Several well-known evangelical leaders have offered arguments against young-earth creationism. It is surprising to see the very inadequate responses from otherwise brilliant men.
As will be demonstrated, old-earth creationists have a difficult time responding to the arguments mentioned in the previous chapter. Several well-known evangelical leaders have offered arguments against young-earth creationism. It is surprising to see the very inadequate responses from otherwise brilliant men. Sadly, many old-earth creationists knowingly misrepresent young-earth creationism, while others resort to ad hominem arguments, straw-man attacks, and other fallacious debate tactics. This chapter will focus specifically on their attempts to respond from Scripture. The following chapter will highlight their faulty argumentation and poor theological reasoning.
To open their defense, the old-earth creationists have used an approach that has gained some acceptance over the past century. Simply stated, some old-earth creationists have sought to reconcile the apparent conflict between science and Scripture by changing hermeneutical guidelines. In other words, according to old-earthers, it seems that the general rules of interpretation just do not apply to Genesis. Instead, it should be treated differently than any other book.
A. Berkeley Mickelsen authored a comprehensive textbook on hermeneutics. In an otherwise outstanding work, Mickelsen advocated that a unique approach be applied to the Genesis text. He also includes the Book of Revelation in this interpretive scheme and says these two books use “the language of creation and climax.”1 He writes, “the age of the universe, the nature of light, [and] the time and procedures by which God prepared the earth for habitation of man are not touched upon at all [in the Bible].”2 By applying the standard historical-grammatical hermeneutic to Genesis, it is easy to see that Mickelsen is simply wrong. First, the age of the universe can be calculated to within a few generations by adding up the ages given in the genealogies. Even if we allow for gaps in the genealogies, it is most unreasonable to try to fit tens of thousands of years or more into the record.3 Second, it has already been shown that it took God five ordinary days plus a part of the sixth day to prepare the earth for the “habitation of man.” This will be discussed in more detail later in the chapter.
Bernard Ramm (1916–1992), a very influential apologist of the latter part of the 20th century, also ignored the plain language of the creation account by advocating an illogical and dangerous approach to its interpretation. He stated, “No interpretation of Genesis 1 is more mature than the science that guides it.”4 In context, Ramm was referring to the fact that hermeneutics is a science. As such, one can only be as sure of his interpretation as he is of his science of interpretation. We do not take issue with this aspect of his comment. However, there are two major problems with his reasoning. The first problem lies in the fact that it is inconsistent to reserve this assertion to the Genesis text alone. After all, if somebody applies the same dictum to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, he will find that these accounts must refer to something other than a bodily resurrection. This is because the majority of scientists would say that resurrections are impossible. If proper interpretation of biblical texts depends on the approval of modern scientific opinion (as Ramm taught with regard to Genesis 1–11), then interpretation with any degree of certainty becomes impossible.
The second problem is that Ramm confessed that scientific philosophy based on numerous assumptions about the past should carry great weight in one’s exegesis when he wrote:
If uniformitarianism makes a scientific case for itself to a Christian scholar, that Christian scholar has every right to believe it, and if he is a man and not a coward he will believe it in spite of the intimidation that he is supposedly gone over into the camp of the enemy.5
This startling admission illustrates the dangerous hermeneutic Ramm endorsed. That is, if scientific opinion contradicts a person’s understanding of God’s Word, then he must change his interpretation of Scripture rather than question the scientific majority. One of the greatest problems with this approach is that scientific theories about the past are developed by fallible people who were not around to observe the events they are trying to study. Meanwhile, God’s Word is inspired by the One who is infallible and is responsible for (and was an eyewitness to) the events that are being researched. In addition, scientific views are continually changing. During Ramm’s lifetime, the scientific establishment’s view on the age of the earth and the universe changed several times. Should Scripture be reinterpreted every time this occurs?
Old-earthers do not reject the ability of God to miraculously intervene in His creation, but they seem more than willing to agree with those who do reject this divine action. It is sad to see how such a great Christian man could side with the scoffers who mock the works of our Lord. The apostle Peter wrote of these people long before the debate over the age of the earth hit the scene. In his second letter, he wrote:
Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished (2 Pet. 3:3–6, ESV).
Peter revealed that these scoffers would reject three important doctrines of the faith. First, they would reject the second coming of Jesus Christ (“Where is the promise of His coming?”). Second, they would willfully forget that “the earth was formed out of water and through water” by His Word. Third, they reject the fact that the original creation was destroyed by the Flood.
