The Ministerial Vs. Magisterial Uses Of Reason (And Evolution)

A “magisterial” use of reason is where our reason is placed above the authority of the scriptures, and we then judge them on the basis of “argument” and evidence…

A “ministerial” use of reason is where we use our reason in submission to the authority of the scriptures…

It sometimes appears that theistic evolution is a magisterial use of reason…Which is rather frowned upon in some theological circles.

So, for me, my understanding of science must submit my understanding of Scripture, and it does. I just can’t find durable contradiction between Scripture and science. Certainly others can read things into Scripture that are anti-evolution, but Scripture itself honestly seems silent to me on this matter. For that reason, I am free to affirm evolution, alongside affirm Scripture.

I’m not, in contrast, overriding the clear teaching of Scripture as I understand it, because of the teaching of science. That would be wrong. Also, I am very cautious about ensuring my work does not encourage others to violate their conscience in this manner too.


Scripture is silent on evolution (as it never talks about evolution). If it was for it, there would be no such thing as the “origins debate.” The problem is if we take scripture at face value (which is reasonable to do in the vast majority of cases), it’s account of origins is at odds with evolutionary history. Those who see this contradiction are not reading it into scripture (eisegesis), they are simply taking it at face value, reading out of the text (exegesis) that which is clearly there: a theology of creation. However, if one attempts to fit the evolutionary history into the Bible, that is a classic example of eisegesis.

This is one thing that I generally respect about your work :wink: .


Is what I meant to write.

Except I affirm theology creation. I do not see it in conflict with evolution. I think evolutionary science is merely an incomplete way of explaining how God created us, just in part. I believe He made creation “very good,” using a design principle we call (in science) “common descent.” To paraphrase Genesis 1, this is is how the “land and sea gave forth plants and animals of many kinds.” The text itself teaches that the land and sea brought forth, at God’s command, which seems very compatible with saying “God created with evolution.”

Of course, you can disagree with me on the details, but I can’t find a contradiction with Scripture, or with creation theology.

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Assuming, that is, you say the days in Genesis are allegorical to some degree.

I can take them as 24 hr days. That is not in conflict with an old earth. They need not be allegorical.

Are you advocating the Gap Theory?

That is one approach. There are others. I helps to actually have read a lot of OT Scripture (as I am sure you have). OT Scripture is often talking on multiple levels at the same time.

It also helps to know the theological history of science. Do you know much about Kepler and how he helped the Church move past conflict on geocentrism regarding the “Joshua Day”?

It also helps to know the agreed upon statements on hermeneutics and inerrancy. Are you familiar with the Chicago Statements?

Knowing those three things, you very quickly see there are some very plain and obvious ways to understand this, without resorting to allegorical days, or gap theory.

What cases do you have?

Evolution and the Joshua day are two totally different cups of tea.

Then what do you resort to?

Of course they are different, but the conflict is analogous. However, I’d make use of the exact same principles as Kepler. If it is valid to deploy those principles in Joshua, what seems like a historical account, it is equally reasonable to apply them to Genesis 1.

I resort to grounding my faith in Jesus, and holding lots of options in my head so I can maximally serve the Church. I can so see so many ways of looking at Genesis 1 that allow for an old earth, it is hard to know which one is correct. So I’m not dogmatic here; instead hoping just to be helpful.

How about the prophecies about Jesus in Matthew (there are a large number). Most of them reference OT passages that had a proximal fulfillment in part, and the a complete fulfillment in Jesus. A great example of this is Isaiah 7:14, where it is clear the “pregnant virgins” were a sign to them right then in their context, yet we find out that this was just a partial fulfillment that was fully fulfilled in Jesus.

This is commonly called “telescoping prophecy” (see for example

Also, if you ever hear good preaching on OT passages (like Joshua), you’ll see how historical events have deeply spiritual meanings. This is not to deny their historical nature. Rather there is a multilevel narrative being laid out. This is how OT passages are; they almost never are speaking on a single level.

