Evolution and Interpreting the Bible

I’m sorry I’ve been gone so long. After I got healthy, I had priorities higher than this blog. Only so many things can be done laying in a hospital bed. Blogging is one of them, so I did a lot of it. Now that I’m healthy, playing catch up on work and home issues is going to be the priority for a few months.

Nonetheless, I am a writer that compulsively writes, so you will see me here and there. You will see me even more if you friend me on Facebook.

I have a web site on evolution that I don’t intend to maintain anymore, but it gets a couple hundred visitors a day, so I get lots of emails. Today I got two emails from one person. You’ll be able to figure out what he wrote by reading my response, which I want to post here for all to read.

My Response on Evolution and Bible Interpretation

Thank you for writing me. I appreciate your passion on the subject. Really, though, the line I appreciated most was “Please let me know if this helps.”

It didn’t. Let me explain.

Among the types of Christians I fellowship with–diligent, devoted disciples–it is shocking to find out I believe in evolution. Many have no idea there are Christians who accept evolution as true.

When I found out about the battle between science and fundamentalist Christians, I began studying. It took me about two months to see enough to realize that in the evolution vs. young-earth creation battle, science was going to win. It took me another two months to work up the courage to tell anyone that I had researched enough to feel forced to agree with the evidence.

I started with my wife and my best friend. (My wife is my best friend, but I’m talking about two people in this case.) My wife almost got sick. My friend was stunned and to this day does not agree with me.

Hundreds of people–literally–have tried to explain why I must be wrong. Actually, they have tried to explain why science must be wrong. The problem is, science is not wrong. The evidence is so overwhelming that the unbiased examiner has to give in.

It has been 22 years now since I “came out.” I have heard every biblical argument there is why I should disbelieve or disregard the science on evolution. Nothing you said is new to me. What I have not heard in person, I have read on the CRI and AiG web sites.

So let me ask you a couple questions about your email. Why should I stick to the KVJ of Job 37:8? Do you not realize that “molten” looking glass is a reference to molten metal? Do you think we should use translations that we like more than translations that are accurate? The fact is, Job thought the sky was as hard as a molten-metal mirror. We can’t get around that.

You can say that Job is an epic poem, which it is, so that what he says about the sky does not need to be taken as scientific. The problem is that those who deny evolution have a double-standard. If Isaiah mentions the earth hung on nothing or calls the earth a sphere, then this proves to young earthers that the Bible is scientifically accurate. However, if the Bible says that the sky is set on pillars, which it does in 1 Samuel 2:8, we should ignore that. Any reason to discount 1 Samuel 2:8 is acceptable to young earthers. I have heard 3 or 4 different ones.

You ask about believing the words of the Bible, but honestly, I think I believe them more than you do. You can’t explain, because it is impossible to explain, how there can be water above the firmament. Young earthers have several explanations for the “waters above” in Genesis 1, but none of them take into account that the sun, moon, and stars are in the firmament. Thus, the “waters above” have to be above the stars if Genesis 1 is historically and scientifically accurate. So is it saying that the water surrounds the whole universe? That’s the only way it could be “above” the sun, moon, and stars.

No one explains Genesis 1:7 because they are happy simply ignoring the statement that the sun, moon, and stars are part of the firmament.

I’m never content to do that. I believe Genesis 1-3 are poetic and allegoric. Those chapters have lessons, inspired by God, for us, but young earthers ignore and miss those messages because they are busy trying to turn the seven days and the story of the garden into a history lesson. In this way, you are missing what God has to say to you in Genesis.

I and my family believe that God created everything. We honor him as the Creator. We are not missing the lesson the young earthers want us to get from Genesis. We believe it as wholeheartedly as the most diligent fundamentalist. You, however, are missing some amazing figurative lessons from those chapters because you are looking at what modern, technical, left-brained, imaginatively deficient westerners want you to look at. The Hebrews, including Moses, were not westerners. They were oriental in mindset. They loved the mystery and mystical-ness of God, and they did not need nor would they have wanted the logical, precise interpretations of Americans and other westerners. (Ask the Eastern Orthodox churches about this. There are many branches of Orthodox, and they would all agree with me on this. They consider the western mindset a real theological hindrance to knowing God.)

You make a terrible mistake thinking that I am ignoring God’s Word and words. In fact, I have devoured all the history of Christian interpretation I could, especially the earliest and most highly regarded teachers from the second and third centuries. I did not do this apart from the Bible. I devoured the Bible, too. My friends have used me as a concordance for thirty years.

It is you, with your very limited interpretation of the Scriptures, that might want to worry about disregarding God’s Word. You are approaching it from a mindset that belongs a little bit to the last 500 years and mostly to the last 150 years. Your approach has only been used in Europe and the descendants of Europeans while the Gospel has been all over the eastern world as well as the western since the first century. In the early centuries, both west and east would have been on my side, not yours.

