In a recent blog post for The Gospel Coalition, Justin Taylor (senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and a PhD candidate at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) presented his reasons for doubting that the days of creation in Genesis 1 were literal 24-hour days.1 To present a view often requires few words, but to explain why we should reject the presented ideas usually takes many more words. I think Justin Taylor’s arguments are very weak, and I hope readers will bear with my lengthy reply as I seek to demonstrate that. As I will explain at the end, the subject we are considering has very important implications and therefore deserves our careful thought and wording, which I hope to stimulate.
In what follows I am not criticizing Justin Taylor personally. I am rather expressing my reasons for rejecting his conclusion about the days of Genesis (and by implication his conclusion about age of the Earth) and his arguments in support of that conclusion. I am seeking to be as iron sharpening iron (Proverbs 27:17) and to test everything by Scripture (Acts 17:11). And I have worked hard to do it in a way that pleases Christ. Keeping with normal form in such responses I shall, from this point, simply refer to Justin Taylor by his last name without any intention of disrespect.
Taylor begins by saying that “Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.” But I know of no young-earth creationist who says or implies that Scripture “directly” teaches this. It would not be possible for the Bible to say, “the earth is XXXX years old” because it would then be in error the year after the verse was written. Of course, Moses could theoretically have said (in a Hebrew-equivalent way) that he was writing in, say, 2600 AM (Anno Mundi = in the year of the world).2 But under divine inspiration none of the biblical writers did this for any events in the Bible. And if such a dating statement is required for us to know how old the creation is, then we would have to say that we also could not know when the Exodus occurred or when David was king or when Jesus lived to any reasonable degree of accuracy. All creationists would agree that the young-earth view is a deduction from Scripture, just as the doctrine of the Trinity is.
Taylor says there are five beliefs from which most young-earth creationists (YECs) deduce that the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. (It should be noted, however, that some YECs think there are some missing names in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 and so they place creation at about 10,000 years or so. See my further comments on the genealogies near the end of this article.)
Before discussing those five beliefs, Taylor quotes a number of prominent, past, Christian leaders who did not believe in a literal, recent six-day creation. These are Augustine, J. Gresham Machen, E. J. Young, Carl F. H. Henry, and Gleason Archer. About them Taylor says, “it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of [the young-earth view].” But informed YECs have known for years about the views of Augustine and these old-earth proponents. Taylor also says that, “The claim is often made that no one doubted this [young-earth] reading [of Genesis] until after Darwin” (although he does not document any examples of this claim). But informed YECs never make that claim. We know that most of the church compromised with millions of years (and therefore developed the gap view, day-age view, peaceful Flood view, and local Flood view) decades before Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859.3
But except for Augustine, all of these men, including R. C. Sproul and B. B. Warfield, whom Taylor also mentions in his article, were influenced in their interpretation of Scripture by the consensus scientific claim about millions of years and undoubtedly also by the fact that by the middle of the 19th century virtually the whole church had accepted millions of years until the rise of modern young-earth creation since the publication of Morris and Whitcomb’s The Genesis Flood (1961).4
B. B. Warfield clearly was influenced by scientific claims. He was a staunch evolutionist early in life and then questioned and struggled with it for the rest of his life. The editors of most of his writings on the subject of origins5 and other old-earth proponents (including J.I. Packer6) have concluded from reading his literature that Warfield was a theistic evolutionist, a conclusion I also share after reading Warfield’s writings.
J. Gresham Machen held quite similar views to Warfield’s and took those ideas with him when he left Princeton and went to Philadelphia to help found Westminster Theological Seminary.7
E. J. Young was not a young-earth creationist. In his Studies in Genesis One (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1964) he argues persuasively against the Framework view. He also argues that Genesis 1 is “sober history” not poetry, that the days of creation are chronologically sequential and the first day begins in 1:1 (citing Exodus 20:11 in partial support of that conclusion), and that the first three days are not “solar days” because the sun was not created until Day Four. In several places he warns against letting science control exegesis. But sadly he asserts without any discussion of the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies that “The Bible does not state how old the earth is” (102). And without noting that in Genesis 1 the days are numbered and linked to evening, morning, night, and the movement of the heavenly bodies, he concludes that “The length of the days is not stated” and that “what is important is that each of the days is a period of time which may legitimately be denominated yôm (‘day’)” (104), whatever that means. This bizarre statement seems to indicate the influence of science on his exegesis, as he indirectly admitted:
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. (51–52)
Gleason Archer made it clear that the scientific consensus about the age of the earth was strongly influencing his exegesis when he wrote,
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.8
At a Ligonier conference in 2012, right after the words that Taylor quoted from Dr. Sproul to the effect that he didn’t know how old the earth is, Dr. Sproul explained,
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.9
In other words, it is what the scientific majority says about the age of the earth/universe that influences these good Christian scholars to question or deny the plain meaning of Genesis 1–11 and propose alternative interpretations. They did not arrive at their views simply by exegesis of Scripture alone. I have documented here and here many other godly, inerrantist, evangelical leaders and theologians (including Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, Norman Geisler, and James Montgomery Boice) who interpreted Genesis in light of the external influence from the scientific majority, which says the earth and universe are billions of years old. They therefore hold that young-earth creation is likely, or certainly, not the correct interpretation of Genesis 1–11.
Dr. Sproul and many others who hesitate about or reject the young-earth interpretation of Genesis about the age of the creation justify that hesitation or rejection by pointing to the Copernican revolution in which the church reinterpreted various Scriptures in line with the claim that the sun, not the Earth, is the center of the universe.10 But this is a “red herring” argument, as Dr. John Byl, professor emeritus of astronomy and mathematics at Trinity Western University (Canada), has shown.11 It should also be noted that no one believes the Copernican view today, for the simple reason that Copernicus believed that the sun was the center of the whole universe, not just the solar system.
As for Augustine, he was no proponent of adding millions or even thousands of years to Genesis 1. He believed that creation was in an instant because his Latin Bible had mistranslated Genesis 2:4 (suggesting that idea). He never learned Hebrew and only learned Greek to a modest level late in life,12 after he had written all his writings on Genesis. However, his writings show that he believed in the global Flood, in the long lifespans of the pre-Flood patriarchs, and that he lived less than 6,000 years after Adam, as I document elsewhere from his writings.13
But sound doctrinal conclusions are not determined by quoting human authorities, because we can find godly Christian scholars on different sides of a whole host of doctrinal issues. And so we can never escape the emotionally uncomfortable conclusion that some very godly, inerrantist, Christian scholars are wrong on some issues, including the age of the creation.14 If we are going to consider all of church history, not just the past two centuries since the millions of years idea has developed, then the young-earth view is clearly the orthodox view.15
Let me hasten to add that all of us, myself and all other young-earth creationists included, can be and surely are sometimes influenced in our interpretation of one or more Bible passages by ideas coming from outside the Bible. We all need to be careful about that and need to listen to our Christian brethren when they challenge our thinking and then we need to allow that challenge to drive us back to the Scriptures and let the Scriptures interpret the Scriptures.
With those preliminary comments, let’s go on to consider Taylor’s “biblical” reasons for doubting the young-earth interpretation of Genesis.
1. Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary
I don’t know any young-earth creationist who denies that this verse describes an actual act of creation out of nothing but is only a title or a summary of the narrative that follows. Many (myself included) would argue that it is the creation of the initial time, space, and matter which over the course of the six days was formed and filled to become a completed universe. Others would argue that the verse is an example of what they would call an “introductory encapsulation” which refers to the first act of creation and a summary of what follows, a literary technique that can be seen elsewhere, for example in Genesis 37:5–8.
In Genesis 1:1, “created” is in the perfect tense, and when a perfect verb is used at the beginning of a unit in Hebrew narrative, it usually functions to describe an event that precedes the main storyline (see Gen. 16:1, 22:1, 24:1 for comparison). Furthermore, the Hebrew conjunction at the beginning of Genesis 1:2 supports this reading.
Taylor’s argument that the perfect verb in Genesis 1:1 implies an event preceding the main storyline is not valid because Genesis 16:1, 22:1, and 24:1 are not at the beginning of a book as Genesis 1:1 is. In contrast, Ezra 1:1, Job 1:1, Daniel 1:1, Obadiah 1:1, Habakkuk 1:1, Haggai 1:1, and Zechariah 1:1 all begin with a perfect verb and that first verse is the beginning of the narrative, not a reference back to preceding events. In the verses that Taylor cites, the context obviously tells the reader that there were events preceding the cited verses, whereas “in the beginning” in Genesis 1:1 clearly implies that there were no events before God’s creating the heavens and the earth. Also in Genesis 22:1 and 24:1 the perfect verbs at or near the beginning of the verses are expressing a state of being, not action verbs, as “create” is in Genesis 1:1.
Furthermore Genesis 1:2 does not indicate a gap of time between it and verse 1. The gap theory has long been refuted in creationist literature.16 The narrative of events starts in verse 1 then goes to verse 3 and onwards through the chapter with the sentences beginning with the waw consecutive (the Hebrew conjunction [waw] attached to the imperfect verb). Verse 2, however, begins with a waw disjunctive (the conjunction attached to the first word in the sentence, the noun “earth”). This construction indicates that verse 2 is acting like a parenthetical statement, describing the earth after the initial act of creation in verse 1. So, the sequence of events (with the English in the word order reflecting the Hebrew) is thus:
- God created the unformed and unfilled heavens and earth.
- And said God, “Let there be light . . . ”
- And saw God that the Light was good . . .
- And called God the light day . . .
Verse 2 fits between lines 1 and 2 above and functions as “Oh, by the way, let me tell you the about initial state of the earth after God made it and before He created light.”
This same use of the waw disjunctive in a narrative can be seen in many other places, for example, in Jonah 3:1–4. The sequence of events reflected by the waw consecutive at the beginning of each verse is as follows:
- The word of the Lord came to Jonah (verse 1 with verse 2 giving us the content of the message).
- Jonah arose and went to Nineveh (verse. 3a).
- Jonah began to enter the city and preach (verse 4).
But sandwiched between verse 3a and verse 4 is verse 3b, a sentence that begins with a waw disjunctive (“And Nineveh . . .”). That sentence is not describing an event or action in the narrative sequence but is making a parenthetical statement about the size of the city. We see similar parenthetical descriptive statements involving no action or event in the narrative in Genesis 2:6, 2:10, 2:12, and 2:14.
If Genesis 1:1 is merely a title or a summary, then Genesis does not teach creation out of nothing. But I think Genesis 1:1 is describing the actual act of God creating “heaven and earth” (a merism for the universe, indicating totality—like “high and low,” “east and west,” “near and far,” “rising up and sitting down,” “seen and unseen”). Genesis 1:1 describes the creation of everything “visible and invisible” (Col. 1:16), with Genesis 1:2ff. focusing upon the “visible.”
Creationists agree with Taylor that if the first verse is merely a title or summary, then Genesis doesn’t teach creation out of nothing. But if Genesis 1:1 is a merism, it is only referring to the initial unformed and unfilled heavens and earth, not to the heavens and earth and all their hosts as they are completed by Day Seven. And we should also note that “the heavens and the earth” doesn’t always mean the whole universe and everything in it. Elsewhere in the Old Testament that exact same Hebrew phrase is used with other things that are mentioned in addition to and distinct from “the heavens and the earth” (e.g., Genesis 2:1; Exodus 20:11; Psalm 69:34; Psalm 146:6; Jeremiah 51:48; Haggai 2:6). If we say that Genesis 1:1 describes the creation of everything “visible and invisible” (and that it refers to much more than a formless and empty heaven and earth, so as to allow for the creation of stars or the existence of dinosaurs billions of years ago), then the verse also describes the creation of the expanse (firmament), dry land, plants, the sun, moon, and stars, sea creatures and birds, land animals and man. But if that is the case, then the rest of Genesis 1 is very misleading as it clearly indicates that God made all those things in six consecutive days, not all at once in the beginning referred to in Genesis 1:1.
After the act of creation in Genesis 1:1, the main point of the narrative (in Gen. 1:3-2:3) seems to be the making and preparation of the earth for its inhabitants, with a highly patterned structure of forming and filling.
This very common argument breaks down when we observe the text carefully. True, during the six days God is preparing the earth (but also the heavens) for His highest creation, man, by filling and forming things. But the “highly patterned structure” that Taylor presents here turns out to be not so highly patterned when we look more carefully at the details of Genesis 1. First, the sun, moon and stars were not created to fill anything made on Day One, but to be placed “in the expanse” made on Day Two (three times it says this in Genesis 1:14–17). Second, the fish made on Day Five were created to live in the water, which was made on Day One, and in the seas, which were formed on Day Three not in anything made on Day Two. Third, humans were created to rule over creatures made on Day Three and on Day Five and Day Six. Fourth, nothing was made on Day Six to fill the seas made on Day Three. Fifth, nothing was made on Day Four to fill the earth or water made on Day One. And sixth, the firmament (expanse) of Day Two is outer space, where the sun, moon and stars are, whereas the birds are said to fly “upon or across the face of” the expanse (most translations do not translate the Hebrew literally in 1:20 but the NKJV does), just as darkness was on and the Spirit was moving over the face of the deep in verse 2. Also, all birds spend much of their time, and most find all of their food, on land, which was made on Day Three, not Day Two. So the claimed parallelism collapses under scrutiny and there is nothing here that contradicts the conclusion that these are six literal, chronologically sequential, non-overlapping days of creation.
2. The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day”
In Genesis 1:1, God creates the “heavens and the earth.” (In Joel 3:15–16 we see that “heavens” encompasses the sun, the moon, and the stars.) Then in Genesis 1:2 we are told that this earth that was created is without form and void, that darkness covers the waters, and that the Spirit is hovering over it.
It is no surprise that in Joel 3:15–16 “heavens” includes the sun, moon, and stars, for of course that verse like many other similar verses in the Old Testament was written several thousand years after the completion of Creation Week. But it is quite illegitimate to use this passage to suggest (as Taylor seems to want to suggest) that the sun, moon, and stars were made in Genesis 1:1.
If Genesis 1:1 is not the act of creation, then where do the earth, the darkness, and the waters come from that are referred to in Genesis 1:2 before God’s first fiat? Further, if the sun is created in day four (Gen. 1:16), why do we have light already appearing in Genesis 1:3?
