How old are you? Every gentleman should know that you never ask a lady her age. The earth is a different kind of lady and scientists, scholars,and bible believers have been asking her age for a couple hundred of years now. Like any other lady, earth has done a good job of hiding her age, causing quite a lot of speculation. Scientists, like a medical doctor with a patient of unknown age, have inspected the earth looking for telltale signs of age. Bible scholars however have the birth certificate, though there are several disagreements on how to interpret it.
For much of history, science and the bible had been agreeable. William H. Jennings, professor of Religion at Muhlenberg College, writes, “In Newtonian science, the universe operates like a well-ordered machine. The spectacular success with which scientists of that day predicted many astronomical phenomena seemed to demonstrate this, and there was a growing confidence that all the created world could be seen as operating in a similar harmonious and predictable way.”i Science was expected to confirm the Bible and it did. Science confirmed the theological assumption that God’s hand was in the world at creation and at work today. “Newtonian science presented a model by which Christianity and science could exist side by side in harmony.”ii This harmony was not to last for in 1859 Charles Darwin wrote The Origin of Species. Jennings says that, “A dramatic revolution in science occurred in the twentieth century, a revolution for which Darwin was a harbinger. From physics to genetics, from astronomy to anthropology and all the other disciplines, science today pictures the world as dynamic and ever-changing, built upon inner energy… a world that in many ways is different from the way Newtonian science had described it.”iii Darwin had ushered in a radically new model of nature, science and even biblical interpretation. With this new development, theologians began looking to the bible for answers. A new look was given to the book of Genesis to see if it could be harmonized with Darwinism. From this return to Genesis has risen a debate over the age of the earth and the timing of creation. At the heart of this debate is the issue over the authority of scripture and the authority of science. To illustrate the importance of this debate, a 2011 Gallup poll found that only 3 in 10 of Americans say that the Bible is to be interpreted literally as the word of God.”iv This was down from 40% of Americans in 1980. While there may be other factors involved in this decline, certainly the evolution-creation debate has played its roll. The passage of scripture at the center of the debate is Genesis 1 and 2. The passage describes God’s creating of the world seemingly in 6 days. However, if this is true then the earth must be much younger than what many modern scientists are saying. In an attempt to harmonize the science and biblical date, new interpretations of the passage have risen. This paper will first describe two of these alternate interpretations, their weaknesses and then affirm that the literal interpretation is still the most faithful to the text and to the question of the age of the earth.
Because of a so-called discrepancy between the sciences and Bible, several theologians have been hard at work at trying to harmonize the interpretation of Genesis with the sciences. One theory that gained much traction in the 19th century and blossomed in the 1960s is the Day-Age View. This theory states that the days of creation should be not understood as a 24-hour day but as 6 ages or distinct periods of time. Two of the biggest proponents of this theory Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer describe their position in a book entitled The Genesis Debate. “We build our day-age interpretation upon the conviction that we can trust God’s revelation as truth in both the words of the Bible and works of creation including the physical world.”v “Our day-age interpretation treats the creation days literally as six sequential, long periods of time.”vi The obvious reason that the day-age interpretation exists is because scientists have insisted that the universe is billions of years old. Even Ross and Archer admit , “Before English translations were available, animosity over the length of the Genesis days did not exist, at least not as far anyone can tell from the extant theological literature.”vii While those who promote this viewpoint would claim a commitment to “sola scripture” it seems that their first commitment is to have science interpret the scriptures. Interestingly enough it is two proponents of another interpretation, the framework view, Lee Irons and Meredith G. Kline who provide the best advice when interpreting scripture. “In contrast to this science-driven approach, we believe it is best to set scientific questions to the side while exegeting the text.”viii Henri Blocher another proponent of the framework view puts it this way. In the case of the opening chapters of Genesis, it is not plausible that the human author knew what we are taught by astronomers, geologists and other scientists. Therefore we must curb the desire to make the scientific view play a part in the actual interpretation;the interpretation must cling solely to the text and its context. The inescapable comparison with the sciences of cosmic, biological and human origins will not come until after….ix Irons and Kline sum up this constraint as a “Scripture first, science later methodology (that) accords best with the nature and purpose of Scripture, which does not normally speak in scientific terms for the purpose of answering purely scientific questions.”x The Day-Age view has the hermeneutic backwards. It starts with science first and then seeks to interpret the scriptures accordingly.
