Must I be a scientist to truly understand the Bible?
Published: 25 March 2010 (GMT+10)
“So you’re saying I have to be a scientist to really understand the Bible?”
I’ve never been asked that question directly when I have discussed with other Christians the relevance of the Genesis creation message to the Gospel. But it’s usually lurking underneath the surface of believers who remain largely unconcerned about my emphasis on the plain reading of the Genesis creation account. Actually, some of them have expressed great concern—concern that I give Genesis too much emphasis.
I’ve experienced this attitude mostly with believers who have, in many respects, a sound understanding of biblical theology, and I count them as true brothers and sisters in Christ. “So”, a Christian may be asking, “What’s the problem? Clearly people don’t have to believe in ‘six literal days’ or a ‘young earth’ to be saved. It’s a secondary issue. So why make such a fuss about it?”
Why the fuss?
In my experience, the Christians who are concerned about an overemphasis on Genesis and creation spend most of their time with other believers within the church. Many have grown up around the church and the Word has been ingrained in them. The ministry of such a believer might consist mainly of encouraging other believers towards personal holiness and towards preaching the Gospel to themselves as a reminder of the grace of Christ in their own lives. Those are good and important ministries.
The ‘fuss’ for me comes from having almost daily contact with a large cross-section of unbelievers in my culture. Unbelievers who have discounted Christianity as irrelevant because they’ve been taught since toddlerhood that science has proved the Bible wrong. Unbelievers who as youngsters spent time in the church but saw the stark inconsistency between the Bible’s statements on creation and what they were learning in school and through films and popular magazines, etc. Unbelievers who may have once superficially accepted the stories in the Bible but later rejected those stories for the more intellectually satisfying descriptions of origins given by society, a society increasingly dominated by evolutionary and postmodern thought.
These are the people who need to hear the clear creation account from the Bible. They need to see the consistency of the message of Scripture, from the very first verse to the very last verse. They need to see there’s no mixture of truth and myth in the Bible. They need to understand the foundation of the plain creation message of Scripture so they can understand and respond to the Gospel. If there is no foundation there is no Gospel. How so?
Jesus, but no gospel
First, if the plain reading of Genesis is untrue, and the earth and universe really are billions of years old, we’re presented with the conundrum of death before sin. After all, what is the fossil record? A record of death, bloodshed, disease, and thorns—a record of things the Bible clearly claims are a result of the Fall of Adam, a result of sin.
But if death isn’t the result of sin, from what do we need saving? Why do we need a Savior? Why did that Savior, Jesus Christ, have to die? The gospel thread is woven through the very beginning of the fabric of Scripture. If there had actually been death before sin, we would be left with no Gospel. (See Why I rejected ‘theistic evolution’and Genesis: the missing piece of the puzzle.)
Second, the reticence of some of the best current theologians concerning ‘dogmatic’ teaching on the issue of creation always boils down to the supposed ‘facts’ of science and the billion-year age of the earth. Here’s where theologians without an understanding of science generally make the most substantial errors. Often, they've confused origins science with operational science (see Naturalism, Origins and Operational Science). So they uncritically accept the conclusions of origins science without realizing those conclusions are categorically different from observable facts. Additionally, they generally seem unaware of the history behind the belief in billions of years. This long-ages concept is merely a modern scientific opinion about origins and history, borne out of godless philosophies seeking a rationale for life without God. Recent history speaks profusely on the reasons for promoting billions of years in the scientific community—those billions of years were necessary for geology, paleontology, biology, and astronomy to give a semi-consistent explanation of life on earth without fiat creation, without a global flood and without God. (See The origin of old-earth geology and its ramifications for life in the 21st century.)
What about Sola Scriptura?
But shouldn’t we base our theology on the testimonies of Scripture? Sola Scriptura was a foundational pillar of the Protestant Reformation, and all the theologians I was referring to above would unequivocally support and defend Sola Scriptura.
Unfortunately, many of them apparently haven’t understood the implication of accepting the smooth-sounding, science-connected arguments for billions of years. The crucial implication is that in accepting billions of years, the authority has shifted from Scripture itself to fallen man’s opinions about the origins and history of life, based on anti-biblical philosophies.
But if we as believers accept any authority besides Scripture for our theological understanding, where do we draw the line? If Scripture can be discarded in regard to creation, then why not discard Scripture on any other issue whenever it’s convenient? Do virgins conceive? Do dead men rise from the grave? So to be consistent, why not just discard Scripture altogether? This is the slippery slide to unbelief we’ve seen in Western culture over the last 150 years. If proper hermeneutical principles can be abandoned for the sake of modern philosophy on the issue of origins, why hold such principles for the rest of the Bible?
