Science in Christian Perspective
THE INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE IN THE LIGHT
OF EXTRA-BIBLICAL KNOWLEDGE*
A London Group of
From: JASA 24 (June 1972): 41-46.
The problem we set out to study is the place of human knowledge in understanding the Bible. Probably nobody quite believes that the Bible is totally self-sufficient in the sense that one needs only to set a child down to read it and, without his having ever read another book, he will become a reliable interpreter of the Bible. The extreme "Bible alone" position may be a man of straw, but perhaps there are more people who would argue that we should import as little as possible of other knowledge, and there are far more who have a rather fearful and negative attitude to other fields of knowledge as they are used to help interpret the Bible. These fears are not without foundation. Clever people have often twisted the meaning of the Bible in the name of scholarship of one sort or another. We wish to try to clarify the whole question at least a little.
Let it be emphasized that the Bible is self-sufficient in the sense that a child may well arrive at its basic message better than a clever adult. (Matt. 18:3). Many unlearned people have been brought to salvation through reading the Bible without any external helps. But it is also true that such people have also often held wrong views because they did not have enough help.
It must also be stated that those who knew the Bible well and knew very little else have most frequently turned out right in the end. This however is not by virtue of their ignorance but partly by virtue of their studious attempts to compare Scripture with Scripture and their humble teachability. They also frequently went to the Scripture asking the questions that the Bible answers. The result was basically sound theology and true devotion, though as teachers they may have been shallow.
We are entirely dependent on the Holy Spirit to give us a personal understanding of the Bible. Intellectual analysis may grasp its intellectual aspects up to a point. Unconverted people may understand the argument of Romans for instance. But they will not grasp its personal meaning or benefit from it unless they are enlightened by the Holy Spirit. He alone can show us its true significance and He may make the essentials clear to the unlearned as He pleases.
Yet there are plenty of encouragements in both Old and New Testaments to study the Bible and to meditate on it and to work hard to understand it. The Holy Spirit does not see fit to encourage laziness. Our problem is what we should bring to our study in the way of extra-biblical knowledge.
What are the Purposes of the Bible?
What does it aim to do? Perhaps the simplest answer is in terms of II Tim. 3:16,17. "All Scripture is inspired by Cod and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of Cod may he complete, equipped for every good work." This is a comprehensive aim and particular books or sections may have a more limited scope. It warns us that if we go to the Bible merely to satisfy our curiosity or to collect debating points we may find it a very unsatisfactory book. In a classroom situation this is part of the problem. Different people are looking for different things. John's Gospel was written, so the author tells us, "that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of Cod and that believing you may have life in His name." It is not primarily a thesis on philosophical theology and when studied for that purpose will be frustrating. Even as a textbook of morals it may be confusing if taken by itself.
This fact pinpoints the danger for the scientist, and we shall refer to it again below. If we read the Bible exclusively through scientific spectacles we shall probably miss its main points and we shall find a lot of unsatisfactory statements-unsatisfactory, that is, from the point of view of 20th century science. It was not written specially to deal with 20th century scientific questions. It may bear on some of them but it did not set out to do so particularly. If we ask a book some questions quite different from those it was written to answer, the result is rarely 100% clear, like the answers of bystanders to a detective's question. What they say may be absolutely reliable but they hadn't realized a crime was being committed. They noticed irrevelaot things and failed to notice some of the points he most wanted to know.
How are these Purposes Fulfilled?
Firstly some negatives. The Bible is not a systematic treatise on doctrine or on the Christian life, Eeelesiology or Apologetics. Also it is not all in one literary form. There are poetry, letters, history, proverbs, parables etc. etc. Neither is it all in one language or from one period of time or culture.