Day-Age proponents do seem to make some convincing arguments from the text but ultimately are constrained by the current model of science. What if the current scientific viewpoint were to change? Would theologians be asked to change their interpretation once again? Wayne Grudem in his masterpiece Systematic Theology even asserts that the day view has several difficulties within science. The sequence of events in Genesis 1 does not exactly correspond to current scientific understanding of the development of life, which puts sea creatures (day 5) before trees (day ), and insects and other land animals (day 6), as well as fish (day 5),before birds (day 5). The greatest difficulty for this view is that it puts the sun, moon, and stars (Day 4) millions of years after the creation of plants and trees (Day 3). That makes no sense at all according to current scientific opinion, which sees the stars as formed long before the earth or any living creatures on the earth.xi It is safe to say then even by changing the interpretation of Genesis to have long days, that there are still major problems in fitting within modern science.
Another position mentioned briefly above is the framework view of Genesis. In attempting to keep science out of the exegesis, this view holds that the seven-day creation account was never meant to be taken literally but instead is a literary device used to address theological issues. In this view, Genesis is not an explanation of how God made the universe but is a symbol to illustrate the purpose of creation. This theory basically asserts that the creation week can be divided into two sets of three days each. Lee Irons explains, “ the first triad (days 1-3) narrate the establishment of the creation kingdoms, and the second triad (days 4-6), the production of the creature kings.”xii He goes on further to say, “This deliberate two-triad structure, or literary framework, suggests that the several creative works of God have been arranged by Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in their particular order for theological and literary, rather than sequential, reasons. For this reason we believe the days of the creation week are a figurative framework providing the narrative structure for God’s historical creative works.”xiii
While on the surface this may look like a sound approach, it is an artificial structure applied to the text. J. Ligon Duncan III and David W. Hall explain the real problem with the framework approach in their critique of a framework essay.” The framework essay claims to liberate the text from received interpretations and, serendipitously, to have removed the ‘false expectations that have muzzled the text in the past’ so that the theological message may shine through. By making this claim, framework adherents disenfranchise virtually all earlier exegesis and sport an eccentric view that purportedly rescues the theological message….Moreover, the framework view requires more than anyone may credibly posit about the literary sophistication of (1) the original audience, (2) all subsequent Old Testament epexegesis, (3) New Testament commentaries on creation, and (4) the orthodox understanding of the Christian Church until relatively recent revisions.”xiv The framework view basically asserts that the real interpretation of the passage was hidden for thousands of years and has only been revealed in the past 50 years.
Since both the day-age and the framework view are lacking, it may do to return to the literal 24-hour view. The 24-hour view states that each day in the Genesis account correlates to one 24-hour day, thus God created in six days and rested on the seventh. This has been the normative view for most of Christian history. Duncan and Hall explain why this is, “The historical Christian tradition, which is rooted in a cumulative history of interpretation, has viewed these days mainly as normal days because it has viewed the Genesis account as historical. No significant debate existed on the matter before the nineteen century because the plainest and most straightforward reading of the text ha no sustained challengers.”xv It is important to realize that the literal 24-hour view was never really questioned until the recent theories of evolution. Even James Barr, a Hebrew scholar at Oxford University and no friend to a historical christian view, comments that: there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience.xvi
History also confirms that the literal interpretation was the norm for most of Christianity. Basil the great, one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, wrote: “And there was evening and morning, one day. Why did he say one’ and not ‘first’?…He said ‘one’ because he was defining the measure of day a night… since the twenty-four hours fill up the interval of one day.”xvii Ambrose another early father writes a description of the creation days echoing Basil: The end of day is the evening. Now, the succeeding day follows after the termination of night. The thought of God is clear. First He called light “day” and next He called darkness “night.” In notable fashion has Scripture spoken of a “day,” not the “first day.” Because a second, then a third day, and finally the remaining days were to follow, a “first day” could have been mentioned, following in this way the natural order. But Scripture established a law that twenty-four hours, including both day and night, should be given the name of day only, as if one were to say the length of one day is twenty-four hours in extent.xviii Thomas Aquinas said, “The words one day are used when day is first instituted, to denote that one day is made up of twenty-four hours.”xix The reformers also believed in a literal six day creation. In John Calvin’s commentaries on Genesis he describes God’s creation of days, “That is, God willed that there should be a regular vicissitude of days and nights; which also followed immediately when the first day was ended… Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”xx Martin Luther especially was vocal about his belief in the literal six days, “He [Moses] calls ‘a spade a spade,’ i.e., he employs the terms ‘day’ and ‘evening’ without Allegory just as we customarily do, we assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read. If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit.”xxi One last quote should be suffice to prove that the literal view has been the view point throughout Christian history. Charles Spurgeon ,who was open to the gap theory, was critical of the day-age theory and confirmed, “There is nothing said about long ages of time, but, on the contrary, “the evening and the morning were the first day”, and “the evening and the morning were the second day”; and so on.”xxii