I suppose that depends on how you define “level.” That statement initially struck me as hard to defend, but it is true that the scriptures are full of rich meaning:

Historical events in the scriptures do indeed have deep spiritual meaning. Noah’s flood shows the gravity of the punishment deserved by our sins, but shows God’s mercy in providing an ark of salvation for Noah and his family (and the animals too). Jesus is our salvation from the wrath of God which was the just consequence of our sin. All of the scriptures are Christocentric in a way (and I can provide many more examples of this as well). The death and resurrection of Christ are actual historical events with unfathomably large theological implications…Just like many (if not most) of the events in Genesis (and the rest of the OT).

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So it comes back to this:

If not, we should start with a look at those.


Your statement about explaining the justification for a Global Flood is really a terse-but-on-point explanation for what many refer to as Theodicy:

Instead of all the squirming around by those who accept the complaint against Natural Evil as a valid complaint … and a complaint that can be answered with reason and compassion, your explanation may be the best: perhaps I will coin your explanation by the term: JES-theodicy ( just as the Wiki article describes at least 3 distinctive schools of theodicy: Plotinian Theodicy (named after Plotinus), Augustinian Theodicy (named by theologian John Hick), and Irenaean Theodicy (also named by Hick, based on the thinking of St. Irenaeus).

[Note: John Hick was no medieval scholar; he was a British theologian who taught mostly in America, dying at age 90 just 6 years ago in 2012!]

JES-Theodicy puts it bluntly and succinctly: “. . . Noah’s flood shows the gravity of the punishment deserved by our sins…” In other words, when natural evils occur (earth quakes, floods, tornadoes, etc.), it is unjustly harsh, or unjustly capricious, or unjust in any way: men, women and children (as well as animals of all kinds) are afflicted and obliterated because we deserve it: [because] of our sins.

That’s pretty definitive. And I find it impossible to argue against it from the Creationist perspective.

I am confused by your comment here…The scriptures do say that Noah’s flood was sent as God’s judgement on the wickedness of mankind. However, it is would be incorrect to extrapolate that concept to every single natural disaster that befalls us today (and has come upon humanity in the past). It is true, however, that these phenomena are a natural component of the fallen world in which we live (made so by the fall into sin).

Nonetheless, some explanation of your comment would be appreciated :wink: .

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And why is that a mistake? Have our sins diminished? Have they disappeared? Has humanity somehow risen above the wages of sin?

I think you are startled by the abruptness of the analysis… but really, it’s exactly what YEC’s say: Natural Evil is all because of Adam and Sin.

It was the simplicity of your sentence that suddenly brought home to me that, from the viewpoint of the conventional Young Earth Creationist, that is exactly the nature of the human plight in collision with inexplicably awful natural disasters…

Watch the Titanic movie again … and revisit the horror … and note that it is still nothing like the horror that awaits the sinners in the chambers of Hades…

@J.E.S., do you know about the Chicago Statements yet? And about Kepler’s argument?

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I believe I have read the Chicago statements, but I have not studied them in-depth enough to really discuss them (and I am always hesitant to say “yep, I agree with something” if that something is an in-depth document that I have not studied thoroughly [although I would also be hesitant to say the opposite :wink: ]).

I do not know a great deal about Kepler’s argument, but I would be delighted if you could enumerate on the concept for the gratification of all (and myself in particular :wink: ) so that we could discuss it!

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They may be both, but the structure of how the terms for “day” and “evening” and “morning” are used does not support a literal 24 hour day in this realm…

Reason is employed whenever humans interpret anything. Theologians use human reason and evidence to interpret what God has revealed in his scriptures. Scientists use human reason and evidence to interpret what God has revealed in his creation. Your statements seem to imply that human reason and evidence only apply to science and not the study of the scriptures. Scholarly articles in both peer-reviewed scientific journals and peer-reviewed theological journals rely upon human reason and the evidence from their respective fields. So I must reject the false dichotomy.

