I recently been reading a book called, The Lost World of Adam and Eve by John H. Walton. It’s a really interesting read that discusses the relationship between Scripture and science, with a focus on human origins.
While science changes all the time (or at least in small ways, over time), the book that we’ve built our entire faith on is unchanging. Sure, the church’s interpretation of Scripture has changed over time, but as Christians we believe in the authoritative Word of God because it was revelation given to us by God himself through the inspiration of human authors. Of course, we do have general revelation as well (what can be known about God through His creation).
The basic premise of chapter one is that while the Bible is God’s Word, it’s also ancient document.
When we read Scripture two voices speak, but the human author is our doorway into the room of God’s meaning and message.
Genesis is an ancient document that was written for readers in a different context and world than ours. Which is why we should only make assumptions that would be appropriate for the ancient world. This is easier said then done, considering we weren’t alive when Moses wrote Genesis.
A good example of this approach to Scripture is how the ancient world believed that there were not only waters below the sky (lakes, oceans, etc), but there were also bodies of waters above the sky. They believed this because when it rained, water came down. Makes sense. So when Genesis 1:7 refers to the waters above, this is a good example of the human author of Scripture communicating within the ancient context of the reason.
The author, John H. Walton makes a good point that although the Bible is written for us (indeed for everyone), it is not written primarily to us. It’s important to recognize that there was an original audience.
[The Bible] is not communicated in our language; it is not addressed to our culture; it does not anticipate the questions about the world and its operations that stem from our modern situations and issues. If we read modern ideas into the text, we skirt the authority of the text and in effect compromise it. (The Lost World of Adam and Eve, page 19)
Bottom line, the text cannot mean what it never meant. This is not only common sense that non-sense preachers miss but also serves as good Bible Study advice.
If you think about it in those terms, communication in the Bible (and in our world) is accomplished by various degrees of accommodation on the part of the communicator. The communicator has to make assumptions that the listener either knows or does not know certain details about a subject in order for the message to effectively get across. That accommodation on the part of the author must bridge the gap in a sense especially if the communicator and audience do not share the same language.
The author explains in chapter one that “high context” communication is communication that takes place between insiders in situations where the communicator and audience share much in common. In contrast, “low-context” communication, require high levels of accommodation in order for an insider to bridge the gap with an outsider (like us). This is why commentaries and books are helpful to understand the context in which the original message was given.
Think traffic reports. Traffic reports include various degrees of accommodation. If you live in the area where the traffic report is being broadcast, not much accommodation is required because you know the names of the streets and landmarks the reporter is communicating. On the other hand if you do not live in the area, or are new to an area, such as my family was when we moved from NY to Houston (Katy) Tx, then you would require a lot of accommodation because you’re an outsider not having any basic context. When we lived in Texas, in order for us to understand the traffic reporter on the radio we would need much more information than a person who had lived there their whole life.
The same is true when it comes to the Bible. When we read the Bible, we enter into the story (especially in Genesis) as low-context outsiders who are dependent on others to help us understand what the original author intended to communicate to their original audience.
I think the Walton is right when he says, “there are times when our distance from the ancient communicator might mean that we misunderstand some communication because of elements that are foreign to us, OR because we simply do not share the same ways of thinking with the communicator (in this case Moses).”
One of the tools that the author gives in chapter 1 is to respect the text:
1. Understand what genre of Biblical literature you’re reading. This will make a difference in the interpretation of the text.
2. Understand the nature of the message that the author was communicating to their original audience.
For example, when you read Genesis it’s important to understand that it’s primarily not a scientific textbook; in fact there’s a lot of poetic language in Genesis. Moses’ purpose behind the information given in Genesis to his original readers was not for some systematic understanding of how the scientific universe works. Rather what God was communicating to them through Moses was that when they look at the cosmos, they were to see God’s Kingdom, which is why God communicates to them about the world in those terms.
I.E. His revelation to them was not focused on giving them a sophisticated understanding of the weather system or the natural world, but to communicate in ways in which they would understand (waters are above and below because that’s what they saw.) Again, while the Bible is written for us, it is not primarily written to us.
For these reasons, our affirmations about Scripture (authority and inerrancy) should be attach to the intended message of the human communicators as it was originally given by God.
The Bible is not providing scientific revelation; it is rather being silent on scientific matters. Whatever scientific information that we might learn from the text is great, but it is not primarily a scientific textbook. Rather, it is a theological book that shows how God is active in His creation AND how we are made in God’s image. While Scripture does not offer a scientific explanation of how He created the world, it does reveal to us that He did it. Now, that might not be good enough for some people, but for me, that’s all I need to know.
The biggest factor in me believing many of the stories in the Old Testament that don’t give much scientific explanation (just think about all the miracles that are impossible to prove scientifically) is the fact that Jesus believed them.
One of my favorite books on the subject, Taking God at His Word points out that Jesus often referred to historical people such as Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Jonah, places like Sodom and Gomorrah, without ever questioning a single event, a single miracle, or a single historical claim.
In short, if the creation account was good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me.
If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book, The Lost World of Adam and Eve you can find it here: