Righting America

A forum for scholarly conversation about Christianity, culture, and politics in the US
It’s Literal . . . Unless It’s Not | Righting America

by William Trollinger

Answers in Genesis (AiG) believes the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. By inerrant, AiG means that God

“breath[ed] out His Word” to the writers of Scripture and that “the Holy Spirit did not allow error to influence their writings. . . . Thus, they recorded accurately all God wanted them to say and exactly how He wanted them to say it in their own character, styles, and languages.”

In other words, the writers of Scripture got it right such that the Bible is without error. 

Given this understanding of the Bible as the actual Word of God and not just some invention or interpretation by the humans who happened to author the texts that were canonized, it stands to reason that AiG is particular about how Christians read it. If the Bible really is the Word of God, then readers ought not mess with it. Instead, they should take it as it is—that is, read it literally. So, if God said that God created the world in six days, then God created it in six days. Not six lengthy epochs. Not in six days with giant gaps in between. Six days. Period.

As AiG puts it:

“We try to find the plain (literal) meaning of the words based on an understanding of the historical and cultural settings in which the book was written. We then follow standard rules of grammar, according to the book’s particular genre, to arrive at an interpretation. We seek to perform careful interpretation or exegesis—that is, to ‘read out of’ the text what the author intended it to mean. This is in contrast to eisegesis, which occurs when someone ‘reads into’ the text his own ideas—what the reader wants the text to mean. In other words, exegesis is finding the AIM (Author’s Intended Meaning) of the passage because its true meaning is determined by the sender of the message, not the recipient” (emphasis added). 

Again, given that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, it makes sense that Christian readers ought to be absolutely faithful to the text, neither adding anything to it or taking anything away from it.

Unless . . .

Unless, the readers of the text are employees of AiG tasked with designing exhibits at Ark Encounter. Apparently, in that circumstance (and some others, according to the AiG website) there is no problem with adding what turns out to be quite a lot to the inerrant Word.

In our last post, we looked at three areas inside Ark Encounter where visitors come upon placards announcing that the creators of the exhibits either produced an “artistic interpretation” of or took “artistic license” with the biblical text. In one area, AiG exhibit designers expanded significantly on what Genesis says about the character of human culture prior to the Flood. In another, they came up with a biography of Noah that goes way beyond the few details provided in Genesis. And in a third, they invented specific talents, deep desires, and biographical details for Noah’s three sons along with names, ethnicities, life events, and longings for his sons’ wives.

So, what are visitors to Ark Encounter to think about the Bible and how they ought to interpret it?

  • They should read it literally so that their interpretation is true to God’s intent rather than reflective of mere human interpretation, desire, or error.
  • Artistic license may be taken even when that means adding a lot to the Word God intended to give us.  

While the inerrant Word of God, as AiG insists, may be without contradiction, these two ways of reading the Word sure seem to be in contradiction.

On its website, AiG proclaims its mission. The second of three bullets in the mission statement says: “We relate the relevance of a literal Genesis to the church and the world today with creativity.” Creativity, indeed.