Saturday, May 2, 2009

Evolutionary Explanations of the Bible

Evolutionism is not only a scientific theory. Since the nineteenth century it has also developed into an all-encompassing worldview. According to this worldview all that we see and think and believe has developed from a state of great simplicity to one of ever-increasing complexity and sophistication. All of this happened, moreover, in a natural way. The evolutionary worldview knows of no transcendence, no supernature; only nature exists. Nothing has come to us from above; all that exists has its origin here below.

In the three-part series under this heading (see “Collected Papers” in the sidebar; direct link here) I look at ways the evolutionary worldview has affected the interpretation of the Bible, both the Old and the New Testament. The first instalment deals with a theory that explains the origin and development of Israel’s faith and culture in straightforward evolutionary terms (the so-called Wellhausen thesis). The second one describes attempts to explain the Old Testament religion with reference to the traditions of advanced civilizations that Israel came into contact with, such as Egypt, Babylonia, and Canaan itself. Special attention is given to the assumed influence of Babylonia. In the final instalment I turn to a Bible-critical theory that focuses on the New Testament and describes New Testament teachings and the origins of Christianity as derived from pagan traditions.

These Bible-critical schools arose in the nineteenth century. Although their conclusions have been modified since then, many of the underlying assumptions are still with us. It is therefore good to be aware not only of these theories but also of the response to them by Bible-believing scholars. Prominent among the latter was the Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), a colleague of Abraham Kuyper and during the second part of his academic career a professor of dogmatology at Kuyper’s Free University. In this series I have focused on his response. As I hope will become clear, Bavinck’s “defence of the faith” against various sorts of biblical criticism is as relevant today as it was a century ago.

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