Perhaps even more important than these points is the philosophy that undergirds these beliefs. These scoffers believe that “all things continue as they were since the beginning of creation.” This is uniformitarianism—the very belief that Ramm endorsed and said Christians can and should accept. Uniformitarianism simply states that the present is the key to the past. The uniformitarian geologist would claim that the current geologic processes that we observe today are normative for all history. For example, if it takes one hundred years to deposit a one-inch layer of sediment, then this must have always been the rate of deposition. Modern subscribers to uniformitarianism allow for local catastrophes throughout history to explain some of the earth’s observable features. Nevertheless, according to their view, the majority of earth’s features can only be explained by slow and gradual processes over millions of years.
The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge (1797–1878) had adopted this view long before Ramm. In his Systematic Theology, Hodge promoted the day-age theory as a viable interpretation of Genesis 1. He wrote:
It is of course admitted that, taking this account by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word [day] in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other [long periods of time].6
Here, Hodge encouraged Bible students to ignore the exegetically established interpretation of the text, if that interpretation caused a conflict with scientific “fact.” Again, the problem is that the scientific “facts” promoted by Hodge have changed over the years since that statement, while the Bible has remained the same. As a result, when one adopts this hermeneutic, the meaning of God’s Word must change whenever scientific opinion changes. Certainly, this is an unacceptable approach to the Word of the One whose words will never pass away (Matt. 24:35).
Another argument used by some evangelicals seems to be growing in popularity. It’s called the “That’s not the point of the passage!” argument. Some have suggested that it is not a big deal whether God created in six days or over millions of years because that is not the point of the passage. In this view, Genesis 1 is designed to teach us that God created and that man is unique in that he is created in God’s image. The rest of the details are not worth debating because they are not part of the main point.
We might be willing to agree with these people that these are the two most important points in the creation account. However, this does not mean that the rest of the details are unimportant or inaccurate. First, if this view is correct, then why did the Holy Spirit inspire Moses to include the words of Genesis 1:2–25? Verse one tells us that God created everything and verses 26–31 deal with the creation of man. If the rest of the chapter is insignificant, why is it even part of the record?
The second problem with this view is that one cannot hold it consistently. For example, the apostle John reveals in his Gospel that he wrote it so that the reader might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing in Him “you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). Certainly, this is the most important point in the book. That’s why John wrote it! Does that mean that some of the details are unimportant? Does it really matter if all of the details concerning Christ’s arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane are accurate? For example, what if Peter really did not draw his sword and cut off Malchus’ ear (John 18:10)? This detail is not germane to John’s theme. After all, he did not even mention that Jesus miraculously healed the servant’s ear as some of the other Gospel writers did. If John was simply embellishing the story here to make Peter look brave, then can we really trust the rest of his Gospel? The details are not irrelevant to the main point of the passage. On the contrary, the details establish the main point.
If some details of God’s Word cannot be trusted, how can we trust the rest? If some aren’t important, why did God put them in the Bible? Jesus pointed this out when talking with Nicodemus. He asked, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” Likewise, why should a person trust the “main point” of the passage if the minor details cannot be trusted?
Like Mickelsen, some have argued that the first chapter of Genesis should not necessarily be considered as historical narrative. Instead, supporters of the framework hypothesis claim that Genesis 1 is simply a literary framework and should not be viewed as a strict chronological account of creation events. Meredith Kline (1922–2007) of Westminster Theological Seminary was one of the most prominent advocates of this approach. Kline stated his purpose for advocating this view in his paper’s introductory paragraph:
To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation week propounded by the young-earth theorists is a central concern of this article. At the same time, the exegetical evidence adduced also refutes the harmonistic day-age view. The conclusion is that as far as the time frame is concerned, with respect to both the duration and sequence of events, the scientist is left free of biblical constraints in hypothesizing about cosmic origins.7
Kline’s intentions are clear. His goals were to rebut “young-earth theorists”8 and to free the scientist from any biblical constraints when “hypothesizing about cosmic origins.” One must wonder about Kline’s motives here. He greatly dislikes the young-earth position, which he called “a deplorable disservice to the cause of biblical truth.” Why is a careful examination of the details of the verbally inspired text a deplorable disservice to the Bible? Also, while he did address the text in his paper, his conclusion that the scientist is free from any biblical constraints made it clear that the text is virtually meaningless in terms of coming to a sound conclusion. If Kline is correct, why did God include Genesis 1–11 in His Word in the first place? Why didn’t He tell us the key points in a few sentences and leave the details for scientists to figure out?
