Science in Christian Perspective



G. Douglas Young
Shelton College

From: JASA 3 (
December 1951): 19-23.

As scientists, we tend to look at words as though they had "technical" point meanings only. We say, "This word means this, and that word means that." Frequently we fail to realize that each word has a more or less easily definable area of Meaning. Few, if any, represent a point of meaning. Even "X" has ten definitions which cover half a column of space in Webster! Many words had a well-established usage before our particular science developed to the point it has today. Many words had, and have, an established usage from which the current usage has departed by change or modification. Some of us, and many in the r=k and file of Christians, as judged by writings and conversation, it would seem, fail to recognize this simple principle of semantics. A failure to recognize the fact that words are not points of meaning, but areas of meaning, leads to misunderstanding and error. For example, the word "evolution" has a well-established general usage. We can refer to some aspect of It which happens to be true as "evolution," or we can use some narrow technical definition of it with which we can agree, and say, "I am therefore an evolutionist"--which is not the case at all, of course, except as we use the word in that very limited sense, ignoring all the other well-established parts of the meaning. We then actually speak erroneously, and others are misled.

The same is true in other fields, for example, sociology, economics, philosophy, where well-established words are redefined, and we who know the never technical usages fail to recognize the validity of the other usages, and so cause unnecessary confusion in popular thought.

*Paper presented at the American Scientific Affiliation Annual Convention, New York, August
28-31, 1951.

This also is true in the Bible world. "Arbitrary" definitions are given to certain Biblical words and then the rank and file come to erroneous views upon what the Bible says about "creation," "begetting;" "sonship."

Words are defined contextually. We may be able to trace the derivation but there may be no relationship between that and the current usage. The definition of a word is made from the sum total of its several usages in actual contexts, whether written or spoken. The meaning of a word in a given environment or situation is determined by that environment or situation. Specifically,, in-the problem immediately before us we must do two things:

1. Negatively--we must not read English
meanings and usages back into the Hebrew words, and

2. Positively--we must set meanings for the words we study which are consistent with the area of
meaning that they cover in the Hebrew contexts.

I--The Word "Bejet"

1. In English the word means that two successive generations are spoken of. "X begat Y" means that T was born into the house of X by his wife Z.

2. In Hebrew usage "begat" carries that meaning, but It carries more as well.

Matthew 1:8 says, "Joram, begat Ozias." If we compare I Chronicles 3:10-12, we can see that Ahaziah,, Joash, and Amaziah are omitted., yet the passage can and does say "begat.-"

This word, in Hebrew, includes in its area of meaning the idea "ancestor of."

II--The Word "Son Of"

1. In I Chronicles 9:12., Jeroham is called "the son of Pashur." Comparing Nehemiah 11:12., we find that there are three names between Jeroham and Pashur.
" Son of," therefore, means "descendant of."

2. In Ezra 7:3. Azariah is said to be the son
or Meraloth. If we compare I Chronicles 6:6-9 we find six news between Meraioth and Azariah (a very interesting homoioteleuton and so a textual error, a plain mistake, or as is proposed here, a shortening).

This last case Is doubly interesting because Chronicles uses the word "beget," while Ezra says "son

Now let us apply these more correct, even if less "exact," meanings. Firsty however, one further illustration is necessary.

III--The Illustration of Terah

Genesis 11:26 says, "Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor,and Haran." Was Abram born) as would seem to be indicated here, when Terah was seventy years old? Compare 11:32--"And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died In Haran;" Acts
7:4., where we are told that Abraham left Hardn after his father died, and Genesis 12:4, which says, "Abram was seventy and five years 01.1 when he departed out of Haran." It is thas seen that Terah was 205-75, or 130 years old when Abraham was born. This illustrates the Biblical usage in the dates in the chronologies.

IV--Genesis V

(I do not say we must take it this way, I simply say it does not do injustice to the meaning of the Hebrew usage of the words if we do take it this way. I say also that only an arbitrary assignment of a meaning to the words (point, not area), makes it impossible so to take it..)

Cainan,, who is mentioned in Genesis 5, lived seventy years and at that point became the ancestor of (begat) Mahalaleel, and he lived 840 years after that point. Cainan lived 910 years and died. How old was Cainan (on the analogy of the Abraham and Tersh illustration) when Mahalaleel was born? was Cainan even alive when this particular descendant, sufficiently important to be included in the list, was born? One thing is quite certain--we cannot establish a chronology by adding these numbers. Another is equally uncertain, namely, how long it was from Abraham to Noah. It could have been a few thousand years, or many.

This much also is certain--God gave us a list of the important men of that period in order., with doubtless many omissions, and He gave us also the fact that all died eventually, even though they did have long lives. The effects of sin eventually caught up with them--death came.

V--Genesis 1:1-3

To few Biblical words has so much injustice been done as to the word "create." We believe in an ex nihilao creation, on the basis of John 1:19. Many "define" bara to mean "make out-of nothing," "and so read the known ex nihilo creation back into Genesis 1:1) where it quite possibly is not intended at all.

