People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon … This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth. Martin Luther
In the sixteenth century, the world was shaken in a way that it had not been shaken before. While not the first to come to this theory, Nicolaus Copernicus believed that through math, one was able to prove that the sun was the center of the universe rather than the Earth being the focus (heliocentrism vs. geocentrism). Although he was confident in his beliefs, the first copy of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Bodies (1543) was printed close to his death, leaving the battlefield to men such as Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler. The Catholic church was quick to stamp out any ideas resembling heliocentrism, but as we see now, the idea of sun being the center of the solar system is nearly universally accepted (pun-intended), and in the 20th century, the Catholic church made a formal statement on the matter. I feel that this is a moment in history many Christians are blissfully unaware of, and as a result, it creates the opportunity for ideologies such as fundamentalism to arise. While we may view the idea of heliocentrism as acceptable and provable in this day and age, the reason many Christians in the 16th century were afraid of moving away from geocentrism was due to their interpretation of the Bible. They felt as if this was an attack on Biblical inerrancy and immediately moved into a defensive position.
The truth of the matter is there are still similar mentalities in the 21st century. Approximately 150 years ago, there was a breakthrough in archaeological finds when various pieces of ancient literature were found. Stories such as the Epic of Gilgamesh were uncovered along with other pieces of history (the Code of Hammurabi, for example), which showed the world that other cultures apart from Israel had stories and laws that were very similar to the ones we now find in the Bible. While many found this to be extraordinary and exhilarating, others once again began clamoring that this was merely an attempt by demonic forces to undermine Biblical authority without even allowing the necessary questions to be asked. Even now, many will ignore what has been unearthed by way of archaeological digs and science, claiming that there is no need for an outside source that disproves the Bible.
With this mentality in mind, a very important question needs to be asked: with both of these situations, is it the Biblical content that is being questioned or our own interpretations of said Biblical content?
In light of the heliocentrism vs. geocentrism debate, there are a few things to be addressed when it comes to how we read and interpret the Bible. First: the entire Bible was written by people who did not perceive the world the same way we do now. If I was to travel back in time and attempt to hold a conversation with Moses about molecular structure or DNA, I do not know if he would be able to understand the things I was trying to tell him. Truth be told, I do not fully understand the concepts myself. However, that does not mean these ideas or theories are trying to attack the reliability of the Bible; it is merely that the Bible was written to a particular audience in a way they could understand, and as 21st century thinkers, we cannot impose our logic on said literature and assume that the author’s train of the thought is the same as our own.
Transitioning from that thought, the second idea that needs to be addressed is that we cannot ask the Bible questions it was never intended to answer. It would not make sense to read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and expect to find out how Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee made it to Mt. Doom, nor would it be fair to judge its value as a literary piece of work by its ability or inability to do so, as if this was Rowling’s intention by writing the book. In this same way, I do not believe we can go to the Bible and expect to find every answer about science, math, and philosophy perfectly and succinctly answered, if at all, or assume that this was God’s intention by allowing the Bible to be created. This is an instance of begging the question, or “any form of argument in which the conclusion occurs as one of the premisses, or a chain of arguments in which the final conclusion is a premiss of one of the earlier arguments in the chain.” This is not to say that the Bible contains nothing when it comes to the aforementioned topics at all, but that we need to read the text for what it is, not what we expect it to be.
The third and final idea I want to bring to tackle is that our interpretations of the Bible are not exempt from blemishes and flaws, even with the perfect revelation of the Holy Spirit, and while there are many different factors that play into this idea, I will only address a few. First, I do not believe that God is capable of speaking error, especially by way of His Holy Spirit, but with how many different translations there are of the Bible, we are always subject to someone’s perspective and/or experiences. It would be one thing if we were all fluent in Greek and Hebrew and looking at the original manuscripts that were written, but we are all being subjected to what translation we deem is the most correct. For example, most people know of the discourse between Peter and Jesus in John 21, about whether Peter loves Jesus or not. However, what many do not know is that the word used by Jesus when He asks Peter if he loves Him is “agapaō”, whereas Peter’s response is “phileō”, and it is not until Jesus asks a third time that Jesus switches to “phileō” himself, while Peter’s answer remains the same. In bringing this up, I am addressing the fact that translations do not always reflect the full intent of the author and have the potential to color how we perceive God, life, and the Bible in numerous ways, and we need to be aware of these possibilities.
If we then take this idea in the context of the Copernician debate, we find generations of Christians who believed that geocentrism was the truth, and they allowed their Biblical interpretations to back up their ideas (see Joshua 10:12-13, Habakkuk 3:11, Ecclesiastes 1:5, etc). If one was to look at these references in our contemporary mindset, they would be hard-pressed to find a solid case for geocentrism whatsoever, but we have to remember that not everyone has had access to the technological and scientific advancements that our current generation has been blessed with. We cannot assume that every generation of the world has thought in the same way as we do, but this also does not give us a free pass on humility by neglecting the readily apparent fact that we are capable of making similar mistakes.
Throughout history, we have seen numerous developments in life that have contradicted our interpretation of the Bible and life itself. While there was a day and age where slavery was widely accepted, we have thankfully moved light-years past our bloodstained past (although it is safe to say we have not arrived where we need to be). Also, women have begun to receive more rights than ever in the United States, but this is not the case for every country in the world. However, despite how “common place” some of these ideas may seem to be, there have been Christians within the past 20 years that have vocally supported what was done by way of slavery through scriptural proof-texting. There are still churches that continue to condemn women for having any role in ministry, keeping them in a place of subjugation and inferiority. The freedoms we have seen in these areas have not come from a fundamentalist reading of the Bible, but the ability to look at God’s heart in the matter and see that while the Bible may have been written for us, it is presumptuous to assume that the Bible was written to us. Every different culture and generation throughout the entirety of scripture dealt with a different way of thinking and living, all trying to make it through life and wrestling with questions like we are. While Abraham might have found it acceptable to offer up his wife to the Pharaoh, I do not see Jesus advocating that kind of behavior. Even Jesus made monumental strides when it came to the public image of women, despite our tendency to look over the matter.
In conclusion, I wrote this article not to endorse a certain theological tenet that I view to be correct, but to address a mentality that is depressingly absent in the body of Christ: humility. We have refused to look at our past and acknowledge the way that we perceive and interpret Scripture has readily changed throughout time due to our discoveries in numerous different fields of studies. Every generation has gone into the Bible with a different cultural lens of perception; to ignore this means we ignore what was truly said by our ancestors while only holding onto what we feel is important. While I believe that Jesus, being truth, is objective, we are still capable of having a subjective view of said truth, and if we do not allow ourselves to acknowledge the very real and demanding questions that the world asks us, we will be enshrouded by the same darkness Copernicus and Galileo’s enemies experienced. We should never be scared of new ideas or thoughts that come into play, as these questions will only either inspire us to hold more firmly onto the truth we already knew, or they will cause us to recognize that we were wrong in light of God’s continual perfection. To ignore any questions or theories that contradict our personal interpretations denies God any capability of preserving truth, and it shows we are unwilling to trust Him in all matters of life.
UPDATE: I appreciate all of the feedback I have received, whether by way of Facebook or on here. A few of the mistakes were merely oversights; the rest were things I was not aware of. Thank you!