Dispatches from the Forum: Facts and Truths in the Bible

Does the truth of the early chapters of Genesis depend on how factual they are?
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://biologos.org/blogs/brad-kramer-the-evolving-evangelical/dispatches-from-the-forum-facts-and-truths-in-the-bible

What a great question!!!


I have a single question for members of BioLogos. Is it the consensus that the global flood as recorded in Genesis never took place? Is it the consensus also that other aspects of the Old Testament did not take place, such as the Exodus? I have many further questions depending on the answers to these questions. Thank you.

Thanks to @Christy and @joseph1979 (and @dscottjorgenson) for the posts that inspired this article. Also thanks to @gbrooks9 for the nomination.

I (obviously) thought this was an incredible conversation and would love to continue it below.

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Wow, great dialogue. To answer Francis Schaeffer’s pointed question–is the Bible perfect history and perfect science–requires one to examine the question. And the question assumes a modern understanding of history and science–where history means what has been captured on an iPhone video and science means a body of knowledge, devoid of ethics, focused on materiality and gathered through inductive means. Obviously that doesn’t do the modern interpretations of science and history justice. There certainly isn’t room to consider how these have changed over time. The Bible, the originator and developer of these collosal twins, takes a different approach. History was launched from the incredible observation that God saved, particularly regarding the exodus. Science may be wisdom that knows good and evil. Herbert Butterfield’s Origins of History and Origins of Modern Science make great reading in this area.

Thank you for revisiting this discussion for those of us that are new to the Biologos forum. I can only speak from my own experience why “facts” are so important to “truths” / “beliefs”. “Certainty”. Every generation has faced uncertainty in the world that they lived in, but it is a fact that change is happening faster than ever before and access to knowledge has increased exponentially. Combine that with what I was taught (intentional or unintentional) from an early age through Bible College that my faith (evidence for God not salvation) is based on modern scientific and literal historic accuracy of the Bible along with life change in myself and others throughout history, and even the possibility of accepting a different lens of how the Bible can be viewed sounds heretical and atheistic. We all crave certainty and if what we believe about God (not just God because I was taught they can’t be separated) is the one thing that would never and should never change in this world I can understand skepticism and fear for accepting any view that would disrupt that certainty. Add in the fear of hell and you are all in or not at all on the modern scientific and historic accuracy of the Bible. These discussions done with grace and reason devoid of our natural human emotional urges to be right (certain) help all of us understand each other’s views whether we change them or not.


In the excellent exchange concerning “Facts and Truths in the Bible” you appear to maintain that: “Facts are Truths”. After spending a lifetime in science (>66 yrs. ACS member) I have a slightly different perspective: Facts may lead one to the Truth, but they are NOT Truth per se. I used the following scenario to explain this to my Adult Confirmation classes:

Last night the TV weatherman stated that ‘sunrise tomorrow would be at 5:47 AM’. Was he stating a Fact or Truth? Actually, neither. To fully state the Truth, the announcer would say:"_Anyone standing on a flat plain and looking eastward at 5:47 AM tomorrow will see the light of our nearest star appear over the horizon." Further investigation of this Fact should lead to the Truth that is the rotation of our seemingly fixed and solid Earth that leads us to the assumption that it is our Sun that is rising. If the only need you had for this information was to time your commute to work to miss the heaviest traffic, then the Fact of the time of sunrise was all you were expecting. The Truth of this “sunrise phenomenon” took centuries of investigation by brilliant minds to become known and accepted, but in today’s busy world, you could care less.

Did Jesus know of a real Samarian who helped the Jew who had been beset by robbers? Was he a historical individual? Does it matter for the Truth Jesus was trying to impart? Shouldn’t we treat some of the incidents in the OT the same way? They can convey a truth even if careful examination discloses they are not completely factual in the way science demands today.
Al Leo

The Jews believed in facts and history, which is what is in the OT. The Greeks believed in ideas and truth, which was what was in their philosophy. We Christians inherited both traditions and combining facts and truths we have theology and science.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth is both truth and fact. Some of the details found in Genesis may not be exactly factual, because that is science, not theology.

Sin came into the world through the lack of faith of humans. That is both truth and fact, but again we know all the details. I would also suggest that just saying that Adam and Eve committed the original sin does not really answer the question. That may be a fact, but facts, like the math table, and Truth are not the same thing.

We are not saved by facts, nor are we saved by truths. We are saved by grace through faith. We are continually looking for shortcuts to salvation, but there are none. The sooner we accept this fact/truth the better.



I think you point out one unfortunate effect of focusing on “apologetics” to bolster or validate faith in our Christian communities. As a someone who grew up reading Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, it was very much emphasized in my community that biblical truth was something you could stand in judgment over rationally, and it all made perfect sense, if you just knew the right facts and arguments and had the right approach.

