Science in Christian Perspective



A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy

From: JASA 15 (September 1963): 86-92.

A consideration of the total revelation of God-the verbal testimony of the Scriptures, the form and purpose of the Scriptures, and the natural revelation given in the physical world through creation and divine Providence-leads to the conclusion that the Scriptures are indeed verbally inspired, inerrant, and infallible as a revelation of God by Himself to men. Such a viewpoint permits an intellectual integrity, especially with respect to the interaction with science, and a vital application of the Scriptural revelation to the individual today, not always possible when the Scriptures are considered to be verbally inspired, inerrant, and infallible in an arbitrarily absolute sense as factual information. This by no means implies that there are "errors" of fact in the Bible, but rather that the criteria for judging  fact are often either uncertain or irrelevant to the revelational purpose of the Bible.

Newton's third Law of Motion states that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A similar law seems to hold in the realm of theological interpretation, although there the reaction often seems to be greater than the action that caused it. The age of rationalism reacted against the influence of ecclesiastical supernaturalism to such an extent that the concepts of Scriptural inerrancy and infallibility were thrown overboard, and the Bible was viewed as a wholly human book. Fundamental Christianity struck back at this wave of modernistic thinking by insisting on the absolute and unlimited inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures, reducing the human influence to a minimum. In this insistence there was also a tendency for the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction, to go beyond the very claims of Scripture itself.

It may be helpful to call to mind a few classical examples from the history of the church. The desire of the church fathers to emphasize the three-foldness of God revealed in the Scriptures as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit sometimes led them to formulate doctrinal statements which neglected the one-ness or unity of God. The desire of the church fathers to emphasize the deity of Christ sometimes led them to propose formulations which did not really give adequate expression to the humanity of Christ. The necessity for the defense of doctrinal truth sometimes led the church fathers to formulate creedal statements which depersonalized the gospel and permitted intellectual assent to replace personal commitment. Luther's bold insistence upon Sola Scriptmra in his defense of his theses led him to the point where he could not interpret the words, "This is My body" and "This is My blood," without insisting that the physical body and blood of Christ were conveyed to the recipient in the sacrament of the Lord's supper "in, with, and under" the bread and wine.

We today have a heritage in orthodox Christianity of a position with respect to the Scriptures which has been so intent on establishing and defending their divine origin and nature that it has tended to overlook their relationship to the men for whom it was intended. We are careful never to say so in our discussions of the Scriptures, yet it is often practically true that we tend to regard and treat the Scriptures as if they were dropped down from heaven in one piece, transcribed by the finger of God. Although we have been careful to recognize the error in the syllogism: Jesus is God; Mary is the mother of Jesus; therefore Mary is the Mother of God; we have not always been equally careful about the syllogism: God is perfect, complete, and all-knowing; the Bible is God's Word; therefore the Bible is perfect, complete, and all-knowing in the same way that God is.

The Question of Inerrancy

Within orthodox Christianity there have been two principal views concerning the nature of the Scriptures. The first of these contends that the Scriptures convey essentially information and knowledge; such a view contends for a principle of "arbitrary inerrancy," i.e., that the Scriptures must be inerrant with respect to any criterion applied to them to test their inerrancy. The second of these contends that the Scriptures convey essentially a revelation from God necessary for our spiritual life; such a view contends for a principle of "revelational inerrancy," i.e., that the Scriptures must be in-

*A paper presented at the first semiannual meeting of the San Francisco Bay Section of the ASA, Stanford University, May, 1963.

**Dr. Bube is Assoc. Prof. of Materials Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Scientific Affiliation, a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the author of A Textbook of Christian Doctrine (Moody, 1955) and Photoconductivity of Solids (Wiley, 1960).

errant in conveying God's revelational message to men. The general question of inerrancy has been confused because of the manner in which the matter has been conventionally approached. Oftentimes conservative theologians have spoken out in defense of Scriptural inerrancy as if there were only one kind of inerrancy imaginable-a kind of all or nothing inerrancy. They argue that the Scriptures are either completely inerrant in every way and with respect to every criterion for inerrancy which may be applied, or they are not inerrant at all. This is the viewpoint of "arbitrary inerrancy." The term "arbitrary" does not imply that the motives of those who hold to this point of view are arbitrary, but rather that inerrancy must be maintained and defended against arbitrary criteria. Overlooking the basic importance of the criterion for detern-,tining inerrancy has been detrimental to the discussion of this whole question. How can we intelligently discuss the inerrancy of the Scriptures without being able to answer the questionWhat would an error in the Scriptures look like? If we truly wish to understand the significance of Scriptural inerrancy, we must do it on the basis of the Scriptures themselves, not on the basis of human logic or reasoning, however well based on the Scriptures they may seem to be.