Again, young-earth creationists believe Genesis 1:1 is an act of creation. Why is the sun created on Day Four but light is created on Day One? Well, nowhere does the Bible answer that question. But that does not mean that those statements are not literally true and that God actually created things in a different order than is revealed in Genesis 1. I would suggest, however, what others have suggested, namely, that God in His foreknowledge knew that sinful man would worship the sun, moon, and stars and so He created in this order to show that those objects are not gods and are insignificant compared to the Almighty who can make light without them and create plants without their help and who created the earth to be more important than those heavenly bodies. But what is the problem here? Cannot God create the phenomenon of light without the sun? Of course He can. There will be no need for sun or moon and there will be no night in the New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord will illuminate it and the Lamb is its light (Revelation 21:23–25). Paul was blinded by light other than the sun at noon on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3, 22:6, 26:12–13). So there is no textual or logical problem with the conclusion that God created light before He created the sun.
It helps to remember that in Hebrew there are distinct words for create and make. When the Hebrew construction let there be is used in the phrase “Let your steadfast love . . . be upon us” (Ps. 33:22; cf. Ps. 90:17; Ps. 119:76), this obviously isn’t a request for God’s love to begin to exist, but rather to function in a certain way. Similarly, if the sun, moon, stars, and lights were created in Genesis 1:1, then they were made or appointed for a particular function in Genesis 1:13, 14, 16—namely, to mark the set time for worship on man’s calendar.
The Hebrew words bāra’ (create) and ’āśāh (make) are of course different words with some distinction. But their meanings significantly overlap and they are used to refer to the creation and making of one and the same object as my study elsewhere shows.17 Both can refer to supernatural creation and both can refer to ex nihilo creation or creation using already existing matter. And regarding the sun, moon, and stars, if God wanted to say that He created them on Day One and they only appeared on Day Four (because by then thick clouds covering the earth—which are nowhere mentioned in Genesis 1—thinned out to make heavenly bodies visible18), God had a perfectly good word to use right in the context: “appear” (tērā’eh) used in verse 9. Instead, God used ’āśāh, which everywhere else in Genesis 1 is translated “made” with the clear meaning “came into existence” on that day. Besides this, according to standard Hebrew-English lexicons ’āśāh never means to appear or make visible.
What Taylor said about “let there be” is true in the verses cited. But in Genesis 1:3 it doesn’t communicate giving function but an act of creation, as the rest of the verse makes clear: “and there was light.” Similarly in verse 6 “let there be an expanse” is referring to what “God made” (verse 7) on Day Two. And Taylor is correct to say that God had a purpose or function for the heavenly bodies to fulfill, just as God had a purpose or function for Adam and Eve (to rule over the rest of creation). But that fact cannot be used to deny that the heavenly bodies were made on Day Four, just as it cannot be used to deny that Adam and Eve were made on Day Six.
By the way, since God says in Genesis 1 that He created the heavenly bodies (for man, obviously not the animals) to tell time, what does it say about the wisdom of God if He actually created those bodies over the course of billions of years via the process imagined in the big bang theory? This would mean that for billions of years as stars and galaxies were forming, they weren’t in the arrangement of constellations that man has seen in all of recorded history. It would also mean that for most of their existence the sun, moon, and stars did not serve the purpose for which God created them. Genesis 1:14 is clear that the same day they were created they were also ready to function as time-keepers for man, who was created only 48 hours later.19
3. The Seventh “Day” Is Not 24 Hours Long
In Genesis 2:2-3 where we are told that “on the seventh day [yom] God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day [yom] from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day [yom] and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The question we have to ask here is: was God’s creation “rest” limited to a 24-hour period? On the contrary, Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 teach that God’s Sabbath rest “remains” and that we can enter into it or be prevented from entering it.
Miles Van Pelt observes:
In Exod 20:11, the command for the people of God to remember the Sabbath day is grounded in God’s pattern of work and rest during the creation week. The people of God are to work for six solar days (Exod 20:9) and then rest on the seventh solar day (Exod 20:10). If, therefore, it can be maintained that God’s seventh day rest in Gen 2 extends beyond the scope of a single solar day, then the correspondence between the “day” of God’s rest and our “day” of observance would be analogical, not identical. In other words, if day seven is an unending day, still in progress, then our weekly recognition of that day is not temporally identical. As such, there is no reason to maintain that the same could not be true for the previous six days, especially if the internal, exegetical evidence from Genesis 1 and 2 supports this reality.
Van Pelt’s comments are not careful enough. Exodus 20:8–11 does not call them “solar days.” Today we call our days “solar” because (as in the days of Moses) we measure a day by our observations of the sun in the sky. But although the first three days of Creation Week were not “solar days,” there are several reasons for concluding they were literal, just like the next four were. First, the text uses the same Hebrew word (yôm) for all the days. Second, yôm is modified by a number and the refrain “evening was and morning was,” which everywhere else in the Old Testament means a literal day or a literal evening or literal morning of a literal day respectively (the possible exception of Hosea 6:2 with respect to a numbered day is considered below). Third, yôm is used in its literal sense in relation to the heavenly bodies in Genesis 1:14. Fourth, Exodus 20:8–11 makes no distinction between the nature of the days of the Israelite workweek and God’s Creation Week but rather equates them.
But both Van Pelt and Taylor, as well as multitudes of other old-earth creationists, fail to note that neither Genesis 2:1–3 nor Psalm 95:11 nor Hebrews 4:1–5 says that the seventh day continues. What these passages all say is that God’s rest (His ceasing from creation work) continues. God continues His work of providence and redemption. But He ceased creating, in the Genesis 1 sense, at the end of the sixth day of history, just as Genesis 2:1–3 repeatedly emphasizes. So, the seventh day ended after 24 hours, just like the first six days did.
Another evidence that it ended (besides the evidence for literal days mentioned above) is that Adam was made on the sixth day but all the days of his life were 930 years (Genesis 5:5). So Adam was created before the seventh day and apparently lived the rest of his life after the seventh day. But if the seventh day is still continuing (and so is at least 6,000 years, as Taylor is suggesting), then we are forced to draw one of three conclusions. First, Adam is a myth: he never really existed. Or, second, contrary to what 5:5 says, he never died and is still with us somewhere. Or, third, Adam lived his whole life of 930 years before the seventh day commenced, but then Seth was born before the seventh day and must have also died before the seventh day, but then the next patriarch is the problem, and so on. None of these options are acceptable for a Bible-believing Christian. Only a literal, 24-hour seventh day makes sense of Genesis 5:5 and indeed of the Genesis 5 and 11 genealogies and the genealogy of Jesus in Luke 3:23–38.
Furthermore, if the seventh day continues to the present and represents thousands of years, then how do we reconcile that notion with the fact that God sanctified, blessed, and declared holy the seventh day (Genesis 2:3 and Exodus 20:11) and yet for the last 6,000 years or more (in an old-earth reckoning) the creation has been under a curse (Genesis 3:14–19), in bondage to futility and corruption (Romans 8:19–23) and filled with incredible moral and natural evil? To take the seventh day as non-literal creates a theological mess!
Why then doesn’t Day Seven end with the refrain “evening was and morning was, the seventh day”? Again, Scripture doesn’t explicitly answer, but I contend that context indicates that the lack of that refrain is another way that God emphasizes that He ceased creating at the end of Day Six (as He said four times in Genesis 2:1–3). But that also tells us something else: the processes that scientists now observe in the universe are not the processes that God used to create the universe and everything in it. Those present processes studied by scientists reflect His work of providence, not His work of creating. Therefore, the big bang and evolution are not the processes He used to create the universe. There is also massive scientific evidence that the big bang theory and evolution over millions of years are myths masquerading as scientific fact, as resources at the end of this article reveal.
