Occasionally we do make a purchase, and an appeal to use whatever I find for ministry purposes can often help tip the scales in helping me justify an acquisition. In contrast, the fact that we have many grandchildren (and hence many birthdays to celebrate throughout the year) seems to be good enough for many a procurement on my wife’s part.
Webster’s Dictionary 1828
Old books are of particular interest to me, as they give a much clearer understanding of what was in the minds of those living at the time they were written, rather than the small glimpses of art, architecture, fashion, and technological time capsules we often see ever could. One of my favorite finds was a 1903 reprint of the original 1828 version of Webster’s dictionary, which also included supplemental information derived from Webster’s own 1841 second edition up to the late 1800s editions produced under the Merriam-Webster label.
A casual leafing through the pages of this stately old tome, and the truths it reveals, stands in stark contrast to much of the online shrieking of modern digital text flushed through outlets like Instagram and Facebook, often generated by “progressive” minds parroting Marxist professors who seem bent on reshaping world history.
Unfortunately, this tendency towards revisionist history has crept into the majority of Christian colleges and seminaries as well, resulting in professing Christians such as the Progressive Creationist Hugh Ross touting statements like the following:
Many of the early church fathers and other Biblical scholars interpreted the creation days of Genesis 1 as long periods of time.1
And this type of influential teaching from other compromised groups such as the theistic evolutionary group Biologos, whose contributors regularly speak at Christian Bible colleges promoting long ages and other evolutionary ideas of course, creeps into the mainstream of Christendom and shows up on social media in blurbs like the following:
The literal interpretation of Genesis 1–11 has never been universally held by the Church, and has never been seen as a creedal fundamental of the Christian faith. No one has absolutely authority whatsoever to unilaterally declare a literal interpretation of Genesis 1–11 is the fundamental cornerstone of the Christian faith. No one has ever made this claim in the history of the Church up until the 20th Century. It is a simple fact that scores of early Church Fathers did not read Genesis 1–11 as historical.2
Strawmen and Storytelling
It’s always amazing to see how many false claims people can cram into such few words, but we now live in a world where many people communicate in Twitter-sized sounds bites, so I suppose it’s to be expected.
Now instead of showing how demonstrably false many of the other statements are by quoting the church fathers, reformers, the apostles, Jesus himself, etc. (which we have done numerous times in minute detail3), let’s open up my dusty old treasure to see what Webster’s “common knowledge” regarding these topics were at that time in the early 19th century (1828).
Firstly, let’s look at the word Genesis itself to get the “big picture” of what it referred to:
GEN'ESIS, noun The first book of the sacred scriptures of the Old Testament, containing the history of the creation, of the apostasy of man, of the deluge, and of the first patriarchs, to the death of Joseph.4
Creation, the fall, the flood, and the patriarchs: notice the straightforward manner in which Genesis is defined, as real history, with no allusion to allegory, poetic language, or symbolism. Note also that unlike many modern theologians that almost always differentiate Genesis 1–11 as being somehow different from 12 onwards, that it encompasses the entirety of the book of Genesis from the creation event to the death of Joseph as a true historical narrative. And to further the point of Genesis being seen as “literal,” here is this edition of Webster’s definition of history itself:
HIS'TORY, 1. An account of facts, particularly of facts respecting nations or states; a narration of events in the order in which they happened, with their causes and effects.
Adam and Eve
Again, factual, chronological events are obviously being referenced here. But let’s look at specifics, such as who were Adam and Eve? Theistic evolutionists are promoting the idea that there never was a true, historic first couple, Adam and Eve. To the point where in 2011, the popular magazine Christianity Today ran a front-page article with an “ape-man”–looking Adam on the front cover titled, “The Search for the Historical Adam,” highlighting how questioning the existence of Adam was becoming mainstream in Christian academia. However, the Webster’s 1828 edition’s notations are very straightforward:
AD'AM, Man; primarily, the name of the human species, mankind; appropriately, the first Man, the progenitor of the human race.
EVE, The consort of Adam, and mother of the human race; so called by Adam, because she was the mother of all living.
Once again there is no hint of equivocation or sense of any questioning of the plain reading of the Bible. But what of the events such as Noah’s flood and the tower of Babel? Well, under the general heading in a search of the word flood we read the following:
FLOOD, noun flud.
1. A great flow of water; a body of moving water; particularly, a body of water, rising, swelling and overflowing land not usually covered with water. Thus there is a flood every spring, in the Connecticut, which inundates the adjacent meadows. There is an annual flood in the Nile, and in the Mississippi.
2. The flood by way of eminence, the deluge; the great body of water which inundated the earth in the days of Noah. Before the flood men live to a great age.
As you can see, even the word flood by itself is quickly given a designation related directly to the biblical account as real history—of the deluge which “inundated the earth” in Noah’s day. It also quite casually mentions another subject what many of today’s Bible colleges and seminaries try to dismiss or downplay because of their compromise with evolutionary ideas, that, “Before the flood men live to a great age.” Again, the historical narrative is never questioned.
