Science in Christian Perspective



Biblicism and Science*
Dean Eastern Mennonite College
Harrisonburg, Va.

From: JASA 6 (December 1954): 3-7.
An address given at a general session of the Ninth Annual 3ffleeting of the American Scientific Affiliation, Harrisonburg, Virginia, August 24-27, 1954

I am very happy for the privilege of addressing the American Scientific Affiliation. It gives me the opportunity of making a few comments relative to the organization. The two concerns expressed in the A. S. A. handbook, that with student's faith and that with unscientific defense of the Bible, are certainly in order. The plans of the Affiliation give promise of great impacts upon students, Bible teachers, ministers, scientists and the public in general.

An area of service which I venture to suggest for consideration by your Affiliation is that of carrying Christian viewpoints of science into other scientific organizations. Papers such as are presented in this meeting should find their way into other scientific circles. Is it not possible for the whole question of evolution to be reopened, or for a first class interpretation of the creation account to gain a hearing? The genius of Christianity is that of a prophetic mission ;n the world. This finds application in the propagation of true science as well as in evangelism.

On receiving the very kind invitation to serve on this program I felt at once the pressure of two concerns. The first is the need of holding to a Biblicism which will command the respect both of the most scrutinizing and critical scientific mind, as well as the liberal theologian. The second is an equal urgency of adhering to objective science which will win the confidence of the most thoroughgoing theologian and also the most scholarly scientist, The first has to do with the great science of interpretation, known in theological circles as hermeneutics. This science deals with the task of reproducing in our minds the thoughts which the Biblical writers meant to convey. The second concern centers in the need of distinguishing sharply between science and philosophy, objective facts and suppositions. When strict attention is given on the one side to Biblical hermeneutics and on the oth er to observable data of science, a way should be found for the reconciliation of the Bible and science.

In this paper I am centering my thinking on the first of these, Biblicism, as it bears on the interpretation of the creation account.

A word as to the meaning of Biblicism. It is taken to mean an adherence to the letter of the Bible. According to the Century Dictionary a Biblicist is "one who adheres to the Bible as the sole rule of faith and practice as opposed to a scholastic, who professed to bring all doctrines of faith to the test of philosophy. The Swiss Brethren of the 16th century held to Biblicism as against the prevailing Mysticism. They accepted no doctrine which found no support in the Scriptures. At the present time Biblicism stands in disrepute in the hands of liberalism and neo-orthodoxy, as holding to a bald literalism which is too naive to recognize the difficulties of Bible interpretation. The Biblicist is regarded as slavishly adhering to the letter of the Bible and as unable to grasp problems involved in understanding an ancient Book. But this does not describe true Biblicism. The sort of Biblicism to which we should hold is marked by such characteristics as :

1. Belief in the origin of the Bible according to its own claims. All scripture is theopneustos, God breathed. "Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Pet. 1:21)

2. Belief in the Biblical claims to authenticity and authority. "Scripture cannot be broken." Jno. 10:35 "All scripture is . . - profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

3. Belief in scientific Biblical criticism. In the field of criticism there is extraordinary need to follow the method of objective science. When all evidence as to date, composition, authorship, and purpose of the Books are carefully assembled and evaluated, objective science knows no other method than to believe the evidences. I am still of the opinion that the commonly accepted literary analysis of the Pentateuch has moved more on the basis of philosophy than on objective science.

The Need for Sound Principles of Interpretation 

The most strategic point of common interest between Biblicism and science is found in the Book of Genesis. In simple, grand, and awe-inspiring language this book presents the Creation, primeval history, the Flood, the Table of Nations, and the beginnings of Hebrew history. The unity of Genesis is manifest. As the narrative proceeds, the historical character of the record finds increasing confirmation from the annals of other nations. If the latter part of the book is found to be historical by reason of other historical records, what hinders the acceptance of the historical character of the opening chapters?

The problem is heightened when it is observed that no human eye saw the events of creation. By divine revelation at some point whether to Adam and Eve or to some one later man learned of this wondrous act of God. Dr. Kyle has stated the implications of this fact as follows,

"This (revelatory) theory starts from the idea that Genesis account is not genetically an account of creation directly, but an account of the revelation of creation. Whenever, wherever, and by what means soever, the account of creation was first given to the world, a true account, it must have been a revelation from God. Nobody of this world was present at creation to make a record, hence nobody can tell anything historically about creation; and as science founded upon the laws of nature cannot go behind the laws which creation brought into existence, it is impossible to have a record of what happened, unless God reveal it. So, if the account of creation in Genesis be a real account of creation, it must be a revelation. Very well, how did God reveal it to man? God might either tell him, or show him, or both. If he showed him, it must be by vision, for creation was already finished and could not itself be witnessed.