I will ask you the same thing you asked me. Did this help?

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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16 Responses to Evolution and Interpreting the Bible

  1. Steve says:

    Paul, I would like to clarify one thing. I’ve read several of your posts and disagree with much of what you say – and especially how you say it. But after further reflection and prayer today, I realize that I’m guilty of doing exactly what I’m accusing you of: condescendingly telling you why you’re wrong.

    While I might be loathe to ever proclaim myself chosen by God “to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith” etc . . ., it’s not my place to judge others who do so. Ultimately we’ll all stand alone and be judged for how we represent God’s word.

    But it’s clear from my initial response to you that I still have much more work to do on myself. I apologize and ask for your forgiveness.

    • Paul Pavao says:

      Well, you have it, but in my eyes there is nothing to forgive you for. I think the church needs a lot more straightforward expression. You were not rude. You stated your case clearly. I am not the least bit offended. Thank you for taking the time to point out what you did point out. You can decide for yourself whether what you wrote was in love. On my part, the Scripture says, “Let the righteous smite me; it is oil on my head.” Many who write comments are so sectarian that their comments are ludicrous. Yours were entirely reasonable, though I disagree with your conclusion. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Steve says:

    Paul, you should have heeded your first impression.

    It’s clear from even a cursory review, that this site is for your own personal edification. Even your bio states: “I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith” and “I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach” and “I am indeed tearing up old foundations.”

    LOL!

    I could go on but what’s the point. Scripture is replete with similar examples.

    And I could cite a dozen verses concerning humility and meekness – but, as you’ve already stated – you’re a human “concordance” so that would be unnecessary.

    I do appreciate your responding though. If nothing else, it demonstrates a courage and willingness to at least hear others, if not listen.

  3. Steve says:

    Wow! I just read this post and was stunned by your lack of patience and frankly, humility.

    You state:
    1. “You ask about believing the words of the Bible, but honestly, I think I believe them more than you do. You can’t explain, because it is impossible to explain . . .”
    2. “You, however, are missing some amazing figurative lessons from those chapters because you are looking at what modern, technical, left-brained, imaginatively deficient westerners want you to look at . . .”
    3. “There are many branches of Orthodox, and they would all agree with me on this.”
    4. “You make a terrible mistake thinking that I am ignoring God’s Word and words . . . I devoured the Bible, too. My friends have used me as a concordance for thirty years.”
    5. “It is you, with your very limited interpretation of the Scriptures, that might want to worry about disregarding God’s Word.”
    6. “I will ask you the same thing you asked me. Did this help?”

    I’ll bet the Pharisees responded in kind. And I guarantee you, they’d lap you in the “concordance” department.

    I pray you write this individual back and ask their forgiveness for your temper and shortsightedness.

    2 Tim. 2:24-27 (KJV) “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”

    • Paul Pavao says:

      Hi Steve. I first read your comment on my phone in my email. I thought, “Wow, I must have been in a horrible mood when I wrote that post. I wondered if I had written it in 2015, when I was in a lot of pain the whole year. I was prepared to repent and take the post down.

      Now, though, I have read it, and I don’t agree it is arrogant at all, Let me address the parts you put in your comment.

      I believe the Bible more than the guy or girl who wrote me. I wrote this in the context of evolution, not in any other context. The person accused me of not believing the Bible because I agree the evidence for evolution is irrefutable. I said I believe the Bible more than he/she does because I don’t have to pretend the Hebrew “stereoma” can be translated “expanse,” rather than “something firm” (see https://studybible.info/strongs/G4733). The person who emailed me cannot believe those verses. Almost surely, he or she has never given thought to how there could be water above the sun, moon, and stars as Genesis 1 says. I can look at Genesis 1 and see that it obviously teaches that the sky is a hard dome with the sun, moon, and stars in it, and that there is water on top for rain. Thus, I can look at Genesis 1 and believe what it says, while the writer of that email cannot. Like the writer of that email–and I guess you as well–I believe the sky is actually air, looking blue because of the light of the sun. The sun is 93 million miles from the earth, and some of the stars we see are a hundred light years away.

      Therefore, I ask God what he wants me to learn from the myth in Genesis 1 because I believe Genesis 1 is inspired whether or not it accurately describes the cosmos. The writer of that email does not. He or she has to change what it says because if it says what it says, then the whole Bible is not inspired. This is a crippling way of looking at the Scriptures, and when it is really thought through, it is foolish. How can anyone justify, “I believe Genesis 1 is inspired, so I ignore what it says and make it say something else that I am comfortable believing.”

