CAN WE BELIEVE THE BIBLE?
Before going much further, an extremely important question needs to be answered: where does the Bible fit in this discussion? If I don't provide the right answer, many Christians may stop reading another paragraph, irrespective of what they think about this subject.
I don't have a problem with that, and I agree that the matter needs to be settled. Without a doubt, I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Period. End of case. Christians can rely upon without the least hesitation.
While I'm absolutely convinced that Christians can trust the Bible, I am much less convinced that Christians, even well meaning ones, always understand what it is saying. This is particularly true when it comes to matters of science. My point is also relevant because of a funny thing that happened almost two thousand years ago.
For those of you who are also very committed Christians, if I asked you, can you trust what the Bible says, you'd answer strongly in the affirmative. At the same time, if I asked you, does the Earth, the planet on which we all reside, rotate around the Sun, you'd also agree. The funny thing is, for nearly 1500 years, Christians were absolutely convinced that the Bible said the Sun rotated around our Earth!
The idea that the Sun rotates around the Earth actually predates the Bible. A Greek scholar/mathematician named Claudius Ptolemy developed the theory in Alexandria, Egypt about 150 AD. Church scholars looked at the Bible and were convinced that the Bible said the same thing. Huh?
In fact, not one but numerous Bible verses were cited in support of this idea. In particular, the Battle of Gibeon, recounted in the 10th chapter of the Book of Joshua was cited as evidence. The city of Gibeon entered into a treaty with the Israelites. Alarmed at this, a coalition of five Amorite kings formed to oppose the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites pleaded for aid from Joshua and the Israelites. Joshua marched his army from all night from Gilgal, then surprised the Amorite coalition in the morning. The Amorites were defeated, then fled, with the Israelite army in pursuit. While escaping, the Amorites were victimized by a hailstorm. More died from the hailstones than from the battle.
Joshua felt he needed a little more time, so he pleaded with God to stop the Sun, making it possible to prolong the battle so the Amorites could be finished off. Translations of the Bible suggest that God "stopped" the Sun, thus giving Joshua and the Israelites more time to finish off the Amorites. As recounted in verse 14, "there has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel."
The conclusion was that God had in fact stopped the Sun in its tracks, thus prolonging the day. This and other verses were cited as evidence that Ptolemy was right – the Earth was the center of the universe, and the Sun and planets revolved around the Earth.
The belief persisted until Galileo Galilei demonstrated in the early 17th century that the Earth and the other planets definitely revolved around the Sun. The Roman Catholic Church wasn't amused. In fact, Galileo spent the last nine years of his life under house arrest because he would not recant his theory of heliocentrism – that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the Sun.
So what REALLY happened on the day of the Battle of Aijalon recounted in Joshua 10? Two possibilities: 1) the language was figurative, and the Sun didn't literally stop that day (for a realistic explanation of what really happened that day, look at http://www.accuracyingenesis.com/joshua.html for a thorough, Biblically AND scientifically based explanation); or 2) God somehow really did stop the Sun that day. But even if the latter occurred – and that is a VERY BIG IF - it doesn't lead to the conclusion that we live in a world where the Earth is the center of the Universe and the Sun rotates around the Earth.
It's been demonstrated conclusively that Galileo was right. So I like to ask my fellow Christians, when it was determined that Galileo was right, how much of the Bible was re-written? I, of course, get puzzled looks when I ask that, but it's a serious question, for if the Bible is the revealed Word of God, and Christians for 1500 years said the Bible indicated the Earth was the center of the Universe, but it turned out not to be the case, who or what was wrong? The obvious answer is, the Bible wasn't wrong, it's just that Christians for 1500 years didn't seem to understand what it was saying, at least with respect to this matter of science.
What conclusions can one draw from this? The most basic conclusion is that while the Bible is clearly the inspired Word of God, it isn't, and never has been, a science text book. In the next post, we'll explore this idea further by introducing a concept called accommodation theory.