By Layton James
Layton James is music director at Bethel Lutheran Church in Hudson, Wis., and former keyboardist with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. He is a source in MPR News' Public Insight Network.
I am an evangelical Christian, and I read the Holy Bible from cover to cover every 10 months or so. I believe also that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. As Psalm 119 says: "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path."
But it is not a scientific book. My faith isn't threatened by evolution, geologic history, the discoveries of medicine, space travel or mathematics. The Bible reveals God in relation to His creation. Science allows us to celebrate, understand and protect that creation.
Was there a flood, by which God tried to "start over"? Many ancient writings tell a similar story. Although scientific evidence of the flood is scarce or nonexistent, the story does tell us that a man of faith, Noah, was worth preserving. Faith and trust in God were rewarded, and idolatry and hardness of heart were punished. That's the reason for the story.
If one wants to think of the Bible as a science book, the first two chapters of Genesis have lots of factual inconsistencies. The first account says God spent six days creating and one day resting. In the second, God did it all in one day. The first story says that humans were created in the image of God, "male and female created He them." But the second story says that poor Adam was all alone and that God saw that he needed a companion, so He provided him with a wife by putting him to sleep, removing a rib, and fashioning a woman.
The two conflicting stories of creation have never been a stumbling block to me, because I've never considered them to be scientifically factual. The truths set forth in these beginning chapters are many, but none of them are scientific.
We celebrate the Sabbath because God rested on the seventh day. We get the true meaning of marriage. We get graphic, powerful descriptions of the splendor and awesomeness of God.
We also see how these passages influenced other writers. The opening of John's gospel is surely based, in literary style and sweep of meaning, on Genesis 1. Revelation, the final book in the Bible, was written by that same person, from the island of Patmos, at the end of the first century C.E. He witnessed the birth of the church, the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the martyrdom of Christians under Nero. John's vision of "a new heaven and a new earth" foretells God's "endgame" in which all the loose ends will be tied up, and the reign of Christ will begin.
Many have tried to calculate the exact date of that cataclysm to their sorrow.
There's a powerful political faction that is against any "two-state" solution to the Palestinian problem, because it's written that Israel must occupy all of its Biblical territory before the battle of Armageddon can take place. Of course, Jesus himself says (in Mark 13: 32-34), "But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father. Take ye heed, watch and pray; for ye know not when the time is."
Don't read the Bible as a source of scientific truth. The Bible is the best book ever written about God/human relations. That's the way we should read it.