Liberalism’s Manipulation of Scripture
“Liberalism” (in the classical sense of the word) is a rather flexible term that reflects an ideological disposition that developed in the 1800s, and reached an intense level in America during the days preceding World War II. Increasingly, it has found its way among the people of God. Theological “liberalism” is characterized by several arrogant attitudes.
Liberalism seeks to establish a gulf between itself and an acknowledgement of the historical accuracy and authority of the Scriptures. Allegedly, the discoveries of the modern scientific community have progressively and significantly made the Bible irrelevant to the modern man.
Liberalism exalts human “reason” over the testimony of Scripture. All events in the Bible (especially the miraculous) must be measured by modern “experience,” rather than judged in the light of credible, historical testimony. The supernatural events of the Scriptures, therefore, are dismissed, or else they are given some sort of mystical twist that allows one to claim that he respects the Bible, while, at the same time, he recycles the events of history in order to placate the presuppositions of skepticism. In reality, classical liberalism is the stepchild of infidelity.
The following is an example of the “liberal” approach to the Scriptures.
Without apology, the book of Genesis depicts the patriarchs of the pre-Flood world as living to very advanced ages. Adam died at the age of 930 (Gen. 5:5), and Methuselah lived to be 969 (Gen. 5:27). Today, of course, no one enjoys the longevity that was characteristic of those early generations —especially in the pre-Flood world. Scripture itself indicates that the longevity of humanity was eventually reduced significantly (see Psa. 90:10).
The “liberal” mind cannot conceive of a time, or environment, wherein such extended lifespans might have been enjoyed. And since liberalism measures the past by the present, some method must be contrived by which one may “reinterpret” the Genesis narrative so as to “explain” just why such extended ages were attributed to the patriarchs.
An example of the foregoing is found in the literature of a popular speaker who lectures extensively on the theme of, “Does God Exist?” This gentleman suggests that the “years” mentioned in connection with the patriarchs probably signify “months,” instead of actual years. And so, if one is to arrive at the patriarchs’ true ages, he must divide those year-numbers by twelve. Thus, Methuselah, it is alleged, was not 969, as Moses stated; rather he was only about 80 years old (plus the time he lived before he became a father) at the time of his death (Clayton, 12).
The rationale provided for this mathematical manipulation is that “no skeptic would accept” the biblical figures as literal years! Too, the author claims there is no “scientific evidence” that humans could live so long.
This is a “textbook” example of rationalism.
So far as I know, there is no “scientific evidence” that a virgin can bear a child, or that a man can be dead in his grave for three days, and then come forth again. Should the biblical record be totally redefined in terms of the nature of these events?
This year-for-a-month procedure encounters some very interesting, if not humorous, challenges within the sacred record. For example, the same Genesis narrative that records the age of Methuselah, states that Abraham was 86 years of age when Ishmael was born (Gen. 16:16).
If one then divides the patriarch’s “years” by twelve, he discovers that the grand old gentleman was really only seven years old when his first child was born, and Sarah, his wife, was even younger!
And then the student must also conclude that the patriarch died at “a good old age” of fourteen, according to the notice of his demise in Genesis 25:7-8 — if the “Does God Exist?” lecturer is correct in his mathematical theory.
It is a travesty that a man would promote himself as a defender of biblical truth while advocating such compromise. It is even a greater mystery as to why churches could seemingly be wholly unconcerned about the teachings of such a one, and shamelessly utilize his services in an attempt to reach those who are searching for truth. As a prophet once wrote, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6).
- Clayton, John N. 1978. “The Question of Methuselah,” Does God Exist? (June).
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.