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That book was “De Rerum Natura,” or “On the Nature of Things,” by the ancient Roman writer Lucretius. It was a book of poetry, but also a work of science and philosophy. This discovery is described in a contemporary Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Harvard Professor Stephen Greenblatt titled “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern.” As Greenblatt says it in an interview with Jeffrey Brown of PBS, “A man, not a particularly important fellow, goes into a library one day, takes a book off a shelf, and, not instantly, but decisively, the world changes.”
That world was the Middle Ages, and the simple idea of this book led to the revolution of modern science. Lucretius, as Greenblatt explains, wasn’t even inventing a new idea. In fact, the concept was already ancient by the time of Lucretius. This was the theory that the world consists of an infinite number of tiny particles. The ancient Greeks called them the things that can't be broken up, or atoms. But after Lucretius, the idea was lost for 1,000 years.
Lucretius’s book was rediscovered in the 15th century by a poor boy named Poggio Bracciolini who became the personal secretary to the pope. Later, he joined the poet Petrarch and other scholars known as humanists, obsessed with reviving the wisdom of classical Greek and Roman culture.
Greenblatt alludes to the reasons these ideas might have been lost in the PBS interview. The cultures of Greece and Rome were threatening ones, especially to Christianity. In addition to atoms, they contained the views, “that there is no afterlife, that there are no punishments or rewards, therefore, divinely issued after we cease to be, that there must be no guarantee for all the values that we have. We make them up as we go along, and they're as durable and as fragile as the atoms of which everything is made.”
To me, this book carries a warning for Christianity today. The church can’t just hide those ideas it doesn’t particularly favor, for example, evolutionary theory. Like Lucretius’s reference to atoms, the truth will always resurface again. In the end, God is with those who seek reality above their own versions of orthodoxy.
Bruce Meyer writes about the relationship between the physical universe and the pursuit of spirituality.
Bruce: Is there a biblical orthodoxy that is supreme, whereby everything else is measured?
I think what you’re talking about is a universal entity? From my understanding, philosophers such as Kant and Ockham have shown that as feeble human beings, our powers of interpretation and reasoning are limited. Although I believe there is a universal truth, we just can’t get there. Likewise, God in his wisdom has not seen the need to give us this understanding. This is why Augustine said we should hold to our own interpretations (or orthodoxies) only provisionally.
Ultimately no other branch of human knowledge will ever be able to reach what God has revealed. But understanding what God has revealed and not revealed is found in humility and faith, not in some kind of superior biblical exegesis. This is not the same thing as a universal entity or a universal truth. When a better explanation of something comes along such as through science or philosophy, and it challenges our views, it’s good to have the humility to accept it and grow in our understanding of God rather than to try and wipe it out.
If we can’t get to a universal truth, is there enough information at all to even know God? If God is wise, is He not wise enough to give us all the information needed to know and be accepted by Him? The God I see revealed in Scripture claims to be infinite in His knowledge and power. I can’t see this God as unable to communicate well enough for us to be responsible to everything He says. I would posit that only pride keeps us from the humility to accept His truth as revealed in Scripture. It’s not that hard to understand, just to obey.
That’s a very good thought, but the question that comes to me if I am going to accept His truth as revealed in Scripture, what exactly does that truth say? The message of Scripture as interpreted by many Evangelicals is very different from the message as interpreted by Lutherans, and both are different yet from Catholics. The message as interpreted by every church today is very different from the message as interpreted by Aquinas, and Aquinas is very different from Augustine, and they all differ from Origen.
Furthermore, those who study Scripture on a scientific basis, such as higher criticism, have good literary evidence (and even some archaeological evidence) that much of the Bible is written as fiction. I’m not saying that it doesn’t contain any revealed truth, but in my thinking this means the manner in which God in His wisdom chose to reveal Himself was largely through fictional writings. I understand that some Christians may have a problem with this way of thinking, but I think it’s the way of God in his perfect humility and wisdom.
My point is that God hasn’t revealed himself in a manner that allows for any kind of universal truth. Why? I don’t know, but that seems to be the way it is. Perhaps God wants us to struggle with mysteries and unknowns (the name Israel means “to struggle”) as a manner of coming to faith.
If God has not revealed Himself in a manner that allows for any kind of universal truth what faith could there possibly be to come to? I’ve been hungry for just the reading of scripture for the past two years and have read it all at least twice and some parts much more. The more I read as I pray and ask the Lord for wisdom, the stronger my faith in Him grows.
I’d like to see some of the “evidence” that would prove any of the Bible to be written as fiction. It certainly doesn’t claim that for itself, it is all stated as fact given an honest reading just like any other piece of literature. Figures of speech, analogies, and parables are obviously taken as such, but all of scripture taken together is just too miraculous to deny.
I just can’t buy into the idea that a God who is all powerful, all knowing, all wise, able to speak the entire universe into existence, and who makes all the statements about Himself that He does all thoughout the Bible, could be seen as not able to give us the truth we need to know Him. He came in the form of a man to further that knowledge, but also to make a way for sinners like myself to know Him. In John 17: 3 Jesus said, while praying to the Father,” And this is eternal life, that they know You the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”. I believe that Jesus’ prayer was answered and that the Bible, illuminated by the Holy Spirit makes us able to know the ONLY true God.