So, what of this word deluge, less common to modern ears?
DELUGE, noun [Latin To wash.]
1. Any overflowing of water; an inundation; a flood; a swell of water over the natural banks of a river or shore of the ocean, spreading over the adjacent land. But appropriately, the great flood or overflowing of the earth by water, in the days of Noah; according to the common chronology, Anno Mundi, 1656. Genesis 6:1.
DELUGE, verb transitive 1. To overflow with water; to inundate; to drown. The waters deluged the earth and destroyed the old world.
Two very important things stand out in this definition of deluge. Number one is the direct reference to the verb transitive use of the word related to the Apostle Peter’s description of the flood used in the New Testament:
[A]nd that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. (2 Peter 3:6)
The second is the specific date of the flood’s occurrence (1656 Anno Mundi), its biblical reference (Genesis 6:1), and the phrase “according to the common chronology”.
The Age of the Earth
Now today, even Wikipedia knows exactly what Anno Mundi and the common chronology is referencing here.5 The Encyclopedia Britannica contains the same information. Anno Mundi is Latin for “in the year of the world,” the year dating from the year of creation in the Jewish chronology, based on rabbinic calculations!6 No wonder then that we find an illuminating entry in one of the appendices (“A Compendium of Biography-The Eminent Historical Personages of All Ages”) where we can read the dates of when many famous people lived.
A small sampling reveals individuals such as
- Rembrandt van Ryn. Paul. 1607-1669. Dutch Painter.
- Caesar, Caius Julius, 100–44 B.C. Roman general and statesman.
- Alexander the Great. 356–324 B.C. King of Macedon.
- Abraham, or Abram. Born about 2000 B.C. and died at the age of 175. Hebrew Prince and Patriarch.
- And Adam. 4000 B.C. Father of the human race.
Again, remember this is from a book referencing material that had been produced, published, revised, and distributed quite liberally from 1828 onwards, published in 1903. The absolutely unapologetic historical nature of stating (1) Adam was created at the beginning of creation in 4,000 BC, (2) Noah’s Flood occurred 1656 years after the creation, and (3) that the persons described in Genesis were real people, not merely allegorical stand-ins, is even more definitive proof that Genesis has been read as plainly written by vast swaths of Christendom long prior to the 20th century’s modern creation movement. And the reference to the common chronology espoused by the Jewish Rabbis shows that it was plain to the Jews as well.
Continuing on, take for example the entry describing the word ark.
'ARK, noun [Latin arca.]
1. A small close vessel, chest or coffer, such as that which was the repository of the tables of the covenant among the Jews. This was about three feet nine inches in length. The lid was the propitiatory, or mercy seat, over which were the cherubs. The vessel in which Moses was set afloat upon the Nile was an ark of bulrushes.
2. The large floating vessel, in which Noah and his family were preserved, during the deluge.
Tower of Babel
Again, never a hint that the individuals referred to in Genesis and the descriptions of the events they participated in are considered anything but real. Further support comes from the “Introduction,” where under the heading “A Brief Account of the Origin and Progress of the Principal Languages” we read,
Hence we must infer that language was bestowed on Adam, in the same manner as all his other faculties and knowledge, by supernatural power… It is, therefore, probable, that language, as well as the faculty of speech, was the immediate gift of God. We are not, however, to suppose the language of our first parents in paradise . . . or the identical language they used, to be now in existence.
We learn from the Scriptures that Noah, who, with his family was preserved from destruction by the Deluge, for the purpose of re-peopling the earth, had three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth.
It states a while later,
The scripture informs us, that in consequence of the impious attempts of the people to build a city, and a tower whose top might reach to heaven, with a view to make themselves a name and prevent their dispersion, God interposed and confounded their language, so that they could not understand each other; in consequence of which, they were dispersed “from thence over the face of all the earth.”
What’s Not There
It is also interesting to note what entries common in most dictionaries today are described much differently in Webster’s 1828 version.
The word evolution simply refers to an unfolding or unrolling, with no mention of biology or creatures changing whatsoever.
The word race refers to a “root” or generation, and in reference to people it states:
A race is a series of descendants indefinitely. Thus all mankind is called the race of Adam.
The entry under the word fossil simply states it as something that was dug out of the earth:
FOS'SIL, adjective [Latin fossitis, from fodio, fossius, to dig.]
1. Dug out of the earth; as fossil coal; fossil salt. The term fossil is now usually appropriated to those inorganic substances, which have become penetrated by earthy or metallic particles. Thus we say, fossil shells, fossil bones, fossil wood.
2. That may be taken from the earth by digging.
FOS'SIL, noun A substance dug from the earth, or penetrated with earthy or metallic particles.
Fossils are native or extraneous. Native fossils are minerals, properly so called, as earth, salts, combustibles and metallic bodies. Extraneous fossils are bodies of vegetable or animal origin accidentally buried in the early, as plants, shells, bones and other substances, many of which are petrified.
