SCIENCE and THE BIBLE – They are more compatible than we have been led to believe.
Scientists estimate that the universe is around 14 billion years old.
Scientists estimate that the earth is around 4.5 billion years old.
Atheists and Christians alike are still arguing the validity of their beliefs based on constant new-found “facts” about the origins of everything. Somehow we are all supposed to believe that G-d does or does not exist because of what we observe or believe about this history of the universe. It seems slightly ridiculous, and yet, we do see that the Bible uses the observable universe to show us G-d’s characteristics. The unending agricultural bend of the Biblical text is evidence that G-d did not intend for us to see His character in the abstract recesses of our minds, but to see Him every time we stepped outside. The apple seed will always become an apple tree. The rain and the sun are necessities for growth. There is order and balance in the way nature operates. There is expansiveness in the universe. We see the utter creativity of an unrivaled creator. We reflect on the creativity in ourselves. Too many Christians have rejected the scientific community. In my view, this shows an appalling lack of understanding regarding our relationship to the earth and this universe. We are meant to observe and discover it with joy and openness as a breathtaking handbook to creativity, order, and life. Any real scientific discovery should be embraced and not repelled. But much of modern Christian theology has disallowed this embrace based on a faulty rendering of scripture. And fear. There is always fear. There is so much fear of being wrong or losing believers to science. What freedom for us if we could dispel this fear once and for all! Let’s take a closer look at what science and the Bible actually say about the beginning of everything.
The Big Bang Theory, originating with Georges Lemaitre, is still the prominent theory dominating the science field today regarding the history of the universe. But no evidence has yet come forward that truly explains the origins of the Big Bang or the origins of the universe itself. On Space.com, astrophysicist, Paul Sutter had this to say about what we know the earlier we go back into the universe. Or, before the Big Bang. “Earlier than 10^-36 seconds, we simply don’t understand the nature of the universe. The Big Bang theory is fantastic at describing everything after that, but before it, we’re a bit lost. Get this: At small enough scales, we don’t even know if the word “before” even makes sense! At incredibly tiny scales (and I’m talking tinier than the tiniest thing you could possible imagine), the quantum nature of reality rears its ugly head at full strength, rendering our neat, orderly, friendly spacetime into a broken jungle gym of loops and tangles and rusty spikes. Notions of intervals in time or space don’t really apply at those scales. Who knows what’s going on?”
Who knows what’s going on? This continues to be the battle, the question, and we have made winners and losers out of a mess of misunderstandings about the Big Bang and about the Bible itself. While science is looking at what they know of the observable universe to provide evidence of the age of and beginning of everything, religion is looking to the Bible. We’ve already established that science still does not understand the universe before the Big Bang. Now, if I told you that all those religious folks scouring the scriptures also have no idea about the age or makings of the entire universe, would you believe me? I’m about to do my best to prove it. Not to prove them wrong, but to show that G-d never intended to give us a history of the universe in the Bible. And it’s not that hard to prove, or even to see in the English translations. But we need a little bit more than just our everyday King James Biblical translation to understand what is going on here. In a straight Greek minded, shallow read of the KJV of Genesis 1, it is easy to see how Christians have gone astray regarding their ideas about creation.
Before I begin this section I want you to know that I am aware that we must be humble enough to be ready to fail in our assumptions. As I write this, I’m assured to get some of my ideas wrong. But, perhaps it will spark other, better ideas. After all, if the beginnings of everything were meant to be perfectly understood, I think our Heavenly Father would have been perfectly clear. But the beginning of all things is not perfectly clearly laid out in Genesis and we should be ready to ask the questions that matter regarding our understanding of it.
After research, I have found more and more Christian commentaries arguing for and against the idea that Genesis 1:1 means the very beginning of everything. There is a mad-world of discussions and diatribes out there and my research had me gasping for air looking for one clarifying theme. But not one of those authors clearly answered my questions.
Many also believe that you cannot take the scripture literally. However, I believe that if there is not a literal interpretation of scripture, there is no interpretation of scripture at all. If it is written to be an account of something, it is either real, or the scripture is a lie. I believe this especially in light of the fact that the New Testament is an 80% repeat of the Old Testament. In John 5:45 through 47 Jesus says, “But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?” If Jesus was a fulfillment of the writings of Moses and we want to take his fulfillment literally, how can we take Moses as mythology? If we do not believe Moses’ writings, the first five books of the Bible, we cannot believe Jesus. He has made that much clear. So while Genesis must be understood to be a true story, it does not have to be a specifically scientific account of the universe. I see issues with taking the Genesis account as a linear account of ALL of creation beyond our earth. How can it be linear, or chronological when water all of a sudden appears in Genesis 1:2 with no explanation of its existence and that an earth, formless and void, was already present? If we are going from the very beginning, shouldn’t we get a chronological discussion of when water, dirt, particles, elements, and the building blocks of life were formed? We never get that. It’s not there! It is simply implied that G-d created the building blocks and then here we are at an earth and water ready for additions. I need new answers, ones that address the legitimate issues found in the English translation of our Bible.
