The Two Books: Historic harmony of Bible & nature

April 19, 2011

The Bible describes nature as a reliable witness to God and His truth in harmony with the written word of Scripture; Psalms 8 [1] & 19,[2] [3] [4] Acts 4:16-17,[5] [6] [7] Romans 1:19-20.[8] [9] [10]

Early Jewish expositors understood this,[11] and Jesus taught it also.[12] In Christianity the principle became known as the ‘two books’.[13]

  • c.130-202: Irenaeus[14]
  • c.160-225: Tertullian[15]
  • c.251–356: Anthony the Abbot[16]
  • c.329-379: Basil of Caesarea[17]
  • c.347-407: John Chrysostom[18]
  • c.354-430: Augustine[19]
  • c.580-662: Maximus the Confessor[20]
  • c.810-877: John Scotus Eriugena[21]
  • c.1096-1141: Hugo of St Victor[22]
  • 1090-1153: Bernard of Clairvaux[23]
  • c.1140-1214: John Abbot of Ford[24]
  • 1217-1274: Bonaventura[25]
  • 1214-1294: Roger Bacon[26]
  • 1385-1436: Raymond of Sebond[27]
  • 1561: Belgic Confession[28]
  • 1571:1630: Johannes Kepler[29]
  • 1564-1642: Galileo Galilei[30] [31]
  • 1605-1682: Thomas Browne[32]

In the 19th century the ‘two books’ principle [33] [34] [35] was used as the reason for interpreting Scripture using scientific knowledge.[36] [37] [38]  [39]

[1]In the vast expanse of the creation that witnesses to God’s glory and greatness, the singer becomes conscious of the utter depths of his being as a human., Kraus, ‘A Continental Commentary: Psalms 1-59’, p. 182 (1993).

[2] ‘There is no speech or language, where their voice is not heard — meaning that, whatever the language or dialect of a people, they can still hear and comprehend the message of God as told by creation, told in a language that all can understand.’, Tesh & Zorn ‘Psalms’, College Press NIV commentary, p. 190 (1999).

[3] ‘The narration of the heavens is “word” (אמר) and entails “theological knowledge.”so also a knowledge concerning the Creator and his work is transmitted by the heavenly powers’, Kraus, ‘A Continental Commentary: Psalms 1-59’, p. 270 (1993).

[4]But the speech of the heavens and firmament, of day and night, has a twofold thrust: it is addressed to God as praise, yet it is also addressed to mankind as a revealer of “knowledge” (v 3).’, Craigie, ‘Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 1-50’, p, 180 (2nd ed. 2004).

[5] ‘the notion that God’s providential care can be demonstrated by the beneficence of nature’, Pervo & Attridge, ‘Acts: A Commentary on the Book of Acts’, Hermeneia, pp. 357–358 (2009).

[6] ‘it should have been possible for men to realize that he existed, since he had given testimony to himself in the world of nature by providing good things for men.’, Marshall, ‘Acts: An introduction and commentary’, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, volume 5, p. 253 (1980).

[7]Jewish teachers agreed that nature testifies to God’s character (this is biblical; cf. Ps 19:1; 89:37)’, Keener, ‘The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament’, (1993).

[8] ‘This refers to what may be known of God by observing the creation’, Abernathy, ‘An Exegetical Summary of Romans 1-8’, p. 72 (2nd ed. 2008).

[9] ‘Stoic philosophers argued that the nature of God was evident in creation… Jewish people scattered throughout the Greco-Roman world used this argument to persuade pagans to turn to the true God.’, Keener, ‘The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament’, (1993).

[10]in addition to revealing himself in Christ and in the Scriptures, God has also revealed himself to everybody through nature and history.’, Carson, ‘New Bible Commentary: 21st century edition’ (4th ed. 1994).

[11] ‘The day when rain falls is greater than [the day of] the Revival of the Dead, for the Revival of the Dead is for the righteous only whereas rain is both for the righteous and for the wicked’, Talmud Babylon, Tractate Taanith, folio 7a (Soncino Press ed. 1973).

[12] Matthew 5: 44 But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

[13] Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373), Gregory of Nyssa (c.335-394), John Cassian (c.360-435), Pelagius (c.354-420/440), Vincent of Beauvais (c.1190-c.1264), Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), Thomas of Chobham (c.1255-1327), Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), Thomas of Kempis (1380-1471), and Louis of Granada (1505-1588), were others holding this view.

[14] ‘He is to Us in This Life Invisible and Incomprehensible, Nevertheless He is Not Unknown; Inasmuch as His Works Do Declare Him.’, Irenaeus, ‘Against Heresies’ (4.20), in Roberts, Donaldson, & Coxe, ‘The Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume I: Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325’, p. 487 (1997 ed.).

[15] ‘He, as I suppose, who from the beginning of all things has given to man, as primary witnesses for the knowledge of Himself, nature in her (manifold) works’, Tertullian, ‘Against Marcion’ (5.16), Roberts, Donaldson, & Coxe, ‘The Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume III: Translations of the writings of the Fathers down to A.D. 325’, p. 464 (1997).

[16] ‘My book, O philosopher,’ replied Antony, * is the nature of things that are made, and it is present whenever I wish to read the words of of God.’, Socrates Scholasticus, ‘Historia Ecclesiastica’ (4.23), in Walford & Valois, ‘The Ecclesiastical History of Socrates Surnamed Scholasticus, or the Advocate’, p. 238 (1853).

[17]continuously contemplating the beauty of creatures, through them as if they were letters and words, we could read God’s wisdom and providence over all things’, Tanzella-Nitti, ‘The Two Books Prior to the Scientific Revolution’, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (57.3.237), September 2005.

