If the Bible isn’t scientifically accurate, how can it be theologically accurate?

Q. I am very comfortable with the notion that the Bible isn’t a science textbook and that it reflects an observational perspective in the incidental “scientific” comments of its authors. It seems most plausible to me that God would and did accommodate his message based on where humanity was at. My question is this: since it’s clear that the biblical authors had at least some false beliefs about the world in general, “scientifically” or otherwise, on what basis can we say that the theology they communicated was 100% accurate? The fact that a lot of theological truth is not stated overtly in the Bible and that it took quite a while to arrive at fully worked out doctrines of the Trinity and so on seems only to compound the difficulty.

This specific question of yours is actually taken up at the end of the book I co-authored with Stephen J. Godfrey, Paradigms on Pilgrimage: Creationism, Paleontology, and Biblical Interpretation (now available free online through the link provided).  Here’s what we have to say about it:

At its core the Bible is a story of relationships.  It is a story of relationships of faith and trust that people enter into with God and with one another (“covenants”).  And the world of relationships is one that we have access to freely, even if our knowledge of the natural world is limited to what we can discover through naïve observation.  The capacity for faith, through which we enter into relationship with God, is not one that human civilization has slowly cultivated and perfected over time.  Faith is something every human has always been capable of, just as every human, in every age, has had the potential to love.  We would not assert that the love described in the Bible was somehow defective compared with our own because it took place in a primitive culture, and we should not make the same assertion about the faith described in the Bible, either.

In other words:

While the human authors of the Bible would have had limitations when it came to their knowledge of the natural world, they would not necessarily have had similar limitations when it came to knowing God, relationally and experientially.

I hope this brief summary is helpful; as I said, it comes at the conclusion of the book (and specifically at the conclusion of the conclusion), so I encourage you to look at the whole book and see where these reflections fit in to the overall argument.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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