"The writers of the Bible were illuminated more or less — some more than others — on the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or ignorant as their generation. Hence it is utterly unimportant that errors in historic and scientific fact should be found in the Bible, especially if the errors related to events that were not directly observed by those who wrote about them . . . The idea that because they were right in their doctrine of immortality and salvation they must also be right on all other subjects, is simply the fallacy of people who have an incomplete understanding of why the Bible was given to us at all." -Georges Lemaitre
The above quote makes a lot of sense to me. But I am confused on this matter because speakers and apologetics of the Faith often use examples of historical accuracy in the Bible to prove whatever point they are trying to make. Many times I find people pointing out the validity of saying that the Gospels are accurate historical documents. They do this by giving examples such as the one about how the distances between places Jesus traveled to were dictated (in days walking) in the Gospels. Later, historians tracked the amounts of days it took between each place and verified that all of these distances were exact.
My question is whether or not historical and factual accuracy of the Bible should be an issue for us. Also, is it an issue if the Bible is historically or factually incorrect?
Please answer with your own opinions, but also with the opinions of the Church Fathers, if you have access.
However, the Coptic Church places a particular emphasis on the Bible more than other Orthodox churches, most of which don't even see it as necessary to read the Bible everyday (by yourself). Look at Pope Shenouda's books - they are full of quotations from the Bible more than most other Orthodox books.
So probably most Copts would disagree with the above statement. Personally, I agree with the statement.
And it was something of a theme in patristic texts that one must not mistake the Genesis narratives for scientific descriptions of the origin of the world. If nothing else, it would have offended against many Christian philosophers’ understanding of divine transcendence to imagine that God really made the world through a succession of cosmic interventions; they assumed that God s creative act is eternal, not temporal, occurring not at a discrete instant in the past, but rather pervading all of time. Basil of Caesarea (330-379) argued that the “beginning” mentioned in the first verse of Genesis ought not to be thought of as a moment of time, as such a moment would itself be something divisible, with a beginning of its own that would then itself have had to have a beginning, and so on ad infinitum; rather, he said, creation should be conceived of as the eternal, indivisible, and immediate bringing into existence of the whole of creation, from its beginning to its end.
Many of the Fathers—Origen, John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), Augustine (354—430), for example—took “beginning” as a reference to the eternal “principle” of Gods Logos. Thus it made perfect sense for Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine to speculate that, while the act of creation is timeless, the world had unfolded progressively in time, out of its own intrinsic potencies and principles, with nature itself acting as the craftsman. And such was the pattern of “higher” biblical exegesis for centuries thereafter. Certainly anyone searching mediaeval commentaries on the creation narratives of Genesis for signs of fundamentalist literalism will be largely disappointed. There is a good reason why, among Darwins contemporaries, even as orthodox a Christian thinker as John Henry Newman (1801-1890)—who was, among other things, a great patristics scholar— could find nothing in the science of evolution contrary to or problematic for the doctrine of creation.
Not that we need to exaggerate the sophistication of Christians or of religious persons in general down the centuries, or imagine that they could foresee future advances in cosmology, geology, or genetics. Intelligence, education, curiosity are always variable properties, and the average person as a rule has only a vague interest in what the remote origins of the world may have been, or where the demarcation between legend and history lies.
Moreover, no ancient thinker, however brilliant, had access to modern knowledge regarding the age of the earth or the phylogeny of species. What we can say, however, at least with regard to Western culture, is that it was not until the modern period (and, really, not until the late modern period) that a significant minority of believers became convinced that the truth of their faith depended upon an absolutely literal—an absolutely “factual”—interpretation of scripture, and felt compelled to stake everything on so ludicrous a wager.
Now the Bible came to be seen as what it obviously is not: a collection of “inerrant” oracles and historical reports, each true in the same way as every other, each subject to only one level of interpretation, and all perfectly in agreement with one another. As I say, this was largely the result of a cultural impoverishment, but it also followed from the triumph of a distinctly modern concept of what constitutes reliable knowledge; it was the strange misapplication of the rigorous but quite limited methods of the modern empirical sciences to questions properly belonging to the realms of logic and of spiritual experience. I think it fair to say that the early fundamentalist movement opposed itself to Darwinism not simply because the latter seemed to contradict the biblical story, and not even simply out of dismay at the rise of the eugenics movement or of other forms of “social Darwinism” (though that was definitely one of the issues involved); rather, many genuinely believed that there was some sort of logical conflict between the idea that God had created the world and the idea that terrestrial life had evolved over time.
This was and is a view held, of course, by any number of atheists as well. In either case, however, it is a bizarre belief. After all, one assumes that fundamentalist Christians and fundamentalist materialists alike are aware that Christians believe God is the creator of every person; but presumably none of them would be so foolish as to imagine that this means each person is not also the product of a spermatozoon and ovum; surely they grasp that here God's act of creation is understood as the whole event of nature and existence, not as a distinct causal agency that in some way rivals the natural process of conception. Somehow, though, even in the minds of some Christians, God has come to be understood not as the truly transcendent source and end of all contingent reality, who creates through “donating” being to a natural order that is complete in itself, but only as a kind of supreme mechanical cause located somewhere within the continuum of nature. Which is only to say that, here at the far end of modernity, the concept of God is often just as obscure to those who want to believe as to those who want not to. Ours is in many ways a particularly unsubtle age."
From David Bentley Hart, "The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013) 23-28
Would that I could, however, lay the blame for many of these misunderstandings entirely to the charge of the atheists. I cannot, sadly. Late modernity in the West has been marked, as no other period ever has, by the triumph of ideological extremism. The twentieth century gave birth to fundamentalism in religion, but also in politics, social theory, economics, and countless other spheres of abstract conjecture and personal commitment.
