Can We Arrive at a Young Earth and 24-Hour Period Days in Genesis One from Scripture Alone? A Guest Post by Steve Ham

Steve Ham is the Senior Director of International Outreach at Answers in Genesis. It has been a privilege to get to know him and to enjoy his friendship. 

I do believe the Bible gives ample justification for calculating the age of the earth at around 6,000 years and for seeing six normal 24-hour days in the week of creation. I also believe that this position most appropriately meets the confines of the textual boundaries and best upholds the doctrine of Biblical perspicuity.

How Old Is the Earth?

To suggest that the Bible does not directly teach the age of the earth is to suggest that we need an explicit statement of age. The lack of an explicit statement, however, does not mean that something is an unimportant or undecipherable teaching. Notably, the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly stated in Scripture, but with careful synthesis it is clearly understood from what the Bible directly states. Using Biblical data—such as the genealogies in the Old Testament—we can, with insignificant variance, approximate the amount of time between Jesus and Adam.[1]

Then there is the discussion of the six days of creation. Those who believe the earth is billions of years old base their understanding on the varied ways the word “day” is used.

We do not need a catalogue of quotations to serve as an appeal to authority for either side in this conversation. As with many other doctrines in Scripture, we could list innumerable respected orthodox Christian scholars of the past and present and note their varying views. In many of these instances we can also identify influences that led them to those views. Significantly, since the early nineteenth century there has been an escalating proportion of Christian scholars holding old-earth positions. No matter how much we try to rise above them, we all have to battle with the outside influences of our day when we come to the text. Regarding the days of Genesis and the age of the earth, the scholarly struggle most visible has been with uniformitarianism. Uniformitarianism became prominent in geology in the nineteenth century and holds that present processes dictate the way we understand the past. The quotations that follow (Augustine excepted) are presented to show that uniformitarianism has had an impact on the way many very respected godly Christian scholars and leaders have interpreted the days of Genesis 1. Consider the following:

  • Augustine did not hold to 24-hour periods in Genesis 1 and he could not have been impacted by uniformitarianism. But he did not hold to an old earth. He noted, “Creation, therefore, did not take place slowly in order that a slow development might be implanted in those things that are slow by nature; nor were the ages established at the plodding pace at which they now pass.”[2] Augustine talks of creation as more of an instantaneous event and held to the genealogies of Scripture to arrive at no more than 6,000 years for the age of the earth.
  • Edward J. Young, writing after the popularization of uniformitarianism, wrestled with views of the scientific establishment of his day: “For one thing it is difficult to escape the impression that some of those who espouse a non-chronological view of the days of Genesis are moved by a desire to escape the difficulties which exist between Genesis and the so-called ‘findings’ of science. That such difficulties do exist cannot be denied, and their presence is a concern to every devout and thoughtful student of the Bible.”[3]
  • Gleason Archer’s words reflect a similar struggle (although unlike Young, Archer did advocate a particular old-earth day-age position): From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression would seem to be that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four-hour days. If this was the true intent of the Hebrew author (a questionable deduction, as will be presently shown), this seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago.”[4]
  • R. C. Sproul, Sr. summarizes the difficulty that arises from the apparent discrepancy between the scientific consensus that the earth is old and his impression from the Bible that it is young:“When people ask me how old the earth is I tell them ‘I don’t know,’ because I don’t. And I’ll tell you why I don’t. In the first place, the Bible does not give us a date of creation. Now it gives us hints and inclinations that would indicate in many cases a young earth. And at the same time you get all this expanding universe and all this astronomical dating, and triangulation and all that stuff coming from outside the church that makes me wonder.”[5]

We are all situated within a historical-cultural context, and we all come to the Bible with assumptions and ways of thinking that seem obvious because they are taken for granted in our culture. To some degree we all have an “outside influence log” in our own eye. We must be aware of outside influences and test everything by the Scriptures allowing the Bible magisterial authority from start to finish.