It has enormous variety, but we can say positively that it is "literature," that it was all deliberately written down for others to read and that therefore it is all given in some particular linguistic and cultural framework. It is a human product while it is also a divine product. Cod has apparently deliberately preserved many human elements (different writers have their own style etc.) as His way of getting the message to us. The Bible is therefore, in spite of its supernatural character, not a disembodied series of divine statements. It is embodied (as Christ was divine and yet human also), and if we want to understand it correctly we have to come to terms with its human (literary) embodiment as well as its divine character. The problem of interpretation is concerned with both, and must always pay respect to both, never to one or the other exclusively.
To get at the message, however, we have to start with the human embodiment and to take seriously the fact that this particular medium was chosen for this particular part of the message. That rules out all arbitrary interpretation such as many fanciful allegorical methods of some older interpreters. They attached meaning to words and phrases in an entirely arbitrary way. They could as easily and profitably have used any other book for their purpose. There is a limited use of allegory in the Bible but it is strictly controlled by rational canons. Arbitrary interpretation that has no relation to what was intended originally is ruled out if we take seriously the fact that the Bible is human literature. The writers were saying important things and wrote them down "for our learning". The New Testament sometimes points out a Messianic reference in an Old Testament passage which is not at all obvious to us. The passages concerned sometimes appear to have a primary reference to something else. But this tradition of an immediate and a remote historical fulfillment of a prophecy was an accepted tradition even in Old Testament times (see Melchizedek in Psalm 110:4). It seems to have been often a part of the writer's intention to speak both of a present and a far distant event at once. (e.g., the virginImmanuol prophecy in Isa. 7:14).
The Bible carries out its purpose by giving us human literature. It therefore requires a serious attempt to understand, amongst other things, what the original intention of the writing was, what its phrases and thought categories imply and do not imply and an acknowledgement that there is danger of grave distortion if we see it all as if it were a 20th century western book.
This however could lead to despair. Can the expert on the ancient Hebrew world alone understand it? Must we learn Hebrew and Creek befor we conduct family prayers? Obviously not. And the reason is that human literature speaks to common human experience. Otherwise how could we enjoy Shakespeare? Our understanding of the Bible depends in large measure on our human experience. If we didn't know what love and hate, sin and forgiveness, fatherhood and kingly rule were we would find it much harder. We have to watch carefully, however, just what the Bible does mean by these concepts (e.g., love or the wrath of Cod). It may be subtly different from our common use.
This explains why the child, although after a certain age he has certain advantages perhaps in getting the essential heart of the message, is not as reliable an interpreter as the adult. A married man is less likely to misconstrue Paul's authoritative teaching on marriage than an unmarried man who in all other respects is equally well qualified. The young and enthusiastic convert who has no experience of church life needs to listen to the experienced Christian leader and to be willing to discuss the Scriptures bearing on the New Testament order in the light of what churches in practice are. The older man may be unbiblical or in a rut of course, but the New Testament epistles were written to or about imperfect churches and not given in a vacuum.
It is in fact impossible to keep some element of experience out, and the New Testament doesn't enencourage us to try. Experience is never normative, but it is useful for avoiding silly mistakes in our understanding of the Bible. Science is, in this respect, one aspect of experience.
What are the Consequences for Us?
Therefore we should be positively enthusiastic for all extra-biblical knowledge that helps us to understand the language and the culture of which that language was a part. The fact is that the interpreter's task is basically a translator's task. He wants to express the ideas and words of the Bible as accurately as possible in the ideas and nguage of today. Merely literal interpretations will not do. They don't do justice to the original. A good example is our Lord's reply to the question about the greatest commandment in the Law. He replied "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mk 12:30). The significant point is that a literal quotation would have used only three words, but it seems that the word "heart" in the Old Testament had by our Lord's time shrunk in its meaning so that it needed "heart and mind" to do justice to it. The literalist could say that Jesus misquoted the Old Testament, but this is of a pattern with much (not all) New Testament quotation of the Old Testament. A free translation is sometimes preferred to a strictly literal one because Hebrew and Greek are so different, and biblical authors are anxious to give the meaning (particularly the spiritual meaning) which is hard enough to convey anyway.