Radical materialisms bred mass murder, radical political movements and radical religious fideisms bred terrorism; never before had abstract ideas proved to be such lethal things. What the cause or causes of this peculiarly modern pathology might be is a fascinating but tangential question here. Whatever the case, the results have spanned the full spectrum, from the unspeakably tragic to the ineffably banal. It is true that a great deal of the rhetoric of the new atheism is often just the confessional rote of materialist fundamentalism (which, like all fundamentalisms, imagines that in fact it represents the side of reason and truth); but it is also true that the new atheism has sprung up in a garden of contending fundamentalisms. There would not be so many slapdash popular atheist manifestoes, in all likelihood, if there were not so many soft and inviting targets out there to provoke them: young earth creationists who believe that the two contradictory cosmogonic myths of the early chapters of Genesis are actually a single documentary account of an event that occurred a little over six millennia ago, and that there really was a Noah who built a giant ark to rescue a compendious menagerie from a universal deluge... Here, certainly, the new atheism has opponents against which it is well matched.
It should be noted, though, just out of fairness, that the emergence of fundamentalism in the last century was not some sort of retreat to a more original or primitive form of faith. Certainly the rise of the Christian fundamentalist movement was not a recovery of the Christianity of earlier centuries or of the apostolic church.
It was a thoroughly modern phenomenon, a strange and somewhat poignantly pathetic attempt on the part of culturally deracinated Christians, raised without the intellectual or imaginative resources of a living religious civilization, to imitate the evidentiary methods of modern empirical science by taking the Bible as some sort of objective and impeccably consistent digest of historical data.
It is of course absurd to treat the Bible in that way—though, frankly, no more absurd than thinking that “science shows that God does not exist”—but it is also most definitely not the way the Bible was read in the ancient or mediaeval church. The greatest Church Fathers, for instance, took it for granted that the creation narratives of Genesis could not be treated literally, at least not in the sense we give to that word today, but must be read allegorically—which, incidentally, does not mean read as stories with codes to be decrypted but simply read as stories whose value lies in the spiritual truths to which they can be seen as pointing."
David Bentley Hart
Also check out RC Priest, Fr Robert Barron's article on Genesis http://www.wordonfire.org/Written-Word/articles-commentaries/February-2011/The-Genesis-Problem.aspx
"My hope is that those who are tripped up by the beginning of the book of Genesis can make a small but essential interpretive adjustment and see these writings as they were meant to be seen: not as primitive science, but as exquisite theology."
And here's why our Orthodox Church should try to avoid adopting the literalism of fundamentalist Christians:
"The caricature of Christianity, some of which has been made possible by Christian fundamentalism (itself a caricature of Christianity), is generally too incorrect to be addressed by a serious Christian...The great tragedy, of course, is that contemporary Christianity has been so “gutted” by those who claim to be its reformers, that a central doctrine of the faith can now be used by non-believers in an effort to undermine a modernized Christianity that was only invented a few years ago."
Abouna Stephen Freeman, A Faith That Cannot Be Defended, http://glory2godforallthings.com/2009/04/23/a-faith-that-cannot-be-defended/
I think Dr Hart has written some of the finest apologetic pieces in the past five years. His assessment of fundamentalism is also very sound.
Biblical fundamentalism comes out from a confessional tradition that is very different from the Orthodox Church and is rooted very strongly in the presuppositions of Sola Scriptura...
Sure the Church can use what is beneficial but Biblical fundamentalism and the theology it springs should be approached with caution.
A central part of the Gospel is that death is the last enemy to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). Death intruded into a perfect world because of sin, and it is so serious that Jesus’ victory over death cannot be entirely manifested while there is a single believer in the grave. Are we expected to believe that something the Bible authors described as an enemy was used or overseen by God for millions of years and was called ”very good”?
A major part of the Gospel is the hope we have in this Resurrection and restoration of the creation to its original perfect state. The Bible is clear about the New Heavens and Earth as a place where there is no carnivory, no death, no suffering, and no sin (Isaiah 65:17–25; Revelation 21:1–5). But how can this be called a restoration if such a state never existed?
An evolutionist Anglican priest gave a good summary of what accepting death before the Fall means for Christian theology:
So, one can now see the slippery slope that ensues if we allow for billions of years with or without evolution, because it puts death and suffering before the Fall. Its logical corollary is that it also places evil before the Fall (which no longer exists in his view, as such, since there was nowhere to fall from). And in the process it rules out the hope of a return to a perfect state, since there can be no return to what never was. The Gospel itself has been destroyed in the process.
So what did Jesus come to save us from, if not death, suffering, sin, and separation from God? What do we do with passages like Hebrews 9:22, which says “ … the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”, if death and bloodshed were occurring as ‘natural’ processes for millions of years before Adam? If that is the case, then the death of Christ becomes insignificant and unable to pay for our sins. And what is our hope if it is not in the Resurrection and the New Heavens and Earth?
f death is natural, why do we mourn it so? Why can we not accept death as a ‘normal’ part of life? This view robs the Gospel of its power and Jesus’ sacrifice of its significance. Following the thought to its natural conclusion has led many people to abandon the Christian faith altogether.
excerpt from http://creation.com/Did-god-create-over-billions-of-years
Pray for me
I sympathize however with this issue, as I feel this may be the hardest roadblock for a theologian to accept evolution. Frankly, what counts is humanity more than anything. Furthermore, death in Adam (humanity) is more than just physical disintegration. So that should be a bit food for thought.