      So, I have to deny that I was being arrogant. Perhaps I could have been clearer, but hopefully this explanation helps.

  4. Caelon Loving says:

    Hi it’s me Caelon I just wanted my comment on this post I didn’t want you to think of me as being rude or anything like the last time I commented on Facebook. That being said for me I believe there was an Adam and eve personally I don’t know about a literal garden of Eden but I do believe there was a fall However I look at the interpretation in the way Justin Martyr similarly looked at it in that the biting of the teeth from eve in the apple signified fire devouring all things though for me I also add that it symbolizes our betrayal of god for not caring about the creation that he told us to steward and instead used his creation for selfish gains like killing animals, plants, trees ETC… all things in nature as well as other people that he created.

  5. Katie Clark says:

    Hi Paul. I was perhaps too hasty in posting. I am currently reading some articles on biologos.org (which you recommended) that are at least partially dealing with my questions so please don’t feel obligated to answer them! Thank you again.

    • Paul Pavao says:

      I have no problem replying. It is important, I think, to give my perspective. I think the evidence for evolution is undeniable. I have also had a powerful first encounter with Jesus the Christ that has continued in a rich and real relationship with God for 37 years. I cannot personally deny either one of those things. From that perspective, here are the things I believe about the fall of man and how much I believe them:

      1. What I believe on insufficient evidence is that there was a time when God chose a man, an Adam, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. This happened 40,000 to 60,000 years ago when science reports “an inexplicable leap in the creativity of man.” Scientists suggest this happened with the development of language, I suggest that it was God breathing into man’s nostrils the breath of life. There is no physical explanation for that leap.

      2. I am 100% convinced that the story of a man named Man is not historical. (Adam is Hebrew for “man” and used 502 times in the Old Testament.) The story has: a woman named Life; a walking, talking serpent; a tree that imparts eternal life if you eat its fruit, whether or not God wants you to have eternal life. These are all marks of a myth, not history. Myths are meant to convey a reason for observed truth. The observed truth is that man believes in God, but does not obey him.

      3. I do hold out the possibility that there never was a fall. Man was disobedient to God despite God’s revelation to him from the beginning. The flesh that we fight is the result of evolution. Physical survival requires eating, drinking, reproduction, and in the case of our species, banding together for defense. Our selfishness is not primarily individual, but primarily tribal. That is the flesh, the body. God calls us and gives us spiritual life and teaches us to reject physical survival for spiritual survival. Fasting, prayer, self-control, purity. Deny the flesh, and you can reap the only life that can go on forever, the spiritual life of God, eternal life. Keep seeking the flesh, and you will perish.

      4. My attitude is that if Moses meant for Genesis 1 through 9 to be historical fact, then he was wrong. As Christians, we can believe in the power of God, and we should. He is powerful; he works miracles. We have to be in reality, though. There was no worldwide flood. The earth is not 6,000 years old; instead, it is billions of years old, and the evidence for that is undeniable. The Bible does not even teach a worldwide flood, not if you read between the lines. Where are the animals that a Mesopotamian guy would not have known about. No tigers, no kangaroos, no platypuses, no spiny anteaters. That’s just reality. Despite that reality, Jesus has still been saving people, including me, for 2,000 years, and he continues to use the Holy Scriptures to do so.

      That is where I am at.

      Whether evolution is true or not, mankind does, in general, live in slavery to sin, and they need to be redeemed from that sin by the blood of Jesus. Further, that blood is effective to do so.

      • Katie Clark says:

        Thank you, Paul, for your reply. It has given me much to ponder. I was especially intrigued by the first point you made. That is a very interesting viewpoint that I had not heard before. I personally feel there was a “fall of man”. How it happened, I can’t say. But it would make sense that it has something to do with our free will as creations of God. He wants us to choose Him. Love is not love if it is coerced. And, he wants us to obey Him by our own choice (parable of the prodigal son comes to mind). At some point, whether in the natural, or spiritual, we chose to pursue our own selfish interests over God. It all went down hill from there. Furthermore, the role of Satan needs to be considered. Jesus speaks of Satan as being the god of this world and evil plays such a prominent role throughout both the OT and NT. But thankfully, we don’t have to understand it all. We just need Jesus. Your last statement was powerful and I agree with you completely. Thank you, again, and blessings to you my dear brother in Christ.

      • Paul Pavao says:

        Thank you, Katie!

    • Paul Pavao says:

      You may get more palatable answers from BioLogos. Those guys are smarter and more educated than me.