Your statements also might be interpreted to imply that God’s revelations in his creation are inherently inferior to what God has revealed in his scriptures. I prefer to consider all that God has chosen to reveal to us. So when I draw upon both my knowledge of science and my knowledge of the Bible when reaching my conclusions about origins, I am submitting to the authority of God in all of his revelations. Again, I strongly reject the false dichotomy.

God has revealed truth to us in many ways. In addition to the creation and the scriptures, God has given Christ-followers the witness of his Holy Spirit. And some people have benefitted from direct revelations of truth from God. For example, those at Belshazzar’s feast were informed by words written on a wall by a hand which suddenly appeared: “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.” Daniel was called in by the king and he translated and explained the meaning of the words. I could give many other examples. So why would I want to restrict myself to just one of God’s means of revealing truths to us? Some prefer to focus solely on what the scriptures tell us. I prefer to consider all that God has revealed.

I was a Young Earth Creationist for many years. I eventually grew weary of the false argument that the scriptures are somehow “obvious” and not subject to human reason and interpretation—while the study of creation (aka scientific examination of the universe) is somehow hopelessly ambiguous and subjective because “mere human reason” is involved and that such “human interpretations” can’t be trusted. After a lifetime of exegetical studies, I could only wish that the study and interpretation of many of the most difficult scriptures were as straightforward and unambiguous as the interpretation of a lot of the scientific evidence for various physical phenomenon. I can also say as both a scientist and as a theologian that God endowed us with human reason and “argument” (as you called it) so that we can study, discuss, and better understand what God has revealed in his scriptures and in his creation. I do not have a low view of human reason nor do I disregard evidence. Human reason is a gift of God. It doesn’t make us inerrant but it does make us human and specially blessed by God. (Other animals do not enjoy the benefits of human reason.) It is an endowment under the Imago Dei we read about in Genesis.

[And just for the record, I was a science professor before I became a seminary professor. So I do have publishing experience as a scholar in both science and theology. I’m also a born-again evangelical and ordained minister who still preaches now and then. I mention these descriptions simply to avoid wasting time on any stereotypical presumptions about me having a low view of scripture or favoring “the authority of man” or whatever. I have a very high view of what God has revealed in the Bible and a very high view of what God has revealed in his creation. God teaches us many truths in both. Why would anyone wish to limit themselves to only some of the truths God has revealed to us?]

[Perhaps I should also mention that I affirm biological evolution because God has clearly revealed it in his creation and God’s scriptures say nothing to contradict that revelation. That being the case, why should we try to use human reason to deny that which God has created and called “good” in his creation? Unfortunately, I used to lecture on “creation science” and put great energy into denying evolutionary processes. I suppose you could say that I was misapplying human reason (as well as cherry-picking and abusing evidence) to deny what God had clearly revealed in his creation. Yes, I was guilty of all of that. Because I didn’t like what I thought I knew (but misunderstood) about the Theory of Evolution, I worked very hard to declare evil that which God had created and declared “very good”. Was that a “magisterial” error on my part? I was ordained at the time so perhaps it was a “ministerial” error!]


I don’t know of anyone who claims that the Bible is a biology textbook which intends to teach us about topics like evolution. (Nevertheless, I can certainly say that I’ve found nothing in the Bible which denies biological evolution.) Meanwhile, I would encourage you to substitute other topics for the word “evolution” and see if your logic holds up:

Scripture is silent on inerrancy (as it never talks about inerrancy). If it was for it, there would be no such thing as the “inerrancy debate.”


Scripture is silent on Molinism (as it never talks about Molinism). If it was for it, there would be no such thing as the “Molinism debate.”

I could also say that the Bible is silent as to the globality of the Noahic Flood. Yet, there is certainly such a thing as “the global flood vs. regional flood debate.”