Exodus 20:8–11 functions as an insurmountable stone wall against any attempt to fit millions of years into Genesis 1 or before Genesis 1, and the fourth commandment is God’s own commentary on Genesis 1. It rules out the day-age view2 and the revelatory-day view21 and the day-gap-day-gap-day view22 and the framework hypothesis23 because God says He created in six days and uses the same word (yāmîm, plural of yôm) all through those four verses. The fourth commandment also rules out the gap theory24 (putting millions of years between Genesis 1:1 and 1:3) and the cosmic temple/functionality view25 or any other attempt to put millions of years before Genesis 1:1. This is because Exodus 20:11 says “for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them.” He did not make anything before the six days (there was no time, space, or matter before the creative act of Genesis 1:1). He made everything during those six days.26
4. The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long
After using “the seventh day” in an analogical way (i.e., similar to but not identical with a 24-hour day), we read in the very next verse, Genesis 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [yom] that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”
The seventh day is not used in an analogical way in Genesis 2 or in Exodus 20 either. In the latter passage the length of the Jewish workweek of six literal days is equated with the length of Creation Week of six literal days and no believing Israelite then and for at least the next 1,500 years had any doubt about that.27 And the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians understood it that way until the idea of millions of years began to be promulgated as “proven scientific fact” in the early 1800s. Even Davis Young, the old-earth geologist from Calvin College who has influenced so many theologians to not believe Genesis regarding the Flood and the age of the Earth, acknowledges this (though he is off by a century):28
It cannot be denied, in spite of frequent interpretations of Genesis 1 that departed from the rigidly literal, that the almost universal view of the Christian world until the 18th century was that the Earth was only a few thousand years old. Not until the development of modern scientific investigation of the Earth itself would this view be called into question within the church.29
Furthermore, contrary to the assertion by several prominent old-earth creationists,30 Exodus 20:8–11 is not comparing or contrasting the nature of God’s work and rest with the nature of man’s work and rest, but equating the duration of God’s Creation Week with man’s 7-day week.
The precise meaning of this is debated. But what seems clear, if we believe the Bible does not contradict itself, is that this (singular) “day”—in which the creation events (plural “generations”) occur—cannot refer to a single 24-hour period. In fact, it does not seem to correspond to any one of the creation week days, but is either a reference to the act of creation itself (Gen. 1:1) or an umbrella reference to the lengthier process of forming and fitting the inhabitable earth (Gen. 2:2ff). In either case, this use of yom presents a puzzle for those who insist that “young-earth” exegesis is the only interpretation that takes the opening chapters of Genesis “literally.”
The Hebrew word translated “generations” is tôlēdôt, which is always in plural in the Old Testament. Scholars (including young-earth scholars) disagree about whether this word, which appears 11 times in Genesis,31 is at the beginning of the section or at the end of the section to which it is connected (though the predominant view today is the former).
In Genesis it sometimes can mean “generations of time,” but not always. For example, if each usage of tôlēdôt goes with what follows, then the tôlēdôt of Noah (6:9) is only referring to the one year of the Flood. Conversely, if each tôlēdôt comes at the end of the section it applies to, then the tôlēdôt of Shem (10:1) refers to the year of the Flood.
But the word tôlēdôt may not mean a period of time in Genesis. It could refer to an account or history or record generated (or passed on) by the person whose name is attached to it (as some scholars have argued). Such a meaning is reflected in the NASB, NIV, HCSB, NLT, and NET Bible translations of Genesis 2:4, which have “this is the account of” or “this is the history of” or “this is the record of” and could then be understood as applying to Genesis 1:1–2:3 written by Adam under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.32 The exact same phrase using tôlēdôt (“these are the generations”) linked to both Moses and Aaron (Numbers 3:1) is referring not to their descendants but to their record (or historical account) of the numbering of the children of Israel for the few months that they were at the foot of Mt. Sinai.
In light of these considerations, it is very dubious to argue that because “generations” is how many Bible versions translate tôlēdôt, it means that God did not create over the course of six literal days but over many generations of time.
Taylor contends that since yôm is used in a non-literal way in Genesis 2:4 it indicates that young-earthers do not have consistent grounds for taking Genesis 1 “literally.” But this overlooks the fact that what we find in 2:4 is quite different from yôm modified by a number and the refrain found at the end of each day in Genesis 1. In Genesis 2:4 the Hebrew is the adverbial beyôm (literally “in a day”) and is usually translated as “when” or “in the day that.”
Context is the key. If I say “Back in my father’s day it took 12 days to drive across the country during the day,” no English-speaker would have any trouble understanding that 1) I used “day” with three different meanings, 2) there is no question of the meaning in each case, and 3) the meanings of “day” cannot be interchanged in the sentence without destroying the meaning of the sentence. So it is with the use of yôm in Genesis 1–2.
The fact that this non-literal use of yôm in Genesis 2:4 does not rule out literal days in Genesis 1 can be seen by a nearly identical use of yôm in Numbers 7:10–84. The children of Israel had finished the construction of the tabernacle and its furnishings and were now having a 12-day dedication ceremony. In verse 10 and verse 84 we have a general statement about the leaders of Israel sacrificing “when” (beyôm) the tabernacle was anointed. But sandwiched between these two “overview” verses we have a description of what one of the leaders of the twelve tribes sacrificed on “each day” (verse 11). So on the first day (yôm modified by a number) Nahshon of Judah sacrificed (verse 12), on the second day (yôm + number) Nethanel of Issachar sacrificed (verse 18), and so on with leaders of the other tribes for the rest of the ten literal days. And each leader sacrificed exactly the same things on each day. So the repetition of wording (or one might say “a sort of parallelism”) does not mean that the account is non-literal poetry rather than historical narrative. And the non-literal beyôm in 7:10 and 7:84 does not mean that the numbered days of sacrifice were non-literal.
Therefore, Genesis 2:4 in no way means that the days of Genesis 1 are not literal or that young-earth creationists are being inconsistent in interpreting yôm as literal in Genesis 1 but non-literal in Genesis 2:4.33
Defenders of the 24-hour view acknowledge that yom can mean more than a single calendar day but often insist that “[numbered] yom“ (e.g., “first day”) always, without exception, refers to a 24-hour day in the Hebrew Bible. This is not true, however. Not only does the rest of the canon tell us that the ”seventh day” is not 24 hours, but Hosea 6:2 (“third day”) seems to be used in an analogical way that does not refer to a precise 24-hour time period.
Nowhere in the rest of Scripture are we told that the ”seventh day” is longer than 24 hours (and Taylor did not present any biblical evidence to support such a sweeping statement).
Hosea 6:2 does not provide a convincing example of where yôm modified by a number is not a literal day. Hosea 6:1–2 says, “Come, and let us return to the Lord. For He has torn, but He will heal us; He has stricken, but He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.”