If you are having trouble comprehending the framework hypothesis, think of Aesop’s Fables. These are mythical stories that contain important teachings. It does not matter whether the tortoise ever raced the hare. What matters is that the reader understands the moral of the story—patience pays off.
One of Kline’s former students, John Rankin, wrote at length concerning the framework hypothesis. While arguing against the young-earth creationist position, he wrote:
It is well-intentioned, but with it comes an eisegetical import that the defense of the Bible against macroevolution requires the belief in a young universe and a young earth. Here, a view of a young universe and young planet is presuppositionally in place, and a wrong understanding of the Hebrew word yom explains it.9
Notice Rankin accuses young-earth creationists of importing their young-earth beliefs into the Scripture. But the young-earther developed his idea of a young earth from Scripture. It seems that everyone, other than the framework followers, would accept that the young-earth creationists’ view comes from Scripture or at the very least, a misinterpretation of Scripture. Yet, here young-earthers are charged with importing this belief into the text. Rankin claims that this view is based on a “wrong understanding of the Hebrew word yom.” This particular argument will be covered later in this chapter.
Although framework proponents do not agree on every aspect, all of their views are heavily dependent upon the claim that Genesis 1 was written in poetic language. For example, Rankin stated, “The framework theory begins in recognition of the basic nature of Hebrew poetry, and its service to literary device.”10 Just what is the “basic nature of Hebrew poetry”? Rankin rightly explains, “Hebrew poetry is based on the concept of ‘parallelism’ of thought… . The idea of parallelism is to express an idea once, then to mirror or expand upon it in parallel or synonymous language.”
Since they are poetic in nature, the Books of Psalms and Proverbs are full of parallelism. Psalm 49:1 provides a good example of the parallel nature of Hebrew poetry. “
Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world.” The two lines of this couplet say essentially the same thing. Rankin correctly defines and illustrates this principle but then makes an unwarranted jump when interpreting Genesis 1. He wrote:
In Genesis 1, all but v. 27 is written in prose, but the overall structure and details abound in the parallelisms of Hebrew poetry. It is in many ways the song of God’s creation. The framework theory highlights this:
Day 1 is parallel to Day 4;
Day 2 is parallel to Day 5; and
Day 3 is parallel to Day 6.11
There are a few problems with this argument. First, Rankin overstates the case regarding the similarities between the days. It is true that the creatures of the sea were created on the fifth day, but the water was not created on the second day. It was already there on the first day. Genesis 1:2 states, “
And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The second day saw the creation of the firmament or expanse when the waters were divided. Also, the sun, moon, and stars were placed in the firmament on day 4, but the firmament was made on day 2, not day 1.
Second, these examples do not fit the mold of Hebrew poetry as defined above. The hallmark of Hebrew poetry is one idea being conveyed in two consecutive lines. Proponents of the framework view attempt to apply this to general concepts that are separated by several verses. This argument proves too much. Read the following examples from Scripture and consider whether or not the repeated idea nullifies the historicity of the passages so that they should be classified as poetic.
All of these occurrences appear in the Book of Genesis. First Samuel 24 and 26 record two different times when Saul pursued David and both times David was given an opportunity to kill Saul. David spared Saul’s life on both occasions.
Surely we are not to look at these parallels and consider them to be merely literary devices and that therefore Genesis 12–26 is all poetry. Nor would anyone claim that we have wrongly interpreted these passages as history because of our preconceived notions. However, if the framework proponents are consistent in their hermeneutics, then they should consider these passages as poetic and not actual historical accounts. We doubt any of them do.
These examples show us that it is actually the framework proponent who is guilty of eisegesis. While they claim that their “reinterpretation” is based on the words of Scripture, in reality, the only reason they desire to “reinterpret” Genesis 1 is because they have accepted old-earth claims. We will deal with more arguments based on poetry near the end of this chapter.
