This is the weekly Q & A blog post by our Research Professor in Philosophy, Dr. William Lane Craig.
Dear Dr Craig,
I have a question about Concordism. You have often said that it is bad hermeneutics to allow modern science to shape our understanding of the Biblical Text. However that seems to suggest that the only correct interpretation of the Scripture is literal. Surely, the reason that we reject or accept certain ways of interpreting a text is necessarily shaped by our experience of the world. For example, if we take the passage from the Psalms that talks of 'trees clapping their hand', or that God 'breathed life' into Adam, it is clear that they are being metaphorical, but that is only because we know that trees do not have hands to clap and that life is not breathed into people. I think this is the reason that the dominant view by Early Christians was literal, with only a few exceptions. Therefore, it does seem that one must adjust their interpretation of the Biblical text based on their knowledge of the outside world. In the past, it was clear that early Christians had problems because the Sun was made after light had been created. The reason for why this was a problem, was because people at the time had established 'scientifically' that light comes from the Sun. Overall, I am unsure what exactly constitutes concordism, and I hope you can give your thoughts on this issue. Thank you for your consideration.
Dr. William Lane Craig's Response
By "concordism" I mean the attempt to read modern scientific discoveries into biblical texts. For example, I’ve heard it said that the Bible predicts television because when Christ returns “every eye will see him” (Revelation 1.7), which is impossible on a globe. So the Bible must be implying that the Second Coming of Christ will be televised!
Avoiding concordism in biblical interpretation does not mean closing your eyes to the world around us. Instead, ask yourself how ancient people saw the world. The Psalmist knew that trees don’t have hands, as this was observable to anyone at that time, and so he must be speaking metaphorically. Similarly when Genesis 2.7 says that “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life,” this has to be figurative language because the anthropomorphic deity of chapters 2 and 3 would be inconsistent, if taken literally, with the transcendent Creator described in chapter 1.
So, of course, one must adjust one’s interpretation of the Bible based on one’s knowledge of the outside world. But we mustn’t read modern science, unknown to the ancient world, into the text. Rather, ask yourself how people at that time saw things. As you say, people in the Ancient Near East observed the sunrise and sunset and the sequence of day and night. So it’s quite legitimate to ask how they understood Genesis 1.5’s apparent affirmation that day and night existed before the sun was created.
This Q&A and other resources are available on Dr. William Lane Craig's website.