Saturday, 12 March 2011

Pondering a single Bible verse.

Naturally my chosen verse was used by Jesus to speak of Salvation, but its use seems to go beyond that:

“Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)

It is a verse which creationists should pay a fair bit of attention to, for it can teach us a lot. This verse, when read in English like this, is scientifically incorrect. (This is the same with other English translations, for example, "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." -NIV.) Some translators will point out that the Greek word used is flexible enough to mean something like "the ending of the former" leading to something new, instead of something dying. If we presuppose that the Bible is scientifically accurate then only this translation will do, however, contemporaries of Jesus believed that the grains died and it is likely that Jesus did too. This leads to two possibilities - either Jesus lacked knowledge, or he spoke to the people using their own misconceptions. 

If Jesus is THE incarnation of God and he lacked knowledge, then this is also possible of Scripture. Jesus is God's Word, whereas Scripture contains His words. The Bible, therefore, might actually be wrong on some things, such as science, whilst being eternally correct on Salvation issues. If Jesus comes down to the level of the listener and uses their own misconceptions, then the implication here is that God does the same. Genesis creation, for example, contains a lot of examples of contemporary views which are now outdated (pillars of the Earth for example). It does not become a push to suggest that God spoke to the authors at their own level, allowing them to use their own, irrelevant, scientific misconceptions. 

Even if this verse, in its original language, is not scientifically inaccurate, it still has some relevance to our understanding of science. Jesus describes a process of change, the bringing about of something new. This can be applied to Christ himself, where his death on the cross changed everything and brought about new life - this alone should be ample reading for seeing the death in the John verse as intended. Evolution by natural selection is a process which involves death, but it does not stop there. The death is instrumental in bringing about change, in bringing about new life. It is an act of redemption, which is small in scale compared to Christ on the cross, yet large in scale with regards to cosmic history. Many scientifically minded theologians have noted that evolution is a cruciform process. It redeems death into new life. What better way for Christ to create?

I expect that a creationist would not give these verses proper time. They might see the alternative Greek meaning and opt for that due to their presuppositions (we all do this now and again). As for evolution being cruciform, I have not yet seen a creationist response to that.

4 comments:

RKBentley said...

PB,

I was just blogging about the exegetical fallacy of reverse etymology and here you go engaging in it. You seem to believe that if the ancient understanding of a word contradicts our modern understanding of the term then the ancients were “wrong.”

I gave the example a while back of Leviticus 11:13,19 which some suggest means the Bible is identifying bats as “birds.” They then claim the Bible is in error because WE don't identify bats as birds. In that passage however, the Hebrew word being translated as “birds” (“fowl” in the KJV) more literally means “winged.” The Bible is actually being more accurate than it's give credit for since it is clearly telling the ancient Jews that it's OK to eat certain winged creatures but don't eat the bat because it's not like the other winged creatures.

Now, to your point. In case you weren't aware, the Jews did not even consider plants to be “alive” in the same sense as animals. You will recall that there was no death in the Garden yet Adam, Eve, and the animals were all commanded to eat plants. So how could a plant be eaten without “dying”? It's because they don't consider plants to be alive in the first place. They clearly understood that plants grew and reproduced, but they still didn't consider them to be living. Their notion of plants “dying” or “perishing” don't jibe with your understanding.

The same attitude found among the ancient Jews is still commonly held by people today. For example, do you see a difference between hacking an animal to death with a blade and cutting grass with a lawn mower? You seem to think that since the ancient Jews did not consider plants to be alive in exactly the same sense as we do now then they were “scientifically incorrect.” Don't you consider it intellectual snobbery to suggest that unless Jesus and His contemporaries have exactly the same attitude toward the biological definition of “life” as you, then they're wrong?

God bless!!
RKBentley

The Palaeobabbler said...

RK,

What this shows is that we cannot turn to the Bible for scientific accuracy. That was my point.

RKBentley said...

I think you missed my point. The Bible is 100% accurate. Your claim that it's inaccurate is nothing more than special pleading.

The Palaeobabbler said...

You misunderstood (again). I am not saying it is not accurate, I believe the Bible is 100% accurate. Where we disagree is where it can be applied. It is scientifically inaccurate, but that is irrelevant. The most perfect hammer would make a terrible toothbrush. Don't misuse Scripture.