God’s Other Book: The Book of DNA

When believers think of “God’s book” they typically think of the Bible, and rightly so. The Bible is certainly God’s book. It contains the “inspired” and  “holy scriptures” (2 Timothy 3:15-16). The Bible was produced by “holy men” writing what they were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit to write (2 Peter 1:21). It is our exclusive and all-sufficient guide of faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:17). The Bible is the book that gives us “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). It was written to show us how to be saved and have spiritual life with God for eternity.

However, king David of old spoke of another “book” of God. This book also contains instructions. Not for spiritual life but for physical life. It is a manual for the development and maintenance of physical life.

Psalm 139 is a psalm about God’s omniscience (thus, omnipresence). The inspired king David acknowledged that God knew his thoughts and his words (vs. 2 & 4). God knew whether David was sitting, standing or lying down (vs. 2 & 3). David then discussed the implications of such “wonderful” divine knowledge. There was no place that he go to escape God’s “presence” (God’s knowledge and awareness of him), not in the earth, sky, remotest seas or in darkness (vs. 7-12). David then discussed his formation in his mother’s womb and observes that God beheld his “substance” even there. In speaking of his own fetal development, David said,

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:13-16).

What “book” does David have reference to? Some conflate this passage with Jeremiah 29:11 and say that it is the book of God’s plans for the individual’s life upon the earth. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” Of course, it is a misapplication of this passage to apply it to individuals today. Most people may not be aware of this, but the verse immediately preceding this one says, “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place” (Jeremiah 29:10). God was speaking to the house of Judah and His “plan” to return them to Jerusalem after 70 years of Babylonian captivity. He was not speaking of some personal life plan for individuals today.

Furthermore, the “book” of Psalm 139:16 cannot refer to God’s plans for the lives of individuals upon the earth because David was not even speaking of life in general. He was speaking particularly of the “formation” and development of life in the womb. He describes the time when he was “knitted” and “intricately woven” together in his mother’s womb. The writing of God’s “book” is mentioned in connection with his “unformed substance.”  David is speaking of the genetic instructions that are housed in every cell of the human body. He is talking about DNA. These instructions constitute an assembly and maintenance and repair book for all living things. It is God’s book because He designed it.

The “Book” Of Psalm 139:16

The word “book” in Psalm 139:16 is translated from the Hebrew word (çêpher) and is used 188 times in the Old Testament. You can see our word “cipher” in this Hebrew word. The word always suggests intelligent deliberation, intent and purpose. It is used of genealogical records in Genesis 5:1 and Nehemiah 7:5, which involves order. It is often used of the book of the covenant or book of the law of Moses, which expresses a moral and religious code of instructions (Exodus 24:7; Deuteronomy 30:10; Joshua 1:8; 2 Kings 23:21; 2 Chronicles 17:9; 34:31; Nehemiah 8:8). It is used of God’s catalogue of the saved, which list was not recorded on paper but in God’s mind, showing that the book’s information can be contained in different formats (Exodus 32:32; Psalm 69:28). It is used of a written statement of divorcement expressing intent (Deuteronomy 24:1). It is used of various letters that contained plans about how certain things were to be done. We see this in David’s letter to Joab regarding the treatment of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:14), in Jezebel’s letter to the Jewish leaders regarding Naboth (1 Kings 21:8) and in Jeremiah’s letter explaining God’s plans for captive Jews (Jeremiah 29:1, 11). It is used of particular books of the larger book of the law in describing additional actions of various kings, such as the book of Chronicles (1 Kings 14:19, 29; 15:7, 23, 31; 16:5, 14, 20, 27) and the book of Kings (2 Chronicles 16:11; 20:34; 24:27; 25:26; 27:7).

David used this word in Psalm 139:16 in describing the formation of the various parts, organs and tissues of the human body. David didn’t talk about four nucleotides or how their sequencing produces different amino acids for the production of different proteins for different traits and purposes, but he did use the Hebrew word cepher which implies things like order, instructions, plans and actions.

Our cells contain a veritable book of coded instructions. DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the molecule in the nucleus of every cell that contains the genetic information for making new cells. The information in DNA works alongside RNA (ribonucleic acid) in the manufacture of the proteins that determine unique biological traits (such as eye and hair color). These traits are passed along to subsequent generations through the reproductive process. The amount of information contained in DNA is staggering. It has been estimated that one gram of DNA could house 215 petabytes of information. Just one petabyte is a million gigabytes. This capability has led researchers to pursue ways of using DNA as a storage medium.

Using the most advanced technology available at the time, it still took the Human Genome Project 13 years to map the first blueprint of the human genome (1990-2003). Twenty years later, geneticists continue to be fascinated by the function of DNA and the sheer volume of information that it contains. This is because of the possible combinations and repetitions of the base nucleotides in forming proteins. It can take sequences (strings) of as many as 2000 nucleotides to produce one particular protein.

Gene structure wasn’t known until 1953 (though there were earlier suspicions about the concept dating back to the mid 1800s). David could not have known about gene molecules and their unique double helix structure but he knew enough to exclaim that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” He was right. A study of genetics is a study of intelligent design.

Psalm 139:16 contains a powerful evidences argument. Job wasn’t a student of gravitational physics, yet he said that the “earth hangs upon nothing” (Job 26:7). Isaiah wasn’t an astronaut, yet he spoke of “the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 40:22). David wasn’t a mariner, yet he spoke of “the paths of the seas” (Psalm 8:8). David wasn’t a geneticist, but he spoke of a book that instructs cells to do certain things in the development and maintenance of life. These men could not have known these things without guidance from a superior intelligence. The Bible affirms that intelligence to be the great architect of all things — God.

Tim Haile

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