Any language consists of a system which people draw on and use according to their various needs. Popular language, a more careful literary language, and a variety of technical jargons can all be recognizably part of the same system, but differ widely from one another in certain respects. In spite of the abundance of new evidence that is still being assessed, we remain ignorant of many contextual factors without which we cannot fully understand every detail of the Biblical language. Nevertheless, as in everyday life, we may miss part of the significance of a statement without being misled about its main import.
Modern English has been influenced by scientific thought as well as by centuries of poetic imagery and rhetoric. A literal translation from Hebrew or Greek may suggest a precision that does not apply to the original: was the widow looking for precisely two sticks, or a couple, in its popular sense (I Kings 17:12) ? Acceptable norms of exaggeration vary from language to language and context to context. The men "out of every nation under heaven" of Acts 2:5 are shown a little later to come from a relatively limited area: vv. 9-11 do not pretend to be exhaustive, but the reference to Cyrene seems to imply that not all nations then in North Africa (the modern Libya is a much smaller area) were represented. In John 11:11 the statement "Lazarus is asleep" misled the disciples, but in the context of I Cor. 15:6 a literal translation of the same verb is unlikely to mislead us even in the 20th century.
The truths that are conveyed to us in the Bible are, in all language, culturally and linguistically embodied truths. The Bible often speaks about real events. And
If we read the Bible exclusively through scientific spectacles, we shall probably miss its main points and we shall find a lot of unsatisfactory statements-unsatisfactory, that is, from the point of view of 20th century science.
events have a scientific and an historical aspect. It is hound to
touch on things
on which scientific and historical knowledge hears also. We cannot
a dichotomy between the truths taught by the Bible and scientific facts. Bible
truths are "embodied" truths. The resurrection and virgin
happened. "The fire of the Lord" fell on Mount Carmel. Moses led the
children of Israel out of Egypt to Canaan. Noah entered a physical
ark to escape
a physical flood, etc.
But equally the language of the Bible is not 20th century language. The truths are embodied in a different culture and way of thinking and writing. 20th century scientific language may be complementary to biblical language. If we ask 20th century questions we may find we have no answers. This is inevitable. We can't even he certain of the physical diseases that afflicted Henry VIII, nor just how William II died, The records are not in our sense scientific enough. But that doesn't make them erroneous. They were not written to satisfy our 20th century scientific Christianity. How much less were far older records, set in a far different culture, framed to answer some of the questions we want to ask. Their sense of chronology may have been differentnot inaccurate, but just different. When it says that "the whole world went to be taxed" the idea was perfectly clear to them, though not necessarily as precise as our modern censor would wish.
We can easily lose the wood for the trees. A purely linguistic approach often fails to clarify the ideas. Some forms of literature need several hundred words as the quantum of revelation (e.g., job). Proverbs need only a sentence. The meaning of words and phrases may need to be seen in the context of the broad sweep of the Biblical revelation, e.g., words like agape.
Some Practical Principles and Rules for Interpretation
Principle 1 The Bible was originally written for ordi nary human beings. They were expected to understand and obey its message. Therefore
Rule (a) We must interpret according to the proper logical understanding of the language (This has often been called the his torico-grammatical principle). This can be analysed in part into the following elements.
Rule (b) Consider what the passage was intended to convey to its original hearers or readers.
In all Scripture God had something important to say to the original hearers or readers, whatever the content or literary form of the passage. For example, the historical passages show God's controlling hand in the lives and history of His people and this view of history is used for the moral and theological instruction of the readers (e.g., Ps. 135). Prophecy likewise in volves an immediate challenge to writer and reader alike. The prophets were conscious of the principles of God's dealings with men, and these principles, conveyed in various prophetic utterances have the same message today as they had for the contemporary hearer or reader. In this sense there is no primary and secondary meaning to prophecy although there are often successive phases, in time, of fulfillment.