Kline and the others are misguided in their attempts to re-label the genre of the Genesis text. Dr. Steven Boyd, a Hebrew professor at The Master’s College, recently conducted a careful statistical analysis of the verbs used in narrative and poetic passages in Scripture. He found that certain Hebrew verb forms dominate passages that all scholars agree are historical narrative, but that those same verb forms are seldom used in recognized poetic passages. Boyd’s statistical analysis confirmed that Genesis 1 is undoubtedly historical narrative. Dr. Don DeYoung summarized Boyd’s findings:
The distribution of finite verbs in Hebrew narrative writing differs distinctly from that used in poetry. Moreover, statistical analysis categorizes biblical texts as narrative or poetry to a high level of accuracy. Genesis 1:1–2:3 is determined to be narrative with a probability of virtually one [the highest]. There follow at least three major implications from this study. First, it is not statistically defensible to interpret Genesis 1:1–2:3 as poetry or metaphor. Second, since Genesis 1:1–2:3 clearly is narrative, it should be read as other Hebrew narratives are intended to be read. That is, the creation account describes actual events which carry an unmistakable theological message. Third, when Genesis 1:1–2:3 is read as narrative, there is only one tenable view: God created everything during six literal days. This is surely the plain, direct intention of the text.13
Another argument that has been raised against the young-earth position attempts to redefine the Genesis account as nothing more than a polemic written against the surrounding idolatrous peoples. Conrad Hyers, former Professor of Comparative Mythology and the History of Religions at Gustavus Adolphus College, wrote:
In the light of this historical context it becomes clearer what Genesis 1 is undertaking and accomplishing: a radical and sweeping affirmation of monotheism vis-à-vis polytheism, syncretism and idolatry. Each day of creation takes on two principal categories of divinity in the pantheons of the day, and declares that these are not gods at all, but creatures—creations of the one true God who is the only one, without a second or third. Each day dismisses an additional cluster of deities, arranged in a cosmological and symmetrical order.14
Rather than being a historical report of actual events in space and time, Hyers proposed that each of the days of creation was written to counter the deities of the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians. Hyers would be considered a theological liberal due to his acceptance of the now defunct JEPD theory.15 Nevertheless, the ideas he promoted are gaining popularity among evangelicals who would never accept the JEPD theory. For example, in 1998, Dr. Mark Futato advanced similar ideas when he published an article in the Westminster Theological Journal, although he claimed that Genesis 1 was a polemic against the Canaanite gods—especially Baal.16
Hyers’ claims fail for several reasons. First, he placed the authorship of Genesis in the 5th century B.C., approximately a thousand years after the conservative date of authorship. Conservative scholars, both old-earth and young-earth, agree that Moses wrote the Pentateuch in the 15th century B.C. If Genesis were composed during the life of Moses, then Hyers’ theory collapses. While they may have been well acquainted with Egyptian mythologies, the wilderness-wandering Jews (who had been in Egypt for 400 years and were going to Canaan) would not have been heavily influenced by the mythologies of Assyria and Babylon. Second, there is nothing in the text to indicate its alleged polemical nature, even though it most certainly could be used as a polemic due to its historicity. This leads to the third fatal problem with Hyers’ view. It would be nonsensical to develop a polemic against pagan mythologies that is nothing more than mythology itself. The only effective polemic is one that is based on real history. After all, if Hyers is correct, then one is left to choose one myth over another. What would give a Jew (or later, a Christian) the right to claim that his myth is better than the Babylonian, Assyrian, Egyptian, or Canaanite mythologies?
Much of the debate often centers on the meaning of yom, the Hebrew word usually translated as “day.” Old-earth creationists are quick to point out that this word can mean something other than an ordinary 24-hour day. Young-earthers agree with this fact but remind people that the context of Genesis 1 indicates that the days were ordinary days. In response to this argument, old-earthers have crafted a few popular but faulty arguments.
Norman Geisler illustrates this poor reasoning. While responding to young-earthers’ arguments concerning the normal meaning of the word day, he wrote:
It is true that most often the Hebrew word yom (“day”) means “twenty-four hours.” However, this is not definitive for its meaning in Genesis 1 for several reasons.
First, the meaning of a term is not determined by majority vote, but by the context in which it is used. It is not important how many times it is used elsewhere, but how it is used here.
Second, even in the creation story in Genesis 1–2, “day” (yom) is used of more than a twenty-four-hour period. Speaking of the whole six “days” of creation, Genesis 2:4 refers to it as “the day” (yom) when all things were created.
Third, and finally, yom is elsewhere used of long periods of time, as in Psalm 90:4, which is cited in 2 Peter 3:8: “A day is like a thousand years.”17
We certainly agree with Geisler’s first two points. Majority vote does not determine the meaning of a word but one should examine how it is translated in different contexts. If a particular context demands one interpretation then that is how it should be interpreted. Genesis 2:4 is utilizing merism—a figure of speech in which some parts are cited to indicate the whole. As such, it is legitimate to interpret this as referring to the entire creation week. Young-earth creationists agree that this as an example in which yom does refer to something other than a 24-hour period.
There are some problems with Geisler’s reasoning. Despite his plea for sticking with context, his two examples are not part of the context. Although Genesis 2:4 is in the creation account, it is not part of the narrative reporting of the first six days, each of which is paired with an ordinal or cardinal number as well as the phrase “evening and morning.”
