The Bible and the Nineteenth Century Part 1




Part 1

The pivotal question

Was the Bible written and compiled by men providentially selected, directed, and illuminated by the Holy Spirit or did it come into its present shape somewhat by chance, having been written as other books are written, and compiled by irresponsible persons whose words and work may be accepted or rejected at the pleasure of every reader is essentially the twofold question which at the present time is much discussed and variously answered.

Re-examination of Bible authority

It looks somewhat as if a re-examination of the entire subject of Bible authority will be demanded, and quite generally and vigorously entered upon, in the near future. If this is to be the case, we need not object: besides, our objection will be useless. But in this re-examination and re-statement, one thing should be strenuously insisted upon: that the work done shall not be superficial, but thorough. The generally received views as to the origin and the history of the Bible, its genuineness and authenticity, its credibility and inspiration, must not be decided against except for cause. The new investigations must be patient and untiring. New views should not be adopted because a few men say they ought to be; but, rather, the views adopted must be at least more reasonable than those rejected. It is not a question of opinion, but of evidence, with the burden of proof resting on the attacking party. We may add, that our personal inclinations in this impending controversy are conservative; and this pamphlet is designed as a contribution not merely in the interest of conservative orthodoxy, but equally in the interest of what we believe to be God’s truth and man’s welfare.

General proposition

It is scarcely possible, within the limits of the brief discussion intended, to canvass all the important questions involved in the general subject. We therefore ask attention to a single proposition: THE BIBLE, THOUGH NOT PROFESSED TO TEACH SCIENCE, IS, WHEN CORRECTLY INTERPRETED, IN HARMONY WITH ALL ESTABLISHED FACTS OF SCIENCE, AND IN THIS RESPECT DIFFERS WIDELY FROM OTHER ANCIENT LITERATURE.

The Bible is responsible for its scientific errors

One or two preliminary thoughts claim a passing notice. The reader is aware that the Bible, even by some of its professed friends, is said to be not a treatise on science, and not, therefore, to be held responsible for scientific errors. But can such a position be safely taken? If the Bible is a book of God, as is claimed, may it not be questioned – rigidly questioned – respecting every thing upon it ventures to speak? Is the Bible a book that asks at our hands a cowardly defence (sic), or any thing like special pleading? When, therefore, the man of partial belief in revelation says, “The Bible was not intended to teach science, therefore we can excuse its scientific inaccuracies,” we reply, “No; for if the Bible is filled with false teachings as to facts of matter, or the facts of mind, then it no longer bears the impress of a book inspired by God, but bears the marks of human origin, and belongs among books which shortly may become obsolete and forgotten.”

If allowed at one point, there would be scarcely any limit in this process of excuse-making. For some one else, with just as great propriety, might say, “The Bible is not intended to teach any of the departments of human philosophy, therefore we may excuse its errors in philosophy.” Another might say “The Bible is not intended to teach history, therefore its historic mis- statements, of whatever character, may be allowed.” Mr. Murray, in one of his Music-hall Sermons employs this language: “The Bible is a book that should be read like other books, in a broad and comprehensive way . . . The length of the creation period, the tonnage of the ark, Samson’s strength, the guerrilla skirmishes of the Judges, the ram’s-horn signals in front of the walls of Jericho — these are questions about which no sensible Christian cares a fig.

Now, though the confession exposes us to the charge of narrowness and dogmatism, still we do not see how any devout and thoughtful Christian can help caring much, very much, whether or not these records of the Bible which purport to narrate facts are true or false. Their truthfulness or their falsity makes, and ought to make, all the difference imaginable concerning our faith in the book. “A man,” Dr. Crosby puts the case, “might be imagined as making a mistake in his views of the universe, and yet be true to his morals and philosophy; but God, never. If God err anywhere, he is no God.” That is, the eyes of the Infinite Being must have traversed the universe through and through, and have seen beyond the range of the mightiest telescope, while the microscope can reveal nothing the has not first felt the finishing touch of his creative fingers. If, therefore, there are scientific errors in the teachings of the Bible, it follows that the book is not in a special sense God’s book, and, therefore, its claims upon us are not supreme. Is not this position liberal enough? But we repeat, the interests at stake are of such magnitude that our final judgments must not be hasty; and before they are rendered, these matters called the facts of science must be well established, and there must be correctness in scriptural interpretation.