The poetry of the Old Testament was important for the original readers as ethical and religious teaching (e.g., Song of Solomon, David's lament over Jonathan) and in teaching the ways of God (e.g., Song of Moses, Ex. 15). Several Old Testament references to the love of God for His church (e.g., Hos. 2:l4ff, Jer. 3:14) indicate that this interpretation of the Song of Solomon was probably contemporary and not solely Christian.
Symbols and types (e.g., Passover, brazen serpent) which illustrate to us the work of Christ were, to the original participants and readers, acts or institutions of God which taught the same Gospel truths that we may now learn from the anti-type. The sacrifices were sacraments looking forward while New Testament sacraments look back in time.
The meaning of Scripture for the original readers is thus seen to be, in principle, identical with that intended for us.
Rule (c) The language of the Bible is popular and pre-scientific and employs the idioms and culture of the times without implying the 20th century scientific meaning of those terms.
Interpretation involves some knowledge of the idioms and culture of the times. Again it should be noted that such knowledge at present derives chiefly from Old Testament writings and it is only reasonable to lay the major emphasis on these while also taking into account other sources such as the Ras Shramra tablets or Babylonian Creation Myths. While living in close contact with other, often larger, nations, the Israelites remained a separate and distinct people, largely by virtue of their beliefs and worship of their unique Cod. It is most improbable that Israelite culture should be connected with pagan culture on this very factor which was the cause of their separation and peculiarity. Such considerations should prevent the forcing of evolutionary or humanistic interpretations on to names, words or passages in the Old Testament which may bear superficial resemblances to pagan customs or literature.
A few of the aspects of Bible culture which need to be considered are outlined below.
Hebrew modes of thought and expression. The consequences of an act are immediately seen in the act itself and preludes and sequels are not necessarily severed; e.g., "iniquity" means also the consequent punishment, Gen. 20:9; "sin" is also the punishment for sin, Zech. 14:19; the birth of Esau and Jacob, Gen. 25:22-26. Thus as a consequence of Divine revelation the Hebrew writers dealt more with final than efficient causes. Similarly purpose and result are telescoped, e.g., "men make idols that they may 'be cut off' Hos. 8:4 (cf. Jer. 7:18, Mic. 6:16, Isa. 44:9).
Poetry. In addition to the more generally recognized poetry of the Bible (Psalms, Song of Solomon etc.-for similarities with contemporary pagan poetry see New Bible Commentary pp. 39ff.), there are other parts of the Old Testament written in poetic form. These consist of dramatic accounts enshrining historical fact in a form intended to impress itself on the memory, emotions and will of the hearers (e.g., Ps. 68, 135, Exod. 15). In this way they differ from scientific history, since words may be used in a "poetic" fashion in order to convey the main idea more strongly and, in terms of the spiritual content, more accurately. The Book of job is an example of such a form which shows the true-to-life reactions of a man and his friends confronted with deprivation and suffering on a scale past imagining. While grounded in actual human experience, it is not necessarily a "scientific history", but is framed so as to convey most directly the natural reaction to and the Divine view of suffering. We may doubt whether it is all a "scientific" history because it is so clearly written in dramatic form. One of the primary tasks of interpretation is to determine what literary genre or form is being used in each passage. Words can he given only a meaning appropriate to the literary form being used, and this is often difficult to determine, as in Genesis 1:3.
Even if we regarded the story of Job or Genesis 1-3 as something very different from 20th century history, if we do not understand them in their own terms we shall miss a large part of their significance.
We have no reason to rule out a priori the possibility that Myth and Saga may
have been used by the biblical writers, but the presence of Myth has
to be proved
and it is better to use the generic term "poetic form" than to talk
of Myth on account of the derogatory popular sense of myth.
