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