Thanks for the discussion. I appreciate your willingness to delve into these ideas. I hope you don’t think I’m being irreverent. I do believe God has inspired and revealed Himself through the writings of the Bible, but from my view inspiration is not the same thing as dictation. The writings that have been collected into the Bible are still written by human beings and are still subject to human failings. As Christians, we believe God has revealed something of Himself through these writings. The church has NOT traditionally believed these writings to be scientifically or historically infallible as is being claimed by many today.
You said that Christ is the ONLY true God, emphasis yours. If I told you I had a girlfriend, and she was perfect in every way. There wasn’t a single flaw in her. Every morning the first thing I studied her picture. You would correctly say I had an idol, not a girlfriend. The same is true of the Bible. The Bible is meant to point the way to God, but not to be a god. It is not perfect and infallible. It is not necessarily scientifically and historically accurate.
Consider Numbers 21:8-9. The snake on the pole pointed the way to salvation. But in 2 Kings 18:4 the people began to worship the snake on the pole. The same thing happened in the Catholic Church. Icons and crucifixes were used to point the way to God, but eventually people began bowing down to those icons. We have the same thing today with the Bible. Many are bowing down to a book instead of the living God.
The book of Daniel is considered by most theologians to be a work of fiction written by the Pharisees. The events written about in Daniel actually historically match events under the Greek Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes around 150 BC, not the Persian empire in the 6th century BC. The Persians kept very good records and these events are not indicated. Also, we know the names of all their high officials, and Daniel is not among them. Furthermore, Daniel is a fictional figure that occurs elsewhere in Hebrew mythology, something like Paul Bunyan in our day. There is no Hebrew manuscript, which lends credence to the thinking it was written under the Greek Seleucid ruler, not a Persian ruler. The original version in the Greek Septuagint contains a battle with a dragon in chapters 13 and 14, which were left out of the Bible (included in the first King James edition, left out of later versions). Now unless you think dragons are historical creatures, it’s difficult to see this as a historical book. There are similar arguments for many other books in the Bible, such as Job, Judges, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, 1 & 2 Samuel, etc.
The point isn’t to denigrate the Bible in any way, but to have a proper view. As Christians, we view the Bible as one important way to know God. But it is not a god. It was written by fallible human beings. It is not perfect. It is not infallible. It is not without error. Science is best left to scientists and history is best left to historians, not the Bible. God in his wisdom made things this way.
In Matthew 24:15 Jesus Christ referred to the scripture spoken by the prophet Daniel. I’ll take His Word for it.
I will definitely not be intimidated into abandoning my faith in God Who Himself gave His Word, because any man says I should, or would call me a fool for believing it. I’m not saying you are but that is what the world and apostates try to do. Peter said in II Peter 2:19 that the scriptures were even more sure than their eyewitness experience of the Lord Jesus transfiguration. By His grace I’ll contend for the faith til my last breath, and gladly!
Another thought, if my girlfriend was going away for awhile, and left me the picture and said, “Look at this everyday so you don’t forget me, or what I am like, and then when I come back we will be able to be together again and you will still love me!”, that is what I would do if I loved her.
How is saying the Bible is not perfect or infallible in any way intimidating you or asking you to abandon your faith? Nothing could be further from the truth. If your faith depends upon the Bible being infallible, then you indeed have a week faith! Where is God? Where is the Holy Spirit?
On your second thought (post), the problem isn’t about remembering the girl. If you remember, the problem is in proclaiming that the picture of the girl is perfection, infallible, inerrant. It is replacing the girl herself with her photograph. By saying that the Bible is perfect, you are no longer remembering the Lord. You are worshipping the Bible as if it were the Lord! You are no longer waiting for the Lord to return, because you have the Lord already in your hands. You have created an idol out of the Bible.
Look at John 20:29. “Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
If you must have a perfect Bible to believe, then aren’t you just like Thomas?
I appreciate your dialogue with me, it does help me think through how to get my thoughts across more clearly. To say that discrediting the infallibility of the Bible is not asking me to abandon my faith is the statement that couldn’t be further from the truth. If the Bible is just a collection of fictional tales, fraught with errors from the writers then I’m outta here, to quote the current vernacular. Paul said that if the resurrection isn’t true then of all men we Christians are the most miserable.
I don’t hold the Bible to be God at all, but His Word delivered through His inspiration as claimed by the apostles. I can either believe it or not, and that is everyone’s choice to make. There is not good evidence to discredit the inerrancy of scripture although this forum is not able to support a thorough debate of that. Those debates have happened many times over the course of recent history and the Bible still stands.
God Himself, in the Bible, has told me to believe His Word, trust His Word, hold fast to His Word and to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints. The Bible is not an idol to me. I don’t pray to the Bible, worship the Bible or put my faith for salvation in the Bible. But I do thank God daily for His provision of the Bible to me for everything I need to know for faith and practice. II Tim. 3:14-17 couldn’t be more clear in its veneration of Scripture in its ability to make men wise unto salvation and thoroughly equipped for His service. It comes alive through the Holy Spirit to those who obey the truth, because He wrote it!
I appreciate your willingness to dialog also. Please understand I was not trying to destroy your faith; I was trying to strengthen it. I wish you the best.