Saturday, June 16, 2007

Theological Concept: Concordism

When's the last time you thought about how the Bible relates to science? If you read science blogs like I do, this topic comes up quite a bit - often as the butt of jokes. Most of what I see in the science and (Christian) religion 'debate' are arguments from one side of how the Bible portrays a precise account of creation from the other side of how the stories in the Bible are mythological nonsense. There is an obscure school of thought from the 19th century that may offer some wiggle room for individuals interested in exploring the possibility that God played a role in creation, but who hold science as the best approach to investigate the natural order.

Concordism is the view that the biblical account of creation, when properly understood, will be in agreement with scientific accounts of natural history. Understanding where you (or the person you are talking to) stand on the spectrum of concordist perspectives will make it easier for you to understand what direction the discussion will go.

Does this mean that we are to take accounts of natural history in the Bible as correlating to modern day scientific observations?

Biblical literalists will argue that any allusion to natural history in the Bible must correspond to actual physical events. This is an approach with a very high degree of concordism. The problem with this approach is that literalist concordists are trying to find scientific data in a passage that is pre-scientific.

At the other end of the spectrum is the position that the Bible does not intend to teach us about natural history and is only using the language of nature to help our understanding of spiritual truths. This is the minimal degree of concordism.

Most theologians acknowledge that the primary message of the Bible concerns the relationship between God and his creation, not an account of the creation. Taking account of creation is where science comes in handy. The added bonus is that science in this role can be undertaken by anyone familiar with empiricism and the scientific method.

And perhaps in the end, we can note the similarities between the progression of Genesis creation account and the progression of species described by the paleontological record and say, "One wonders about that." Or we might be left curious about how it is that altruistic behavior arose and note that the central message of the New Testament is one of altruism.


Shofet said...

An excellent post! I agree that the purpose of the Bible is about G-d and our relationship to him. There is a great deal of knowledge in the Bible which can be demonstrated to have a scientific purpose, washing oneself frequently in running water for example, but the text was written long before "objective" science came into existence. There is more information about this topic on Silver Trumpets (

John said...

I am more than three years late to respond but glad to. I think it is a mistake to be categorical since it brackets or limits the boundary of an argument. When Thomas Robey says there is a problem in trying to find scientific data in a Biblical passage that is clearly pre-scientific, he is limiting super-naturalism and ultimately limiting God. If there is a God and if he wished to communicate both through the creation and the "God-breathed" written word, no matter where you are in the cosmic time frame, God's spirit has superintended those words with intention and purpose. Since both the general revelation (the world) and the specific revelation (the Word) are from Him, there absolutely cannot be any conflict between God's world and God's Word. Only a conflict in human interpretation of the world and the Word. A transcendent God, outside of our time constraints is responsible for both and it would be antithetical or against the revealed nature of God to have those words yield a complete and comprehensive meaning for the ancients and an entirely different complete and comprehensive meaning to the modern scientific mind. I contend it can and must be both. Despite the fact that "concordism" (or scientific meaning in the words) meant little if anything at all the ancients, the core message that one transcendent, personal and caring agent (God) is responsible for all there meaningful. Also, of the same passages, it may be that modern scientists will be driven to their knees in worship of this awesome agent who superintends and orchestrates every cubic nanometer of the universe through every micro-second of time from the moment of the big bang until this moment as they uncover God's fingerprints throughout nature.