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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Answering Bible Difficulties

Don Stewart :: Did God Accommodate Himself to the Ignorance of the Times? (The Accommodation Theory)

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Did God Accommodate Himself to the Ignorance of the Times? (The Accommodation Theory)

Answering Bible Difficulties – Question 22

There are some people who assume the Scripture teaches the eternal truths of God, but that there are errors in subjects which are not dealing with spiritual truth. This is because the purpose of Scripture is only to teach God’s truth, not truth on other subjects.

Accusation: God Allowed Errors in Scripture Because He Was Only Teaching Spiritual Truth

This view says that God communicated His truth through Scripture, but in doing so He did not correct the faulty scientific and historic beliefs of the people. This includes such things as believing in the devil and demons, special creation instead of evolution, and certain events recorded in the Old Testament.

Instead of correcting all the untruths that people in the biblical times believed, God merely taught them His truth, and let them assume their unscientific and unhistorical views were correct. Since it would have been difficult for the authors of Scripture to correct so many misunderstandings of fact, God decided to leave them ignorant of these things. This view is also known as the “accommodation theory.” Consequently, what we have in the Bible is God’s truth mixed with scientific and historical errors.

Response to the Accommodation Theory

There are a number of objections to this way of thinking:

Where Are the Errors in Scripture?

The first objection to this view is the assumption that there are errors in Scripture. The consistent theme of the Bible is that the written Scriptures are God’s Words, and that God does not lie. The objector must first demonstrate even minor errors of history and science. This has not been done. Therefore, the theory is unnecessary.

If He Accommodated His Words, Then He Is No Longer the God of Truth

There is a greater problem with this theory. If God spoke untruths to humanity, for whatever reason, then He would no longer be the God who does not lie. However, Scripture emphasizes that He is the God who always tells the truth. Paul wrote:

This letter is from Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I have been sent to bring faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives. This truth gives them the confidence of eternal life, which God promised them before the world began—and he cannot lie. (Titus 1:1-2 NLT)

According to the Apostle Paul, the God of the Bible does not lie. In fact, Paul says that He cannot lie! The fact that God cannot and does not lie is in conflict with the idea that He accommodated Himself to the ignorant beliefs at the time.

The writer to the Hebrews stated it this way:

When people take an oath, they call on someone greater than themselves to hold them to it. And without any question that oath is binding. God also bound himself with an oath, so that those who received the promise could be perfectly sure that he would never change his mind. So God has given us both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence. (Hebrews 6:16-18 NLT)

According to this theory, God intentionally lied to humanity. This is contrary to His moral character. God cannot be the God of truth and at the same time lie to His people. Therefore, His character is at stake in this matter as to whether He did, or did not, accommodate His words to the ignorance of the day. Did He tell the truth or did He lie?

Jesus Was Not Afraid to Point Out Error

There is something else. Jesus did not hesitate to expose error and sinful behavior. We can give a number of examples of this from the New Testament. They include the following:

Jesus Drove Out the Moneychangers from the Temple

Jesus chased the moneychangers away from the temple area. John records the following response of Jesus to the corruption He found in the temple:

Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:15-16 NRSV)

Jesus certainly did not hesitate to right a wrong when necessary.

Jesus Corrected Nicodemus

Jesus corrected Nicodemus—leading Jewish teacher. When Nicodemus asked Jesus a question, Jesus responded in the following manner:

“Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things?” (John 3:10 NET)

Jesus had no problem correcting Nicodemus.

He Warned of False Prophets

Jesus warned of false prophets that would come in the midst of believers. In the Sermon on the Mount, we read the following:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. (Matthew 7:15 NRSV)

This warning makes it clear that some people, who claim to teach God’s truth, are not really doing so.

Jesus Corrected Unbiblical Traditions

Jesus rebuked those who held traditions that were contrary to the Word of God. In Matthew’s gospel, we read of the following encounter of Jesus with the religious leaders:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:1-3 NRSV)

These traditions were actually contradicting the things God had previously revealed. Jesus had no problem correcting them.

Jesus Rebuked the Sadducees for Their Understanding of Scripture

Jesus told the Sadducees that they did not understand the Scripture, or the power of God. We read in Matthew:

But Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matthew 22:29 NASB)

This is a strong statement of Jesus. He let them know the subjects in which they were ignorant.

Jesus Rebuked the Religious Leaders for Their Behavior

Jesus called the religious leaders “blind guides.” He said:

Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ (Matthew 23:16 NET)

On the other hand, Jesus commended those who answered correctly. To a young ruler who was asking about eternal life, we read the following from Jesus:

And He [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28 NKJV)

Consequently, there is nothing in the life or ministry of Jesus that would give us the slightest hint that He accommodated Himself to wrong beliefs, rather than correct His ignorant contemporaries.

Should We Imitate God Who Lies?

The final problem with this perspective is that we would be commanded to imitate a God who lies, or who tells half-truths. Scripture says that we should imitate God’s character:

You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps; nor shall you make yourselves unclean with them, lest you be defiled by them. ‘For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ (Leviticus 11:43-44 NKJV)

Jesus said:

But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say? (Luke 6:36 NKJV)

However, if the accommodation theory is true, then God purposely made some false statements in Scripture to more effectively communicate with humanity. Therefore, it would not be sinful for us to do the same thing. In fact, we would be commanded to do this because we are to imitate God! Such an idea is totally foreign to all of Scripture. Paul wrote that believers are to put away lies and speak the truth:

Put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:24-25 RSV)

Therefore, the accommodation theory is totally contrary to what Scripture says about the character and commands of God. Consequently, it should be soundly rejected.

Summary – Question 22
Did God Accommodate Himself to the Ignorance of the Times? (The Accommodation Theory)

The accommodation theory says that God did not attempt to correct the faulty scientific beliefs that were held in biblical times. Rather, He accommodated Himself to these incorrect historical, spiritual, and unscientific beliefs of the people. It was not His purpose to teach people about the functioning of the universe; it was to teach them spiritual truth. Therefore, we should expect to find historical and scientific errors in Scripture.

However, this theory does not really take into account what the Bible says about itself. The Bible claims to be God’s truth to humanity. It makes no distinction between the spiritual and the scientific.

Furthermore, this theory assumes errors in Scripture. This is an assumption that still needs to be proven. Until it is proven, then it is not necessary to assume God accommodated Himself to the superstitions that were held by the people.

There are other problems. As we see from the New Testament, Jesus was not afraid to rebuke error when He found it. There are a number of examples of Him correcting error.

Consequently, we should assume the truthfulness of statements that He did not correct.

The totality of Scripture is against any idea of God accommodating Himself to the ignorant and unscientific views of the people.

Are There Grammatical Errors in Scripture? ← Prior Section
How Can the Bible Be Inerrant Since Human Beings Are Not? Next Section →
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