One Unchanging Bible Speaks Inerrantly to Ancient and Modern People
The wise person wishing to rightly understand the wisdom of God’s Word emphasizes literal interpretation, but he will realize that the language is figurative at times for very good reasons. This is especially the case with Hebrew poetic passages where figurative language serves unique purposes such as emphasizing the beauty of God’s creation or the unique way that God directs mankind. What is likely the most unique example of figurative language has to do with the way God presents aspects of the creation in scripture. We may wonder how God can speak to both ancient and modern mankind through one unchanging Bible text, when true advances in science have changed our understanding of the creation so greatly over the many centuries since the Bible began to be written ~4000 years ago with the book of Job (for proof of the age of Job see the concluding part of Essay 1, Our Guide to Eternity).
The Bible and the earth in space: Figurative language
a. 2 Sam.23:4
And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth...
Many scholars say a “rising/setting” sun in scripture implies ancient belief that the sun revolved around the earth, but these terms are used in the science of meteorology today, and they signify the language of appearance for simple communication. The sun has always seemed to rise and set, and we still use the terms for convenience, with no danger of being misunderstood. There should be no objection to popular figurative language to relate simple concepts readily understood by the laity.
Now there's a very good reason why the Bible uses figurative language of appearance. We consider the temporal state of our knowledge and the long tenure of the Bible. The Bible was written for ancient & modern man and has had to communicate fully to both. The ancients understood the language of appearance, but suppose that the Bible had offered an expression satisfying to modern skeptics, replacing sunrise with a modern technical description like, "the apparent revolution of the sun in one direction across the sky, due to the rotational motion of the earth in the opposite direction." This would not only be awkward in usage, but would make no sense to the ancients who needed to retain confidence in scripture to believe in its timeless lessons. If scripture had adopted the contemporary description, the ancients would have viewed the Bible as a book of wild speculation that could not be taken seriously. Thus the language of appearance is the scientifically-correct method for a book that speaks to men in all eras of world history, including early eras when God did not confer an accurate knowledge of the physical universe. Now modern man can rejoice in new knowledge revealed to him through the progress in science that God has ordained, but in His Providence, we still justify the language of appearance today, and it’s still quite sufficient for our practical needs.
b. Isaiah 11:12
…gather…the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
To say that the expression four corners of the earth suggests ancient flat-earth belief and a prescientific mentality is silly. Modern folks use such terminology, and there’s no loss of meaning or communication. Again this is figurative language, and it refers to the far reaches of a land or a domain. We can even envision four figurative corners of the earth in its four extremes of direction. Indeed. the Hebrew here speaks of corners of the earth in the figurative sense of ends of the earth. Thus the language in the Isaiah verse is indicative of inhabitants of Judah as having been dispersed to the ends of the earth in terms of the four major extremes of direction.
c. Isaiah 40:22
It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:
This is figurative language describing the earth & heavens from an ancient perspective in which the circle of the earth upon which God sits refers to the heavens that encircle the earth. The heavens seem circular in each & every direction, implying that they are dome-like in structure, which would indicate a similar structure of the earth over which they are stretched-out.* Further, since the heavens are said to be spread out like a tent that encloses, there is an implication of the heavens enclosing the earth, which would require a spherical shape of the earth under dome-like heavens. Such implied concepts are strongly indicative of an origin of this text with the Creator, who renders the text to suit it to both ancient & modern mankind, including any with knowledge of modern science. All this escapes many modern scholars & commentators who view the text as teaching ancient ignorance, likely due to modern skepticism on the origin and accuracy of scripture.
*The heavens stretched-out is not indicative of the expansion of the universe postulated by evolutionists, the stretching out described in the text being like that of a curtain that is stretched-out over a window, or in our text stretched-out over the earth.
d. Job 9:6
The ancients thought earth rested on giant animals or supports, but Job, that's ~4000 years old according to classical scholarship, presents modern-science knowledge here.
Which shaketh the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble.
Reference to pillars of the earth is figurative language on the foundation or powers that keep the earth in stable condition. This is seen in Job 26:11 that says, The pillars of heaven tremble…Clearly, the writer would not imagine giant material pillars support- the heavens, the sky & clouds. The language is figurative, referring to invisible forces stabilizing the features of heaven & earth. Such language is common, as when speaking of law-abiding citizens as stabilizing pillars of society.