The Genesis Week

The week of creation unfolds sequentially, day by day, as God prepares the earth, creates plants, speaks the heavenly bodies into existence, creates animal life, and makes mankind in His image. There is stylistic beauty to Genesis 1, but such does not require that Genesis 1 fall outside the genre of historical narrative where some who also question a normal week of sequential days have placed it. One can see the difference between poetry and narrative simply by reading Judges 4 and 5, which contain a narrative account followed by a poetic song—both speaking of the same event.[6] Genesis is a masterful literary work, structured in such a way to communicate rich theological truth. It is a text that is both historically accurate and theologically profound. Furthermore, Genesis 1 and 2 was a suitable historical reference point for Jesus’ argument about marriage (Matthew 19:4–6, Mark 10:6–9).

Exodus 20:11 and 31:17, which state God’s commandment for the Sabbath, are best understood in light of a literal creation week correlating to the normal week of an Israelite’s experience. McCabe notes, “He created the universe in six, sequentially arranged, normal days. Both passages use an adverbial accusative of time (‘in six days’). This grammatical construction indicates the duration of God’s creative activity by stating how long it occurred, ‘during six days.’ This construction, as Benjamin Shaw has correctly noted, ‘implies both that the days were normal days, and that the days were contiguous. Thus, the “dayness” of the six days, as well as the seventh, is essential to the meaning of the Sabbath commandment.’”[7]

I also believe the seventh day to be a normal 24-hour period. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy. If we are to see God’s rest on the seventh day as an enduring or unending day of rest, we would have to ask the question, How then on this blessed unending day is the earth cursed with the fall of Genesis 3?

When Does a Day Mean a Day?

Yôm (day) in the Old Testament generally refers to a normal day.

– When yôm is used with a cardinal or ordinal number, it refers to a normal day.

– When yôm is used with the words morning, evening, or night, it refers to a normal day.

– A possible exception noted recently by Justin Taylor is Hosea 6:2. Yāmîm, the plural of yôm, is used in Hosea 6:2. Some have used these passages as examples for when the plural of yôm does not mean a literal day. Others believe that Hosea 6:1–3 shows that if Israel would repent, God would quickly heal and forgive them—making sense of a normal day. It may be possible that it is used both ways. Others believe it is pointing the restoration of Israel in the eschaton and used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:4. Either way, this one example is disputed and so it is a very weak justification for not taking the days of Genesis 1 as literal.

Andrew Steinmann notes that Genesis 1:5 employs yôm with an ordinal number as well as with the contextual indicators “evening” and “morning” and says, “Evening is the transition from light/day to darkness/night. Morning is the transition from darkness/night to light/day. Having an evening and a morning amounts to having one full day. Hence the following equation is what Genesis 1:5 expresses: Evening + morning = one day.”[8]

Why Be Concerned?

The question I prefer to ask is, What is wrong with believing the world has been here for millions of years?

  1. We should be able to apply our conclusions about the text to the world we live in and find consistency. This is what it means for the text to inform our view of the world and not the other way around. Genesis 3:18 states that thorns and thistles are a consequence of sin. On the assumption of the Bible’s historical accuracy, I must therefore assume that wherever I see thorns and thistles, they are a product of the fall. We do see fossilized thorns and thistles in the geological record in layers assumed by uniformitarians to be millions of years old. If uniformitarian dating methods are right, this would necessarily place these fossilized thorns and thistles before humans and, given what Scripture plainly states, before the sin of Adam and Eve. Therefore, I reject the uniformitarian assumptions that establish ages for the geological layers.
  2. We also see these thorns and thistles in the same geological layers as animal fossils, and fossils with evidence of disease. Paul tells us that, because of sin, the whole of creation is groaning (Romans 8:22). Old earth views would necessitate placing a groaning creation prior to its cause, sin.
  3. In Genesis 1:29–30 we find that animals and humans were created on the sixth day as vegetarians. If the fossil record is millions of years old and precedes the fall, we should not find evidence of carnivorous activity – yet we do.

Placing the consequences of sin before the intrusion of sin itself creates problems that the young earth position does not have. This raises questions about God’s purpose and character and makes this issue exceptionally important to me.

Because of Jesus’ victory, we can be assured that all things will again be reconciled—and not just the elect but the entire creation. To what state will the creation be reconciled if not to its original state of perfection? We hope not for a future full of disease, suffering, animal death, or thorns and thistles (Isa 27:4; Romans 8:21; Ephesians 1:10; Colossians 1:20).