[18] ‘This it was which the prophet signified when he said, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” … Upon this volume the unlearned, as well as the wise man, shall be alike able to look;’, Chrysostom, ‘Homilies Concerning the Statues’, (9.4, 5), in Schaff,  ‘The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Volume IX’, p. 401 (1997 ed.).

[19]It is the divine page that you must listen to; it is the book of the universe that you must observe. The pages of Scripture can only be read by those who know how to read and write, while everyone, even the illiterate, can read the book of the universe.’, Tanzella-Nitti, ‘The Two Books Prior to the Scientific Revolution’, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (57.3.237), September 2005.

[20]the natural law and the written law have the same dignity and teach the same things, in a way that one of them has nothing more, nothing less than the other’, ibid., p. 237.

[21] ‘Theternal light manifests it to the world in two ways, through Scripture and through creatures.’, ibid., p. 246.

[22] ‘this whole visible world is a book written by the finger of God’, ibid., p. 239.

[23] ‘since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made, as if this sensible world were a public book, in which everyone is able to read God’s wisdom’, ibid., p. 247

[24]there is the book of creatures, the book of Scripture and the book of Grace’, ibid., p. 241.

[25] ‘By the book of nature shows itself as the principle of power; by the book of Scripture as the principle of restoring.’, ibid., p., 240.

[26] ‘Our Saviour says, “Ye err, not knowing the Scriptures, nor the power of God;”* thus laying before us two books to study, if we will be secured from error; viz., the Scriptures, which reveal the will of God, and the creation, which expresses his power; the latter whereof is a key to the former’, Bacon, ‘Advancement of Learning’, in ‘Advancement of Learning and Novum Organum’, p. 27 (rev. ed. 1900).

[27]there are two books given to us by God, the one being the book of the whole collection of creatures or the book of nature, and the other being the book of sacred Scripture.’, Hess, ‘God’s Two Books: Special Revelation and Natural Science in the Christian West’, in Peters & Bennett, ‘Bridging Science and Religion’, p. 123 (2003).

[28] ‘Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God * We know him by two means: First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse. Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word’, the Belgic Confession (rev. ed. 1619, in Schaff, ‘Creeds of the Evangelical Protestant Churches’, volume 3, p. 384 (1876).

[29]Since we astronomers are Priests of the Most High God with respect to the book of nature, it behooves us that we do not aim at the glory of our own spirit, but above everything else at the glory of God’, Tanzella-Nitti, ‘The Two Books Prior to the Scientific Revolution’, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (57.3.248), September 2005.

[30] ‘Galileo famously said “Mathematics is the language with which God has written the universe.”’, Lissitz, ‘The Concept of Validity: revisions, new directions, and applications’, p. 96 (2009).

[31] ‘the glory and greatness of Almighty God are marvelously discerned in all his works and divinely read in the open book of heaven.’, Galilei, ‘Letter to Madame Christina of Lorraine, Grand Duchess of Tuscany: Concerning the Use of Biblical Quotations in Matters of Science’ (1615), Drake (trans.).

[32]there are two books from Nature whence I collect my divinity. Besides written one of God, another of his servant, nature‘, Browne, ‘Religio Medici’ part one, in Roberts (ed.), ‘Religio Medici And Other Essays By Sir Thomas Browne’, p. 21 (1st rev. ed. 1902).

[33] ‘The Advocate: For the Testimony of God as it is Written in the Books of Nature and Revelation CONDUCTED BY JOHN THOMAS, M.D. The invisible attributes of God, even his eternal power and divinity, since the creation of the world, are very evident; being known by his works.—PAUL. All scripture given by divine inspiration, is profitable for doctrine, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect—completely fitted for every good work.—PAUL.’, Thomas, The Advocate, volume 4, title page (1837).

[34] ‘THE ADVOCATE will, therefore, exercise himself to the best of his ability and judgment, in setting forth the manifold wisdom of God as inscribed on the brilliant pages of those two interesting volumes.”’, Thomas, The Advocate, volume 3, (1835-1836).

[35] ‘Coming now to man himself, we find in him a subject common to both revelations—an object in nature subject to her and a subject of scripture inseparable from it.’, The Christadelphian, (2:115), 1865.

[36]NATURE makes no false impressions, and just so the Bible. …The inconsistency spoken of between nature and scripture, arises not from antagonism, but from the misinterpretations of both. It is man’s interpretation of the one set against man’s interpretations of the other. It is not nature versus scripture, but false science against true theology, or false theology against scientific fact.’, WDJ, ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Christadelphian, (1:93), 1864.

[37] ‘Every thing in art and science are but copies of the workings of God’s spirit in nature. And it is by the study of nature and by meditation, on the discoveries which have been made as communicated to him through books, that man acquires his knowledge in the science of life, and so inhales this inspiration of God’s spirit.’, WDJ, ‘The Bible as a Law of Life and Immortality’, The Christadelphian, (2:161), 1865.

[38] ‘Some scientific men, we believe, view the Scriptures through the distorted medium of “confessions of faith” and doubt them, and theologians view science and call it false, because it does not take to their turn-pike road.’, Roberts, ‘The Christadelphian, (1:93-94), 1864.

[39] ‘That the earth had a history anterior to the six days’ work, is certain, from both scripture and nature. Geology proves the existence of forms of life long before the Mosaic creation; and the Bible tacitly affirms a pre-Adamite order of things,’, Roberts, ‘Were There Human Beings Before Adam?’, The Christadelphian, (48. 5:172), 1868.


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