What Authority is not

The authoritative nature of the Scriptures as the Word of God does not mean, however, that the words of Scripture were mechanically dictated by God to the human writers, so that these writers were simply passive instruments or stenographers. The Scriptures are not a kind of “automatic writing” wherein God guided the hands of the biblical authors and they simply transcribed what was given them. Rather God used the insights, gifts, literary styles, and aims of the biblical writers for his purposes, so that the final product of their work was the true Word of God. The result is that the Word of God, entirely reliable in all that it means to teach, and completely without error. But it is also completely a work of its time, partaking of the culture and presuppositions of those to whom it was first addressed, that it might be fully understood by them.

This authoritative nature of Scripture does not mean that the cosmology or science contained within it partakes of this authority. The Scriptures authoritatively teach exactly and precisely what God intended them to teach, giving this teaching in the cultural and scientific idiom of that time. It was never intended to correct the cosmology or science of its day. Thus, for example, the ancients believed that the sun revolved around the earth, and the Scriptures are not concerned to correct this view, or teach the science discovered since the days of Galileo. The scriptural statements which speak of the sun moving around the earth (e.g., Josh 10:12-13; Psalm 18(19):5-6) must be understood as ancient poetry, a cultural condescension to the science of the day.

We must similarly regard statements in the Scriptures about the sky being solid (Gen 1:6- 7; Job 37:18). The ancients believed that the sky was solid and that it kept the celestial sea above from falling upon the earth beneath, and the Scriptures reflect such a view. This does not mean that the Scriptures are in error, but only that they were not given to teach science. The Fathers therefore were not wedded to the science of the day, nor did they read the Scriptures as a textbook of science. They regarded the Scriptures as containing what would “be of use to us for our salvation.”