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Vol. 22, No. 1, 2023
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Robert Lyon is a retired clergyman who divides his time between Guelph, Ontario and Melaque, Mexico. He taught high school English, Latin, Greek and science, and served as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserve, retiring in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. His latest book, Don’t Throw Out Your Bible, from which the essay below is excerpted, should be available by the end of the year (2023). His monograph, A Christmas You Can Believe In, can be requested as a PDF file from

Since Darwin’s day, much ink has been spilt about evolution by sincere and well-meaning people on either side of the debate. But despite the arguments of creationists, most scientists, many devout Christians among them, agree that all life forms are related by common ancestry, though Darwin and his contemporaries did not know enough genetics to understand how that came about.

In rejecting creationism, we are not denying that God is “Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.” Rather, we are rejecting the idea that Genesis tells us how he did it.

Darwin in the 19th Century experienced the same sort of resistance over evolution as Copernicus and Galileo did in the 16th and 17th Century over heliocentrism, the idea that the earth moves and the sun is the centre of our solar system. At least Copernicus managed to escape suppression for 60 years, but just as the Inquisition forced Galileo to recant, so too Copernicus was eventually placed on The Index of Forbidden Books. He was removed from it in 1835, but Galileo was not officially restored to favour until 2009.

As for Darwin, it was not until Pope Pius XII’s pastoral letter Humani generis in 1950 that Roman Catholics were free to explore evolution. Sadly, that was too late to restore the career of priest-scientist Teilhard de Chardin. The Protestant leaders Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, John Calvin and John Owen also opposed Galileo’s heliocentrism, just as creationists today continue to oppose evolution.

The consistency of that opposition reveals a serious problem in doing systematic theology. A systematic theology is a set of inter-connected doctrines that fit together as a unified system of thought. Creationist beliefs are so inter-dependent that to deny a particular doctrine is to collapse the whole. So those who hold a creationist theology are living in an intellectual house of cards. What is at stake for them is the truth of the Bible – as they interpret it. How keenly they feel that problem can be seen in the words of a creationist pastor who rejects not just evolution but even theistic evolution – that is, the view that sees evolution as God’s method of creation. He says: “The hermeneutics behind theistic evolution . . . are a Trojan horse that once inside our gates must cause the entire fortress of Christian belief to fall.”

Young-earth creationists (who read the Genesis creation stories as history and science, and believe that creation happened less than 10,000 years ago), and old-earth creationists (who also read those stories as history and science, but accept that the Earth is 4.6 billion years old and the universe is 13.8 billion) are dependent not just on the Bible for their theology (which, of course, is where we ought to get our theology) but on a particularly problematic way of interpreting the Bible. For them, the Bible is not merely true, but true in a way that disregards not only science but also the history of the composition of the text and the various genres that comprise it. That’s no way to persuade the skeptic that Christianity has any intellectual credibility.

The view of the Church from its earliest days is that God has “spoken through the Old Testament prophets” and that the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are “in accordance with the Old Testament Scriptures” (Nicene Creed, 325 AD).

Writers of the Old and New Testaments share this view of the truth and inspiration of Scripture: Every word of God proves true. All scripture is inspired by God. But we must always be careful not to make a text say more, nor less, than it intends. So one may believe (as I do) that “every word of God proves true,” for God cannot lie.

But does ‘word’ in that proverb refer to every ‘word’ on the page – presumably, every word in the author’s Hebrew or Greek original, languages that most Bible readers don’t understand – or does it refer to every meaning that God wants his hearers and readers to take from those words? If you've ever done any translating from one language to another, you know the answer.

God’s word will indeed accomplish all his purpose and fulfill the thing for which he sent it. But was God’s purpose in sending it to make prescientific people believe in a walking, talking snake (Genesis 3:1)? Was it to persuade modern physicists and astronomers that the sun really can stand still (Joshua 10:13)? Was it to tell us that the devil, who some believe was cast out of heaven before Creation, could actually return there in the days of Job and interrupt a heavenly staff meeting (Job 1:6)? Again, I think you know the answer.