This revelatory theory is that God revealed creation to man in visions giving six looks in upon the work of creation in six successive visions, each one observing creation at a successive stage in its progress, but not necessarily limited in any way by our idea of time as is true of all visions. In our dreams we may in a few minutes pass through years of dreamland life. So God might reveal to man in a brief vision the passing events of ages of creation. Now as the one receiving the vision would close his eyes to this world as he went into the vision and open them upon the world again as he came out of the vision, each vision would naturally be described by the curious and puzzling order of expression, 'the evening and the morning were the first day, second day, tc.' This would account for this very peculiar phrase in this account, though it occurs nowhere else in Scripture."l

True Biblicism needs to take into account then this great fact of a creation record given solely by revelation and completely detached from human observation. This may well serve as a way of approach to an interpretation that will commend itself to scrutinizing science. Since the problem resolves itself into one of interpretation, the science of interpretation needs to be re-examined.

Perhaps need exists for reminding us that since hermeneutics is a science, new data having to do with interpretation will affect the principles of interpretation. Obviously the meaning of Scripture does not change although there may be change, growth, and progress in our understanding of Scripture. Evidence of this is easily found in a comparison of Bengel (1742), Matthew Henry, Meyer, Lightfoot, Dean Alford, Westcott, Lenski, and Leupold (1942). The interpretation of Scripture cannot be frozen. Progress in the knowledge of language, archaeological discoveries, and new insights into truth all affect hermeneutical principles and should lead to a more accurate understanding of the written Word. Advances in the science of interpretation naturally result in progress in the art of interpretation. Is it possible that conservative thought in mid 20th century is content to believe that after Robert Dick Wilson, B. B. Warfield, J. D. Davis ' A. T. Robertson and others of like stature have spoken no further progress is possible? Surely these men advanced beyond James Orr, William Henry Green, Edwin Cone Bissell, and Charles Hodge of the preceding generation.

This necessary development of hermeneutics becomes clearer still when we realize that interpretation is a process of reproduction. G. H. Schodde has described this process very clearly as follows, "In nearly all cases, interpretation has in mind the thoughts of another. . . A person has interpreted the thoughts of another when he has in his own mind a correct reproduction or photograph of the thought as it was conceived in the mind of the original writer or speaker. . . The moment the Bible student has in his own mind what was in the mind of the author or authors of the Biblical books when these were written, he has interpreted the thought of the Scriptures."2

Very clearly this process presents many difficulties. First and foremost is that of bridging the gap between our way of thinking and that of Moses. It is that of appreciating the difference between Occidental and Oriental minds. By way of illustration Kyle tells a story of the Oriental notion of chronology as follows:

"One of these desert travelers went with a missionary friend to visit one of the 10,000 mud villages in the valley of the Nile. The night was not a restful one in a native home. The next morning the traveler wished to return as soon as possible to the boat on the Nile. The missionary however, knowing the demands of courtesy, insisted that they must not go until after breakfast, but expressed the hope that breakfast might be expedited. 'Oh,' said the host, 'breakfast is just ready.' One hour and a half after that time by the traveler's watch, a match was struck to kindle the fire to cook the breakfast. And sometime later still, a cow was driven into the court of the house to be milked to provide the milk to cook the rice to make the breakfast. Was the host untruthful? Not at all; he did not reckon by time, but by events. He had no way of determining the passage of time. When he said 'Breakfast is just ready,' he meant it was thc~ next thing in the household economy, that they would do nothing else until that thing was done, and that everything done was to that end. That is to say he reckoned only by events."3

Recognition of this difficulty imposes upon the interpreter painstaking effort to attempt to understand the Biblical writer's thought.

In order that this reproductive process may be more fully appreciated let us study some of the crucial points of interpretation of the creation account.