All who say the Bible teaches a flat four-cornered earth supported on giant pillars must explain Job 26:7 that says He (God)...hangeth the earth upon nothing. The ancient writer didn’t know the earth requires no material support. Earth hangs upon nothing as part of a universe that hangs upon nothing, all bodies being positioned relative to each other by interactive gravity counteracted by relative motion. When the Job book gives the literal sense, it shows us a modern-science view of earth, and this was at a time in history when men thought the earth was supported on giant pillars or animals. The Creator alone could provide this knowledge so early in history.
Now the language of appearance suits people of all generations of earth history, and God has accommodated His Word to the level of knowledge in all ages of history so that all people can have confidence in scripture as their true guide in life. In accord with the language of appearance in scripture, the ancients acquired a geocentric, or an earth-centered, view of the universe, as appropriate for their early level of knowledge. But God evidently expects growth in the maturity of mankind, just as parents expect this of their children. As He chooses to reveal new truth of the creation to expand our grasp of science, through people of His choosing, we are expected to respond by checking this against scripture to see how it accords with the Word. Today we see the true meaning of Job 26:7 that speaks of the earth as hanging upon nothing, this being something God chose to reveal to us in His good time, and we then understand the use of figurative language elsewhere. We see how God deals with man according to our ability to under-stand the world we live in. Thus, in our age of science knowledge, we should worship God, as many of the ancients did, but with a new appreciation of His greatness as the Creator who made all things before mankind existed, and in His wisdom has instructed us according to our ability to understand. Likely, He has done this since His revelation of new creation truth serves to make mankind increasingly aware of truth as He brings to a conclusion His plan for the earth as we know it in preparation for ultimate events of His plan in the great Millennium and eternal state.
Yet today many people reject God's revelation of truth in favor of the absurdities of humanism, even denying the existence of God through evolutionism, man’s ignorant idea of science apart from God’s revelation of the truth. Evolutionism is an absurdity resulting from making ourselves our own god in self-exalting humanist "wisdom." In doing so, people ironically put themselves on the level of animals that have no soul, which makes human life cheap, and leads to hideous crimes against humanity. This happens because humanism today is motivated by the self-important one who first hated his own Creator, the devil, who leads all those following his example to the same ultimate destruction that awaits him. Most people don't seem to understand that the only way to have a fulfilling life is to follow the wisdom of God who created the world we live in and all things that pertain to it, and to pursue any other course is illogical in the extreme.
God's Creation Plan revealed by His Providence
We have now learned unmistakably that we live in a heliocentric (sun-centered) solar system with the earth revolving around the sun.* This serves to picture the fact that God’s Son is the true center of our existence, the one around whom our lives revolve. Returning to God as our Creator and King is the only way to escape the destruction of humanism, and live a meaningful existence today and a magnificent future. The beacon light of the Son of God offers to all the path to salvation from destruction, and the order and stability of a life centered on Him. This is the One who proved His love for us in the ultimate degree on the Cross of Calvary, and rose again to conquer death on behalf of all those who will commit themselves to His care for all eternity. All of us who commit ourselves to Him anticipate the magnificent eternal future He speaks of in His eternal inerrant Word.
*The extreme gravitational pull of the sun requires that it be the center of our solar system, and we observe comets orbiting the sun, their tails even changing direction as they go behind it and then emerge and travel in the opposite direction (the tail always faces away from the sun). We observe moons of Jupiter revolving around the much-more massive planet, the moons disappearing behind the planet and emerging on the other side. The apparent annual parade of constellations across the sky with the change of the seasons corresponds with our revolution around the sun. The apparent annual change in height of the sun in the sky corresponds to changing orientation to the sun as the tilted earth revolves around the sun. Corresponding change in the seasons is due to the tilt and variant intensity of solar radiation as earth revolves around the sun, and this explains why the seasons are reversed in the northern and southern hemispheres. And there is a very small shift in the apparent position of nearer stars in relation to that of very distant stars when the observations are made six months apart, reflecting a change in our direction of viewing the stars due to the distance across the orbit of the earth around the sun.