No understanding of the Scriptures can be achieved without an understanding, first of all, of the purpose for which they were written. We will attempt to sketch briefly the importance of revelational purpose to a useful and timeless interpretation of the Scriptures, to indicate how those who defend the principle of "arbitrary inerrancy" in practice always defer to the principle of "revelational inerrancy" to solve actual Biblical problems, and to answer some of the objections which have been raised with respect to this perspective on Scriptural inerrancy.

Purposes of Revelation

First, foremost, and including all else that follows, the Scriptures were written to reveal God as the Redeemer of His people, with all that such a statement implies concerning the nature of God, the nature of man, and the relationships between God and man and between man and his neighbor. This revelation centers in the person and work of Jesus Christ; it is the purpose of the revelation to make God known in Christ and to lead men to Him as their Lord and Savior. Typically, John says in John 20:31, "These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name." The authors of die Bible were witnesses of the power, grace, and love of God; they were witnesses likewise of the justice and mercy of God. They had seen His works and known His Son. Having been witnesses of these things, it was their prime purpose to witness about them to others, so that they too might come to know the glory of the God of Israel and of His Christ, the Lord Jesus.

Secondly, the Scriptures were written to ensure the certainty of the faith, by the personal confirmation of those men who had experienced the events of Christ's life and who had been recipients of the special revelation of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation of those events. Their readers were to pass through dark days of persecution, when doubt and uncertainty would threaten their faith. So the authors of the Bible wrote to give these troubled believers, in a way appropriate to troubled believers of all times, the "comfort of the Scriptures." Luke 1:3-4 expresses this purpose, ". . . it seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, that thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed."

Thirdly, the Scriptures were written to guide men into the paths of victorious living in the strength of the Holy Spirit, so that we might know the joy of serving God according to His will. Man was saved to serve God. So it is the burden of a large portion of the Scriptures to set forth the guides for this service. The key passage on the inspiration of the Scriptures emphasizes this practical purpose behind the giving of the Scriptural revelation: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (II Timothy 3:16). One of the basic purposes behind the giving of the Scriptures was thus to provide God's children with the teaching, direction, and instruction necessary for their fruitful Christian living; the revelation is oriented to this end.

In summary, we may say that the purposes of revelation are to make known to us our God, His nature, His dealings with men, and His Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ; to give to us the assurance of the validity of that revelation in spite of apparent evidences to the contrary in our daily lives; and to add such instructions and guidance as are beneficial in leading Christians to become like Him through the power bequeathed by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It is the purpose of revelation to extend a call to action: to believe, to trust, to witness, and to work for the glory of God.

When we say that the principal purpose of the Scriptural revelation is to make known Jesus Christ, we do not mean that the purpose is to reveal primarily facts, details, or "things" about Jesus, but to lead men to meet personally with the living Lord today. We are not to believe only truths about Jesus; we are to believe Jesus. We are not to love accounts about Jesus; we are to love Jesus. It is indeed true that our knowledge of this Jesus comes through the revelation given in the Scriptures and their validity is our assurance that we personally know Him; yet it is imperative to emphasize that the intrinsic function of the Scriptures is to lead men into a personal relationship with God in Christ. Although Jesus used the Scriptures vigorously and pointedly in defense of the things He taught, He directed men to the Scriptures to redirect themselves to Him.

He said, "Ye search the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me that ye might have life" (John 5:39).

The Bible is used properly when it is used to see the revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ, of His work of atoning redemption in fulfillment of the ancient covenant made by God with Abraham, of His reigning in power and glory after His resurrection from the dead, of His eternal oneness with God the Father and Holy Spirit, and of all the instructions and guidance which have been given in His name through the Holy Spirit to lead His people in His ways. To insist that the Bible presents more than this requires detailed substantiation from the teaching of the Bible itself and may jeopardize the value of that very revelation which is essential to Christianity.

