Scripture and Science In Conflict by Prof. Philip Stott —
Scripture and Science In Conflict by Prof. Philip
Stott — Site Map
Hermeneutics, Science and Scripture:
A Brief Introduction
by Philip Stott
A hermeneutic is the reference
frame by which one makes sense of written or spoken communication. God is the
author of communication, as of everything else. God gave a language, fully
formed, to Adam. He gave many others at the confusion of tongues of Babel. He
gave a hermeneutic at the same time - without doing so his gift of language
would have been worthless, since unintelligible.
Mankind in his pride and
arrogance tries to give the impression that man himself is responsible for
language (which evolved from grunts, squeaks and howls). He is also in command
of his own hermeneutic - after all, he had to establish for himself the meaning
of those evolving grunts, squeaks and howls. Yet the person who attempts to put
forward a hermeneutic of his own expects to be understood in a very particular
way - a way that his own hermeneutic probably denies.
As an example, a post-modernist
proclaims: “words have no fixed significance, and an author or reader can make
whatever meaning he will of a statement”. However, in saying this he expects
that his readers will pay him the courtesy of interpreting this statement to
mean what he says and not, for example:- “poetry may use words in a non-literal
way”, or “literature is an art form which may use analogy or allegory” or “words
mean exactly what the dictionary defines them to mean”.- all of which would be
perfectly logical consequences of his proclaimed hermeneutic. The truth is he
relies on the fact that there is an existing hermeneutic. The hermeneutic which
enables people to understand each other. The God-given hermeneutic which is
essential for the very existence of a language as a means of communication. The
post modernist expects his own preposterous statements to be understood that
This God-given hermeneutic
enables one to distinguish prose from poetry, allegory from history etc. simply
by the use of the language with which the hermeneutic is inextricably bound. It
has been called the “historical grammatical hermeneutic”, though a more
forceful, clear and, I would maintain, accurate description is Douglas Wilson’s
As Wilson pointed out at the
1995 Van Till Centennial Apologetics Conference, one has to use this
fundamental, inescapable hermeneutic at some point, and one shows one’s true
colours by the choice of where one applies it.
Consider a Roman Catholic faced
with the claim that the authority of the Church of Rome and that of Scripture
are both binding. The Roman Catholic Church accepts a papal declaration that
Mary, the mother of Jesus remained a virgin throughout her life. Now if the
Catholic reads the Scriptures he will find in the gospel of Matthew chapter
Then Joseph being raised
from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him
his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son:
and he called his name JESUS.
The inescapable hermeneutic
tells us that after Mary had borne her child, Joseph did then know her in a
normal husband/wife relationship.
And the couple were blessed
with the normal consequence since we see in Chapter 13:54-56:
they were astonished, and
said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty
works? Is not this the carpenter's son? is not his mother called Mary? and
his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas? And his sisters, are
they not all with us?
So we see that Joseph and Mary
had four sons and at least three daughters after Jesus was born.
To arrive at the interpretation
that Mary remained a virgin requires a hermeneutic other than the normal one
associated with the standard use of language. Such a novel hermeneutic is
implied by the papal declaration. We can then judge where the real allegiance of
the Roman Catholic lies - with the Scripture (in which case he applies the
inescapable hermeneutic to what the Bible says), or the Church of Rome (in which
case he applies it to the papal decree).
Now the Catholic could well
respond “How can I tell what the scriptures really mean without the guidance of
the priests? I can’t understand the original languages. I don’t know Greek or
Hebrew or Aramaic.”
But then, Roman Catholics are
familiar with pope John Paul's disapproval of contraception. But how do I know
that when the pope said contraception is taboo he didn’t actually mean the
Brazilians would win the soccer world cup?. After all, I don’t understand
Italian. I don’t understand Polish.
The Roman Catholic accepts what
the pope says simply by paying him the courtesy of applying the fundamental,
God-given hermeneutic to what he says. Translators convey the pope’s meaning
into whatever language in the same way - interpreting the word of the pope in
the light of the inescapable hermeneutic. We could perhaps wish that modern
translators of the Scriptures showed similar courtesy to the Word of God
When considering the relation
of science to the Scriptures one is immediately confronted by a problem. Using
the normal, fundamental hermeneutic leads to conflict with some aspects of
current orthodoxy. For example the origin of man. The Scriptures tell us in
Genesis 2:7 “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed
into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul”. Current
scientific orthodoxy has man evolving over many millions of years from inert
chemicals via protozoa, fish, amphibians and ape-like creatures.
There are two obvious
solutions. We could conclude that the established orthodoxy must be mistaken in
this case - man did not evolve in this way. Alternatively we could conclude that
the evolutionist is correct so the scriptures must be abandoned or interpreted
using a different hermeneutic.
We see this second alternative
in Darwin's Vision and Christian Perspectives. (Macmillan 1960) where
Robert Gleason writes, "While all theologians agree that history is expressed in
the assertions of Genesis, nevertheless today they admit that it is a peculiar
type of history whose rules are still partly unknown to us." The "dust" from
which Adam was made may refer "to organic matter oriented by God through a long
Gleason’s “peculiar type of
history” requires a peculiar type of hermeneutic, one significantly different to
that which comes as standard with language. Such peculiar types of hermeneutic
have proliferated since theologians became convinced that science has discovered
refutations to clear assertions and implications of Scripture.
Any such hermeneutic is hostage
to current scientific thought, not to the scriptures themselves.
But if one is convinced that
current scientific orthodoxy knows the truth, then why should one turn to the
Scriptures at all?
If, on the other hand, one is
convinced that the Scriptures are the all-knowing God of truth’s communication
to his beloved creatures, why should one assume that any other hermeneutic than
that given with His gift of language would be needed to understand it?
It is the hermeneutic used by
Jesus and the Apostles in their interpretation of Scripture.