This may require some speculation, but what do we know about how thought paradigms have affected beliefs about the Bible throughout history? For example, today people get tripped-up over things like how Noah got every animal on earth into the ark, which misses the moral point of the story, but would a first century Christian even consider questioning that sort of thing? Did people just take everything at face value? Is our skepticism towards things like that just a recent product of movements like the Age of Enlightenment, Modernism, Postmodernism, etc? My interest in this is about trying to be more engaged in the truths about God, man, etc. that the Bible presents, instead of “getting lost in the weeds”.


An interesting and thought-provoking question. First of all, I have read fairly extensively about the culture of the Jews in the time of Jesus and of the Greeks and their philosophies. About the common person in Greek and Romans society, I will not say much, but from what I can see in my reading, the average Jew at the time of Jesus was quite rational and skeptical. This would have been even more true of the Greeks who were influenced by Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras or Epicurus. The reason that the Jews and early Christians do not seem to have struggled with details such as the length of the “days” in Genesis or the number of species on the ark is because they their idea of the purpose of the Bible was closer to correct than ours. They understood the purpose of the Genesis creation and flood accounts to be principally theological and did not get caught up in the unimportant, such as the number of creatures on the ark and how animals from distant parts managed to make in on the ark. Such questions come from a Western/rational/modernist worldview, which, to me, agrees with your contention that one’s paradigm/world view has a really strong effect on how one reads the Bible. What I do not agree with, though, is that moderns are far more skeptical and ancients were more credulous and gullible. No, they definitely did not “take everything at face value.” They took things closer to the value God intended them in the first place. Genesis 1 is a treatise on theology and a polemic against Babylonian polytheism, not a scientifically precise view of creation.

Did the Enlightenment make us more skeptical? Absolutely. It returned us closer to the skepticism of the Greeks, Romans and Jews at the time of Christ from the highly credulous and superstitious nature of Europeans in the Medieval period.

So, my suggestion is to try to learn about the Near Eastern worldview, and especially that of the Jews, and, to a lesser extent of the Greeks at the time of Christ in order to better understand what God is saying to us in scripture. When you do, you will not ignore the details, but you will put them in a more balanced biblical framework.

This is a rather gross simplification of the topic, to be honest, but in a short answer it hits the important points, I hope. Feel free to ask a follow-up question.

John Oakes

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