Another thought to be borne in mind is this: While, according to the views we seek to maintain, the Bible nowhere teaches what is scientifically false, nevertheless it must be admitted that the Bible does not employ in its teachings the exact language of science.

The Bible and the exact language of science

Errors in science, and the non-use of scientific diction, are things entirely different. If, therefore, the non-use of professional words and style is a fault, then of course the Bible is open to criticism. But are its diction and style upon these grounds objectionable? In these respects, does not the Bible speak as all scientific as well as all sensible people often speak? Visiting the large observatories in this or any other country, would you expect to hear from the lips of astronomers any thing but “sunrise” or “sunset” in references to these phenomena? When the great Herschel left orders for his servant to call him to observe the passage of some star, he did not say, “Sir, when, in the revolution of the earth upon its axis, the illuminated ray shall be brought upon the earth’s surface at the longitude and latitude of the observatory at Greenwich, then call me;” nor did he employ any other scientific terminology: but he was accustomed, like a sensible man, to say, “John, call me at sunrise,” or “at sunset,” or “at midnight.”

Scientific men the world over have been speaking a year or more of the unaccountable redness preceding the sunrise, and of the blazing sunsets which have been reported from every part of the world. (Krakatoa? – DBS). But, strictly speaking, such language is not scientific or correct: the sun does not rise and set. Why, therefore, should not these men be condemned for their inaccuracies of expression? If the skeptic insists upon scientific expressions, then there must be introduced a scientific nomenclature into our ordinary conversation. The good housewife must speak of the “chloride of sodium” instead of salt; of H2O instead of water; and of C12H20O10 instead of starch. “Will you have a second piece of roast beef?” was the question asked of a young lady who had just returned from a boarding-school. “No, thanks,” she replied: “gastronomical satiety admonishes me that I have arrived at a state of deglutition consistent with dietetic integrity.” Common speech would say, “Thank you, I have eaten enough.” Is not that as well? “My perpendicularity suddenly became a horizontality,” has recently been substituted for “I suddenly fell.” The reply, therefore, to those who claim, that, because the Bible speaks of sunrise and sunset, it thereby teaches, for instance, that the earth is stationary, is this: It no more teaches it that did Sir John Herschel when he spoke of sunrise and sunset. Indeed, a man must be hard pressed for something to say against the Bible, when he allows himself to use such unreasonable objections.

A further reply to those who object to the use of unscientific terminology in the Bible is this: The Bible was written for the “care-crossed, toil-stained,” suffering millions of the human race – those who have no time to master the terms of the schools – and for such people Bible language is perfectly adapted: it is sweet, precious, inspiring.

But notice this singular additional fact: Some of the most distinguished scientists and philosophers of England, France, and Germany, at present more than ever before, are seeking to put their thoughts into expressions which may be easily comprehended by the American farmer, and mechanic. They are beginning to see that it is not best to lock up scientific truths in professional nomenclature. But, in adopting this new method, they are employing, you notice, the language of literature, of poetry, of emotion, and of common life; which are precisely the Bible style and method.

The Bible and scientific classification.

Again: while insisting that the Bible nowhere teaches what is scientifically false, still it is not claimed that the Bible adopts any thing like scientific classification of the facts revealed. There is apparently no attempt at such classification. Indeed, upon a cursory examination, there seems to be in Bible statements much confusion and contractions.

But it should be borne in mind, that nature too, at first sight, seems very unorderly and self-contradictory. Take for illustration, the facts of geology. The data which nature gives are, upon a superficial view, often confusing. Men have seen rocks; they have used fragments of them for walls, fortifications, house-building, have twirled them from slings, and made from them arrowheads; they have, too, known some of the uses of loam, clay-banks, and gravel-beds. But they did not discover a classification of them. It has been only after years of patient investigation by such men as Professors Forbes, Lyell, and Hitchcock, and by noted French and German scientists, aided by many curious scientific appliances, that we are introduced to the wonderful order and arrangements of geologic history. We can trace with almost unquestioned accuracy the different stages of the earth’s development. Indeed, the geology of the stars is also, at present, a matter of study and of contemplation.

(Note: this is an example of where theologians have in the past capitulated to the uniformitarian geologists without questioning the implications – DBS).

The same thought, too, may be applied to the facts of Providence. The June morning brimful of gladness, and the dark December night when ships go down at sea; nature, as she stands with one hand full of that which gives vigor and health, while with the other full of that which paralyzes and agonizes beyond description – are facts that cannot be harmonized at short notice. The eye must be skilled, and the heart reverent, in order to discover, in such a system of things, harmony and unity.