While it is suffice to say that the literal view has been the norm though out Christian history, that still does not provide a complete defense for this view. For that we will now turn to the Scriptures to see if the literal view is truly correct. The creation account begins with “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (NASB).”xxiii Something that all Christians can believe without argument is that God existed before the beginning and was the creator of everything. Some have proposed a gap of time between this first statement and the next,“The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”xxiv It seems more likely that the first verse stands out as the main idea and that what follows is the description of this main idea. For example it would be like saying, “I made cookies. First, I added eggs, Second I added butter and so forth.” The clue to this structure is the use of numbers in a chronological sequence. Verse 2 then explains the “chaos of the first created matter and God’s method of crafting the formlessness and emptiness to the order and fullness which we now experience, even in this fallen world.”xxv
Next, God in His mighty power creates light with His Word. The apostle John tells us in his gospel that this Word was Christ. It is near impossible to image a time before light existed but it is in verse 3 that God through Christ creates light. In a sermon about creation, Louie Giglio says: I hear people say things all the time that they don’t think about, “I would like to have been there when God created the world.” No, you wouldn’t have wanted to be there when God created the world. You would not have wanted to be there the day He said, “Let there be light” because when He opened His mouth, light came flying out the mouth of God traveling 186,000 miles per second. That’s the speed of light.xxvi When God created light it must have been truly remarkable.
God then separates the light from darkness. It is in verse 5 that the word day is first used. Interestingly the word day is defined by God. The light is day and the darkness is night. “Then there was evening and there was morning, one day.” It is exactly what one expects to be a day from a Jewish stand point. The new day begins at evening and lasts till the next evening. Those looking to make the day into ages have a hard time looking past the very definition given by God. Duncan and Hall say, “Those who voice this objection have no reason, other than cosmological assumptions, for construing yôm(Hebrew word for day) to mean anything other than a normal day, the way the passage was understood by audiences from time of Moses to Jesus.”xxvii
Another important thing to look at is the usage of sequencing with the word for day. When yôm is used in the Genesis account is accompanied with a numerical denotation. This is a clue that the word is used to mean a literal day. Francis Humphrey writes,” The fact that for the bulk of the passage, the word yôm is accompanied by sequential numerical denotation and the language of ‘evening and morning’ gives a prima facie case that regular 24-hour days are in view.”xxviii Even those who hold the framework view agree with this assessment of the 24-hour day. “At this point we agree with the 24-hour theorists that at the literal level, Genesis 1 speaks of seven ordinary days, and that the sixfold evening-morning formula signifies the ordinary cycle of sunset and sunrise.”xxix It is quite obvious then that Moses meant six literal 24-hour days when describing creation.
God then creates all of creation in six days. On the seventh day, He rests from His work of creating. Some have argued that this seventh day is still ongoing because God is still not creating and because the description of the seventh day does not end in the usual wording of “And there was evening and there was morning.” There are several reasons why it is not necessary that the seventh day be ongoing. One reason is that the seventh day marks the end of the description of the creation week. The use of “And there was evening and there was morning” was to provide a marker to signify the end of one creation day and the beginning of the next day of creation. It is a clue that there is more to the story of the creation account to come. Since the seventh day is the end of the account there is no need to continue with a description of another day because the description of the creation week is over. For example, if you where to describe your vacation to a coworker, you might describe what you did Monday morning and evening, Tuesday morning and evening, and so forth. When you get to the end of your description and say, “On Friday, I came home”, the description of the vacation is over. There would be no need to describe what happened Friday evening nor would there be an expectation to describe what happened Saturday. You might think the co-worker was a bit crazy if he thought that your Friday continued in-definitely because you did not tell him what you did on Saturday. The Genesis account of the seventh day is just like the Friday description of your vacation. It is the end of the creation description. God also ends the account of that day by blessing and sanctifying it. This is important because God will use this account later to lay out for his people the command of keeping the Sabbath.