Catholicism provides very few other answers that I haven’t heard in the last decades of Christianity. I have to go back to a few Jewish interpretations of these texts. Many Jews do not translate the first verse of the Bible as, “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.” They translate it as, “In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and earth.” Do you see the huge leap happening here? If not, let me explain.
The English translation implies that in the beginning of everything, God created the heavens and the earth. (By the way, “heavens” can be viewed as a word that just means expanse. To Moses, it is more likely it was understood to be the sky as the universe was not a concept well understood. And the earth, (eretz) simply means land. It could mean so many things here. But that’s an aside.) So, the English translation implies a distinct beginning of all things. The Hebraic translation implies a beginning of the things we see in our creation now. When God began to create the heavens and the earth. NOT the beginning of ALL things, the beginning of these things. Just like when we say, the beginning of a movie, or the beginning of a race. It isn’t the beginning of everything. It’s the beginning of something specific. Context is everything. The text in Hebrew does indeed imply that G-d created the building blocks of life, but is applying those specifically to this story only. We can also be confident that this is an option given that we know “In the beginning the Word was with God and the Word was God.” So the Torah in Yeshua existed before Genesis 1:1. There are also many who believe that the Bible tells us that angels existed before creation. And yet, they are created beings. So really, is this story a chronological beginning of everything? Maybe not.
Rashi, a medieval Rabbi and one of the most well-known of the Jewish commentators, states, “If you say that Scripture indicates the order of creation] be astounded at yourself, for the water preceded, as it is written: “and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the water,” and Scripture did not yet disclose when the creation of water took place! From this you learn that the water preceded the earth. Moreover, the heavens were created from fire and water. Perforce, you must admit that Scripture did not teach us anything about the sequence of the earlier and the later [acts of creation].” This is after Rashi discloses that, in Hebrew, if the author had meant that this was chronological, you would have seen the words, ‘at first’ used to describe the creation of heaven and earth. I’ll take this further, how in the world can we say that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and then in verse two we have just an earth, formless and void, and water? It makes much more sense to say, “In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was astonishingly empty and darkness was on the face of the deep and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water.” And that is what one current Hebraic translation of Genesis 1:1-1:2 says. There are many good authors who disagree with this translation. Nevertheless, it is an option. Even if you do not agree with Rashi, we have to contend with Genesis 1:2.
So, in Genesis 1:2 we have earth and water and darkness already available to God. As stated above, the English KJV translation then immediately takes things out of chronological order in order to get here. God creates the heaven and earth in the very beginning, and then in verse 2, water and void and darkness. When were those things created? Where did they come from? How long were they there? How long did God hover over them? Truly, from all of this, we at least have to admit, that there was a beginning of everything that happened in advance to the creating of earth and heavens. When? How long? Was time in existence (likely not)? What else existed before this? The chemicals and compounds needed to have water and earth present came from somewhere. When, and how long were they there? We do not have the answers to these questions. We CANNOT guess the age of the water and earth in Genesis 1:2. We should not.
If you want to argue about the beginning of everything, then you need far more information than the Bible gives you. Perhaps this is due to the fact that I do not see ANYWHERE in scripture any indication that G-d intends the Bible to be a history of the universe or a reference for scientific discoveries about the age of the universe. This is the story of man and G-d. It is a relational one. It is factual, it can be proven, and it has NOT been disproven by science. But that is not the intention of the writing itself. It is a book of spiritual principals and it is the Way, the Light, and the Guide for how to live on earth and enter into eternity from a loving Father. It is a true book. It is not a history of the universe book. It is a history of G-d’s people book. It is a real book. It is not a science book. But, it is a scientifically accurate book. There are distinctions that are important that we have failed to make as followers of Yeshua.
If I write you a love letter about all the things we’ve done together, there might be some beautiful details about where we met, or how we did things. But I’m probably putting ideas together based upon which events match certain principles, feelings and storylines. I’m likely not attempting a chronological story with every detail of clothing, shoes, locations, gas prices and so on plopped neatly onto a timeline. Why not? Well, number one, it’s not very human. Number two, its inconsequential to the point of my letter. If it were consequential, I would form it that way. This is how I view some of the accounts of the Bible. In fact, much of the Bible isn’t chronological at all. Not the Old Testament, or the New. You have retellings of the same stories all over the place and returns to particular events for reference to present ones. In the Old Testament you have laws that seem like they should be in one section based on their timing but they actually end up in other sections because they are based, not on timing, but on context or purpose. You have sections of Revelation that many scholars believe already happened and then other sections that may happen later.
