Early Christadelphian approaches to the Bible

Our pioneers and earliest commentators believed we should study Scripture using the best scholarship in science, history, archaeology, textual criticism, lexicography, and Bible study, leaving us an excellent example. They used science and scholarship to combat doctrinal error,[1] [2] believing scientific facts always supports the Bible.[3] [4] [5] [6] They accepted the scientific evidence for the age of the earth[7] [8] [9] [10] and pre-Adamic human beings, [11] [12] [13]  despite rejecting evolution.[14] [15] They wrote articles arguing the Genesis flood was not global, [16] that the days of Genesis 1 were not necessarily literal,[17] that the Bible cannot be understood simply through literal interpretation,[18] [19] and that Moses did not write the Pentateuch.[20]  [21] [22] They supported the most modern Bible available (the Revised Version), and promoted Tischendorf’s New Testament, based on Vaticanus, Sinaiticus, and Alexandrinus, which they regarded as ‘the three most ancient original’ manuscripts.[23]

The pioneers & evolution

Our earliest commentators rejected evolution and explained the evidence for evolution by arguing God had made many creations over countless years, creating simple life and repeated replacing it with more complex life, finally creating humans in a pre-Adamic creation,[24] then creating the current creation with Adam and Eve. They were clearly well aware of the challenge of the scientific facts, and interpreted Scripture accordingly. The evidence for evolution has increased in scope and significance since their time, and we must apply their approach to interpreting Scripture.

Following their lead

Although our pioneers left us an excellent approach to harmonizing apparent conflicts between science and Scripture, many Christadelphians today have abandoned their example. Our earliest commentators rejected evolution, but we can harmonize it honestly with Scripture by following their methods.

  1. ‘Must a man never progress? If he discovers an error in his premises, must he for ever hold to it for the sake of consistency? May such a calamity never befall me! Rather let me change every day, till I get it right at last.’[25]

‘Do not be deterred from ascertaining the truth or error of this or any other doctrine preached from this or any other pulpit as the teaching of God, by the idea that your meddling with matters that do not concern you, and that they are best left alone; that it is dangerous to look too closely into the mysteries of godliness, or that your faith may be unsettled in the doing it and so forth. Listen not to these voices, for they are not wise. It is your business, it does concern you, it is not best left alone, it is not dangerous to look into it.’[26]

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[1] ‘Your traditions render you powerless and simpletons before the keen, polished blade of scientific truth when flashed before your faces.’, Welch., ‘Knowledge.- No. 12 Geology’, The Christadelphian (28.327.345), 1891.

[2] ‘to prop up his unattested theory, he throws overboard the narratives of Matthew and Luke, which, if one or two scholars opine to reject, an overwhelming majority consider genuine,’, Roberts, ‘Who Was the Father of Jesus Christ?’, The Christadelphian (5.44.49), 1868.

[3] ‘There can be no conflict between the genuine sense of God’s messages to mankind and the real facts and authentic conclusions of science.’, Roberts, ‘The Uncertainties of Modern Science’, The Christadelphian (14.161.499), 1877.

[4] ‘The inconsistency spoken of between nature and scripture, arises not from antagonism, but from the misinterpretations of both. It is man’s interpretation of the one set against man’s interpretations of the other.’, Jardine, ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age, (1.1.93), 1864.

[5] ‘The Bible and science are thus in accord.’, Welch, ‘Dr. Hall’s “Problem of Human Life” Reviewed. – No. 3’, The Christadelphian (28.326.292), 1891.

[6] ‘True “science” is simply systematized knowledge, and true “faith” is belief for good reasons. In the very nature of things there can never be any real antagonism between these.’, Walker, ‘Science and Faith’, The Christadelphian (65.772.469), 1932.

[7]It is a demonstrable fact that the earth has existed for ages. To adopt a view that appears to make it begin only 6,000 years ago would create a difficulty. There is no need for adopting such a view.’, Roberts, ‘In the Beginning’, The Christadelphian (32.370.141), 1885.

[8]Geology teaches us much; it speaks of a time and creation on this earth when animal life, if not totally, was nearly unknown, and only the lower order of vegetable life covering its face, and this must have existed many thousands of years;’, Simons, ‘Why Man was not at once made Perfect’, The Christadelphian (21.238.177), 1884.

[9]I have not the slightest doubt concerning the truths revealed in the strata of the earth’s crust. There can be no reasonable doubt that long ages have passed away since the matter of the earth first took existences [sic] by the fiat of its Almighty Creator.’, Welch., ‘Knowledge.- No. 12 Geology’, The Christadelphian (28.329.416), 1891.

[10] ‘Ten years ago the average scientist would have asserted that our habitable globe had not existed for more than a hundred million years. Now it would be hard to find a competent physical specialist who would fix a definite maximum below a thousand million years:’, Walker, ‘The Age of the Earth’, The Christadelphian (48.568.450), 1911.