I still remember sitting in a freshman theology class and my prof said that commitment to the truth of the biblical revelation was an a priori commitment. We believe the Bible is true because we believe the Bible is true. The minute you start believing the Bible is true because of something else (it is historically/archaeologically verifiable, it is scientifically accurate, it ‘works’, it feels right, lots of other people believe, it, it makes sense, it was copied carefully, etc.), you have made that something (your reason, experience, feelings, intuition, understanding, groupthink, tradition) the foundation of your faith instead of making the truth of God’s revelation the foundation of your faith.

This was a very challenging thought for me as an 18 year old, and it is still a challenging thing I wrestle with. What does it mean to put your faith in the person of Jesus? (Not just believe the right facts about Jesus or mentally assent to the truth of the biblical accounts about Jesus, but to believe in Jesus?)

If faith is being sure of our hope that fellowship in Jesus’ death and resurrection really is our present and future salvation and faith is certainty of what we can’t and don’t see, than the certainty we are aiming for looks different than the certainty held out for us by modern, rationalistic, materialistic thinking and the certainty presented in our Christian apologetics materials.


I don’t want to side-track the discussion, @aleo, but I just have to point out what I think is obvious:

The Good Samaritan was a story about Jesus himself…

The struggle for me was/is not grasping the work of Jesus and salvation. However, faith that God is real comes into question because I had built that/been indoctrinated on apologetics from an early age.

Christy (moderator) did a great job responding and clarifying the challenge. If you had built your faith that God is real and the Bible is trustworthy based on the proof that the Bible is both historic and scientific accurate from a modern view, you have a house of cards that can be easily toppled and must be defended at every turn. If it’s not defended than salvation can be questioned because there is not a God or Bible that is trustworthy. I think that in a nutshell is why from the beginning there have always been some within the Christian religion that have struggled with new scientific discoveries that apparently conflicted with Scripture, including me. Similar in some ways to keeping the letter of the law as the Pharisees, Saducees, and Teachers of the Law did when Jesus walked on the earth.

All this is not to debate, but further explain the struggle that someone like Joseph1979 and I face when choosing to view Scripture in a different way which has to happen if one is to accept/understand Scripture in light of modern knowledge.

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Spot on! You definitely have a gift with words.

That is the challenge. What is the “certainty” we are aiming for as followers of Jesus?

It’s hard to trust that God provides enough revelation for everyone, including myself to have faith that is certain of things that we can’t and don’t see. That is the stumbling block for some and a challenge for all of us if we are honest. We want something scientifically certain.

I’m diving into theology here and because the Christian religion has a multitude of ideas here I’m going to leave it with my personal statement of faith . I’ve come to the point that I need God as a Savior and if I believe the general statements of the Apostles creed (may not be able to scientifically prove them) and I’m genuinely seeking God, the example of Jesus, and the principals/truths for living presented in the Bible my faith will grow, but it may not be certain in a scientific provable sense.

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Agreed. Just as in the more obvious story where Jesus is the Good Shepherd searching for a lost sheep. I just wanted to point out how easy it is for Christians (Joseph 1979 and the rest of us) to be distracted looking for Facts in the Bible and miss the basic Truth that they were meant to impart.
Al Leo

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[quote=“rvongunt, post:11, topic:4815”]
the Christian religion has a multitude of ideas here I’m going to leave it with my personal statement of faith[/quote]
Frankly, I am comfortable with the idea of a personal statement of Faith. Each person on this earth is unique, and while my Faith has much in common with other Christians, it should be different in some respects–not like some socks: “one size fits all”. For instance, how does one balance the attributes of God: perfect Justice and perfect Love? The Old Testament emphasizes that a Just God can be wrathful in meting out retribution to a sinful humanity: witness the world wide flood in Genesis. But geology was one science I studied growing up, and the fossils I collected in the strata seen exposed in the Grand Canyon provided clear evidence that Noah’s flood could NOT have been world wide and been so devastating to all life. (Sorry, Henry Morris, your PhD in hydraulics notwithstanding, your contention that Noah’s flood carved the Grand Canyon is hogwash.) So my observations in the geological sciences led me to more readily accept Jesus’ view of God the Father as ‘Abba’ (Dad) rather than the wrathful Destroyer that demanded Justice at any cost.

Each of us is truly unique. Each of our journeys through life colors our outlooks in different ways and colors our Christian Faiths, even though they should have much in common. We should welcome those differences, and not attempt to fit them all into one mold.
Al Leo

Is it the consensus that the global flood as recorded in Genesis never took place? Is it the consensus also that other aspects of the Old Testament did not take place, such as the Exodus?

Genesis never uses the term “global,” or even the concept of “global.” Right out of the gate, we are being led astray by the English words used in the translation. If Genesis instead describes a local flood, then there is no conflict at all.

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