does Jesus know more than science? (or, grappling with a truly fully human Jesus of Nazareth)

Posted by PeteEnns on October 24, 2016 in Christianity and evolution 35 Comments

51pbY5KhyEL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_I believe that evolution explains human origins, even if there is always more to learn.

I believe this for the same reason I believe the earth is round and billions of years old, the universe is immense and billions of years older, that there are atoms and subatomic particles, that galaxies number in the billions with billions of stars in each, that it takes light from the sun 8.3 minutes to reach us. And so on.

I believe that evolution is one of the things that science has gotten right, along with many other things we take for granted every day, because this is the resounding conclusion of the scientific community, including Christians trained in the sciences.

The stories of origins in Genesis (Chapter 1 and chapter 2) are not competing “data sets” to scientific models of cosmic and human origins. These stories were written somewhere between 2500 and 3000 years ago, and clearly reflect cultural categories older still.

I don’t expect Genesis or any other Bronze or Iron Age text to answer the kinds of questions we can answer today through calculus, optical and radio telescopes, genomics, or biological and cultural anthropology.

In putting it this way, I am in no way whatsoever forgetting that the Bible is sacred Scripture, nor am I bowing blindly to some deeply held and unexamined philosophical assumption. Rather, this is a conclusion I have drawn.

And let me say this: resistance to accepting something like this conclusion gets to the heart of a theological problem created by  modern notions of biblical inerrancy: that theological problem is a discomfort with taking seriously the implications of words like “inspiration” and “revelation.”

However we define these terms, the Bible is not something dropped out of the sky. Rather these writings unambiguously reflect the various cultural moments of the writers. The Bible speaks the “language” of ancient people grappling with things in ancient ways, and therefore what the Bible records about creation or the dawn of humanity needs to be understood against the cultural backdrop of the biblical writers.

Any viable notion of the Bible as inspired or revealed needs to address the implications of a culturally situated Bible.

And Jesus won’t help you avoid this problem. In fact, considering Jesus plunges you further in.

True, Jesus alludes to the Adam and Eve story (Genesis 2:24; see Matthew 19:5), and in doing so seems to take that story literally—at least some would argue that. I do not think this allusion establishes anything of the sort, but even if it did, Jesus’s words still do not trump (forgive the poor word choice 2 weeks before election day) evolution as being true.

What holds for the Bible holds for Jesus, too.

Expecting the words of Jesus to settle the evolution issue shows an insufficient grappling with the implications of the incarnation. Actually, it betrays how uncomfortable and “irreverent” (to borrow C. S. Lewis’s description) a doctrine the incarnation is—ironically, including for Christians.

For Jesus to be fully human mean not abstractly “human” but a human of a particular sort, fully participating in the Judaism of the 1st century.

The incarnation leaves no room whatsoever for the idea that Jesus in any way kept his distance from participating in that particular humanity. That means, among other things, that Jesus was limited in knowledge along with everyone else at the time.

That may sound irreverent or offensive, but it is an implication of the incarnation. Jesus wasn’t an omniscient being giving the final word on the size of mustard seeds, mental illness, or cosmic and biological evolution. He was a 1st century Jew and he therefore thought like one.

Was he more than a 1st century Jew? Yes, I believe he was—and working that out is the stuff of 2000 years of Christian theology. But however “more than human” Jesus may be, and whatever we might mean by that, he was certainly not one micro-millimeter less than fully human—and that, as I’ve been saying, has all sorts of implications, including for the evolution discussion.

But that’s the deal with the incarnation, and that’s why appealing to a reference or two in the Gospels doesn’t trump (sorry) the profound observations of science.

And to think that it does, ironically, is not respectful of Jesus or a declaration of a “high” or “orthodox” Christology. It is actually a quasi-biblical sub-Christian Christology that betrays a deep discomfort with the theological implications of the core element of the Christian faith–the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

***I talk more about evolution and the nature of the Bible specifically in The Evolution of Adam (Baker, 2012) and Inspiration and Incarnation (Baker 2005/2015). You can read more about what I think the Bible is and does in The Bible Tells Me So (HarperOne, 2014) and The Sin of Certainty (HarperOne, 2016)***

 

 

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