Psalm 104 has sometimes been used as an objection to this noting that the Psalmist is talking of an original creation that includes lions going after their prey. It also, however, talks of ships on the sea and man going out in his labors. The Psalmist is acknowledging that the wonder of creation—even the corrupted creation he is seeing in his time—was originally by the hand of God.

Conservative evangelicals are also fighting against the naturalistic explanations of evolution and the allowances made by some for an allegorical Adam and Eve. We should take heed that the idea of an allegorical Adam and Eve is only ever raised in a context where the world is thought to be millions of years old.

God called His finished creation “very good” (Genesis 1:31). I cannot read this statement in any other way than as the creation being a reflection of God’s pure and holy character. The idea of millions of years of death and suffering prior to sin allows too many things that conflict with God’s holiness and perfection.

It is always profitable to discuss the Bible with Christian brothers. I read and admire the writings of great Bible scholars of the past and the present, some of whom held or hold views on the days of creation that I cannot agree with. The issue of the earth’s age is a significant one, and serious discussion of these important issues is a sign of spiritual health. This subject, I contend, matters more than most will admit or perhaps have carefully considered.

While Martin Luther could never claim infallibility, I believe he has given us an example of the type of humility we all need. The trick is applying it consistently. Luther asserted with humble boldness: “When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are.”[9]

[1] Tim Chaffey, “Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies? Appendix C,” Answers in Genesis, March 22, 2012, https://answersingenesis.org/bible-timeline/genealogy/are-there-gaps-in-the-genesis-genealogies/. Note from JMH: Fred Zaspel raises good questions about the possibility of establishing dates from the genealogies (http://www.credomag.com/2013/03/08/telling-time-in-scripture-part-22/) but I am not convinced that the problems he raises are insurmountable.

[2] Cited in John Hammond Taylor, St. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis (Newman Press, 1983), 1:141.

[3] Edward J. Young and Robert Young, Studies in Genesis One (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1999), 51–52.

[4] Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, 3rd ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2007), 156.

[5] “The Age of the Universe and Genesis 1 — A Reformed Approach to Science and Scripture,” Ligonier.org, June 22, 2012, http://www.ligonier.org/blog/age-universe-and-genesis-1-reformed-approach-science-and-scripture/.

[6] A helpful work by Steven W. Boyd presents a strong case for reading Genesis 1 as narrative, studying and cataloging 522 historical narrative and poetic texts, and classifying Genesis 1 as historical narrative with a probability of virtually one. See a presentation of Boyd’s material in “A Proper Reading of Genesis 1:1 to 2:3” Donald DeYoung, Thousands Not Billions: Challenging the Icon of Evolution, Questioning the Age of the Earth (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2005), 158–170.

[7] Robert V. McCabe, “A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 2 of 2),” DBSJ 11 (2006): 112–13.

[8] Andrew E. Steinmann, “One as an Ordinal Number and the Meaning of Genesis 1:5,” JETS 45, no. 4 (2002): 583.

[9] Cited in Ewald M. Plass, What Luther Says: An Anthology (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1986), 1523.

20 Responses to Can We Arrive at a Young Earth and 24-Hour Period Days in Genesis One from Scripture Alone? A Guest Post by Steve Ham

  1. ROBERT February 24, 2015 at 9:42 am #

    SUBSCRIBE TO POSTS

  2. Steve L. February 24, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    I am persuaded that the Genesis account of creation is correctly interpreted as being six literal days. It grieves me that many scholars that I respect hold a different view because as someone who is not so scholarly it occasionally causes me to doubt my conclusion. I pray that the Holy Spirit moves us to greater unity on this matter.

    • John B. Carpenter February 24, 2015 at 2:35 pm #

      How long did the Spirit of God hover over the waters after creation and before the seven days (Genesis 1:2)?

      • Steve L. February 24, 2015 at 7:17 pm #

        Again, not a scholar. But I read that as simply sometime during day one of creation.

