Recent Interpretations of Biblical Authority Part 3: Does the Bible Teach Science? -- By: John D. Woodbridge

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 142:567 (Jul 1985)
Article: Recent Interpretations of Biblical Authority Part 3: Does the Bible Teach Science?
Author: John D. Woodbridge

Recent Interpretations of Biblical Authority
Part 3:
Does the Bible Teach Science?

John D. Woodbridge

[John D. Woodbridge, Professor of Church History, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois]

[Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of four articles delivered by the author as the W. H. Griffith Thomas Lectures at Dallas Theological Seminary, November 6–9, 1984.]

Since the early 1960s a number of scholars, including Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants, have begun to argue that the Bible is infallible for matters of faith and practice. It is not, however, infallible for matters that touch on science and history. The final version of the statement on Scripture [Dei Verbum] drawn up by Vatican II especially limits the Bible’s inerrancy to “salvation” truths.1 It will be remembered that the Rogers and McKim Proposal also maintains essentially the same qualification.2

Those scholars who place a faith and practice delimitation on the extent of the Bible’s infallibility are frequently proponents of various forms of macroevolution and higher criticism. Such is no mere happenstance. They apparently believe that if science and history do not fall within the scope of the Bible’s infallibility, then their advocacy of theories of developmental science and the findings of higher criticism cannot overthrow the Bible’s authority. Bruce Vawter, a Roman Catholic scholar of renown, summarizes well the reasoning which sustains this delimitation: “The truth of the Bible has nothing to do one way or the other, pro or contra, with either scientific fact or scientific history.”3 He argues that the Bible’s purpose is to tell about salvation and ethics; it is not intended to give infallible teachings about history and science. These scholars are convinced that greater respect for the Christian faith will be retained in the academic community if Christian scholars demonstrate an openness to evolution and higher criticism.

Bruce Vawter’s Proposal

Not only have several scholars espoused the faith and practice delimitation for the Bible’s infallibility, but also a number have suggested that astute Christians in the earlier centuries of the church advocated the same position. These believers did not link the reliability of the Bible’s statements about history and the natural world to its authority. Vawter propounds the idea that even when Christians spoke of the Bible’s infallibility, they were not referring to biblical inerrancy in an alleged “fundamentalist” se...

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