The purpose behind revelation is the basic point in the question of inerrancy. If it is assumed, without due Scriptural support, that the purpose of revelation is to give mankind a source-book of information on all phases of physical, mental, spiritual, sociological, artistic, and scientific life-a source-book which must have meaning for the people to whom it was addressed and to all the generations coming after them in spite of the changes which are continuously occurring-then we have the greatest difficulty in maintaining the doctrine of an inerrant Scripture. If, on this stand, we adopt the position of "arbitrary inerrancy," we essentially jeopardize the whole truth of Christianity by attempting to balance the great wealth and weight of God's revelation in Christ upon our ability to show that the words of Scripture can be judged inerrant even when we examine them on the basis of criteria they were not written to satisfy. How much of liberalism and rejection of Biblical revelation has been precipitated as a blind reaction against-such a stand!

But if the purpose of revelation, as the Scriptures abundantly testify, is to give to mankind a knowledge about God and His purposes in Christ, then the Scriptures are indeed inerrant so long as the authors do not mistakenly convey false ideas about God and His Christ. Then the form of their writing, the details of their style, their lack of verbatim quotations, their disregard for modern historical accuracy in chronology, their use of symbolic pictures, all these things are below and beyond the question of inerrancy. Interesting they may be and significant the research undertaken to shed new light on them, but the results of such research cannot affect the inerrancy of the revelation. There are no errors in the Bible-if we recognize that an error should be defined in the light of Scriptural testimony as a failure by a Scriptural author to convey correctly the revelation God intended to convey through him.

This perspective clears away much confusion, at least in principle. Instead of demanding that the very essentials of our Christian faith stand or fall upon man's ability to prove or disprove human interpretations of the Scriptural record, the Christian is freed to face all of God's revelation fairly, both that given in nature through science, and that given in the Scriptures through inspiration. His faith rests unshakably on the authority of God's revelation, not on some point of interpretation of that revelation.

It should be made clear that the perspective presented in this paper does not detract in any way from the authority and trustworthiness of the revelation of God conveyed through the words of the Bible. If we examine the attitude of Jesus and of the apostles toward the Scriptures, we see everywhere the supreme confidence that the Scriptures bear the marks of divine authority and that the revelation which God conveys through and in the Scriptures cannot be gainsaid.

Interpretation of Revelation

The recognition that the Scriptures come to us as an inspired revelation of God is but the first step toward our understanding of them. What we in actual fact believe is not what the Scriptures say but what we interpret the words of the Scriptures to mean. We cannot submit to the Word of God until we know what it is, and we cannot know what it is until we know what God is saying to us, i.e., what the revelational content of the Scriptures is.

In order to make sense out of the Scriptures, a system of interpretation, hefrneneutics in theological terminology, has been developed to guide us. A brief investigation of the most basic principles of hermeneutics, as espoused by conservative and evangelical Christians, emphasizes how these principles are based on the principle of "revelational inerrancy," that it is the meaning and the content of the Scriptures which is inerrant. We shall consider just four of these principles to illustrate this assertion.

(1) Progressive revelation. Progressive revelation means that God has given His revelation of Himself to men in ever increasing clarity, fullness, specificity, and detail, adopting at each stage of man's development that form of the revelation and that content of the revelation which is the most meaningful and the most useful. The growth of the revelation concerning the identity of the Messiah is a typical example. The very essence of God's dealings with His people in the Old and New Testaments can be understood only in terms of progressive revelation. When we look at the Old Testament through the revelation given in the New Testament, we see that the earthly promises given by God to His earthly people Israel with their earthly promised land of Canaan were symbolic of the deeper spiritual promises given by God to His people in Christ with their spiritual blessings and their spiritual land of promise in heavenly places. We cannot go back today into the forms and symbols of the Old Testament revelation and hold them up as vital and significant in the face of the realities of the New Testament fulfillment of these forms and symbols in Jesus Christ. This Old Testament viewpoint is indeed inerrant as the revelation of God; it faithfully presents His essence to His people in the time in which it was given and to us today when properly understood. In order for it to present faithfully His essence to us today, however, we must take into account the limitations under which it was given, and we must see its larger interpretation in the fuller revelation of the New Testament.

(2) Contemporaneous relevancy. "All Scriptural statements must be understood and applied in the light of the conditions and circumstances which they were intended to describe or under which they were originally written.", In order for us to obtain a real understanding of the revelation given to us in the Scriptures, we must go beyond the face value of the words in our English text, back to the words of the best text in the original language, back to the significance of those words in the days in which the originals were written, back to the purpose for which the originals were inspired by God. We cannot a priori inflict our modem concepts of history and the relation of historical events upon the historical writers of the Scriptures. We must seek, rather, to see things always from their viewpoint, not forgetting the great philosophical differences between ancient practices of reporting theocentric history rather than scientific or pragmatic history.