  3. John B. Carpenter February 24, 2015 at 2:31 pm #

    The problem is Genesis 1:2. How long did the Spirit hover over the face of the waters? It doesn’t say. Besides, the Bible speaks of the consequences of sin on “man” (Rom. 5:12) as the consequences of man’s sin. The universe is in “bondage to decay” but I don’t believe the Bible says that is the consequences of sin. Hence, it can pre-date the fall.

    • BV February 24, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

      In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. Genesis 1:1-2

      “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ Matthew 19:4

      If God created the heavens and the earth AT THE BEGINNING (when the Spirit of God hovered over the waters) AND the Creator (God) “made them male and female” AT THE BEGINNING, it reasons that the heavens, earth, the hovering of the Holy Spirit over the waters, and the creation of “males and females” all took place “at the beginning” (i.e. in a very short period of time).

    • Joe Owen March 1, 2015 at 7:55 pm #

      Romans 8:20-22 does put any “bondage of decay” as a direct result of man’s sin.

  4. Job February 25, 2015 at 9:43 am #

    A few thoughts come to mind regarding this topic: Genesis was not written to us but to the Israelites. It is however written for us. Thus we must read Genesis in its historical context and within its literary genre. To read it literalistic as a scientific/biology textbook is simply misreading and distorting God’s word. The message of Genesis is not in what exact scientific way earth came to being but about the grand story of God, mankind, redemption and His Kingdom. Genesis is true and contains truth but not in a literalistic, exact modern scientific way(six days, 24 hours etc). That is simply not what the author intended and not how the original readers would have read it. Lets move away from six day vs evolution towards the real message of Genesis.

    • Lon Vining October 19, 2015 at 3:52 am #

      Job, I think it is a straw man argument to claim one must read Genesis as a “scientific/biology/ textbook” to see in it the biblical author’s intent to express the creation timetable as six 24-hour days. No such scientific claim is being being made, nor necessary. It is rather a biblical/textual one. The claim is that the author of Genesis leaves little ambiguity as to his intent to describe creation as occurring on six consecutive, 24 hour days. If it were eras or epochs, one would NOT expect the author to say, “and it was evening, and it was morning, the X day.” In fact, it seems hard to imagine how the author could have been MORE clear that he was referring to actual 24 hour days than by using this phrase. That phrase is EXACTLY the way a Hebrew would dilineate “real” solar days from any sort of symbolic use of the word. How else? Why use it if one is describing thousands or millions of years? Simply omitting any such reference would have communicated his idea much better if he was trying to say it was NOT normal “evening to morning” solar days. But adding this phrase which unarguably refers to a normal night and day cycle communicates the complete opposite. One has to argue that the author used the phrase “without thinking” about its consequences. Surely the carefully crafted creation account in Genesis is not the product of such a brainless writer who doesn’t even know that people will take the phrase “evening and morning, the first day” as a normal day, just as they would any other similar reference to a normal solar day? To proffer the view that he meant epochs seems impossible to fathom. Surely the original readers WOULD have understood this as 24 hr days the way it was written. Only those of us who have been exposed to uniformitarian arguments would dream up age-days with such a straight-forward reading.

      But his other points are even more lucid. If corruption (thorns, death, etc) came before mankind’s appearance on the earth, how does that account for sin brining corruption and death to the earth, and how will Jesus’ redemption of mankind effect a restoration of the creation? If man came by evolutionary processes, then what of the account of the creation of man by God’s hand from the dust? If allegorical, does one suppose the ancient readers understood it that way? Is it written allegorically? If so, the writer needs to work on his poetic style, because it’s hard to separate from his prose! And if in Adam all sinned, and in Christ all are made alive, does Paul’s theology hold together? Are Jesus and Paul speaking of Adam in historic terms and winking to themselves? I think not. The Bible presents these things as historic, and the creation account as a literal six 24-hour day period. If the earth is old and science has it right on this, we may find biblical support for that idea someday somewhere, but it is not in the creation account.

  5. Phil Denker C. February 25, 2015 at 11:47 am #

    Indeed, It Is Profitable To Share The Gospel With Other Christians. God Is A Pure And Holy Character, I Agree Hands Down. The Idea, Only Came Around 1859 When Charles Darwin Wrote His Book “The Origin Of Specie’s.” I Agree With Your “Why Be Concened?” List.