Geisler again ignores his contextual plea by quoting 2 Peter 3:8. This strategy is extremely common but is completely unfounded. First, Geisler does not finish the quote, which actually states, “
… that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” If this is supposed to offer support for the old-earth creationist view, it is difficult to see how it can. For example, if this is a mathematical equation that proves the days were long periods of time, then one must include the second part of the verse. Then the equation would be 1 day = 1,000 years = 1 day. No old-earther believes the creation period was 6,000 years long and if he did, it would not help him harmonize Genesis with the billions of years of evolutionary geology and cosmology. This does not help the old-earth position at all. Second, this quote is found in a passage dealing with the future return of Christ. It is simply indicating that God is not bound by time. Although it may seem like a long time to man, God is not neglecting His promise. He will send Christ back on His timetable, not ours.
Second Peter 3:8 is actually a simile—a comparison of two dissimilar things that have some resemblance. In this case, a day is contrasted with a thousand years, both brief time units when compared to God’s eternality. If a “day” really could be translated as “a thousand years,” then the simile would be silly; we could paraphrase it as, “… with the Lord a thousand years is as a thousand years, and a thousand years is as a thousand years.” This would be true but hardly profound or worth saying. It is because a day is so different from a thousand years that the simile is so powerful. It indicates that God is beyond time and He works according to His plans and schedule, not ours.
Returning to Genesis 1, there are several Hebrew time-words that could have been used instead of yom, if the author meant to convey the idea of long periods of time. Russell Grigg cites other Hebrew words that would have made much more sense than yom if the days were long periods of time. Appropriately, he asks:
Why did God not use any of these words with reference to the creation days, seeing that He used them to describe other things? Clearly it was His intention that the creation days should be regarded as being normal earth-rotation days, and it was not His intention that any longer time–frames should be inferred.18
Grigg’s point should not be overlooked. God’s Word was not written so that only the elite could understand it. While there are certainly difficult concepts and passages, the majority of it is written in simple language so that even children can understand it. This is known as the perspicuity of Scripture. That being the case, why would God use the word yom (the only Hebrew word that means a literal day and in virtually all cases does mean this) if He were really referring to a long period of time? The God of truth should have used a word that would lead people to believe in long periods of time, if indeed the billions of years are true.
Walter Kaiser, respected Old Testament scholar and seminary president, promoted a rather novel interpretation of Genesis 1 during his recent TV debate on the John Ankerberg Show in 2006.19 While stressing that “context is king” in determining the meaning of a word, he claimed that the first three days did not need to be interpreted as ordinary days because God did not invent 24-hour days until the fourth creative period.
My answer is that God had not yet created a twenty-four hour day. So too bad for Brown-Driver-Briggs and too bad for Koehler-Baumgartner. Because it specifically says, I mean, if we’re going to stick with the Bible, God created days on the fourth day. So we’ve got three of these yoms, which are not of the twenty-four hours.20
Brown-Driver-Briggs and Koehler-Baumgartner are the two most respected Hebrew lexicons. Both state that the word “yom” in the first three days should be interpreted in the same way as it is in days 4 through 6. Kaiser’s argument runs counter to the reasoning of the best Hebrew scholars in the world.
Moreover, his argument collapses for several other reasons. First, the Bible does not say that God invented 24-hour days on the fourth creative period. It says that on the fourth day, God made the sun, moon, and stars by which to mark days (Gen. 1:14–19). This does not mean that the first three “days” could not have been ordinary days. It simply means that they were marked by something else — the light that God made on the very first day.
Second, Kaiser is inconsistent. His argument is allegedly based on the context of Genesis 1, yet he does not accept that days 4 through 6 are ordinary days, either. He says that they “are possible candidates for twenty-four hours.”21 If God created 24-hour days on the fourth day, why wouldn’t the following days be ordinary days? Obviously, it is because Kaiser accepts the evolutionary geologists’ and cosmologists’ claims about the age of the earth and universe. Kaiser’s view that days 4–6 could be literal days also contradicts the views of his debate partner, Hugh Ross, who argues that days 4, 5, and 6 are “literal, long periods of time.”22 Third, since he accepts the standard old-earth views regarding science, this forces numerous contradictions concerning the order of events put forth in Genesis 1.23
Fourth, Kaiser provides no explanation as to why the first three days are spoken of in the same manner as the next three days. Each day is mentioned with the phrase “evening and morning” and includes a cardinal or ordinal number. Also, as mentioned before, Exodus 20:11 groups all six days together and treats them as ordinary days (cf. Exod. 31:17–18). Why is no distinction made between these days, if Kaiser is correct that the context implies it? Obviously, it is because Kaiser’s view is not consistent with Scripture but was simply created to allow him to accept the old-earth view. Sadly, this is another example of a futile effort of a brilliant Christian man to insert long ages into a biblical account that does not allow for them.