(3) Theocentric orientation. The authors of the Bible were writing primarily about their relationships with God. They were not writing science or history treatises, nor did they use the language of modem science or historiography. The authors were not discussing scientific truth per se at all; they were intent upon the process of conveying the revelation of God. It is vain to claim to find in the Scriptures wordpictures of scientific phenomena unknown to the authors. The Bible does not use modem historical language, but employs popular forms of speech with picturesque symbolism. It is essential always to seek a meaning natural to the times and to the purpose, sometimes even a colloquial meaning.

(4) Limitations of scope. The Bible did not come as a complete revelation dropped down from heaven but through human authors inspired by God. There is a variety of style, vocabulary, grammatical construction, and manner of treatment. Although always sufficient to accomplish the purposes of revelation, Scriptural statements may not always be complete or comprehensive statements. What is not essential for the conveyance of the revelation is often left unwritten.

There are other principles which could be listed as well: the revelational content of the Scriptures is to be obtained from a study of the Scriptures as a whole, not from isolated "proof texts"; universal passages of Scripture must be used to interpret the local; didactic passages must be used to interpret the symbolic. We see from this brief consideration of the rules of interpretation which orthodox theologians have developed that the exegetical toolbox of the theologian is replete with interpretational guides that severely contradict the principle of "arbitrary inerrancy." If the words of the Old Testament represent an early stage in the giving of pro gressive revelation, to be interpreted, clarified, and finally transformed into spiritual verities hidden before the time of Christ, in what sense can we maintain their 11 arbitrary inerrancy?" Certainly their "revelation inerrancy" is preserved; their form and details are to give way before the grand display of God's revelation in Christ. If all Scriptural statements bear the mark of contemporaneous relevancy, what inerrancy is there except that of the revelational content of the Scriptural message? If the Bible does not use modern scientific language, if the Bible does not use modern historical language, if the Bible conveys its message in all the imagery of poetry, symbol, and allegory, what sense is there in speaking of "arbitrary inerrancy?" How is such an inerrancy to be judged? How is such an inerrancy to be defended? Is it not more in the spirit of the Scriptures to speak in terms of "revelational inerrancy," that inerrancy which fastens upon every device of inspired writing, every picture, every colloquialism, in order to convey infallibly to God's people His desired revelation ?

Meeting Biblical Problems

We must pass over the nature of prophecy fulfillment as revealed in the New Testament and over the prominent use of numerological significance in the Scriptures, each of which is vitally dependent upon the interpretation of Scripture in accord with "revelational inerrancy." We proceed instead to consider directly the manner in which defenders of "arbitrary inerrancy" meet the challenges of Biblical problems. We shall find that such scholars invariably find the solution to a great variety of Biblical problems by invoking the concepts of "revelational inerrancy" to resolve the dilemmas. This is hardly strange, for a thorough position based on "arbitrary inerrancy" can hardly countenance even apparent discrepancies or errors; when such apparent discrepancies or errors are objectively discovered, only the principles of "revelational inerrancy" are adequate for the task of showing how God's revelation remains inerrant in spite of them. (We shall not take space here for scholarly documentation of particular theologians who have treated problems in the ways indicated. Most readers will have abundant experiences supplying such documentation.)

(1) Differing quotations of the same event in different accounts. These are explained by pointing out that it may not have been the intention of the authors, i.e., their revelational purpose, to give verbatim accounts.

(2) Different chronological ordering of events in different accounts. These are explained by pointing out that it may not have been the author's purpose to give a chronological ordering but rather a topical or theocentric ordering to make the meaning more effective.

(3) New Testament quotations of Old Testament passages which differ from the originals. These are explained by pointing out that New Testament writers often paraphrased Old Testament passages in order to bring out the true sense of these passages, i.e., their revelational. content. Or it is pointed out that the words "it is written" must be applied to the message, not to the actual words.

A specific problem which may be cited is the genealogy in the first chapter of Matthew. Matthew gives the "wrong" number of generations between Abraham and Christ by leaving out five generations if compared with the Old Testament genealogies. This is explained by proposing that Matthew did not intend to give a factual number but rather a representative or symbolic number in the light of his basic purpose, to present in the person of Jesus Christ the fulfillment of promises made to Abraham and to David.

