This is a neat lead-in to something I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about. I have a sense from reading the Bible (the relatively small portion of it I have read) that it frequently makes statements and claims in a way that, while not really unfamiliar to us, we would today categorize as informal rather than scientific speech. For example, I might say, “Everybody was hard on me today,” and my listeners would clearly understand that I do not mean 1) all people on the planet, 2) everybody I am aware of or know, or even probably 3) every person I encountered that day. Instead it is understood to be a casual reference to 4) the majority of people important to my day, 5) multiple people, or even 6) someone I don’t feel like naming.
Now, science abhors this kind of imprecision of language, and to the extent that our current society has been strongly influenced by scientific thought, we try in formal writing to use more accurate words and phrases.
But is it fair to then apply our formal writing standards to the Bible, because of how much respect we have for it? I wish I had the wherewithal to go through and look for all the places the Bible uses words and phrases in ways which clearly don’t match modern scientifically accurate standards. Actually I suspect someone has probably done this before me, but I wouldn’t know where to begin to look.
Here’s one quick example I found at random: Gen 50:7 “So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen.”
First of all, we assume Pharoah stayed in Egypt. Did he do without servants entirely for this time? And all the elders of Egypt, without exception? Were they all fit to travel? Are children not considered part of the households of Joseph and his brothers and his father? Were the children, flocks, and herds left totally unattended during this time? They were gone at least seven days plus travel time, which could not have been insignificant.
Of course the average science professor does not particularly care about passages like these, because they don’t contradict evidence we can point to today. It’s possible the answers to all the above questions are ‘yes’. But what is a ‘natural’ reading of the text?