A more consistent approach
Many of the unbelievers we find all around us in Western society have taken this more consistent route of simply abandoning Scripture completely. So in order to even start sharing the Gospel with them, we must first give an apologetic for reasoning from the Scriptures. We must explain why accepting the Bible as our authority is no less valid than any other set of philosophical presuppositions.
This is why a ministry like CMI expends so much time and effort developing scientific models as well as communicating theological truths. In order to counter all the scientific theories Western society has used to ingrain evolutionary thought into people from nearly infancy, it takes a measure of scientific awareness and competence to dispel the notion the Bible can’t be trusted. In fact, countering false scientific explanations of origins has often led to opening blind eyes, making people receptive to the Gospel message. There are many such testimonies (See: Was my salvation unimportant to you? and No excuse to disbelieve).
And even though we cannot accomplish the Holy Spirit’s job of making hard hearts soft (see John 16:7–9), we believers have our own role – speaking the truth of the Word so that others may hear (Romans 10:14–17).
My trumpet call—distinct or indistinct?
The apostle Paul uses an apt image in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 14:8): “If the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle?” Paul doesn’t merely take this image from the military battlefield, he’s reaching back to the Old Testament image from the book of Ezekiel, in which the Lord likened the prophet Ezekiel to a watchman, responsible for “blowing the trumpet” to the house of Israel, the Lord’s chosen people, warning them of their sin (Ez. 33:1 9). If Ezekiel didn’t sound a clear warning, the Lord would hold Ezekiel responsible.
That’s how I see the creation message in our culture: there are many solid Christians who love Jesus Christ and honor Him with their lives, but they oppose the plain teaching of the early chapters of Genesis, calling it a secondary point or a fruitless argument. By contrast, I consider it a responsibility like the one given to Ezekiel—to sound a distinct warning to the world. The Bible can be trusted; it hasn’t been proven wrong by science. It’s our sole authority because it’s God’s only revelation to mankind (in combination with the living Word, His Son, Jesus Christ) about who He is and how we can escape His wrath. Therefore, there couldn’t have been death before sin, because with death before sin, the Gospel collapses.
So to answer the original question, “No!” A Christian doesn’t have to be a scientist to properly understand the Bible. Nevertheless, for a fruitful presentation of the Gospel, today’s Christian does need to present the creation foundation and deal with the scientific stumbling blocks. In our science-saturated culture, neglecting such an approach may be likened to sounding an indistinct bugle call. I don’t want the blood of the world on my hands. Didn’t Paul say just a few chapters earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (see 1 Cor. 9:19–23)?
Even if you have little scientific understanding yourself, you can get on top of the issues using the ‘tools’ on this website. Why not become better equipped to reach out to the lost in an increasingly ‘evolutionized’ world, focusing on the consistency of the Gospel message in the Bible from beginning to end?
Thank you for writing such an excellent article on the issue of scientific relevance for creationism. This is the exact same issue I am struggling with amongst some believers as they do not realise the theological ramifications of not believing the Genesis account of creation.
Sometimes being a creation scientist isn’t enough. I am a scientist (B.Sc, PhD) however I have encountered resistance from a previous parish priest who repeatedly backed away from accepting a literal reading of Genesis by saying “I am not a scientist” even when I countered that I am a scientist and I can (without compromise) hold a young earth creationist belief. I wish I knew then some of the arguments presented in this article. Thank you CMI.
Having reference to “Must I be a scientist to truly understand the Bible?” by Gregory Demme, I must confess that my problem is not with unbelievers, whom if they have not yet become apostates, then I think they are still candidates for the Gospel. My problem is with professing “evangelical” Christians, whom having received the Gospel and believed Christ by faith alone and consider themselves “saved” have the audacity to think that they are not obligated to pursue the matters that they call “secondary” which involve learning and coming to believe everything that is revealed in the Bible which must necessarily include believing what Jesus Himself believes.
My contention is that anyone who thinks he is saved but does not embark on a course of study to come up to speed with the actual content of the Bible probably is only deceiving himself as being “saved”. I am also amazed that those Christians who think that the Creation and the Flood accounts are important, have not yet also specifically, and in the same breath, acknowledged that the chronogenealogy of Genesis 5 is also equally important, because Genesis 5 is the historical context that properly relates these two events.
Great work you are doing here. My prayer is that a lot of churches would utilize your research more. This will help a lot of believers and non-believers who are confused and are looking for answers. I grew up a Christian and I believed in a literal Genesis, that is until school and TV started pointing to “facts” that contradict that belief. I was about to accept the “Let’s leave it to God” mentality when it comes to defending that belief, but after much reading around the net for facts, I was blessed to read your articles. Now I am renewed, and can say that He is the “Alpha” and the Omega, without a single doubt. :-)
Great article. Thanks. Just a quick note; according to Romans creation itself is also a witness or revelation to all people declaring God as creator.