We also have another issue to contend with as English speaking westerners. Our concept of time and events and life is incredibly linear and demands dualistic (either/or) logic. But the Bible is cyclical and middle-eastern logic is often not dualistic. “There is nothing new under the sun.” The New Testament is an 80% repeat of the Old Testament. New Testament authors and Yeshua himself are constantly repeating the Old Testament, with its timeless and inherent application. But they also saw it as the beginning and foundational understanding of the faith. Without it, nothing else is built and nothing else happens. Yeshua is described as the embodiment of the Torah itself in John 1:1. It is no wonder he referred to Torah constantly. He was the walking, living breathing Torah. And Hebrew scholars see creation as the necessary application of Torah, Yeshua, Himself. Linear, Greek-logic is often times the enemy of Biblical understanding. In the Middle Eastern faith we find in the Bible much more likely resembles open block logic, which is an understanding that there can be divergent, opposing views of an issue that are both correct at the same time.
Moreover the Hebrew language is concrete while Greek, and henceforth English, are abstract. Hebrew revolves around actions and what can be experienced through our 5 senses. Western language revolves around thought and what is experienced outside of our 5 senses. Hebrew describes objects in relation to their function. Greek describes objects in relation to their appearance. And all of these differences begin to reveal just how huge an undertaking of translating Hebrew to Greek and Greek to English really was. There are bound to be misunderstandings in such a work. Take cultural and political shifts into account and you have even more work to do. One great example of this is that the Bible is constantly using the word, “sons” to describe children. Why is this? One can’t help but think of how patriarchal human history has been. But it goes deeper. The Hebrew language, just like many languages, has feminine and masculine nouns. The word, “children” in Hebrew is a masculine noun. Therefore we get, “sons”. When truly G-d’s word meant children. Females were never segregated out. Confusion is rampant, but if we love the Lord we will dig deeper to find these truths. Little by little G-d’s Word begins to come to life with more depth and meaning. It is good to begin to know these truths and to open up to all of the possibilities.
So, here is what all Biblical scholars that I’ve read agree that the Bible says… G-d created everything. That’s it. That is the only concrete. Of all the scholars I read and all the arguments for and against a true Hebraic translation of the first few verses of the Bible, they all agree that God created it all. They agree on nothing else. Not how long the elements of creation took, nor when time actually began, nor if there is a huge gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2,nor what existed before Genesis 1:2. So, here’s the deal, we just don’t know. And when we just don’t know, we shouldn’t make it a part of our doctrine. Here are some GOOD assumptions my studies did lead me to:
- It is safe to assume that the 24-hour periods of the creation of plants, animals, humans, etc is literal. Safe, not scientific, but safe given the language.
- Despite our modern day understanding of day, the Bible lays out a clear evening first then morning day. This is discussion for another post, but Biblically for counting purposes a day starts at evening.
- It is safe to assume that whenever something seems dissonant within scripture it is because of a mistranslation either in the English language or in modern teachers taking a scripture out of context. The Bible was not originally broken up into the sections and fragments that we currently have. Reading verses and passages before and after what we are studying, and using the Bible to define itself is essential to truly understand what is being taught.
On that note, to know that God is the Creator and that the Universe can look 14 billion years old and that the earth could be 4.5 billion years old and have all of that be true isn’t such a terrifying thought, is it? If earth and water were there and present before the first day was separated out, we have no idea of the age of that earth and water. We have no right to argue with scientists on this point. In fact, it’s time to end this debate. The Talmud (ancient Rabbinical commentary on Hebrew scriptures) forbids the discussion of what came before the creation story. In fact, they believe that one of the reasons the scripture begins with the Beth, which is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, is that the Beth is a sign that is only open at the front, and closed on all other sides. This indicates that you are not to go looking for what happened before this story to define your faith in G-d. What happened before Genesis, where faith is concerned, is closed. And look at what has happened when we have decided to go looking for our faith in the origins of the universe? Disaster! Furthermore, that Beth represents “house”. The first letter of the Bible already implies what this story is about, G-d’s house. His family. To try and make it a history of the universe is a leap that I don’t believe G-d intended.
What is beautiful about this understanding is that we no longer have to argue with our scientifically minded friends. We can embrace their discoveries about the origin of things with no fear of it harming our belief in G-d’s hand in all of it. But even more than that, we can begin to see that our G-d truly is bigger, wiser, deeper and more mysterious. We cannot fathom Him or His story and so He is endlessly fascinating and we are always learning. To be curious about our universe can be a great blessing.