Thus, also, when our knowledge of the Bible is limited, and the methods of our interpretation are imperfect, contradictions may be found. One chapter and verse may be in conflict with another, and much may be found that is in conflict with the various departments of natural science. But when biblical scholars explore and ponder, when science and the Holy Spirit giver their aid, then an internal harmony is discovered; and the remarkable agreement between the different parts of

A hint that the Author of nature is the Author of the Bible.

Scriptures, as between the truths therein revealed and those of nature, often dawns upon the mind in delightful and silent majesty. And may we not well ask how these things could be otherwise, if, as orthodoxy claims, the Bible is one book, and if the Author of nature is also the Author of the Bible?

It is a well-known psychological fact, that every author puts his personal characteristics into each of his publications. Titian paints like no other artist. Beethoven composes like no other musician. Charles Lamb writes like no other author. Whatever is done by any person carries with it this “individual aroma.” And it is likewise, a divine individual aroma, found in nature and the Bible, that bespeaks for them a common authorship. Indeed, were the scientific facts of the Bible nicely classified, as in the works of Sir Charles Lyell or Professor Agassiz, we should have to confess that in fact there is a stronger reason than any yet presented, for supposing that the Bible is of human origin. And, besides, were there a studied arrangement and scholastic classification in the Bible, we should sadly miss that naturalness which makes it the charming book it is. It would be no longer as a Colorado park, but as a cabinet of scientific specimens.

Supposed antagonism between science and the Bible.

At this point some one asks if there are not certain positive antagonisms between the Bible and science – not mere differences in diction and style, but differences in matter of fact.

Men at various times, beginning as early as the days of Celsius, have so asserted. But those objectors may have been in too great haste, over-pugnacious, or not well informed. Their attacks may have been urged against some supposed teaching of the Bible, and not against any thing it really teaches. As a matter of fact, the attacks of skeptics more than once have been urged against incorrect statements of theologians and inaccuracies of translators, while the real utterances of the Bible have remained unassailed. A single instance will be sufficient to illustrate this point.

An illustration of the supposed antagonism.

At the time our English Bible was translated, perhaps out of deference to the prevailing opinion of the times the Hebrew word rakiahwas translated into Greek by the word stereoma, and into Latin by the word firmamentum, whose derivative “firmament” was employed by our English translators. Objectors, finding this word in our English translation, have more than once said that Moses meant by “firmament” a “solid expanse,” or a “firm vault.” A skeptical American writer upon “Myths” accordingly puts these words into the mouth of Moses: “And said the Gods, Let there be a hammered metallic plate in the midst of the waters.” And instantly young and pretentious skeptics laughed at the scientific inaccuracies of the Bible. Now what are the facts in the case? Moses could have used Hebrew words and expressions which primarily and invariably mean something solid and firm, as, for instance, such words as yathad and taraz; but he did not. The word rakiah, which was used, primarily means to spread out, like the Latin expansus, answering to our English word “expanse,” and is thus translated by nearly all our best Hebrew scholars. Here, therefore, as in many other instances, is a skeptical objection, raised, not against what the Bible teaches, but against what it cannot, by any fair means, be made to teach.

Actual conflicts between science and the Bible; and science in error.

But, again: From very early times to the present, men have declared that the teachings of the Bible – not its supposed, but its actual teachings – and teachings of science are in conflict. And we are willing to admit that Bible-writers and scientific men more than once have not been in agreement. But this admission does not carry with it the confession that the Bible is necessarily wrong. For, if science is wrong, and the Bible right, there would be a conflict all the same as if the reverse were true. Does anyone suppose that science has always been free from error, or always in agreement with itself?

Illustrated by the statements of eminent men.

“It is now thirty-five years,” says Sharon Turner ” since my attention was turned to these considerations. It was then the fashion of science, and of a large part of the educated and inquisitive world, to rush into a disbelief of all written revelation; and several geological speculations were directed against the Bible. But I have live to see the most hostile of these destroyed.” At the date referred to, there were several conflicts between the teaching of science and those of the Bible; that is, between the errors of science and the truths of the Bible. The Bible can hardly be condemned for not harmonizing with error, though the error is in strictest scientific garb, and supported by able scientific authorities.

