I was pressed recently to give as succinct an explanation as I could of the accommodationist view of Scripture and whether I thought certain passages had been written as literally true or not. Our discussion centered around the opening chapters of Genesis and some passages in Joshua. The conversation came to a head when my friend quoted the account of Joshua’s long day in chapter 10 of that book:
“So the sun stood still, And the moon stopped, Till the people had revenge Upon their enemies. Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. (14) And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the LORD heeded the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel.” ( Jos 10:13-14 NKJV). He then went on to ask, “Did this literally or historically happen? Or is this an example of an “accommodation to their pre-scientific worldview”?… ell me scientifically what in the world is happening there. What should I tell my 13 year old what is occurring here in today’s knowledge. I await your answer.”
After giving it some thought this was my reply: I will ask a couple of questions from which you can begin to glean my answer- is the Book of Jasher from which the author of Joshua says he took the account of the long day inspired? Or was it a fallible human history book?
Were ancient history books as committed to the reporting of “nothing but the facts” or were they also largely ideological/ didactic before Thucydides, the “father of history”? (Note: the Gospels and Acts were written AFTER Thucydides transformed the historical genre of literature so they are more truly historical than the OT books).
I suppose the short answer to whether that long day actually happened is I don’t know based on those other questions I asked. I don’t know unless I find external corroborating evidence in astronomy (an event like that would have left a cosmological record). In any event it is not that important whether this event was allegorical or historical, it still has value for “instruction in righteousness”.
By the way- that passage is another example of accommodation. All Christians up through the Reformers believed the earth was stationary and the sun moved based on verses like this. They are on record as arguing against Copernicus and science because they believed literally the ancient worldview Scripture expresses.
We then moved to one of the genocidal passages of Joshua, “Then Joshua returned, and all Israel with him, to the camp at Gilgal. But these five kings had fled and hidden themselves in a cave at Makkedah. And it was told Joshua, saying, “The five kings have been found hidden in the cave at Makkedah.” So Joshua said, “Roll large stones against the mouth of the cave, and set men by it to guard them. “And do not stay there yourselves, but pursue your enemies, and attack their rear guard. Do not allow them to enter their cities, for the LORD your God has delivered them into your hand.” Then it happened, while Joshua and the children of Israel made an end of slaying them with a very great slaughter, till they had finished, that those who escaped entered fortified cities. And all the people returned to the camp, to Joshua at Makkedah, in peace. No one moved his tongue against any of the children of Israel.” (Jos 10:15-21 NKJV) The question on my friend’s mind about this passage, “Are these verses “historical/literal” or “accommodation to their pre-scientific worldview”?
To which I replied, “I don’t understand why you brought up Josh. 10:15-21 in relation to a scientific worldview? Are you asking whether the book of Joshua overall is pure 100% history as we understand and write it?
The literary genre of Joshua is ancient war rhetoric. It is largely based on history but as can be seen from everyone else’s war reports from the time period (see, for example, the Akkadian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Moabite, Urartian, Hittite, Babylonian and other accounts). Often battles we know to be skirmishes were made out to be major battles that totally laid waste the enemy’s nation. In ancient Near Eastern war rhetoric there is always a lot of exaggeration in the numbers and slaughter that really occurred.
That does not change the message of the book for us. The way the Israelites are said to have fought the Canaanites mercilessly are how we really should fight our inner spiritual warfare as Christians.”
I think many modern Christians have difficulty remembering how vast a difference there is between the way we look at the world around us and how the original recipients of the various Biblical books looked at the world. It is important for us to be aware of this ancient worldview and also of the specific literary genre of the different parts of Scripture. For example, Genesis 1 obviously draws from ancient cosmogonies that had already been in existence for a millenia at the time Moses wrote the Creation Narrative (we have the Mesopotamian and Egyptian hard copies that predate Moses and the similarities are striking) while the Apostles obviously intended to write history- the life of Christ- in the Gospels.
The Bible is not one book it is many books and each has its own literary genre.That is why I find Accommodation such a helpful way of reading the inspired text.
Accommodation simply means that God used the physical worldview and literary genres of the time to communicate His truths regarding Faith and morals. The ancients simply would not have understood or accepted the Bible otherwise.
Put another way, God could have communicated the creation story (and the rest of Scripture) with one of two cosmological views of the world:
a) In ancient times, virtually everyone on the planet believed in a flat circular earth surrounded by the original primordial ocean and topped by a solid dome in which were fixed the sun, moon, and stars. There were gates and windows in this firmament through which rain fell. All the celestial bodies were equidistant and not far from the surface of the earth. The Hebrews and Mesopotamians among others also believed in waters above the firmament which was the source of rain. The earth was the center around which the rest of the cosmos revolved.
Beginning in the fifth century BC with Pythagoras and solidifying in the third century BC with Erastosthenes, the major change to this view was that most people came to believe in a spherical earth because of advances in mathematics among the Greeks. Structural elements of the universe like the solid firmament, the waters above, and the rest remained the common belief from New Testament until Renaissance times.
In the modern age virtually everyone believes in a heliocentric solar system, a spherical earth flying through space, no solid dome, billions of galaxies and stars extending billions of light years in every direction and an acentrical universe.
God inspired the author of Genesis to teach the truth about who created the universe and why and what our response should be to that. Now He could have clothed the “one thing needful” in the actual truth of the physical universe so a 21st century person would understand it or He could have clothed it in the contemporary “truth” of the second millenium BC so the original audience would have understood it.
Had He used today’s science the Scriptures would have been rejected as fantasy by the ancients. Consider the true story of Anna Leonowens of The King and I. When she told the Siamese children and adults about snow and how it was formed she lost all her authority as a teacher. They could not comprehend this and thought she was making fun of them. She was only able to begin teaching again after the King (who had been educated in England) came in and told everyone he himself had seen snow.
Had God revealed the truth about the physical universe thousands of years before it was believeable or verifiable no one would have believed the Truth about faith and morality either.
As I have said before- the Scriptures were written FOR every generation but they were only written TO the original generation.