Commentators disagree about who is speaking in 6:1–3. Is Hosea or is a godly remnant in Israel calling the people of Israel to repentance?34 Or do these words express “the unrepentant overconfidence of Israel that the Lord’s discipline of Israel would be relatively short and that he would restore them quickly”?35 In the first case, the expectation seems to be that when the people repent, God will quickly heal the nation. In the second case, the expectation is that judgment will not last long. In both ways of understanding the verses the idiom only has the sense of “a short period of time” or “quickly” if the days are taken as literal. Calvin and Gill discuss various Rabbinic non-literal interpretations that point to the restoration of Israel when Messiah comes and use some of those ideas to tentatively suggest other non-literal views related to Christ and the church.36 Chisholm, McComiskey, and Keil and Delitzsch on the other hand take the phrase “after two days . . . third day” as literal meaning a short period of time.37 And Keil and Delitzsch note, as others have, that this phrase is a literary device of X and X+1 used elsewhere in the Old Testament.38
If we take yôm in Hosea 6:2 to mean hundreds or thousands or millions of years, then the promise or expectation loses that sense. And there is no basis in the Old Testament to understand yôm as a few minutes or a few hours or several days, weeks, or months. Only a literal meaning (i.e., a normal day, like our days, which by the way, contrary to Taylor’s remark, are not “precisely” 24 hours) makes sense of this promise and the preceding verses in Hosea 5:14–15.
And if, as some commentators suggest,39 this unique Old Testament reference to the third day were in the mind of Paul when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:4 that Jesus was “raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” then that would confirm that yôm should be taken as literal in the idiomatic statement of Hosea 6:2.
It should be noted also that Hosea is a prophetic book looking to some future event, not historical narrative about the past, as Genesis 1 is.
Given all the scholarly disagreement over the meaning of 6:1–3, with a number of commentators taking the days in verse 2 as literal, it is far from certain that verse 2 provides a clear example of yôm being modified by a number to mean a long period of time and therefore can serve as a justification for treating the days of Genesis 1 as figurative of millions of years. The very fact that this is the only verse the old-earth proponents cite to argue for non-literal, numbered days in Genesis 1 shows the great weakness of their position.
5. The Explanation of Genesis 2:5-7 Assumes More Than an Ordinary Calendar Day
In his article “Because It Had Rained” (part 1 and part 2), Mark Futato of Reformed Theological Seminary explains the logic of Genesis 2:5-7 and shows its role in OT covenantal theology.
Futato sees in this passage a twofold problem, a twofold reason, and a twofold solution.
The twofold problem?
- No wild vegetation had appeared in the land.
- No cultivated grains had yet sprung up.
The twofold reason for this problem?
- The Lord God had not sent rain on the land.
- There was no man to cultivate the ground.
The twofold solution to this problem?
- God caused rain clouds to rise up from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
- The Lord God formed the man.
Note the reason why there were no shrubs or small plants in the Garden: because “it had not yet rained.” The explanation for this lack of vegetation which [sic] is attributed to ordinary providence. But if the sixth day is a 24-hour period, this explanation would make little sense. The very wording of the text presupposes seasons and rain cycles and a lengthier passage of time during this “day [yom]” that God formed man. This doesn’t mean that it refers to thousands of years, or hundreds of years. It just means that it’s very doubtful it means a 24-hour period.
These verses are difficult for several reasons because of the ambiguity of several words, which has led scholars to considerable disagreements on the meaning.40 They are not even in agreement about the correct way to translate it. And some don’t even attempt to explain the apparent contradiction between Genesis 1 (which has plants created before man) and Genesis 2 (which on the surface appears to have man before the plants).
Futato has given his explanation of “the logic” of Genesis 2:5–7 as it relates to his view of covenant theology. And Futato uses his explanation as a basis for holding to the framework view and denying that the days of creation were literal and chronologically sequential. But I would contend that the chart above is mistaken in several points.
To see the difficulties in these verses and show that they do not rule out a literal 6-day creation, we need to consider how these verses have been variously translated. I highlight the controversial words in bold.
Most modern translations have something very similar to the rendering of the New American Standard version (NASB). It reads,
4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.
5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.
6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
Other essentially identical translations can be found in ESV, NIV, HCSB, RSV, NET, and NLT.
In contrast, the KJV makes verses 4–5 one sentence. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament done by Jewish scholars about 250 years before Christ) translates the Hebrew in a way very similar to the KJV, and the NKJV does so in a similar way to the KJV. So the scholars of these three translations from very different time periods over the last 2,250 years translated these verses differently than most modern translations. The KJV reads,
4 These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens,
5 and every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground.
6 But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.
7 And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Notice that most modern translations have “now no . . . was yet,” with verse 5 as the beginning of a new sentence. But the older translations read “and every . . . before it was,” and verse 5 is a continuation and completion of the sentence begun in verse 4.
The translators and commentators also disagree about the kinds of plants mentioned in verse 5. The rare Hebrew word for the first word (śîaḥ), translated as shrub or plant above, is not used on Day Three in Genesis 1 nor in Genesis 3 when God judges the world at the fall. Futato says the Hebrew word means shrub but treats it as a generic term for all wild vegetation. Keil and Delitzsch say it means “shrub and tree-like productions of the cultivated land.” The second Hebrew word (‘eśeḇ), translated as plant or herb above, is used in Genesis 1:11–12 and 3:18. Futato takes it to mean all cultivated vegetation. Wenham says it means “wild and cultivated plants.”
Space precludes a more lengthy discussion here. But besides the scholarly disagreements over meanings and translation of the words, two things should be noted regarding Genesis 2:4–7. First, like some others, Futato’s interpretation creates a contradiction with Genesis 1. He says that before man there was no wild or cultivated vegetation. But Genesis 1 clearly says that there were plants in existence before man (1:11–13) and they were the source of food not only for man but also for the animals and birds (1:29–30) that were also created before man. Furthermore, contrary to Futato and Taylor, Genesis 2 does not say that God sent rain clouds to water the earth. But whenever we encounter an apparent contradiction in God’s inerrant Word, we know that we have misunderstood one or both passages. Neither God nor Moses would contradict himself in the space of two chapters.
Second, two sound principles of interpretation are the following: 1) we should use the clear statements in Scripture to guide us to interpret the obscure statements and 2) two chapters should be understood in sequential order unless the author has given clear evidence to the contrary. On both counts Genesis 1 should be used to interpret the verses of Genesis 2, not vice versa. Genesis 1 is the wide-angle lens view of the whole six days of creation whereas Genesis 2 gives us some telephoto zoom lens perspective on some of the events on Day Six.
Like Calvin (Genesis, p. 110) and John Gill,41 I suggest that the KJV rendering of Genesis 2:4–5 intimates the right understanding, namely that, as Genesis 1 teaches, by His Word God supernaturally created mature plants with fruit already on the branches and therefore those plants did not need rain and man to cultivate them (as seeds or tiny plants would) but could flourish as mature plants in a different hydrological scheme.
Taylor says “The very wording of the text presupposes seasons and rain cycles and a lengthier passage of time during this ‘day [yom]’ that God formed man.” On the contrary, the hydrological scheme described in Genesis 2 mentions no seasons or rain cycles, but rather mist watered the ground in a way that is contrasted with rain. It is quite different from “ordinary providence.” Falling rain is first mentioned in Genesis 7:4, though I don’t see how we can be certain whether or not that was the first rain on earth. It is also precarious to make assumptions about climate before the global, earth-destroying Flood of Noah’s day based on the climate in the Middle East after the Flood, which was quite different at the time of Abraham compared to later times and today.42 Assuming normal seasons and rain cycles and that the sixth day could not be 24 hours, Taylor says, “This doesn’t mean that it refers to thousands of years, or hundreds of years. It just means that it’s very doubtful it means a 24-hour period.” But what is he arguing for then? A day lasting a few months or one year or a couple of years? What contextual evidence or wider biblical evidence is there for interpreting yôm this way in Genesis 1? And what does it accomplish? Such an interpretation would still lead to young-earth creation.
