Flawed Interpretations: From the Beginning of the World to the End of It

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

You're in for a treat today, because our Saturday guest post comes from Dan Evans—entrepreneur, Web administrator, and husband extraordinaire!  Like me, Dan grew up defending a young earth creationist view of origins based on the conviction that the Bible spoke definitively on the issue. Today he looks at the similarities between that approach to biblical interpretation and the approach used by Harold Camping to predict the end of the world.


Harold Camping has a message for you: The apocalypse starts today. You can't argue with him. It is what God has revealed in Scripture. Scripture is the authoritative, dictated, word of God, and God can't be wrong so there is no denying this absolute truth.

According to Camping's organization Family Radio:

"The Biblical evidence is too overwhelming and specific to be wrong. Christ's people can look with great confidence to this date because God promises His "beloved" He will not come upon them as a thief in the night. God in His mercy has revealed the vital information needed to know the day. Judgment Day on May 21, 2011 will occur because the bible declares it."

And later:

"Every word written in the original Biblical "autographs" were dictated by God, therefore all words, numbers and sentences in these original writings are to be trusted as coming from God. The fact that this date is the result of the synthesis of all of Scripture causes May 21st, 2011 to take on very sobering factuality. It is no longer opinion, but a matter of fact. May 21, 2011 is God's date. All other predictions are man's attempt to predict the end. So it becomes a matter of eternal life, or eternal death. One can no longer presume May 21st of this year will be just another normal day."

Having grown up believing the earth is roughly 6,000 years old and that ICR and Answers in Genesis were beacons for the light of biblical truth, I can't help but draw parallels between the way Harold Camping's organization Family Radio speaks of the present and how Ken Ham's organization Answers in Genesis speaks of the past. It is just too familiar for me to ignore.

According to "A young Earth - it's not the issue" by Ken Ham

"I want to make it VERY clear that we don’t want to be known primarily as ‘young-Earth creationists.’ AiG’s main thrust is NOT ‘young Earth’ as such; our emphasis is on Biblical authority. Believing in a relatively ‘young Earth’ (i.e., only a few thousands of years old, which we accept) is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God as an infallible revelation from our omniscient Creator."

And Later:

"...I let God’s Word speak to me, with the words having meaning according to the context of the language they were written in. Once I accept the plain words of Scripture in context, the fact of ordinary days, no death before sin, the Bible’s genealogies, etc., all make it clear that I cannot accept millions or billions of years of history. Therefore, I would conclude there must be something wrong with man’s ideas about the age of the universe."

Ham and his organization, Answers in Genesis, is not affiliated with Camping. In fact, Answers in Genesis has published an article refuting Camping's message. What I find inescapable is the similar approach that both Camping and Ham use when describing or defending their interpretations.

For instance, Ham states:

"I understand that the Bible is a revelation from our infinite Creator, and it is self-authenticating and self-attesting. I must interpret Scripture with Scripture, not impose ideas from the outside!"

And Camping says:

"I have no authority. The Bible is the authority and it is the Bible that guarantees it, not me, not at all. I'm only a teacher ... What's the rule? Compare scripture with scripture."

The charge to "interpret Scripture with Scripture, not impose ideas from the outside!" is an impossibility for anyone who uses a human language to understand the Bible. After all, what is language if not synthesized concepts that we've retained from a history of learning about our "outside" world? Yet this "Scripture alone, no outside ideas" is the basis for the Answers in Genesis approach to understanding the beginning of Creation and Family Radio's approach to the end.

The concept that we shouldn't "impose ideas from the outside" is nonsense, because in order to read and understand the scripture, we must bring our brains. And with our brains come our beliefs, our desires, our history, ourselves. All of these color our interpretation.

When we ignore the possibility that our interpretation of scripture may be flawed by our own finite understanding, we assume the role of God.

However, realizing this doesn't give us license to berate either Ham or Camping. I have every indication that they believe earnestly in what they are teaching. I also believe they are wrong. At the same time, I don't regard either of them stupid men. I don't regard either of them as malicious men. I don't think it is necessary to pass sweeping judgments on their characters to disagree with their statements.

I like Kathryn Schulz's perspective on being wrong.

I believe that, like myself, they are blind to some of their own shortcomings and as a fellow flawed human, I should feel more kinship than malevolence. Nonetheless it is important to engage with their ideas and propositions and express alternative ideas and thoughts to their followers. I don't have to agree with someone in order to have a civil conversation with them.

In light of these two specific examples, how should approach discussions with those with whom we strongly disagree?

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