As stated in chapter 2, young-earth creationists often cite Jesus’ statements on marriage as solid evidence in support of their view. Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees. When questioned about marriage and divorce, Jesus replied, “
Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female …’ ” (Matt. 19:4). Very few old-earthers have even commented on this young-earth argument, much less refuted it.24
In his popular systematic theology, Wayne Grudem is undecided about the age of the earth, but clearly leans toward the old-earth view. He offered a possible old-earth creationist’s response to this argument.
[The young-earth creationist’s] argument also has some force, but old earth advocates may respond that Jesus is just referring to the whole of Genesis 1–2 as the “beginning of creation,” in contrast to the argument from the laws given by Moses that the Pharisees were depending on.25
This interpretation is certainly not the natural reading of the text, since Jesus said that male and female were created “at the beginning.” For Jesus to say only a few thousand years after Adam that the first 10–20 billion years were “the beginning” would be like calling January 1 through December 31 11:59:51 P.M. the “beginning of the year.”
Norman Geisler also addressed this argument but focused on Mark’s recording of the conversation. Mark wrote, “
But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female” (Mark 10:6). Geisler offered three arguments to refute the young-earth position.
First, Adam was not created at the beginning but at the end of the creation period (on the sixth day), no matter how long or short the days were.
Second, the Greek word for “create” (ktisis) can and sometimes does mean “institution” or “ordinance” (cf. 1 Peter 2:13). Since Jesus is speaking of the institution of marriage in Mark 10:6, it could mean “from the beginning of the institution of marriage.”
Third, and finally, even if Mark 10:6 is speaking of the original creation events, it does not mean there could not have been a long period of time involved in those creative events.26
These arguments will be discussed in the order presented. In the first argument, Geisler attempts to show that Adam and Eve were not made “at the beginning,” no matter what view one holds. After all, Adam and Eve were made on the sixth day, which is at the end of the creation week. Geisler implies that Jesus was wrong if He was saying that man was made “at the beginning” of history. Since Jesus, being God, cannot make a mistake, then this must be the wrong interpretation. It is important to notice that Geisler added the word “period” to the text. Jesus simply said that it was “from the beginning of the creation” not “from the beginning of the creation period.” Jesus was talking about all of creation from His day back to the beginning of creation.
It is certainly reasonable that the very first week would count as the “beginning of creation” even though Adam and Eve were made near the end of that week. For example, consider a marathon runner who stumbles about 20 feet into the race. When asked for his thoughts about his performance during the race, he could respond, “Well, I did pretty good, except I stumbled at the beginning of the race.” No one would accuse the runner of being inaccurate even though, technically, he did not stumble in his first step.
It seems that Geisler probably opts for the second argument in which he claims Jesus was simply referring to the “creation” or “institution” of marriage. He used these same arguments while writing an article with Dr. John Ankerberg.27 In response to their claims, Dr. Terry Mortenson wrote:
[Ankerberg and Geisler] argue that ktisis (which is actually the noun “creation” not the verb “create,” as A/G say) in Mark 10:6 should be translated as “institution” so that Jesus should be understood to be talking about the beginning of the institution of marriage, not the beginning of creation. They base this interpretation on the fact that in 1 Pet 2:13 ktisis is translated in the NIV as “to every authority instituted among men” or in the NASB as “to every human institution.” But they have not paid careful attention to the presence of “among men” (NIV) and “human” (NASB) in this verse.
The Greek text is clear. The phrase under question is pasē anthrōpinē ktisei, where the whole phrase is in the dative case (so literally “to every human creation”) and the adjective anthrōpinē (“human”) modifies ktisei (“creation”). An institutional authority (such as kings, governors and slave masters, which Peter discusses in the context) is indeed a “human creation.” But this is a very different contextual use of ktisis than we find in Mark 10:6, where no adjective is used to modify “creation.” Furthermore, in Mark 10:6 Jesus could have easily said “from the first marriage” or “from the beginning of marriage” or “since God created man” or “since God created Adam,” if that is what He meant.
Finally, if we give ktisis in Mark 10:6 the meaning “authority” or “institution,” it makes no sense. What does from the beginning of authority or beginning of institution mean? To make it meaningful Ankerberg and Geisler would have to add a word to the text, which would have no contextual justification.