For these reasons I contend that Genesis 2:4–7 cannot be used to overthrow the abundant evidence in Genesis 1 and Exodus 20:8–11 that the days of creation were sequential and literal (approximately 24-hour) days.
So What Does God Mean by “Days” in Genesis 1?
Let’s go back to the “seventh day.” On the seventh day, according to Exodus 31:17, God “rested and was refreshed.” Why would an omnipotent and inexhaustible God need to be “refreshed”? It’s the same Hebrew word used for getting your breath back after running a long race (Ex. 23:2; 2 Sam. 16:14). The reason it is not improper to say that God was refreshed is the same reason it’s not improper to say that God breathes, hovers, is like a potter, gardens, searches, asks questions, comes down, etc.—all images of God used in Genesis. God’s revelation to us is analogical (neither entirely identical nor entirely dissimilar) and anthropomorphic (accommodated and communicated from our perspective in terms we can understand).
Again, we must be careful with our language. God’s revelation to us about Himself (but not about everything) is indeed often (but not always) analogical (neither entirely identical nor entirely dissimilar) and anthropomorphic (accommodated and communicated from our perspective in terms we can understand). But God can and does communicate in very literal ways. God does so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). He is a spirit and those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). God is from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2) and He is holy (1 Peter 1:16), and so on. And God is fully capable of telling us and indeed has told us that Jesus was literally born of a virgin, that He was literally crucified and raised from the dead, that He literally did send a global Flood upon the earth, and that He did literally create in six literal days about 6,000 literal years ago.
So when God refers to “days,” does he want us to mentally substitute the word “eons” or “ages”? No.
I completely agree.
Does he want us to think of precise units of time, marked by 24 exact hours as the earth makes a rotation on its axis? No.
Again we have here confusing language. No young-earth creationist I am aware of has ever argued that the days of creation were “precise units of time” of “24 exact hours.” Even today a day is not precisely, exactly 24 hours.43 Using such language skews the discussion. The issue is this: Are the creation days in Genesis 1 literal days, essentially (in non-technical, everyday language) identical to our days of the week today? If they are not essentially identical in length to our days, and if they do not represent eons or ages, then how long were they? It is pointless and scripturally and scientifically groundless to say that they were a few hours longer or equivalent to a week or a month or a year. Adam lived 930 years of days. All his days must have been essentially identical in length. And all his years must have been essentially the same length as all the years of the patriarchs’ lives up to Abraham and then up to Christ and then up to us. If the years were essentially the same duration through all those years, then the length of the days in those years must also have been essentially the same as our days. There is no biblical or scientific evidence for saying otherwise.
Does he want us to think of the Hebrew workday? Yes, in an analogical and anthropomorphic sense. Just as the “seventh day” makes us think of an ordinary calendar day (even though it isn’t technically a 24-hour period), so the other “six days” are meant to be read in the same way.
I’ve given in this article some of my reasons for contending that Taylor has not presented anything close to a convincing case in favor of this conclusion.
This is what the great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) believed: “The creation days are the workdays of God. By a labor, resumed and renewed six times, he prepared the whole earth.”
But this statement is just as true if God created everything in six literal days. So quoting Bavinck on this point is irrelevant. Furthermore, Bavinck did believe the days were literal (just like our days) but that they began in Genesis 1:3. But he believed in a kind of gap theory (without an angelic fall and associated catastrophe on earth): the first act of creation was in Genesis 1:1 and then there was an indeterminate period of time before the six literal days of creation began in 1:3. He mentions Exodus 20:11, but he fails to observe that the verse says the earth (along with everything in the earth, in the sea, and in heaven) was made during the six days, not before the six days.44 So Exodus 20:11 absolutely rules out Day One starting anywhere other than at Genesis 1:1. We should note that the equally great Reformed theologian Louis Berkhof did argue for literal days and apparently against a gap of time between 1:1 and 1:3.45
This is also what the Presbyterian theologian W. G. T. Shedd (1820-1894) advocated:
The seven days of the human week are copies of the seven days of the divine week. The “sun-divided days” are images of the “God-divided days”.
Shedd’s language here is not careful enough and therefore misleading. No Scripture says that the seven days of the human week are copies of the seven days of the divine week. But he also skews the discussion by calling it “the divine week,” implying that it was a week involving a different amount of time. It should be called the creation week, but Exodus 20:11 shows it was of the same duration as our week. Furthermore, God was the causal agent in making the days be a cycle of darkness and light. But the sun doesn’t cause a day. Rather the sun’s movement in the sky is merely the way man can measure the passage of a literal day. Taylor quotes Shedd again,
This agrees with the biblical representation generally. The human is the copy of the divine, not the divine of the human. Human fatherhood and sonship are finite copies of the Trinitarian fatherhood and sonship. Human justice, benevolence, holiness, mercy, etc., are imitations of corresponding divine qualities.
The reason given for man’s rest upon the seventh solar day is that God rested upon the seventh creative day (Ex. 20:11). But this does not prove that the divine rest was only twenty-four hours in duration any more than the fact that human sonship is a copy of the divine proves that the latter is sexual.
Again Shedd uses inaccurate words that are therefore misleading. Exodus 20:11 does not use these adjectives: “solar” and “creative.” Adding them confuses the issues and introduces error because the first three days were not solar (since the sun was not yet in existence) and God did not create anything on Day Seven (so it wasn’t “the seventh creative day”). But all the days referred to in Exodus 20:11 were of the same length and just like the days of our (and the ancient Israelites’) week today. The verse gives no grounds for saying that some days were longer than others.
Additionally, God makes it very clear that Mary was a virgin until after she gave birth to Jesus and that the conception of Jesus was by the Holy Spirit, thereby showing that Jesus’ sonship had nothing to do with sex. But He also clearly says that the Israelites should work six days and rest on the seventh because He created in six days and rested on the seventh. So Shedd’s analogy about sonship is invalid and therefore his argument against literal days is a red herring.
Augustine (the most influential theologian in the Western Church) believed something similar, as did Franz Delitzsch (perhaps the great Christian Hebraist). It was the most common view among the late 19th century and early 20th century conservative Dutch theologians.
Taylor’s vague statement here about Augustine is not documented and therefore it is questionable whether it is truly accurate. Hence it has no value for this discussion. Besides, Augustine was right about many things, but he himself humbly admitted in his Retractions (published three years before he died) that he got many things wrong and still other things that he was unsure about at the end of his life, including his understanding of the days of creation.46 Again, let us remember that he never knew Hebrew, only learned Greek to a modest level after he had finished all that he wrote on Genesis, and he had a faulty Latin translation of Genesis 2:4 that led him astray about the meaning of yôm in Genesis 1. But otherwise his view of Genesis 2–11 was very much like a young-earth creationist’s.47 So citing Augustine as support for Taylor’s view is invalid.
There were and are many equally great Hebraists before and after Delitzsch who were or are young-earth creationists.48 Delitzsch is not our authority. Nor is Shedd. Scripture is, because no great scholar is infallible, not even close to infallible.