John R. Sampey of Southern Baptist fame says: "We must not make the mistake of assuming that the first chapter of Genesis is a scientific treatise. It is rather a great religious poem celebrating the glory of God as the Creator of all things. We should study Genesis as a religious book, if we would get the knowledge and uplift it was intended to impart."4

In a note entitled, "How to Interpret the First Chapter of Genesis," Albertus Pieters writes:

"1) That the first task of the interpreter is to discover what the original writer had in mind.

(2) That the original writer of this record, whoever he was, and whenever he lived, was surely a man of mature mind and ordinary common sense, knowing what all men know, and intending to write sense, not nonsense. This is important when we find him telling of light before the creation of the sun, describing the 'firmament' and 'the waters above the firmament,' numbering days when there was not yet any sunrise or sunset, relating the growth of trees in one day, and that animals came out of the earth, or that all animals were to eat herbs.

(3) That the language in which this narrative is composed is 'phenomenal,' or popular language, not the language of science. By this we mean that the facts are stated as they appeared to the eye, without any intention to express a judgment as to whether they were in reality what they appeared to be. We use this form of expression when we say that the sun rises and sets.115

Dr. Melvin Grove Kyle gives his views as follows:

"The account of creation in Genesis is simply a narrative in popular language from the standpoint of a beholder, and that moreover in a language devoid of technical terms. Common words had to be made to do duty as technical terms, their technical meaning only indicated by the context. The problem of a first-hand study of the Genesis account of creation from the text itself, the onl y study that has original value, is simply the problem of determining what scientific facts are described in the popular language of the narrative."6

Each of these scholars faced honestly and frankly the interpreter's problem. Each believes in Biblical inspiration as well as in the historicity of the narrative. They are attempting to understand the record as Moses intended it to be understood. True Biblicism would say that simple literalism not only robs the narrative of its majesty and profound meaning, but also imposes upon the interpreter some unanswerable problems. Cast into the form of a "religious poem

the account is not robbed of its historical character. This view of the record is most consonant with that of regarding Genesis as a religious book.

2. The Relation of Verse 1 to the Rest of the Chapter.

True Biblicism takes pains to understand whether this verse is intended to be a summary of what follows or whether it states something that is independent of the six creative days. Pieters in holding to the latter alternative gives in support the following: "If we construe this verse as summarizing what follows, without introducing anything independent of it, we find nowhere any original creative act whereby the universe comes into being; for from the beginning of the second verse the world is already there, and nothing occurs but the re-making of it."7

Kyle's comment is of the same tenor. "This first statement of the narrative gives account of the great act of creative power which stands by itself; it was bringing into existence all the materials of the universe. This is the Biblical representation of creation 'in the beginning.' "8

Note also H. C. Leupold's view on this question.

"Now is this first verse a beading or a title? By no means; for how could the second verse attach itself to a heading by an 'and'? Or is this first verse a summary statement akin to a title, after the Hebrew manner of narrative which likes to present a summary account like a newspaper heading, giving the gist of the entire event? Again, No. For if creation began with light and then with the organizing of existing material, the question would crowd persistently to the forefront: but how did this original material come into being? for v. 1 could not be a record of its origin, because it would be counted as a summary account of the things unfolded throughout the rest of the chapter. Verse one is the record of the first part of the work brought into being on the first day: first the heavens and the earth in a basic form as to their material, then light, These two things constitute what God created on the first day."9

One is conscious of the fine discernment necessary at this point. Kyle very properly senses that verse 1 is stating the great act of creative power which stands by itself. The following verses seem to continue the account of God's creative work in the way of presupposing the primary work of verse 1. There are the moving of the Spirit of God over the face of the waters, the fiat of light and of a firmament, the gathering together of the waters under the heavens, and the making of the two great lights and the setting of them in the firmament,-all are dependent on the original act through which the heavens and the earth were brought into existence.

3. The Formless Earth.

True Biblicism naturally probes into the meaning of "without form and void". Did the creative act of verse 1 result in a completed creation which later became without form and void so that what follows is "a made-over world with a long previous history"? Or had the creative act of verse I not progressed beyond the stage of "wasteness" and "emptiness"?

