I listened to a presentation by Jon Jorgenson on Science vs. the Bible in which he addressed the question whether the Bible has any scientific errors. Jon’s YouTube channel is aimed at teenagers and young adults, and he is a prolific producer of inspirational and devotional material.
He acknowledges, the answer, literally, is yes. For instance, in Genesis, the author describes the Moon as a “lesser light”, but we know the Moon is not technically a light. It doesn’t generate light of its own like the Sun.
Another example is the parable of the mustard seed. Jesus calls the mustard seed the smallest of all seeds. We know that there are other seeds in the world that are smaller than mustard seeds.
For these reasons, we cannot honestly say that the Bible, on its face, taken literally, is scientifically accurate. It simply isn’t.
Jon offers that we shouldn’t expect the Bible to be scientifically accurate because it isn’t meant to be. 2 Timothy 3:16 states: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”. (NASB) From this, he makes the point that the Bible is written for a different purpose.
Still, one might ask, doesn’t the God of the universe know these things? Why doesn’t He get the facts right?!
There are some possible explanations. I think Jon is right that we need to consider the overall purpose of the Bible. It is not intended to be a scientific manual. It is intended to instruct people on understanding God, understanding our relationship to God, understanding God’s purpose in creating the world and creating us, and it is intended to bring us to personal relationship with this God.
The Bible is a compilation of at least 66 writings by at least 40 different authors displaying a spectrum of literary genres and literary devices. Genres include poetry, wisdom literature and narrative, among others. Literary devices include allusion, anthropomorphism, hyperbole, metaphor, paradox and many others. The Bible is not a technical manual. It’s a compilation of various forms of writing and writing devices. It simply isn’t meant to be taken literally in every respect.
But it occurs to me that there is more to it than these observations from Jon. God works through people of finite understanding. He works through particular people in particular locations at particular times. He works through people who didn’t have the scientific and technical knowledge that we have today.
This is remarkable to begin with, that God could work through ancient people from the Bronze Age and other periods, to convey a universal and timeless message. Considering the number of authors who wrote the compilation of writings over about 1500 years with no oversight team, its unity and combined depth of purpose and meaning and flow is absolutely incredible.
Jon highlighted a few statements in the Bible that are not literally accurate in a technical, scientific sense, but there is much of the Bible that is consistent with modern science, in spite of its non-technical content. I think of the story of a guy like Hugh Ross, who at age of 7 knew that he wanted to be an astrophysicist. He grew up in an atheist household and in a community dominated primarily by people who subscribed to Eastern religions. He didn’t even read the Bible until he was 16 or 17
When was picked up the Bible, he started at the beginning, in Genesis 1:1. Because he was knowledgeable about physics and cosmology, he read Genesis 1 through the lens of his scientific understanding. He recognized the nature of the literature he was reading – poetic and allegorical. But he saw that the basic story and basic facts, given their descriptions in nontechnical language, were true to his scientific understanding. He recognized that the creation “days” described events corresponding to what he knew from science, and they were described in exactly the order he knew them to have occurred.
You can watch his testimony at the video embedded at the end of this article.
Hugh Ross found these things remarkable precisely because he knew this literature was written thousands of years before any of those scientific discoveries were made. Thousands of years before we knew about the Big Bang and Singularity, the Bible described the events in a way that is remarkably consistent with modern science.
No, the descriptions are not technically accurate in a literal way like you would read in a scientific journal; but the Bible is not a scientific journal. It isn’t intended to be a scientific journal, and we shouldn’t expect it to read like one.
God also worked through people to communicate His truth. He worked through finite people with limited knowledge and limited experience in times when people had limited understanding of the world around them to convey timeless and universal truths. God did this, perhaps, because he made us to have communion with each other and with Him. He could have written out everything on tablets of stone, but that would not have been consistent with His purpose and desire which was to cultivate people made in His image who would have fellowship with themselves and with Him.
If God is God – all powerful, all knowing and eternal, timeless and immaterial – such a God who has the capacity to make the universe that we live in and to make us certainly would have the ability to communicate Himself through imperfect, finite vessels like us and to preserve the integrity and fundamental meaning of that message. This is what the Bible is.
The author of Genesis would look up at the Moon and consider it to be a light like the Sun. There was no definition for light at that time that would cause him not to use that word. Both objects provided light to guide us.
He could have used the word, fire, but he didn’t. Fire would have been accurate of the Sun, but not of the Moon, but “light” is generally accurate. The fact that the Moon doesn’t generate its own light is of no consequence to the message being conveyed.
Whether a mustard seed is technically the smallest seed in the entire world was not the point of the parable Jesus gave. It was sufficient to illustrate that a little faith goes a long way.
Keep in mind also that Jesus was speaking to first century Palestinians. There were no botanists among them who had studied the horticulture of the world. Perhaps the smallest seed known to first century Palestinians was the mustard seed. This parable would have resonated with them for that reason, and Jesus would have chosen the mustard seed because it was familiar to them.
If Jesus had chosen a different seed from a different part of the world, the story would not have had the same impact. They might have been confused. It wouldn’t be familiar to them.
But I think there is something else going on here too. The main issue that people have with God is self-centeredness and pride. We would rather rely on ourselves than rely on God. Satan’s temptation of Eve in the garden was that, if you eat this fruit, you will know what God knows, and you will be like God. We want to be our own gods.
Scripture, we are told, is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. (Hebrews 4:12) Two people can read the same thing and come away with different impressions. Is that because the words are flawed?
No, it’s because people approach the words from different positions. The unbeliever may be coming from a position of unbelief and will read into the words assumptions that the unbeliever has already made. Because the Bible is not technically accurate in a scientific way, the person who has made science and human intellect their God, will come away scoffing at the Bible. The person who approaches the Bible humbly, open to encountering God through its pages, will come away knowing God.
We see this principle in action in Jesus who was a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews because they thought they were righteous by their observance of the Law (the same Law they continually failed to observe, ironically). Jesus announced that He was the only one who fulfilled the righteousn requirements of God, offered Himself up as a sacrifice to atone for our failures and offered His righteousness to anyone who was willing to put their faith and trust in Him.
Jesus was folly to the Greeks who loved debate, philosophy and knowledge. They disdained the simplicity of the Gospel. They trusted in their own ability to think and reason and to grasp complex concepts of morality, philosophy and reality.
In the same way, the Bible is a “trap” or stumbling block for people today. Those who trust in human achievement and scientific discoveries are quick to find statements in the Bible that are not technically accurate according to our definitions and understandings of those terms today. Never mind that the Bible is not intended as a scientific text, but as a spiritual revelation for learning about God. Never mind that the Scripture was given to finite men to convey according to their own understandings in the times and places where they lived.
Yet, in spite of these things, the Bible is a “living, breathing” document in the way that no other document is. Ultimately, however, it is just a shadow of the real thing. The real thing is God Himself!
 For a great summary of literary devices in the Bible with examples, see What kinds of literary techniques are used in the Bible? By Alex Carmichael at the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry online.
 “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:21-25)