History. Hebrew writers were, none the less, capable of writing well documented, scientific history, (e.g., Chronicles). Events are accurately described, although the material is selected according to the purpose of the particular writer and the then current ideas of chronology. The fact that the writers (and those from whom they obtained their material) believed in acts of Cod in historical events inspired them to treat the historical data accurately and reverently. For this reason it is held that patriarchal history comes into this category and that Abraham is not just a "poetic" character representing a tribe. It is an arbitrary and often dishonest way of solving problems to treat all the earlier histories as myths.
The philosophical writings. The Hebrews were acquainted with the philosophy of neighbouring Semitic countries (e.g., I Ki. 4:30; Ob. 8; Jer. 49:7) and there are occasional similarities, e.g., between Ps. 72 and the writings of Ipuwer of Egypt who looked "beyond present evils to the advent of a righteous King who will bring rest to man as a shepherd to sheep" (E.J. Young-My Servants the Prophets (1952) pp 200ff). Such similarities do not necessarily point to copying or borrowing, but to an example of Rom. 2:19,20 expressed in the cultural terms of the time. Kenyon writes: "The Wisdom literature of both Egypt and Mesopotamia goes back to much earlier periods than the corresponding Hebrew books. The Hebrew writers were engaging in a kind of literature common to Eastern countries and were no doubt influenced by the production current in the countries to east and west of them; but their writings were not direct copies. They are original compositions in the same vein." (The Reading of the Bible, (1944) p. 52). The study of Eastern philosophy and literature in general could thus be of help in understanding the thought processes and literary forms of the time.
Rule (d) In general the Bible describes events through the eyes of the inspired writer rather than in absolute or scientific terms. There is no 20th century science in the Bible because there were no 20th century scientists to 'write it. The result is often the language of a "simple observer."
This type of descriptive language is just as common today. The sun "rises" and "sets", the "stars come out". We have a "cloud burst" etc. In the same way biblical phrases like "He bath settled the round world so fast that it cannot be moved" or "the waters were turned to blood" need not be given a scientifically accurate meaning. The locust "goes on all fours", (Lev. 11:20); should it really have been "all sixes"! We think not. The danger of excessive literalism is as great for the liberal, who finds a "three-decker universe" etc. in the Bible, as for the conservative.
Seeing that Scripture is so deeply rooted in Hebrew and other cultures one might expect to find the scientific inaccuracies of the times. The remarkable freedom from lurid misapprehensions (as often found in medieval medical hooks), from the crude legendary ideas embraced by neighbouring peoples (of the Babylonian Creation Myth) and from perverted practices associated with contemporary religions (except when recognized and condemned as such) shows the purifying influences exerted by the monotheism of God's revelation both on the nation and on its literature.
The chief value in bringing scientific study to bear on Biblical interpretation is in the prevention of fanciful interpretation.
Rule (e) Scripture needs to be understood in its own terms. While in modern terms we may be unable to determine the actual
of an event, this does not mean that we should try to alter the form
or the terms
in which the Bible gives us its message. Even if we regarded the story of job
or Genesis 1-3 as something very different from 20th century history, if we do
not understand them in their own terms we shall miss a large part of
The descriptions given in the Bible are the ones chosen by God. If something is
recorded in a historical framework (i.e., as apparently a series of
we are bound to interpret it in the same way as we would interpret history (the
details having the same kind of relevance as in normal history). We must speak
of man keeping the garden of Eden, naming the animals, of Eve arguing with the
serpent etc. even if we are not certain what kind of historiography these ways
of writing represent.
There are grave difficulties about taking Job 1 lit erally. Does Satan really continue to appear in heaven? But this dramatic way of putting it tells us something unique about the part of Satan in disease and suffering.
Even those of us who may be uncertain about the historicity and geography of the Fall as presented in Genesis 3 cannot escape that way of thinking and talking about the entering of sin into the human race. The only safe way to think concretely about this spiritual truth is in terms of the Fall of the ancestors of the whole race. Any "improvement" on this is almost certain to be an impoverishment or a distortion.
