The Accommodation Theory of the Bible

[Written by John W. Loftus] Today I was called an “idiot” and a “moron” for arguing that God should've told human beings a few things he didn't do, especially when it comes to the ancient superstitious problem for modern Christians about the evil eye. He said, “If you were this ignorant in the pulpit then I really feel sorry for your former congregation.” Am I an idiot? Let me respond.

I had asked, "Why must God accommodate to his creatures?" His one line answer was this: "So that we can understand what he's saying, you idiot."

I have read up on the “accommodation theory” in the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, and a few entries dealing sporadically with it in the Harper’s Bible Dictionary, The New Bible Dictionary, and the Anchor Bible Dictionary. But let’s use what Norman Geisler said, since I think he dealt with the topic the best in his Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. In dealing with Jesus here's an excerpted part of what he said:
In apologetics, accommodation theory can refer to either of two views, one acceptable and one objectionable to evangelical Christians. It can refer to God’s accommodation of his revelation to our finite circumstances to communicate with us, as in Scripture or the incarnation of Christ.

Negative critics of the Bible believe that Jesus accommodated himself to the erroneous views of the Jews of his day in their view of Scripture as inspired and infallible.

Legitimate accommodation can be more accurately called “adaptation.” God, because of infinitude, adapts himself to our finite understanding in order to reveal himself. However, the God who is truth never accommodates himself to human error.

The Bible teaches the transcendence of God. His ways and thoughts are far beyond ours (Isa. 55:9; Rom. 11:33). Human beings are infinitesimal in view of God’s infinity. God must “stoop down” in order to speak to us. However, this divine act of adaptation to our finitude never involves accommodation to our error. For God cannot err (Heb. 6:18). God uses anthropomorphisms (a true expression of who God is that is couched in human terms) to speak to us, but he does not use myths. He sometimes gives us only part of the truth but that partial truth is never error (1 Cor. 13:12). He reveals himself progressively, but never erroneously. He does not always tells us all, but all that he tells us is true.

It is well known that Jesus expressed a high view of Scripture in the New Testament. He accepted the divine authority (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10), imperishability (Matt. 5:17–18), divine inspiration (Matt. 22:43), unbreakability (John 10:35), supremacy (Matt. 15:3, 6), inerrancy (Matt. 22:29; John 17:17), historical reliability (Matt. 12:40; 24:37–38), and scientific accuracy (Matt. 19:4–5). To avoid the conclusion that Jesus was actually affirming all this to be true, some critics insist that he was merely accommodating himself to the accepted Jewish belief of the day without attempting to debunk their views. These erroneous views were a starting point for what he wanted to teach about more important matters of morality and theology.

Accommodation is contrary to Jesus’ life. Everything that is known about Jesus’ life and teaching reveals that he never accommodated to the false teaching of the day. On the contrary, Jesus rebuked those who accepted Jewish teaching that contradicted the Bible, declaring: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? . . . Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matt. 15:3, 6b).

Accommodation is contrary to Jesus’ character. From a purely human standpoint, Jesus was known as a man of high moral character. His closest friends found him impeccable (1 John 3:3; 4:17; 1 Peter 1:19). The crowds were amazed at his teaching “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law” (Matt. 7:29).
Now that I can at least claim not to be a moron, let me explain the problem, again, this time more forcefully, okay? I understand that if God exists he must adapt if he is to communicate with human beings, okay? I have no problem seeing this. I merely claim that what we see in the Bible goes far beyond mere adaptation. He has allowed us to believe in errors, both scientific and moral, and that’s what I object to in the Bible, if it’s a true revelation from God.

What Geisler says about Jesus must apply to God for obvious reasons, and I edited out a large chunk of text that went on and on about how Jesus’ actions and teaching would never allow him to accommodate for error. Point taken…or point to be consistently applied?

Apologists claim God accommodated to human beings in describing how he created the universe using timeless “phenomenal language.” See the Hebrew Universe diagram . And yet it is crystal clear God could have described the universe differently in order to teach human beings about the vastness and age of the universe. Apologists will claim that such an ancient cosmological description of our universe was not important for God to correct; since all he wanted to do was to let humans to know that it was HE who created it (others will try fruitlessly to defend it literally). But when we reflect on the Galileo affair and the irreparable harm it did to the Christian faith once astronomers understood the vastness and age of the universe, one can only shake her head in utter amazement God didn’t foresee that because he didn’t do this it would make many of us doubt the Bible. I am an atheist because this very problem started me down the road of doubt. And I wrote a book and I now blog daily against Christianity, among others. Does God really not care about the fact that he didn't tell human beings the truth about the universe?

You see the problem now? What best explains this? If God exists, what was so wrong to tell these ancient people about the true age and vastness of the universe, or in giving them the knowledge of penicillin right from the start, or by unambiguously condemning slavery? By not doing so, God has produced many unbelievers who don’t see any true divine revelation in the Bible! And here’s where my previous comment applies, when I wrote, “I suppose then the Bible was also accommodating to its hearers when God never condemned slavery, or witch, heretic and honor killings either, eh? Can God justify all of this accommodating? Why must God accommodate to his creatures? Why can't he simply tell them the truth, especially since because he didn't, there have been so many problems, including the Galileo affair, and the fact that we who want to assess the Bible's accuracy in today's world doubt it's from God because of this. This God is not too smart for an omniscient being.

In fact, there is nothing in the Bible that could not have been written by a person without divine revelation in that era at all. Everything reflects the age in which it was written. Why is that?"

First published August 8, 2007