Jesus is reaching farther back in history for the basis of his teaching on marriage. The Pharisees go back to the time of Moses’ writings in Deuteronomy, whereas Jesus goes back to the beginning of time. Jesus spoke these words about 4,000 years after the beginning. If we equate those 4,000 years with a 24-hour day, then Jesus was speaking at 24:00 and the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth literal day of history would be equivalent to 00:00:00:35 (half a second after the beginning), in the non-technical language of Jesus here is the beginning of time. So, Jesus is indeed saying that Adam and Eve were at the beginning of creation.28
Finally, Geisler’s third argument is also fatally flawed. If Matthew and Mark were “speaking of the original creation events,” it absolutely means there could not have been a long period of time involved in those creative events. For example, even if hundreds of years elapsed before Adam and Eve were created, there is no possible way for Jesus to be correct in His assertion that God made Adam and Eve “at the beginning.” Notice that this becomes a major problem when one adds hundreds of years. How much more severe is the problem if the desired billions of years are added?
Another argument that is commonly used to suggest that the first six days could have been longer than ordinary days is summarized by Geisler:
Everyone agrees that it has been at least thousands of years since the time of creation, yet the Bible declares that God rested on the seventh day after His six days of creation (Gen. 2:2–3). According to the book of Hebrews, God is still in His Sabbath rest from creation (4:3–5); hence, the seventh day has been at least six thousand years long, even on the shortest of all the chronologies of humankind.29
Although his logic is typically very sound, it escapes Geisler here. Hebrews 4:3–5 actually states:
For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’ ” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”; and again in this place: “They shall not enter My rest.”
First, notice that the text does not say that the seventh day of the creation week is continuing to the present day. It merely reveals that God entered His rest on the seventh day. An illustration may be helpful here. Imagine that a vacationing person said on Monday that he rested on Friday. It would not be reasonable to suggest that, since he was still resting on Monday, therefore it was still Friday. Second, this popular old-earth argument creates a theological problem as well. John Whitcomb illustrated this problem over 30 years ago:
We must assume that the seventh day was a literal day because Adam and Eve lived through it before God drove them out of the Garden. Surely, he would not have cursed the earth during the seventh day which he blessed and sanctified (Gen. 2:1–3; Exod. 31:12–17).30
Old-earth creationists also bring up the fact that the seventh day does not contain the familiar “evening and morning” phrase. As such, they say, the seventh day must be a long period of time, in accordance with their interpretation of Hebrews 4:3–5. If the seventh day can be a longer period of time, then surely the first six days could be as well. This argument actually proves too much. If the exclusion of the phrase “evening and morning” allows the seventh day to be longer, then this is really unintentional admission that the first six days were literal 24-hour days.
Finally, one should not press the idea of God’s rest from His creative works too far. The author of Hebrews used it as an analogy of the spiritual rest offered to those who trust in Christ. Also, to believe that God is still resting in an absolute sense would run contrary to many of the miraculous events in Scripture. Some of these miracles involved the creative works such as the Lord’s feeding of the five thousand (Matt. 14:21) and the four thousand (Matt. 15:34–38). Jesus declared, “
My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). God is still working; He’s just no longer creating the universe. This is the rest described in Genesis 2:2. Today, God is working by upholding and sustaining the universe He made (Heb. 1:3; Col. 1:17).
It has become popular lately for old-earthers to try and use poetic sections of the Bible to override the plain teachings of historical sections. Since a straightforward reading of Genesis does not support their view, some old-earth creationists hope to reinforce their position by selectively quoting poetic passages like Psalms or Proverbs. Hugh Ross states:
… not all the answers are in Genesis. And in particular, there’s three of them: Proverbs 8, Psalm 104, and Job 38 and 39 that actually take you through each of the six creation days of Genesis 1. And when you do that (integrate those four in particular) you discover that it’s not possible to take that word “yom” in any context other than a long period of time.31
But, when read in context, there is nothing in these poetic sections of Scripture that would contradict a straightforward reading of Genesis: that God did indeed create in six literal days. After all, the same God that inspired Genesis also inspired these sections of the Bible. But since poetic books, like the Psalms, Proverbs, and Job, contain figures of speech, metaphors, and other non-literal imagery, many people feel a greater liberty to interpret these passages as they wish, rather than according to the standard rules of biblical interpretation. Some old-earth creationists have even mislabeled poetic passages as “accounts of creation,” presumably in an attempt to revise the biblical history by pulling certain poetic sections out of context.
