Science in Christian Perspective

Letter to the Editor


Infallible Inspiration Taught by Scripture Itself. Regarding the article by Paul H. Seely, "The Three
Storied Universe," (Journal ASA 21, 18 (1969))

Robert C. Newman 
Assoc. Professor of Physics 
Shelton College 
Cape May, New Jersey

From: JASA 21 (September 1969): 93-94.

 I would like to make some comments concerning the interpretation of Scripture in general and specifically certain scientific statements therein.

As regards the former, those of us who hold to infallible inspiration do so because we feel that this is the teaching of Scripture itself, not an a priori principle brought in from outside. The passages from which this doctrine is drawn do not make a distinction between "religious" facts and other (say, scientific or historical) facts. Thus we are not justified in ascribing inspiration only to parts of the Bible on the basis of its own teaching.

The incident of Jacob and the spotted sheep in Gen. 30: 37-43 and 31:10-13 shows that a good man in Biblical times had a mistaken view regarding a "biological" fact, but that God's view was correct and He was able to (and did) transmit it to the man. There is abundant evidence that the Bible makes statements, in areas now called "scientific," which were far beyond the human knowledge of the time.1 We should therefore he careful not to attribute error even to speakers merely quoted in Scripture if no disclaimer is made in the text (e.g., "The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God,'" Psalm 14:1).

In respect to specific details of Mr. Seely's article, let me confine myself to his discussion of the "firmament." Biblical scholars today determine the meaning of Old Testament words from their usage in context, not from their etymology. If "firmament" was a technical term already in use among the Hebrews when Genesis was written, it would be dangerous to use its etymology in defining the Scriptural teaching in this area. The same can be said today regarding the use of the term "sunrise" even in astronomical journals, and the Bible is not a technical journal!

The major point on which Mr. Seely builds his case for a solid "firmament" is job 37:18, translated in the Authorized Version, "Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong and as a molten looking glass?" and in the Revised Standard Version, "Can you, like him, spread out the skies, hard as a molten mirror?"
The word rendered "sky, skies" is the plural form of sahaq, which is also translated "cloud(s), small dust, heaven" elsewhere in the Authorized Version. The lexicon of Brown, Driver and Briggs indicates the word is derived from the verb (sahaq), meaning "to pulverize," and the noun is listed with the meanings "dust, cloud." "Sky" is listed only as a usage under "cloud."2 Having examined all usages of this word in their Old Testament contexts, I suggest that all can be rendered either "dust" or "cloud(s)." Elihu's previous use of the word in job 36:28 demands the translation "clouds," and the context of job 37:18 concerns present meteorological phenomena, not the activity of Cod in creation.

The translation of r e 'i y by "mirror" is even stranger though almost universal among English versions of the Bible. Brown, Driver and Briggs cite no other occurrence of the word but here.3 However, vowels are a late addition to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament, being incorporated in the tenth centry AD. by Masoretes. By changing one vowel to get ro'iy, obtain a word meaning "looking, sight, appearance."4 This word appears several times in Scripture, of which job 33:21 (Elihu speaking) and Nahum 3:6 are noteworthy. That this suggestion is not merely a modern attempt at harmonization with science is clear from the fact that the ancient Creek Septuagint translation uses horasis here,5 meaning "sight, appearance," not "mirror."

Hence we find that this verse can be translated, "Can you, with him, spread out clouds, which are strong, as an appearance of being cast?" or even, "Can you, with him, spread out mighty clouds, as an appearance of being poured out?" In the light of such possible (even better) translations, job 37:18 is a poor proof-text for a solid "firmament."

Thus Mr. Seely's contention that the Scripture contains scientific error is in opposition to the teaching of Scripture itself; his use of etymology is not proper as a method of establishing the Scriptural use of "firmament"; and job 37:18 does not support his interpretation when examined in the original Hebrew and in context.


1 e.g See S. I. MeMillen, None of These Diseases, (Westwood, N.J.: Fleming 1-1. Revell Co., 1963).
2Francis Brown, S. B. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1966), 1007.
3lbid., 909. 
5Alfred Rahlfs, ed., Sep fuoginto, (2 vols., 7th ed.; Stuttgart: Wurttembergische Bibelanstalt, 1962), II, 334.
6W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 581.

Robert C. Newman Assoc. Professor of Physics Shelton College Cope May, New Jersey