These and many other 19th and 20th century otherwise quite orthodox, theological conservatives unquestioningly tolerated or accepted the geological claims about millions of years (because they didn’t understand where the idea came from)49, and so they had the same kinds of confused and exegetically problematic views about origins and the early chapters of Genesis. In my reading of many of these justly respected conservative scholars, their exegetical arguments against literal days and a young earth are shallow. And their popular gap theory, day-age theory and framework hypothesis have not withstood scrutiny with an open Bible. Furthermore, they never showed (most never even tried to show) how millions of years of animal death, disease, and extinction along with other natural evils (earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, asteroid impacts) is consistent with the Bible’s teaching about a “very good” original creation, the cosmos-damaging Fall, and the future cosmos-scale redemptive work of Christ at His Second Coming.
God is portrayed as a workman going through his workweek, working during the day and resting for the night. Then on his Sabbath, he enjoys a full and refreshing rest. Our days are like God’s workdays, but not identical to them.
Actually, neither Genesis 1 nor Exodus 20 nor any other passage says that God worked during the day and rested at night during Creation Week. And Exodus 20:8–11 doesn’t say anything about working during the day and resting at night. Again, we need to observe the text carefully.
How long were God’s workdays? The Bible doesn’t say. But I see no reason to insist that they were only 24 hours long.
Taylor sees no reason to take the creation days as literal, but it does not appear that he has interacted with the strong exegetical young-earth arguments such as have been available for many years and are cited below or in the footnotes thereof. I hope he will reconsider his conclusion and his arguments in support of it, especially given the high importance of this issue, which I will now discuss.
So, Why Does the Age of the Creation Matter Anyway?
There are many reasons. I can only briefly mention them here, but readers are encouraged to consider the footnotes for more in-depth discussions.
Death and the Character of God
From my reading and personal interactions with many evangelical scholars, church leaders, and lay people in many countries, it appears that the vast majority of old-earth proponents (like many young-earth believers) have not dealt with the issues of death and the character of God in relation to the question of the age of the creation. Or if they have done so, it usually was in a very superficial manner. Very few deal with the kinds of in-depth arguments about death and the character of God that, for example, I present here. This would include a couple of the resources that Taylor mentions at the end of his blog. Poythress’s Redeeming Science has a very brief, two-page discussion of the issue. Matthison and Sproul’s Reformed Approach book doesn’t address them at all. Keathley and Rooker’s 40 Questions book surveys young-earth and several old-earth views on the issue of death before the Fall, but barely touches on the issue of God’s character. And, as I show elsewhere, three leading seminary-level systematic theology textbooks present an orthodox view of the Fall but do not discuss its relation to their acceptance of millions of years.
Rejection of young-earth creation necessarily commits a person to the acceptance of millions of years of massive animal death, disease (including cancer in dinosaurs), and extinction along with thorns in rock layers supposedly hundreds of millions of years before man and other natural evils such as tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and asteroid impacts. But these things are incompatible with God’s “very good” creation in Genesis 1, with the cosmic impact of the Curse when Adam fell (resulting in a creation now in bondage to corruption, as Romans 8:19–23 says), and with the final cosmic-scale redemptive work of Christ (Acts 3:21; Colossians 1:15–20; Revelation 22:3). The evolutionary story of millions of years of cosmological, geological and biological evolution destroys the Bible’s teaching on death and assaults the character of God. If those issues aren’t important, then what is? I urge readers to carefully consider these matters.50
Ignoring or Denying Noah’s Flood
Sound exegesis can arrive at no other conclusion than that Noah’s Flood was a yearlong, global, catastrophic Flood. As Genesis describes it, the Flood must have radically rearranged the surface of the earth51 and buried people along with billions of plants and animals in sediments. It is therefore very reasonable to conclude that it was the cause of most (not all) of the fossils and rock layers. Since that rock record cannot be both the record of millions of years of history and the record of the Flood, Noah’s Flood truly washes away the idea of millions of years. But in their acceptance of millions of years most old-earth proponents either ignore the Flood or claim it was a local flood in the Middle East. And judging from their writings, most of them have not considered the young-earth geological arguments that have been strengthened by research since Morris and Whitcomb’s The Genesis Flood in 1961. Jesus and the Apostle Peter believed the biblical account of the Flood and so should we (Matthew 24:37–39; 2 Peter 2:4–9, 3:3–7). The idea of millions of years and the secular rejection of the Flood flow out of the naturalistic (i.e., atheistic) uniformitarian assumptions, which control all of modern science (not just the biological sciences).52 Ignoring or denying the global Flood is no insignificant matter.
The Order of Creation
The order of events in Genesis 1 contradicts the order of events in the story of cosmological-geological-biological evolution.53 Throwing billions of years into Genesis 1 anywhere doesn’t solve but exacerbates the problem and involves exegetical gymnastics. So the big bang must be rejected.54 Accepting millions of years not only implies that God couldn’t express in readily understandable language how long He took to create but also that He couldn’t describe clearly the sequence of events that occurred. This seriously impugns God’s character and ability to communicate.
Genesis 5 and 11 Genealogies
If God did not intend for us to know how old the creation is, then why does the Bible give us so much chronological information such that with careful study we can calculate reasonably accurately what that age is? Why are Genesis 5 and 11 not like the other genealogies in 1 Chronicles 1–6, Matthew 1, Luke 3, and so on, which contain only names and no chronological information? Even if there are missing names in Genesis 5 and 11 (as there are in Matthew 1, though I personally find no compelling biblical evidence for missing names in Genesis 5 and 11),55 there can be no missing years in those genealogies, because the age of the patriarch is given when the next man in the list is born. It doesn’t matter therefore, for example, whether Seth was Adam’s son (I believe the textual evidence is overwhelming that he was) or his grandson or great-grandson. Seth was born when Adam was 130. I have recently reviewed an excellent in-depth article arguing this point (which refutes the influential argument of William Henry Green in 1890), which I hope will be published very soon, perhaps on AiG’s web site. Scripture clearly teaches a young Earth, only about 6,000 years old (or a little more if the Septuagint ages in Genesis 5 and 11 are used—which I don’t presently favor).
Clarity, Reliability, and Authority of Scripture
If God actually did create over the course of millions of years, as old-earth Christians want us to believe, God could have clearly expressed that in simple Hebrew, as I demonstrate here. And if He did create over millions of years, then He could not have been more misleading in what He inspired Moses to write in Genesis 1–11. In that case, the Creator of language would have been grossly incompetent in His own communication. Attributing such ineptitude to God represents another serious assault on His character.
If we don’t believe Genesis regarding the creation of the Earth, sun, moon, and stars because the majority of astronomers and astrophysicists say it can’t possibly mean what it says, and if we can’t believe in the global Flood and the Bible’s teaching about the age of the creation because the majority of geologists say Genesis can’t mean what it plainly says, then what about anthropology and biology? The majority of biologists, paleontologists, and geneticists say that all plants, animals, and people are descended from a microbe. If this is indeed true, then Genesis 1 can’t be correct in saying that God created distinct kinds to reproduce “after their kind” (implying that one kind does not change into a different kind). Furthermore, the majority of anthropologists, paleontologists, and geneticists scoff at the idea that the first man was made from dust and the first woman was made from his side. But the majority of biologists also say that virgins don’t have babies and that dead men don’t rise from the dead. So if what the majority of scientists say is fact controls our interpretation of Scripture, how does that not fundamentally undermine the clarity, reliability, and authority of the Word of God? If scientific consensus controls our interpretation of Scripture, how can we justify belief in any of the major teachings of the Bible, if we are consistent?