  6. Katie Clark says:

    Hello Paul, this is an interesting post. I have read much from your website and appreciate all you have written. Last night, after reading this and taking a look at your evolution site as well, I started thinking about how all this (evolution) can be tied in with the “fall of man”. If you think of the biblical narrative in Genesis, it’s easy to see the flow of events and how man first sinned and fell. But with the evolution of species, I can’t see how sin first entered the world. At what point did Satan gain control (since he is the ‘god’ of this world) and at what point did all the death, suffering and sin enter in? If evolution was God’s way/plan from the beginning, one would assume that everything would continue to flow harmoniously. But is hasn’t. At some point, something went wrong and man became disobedient. The fall of man necessitated the coming of our savior Christ Jesus. “So it is written: ‘The first man Adam became a living being’ the last Adam, a life-giving spirit. The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven (1 Corinthians 15:45-48).”
    From the perspective of a Christian evolutionist, when and how did sin enter the world?
    Much love to you, Paul, for all you do. God bless!

  7. Rural Commoner says:

    I am not a young-earther. I don’t know what I would call myself. I do think the Lord created the earth with some age. It’s hard to say given the flaws in men’s testing methods. I suppose I haven’t read or studied the Scientific evidence that has given you such confidence in Evolution. Nevertheless, I see the young-Earth position with some challenges as well, so don’t think I am taking a side. Evolutionary scientists differ greatly on many things given there is so much ambiguity in their hypothesis’s. Macro-evolution hasn’t really been tested or observed, and micro-evolution is just a variation within species. Of course, since evolution covers such a vast amount of material, I know we aren’t able to discuss a whole lot. I would like to know what references you recommend? I would like to research this further. In the end, as a Christian, I don’t think this issue should be a test of Orthodoxy. There are people in my Church fellowship who are Theistic Evolutionists, Gap Theory supporters, Old-Earth, and also Young-Earth proponents. One thing that I think is awesome is our ability to discuss this issue with an open mind and still hold up the written Testimony of Scripture in high honor and respect each other. We only hold to what we know. The cardinal doctrines of Scripture are what we believe is essential, but on secondary and even tertiary issues such as how did God create? or How will the end come about? etc… we simply strive to understand all we can, but do not presume to know more than the Scriptures. If there are some websites or books that you recommend on the subject, I would like to check it out. I look forward to your response. God bless.

  8. Rural Commoner says:

    I thought this was a fair defense of Theistic Evolution. As you probably know very well, there are many variations of Creationism as there are many within the Evolution community. I am one of those who is skeptical of many views being that Science can only take one so far, and just like you, the Scriptures are informative but not exhaustive. In the Creation vs Evolution Debate, along with every view in between, it seems that men argue and debate over Biblical and Scientific Evidence along with every hypothesis known and unknown to man. I agree with you that many mistake allegory and similie for a historic narrative when it comes to Creation and most times in Eschatology as well. What references or materials would you point someone to who is exploring this issue? How do you divorce Theistic Evolution from Atheistic Evolution, which has been united with other philosophies (ie. Marxism and Fascism) to reduce the value of mankind? Unfortunately, many hard-core young-earthers use that union to try and discredit Theistic Evolution; however, I don’t think anyone who holds to your view supports Marxism or Fascism. What kind of references and support do you give for the attacks of the Young-Earthers? I appreciate your post and honesty regarding the issue.

    • paulfpavao says:

      Simply put, I don’t think evolution or not evolution has anything to do with whether the Christian God or any other god created the earth. Atheists ought to use evolution. It may well explain for them how we could have gotten here beginning with the tiniest version of life. They should be excited about advances in abiogenesis, which may one day explain how life could have originated through natural processes. That would justify their “no god” hypothesis. As Christians, though, who cares how life arose or the processes that got us here. If God created us, who are we to complain about the way he created us. If he chose natural processes to give rise to humanity, great. If he didn’t great. We are Christians. We believe in God because we have encountered him by means of his Spirit, which we received through faith in Jesus. The proof we have is that Jesus rose from the dead, and that we have been transformed by believing that he is alive and that he is Lord of all.

      To me, none of that has anything to do with evolution. I wish my argument against atheists were that Christians live noticeably transformed lives. That argument is hard to make, however, because most supposed Christians have no power and not much godliness. I wish my argument against atheists was that Christians love one another and have the power to get along with division or hatred, but I can’t say that because there’s no large body of evidence for that.

      So now, my argument against atheists is come and see. Come and be with the church I am part of, and continue to believe that there is no god. If you can do that, despite the answers to prayer that we get, despite our prayers for you, and despite the constantly growing and changing lives you see, then I have no power or argument to change your belief.

      To those Christians who reject evolution, I tell them that they’re wrong, and some day they are going to so obviously wrong–that day has really already come–that they will be an embarrassment to the Gospel. Just as the church in general opposed the heliocentric model of the solar system, then had to adopt it, so there will come a time that the young earthers are going to have to give in. On that day, they will not only look ignorant, as they do now, but they will feel ignorant too.

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