A number of scholars from Dr. Thomas R. Chalmers (1804) on including Dr. James G. Murphy a half century later, and Dr. C. I. Scofield of this century, held to the former. Apparently Chalmers was influenced chiefly by the geological claims of the time, Murphy by the possible sense of the verb hayah, became, for was, and Scofield by appeal to other passages. Sco

field's note follows: "Jer. 4:23-26, Isa. 24:1 and 45 -18 clearly indicate that the earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as the result of a divine judgment. The face of the earth bears everywhere the marks of such a catastrophe. There are not wanting intimations which connect it with a previous testing and fall of angels."10

With all due respect to these scholars true Biblicism must inquire, "Is this what the author of Genesis intended to tell us? Does verse 1 give hint of a fully created world with plants, animals, and even a PreAdamite race.? Does verse 2 tell of a destruction of all this with a new beginning in verse 3? Does the author mean to concentrate into a verse and a half the storv of a creation with uncounted myriads of years of existence issuing in a judgment of making waste and void?" The question is not whether this world could have been used one or any number of times previous to the present creation but whether the present creation is that which had its beginning in verse 1. Careful discriminating thought concludes with Dr. Pieters that Restorationism is an interesting speculation, but, has absolutely no Scriptural support. Kyle also insists that it is impossible to show that the Hebrew verb hayah has the sense became in this place. Far too great a superstructure has been based upon the precarious foundation of an unusual sense of hayah. No evidence from geology can force upon the Bible a meaning which violates true principles of interpretation.

4. The Creation of Light.

When were the sun, moon, and stars created? This question puts Biblicism to real test. Bald literalism insists that the heavenly bodies were created on the fourth day. But is this the thought that the writer intended to convey? If this is a "great religious poem celebrating the glory of God as the Creator of all things," as Sampey so beautifully said, we may need to probe deeper than bald literalism permits.

A significant phenomenon which may suggest the true meaning of the language lies in the symmetry and grouping of the Hebrew narrative. This "may be plausibly explained as intentional arrangement," says Dr. John D. Davis. Describing this arrangement, he adds:

"The 6 days form 2 interrelated groups: the Ist day saw light, and the 4th day, the lst of the 2d group, saw the luminaries; on the 2d day the waters were divided and the sky appeared and on the 2d day of the other group fish were divinely willed in the waters and fowl to fly in the expanse of the sky; on the 3d day dry land and vegetation were decreed, and on the corresponding day of the 2d group land animals, including man, were made, and vegetation was granted them for food."12

What then is the possible significance of this arrangement as it bears on the creation of the heavenly bodies ? H. C. Leupold gives a very sensible answer, a splendid example of true Biblicism, as follows:

"At once now the next problem suggests itself: how do the 'luminaries' stand related to the light which was created on the first day? With this is involved a second question: how do these luminaries stand related to the heavens, which were created on the first day (v. 1) ? The analogy of 'the earth' created simultaneously with 'the heavens' (v. 1) and its equipment and arrangement up till this point through v. 2-13 points in the proper direction. In other words, the earth is created in the rough, subject to certain deficiencies or incompletenesses which are removed one by one through the following days; similarly the heavens are created in the rough, heavenly bodies in vast spaces, not vet functioning as they shall later. What still remains to be done in and with them is now completed on the fourth day. The sun, moon and stars were in existence but were not yet doing the work which gets to be theirs in the fourth day's work. Light was in existence, but now these heavenly bodies came to be the ones that bear this light in themselves-'Iight-bearers,' 'luminaries,' mewoth. Heavenly bodies were in existence, but from this point onward they begin to serve a definite purpose in reference to the earth"12

Whether or not one agrees with Leupold, the approach is of the sort that commands respect. It is a conscientious effort to reproduce the thought of the original author.

5. The Meaning of the Word "Day".

Another of the perplexing problems for Biblicism to study is the meaning of the word day in the creation account. The implication of this problem for Biblicism is well stated by Kyle as follows:

"Now this first day and each succeeding day of the creation period, how long? What is the meaning of the word day in this account of creation? It is not uneducated people alone who say that a day is a day, a twenty-four hour period. A distinguished Old Testament teacher once assured me that he had examined every instance of the use of the Hebrew word for day in the whole Bible and that it never meant anything else than a day of twentyfour hours. Such an opinion not only suits an ignorant literalism. but is also quite convenient for those who are neither ignorant nor literalists, but who wish to make out a good case for the legendary character of the Genesis story of creation, and that it is wholly in conflict with science. In these studies we are trying to learn exactly what the Bible actually teaches and not what anybody thinks it may teach or ought to teach. We are neither to read anything into the text, nor anything out of it. So concerning the meaning of this word day, let us see for ourselves. We need to know the meaning of the word in this Genesis account of creation and will not then find it necessary to examine the use of the word elsewhere in the Bible.