[11] ‘And in the reasonings of the geologist concerning him as opposed by the antagonisms which are imagined between geology and scripture, and of the incapacity of the theologian as the artizan of a school philosophy, to set the other right or aid him in arriving at a definite conclusion regarding the antiquity of man in harmony with the Mosaic record, the geologist is justified from the discovery he has already made as to other animals, in presuming to think man’s origin is of remoter antiquity than is set down in the preambles of confessions of faith.’, Jardine, ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age (2.7.115), 1865.

[12]Neither was the human the first rational race on its surface, if we are to attach the same sense to the words addressed to Adam as they possessed when addressed to Noah. “Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish (fill again) the earth.”’, Roberts, ‘A Brush with Modern Scepticism’, The Christadelphian (10.106.163), 1873.

[13]He may come to discover traces of a race of beings similar to man, but not of Adam’s posterity, but whether he does or not, there is another point of view from which we have an approach to certainty, that a race of beings similar to man did exist prior to Adam and a constitution of things likewise similar to what now obtains, and all this we have from scripture itself.’, Jardine, ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age (2.8.127), 1865.

[14] ‘IF this theory were true, the hope of the gospel would never be anything more than a beautiful fancy.’, Roberts, ‘The Darwinian Theory of Evolution’, The Christadelphian (12.137.489), 1874.

[15] ‘For my part, and the part of many present, we prefer the Bible to any speculative school that harbours the doctrine of evolution; and we believe the Bible gives us a cause adequate to the effect we see, whereas the other does not.’, Walker, ‘Reasons of the Hope’, The Christadelphian (46.539.220), 1909.

[16] ‘Considering the comparatively limited extent of the human family at the time, and that it was confined to one small district of the globe, it would seem reasonable to conclude from the principle already looked at – the divine sparingness of means – that the flood was co-extensive only with the Adamically-inhabited portion of the globe.’, Roberts, ‘The Visible Hand of God’, The Christadelphian (18.205.308), 1881.

[17] ‘Yet it does not seem necessary to confine the allusions of this first chapter of Genesis to six literal days on the last of which man appeared.’, Walker, ‘Genesis’, The Christadelphian (47.554.362), 1910.

[18] ‘They say that the true mode of interpreting the scriptures is by “literal interpretation:”2 just reading it as it stands; that it needs no explanation—it can explain itself. We say “No.”’, brother Paterson, letter excerpt published by brother Roberts under the heading ‘False Literalism’, The Ambassador of the Coming Age (4.42.328), 1867.

[19] ‘Moses’ testimony is not so “plain” that it cannot be misinterpreted or misunderstood.’, Walker, ‘Is it wrong to believe that the earth is a sphere?’, The Christadelphian (50.590.348), 1913.

[20]Besides the use of pre-Mosaic documents in the composition of the writings of Moses, there are at least two cases where matter written after his death (in one case centuries afterwards) is inserted. The one is chap. 36:3143, where the genealogy of Esau is completed by an addition concerning later times from 1 Chron. 1:43, and the other is the account of the death of Moses, probably inserted by Eleazar by the direction of Joshua.’, Roberts, ‘Saturday Evening Scripture Studies’, The Christadelphian (12.128.82), 1875.

[21] ‘Fully aware of the conclusions drawn by modern critics, I had introduced this sketch with the observation that it matters nothing whether the regulations respecting the land were written by Moses or compiled by a later author whether divinely inspired or the result of human sagacity.’, quotation from one of the writers of The Encyclopaedia Britannica, quoted approvingly by brother Hawkins in his article ‘Superiority of the Mosaic Land Code’, The Christadelphian (19.220.438), 1882.

[22] ‘What matters it whether Moses or Joshua or some other person wrote the Pentateuch, whether Daniel or some other person wrote Daniel, or whether Paul or some other person wrote Hebrews?’, Welch, ‘The Fundamental Fallacy of “Higher Criticism”’, The Christadelphian (32.374.292), 1895.

[23] ‘TISCHENDORF’S NEW TESTAMENT.—(Containing footnote emendations on the basis of the three most ancient original M.SS.: The VATICAN, ALEXANDRINE, and SINAITIC—the last but recently discovered by Tischendorf himself.). Brother Ellis writes to say he can supply the brethren with this free through the post, at 1s.10d.’, Roberts, ‘Intelligence’, The Christadelphian (6.66.432), 1869.

[24] Our pioneers typically held they were intelligent beings similar to humans, referring to them as angels but understanding them to be mortal.

[25] Brother John Thomas, letter to the congregation assembled at Barker Gate Meeting house, 14 July, 1848.

[26] Roberts, ‘A Clergyman On The Immortality Of The Soul’, The Christadelphian (10.109.208), 1873; it is important to note that brother Roberts’ remarks were directed not only at the doctrine of the immortal soul, but also at ‘this or any other doctrine preached from this or any other pulpit’.

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