There are several objections that others might have about a literal 24-hour day and a 6 day creation week. Most of these objections can be heaped into two categories, objections based on science and objections from the test. We will first look at the objections based on science before taking a look at one objection from the text. When dealing with objections based upon science it is important to remember the principle laid out earlier, “Scripture first, science later.” As argued above, the scriptures are clear about the length of a day. Some will argue then that the scriptures do not agree with what scientists are telling us about evolution and the age of the earth. That may be true. The scriptures might not agree with what some scientists are saying but as Protestant Christians we affirm the authority of scripture over and against the authority of science. That said, the problem is not really with science but with the modern presuppositions behind those scientists. The defining presupposition behind most modern scientists is naturalism. Naturalism is the view that everything can and must be explained in a natural way apart from any supernaturalism. Richard Lewontin famously said, “It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.”xxx Thus it is a commitment to exclude God that will always keep many scientists from agreeing with scripture. Paul writing to the Romans puts it this way, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”xxxi
The above said, there are still those who work in the science fields who do not have these presuppositions and are working to show that the scientific record is not at odds with a young earth and six 24-hour days of creation. A description to one book published in 2003 entitled In Six Days highlights the work being done, “In this book are the testimonies of fifty men and women holding doctorates in a wide range of scientific fields who have been convicted by the evidence to believe in a literal six-day creation.”xxxii This one book is but just a small example of the many publications being written by Christians working in the many different fields of science, from geology to microbiology. While it is true that much of the creation science has not caught on in the mainstream, it is also not true that science must disagree with a young earth.
The second line of opposition to the young earth comes from those who argue within the text. One such argument is that the days can not be literal 24-hour periods because the events of the sixth day would take more than 24-hours. It is argued that because God created three different types of land animals,created both Adam and Eve, and assigned Adam the task of naming the animals then 24 hours would not be long enough time. “It must have taken a good deal of study for Adam to examine each specimen thoroughly and decide on a suitable name, especially since he had absolutely no tradition in nomenclature behind him.”xxxiii One proposal by young earth proponents is that Adam would have had a superior intellect not corrupted by the fall. While such speculation may provide an answer, there is not much information from the text to prove this claim. The easier answer is that the text does not claim Adam had to have completed this task in one day. It is more likely that part of Adam’s daily life was tending to the Garden and taking care to name the animals as they came to him. The text also does not say that Adam named every creature on earth but that “he gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field.”xxxiv This excludes reptiles, insects, water animals, and so forth.
The second reason that it is argued that the sixth day must have been long is because “apparently, Adam had sufficient interaction and time with both the plants and animals of the garden to realize that something was still missing from his life.”xxxv Once again a careful reading of the scripture will alleviate this so-called problem. Genesis 2 verse 18 says, “ Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” No where is it said or implied that Adam was lonely or complaining. Instead God who is not limited by time and is the very definition of wisdom is the one who knows that it is not good for Adam to be alone. The passage goes on further to explain that the reason God made animals is for the man. More importantly it explains God’s special care in creating the woman. Far from saying that Adam was lonely in one day, this passage shows the love of God in his reasons for creating both animals and the woman. It would be a distortion of scripture to say that God created Adam and then found out after a period of time that He had forgotten or neglected to create Adam a suitable partner. Thus it is not necessary that the sixth day be a long period of time but may be more necessary that the sixth day be a short period of time.
While there may be other objections forthcoming against the literal 24-hour view, this view will stand the test of time. Because the 24-hour view is the view that is most faithful to the text, it also must be understood that the earth must be much younger than billions of years. One important idea that is upheld by a young earth is that death and destruction did not enter this world until man sinned. When man sinned, he corrupted the world. The beauty of this is that by another man, Jesus, death was defeated and one day the world will return to a pure and deathless state.
The question over the age of the earth may still rage on but fortunately we have the birth certificate, the Bible. A belief in the authority of the Bible will help one from being swayed by the arguments of the current age. It will keep one from a slide into naturalism. A belief in the literal six-day creation will uphold the beauty of not only of God’s work at creation but His work in redemption. The young-earth and literal 24-hour day view is the view most faithful to the text and to the witness of Christian scholars throughout time. It has been said that “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”xxxvi By remembering the principles of sound exegesis and a respect for those who came before, one does not have to become a widower when the views of scientists and fanciful theologians change.
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