"In Genesis 1:5, we read that God divided the light from the darkness and the light he called day and the darkness he called night.' There can be no doubt here; certainly in this instance, 'the light' means daylight, a period of twelve hours more or less. Immediately, in the very next words, it is added, 'And the evening and the morning were the first day,' where both the light and the darkness are included in the meaning of the word 'day' manifestly the whole twentv-four hours. Thus 'day' is certainly used in two very different senses in this one verse, which is a morsel for both the extreme literalists and the advocates of a legendary element in the account to chew over. The word day is thus used in this part of the account exactly as we are accustomed to use it in ordinary conversation every day of life. Nor is this all, for if we look forward only a little to the summary account of creation in Gen. 2:4, where the whole of creation is gathered up in a few sentences, mention is made of the 'day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,' where the word day is made to cover the whole six days of creative work mentioned in the fuller account in the first chapter.1113

Biblicism very decidedly rejects the interpretation which the symbolical theory gives. "Day" as used in the creation account is not vague and indefinite.

Proceeding on the basis of a historical narrative Biblicism sees several possibilities of meaning among which it is difficult to make decision. Kyle sees three answers "which are consistent with a frank acceptance of the Genesis narrative as a record of facts." The day of creation may be regarded first, as a day of twenty-four hours; second, as a great period of geologic time; and third, one of "six looks in upon the work of creation in six successive visions, each one observing creation at a successive stage in its progress, but not necessarily limited in any way by our ideas of time as is true of all visions."14

A factor which may lend itself to the problem is the anarthrous day as used in the narrative. It is not the first day, the second day, etc., but a first day, a second day, etc., Undoubtedly this turn in the language has significance. Some have thought that it points to days of ordinary length, not consecutive but separ ated by indefinite periods of time. These six days are singled out as the days in which God created.

We may not be able to sense what Moses intended us to understand on this problem; the discussion seeks to show, however, a painstaking effort to discover the intended meaning. As the science of hermeneutics grows, we may be able to determine more accurately its true sense.

True Biblicism seeks to present an intelligent adherence to the letter of the Bible. God's Word being inspired, authentic, and authoritative leads to unquestioning acceptance of its teaching. The interpretation of Biblical language, being a reproductive process, requires constant search for all the facts which affect the meaning of Scripture. Thus the interpretation of the Bible is a science which itself is growing and progressing. It is unscientific to freeze an interpretation of Scripture.

By way of applying these ideas of interpretation to Genesis 1, 2, the problem is heightened by the fact that these chapters constitute a revelation from God ' not witnessed by man. On this account the reproductive process is all the more difficult. Interpretation must move forward, ever keeping in mind that the Genesis account, historical narrative par excellence, is nevertheless cast into the form of "a great religious poem celebrating the glory of God as the Creator of all things." By this kind of Biblicism the scientist may come to see that the Bible understood as its authors intended it to be understood, rather than being an obstacle to faith is faith's greatest challenge.

1. Bibliotheca Sacra, Melvin Grove Kyle, Editor-in-cbief, (St. Louis, Bibliotheca Sacra Company) Vol. LXXXVI, No. 343, Art., The Bible in Its Setting, pp. 306, 307
2.. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Chicago, Howard Severance Company, 1930) James Orr, General Editor, Vol. III, p. 1489
3 * Ibid. Vol. 1, pp. 644, 644A Art. Chronolog ' y of the Old Testament by Edward Mack, revised by Melvin Grove Kyle)
4.The Heart of the Old Testament
(New York and London, Harper and Brothers, Publishers, 1922) p. 17
5. Notes on Genesis
(Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1943) pp. 22-25
6. Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit. p. 295
7. Notes on Genesis, op. cit. p. 18
8. Bibiotheca Sacra, op. cit., pp. 299, 300
9. Exposition of Ge#esis (Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1950) Vol. 1, p. 42
10. Scofield Reference Bible
(New York, Oxford University Press, 1917) p. 3
11. The Westminster Dictionary of the Bible,
Revised and Rewritten by Henry Snyder Gehman (Philadelphia, The Westminster Press, 1944), p. 120
12. Exposition of Genesis, op. cit. pp. 70, 71
13. Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit. p. 302, 303
14. Ibid. P. 307