In one of his more recent books, Hugh Ross lists 21 “major creation accounts in the Bible.”32 Many of the passages are from poetic sections of the Bible; four of the listed passages are from the Psalms, two are from Job.33 Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are also included. Sections of the Bible such as the Psalms are not “accounts” at all, but rather poetic songs of praise to God. They are just as inspired and true as the rest of God’s Word; however, they require knowledge of the historic narrative sections of the Bible in order to fully understand and properly interpret the poetic language.
One of the most important rules of hermeneutics is that the unclear should be interpreted in light of the clear; therefore, poetic sections using symbolism and literary imagery should be interpreted in light of the more straightforward historical narratives. This is not to say that poetic sections never shed light on narratives; they can. But they should never be used to override the clear teaching of historical narratives. Consider Exodus 14–15. Chapter 14 is written in historical narrative style; this chapter contains the account of the parting of the Red Sea. Chapter 15 is poetic; it contains a song that the Israelites sang commemorating this event. The events of chapter 14 allow us to understand the song in chapter 15.
However, it would be silly to take the poetic descriptions of chapter 15 in a woodenly literal sense and then reinterpret chapter 14 accordingly. The inhabitants of Canaan did not literally “melt away” (verse 15). The Egyptians were not literally “burned” or “consumed” (verse 7), they were drowned. Imagine if we used this symbolic imagery to suggest that God actually destroyed the Egyptians by fire—not water. Imagine that we “reinterpreted” chapter 14 to accommodate such a notion. This would be a pretty obvious mistake in hermeneutics.
Yet, errors of this kind are common in old-earth theology. Old-earth creationist Tim Boyle uses Psalm 104 in an attempt to override the clear teaching of Genesis that the original animals were vegetarian. He writes, “Psalm 104 praises God for his initial good creation, in all its aspects. Beginning with verse 21, it speaks of God’s creation of animals—both herbivorous and carnivorous.”34 However, verse 21 says nothing about the creation of the original animals; it only mentions that lions roar after their prey. Since Genesis 1:29–30 clearly teaches that animals were originally to eat plants alone, Psalm 104:21 cannot be referring to the way things were originally, but rather the way things are at the time the psalm was written, about 3,000 years after Adam’s sin and God’s curse on the creation.
It really should be obvious from the other verses of Psalm 104 that this passage is not an account of creation. Verse 16 refers to the “cedars of Lebanon.” Are we to believe that the nation of Lebanon existed during the creation week? Verse 26 mentions “ships.” Are we to believe that God created the oceans with ships sailing on them? The psalm also mentions wine and oil (v. 15), which are man-made, and clouds and lightning (vv. 3–4), which are not mentioned in Genesis 1. Clearly these verses of Psalm 104 are speaking of the present world, not the original paradise. Although some verses of Psalm 104 touch on creation, the chapter is clearly not an account of creation, but a praise of how God cares over His works. In today’s fallen world, God provides meat for carnivores, but in the beginning it was not so.
The important principle of interpreting the unclear in light of the clear extends to all portions of Scripture. Another area in which this principle is violated concerns the old-earthers’ claim that certain biblical passages explicitly teach that the earth is old. Hugh Ross and Gleason Archer state:
Habakkuk 3:6 directly declares that the mountains are “ancient” and the hills are “age-old.” In 2 Peter 3:5, Peter tells us that the heavens (the stars and the universe) existed “long ago.” Such descriptions of certain aspects of creation would have little impact if the earth and its hills were literally only a few days older than humankind. The point of contrast would be lost.35
Once again, we see a poetic passage in Habakkuk used to override the clear teaching in Genesis. We see the general statement in 2 Peter that the heavens existed “long ago” used to override the clear teaching of Genesis that tells us specifically how long ago. The proper hermeneutic is to evaluate these generalities in light of the clear specifics. In other words, the above verses tell us the hills are old, but not specifically how old. It is the historical narratives that provide us with that specific information and tell us how to interpret more vague statements of Habakkuk and 2 Peter.
The above verses are perfectly consistent with a literal reading of Genesis. The hills are old—thousands of years old! The biblical passages in no way suggest that the world is billions of years old. The Hebrew word for “age-old” used in Habakkuk is “olam” (עולם). This word does imply age, but not necessarily billions of years. After all, the same word is used to describe people in Genesis 6:4—the “men of old.” These men might have been very old,36 but not billions of years old. Clearly, the biblical statements that the hills are age-old and that the heavens existed long ago do not support the notion of a multi-billion-year-old earth and universe.