As another example, let us consider a classic from the interaction between Christianity and science: the conflict between Scriptural interpretation of Galileo's time and his defense of the concept of a heliocentric universe. Not only was the church certain of its dogmatic position because of the strong geocentric orientation of the early chapters of Genesis, but there were also such clear Scripture "proofs" as the sun standing still for Joshua and such verses as those in Psalm 93, "The Lord reigneth . . . the world also is established, that it cannot be moved." The church of Rome was not alone in condemning Galileo; many of our great Protestant fathers of the Reformation joined in the attack on him. So clear and undeniable, so obviously statements of scientific and historical fact, so in keeping with the whole tenor of the Scriptures, were the proof texts for a geocentric universe to the fathers of the church, that they set themselves resolutely against any such nonsense as that perpetrated against the holy Christian faith by upstarts like Galileo and Copernicus. If these men were right in their perverted interpretation of astronomy, then the inerrancy of the Bible was overthrown, God was a liar, and Christ was crucified in vain. Today we still have the same Scriptures, but we have a completely different interpretation. How is this justified by the defenders of "arbitrary inerrancy?" They appeal to the revelational purpose behind the writing of these passages which intends them to be spiritual and practical in their application and to say nothing at all about the scientific mechanisms of astronomy.

It is generally true that every genuine solution of a Biblical problem has been provided only by "revelational inerrancy" and that this approach is used by all theologians, whether the user is a defender of "arbitrary inerrancy" or not. What, then, impels devoted and consecrated Christian scholars to insist upon "arbitrary inerrancy?" Any answer to this question must be an oversimplification, but we would offer two suggestions.

First, there is the overwhelming intellectual attraction of a logical theological position which has been constructed from the Scriptures over the centuries since the Reformation: the development of a system of doctrine in which all loose ends can be made to fit. It is comforting to have all the answers to everything within the two covers of a book, only to be read and accepted. If God is omnipotent and infallible, surely He would convey His revelation to man in a way which would provide man with absolutely accurate answers, to all questions man may ask.

Second, there is another factor which is most perti nent to the relationship between science and Christianity. This is the fear that we subtract from God and from His glory when we ascribe to natural mechanisms His operations in this world. It has been natural for man to ascribe to the direct and supernatural intervention of God all those phenomena in his experience for which he has no natural or rational explanation. This tendency has led to the exclusion of God as the cause of the known phenomena in man's experience. Thus the belief has developed that God is manifest and "proved" only by the miraculous, the apparently supernatural, that which defies natural explanation. As time passes and knowledge increases, the number of phenomena which defy natural explanation decreases. Thus there is a tendency to push the relevance of God and His working into ever decreasing orbs of influence. As we find out more and more about His creation, we see less and less evidence of the Creator!

Once men believed that there was proof for the existence of God in the power needed to hold planets in their orbits. But when it was pointed out that gravity accomplished this, many felt that God had been made unnecessary. One still finds Christians groping for a proof of God in the forces which hold the nucleus together, or in the forces which determine the galactic configurations, or in the inability of man to synthesize life from inanimate constituents, or in the "mystery" of fiat creation. They see all efforts to provide natural descriptions of the mechanisms underlying the origin and development of our earth and its creatures as deliberate attempts to discredit God.

The Scriptural view is quite different. The work of God's immanence in Providence is everywhere emphasized. God does not appear in history only, or even primarily, in those events which we term miracles, but God manifests Himself and His power in every detail of the natural course of history. If gravity keeps the planets in their orbits, this does not remove God from the picture; it adds the how to the Who. If God used phe processes of evolution to accomplish His purpose in creation, we have not minimized the fact that it is God who creates. If God used natural physico-chermical processes to bring into being the first living matter from inanimate matter, we have not minimized Go by acknowledging this possibility. The revelational significance and power of the Scriptures do not depend upon our ignorance of the mechanisms of this physical world. If we allow this to happen, we soon find ourselves left with only a God-of-the-gaps, a God whose power is evident only in a few isolated events, which the passage of time and the advances of man's knowledge threaten to obliterate completely.

Few things have done more to discredit the testimony of the church in the world in the course of the past several centuries than this prevalent refusal to accept the findings of scientific research as valid indications of the natural revelation of God. The church has insisted repeatedly until long after any conscientious and informed Christian could agree, that specific interpretations of the Scriptures be held as scientific fact. Finally, in each instance, the church has reached the point where it also must back down and admit that its interpretation was incorrect. But the world at large does not discriminate between interpretation and revelation; all that the world sees is that the advances of science once again have forced the church to drop a superstitious dogma which it had been trying to foist on its members in spite of the results of legitimate scientific research to the contrary.

