John Walton
 on July 06, 2017

The Problem with Trying to Read Science Out of Scripture

Biblical scholar John Walton defines “concordism” and explains why disagrees with this interpretive approach.


Leningrad Codex text sample, portions of Exodus 15:21-16:3. By Shmuel ben Ya’akov, Public Domain.

Chapter two of Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation? focuses on the topic of biblical interpretation. Steve Lemke (provost at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as the moderator for this chapter and asks John Walton and Ken Samples, representing BioLogos and Reasons to Believe, respectively, to talk about the two organizations’ approaches to interpreting Scripture. Both organizations affirm the authority and inspiration of the Bible and are committed to upholding and following what it teaches. But there is not always agreement on just what the Bible teaches. One of the main differences between us and RT on this subject is whether “concordism” represents the right way to relate the Bible to the findings of science. In the excerpt below, biblical scholar John Walton defines “concordism” and explains why disagrees with this interpretive approach.

Excerpt from John Walton, “Biblical Interpretation” from Old-Earth or Evolutionary Creation?: Discussion Origins with Reasons to Believe and BioLogos, ed. Kenneth Keathley, J.B. Stump, and Joe Aguirre (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press), 31-32.

We now need to examine this hermeneutical principle of extended authority as it pertains to scientific readings in the Bible. One of the common approaches to Scripture that attempts to extend meaning beyond the biblical author’s original intentions is called concordism. Concordist interpreters claim there is a convergence between God’s Word and God’s world and suggest ways that a more sophisticated scientific understanding of the world can be integrated with statements of Scripture—admittedly applying meaning to the words of Scripture that the author would never have been aware of. Such extended meanings can claim no authority since they do not derive from inspired sources. They cannot justifiably represent claims to perceive meanings that God intended, because they are not meanings that are independent of our own imagination.

Both our organizations affirm that the “two books” can and should be read together. Yet we do not undertake such reading in the same way because at BioLogos we recognize a weakness of concordism that is found in the very flexibility that it exploits. No matter what the modern scientific consensus might be, concordists can feasibly find Scripture to support it.

When people believed that the earth was the center of the universe, Scripture could be cited in support. When the steady-state universe was the reigning model, Scripture was found to be in conformity. Then when the Big Bang and expanding universe replaced the earlier cosmology, sure enough, Scripture came to be seen as supporting that. This flexibility argues against putting stock in such a methodological approach.

We ought to focus more narrowly on the authoritative message that is embedded in the author’s intentions. It should be of no consequence to biblical interpreters whether the words of Scripture can accommodate modern scientific perspectives. At BioLogos, we do not believe that evolution or common descent should be read into Scripture or found between the lines. We need to know as precisely as possible what the text claims by the authority vested in the human author’s intentions. Our interest for the interaction with science is in whether the intentions of the author make claims that inherently deny the conclusions of modern science. That would indeed be problematic. But in my own investigations of Genesis 1–3, I have found that the authoritative message of Scripture does not contradict the findings of modern science.

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About the author

John Walton

John Walton

John Walton is a professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois and an editor and writer of Old Testament comparative studies and commentaries. Throughout his research, Walton has focused his attention on comparing the culture and literature of the Bible and the ancient Near East. He has published dozens of books, articles and translations, both as writer and editor, including his book, The Lost World of Genesis One.

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