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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.

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The Days of Creation and Exodus 20:11

Justin Taylor has caused quite a stir with his post on “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.”

The decisive factor for me is how earlier biblical statements are interpreted by later ones, so Exodus 20:11 is BeastMode (a.k.a. Marshawn Lynch) on the goal line in this argument.

Re-reading the Van Pelt quote JT gives on Exodus 20:11, I think it misses the point and fails to do the job old-earthers need it to do.

The point Moses is making in Exodus 20:10–11 is a different point from the one being made in Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3–4.

The author of Hebrews cites David as saying something like this in Psalm 95:

  1. God did the creation for six days, then rested on the seventh day.
  2. God did the redemption at the exodus, then offered Israel rest in the land.
  3. Israel rebelled in the wilderness, so God swore they would not enter into his rest–the rest he offered them in the land.

The author of Hebrew sees David in Psalm 95 drawing an analogy between creation and redemption, and between God’s seventh day rest and the rest Israel was to enjoy in the land of promise.

The rest that remains in Hebrews 4:1 would seem to be a rest analogous to the one offered to Israel, along these lines:

  1. 6 days of creation, followed by sabbath day rest;
  2. Exodus from Egypt, followed by an offer of rest in the land;
  3. New Exodus at the Cross, followed by the promise of rest in the fulfillment of the land (new heaven/new earth).

It seems that just as John 17:3 says that eternal life is knowing God and Christ, so also Hebrews 4:2 says that those who believe have an already/not yet experience of the future rest now, even as we pilgrimage through the wilderness toward the city that has foundations (not least because we have rested from our works–which points to salvation by faith not works).

It is not the intention of either David or the author of Hebrews to assert that God’s seventh day rest was something other than a single day that stood at the end of the six days of creation. That David and the author of Hebrews are drawing analogies does not indicate that they are thinking of something other than a normal week.

Then when we go to Exodus 20:10–11, we find Moses drawing an entirely different analogy than the one drawn by David and the author of Hebrews. The analogy Moses draws looks like this:

  1. God created in six days. God rested on the seventh day.
  2. You work for six days. You rest on the seventh day.

The most natural reading of Exodus 20:10–11 seems to be that the six days of creation followed by the sabbath day of rest was a cycle of the same kind of seven day week that was to become the pattern of Israel’s experience.

It’s hard for me to imagine someone coming to some other kind of conclusion unless he seeks to accommodate extra-biblical considerations from philosophy (a la Augustine) or science (a la contemporary old-earthers).

Here are the theses I would offer for discussion:

  1. The most natural reading of the text is that in Genesis 1–2 Moses intends his audience to think of a normal week of seven days, and that reading is confirmed in Exodus 20:11 (cf. also 31:17).
  2. We can hold such a position with epistemological humility and not, as AiG does, suggest that old-earth creationists (such as Wayne Grudem and Bruce Ware) are opening the door to abortion on demand and gay marriage.
  3. The real lesson of the Galileo episode is that Christians should not tie their understanding of the Bible to scientific theories.

If God created Adam as an adult male, he has no problem making something that has the appearance of age.

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The Days of Creation and Death Before the Fall

What follows is my response to Gavin Ortlund‘s response to Douglas Wilson. Check them out for context on this conversation that plunges right in mid-stream.

Gavin tries to deal with death before the fall, but I don’t think we can retroject onto the pre-fall situation what “must” have been the case given the way things are now.

If I grant that humans would not have died had they not sinned, can I not imagine a situation where low-level organic life might not have died either? Gavin says the world would have become uninhabitable apart from those kinds of death. How does he know? Couldn’t there have been some pre-fall, uncursed, very good way that God had in the offing to deal with those realities? I suspect he could have handled the logistics.

As for the overhaul of creation that is proposed if predatory behavior only begins after the fall, again, we don’t know what those eagles and eels and saber toothed tigers might have used their peculiarities for in a very good world. It sure looks to me like the animals weren’t afraid of people until after the flood (Gen 9:2), which would seem to imply that maybe they weren’t a threat to humans until that point, either.

Could God have designed eagles and eels and tigers with some other purpose than predatory behavior? I suspect the pre-fall world was different in ways we don’t conceptualize, so I’m not prepared to close down that possibility.

Acknowledging what I don’t know and can’t imagine seems a lot safer than elaborate speculations about demons and a fallen creation prior to human sin. (Gavin acknowledges the speculative nature of his proposal that “nature fell when angels fell.”)

I would rather believe what the Bible says and need more information than it gives me than adopt a hypothesis that entails extra-biblical information requiring exegetical gymnastics to pretzel the Bible’s statements around my theories.

I trust the Bible more than I trust that extra-biblical information.

The Bible’s material provides us with a grammar of sorts, and out of that grammatical material we construct our lexicons and syllabaries and mental books on syntax that we use to conceptualize and talk about the world.

It seems to me that the grammatical data on this one is pretty straightforward. Note the avoidance of the word literal, here. What I’m saying is that the grammatical data that the Bible gives us builds up an interpretive world where “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed'” (Exo 31:17 ESV) means that we are to think of God making the world in what we think of as a normal week. Then a bunch of other statements in the Bible get built out of that same stuff.

There is another set of grammatical pieces of information that drives people to look at a verse like that and say something like: well, actually it wasn’t a normal seven day week at all but was in reality a longer period of time than we can begin to conceptualize. The grammatical data that leads to that kind of interpretation of those words and phrases comes from outside the Bible, not inside it.

As for the three-tiered universe, I want to think further on that. I want to keep reading the Bible and see if what has happened to me in the past doesn’t happen to me on this one – I come to an understanding of the texts that makes total sense and gives the lie to the conclusions that, in my view, folks like Peter Enns have jumped to on these matters. Would love to tell you what I’ve come to conclude about Enns’s vaunted movable well.

On the specifics of the scientific evidence, I remain untroubled by the distance light has traveled from the sun or very distant stars. If God can create Adam as a full grown man, he can create a lot of other things that look like they’ve been growing for a while, too.

The idea that God did such things is easier for me to stomach than the alternatives. In fact, it’s not hard to stomach at all, and it begins to taste like honey from the comb.

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