The growing acceptance of the lie of human evolution56 and resulting doubt about or denial of a literal Adam and Eve among evangelical scholars and lay people is further sad evidence of this undermining of the clarity, reliability, and authority of Scripture.57
Listen carefully. I am not saying that the age of the Earth is a salvation issue. I am not saying that a person must believe that the creation is about 6,000 years old in order to be saved. As a ministry, we have clarified this point time and time again. Salvation is granted to those who place their faith in Jesus Christ alone as Savior and Lord. The age of the Earth is not a salvation issue.
But it is an issue of gospel coherency in the sense that the age of the Earth is very important for our understanding of the historical foundation of the gospel in several ways. Acceptance of millions of years of natural evil destroys the Bible’s teaching on the Fall and its impact, which explains why we need a Savior. After all, if physical death was not a result of Adam’s sin, then why would the Son of God need to physically die for our sin and physically rise from the dead? Acceptance of millions of years has contributed to severing the connection between the first Adam and the Last Adam. It assaults the character of the God who saves. It undermines the reliability of the Bible that explains the gospel. It implies that Jesus (whose saving work is the gospel) and the apostles (who like Jesus clearly believed Genesis and based their preaching of the gospel on the foundational and literal truths of Genesis) got it wrong. Acceptance of millions of years of death, disease, extinction, and other natural evils seriously calls into question the Bible’s teaching about the new heavens and earth where there will be no moral or natural evil, which is the hope of the gospel.
Furthermore, historically, the church’s widespread acceptance of millions of years over the past 200 years has contributed massively to a growing resistance to the gospel in nations that were in the past very influenced culturally by biblical Christianity and also in communist, Buddhist and Hindu nations. That acceptance also has been a very significant reason, among others, that many children raised in gospel-preaching churches and Christian families have (since leaving home) departed from the church or even the faith they once professed.58 There has indeed been a “slippery slide” of the church into much apostasy. Denominations that were once orthodox 100 or 150 years ago are now liberal and deny the biblical gospel. Europe, Britain, and America, which once were so powerfully impacted by the gospel and were launching pads for missions to the world, are now post-Christian and increasingly anti-Christian. Who would have thought 30 years ago that professing evangelicals today would doubt or deny that Adam ever existed or would embrace or accept homosexual behavior?59 The undermining of the truth of Genesis 1–11 regarding the age of the earth and the Flood has unquestionably contributed to the undermining of the truth of Genesis 1–3 regarding Adam, marriage, and sexuality both in the church and in the culture.
The slide started with the rationalist attacks on Scripture during the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, which rode on the tracks of the scientific revolution. But if the Christians who were leading the way in the development of modern science had clung to and defended the truth of Genesis and had used scientific arguments to do so, history would be quite different. Instead most of the church compromised first with the millions-of-years interpretation of the rocks developed by atheist and deist geologists in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (though most Christians at that time rejected pre-Darwinian evolutionary ideas and insisted that Adam was created about 6,000 years ago). Next, with the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), they compromised by accepting the evolution of animals and plants (under God’s providence, of course), but initially not of man (though by then man was generally held to have existed for much longer than 6,000 years). Next, following Darwin’s Descent of Man (1871), many compromised further to accept the proposition that God had bestowed the divine image in Adam’s hominid body which over millions of years had evolved from a subhuman primate. Finally, there was a rejection of Adam altogether and an assigning of Genesis 1–11 to the dustbin of myth. Evangelicals often are just a few decades behind the liberals.
To be sure, and clear, not every Christian leader, theologian, or layperson who accepted the millions of years manifested all these other defections from Scripture. There has been the slippery slide of much of the church overall. Although the age of the Earth issue is not the sole cause, the old-earth compromise of stellar leaders like Charles Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, C.I. Scofield, the contributors to The Fundamentals (1910),60 and many more regarding the age of the creation has influenced untold numbers of Christians who followed their teachings. These orthodox leaders made seemingly insignificant and harmless concessions to scientific “facts” (which those men didn’t realize were really philosophical assertions merely masquerading as fact). This “opened a door” (or caused a crack in the dam) to not believing some other significant truths of Scripture. While those men remained orthodox the rest of their lives, subsequent generations, following their example of granting priority to “scientific fact” over the plain meaning of God’s Word, pushed the door open further (indeed opened huge breaches in the dam) leading many individuals, churches, and denominations into wholesale departure from orthodoxy.
Because this is a gospel coherency issue, I particularly urge The Gospel Coalition leadership to devote more study to Genesis 1–11 and to young-earth creationist scholarly textual (biblical) and scientific literature and DVDs defending that view (as cited in my footnotes and in resources below). Christian leaders and scholars need to do their homework and stop ignoring the issue of the age of the Earth and, even worse, teaching the church that it is perfectly permissible to accept millions of years. It is doing severe damage to the church and her witness in this increasingly and often violently anti-Christian world.
Literal Adam and Literal Fall
Many Christian leaders, scholars and lay people are rightly concerned today about the denial of a historical Adam and Fall. However, many of those same people don’t see the importance of the age of the Earth, or worse they insist that we must accept millions of years because of the “overwhelming scientific evidence” and reinterpret Genesis in light of that (resulting in the day-age view, gap theory, framework hypothesis, local flood view, and so on). But the same scientific majority that insists on millions of years also dogmatically proclaims that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that we evolved from ape-like creatures. Therefore it is seriously inconsistent to believe that Genesis is literal historical narrative about the origin of man and sin and death but that it is not literal historical narrative about the origin of the rest of creation, the global Flood and the age of the creation.
At the end of his blog, Taylor recommends several resources that argue for the acceptance of millions of years (or at least for a rejection of young-earth creation). I would urge my readers to consider the following books, especially the first five, which as far as I am aware have been almost completely ignored by old-earth proponents.
- Andrew Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall, Restoration: A Biblical Theology of Creation (2009)
- Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Compromise: A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of “Progressive Creationism” (Billions of Years) as Popularized by Astronomer Hugh Ross (2011, revised 2nd ed.)
- Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury, eds., Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth (2008)
- Terry Mortenson, The Great Turning Point: The Church’s Catastrophic Mistake on Geology—Before Darwin (2004)
- Andrew Snelling, Earth’s Catastrophic Past (2 Volumes, 2010)
- Danny Faulkner, The New Astronomy Book (2015)
- Elizabeth Mitchell, Questioning Cosmos (2014), a critique and study guide responding to the influential Cosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey TV miniseries in 2014 hosted by the atheist astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson
For those who don’t have time to read whole books, I would recommend these DVDs and articles.
- Millions of Years: Where Did the Idea Come From? DVD (or free online)
- Noah’s Flood and the Age of the Earth DVD (or free online)
- Radioactive and Radiocarbon Dating DVD (or free online)
- Distant Starlight: Not a Problem for a Young Universe DVD
- Our Created Solar System DVD
- Our Created Stars and Galaxies DVD
- Terry Mortenson, “The Fall and the Problem of Millions of Years of Natural Evil”
- Terry Mortenson, “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science” (a response to William Dembski’s theodicy)
- Terry Mortenson, “Philosophical Naturalism and the Age of the Earth: Are They Related?”
- Origin of the Species: Was Darwin Right? DVD (or free online)
- Ape-men: The Grand Illusion DVD