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Take the Bible More Seriously Than Ken Ham: Interpretation Matters

Take the Bible More Seriously Than Ken Ham: Interpretation Matters

Since I'm a member of the Christian blogosphere (albeit begrudgingly), this is my nearly obligatory two cents on the Ham v. Nye debate. However, I'm not going to rehearse the debate in any real detail nor attempt to persuade you of my view on the relationship between faith and science. If you care what my view is, suffice to say you can count me among the BioLogos tribe. And I would encourage you to read their take on the debate. You can also read my review of John Walton's book The Lost World of Genesis One to find out more.

In this brief note, I only want to make a simple point: 'Taking the Bible seriously' (as Fundamentalist Christians are prone to call their pseudo-scientific literalism) isn't and doesn't. In other words, the imposing of an anachronistic interpretative grid upon the text of Scripture is incompatible with the claim to take the Bible "seriously." The only way to take the Bible "seriously" is to the take the Bible on the Bible's terms, not our own.

Every person who reads the Bible, interprets the Bible.

Each and every one of us approaches the Scriptures from within our social location in history, culture, and embodiment. Who you are, in time, place, and perspective has incredible bearing on how you will read the Bible. (This is hermeneutics 101!) Recognizing that we are approaching a text produced and meant for an original audience who viewed the world in fundamentally different ways from we Modern readers is the first step to a better interpretation. To 'take the Bible seriously' is to recognize the vast difference of Ancient Near Eastern (and Hebrew) culture from the Modern Western (and White) culture of Ken Ham!

John Walton points to several specific instances where Ham's interpretation fails to 'take the Bible seriously':

1. "Kinds"

"One place where this distinction was obvious was that Ham tried to make the statement in Genesis that God created each animal 'after its kind' as a technical statement that matched our modern scientific categories. We cannot assume that the same categories were used in the ancient world as are used today (genus, family, species, etc.). Such anachronism does not take the Bible seriously as what it 'naturally' says. In the Bible this only means that when a grain of wheat drops, a grain of wheat grows (not a flower); when a horse gives birth, it gives birth to a horse, not a coyote."

Ham approaches Genesis as a white male Conservative in 2014, feeling he must find concord between the text and modern scientific categories. But why? There is no necessary warrant for such effort. The Ancient Near Eastern original audience of Genesis had no conception of these categories—they could not have been, since they hadn't been formulated yet. To 'take the Bible seriously' means not thrusting upon it anachronistic meaning for the sake of scoring points in the culture wars!

2. Genealogies

"The fact is that Ken Ham rejects scientific findings because he believes the Bible offers claims that contradict science. He believes that he can add up the genealogies to arrive at the need for a young earth. He never stops to ask whether it is 'natural' to read ancient genealogies in that way. In the ancient world genealogies serve a very different function than they do today, and numbers may well have rhetorical rather than strictly numerical value."

How 'natural' is it to read that so-and-so is the son of so-and-so, which means they are the direct, successive offspring of that person (with no intervening generations or rhetorical dimension)? If we were forced to read the Bible like Ken Ham, we'd have to conclude that Jesus is the offspring of king David since he's repeatedly called the "son of David" in all three Synoptic Gospels. Furthermore, if we were forced to read the Bible like Ken Ham, we'd have to conclude that the genealogies of Jesus are lies, clearly contradicting one another. Luke claims Joseph was the son of Heli (3.23), while Matthew claims Joseph's father's name was Jacob (1.16). So, clearly the Bible contradicts itself, since (in Ham's view) every genealogy is a precise record of direct offspring in linear, chronological succession.

That's not taking the Bible seriously! A serious student of Scripture doesn't shoehorn the Bible into his or her pseudo-scientific model!

3. "Death"

"[Ham] believes that there could be no death before the fall because he has interpreted the word 'good' as if it meant 'perfect.' That is not what the Hebrew term means. Furthermore, if there was no death before the fall, people would have little use for a tree of life. What is a 'natural' interpretation—our sense of what it means or the sense that an ancient reader would have had?"

In Genesis, God is portrayed as commanding humanity not to 'eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'. The consequence Genesis states is "for in the day that you eat of it you shall die." (2.17 RSV) But careful readers will notice that when human beings disobey God and 'eat the fruit', they do not die 'in that day.' In fact, God is portrayed as having to ban humanity from the garden, saying:

" 'Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he put forth his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever'— therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life." (3.22-24 RSV)

The "Death," as Ham interprets it (i.e. physical death), humanity would "certainly" experience "in that day," didn't happen. And if humanity had been allowed to remain in the garden, they could have gone on living forever. Ham's interpretation of "death" uttterly fails. It doesn't even conform to the interpretive norms of the genre Ham mistakenly attributes to the story (i.e. historical narrative). In a historical narrative, if a character declares that another character will certainly die, and they don't, that character has lied. Since, in this case, the character portrayed as making that declaration is God, who cannot lie, there must be more to the story.

What's more to the story is that "death" in Ancient Near Eastern culture wasn't simply the absence of a heartbeat or beathing—it wasn't merely "physical." Death was also alienation and estrangement. Humanity rebelled against God, the Source of Life, thus chosing the absence of life, which is death.

To take the Bible "seriously," one must prioritize the theological truth of the story, not just its implications for the Modern science vs. faith debate. And to take the Bible "seriously," one must refuse to impose an anchronistic interpretation upon the Text.

Take the Bible more seriously than Ken Ham!


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Theological Graffiti is a blog written by T. C. Moore @tc_moore ...a Jesus-disciple, husband, father, Associate Pastor @NewCityChurch of Los Angeles, sometimes web designer, writer, and theology geek. For more about me, visit my Personal Website or my Online Profile. Otherwise, enjoy the graffiti.

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