What is “face value”? I would argue that if “face value” is definable (and I’m not so sure that it is), it would have to be based on the intentions of the original author writing in Hebrew/Aramaic/Greek and, secondarily, as it was likely to be understood by the original audience----not the “face-value” assumed by an English Bible reader today. (I say “secondarily” because we know that sometimes the intention of the author was NOT the same as what the audience assumed. For example, Jesus’ disciples were very frustrated because the “face value” of his parables left them totally baffled. The disciples complained that “face value” totally failed them. They demanded explanations.)

I’ve spent a lifetime laboring over difficult passages of scriptures which required many hours of Greek and Hebrew exegesis. (I confess to doing not nearly as much work in Aramaic exegesis. That was not my field.) I do wish the “face value” meaning was as simple and accessible as you imply. I’ve always found it interesting when casual readers of the Bible tell me that “any ten-year old could tell you what this verse means”. Indeed, I’m always amazed when modern-day readers of English claim to have a better “face value” understanding of the scriptures than the Bible translators who spent many hours in committee arguing over the meanings. I suppose it is a kind of compliment to the work of Bible translators when the end product makes it all seem so simple! As to those all-knowing ten-year olds who can so easily tell us what the verse means, perhaps Bible societies should start hiring them to their translation committees. It would save a lot of work!

Anybody who has spent a lifetime preaching and teaching the Bible can share favorite anecdotes about how “reading the scriptures at face value” and looking for the “plain and obvious meaning” produced hilarious results. I remember my first example as a young preacher filling in for an absent pastor’s Sunday School class. It was one of those traditional classes where everybody read their assigned verse and then explained the meaning. One of the church elders, a man who had attended that church for literally 80+ years, read 1Peter 1:1 with great gusto:

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,…

He confidently explained, “Obviously, in Bible times there was a lot of drought. So it was often in the sun-dried times that God chose to speak through his prophets.”

Yes, that was reading “at face-value” what the Biblical text meant. (Hmmm, his interpretation always made me wonder if “divers manners” referred to proper scuba etiquette!)

Could you tell us which specific scriptures are “at odds with evolutionary history”? I’m sincerely curious. (And keep in mind that I was once a very adamant “creation science” speaker who regularly railed against biological evolution and got paid to do so.) I asked this very question of a student in one of my lectures a few years ago and she cited Genesis 1:24: "And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: …” She emphasized that reproduction “after its kind” or “according to his kind” [depending on the translation] meant “Dogs produce dogs. Cows produce cows. Not something else!” It never occurred to her that the Theory of Evolution agrees 100%. Indeed, if ever some organism failed to produce an offspring that was much like the parent/parents, that would be powerful potential evidence against the Theory of Evolution! Indeed, the Theory of Evolution predicts that organisms will continue to reproduce after their own kind. If a dog ever gave birth to a cow, we would have every right to throw out our evolutionary biology textbooks.

I would say that it depends upon what you mean. If by “attempts to fit” you mean, “The following scripture is a clear declaration from scripture that the Theory of Evolution is valid”, then I would entirely agree with you. The Bible doesn’t address topics of biological science in sufficient detail to where such a scenario makes any sense. However, if “attempts to fit” means “I don’t see any conflict between the Theory of Evolution and what is recorded in the Bible”, then I must disagree with you.

I read the NLT version of Genesis 1:24:

Then God said, “Let the earth produce every sort of animal, each producing offspring of the same kind–livestock, small animals that scurry along the ground, and wild animals.” And that is what happened.

… and I find nothing there which denies evolutionary processes. Indeed, this is also a great scripture for mention when the topic is abiogenesis: living organisms from non-living materials. The Hebrew word ERETZ (“land”, “dirt”, “ground”) is the source of biological life. God created a world where non-living materials can come alive. (Indeed, my digestive system continues to accomplish that trick every day. It takes dead materials and turns them into all sorts of living cells in my body. And the plants in my garden continually convert the raw, non-living chemical compounds of the soil and make living fruit and vegetable cells from them.)

I was involved in the drafting of one of the Chicago conference statements, in a very low-level way. (There was a series of conferences over a period of years. I was involved in the second conference, I think it was.) But that is an interesting story for another time.