God doesn’t really speak, it’s a ‘word event’

‘The Bible with contributions on faith, culture and science’ is a very fine and interesting book for anyone interested in the Bible. The commentaries and more general themes help with a better understanding of this ancient collection of religious texts, and they also show how modern Christians deal with the Bible and its meaning.

But the book also suffers from the nickname that the Dutch-Flemish Bible Society has given it: The Bible of Science. It is to great credit the commentaries, themes and topics added on this occasion to the NIV21, the recently revised official Bible translation. The Bible Society seems to feel the same way, because in its mentions the Society often puts ‘Science Bible’ in quotation marks. These quotation marks are justified because the comments and documents of 61 Dutch Christian scientists (mainly theologians) do not have a scientific-critical character. They provide interesting information, but if there is ever a potential conflict between biblical stories and modern knowledge, it is resolved with platitudes and vagueness. It’s not science, it’s mental health.

Speaking can also be a deed

For example, what is meant when the Bible says that God speaks? More important than speaking can be heard through the senses is that it is at least about communication, says theologian Jaap Dekker in a commentary on Isaiah. And speaking is not always communication either, because speaking can also be an action, as with creation, a ‘word event’. And it can also be done through dreams. And “people are still touched by the word of God.” Fine, but it is open as to whether that ‘speech’ was meant literally by the writers of the Bible.

The creation then. Admittedly, there are still “many unanswered questions”. And aren’t the blind laws of nature – from the big bang to geology – also created by God? “For those who are open to it, belief in God as creator is compatible with contemporary science,” writes molecular biologist Gert Jan Veenstra in his piece on ‘God, man and creation’. His main argument seems to be that the Bible does not give a scientific description, but above all encourages living with hope and expectation. Fine, but scientific analysis of the creation story is not.

Earlier this was brought with more confidence

Is it sometimes not what it says? That’s what I want to know here, if this really was a “science bible.” What kind of text are we actually reading here? Were the stories of the creation of the world in six days not taken literally in Bible times? We can guess ourselves.

The book offers classic, sensible explanations from a Christian perspective. It is highly offensive to hard fundamentalists. And even then, the tone is surprisingly cautious, even in the direction of faith. For example, the compatibility of faith and science that Veenstra speaks so warmly about used to be presented with a little more confidence – quite rightly, even if you really believe. So why doesn’t Veenstra write that God’s intrusion into the laws of nature elevates all science to a higher level for Christians? It seems like the logical conclusion. Or did Veenstra want to avoid the old discussions from the nineteenth century, whether God also willed and created all atrocities in nature? This caution of a sheep among wolves is understandable, but it does not bring clarity.

The strangest thing is that in these ‘contributions about faith, culture and science’ I could not find a word about generally accepted scientific analyzes of the composition of the Old Testament. For example, that different versions of the same stories are put together in the Torah (“The Document Hypothesis”). As a result, God is alternately called Elohim (gods) and YHWH (Yahweh, Lord). As a result, two different versions can often be read back to back, such as the two quite different creation accounts in Genesis and Exodus. An interesting omission in source criticism and a missed opportunity to be a little scientific.

Monotheistic Testimony

So no broad analytical mind is breathing through the comments, but there is enough information in it. And that is precisely the value of this release. Anyone who reads the Bible texts becomes wiser from the short commentaries that accompany the text. Anyone reading the longer themed articles and ‘topics’ – such as ‘Random’, ‘The Resurrection of Jesus’, ‘Sustainability’, ‘Angels and Demons’, ‘Gender’ or ‘The Future of the Cosmos’ – can immediately jump into the Bible passage looking at the said Bible quotations in their context. It is a Bible Club replacement book.

For example, the monotheistic testimony of Isaiah 43:10–11 (“Before me no god was formed, and after me there shall be none”) has been commented on as being one of the few truly monotheistic texts in the Old Testament. Because in other books of the Bible, other gods are often spoken of openly: “In ancient Eastern culture, these existing realities determined life.” So it is not so monotheistic in that bible. “The religion of ancient Israel has been proved not to have existed,” says the section on the archeology of the Bible. Beautiful. Just browse.

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