Says the late Professor Lyell, a man justly regarded as one of the most noted geologists of the world, “In the year 1806, the French Institute enumerated no less than eighty geological theories which were hostile to the scriptures; but not one of those theories is held to-day.” That those French skeptics in the year 1806 saw discrepancies between Bible-teachings and their own opinions, need not surprise us, their opinions having been wholly exploded.

It may also be said of some of the scientific opinions of our own day, that they are not established. Says Professor Tyndall, “The views of Lucretius and Bruno, of Darwin and Spencer, may be wrong. I concede this possibility, deeming it, indeed, certain that their views will undergo modification.” We must not, therefore, decide matters hastily. We must be sure of at least two things, before pronouncing against the correctness of Biblical statement; namely, correctness of interpretation, and the firm establishment of scientific fact. Had this rule governed skeptical thought and expression during the last half- century, much that has been said against the Bible would not have been spoken.

An important rule.

The next and last preliminary thought to which we ask attention properly belongs to the field of interpretation, and may be expressed by the rule: One should carefully distinguish from what the Scripture saith, from what is said in the Scriptures. For instance, the friends of Job, in their conversations with the much-afflicted man, uttered many false sentiments. Those sentiments are recorded in the Bible. But the Bible does not vouch for their correctness: it only vouches for the fact that they were spoken by those friends, and, for wise reasons, were compiled into the inspired volume. Thus, too, the ancient maxims of infidelity, “It is vain to serve God” (Mal. iii. 14); “Let us eat and drink; for to-morrow we die” (I Cor. xv. 32), are found in the Bible, but are none the less false and pernicious. They are not what the Scripture saith, but are what is said in the Scriptures.

Caution needed.

Upon this same ground, caution is needed lest we read into the records of the Bible what does not properly belong there. For instance, the words of David, “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread,” are often read as if they were a promise that the seed of the righteous shall never be obliged to beg bread. But these words, upon a moment’s thought, will be found to promise nothing: they simply state what David had not chanced to see, and what doubtless harmonizes with the ordinary observation of humanity; still, as a matter of fact, other men have seen good people, and the children of good people, left to beg for their bread.

A fuller classification of Bible contents

This thought will bear still closer inspection. There are found recorded in the Bible, false sentiments expressed by devils (Gen. iii. 4,5); also by wicked men (2 Kings xviii. 17- 37; Mark xiv. 58); and even by good men (the friends of Job furnished many illustrations, and others can be found in the Book of Ecclesiastes). There are, also, found recorded in the Bible, true sentiments expressed by good men (John vi. 68; Acts v. 34-39); by wicked and worldly men (Mark ii. 7; John vii. 46); and even Satan and demons (Luke iv. 33-34). Now, it must be clear upon a moment’s thought, that though these sentiments were inserted in the Bible by inspired men, they are not necessarily the sentiments of inspired men; indeed, they are in some instances diametrically opposed to the sentiments of inspired men. They are a part of the inspired volume; but the reader is left, in all such cases, to judge of their truthfulness or falseness upon the same grounds as are employed in testing words and statements found in any other literature.

The same rule governs Bible interpretation

as governs the interpretation of other literature.

There will be found, for illustration, in the writings of Professors Huxley and Tyndall, and, indeed, in all of the histories of science and philosophy, the recorded opinions of distinguished men; but those opinions may not be vouched for by those scientists who have merely reported them. That they are thus recorded, is not their voucher; that is these

The connection is decisive.

modern writers are not held responsible for those recorded and false opinions, unless the connection warrants it, or unless there is explicit indorsement (sic) of them. Thus also with many records of the Bible.

But, on the other hand, when we read the recorded words of the different personations of the Deity, those of the Father (Luke iii. 22), those of the Son (Matt. v.-vii.), and those of the Holy Spirit (Acts xxi. 11); or when we investigate the recorded words of inspired persons in their inspired

Absolute truth.

moments (Acts ii. 4) – then, if the Bible is what evangelical Christians claim that it is, we are dealing with absolute truth. The heavens and the earth, according to the Bible and the Church, may pass away; but these divine words shall not pass away.

The Bible and other ancient literature brought together.

Having in these introductory remarks sufficiently guarded the discussion, we are now prepared to bring together the teachings of the Bible, and those of other ancient literature, under the light of modern science and philosophy, in order to test their correctness and comparative merits.

The field to be exploited is a broad one, and our explorations must of necessity be rapidly made; but the haste, we trust, will not prevent the utmost fairness.

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