No mention of ideas like gap theory, day-age theory, progressive creation, theistic evolution, etc. are hinted at anywhere, as all of these so-called “theological positions” had not been tabled yet, as Charles Lyell’s influential Principles of Geology would not be published for another few years, and so the need to compromise the plain reading of God’s Word to somehow fit with his “deep time” concepts had not yet begun.
And lastly, it is of special interest to note what the word science did and did not mean:
SCI'ENCE, noun [Latin scientia, from scio, to know.]
1. In a general sense, knowledge, or certain knowledge; the comprehension or understanding of truth or facts by the mind. The science of God must be perfect.
2. In philosophy, a collection of the general principles or leading truths relating to any subject. Pure science as the mathematics, is built on self-evident truths; but the term science is also applied to other subjects founded on generally acknowledged truths, as metaphysics; or on experiment and observation, as chimistry and natural philosophy; or even to an assemblage of the general principles of an art, as the science of agriculture; the science of navigation. Arts relate to practice, as painting and sculpture.
You’ll notice that unlike modern definitions of science that often slavishly appeal to methodological naturalism (all things must be attributed to and described in the confines of nature), Webster’s definition relates everything back to the science of God, the Creator of all things.
Who Was Noah Webster?
The only way to dismiss this evidence in support of the truth of Genesis being understood as plainly written long before the modern creationists movement would be to somehow dismiss Noah Webster (1758–1843) as being some type of aberrant, literary outlier. Seeing as how he is often called the Father of American Scholarship and Education, this would be absurd on the face of it. One must ask, given the overwhelming popularity and longevity of this well-received work, why would this dictionary rise to the level of prominence it did if it was chock full of ideas inconsistent with the mainstream beliefs in Christendom (and society at large) at the time?
Unsurprisingly, Webster was a brilliant and well-read man. As a matter of fact, in order to evaluate the etymology of words, Webster learned twenty-six languages, including Old English (Anglo-Saxon), Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. Even beyond his achievements as a lexicographer and language reformer, his other career accomplishments included that of a schoolmaster, author, newspaper editor, lawyer, and politician.
Noah Webster, who famously said, “Education is useless without the Bible,” was undoubtedly a devout, Protestant Christian. Interspersed among the astonishing seventy-thousand words are over six-thousand Bible references, and even today his work is considered an essential tool for anyone studying the Bible. Given his obvious intellect, knowledge of literature and languages, both past and present, and his commitment to the Word of God, it would seem that one would have to be ignorant of the facts to classify Webster as some type of theological stand-alone of his day.
As a matter of fact, so well received and accepted was Webster’s work (including the supplemental material that had been added in later additions), that by the time the first Merriam-Webster dictionary was produced in 1847,
President James K. Polk, General Zachary Taylor (hero of the Mexican War and later president himself), 31 U.S. senators, and other prominent people hailed it unreservedly. In 1850 its acceptance as a resource for students began when Massachusetts ordered a copy for every school and New York placed a similar order for 10,000 copies to be used in schools throughout the state. Eventually school use would spread throughout the country.7
Bible Skeptics Admit Genesis Was Understood Literally
It is rather embarrassing when professing Christians today make off-the-cuff statements stating that Genesis has not being taken literally throughout history by the majority of church leaders and laypersons alike, when the evidence from the church fathers, reformers, and other common writings (like Webster’s) clearly show the opposite.
For example, Jack Repcheck, no friend of creationists, makes it clear what the Bible says about the age of the earth and what people predominantly believed in the West regarding earth’s history and chronology prior to the rise of the old earth ideas that were championed by secular geologists in the late 1700s and early 1800s.
In his book showcasing James Hutton, The Man Who Found Time, the synopsis reads as follows:
The story of the gentleman farmer from Edinburgh who discovered that the earth was millions of years old, not six thousand, paving the way for Darwin's theory of evolution. Three men's contributions helped free science from the straightjacket of theology - Nicholaus Copernicus and Charles Darwin, and James Hutton, who did not receive the same recognition, yet still profoundly changed our understanding of the earth and its forces. Hutton proved that the earth was millions of years old rather than the biblically determined six thousand, and that it was continuously being shaped and re-shaped by everyday forces, rather than one cataclysmic event. He went on to provide the scientific proof that allowed Darwin's theory of evolution to be viable. 8
Again, we see a clear admission from the secular world that the concept of millions of years is not biblically derived, but that the Scripture clearly teaches a young earth of approximately 6,000 years. And that the predominant “proof” of millions of years was derived from overturning the commonly held belief that the sedimentary rock layers all over the earth were not the result of the deluge described in Genesis 6–9 but rather the result of uniformitarian geologic forces.
Webster’s profound conclusion regarding history can be seen under the entry describing the word chronology, where he says;
If history without chronology is dark and confused; chronology without history is dry and insipid.
Modern Christians should educate themselves as to the history of this debate, abandon the revisionist history being ladled out by compromising theologians in the West that peddles the secular chronology of earth history, and stand firm on the clear teaching of God’s Word. Adding deep time in the form of rocks and fossils before Adam sinned teaches there were death and corruption before the fall, undermining the gospel and the whole purpose for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.