin to the young-earth creationist saying ‘The tallest mountain on earth is Mount Everest’. And saying that statement is an inaccurate description of earth because it describes it as young. You can’t say that simply because the writer thought the earth was young and happens to use the word “earth”, he’s saying the earth is young.
Similarly, you can’t claim because the author of Genesis thought the sky was solid and uses the word for sky “Rakia” it is a scientifically inaccurate description of the sky.'” — Young’s comparison of a YEC’s statement about Mount Everest and Moses’ statement in Genesis 1:7 is comparing apples and oranges. In English, the word “Earth” means our planet. Nothing more. The word doesn’t speak to the age, shape, or orbit of our planet. It’s simply the word for our planet. By contrast, the Hebrew word “Raquia” very likely means “vault” or “solid dome”. If the English word “Earth” meant “6,000-year-old planet”, then the statement “The tallest mountain on Earth is Mount Everest” would indeed be conveying a scientifically inaccurate statement.
But, one might at this point ask what reasons are there to think that the Hebrew word “raqia” means “solid dome” or “vault”?
Pete Enns lists the following in a BioLogos blog post. Enns writes:
“1: The other cosmologies from the ancient world depict some solid structure in the sky. The most natural explanation of the raqia is that it also reflects this understanding. There is no indication that Genesis is a novel description of the sky;
2: Virtually every description of raqia from antiquity to the Renaissance depicts it as solid. The non-solid interpretation of raqia is a novelty;
3: According to the flood story in Gen 7:11 and 8:2, the waters above were held back only to be released through the “floodgates of the heavens” (literally, “lattice windows”);
4: Other Old Testament passages are consistent with the raqia being solid (Ezekiel1:22; Job 37:18; Psalm 148:4);
5: According to Gen 1:20, the birds fly in front of the raqia (in the air), not in the raqia;
6: The noun raqia is derived form the verb that means to beat out or stamp out, as in hammering metal into thin plates (Exodus 39:3). This suggests that the noun form is likewise related to something solid;
7: Speaking of the sky as being stretched out like a canopy/tent (Isaiah 40:22) or that it will roll up like a scroll (34:4) are clearly similes and do not support the view that raqia in Genesis 1 is non-solid.“
Enn’s quoted words only briefly outline the reasons why many biblical scholars (Christian and non-Christian alike) think raqia to mean a solid dome sky, rather than a sky of unspecified substance, or even a non-solid sky altogether. Read the entire article of Enns for a fuller treatment, and especially check out the books recommended above. Again, brevity demands I not go into great detail about this.
3*: Ancient Peoples Inability To Comprehend
Moving on to the final point of the article; Young expresses incredulity that the ancient peoples could really not understand scientific concepts we know to be true today such as a spherical Earth, a non-solid gaseous atmosphere, etc. He says that we give the ancients too little credit in their intellectual capacities. While I agree that there is a tendency to do that, when it comes to many of our scientific concepts, I do think it would have thrown them for a loop. For Young, it’s easy to believe in a spherical Earth with gravity, and a rain cycle that doesn’t involve opening and closing windows of a dome, and things like that, because he grew up in the 20th and 21st century where this is something “everyone knows”. We’re taught these things in school, and we’re not merely taught that the Earth is round and that our atmosphere is gaseous, we’re taught how we don’t fall off the Earth. We’re taught how the rain cycle works. We’re given the scientific evidence that these things are true and we’re given rational, scientifically verified explanations of how this works out. What evidence do we have that the B.C people were given these teachings? I know of none.
There’s been a resurgence in Flat-Earthers in the past couple of years for some strange reason, so we know that there are at least a small number of 21st-century folks who struggle with the idea of a spherical Earth. How much more would this be for an ancient person who didn’t have access to the data that we do?
The problem is compacted even more if one is convinced evolution is true. We would certainly not expect that to be in the text, for that would be bound to be met with responses like “Apes gave rise to men!? Gigantic reptiles gave rise to birds? This is insanity!” But as I said in my original response, maybe evolution isn’t in the text because it isn’t true. But if it were true, I wouldn’t expect it to show up in The Bible any more than in a world where evolution isn’t true. I wouldn’t expect it for the same reason I wouldn’t expect a spherical Earth and non-solid sky to appear in The Bible. I wouldn’t expect talk about DNA, cells, atoms, germs, and other scientific truths that we take for granted to show up in scripture.
Moreover, while Young is right that God expected the Israelites to take him at his word, we know from The Bible that they didn’t always do this. In fact, during the Exodus event, they were constantly doubting and questioning God, despite being given countless reasons to trust Him.
God is known for condescending to the human level to deal with obstinance. Jesus says this is why God initially permitted divorce (see Matthew 19:3-10) even though He said outright that He hates it (Malachi 2:16). If God permitted divorce because of hard-heartedness, is it so unbelievable that He might do the same with faulty cosmology?
I still firmly believe holding to an accommodationist view of the text; a view that doesn’t require that we unjustifiably go beyond the author’s original intent and say that The Bible predicted all sorts of 21st-century scientific theories. I see no valid reason to reject this view.
Whether ANE Cosmology in The Bible counts as errors will really depend on whether or not you think God intended to teach cosmology to the recipients of His word. I for one agree with BioLogos on this issue. I think God was more concerned about getting theology, history, and morality across rather than science. He worked around the bad science of the day, using the faulty descriptions as a springboard to teach theological truths.
Besides, when you really think of what the purpose of The Bible is, this view makes sense. Is the purpose of The Bible to teach us science? No. Is the purpose of The Bible to teach us about Himself, our sin situation, and how we can get to Heaven? Yes. This is why the famous scientist Galileo Galilei said “Science tells you how the heavens go. The Bible tells you how to go to Heaven.”
Moreover, God, being an omniscient being and knowing the future (Psalm 139), knew that we would find out many truths about the world through the scientific method. Since He foreknew that we would find out about the world eventually, why would He be so concerned to tell us in His book thousands of years in advance? To return to the pastor analogy, the pastor knew that the child would figure out there was no Santa Claus eventually. But rather than risk getting in trouble with his parents by first telling him there’s no Santa and then giving him a lesson on charity, he decided to use Santa to teach the lesson on charity.
Thanks for reading!