  6. steve March 1, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    Finally someone did proper research into what Augustine was debating. Augustine was debating the “eternal universe” scientists of his day. He at least let scripture not science determine his interpretation of Genesis 1. He sad the creation could have been instantaneous, six 24 hour days, or 6 – thousand year days (citing a day is as a thousand years). But he never tried to appease the science of the day or give it preference over the Bible.

  7. Daniel Pech February 5, 2017 at 11:39 am #

    It is important to have two versions of something. It is important to have more than one version of something important. It is crucial to have at least two versions-of-account of a culturally core event. It is crucial to the integrity of human society that its most fundamentally formative events be recorded from at least two different, but complementary, point of view.

    For, only thereby is everyone in that society ensured a means of triangulation:

    Prologue version 365, 7

    Imagine a pre-cosmological encounter with Genesis 1. You live in nature, alone, and have no memory of other humans. You have amnesia, having hit your head as a toddler. Somehow, until only recently, you have never wondered how your world came to be. Then you meet the first verse of Genesis 1.

    There’s more to the story. You were born to Hebrew speaking, but secular Jews. They had taken employment with a secular company, to conduct an experiment in human cultural isolation. They went into the wilds without any human artifacts, naked. At some point they conceived you, and continued in isolation. When you were four years old, they had an accident, and were killed; their bodies lost, along with every item they had made since beginning the venture. The accident involved you hitting your head. You woke on the bank of a river, naked, with no memory of them, nor of your past four years.

    Now, eighteen years later, you stumble upon a copy of the the first verse of Genesis 1. It’s displayed on a kind of tablet computer. Unknown to you at the time, the computer automatically reveals one verse of Genesis 1 each week. After multiple weeks, it displays multiple verses together, in order. You do not know, at first, that its display will change, much less that it is automated to do so. And, as it turns out, this computer is, to all your own intents and purposes, indestructible and unalterable.

    Some persons, in imagining this scenario so far, will wonder how you could have the ability to read. But I have three more details for this pre-cosmological encounter. First, you were precocious as an infant and toddler: In terms both speaking-hearing and reading-writing, you had learned in your first four years what an average teenager knows. Not much science, but a whole lot of language. Second, your amnesia did not erase any of your language ability. In fact, growing up alone in nature, you had practiced both speaking and writing your native Hebrew, because you are still precocious. Third, the computer displays its automated text in the original, unmarked, ancient Hebrew.

    Prologue version 45362

    Say you have no cosmology. You live alone in nature, a technologically primitive human. You have no memory of any other humans. You have amnesia, having hit your head as a toddler. Now, in your two decades of life, you have never thought of, nor encountered, any ideas of how your world came to be, nor of how it might have come to be. Until recently. And it’s fortunate for you that you do.

    Fortunately, too, you soon come across Genesis 1:1. It’s displayed on a kind of tablet computer. The computer automatically reveals one verse of Genesis 1 each week, in sequence. After multiple weeks, it displays multiple verses together, in order. But you do not know, at first, that its display will change, much less that it is automated to do so. All you know is that it says, ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.’ Also, it turns out to be indestructible, and unalterably automated.

    …And it displays its text in the original, unmarked Hebrew. As it happens, Hebrew is your language, and you speak and read it fluently. That was your one precociousness as an infant and toddler. And you have simply been practicing speaking and writing it ever since.

    But you had been born to secularistic Jews who had no Jewish cultural commitments. Before you were conceived, they took employment with a secular company to conduct an experiment in human cultural isolation. The experiment involved lack of any exposure to anything cosmological. Soon after your fourth birthday, your parents had met a sudden, tragic, accidental end. It involved your own accidentally hitting your head. Your parents’ bodies, and all that they had made, were gone in the accident. You had woke on a river shore, with no memory of them nor of your four years of life.

    Now, for the first time in your twenty-plus years, you have encountered some cosmology. The tablet computer displays Genesis 1:1. There is more to the story.

    https://independent.academia.edu/DPech

    See also https://www.academia.edu/1388717/A_matter_of_perspective and https://www.academia.edu/1388719/Music_otherwise_

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