The word needs to have its definition rephrased for popular consumption. Com
pare the use of this word in the following cases: Jeremiah 31:22r."The Lord hath
created a new thing in the earth, A woman shall compass a man"; Psalm 51:10.. "Create in me a clean heart, 0 God"; Isaiah 41:19., 20p "I will plant in the wilderness the cedar. . I will set in the desert the fir . . . the Holy One of Israel hath created it (the new situation)"; Isaiah 43:l "But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, 0 Jacob, and he that formed thee, 0 Israel (a new relationship)
ft ; and Numbers 16:30.

"And if the Lord make (create) a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow
them up. . .(Datban and Abiram)." Obviously a making of something material out of
nothing is impossible in these contexts. What is made, created, is a situation
that did not formerly exist. Might it be so in the case of Genesis 1? 1 think so.

Moses was not interested particularly, in the original act of creation as was John. He was interested in telling us in broad outline how the earth got to be as it is now. Thus he says, "In the beginning when God was creating (not ex nihlo of the matter, but something new--the present form and order
which did not formerly exist) the heavens and the earth, the circumstances were as follows: (1) the earth was without form and void, (2) darkness was over the face of it, and (3) the Spirit of God was moving over it. In such a case and time God said (verse 3 with its first was conversive, and hence its first step forward in the developing of the stozy), 'Let there be light,,' and there was light."

If this interpretation can be justified on the basis of philology and syntax) then the so-called, popular) "gap" between verses 1 and 2 turns out to be a matter of philosophy and not a fact of revelation.

The facts are as follows:

1. The first conversive comes at verse 3.

2. The three preceding clauses are circumstantial ones. Compare Gesenfus, paragraphs 156 and 141e.

3. The first word of the Bible is a noun in the construct state, and it Is followed by a finite verb. This idiom is well attested in Semitic as a temporal clause. Compare Koran, Sure, 37:144, where it is said of Jonah that he "tarried in his (the whale's) belly until the day
when they were raised," and compare most especially Moses dialect and usage at Deuteronomy 4:15., "on the day that the lord spake unto you in Horeb
. . ."

In Conclusion:

The Genesis account does not set temporal limits in its lists of name before Noah; nor does it know, in and of itself, anything of a creation, destruction, and recreation; nor does it (while in no sense denying one) have anything to say specifically about the ex nihilo or original act of creation.

The Chairman, Dr. I. COWPERTHWAITZ, asked for discussion of Dr. Young's paper.

Mr. WILLIAM J. SCEEPP: I am sorry that it wasn't quoted Isaiah 45-7 where bara is translated "create" and Ezekiel 23-47 where it is quoted "dispatch." I realize that Isaiah 45-7 is a very oontroversial passage of scripture. The Universalists have used it--the Jewish people have used it with the idea that God created evil and whereas if you take the word "create" out of Isaiah 45-7 and translate it on that basis, "I form the light and dispatch darkness . . . I make peace and dispatch evil.

To use the translation of bara, in that particular sense overcomes the idea that
we must water down the word "evil" there to make it affliction or sorrow.

Mr. ROY ALLEN: I was just thinking of one verse where bara, is used that is, I believe, very significant as emphasizing the points of Dr. Young. I think it's the 102nd Psalm where David says, "And the people which shall be created shall praise the Lord.

He is a new creation. Old things are passed away and all things become new. We get a beautiful picture of just the people of whom David is speaking when he prophesied that the time will come when there shall be a people created that will praise His name, and were a new generation, a rival priesthood. Because we're not created as the speaker said.. out of nothing, but God takes the old nature and makes something that didn't ever exist before, to a new birth. I praise the Lord for that verse, too.

Mr. DOUGLAS BLACK asked for clarification of the speaker's conclusion on Genesis 5 regarding men living before someone came to be and then living afterward.

Mr. G. DOUGLAS YOUNG: I'd like to preface.. because it's going into the record.. that I did not say that that must be the interpretation of Genesis 5,, but on the basis of the Terah-Abram illustration, it conceivably could be that Cainan lived 70 years and then had his first child. The important person in that genealogy or in that group was Mahalaleel who may have been born 60, 70, a thousand., two thousand years later as far as we know. There's no way that we can set the time limit. In. the case of Abraham and Terah it happened to be 60 years. That's 60 silent years, and therefore In these other cases., It might be 60
70; it might even be longer. There's no way that we can say on it. But the thing that is significant in Genesis., the 5th chapter., is that Cainan was an important man in the eight of God. For some reason he was listed there, the saw an certain ones were singled out for listing in the llth chapter of Hebrews. Here is the immediate successor. The next one significant in his line is Kahalaleel and the terrifically vital factor that no matter how long anyone may live they all eventually die so that the problem that used to block my thinking was that after he begat so and so., he lived so many years and he died. On the basis of the Abraham-Terah illustration, It's perfectly possible that that verse means--he lived 70 years., he began his begetting. Mahalaleel, was the important man that followed him. This particular man,, after he began his begetting, lived 810 years and he died. Re lived 910 years all told, but he died.