It is only by consistently following the principles of "revelational inerrancy" and by consistently guiding interpretation by the criterion of revelational purpose that we can maintain a living Word. We thereby free Christianity from the burden of defending "arbitrary inerrancy," and we adopt a point of view which enables Christianity to face contemporary challenges with an inerrant revelation of God unfettered by the fallible and changing interpretations of men.

Discussion of Possible Objections

We have presented our case, in abbreviated form, for the conviction that the concept of inerrancy must be applied to the revelational content of the Scriptures, not to all Scripture interpreted arbitrarily in a literal sense as conveying historical or scientific information where such information is not essential to the revelational purpose of the Scriptures. This position may cause a certain anxiety in some who read this. We will now attempt to dispel this anxiety by listing and discussing five points of view which this perspective does not imply.

1. "There are errors in the Bible," This is a statement which can be made only if the wrong criteria are used in judging inerrancy. We believe that the Bible is absolutely reliable and to be trusted in accomplishing that for which it has been given; there is no false revelation in the Bible. As is stated so well in the 1961 report of the Christian Reformed Church, "To speak of inaccuracy, error, or inconsistency is to speak unscripturally of Scripture and can be done only when Scripture is subjected to criteria which are not appropriate to Scripture.2

2. "Science is able to lead men to a comprehensive knowledge of God." Our references to the role of science in unraveling God's natural revelation do not have this concept in mind at all. Science can be defined properly only as the logical investigation of God's revelation in nature. Man cannot derive God from the facts of experience by the methods of science; rather he can derive a real understanding of the facts of experience only on the presupposition of God. We are not proposing that science can serve as an independent method of obtaining it serves as a valid influence in the area of revelational hermeneutics. It is almost a matter of definition to say that the interpretation of the Christian man of science must be God's interpretation. However, how is God's interpretation of natural phenomena to be obtained? This is a crucial issue. We would think God's thoughts after Him. In the natural world God's thoughts are ascertainable through the proper use of God-given reason, experiment, and logic. This revelation in nature cannot contradict the revelation in the Scriptures. Truth is not involved; interpretation of revelational form is.

Often science can be considered as the means by which the immediate or secondary cause of events can be derived, whereas the Scriptures are the means by which the ultimate or primary cause of events can be obtained. In other words, the proper role of science is in the realm of description rather than of explanation. If we ask the question, "Why does an apple fall to the ground?", the answer of science, "Because of gravity," is a description of the immediate mechanism. The ultimate cause is nothing less than that "God's purpose in creation and providence may be fulfilled." Science cannot lead us to ultimate causes; only the Scriptural revelation does this. But similarly, the Scriptural revelation seldom leads us to the immediate mechanisms; this is the normal function of science. Christians must not conclude that science's preoccupation with immediate mechanisms is in itself a denial of the existence of ultimate causes. Scientists must not conclude that the preoccupation of Christian theology with ultimate causes is in itself a denial of the importance of immediate mechanisms. In particular, Christians must not assume that the scientific discovery of immediate mechanisms removes the need for the underlying ultimate causes. We must emphasize constantly that the understanding of the processes through which God has worked and does work in nature does not lead to a denial that God indeed is working,

Science can also be considered as a useful guide in hermeneutics in those areas in which scientific knowledge is applicable. For example, how are we to interpret the phrase in Psalm 93, ". . . the world also is established, that it cannot be moved?" Is this a statement of astronomical fact, or is it a statement of spiritual significance relating the assurance of God's almighty care over the world? Or is it both? The answer will not come from exegesis of the text. By combining exegetical hermeneutics with the knowledge of reliable scientific inquiry, however, we can rule out astronomical significance from this phrase. Before the scientific knowledge was available, it was traditional to interpret this phrase as revealing astronomical information. Only the development of scientific knowledge brought about the change in this interpretation. In this we should find a lesson against dogmatism which reads scientific fact into Scriptural passages dealing with revelational truth when known scientific information is insufficient or silent on the issue. It should be clearly noted that we are not judging the truth of the Scriptures by science; we are guiding our interrevelation of Scriptural truth by science.

