Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lost in Translation

One of the most profound difficulties we face in achieving a reasonably complete and accurate picture of historic Genesis events is the problem of interpreting the Bible for the English-speaking population. Dr. John Millam, on the Reasons to Believe website, has written about this problem. He quotes C. S. Lewis expressing the difficulty of bringing a Greek word to life by hunting for it in the Greek lexicon and then substituting an English word for it. Lewis says such translators “are not reading Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle.” The same difficulty exists with the ancient Hebrew language.

Dr. John Ankerberg receives many letters from listeners disillusioned with the old earth creationism position of Ankerberg Theological Research Institute. One lengthy recent letter decried “perverting plain Genesis scripture to squeeze billions of years into the Bible.” This impassioned letter was well-written with tight logic, imploring Dr. Ankerberg to at least consider the “slightest possibility that the earth was really created just as Moses plainly wrote it: in six ordinary days (with an evening and a morning) about 6000 years ago.” The writer then asks, “If you had no archaeology, no biology, no geology, no cosmology, no scientists, only scripture: how old would the earth appear to be?” We should, according to this letter, use the Bible as our ONLY source of the history of creation, and “throw out” all other sources of information on the earth and its origins. I have heard this stance repeated by many creationists who believe in a young earth.

There are reliable resources available to us in the search for truth concerning earth origins. Not only do we have archaeology, biology, geology, cosmology, and scientists in the 21st century, but we also have linguistic and hermeneutics experts who are able to instruct and caution us regarding nuances and pitfalls of language translation, especially, as Dr. Millam states, when spanning “cultural barriers that separate modern perspective from ancient thought.”

Young earth creationists read and interpret the ancient text as signaling the sun was created on Day 4 after three consecutive 24-hour days. Plants (Gen 1:11) were created on Day 3 before the sun even existed, they must claim. Days measured without the presence of the sun or clocks to measure hours are difficult to imagine. Old earth creationists see the atmosphere clearing sufficiently on Day 4 to make the sun clearly visible, having been created much earlier (Gen. 1:16: asa = made, the Hebrew verb indicating already completed action). Moses, therefore, must have had an “indefinite time period” concept of “day” for the first three days of creation instead of the 24-hour variety later invented by the Babylonians and Egyptians.

Placing confidence in trustworthy, correctly interpreted science is an important pathway on the journey to truth. When an entire body of scientific discovery contradicts young earth views, we must weigh our belief options seriously. Reliable scientific knowledge is never the enemy of truth discovery, either in earth history or in theology.