Paul assures us that “all Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16 – the Greek literally means “God-breathed”). In the same verse he explains why that matters: Scripture is useful for “teaching, correction, and training in righteousness”, and to make us “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17). Paul uses this same word, “teaching” (or “doctrine”, KJV), at 1 Timothy 1:10, where “contrary to sound teaching” refers to a long list of offences against the Law. The “teaching” or “doctrine” that Paul has in mind is clearly moral teaching. There is nothing in those verses to suggest it includes opinions about biology, geology, or cosmology.

All this must seem a long way from a discussion of evolution, but in fact evolution is not the real problem. The problem is that creationists, of both the young-earth and old-earth varieties, believe in a hermeneutic (a way of interpreting Scripture) and a systematic theology that are not truly Biblical. We have just now noted some examples of that sort of hermeneutic, by which the applicable texts may have been interpreted too narrowly.

The diverse systems of belief in our churches are largely our inventions, and they reflect an intellectual method that is often more Greek than Jewish. Rightly, we try to assemble the information given in Scripture in some systematic way, as the Church has done from its earliest days, to help us to clarify what we believe. But if we ever think that any of our systems could definitively capture all the truth that God has revealed, we are presuming too much.

Greek dramatists called that hybris; it is the stuff that tragedy is made of.



The Bible seems to say that during the conquest of Canaan, Joshua won a significant battle because God made the sun stand still for a day (Joshua 10:12,13). A story like that is guaranteed to generate skepticism. But again, we may have misunderstood the story.

Recall, for example, what happens when a fast moving automobile brakes abruptly: all occupants and unsecured objects fly forward, striking the windshield, the steering wheel, or the backs of the front seats; then when the inertia is expended, everything and everyone is jerked back to the rear again, with the prospect of whiplash or worse.

Now picture the sun as an automobile grinding to a sudden halt – with all the planets, moons, and everything on earth in its back seat. We cannot imagine what chaos would result.

The Hebrew verb that most versions translate ‘stand still’ (dom) and ‘stood still’ (yiddom) actually has no adverb following it. The word ‘still’ is supplied only by our English translations, and it may be misleading.We might better understand it without the ‘still’ – preferring simply ‘stopped’ or ‘ceased’ – which is also what it says the moon did, likewise with no adverb following (Joshua 10:12,13).

In a 2017 research paper, Professor Colin Humphreys1 notes that “an alternative meaning could be that the sun and moon just stopped doing what they normally do: they stopped shining – in which case, it may refer to an eclipse. This interpretation is supported by the fact that the Hebrew word translated ‘stand (still)’ has the same root as a Babylonian word used in ancient astronomical texts to describe eclipses. Astronomers have determined that an eclipse did occur over Canaan on the afternoon of 30 October 1207 BC. It was an ‘annular’ eclipse, that is, shaped like an ‘annulus,’ a ring or a circle. As the moon passed in front of the sun, a red ring of fire would have appeared around the moon. The Hebrew root ’dm (stand / stood) also has connotations of red and blood.

If the later date for the Exodus is correct (around 1250 BC), an eclipse occurring a few decades later in 1207 BC would be about the time when Joshua and the Hebrews were fighting to possess Canaan.

The writer of the book of Joshua records that event just as his pre-scientific contemporaries would have experienced it. That does not make the telling of it untrue: he recorded what they saw, in language that they understood. What they saw, Humphreys says, included “two dusks” – the first as the moon obscured the sun’s light, followed by a second “dawn” as the eclipse cleared, and then a second dusk at day’s end – as the Hebrew text says, “like a whole [extra] day” (Joshua 10:13). Of course, the word ‘extra’ is also an interpretation; it, too, is not in the Hebrew text.

As with the Exodus and the Christmas Star, we can account for “the day the sun stood still” as if it, too, were just a natural event. But for Joshua, the miracle was again in the timing. The eclipse occurred just when the Israelites needed it, and you could hardly expect Joshua and his men to chalk that up to dumb luck.

Whatever tactical advantage it may or may not have afforded, it certainly heartened those who were on God’s business, and terrified those who were not. As Jesus taught, God knew their need before they asked, and already had a solution waiting for them. Perhaps, then, we should think of miracles as exceptional acts of God’s Providence, the difference between them and normal events being a matter of scale rather than of kind.





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