There is a parallel with the sacraments. We could disembody the truths that the Lord's Supper teaches and put it in a sermon. But the Lord gave us material elements. We have to accept the form in which the Lord embodied the realities concerned. He had reasons for doing it that way which we can only partially understand.
Principle II The Scriptural revelation is a unity.
Rule (a) Scripture cannot contradict itself so that any paradox in Scripture cannot represent a real contradiction. Our tendency to mix descriptions in more than one language system and to extrapolate from experience in one to conclusions in the other, makes us particularly prone to encounter paradox. The classical example of this in the spiritual realm is predestination and free-will. Rightly, free-will is a concept in actor language (it is my experience of my activity), whilst predestination is a description in observer language (it is how I sec God's activity on my behalf). The classical example from the pi ysical realm is the wave/particle theory of matter. Here we may describe certain optical and electronic phenomena in a language system based on particles, or conversely in terms of such concepts as waves and frequencies. This is entirely satisfactory until we try to mix these language systems and to ask such a question as, where is the particle situated in the wave? We conclude, therefore, that paradoxes are most often encountered when independent language systems (that is basically, systems of symbols) are conjoined in a single description. Many Biblical paradoxes seem to be in this form. If we remember this there is no need to resort to highly speculative theories to explain certain events in terms of pagan religions, practices, such as why Uzzah died on touching the ark of the Lord. The apparent difficulty of reconciling some aspects of the Old Testament revelation of God's character with some aspects of the New Testament revelation in Christ should not therefore lead us to escape the plain meaning of either in an attempt to reconcile the two.
Rule (b) Interpret Scripture in the light of the rest of Scripture. Our guide here is provided by our Lord and the apostles, who used Scripture as illustration for their teaching (e.g., Mt. 12:40, Jn. 3:14, II Cor. 11:3, Gal. 4:21-31). Moreover Christ is the key to the understanding of much Scripture as well as our guide in interpreting it. This is brought out clearly in the story of Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8:2640 and in many other passages in the New Testament, e.g., Lk. 10:23, 24, Jn. 1:14, Mt. 5:17,18. The "problem" of some Old Testament books is "solved" by our understanding of Christ. Thus Ecclesiastes may be seen as an exposition of the Fall, recording the mental struggles of one perplexed by difficulties of which we know, in Christ, the solution. Similarly Christ is the "answer" to the Book of job (e.g., job 10), and the Song of Solomon (cf. Eph. 5:22-23).
If we accept apostolic Christianity we are hound by the authority of the Old Testament. Christ and the New Testament authors hold, without compromise, the divine inspiration of the Old Testament. This is brought out by the apparent confusion between "Cod" and "Scripture" in a number of Old Testament passages quoted in the New, e.g., Cal. 3:8, Jn. 12:1-3, Rom. 9:17, Ex, 9:16, Hebrews 3:7, Ps. 95:7. From this follows the applicability of Old Testament passages for us (Rom. 15:4, cf. Mt. 4:1-11).
Here we can be guided by those systematizations of doctrine that can demonstrate their biblical position. We must interpret what is not in itself clear by those doctrines and passages that are quite clear. John Knox expressed this position when he wrote into the Seotts Confession, "If any man will note in this our Confession any article or sentence repugning to God's Holy Word.
We do promise unto him satisfaction from the mouth of God; that is from His Holy Scripture, or else reformation of that which he shall prove to he amiss." The system of theology is subject to the explicit teaching of Scripture but it is also an interpretative tool. Thus we cannot interpret any verse so as to deny Jesus' deity though we may need to understand His humanity in a fresh way which our limited minds do not easily fit in. If Scripture says He was sinless, no verse can really state that He sinned. This process is paralleled by the way in which we interpret fresh scientific findings in the light of agreed principles. In the background is our conviction that the world is a unity.
There is of course a danger in both fields of failing to face facts because of a rationalistic refusal to believe that new findings can fit in. In any case no one man is likely to hold all biblical truths in a unified system.