3. "Emphasizing revelational content over a literal form of interpretation puts us in the position of substituting subjective opinions for the objective revelation of the Scriptures." To this we reply that the revelational content of the Scriptures is, after all, not some new and mysterious concept to which Christianity is unaccustomed. Christians have always extracted the revelational content of the Scriptures as a regular part of private devotions or Biblical exposition. Having finished the historical exposition of an Old Testament narrative, for example, it is customary to inquire, "What is the purpose for which this story is given to us in the Scriptures? How do we apply its message to our situation today?" To teach the Scriptures without asking these questions is unthinkable. The answers to the questions are nothing more nor less than that which is encompassed in the concept of revelational content. Does anyone teach the story of Moses and the brazen serpent in the wilderness without devoting a major portion of his exposition to what this story reveals about the deadliness of sin, the grace of God, the offer of salvation as a free gift, and the similarity between this Old Testament narrative and God's plan of salvation fulfilled in Christ in the New Testament?

Even when we stand in awe before the empty tomb, it is the revelational significance of that historical event which we strive to set forth: the seal of God's acceptance of Christ as the Messiah and Son of God, the stamp of God's approval on everything that Jesus taught and did, the sign that God had accepted the sacrifice of Jesus and that the world had been reconciled to Him through Christ, the guarantee that those who believe on Jesus are justified and righteous before God, the pledge that all those who believe on Jesus shall also be raised from the dead, the symbol of our own dying to sin and rising again to newness of life in Christ the warning of the day of judgment when the risen Christ shall stand as judge.

Setting forth the revelational content of the Scriptures is therefore not some new approach which we have invented. It is the time-honored, Scripturally approved, constantly-used procedure of deriving the meaning of the Scriptural record to bring out its significance to its hearers. The exposition of the revelational content of the Scriptures is guided by the same principles of interpretation which we have discussed before: by context, by purpose, by style, by form, and by the commentary of Scripture on Scripture. No door to subjectivity and man-made doctrine is thereby opened.

4. "Not to stress the literal historicity of the events of the Bible in every case is to destroy its whole testimony." Here again we must be most careful to follow the Scriptural testimony, being zealous to stress the literal historicity of events which are directly connected with God's revelation, but being equally certain to realize that the connection between literal historicity and revelational content is not the same for all the events described in the Scriptures. The literal historicity of certain events is the very substance of their revelational content. It is clearly impossible to teach the revelational content of the Resurrection without showing how that content requires for its very existence the literal historicity of the Resurrection event. The same is true for the Incarnation and the Atonement. In every case the Scriptural insistence itself must be the guide. Where pertinent and applicable, reliable scientific information may be helpful in determining the extent of literal historicity involved.

5. "Whatever merit this perspective may have, it is certain to be a danger to Christianity because of its potential abuse." To this we reply that there is an apparent principle which states that that which is spiritually true is almost always particularly susceptible to potential abuse. Christian liberty can easily be abused; it is much "safer" to have a strict set of do-and-don't laws to regulate Christian living. Salvation by grace can easily be abused; it is much "safer" to have salvation by works so that emphasis on Christian living can be made easier. Yet such principles involving the responsibility of the individual are not regularly abused by Christians because of their freedom; God has done a work in the heart of Christians, and attempts to regulate the freedom He has given are in effect a denial of the sufficiency of His work. Christians who have been born again through faith in Jesus Christ do not regularly abuse their Christian liberty, nor do they sin freely so that grace may abound. The "revelational inerrancy" perspective on Scriptural truth, assuming that it has the usefulness and validity we have tried to point out, will not be abused in the hands of born-again followers of the Lord Jesus Christ but will be used to meet the challenges of our day openly, faithful to our God and to the totality of the revelation He has given us.


1. P. Woolley, "The Relevancy of Scripture," in The Infallible Word, Philadelphia: Presbyt. Guardian Pub. Corp., 1946, p. 205.

2. Decision of the Synod of 1961 of the Christian Reformed Church, "Infallibility and Inspiration in the Light of the Scripture and Our Creeds," Grand Rapids: Christ. Ref. Pub. House, p. 41.

Dr. Bube is editor of The Encounter Between Christianity and Science, an ASA book in preparation to succeed Modern Science and Christian Faith (Van Kampen Press, 2d ed., 1950). Since the essence of this paper forms the central philosophy of his introductory chapters, he is anxious to receive reactions to his thoughts. Write to him at 789 Holly Oak Drive, Palo Alto, Calif.