If Rules (a) and (b) appear at times (e.g., problem passages like Hebrews 6) to contradict each other, we can only point to the analogous problems in science when confronted with unexpected facts.
Principle III The God who speaks in Scripture is also the Creator.
Rule (a) interpret in the light of ordinary experience, but recognize that the Bible is frequently relating extra-ordinary events. The true significance of the story of Martha and Mary is helped by experience. No young child will folly understand it. The various classes of seed-bed in the parable of the Sower are clearer when we have some experience of evangelism. Church history illustrates some false interpretations of Romans 13:1-6.
Rule (b) We can use extra-Biblical knowledge to help us to decide between alternative possible interpretations, but we cannot use such knowledge to contradict the plain and inescapable meaning of Scripture (e.g., the cosmology disputes and the age of the earth). The problem is to decide when the meaning of either science or the Bible is absolutely plain and inescapable.
The Biblical miracles or "signs" may he examined scientifically but there is no a priori reason for their rejection on scientific grounds. It is not wrong to suggest scientific "explanations", provided the purpose of the miracle is retained and provided a dichotomy into "natural" and "supernatural" is avoided. For example, when Israel crossed the Red Sea, the natural cause (a strong east wind) and the purpose (the saving of His chosen race) are both stated, and are both taken as part of one Divine Miracle (Ex. 14:21).
In general, scientific knowledge shows that the Bible does not speak in a scientific sense about the physical structure of the universe (e.g., roundness of the earth from Isa. 40:22). It is probable that the "Hebrew idea of cosmology" referred to by some critics never occurred to the Biblical writers, so it would be unfair to criticise such an idea as erroneous. Comparison of well-authenticated scientific observations with many of the scriptural statements about the universe shows that, for example, descriptions of heaven as resting on pillars (I Sam. 2:8; Ps. 75:3), as being like a tent (Isa. 40:22) or as having windows (Gen. 7:11) are poetic or perhaps popular descriptions. It would, on the same grounds, be unwise to attach much scientific significance to Gen. 1, even where there is apparent agreement with modern science. The chief value in bringing scientific study to bear on Biblical interpretation is in the prevention of fanciful interpretation.
The question of certainty in the meaning of Scripture and in science must he approached with care, especially in the light of the history of the sciencereligion controversy. Since our understanding of both is, at best, incomplete, it would seem both wise and reasonable to preface statements in this context by such phrases as "I cannot escape the convictions that" or "It seems perfectly clear that".
Role (c) Recognize the possible corn plementarity of language system or of literary genres both in the Bible and between the Bible and science, but do not allow this to imply contradiction of matters of fact.
For example the Bible includes fairly different descriptions of the same events in historical books and psalms. Scientific language or 20th century history could not he expected to use exactly the same terms as either. Our problem is not necessarily to provide a harmony or synthesis (a harmony of the Gospels often loses all life) though this may he helpful; but to assess properly what the Biblical writers meant to say. Extrabiblical knowledge here serves chiefly to warn us that certain "obvious" interpretations may be extremely unlikely and so forces us to think again. In any case the scientific status of the events was rarely the main interest. It may be an important aspect (the crossing of the Jordan and Red Sea) but the main message is seen in other aspects. The Egyptians saw the plagues and disbelieved.
* One of the sister organizations of the ASA in England is the Research Scientists' Christian Fellowship. On September 25, 1971 a Conference of the RSCF was held in London together with the Christian Education Fellowship on the subject, "Science and the Bible," with Professor Malcolm A. Jeeves, author of The Scientific Enterprise and the Christian Faith, as Chairman. Four papers were presented at this Conference, each prepared by unnamed groups from London, Cambridge, St. Andrew's and Bristol, respectively. This paper was presented by a group from London. These papers are prepared before the Conference, do not represent the opinion of the RSCF or any other group, and are used primarily as the basis for discussion at the Conference. The text as printed here has undergone minor editing.