Influential Pastors and Theologians on the Days of Creation and the Age of the Earth

A Critique


Scripture informs us that God gave pastors and teachers to the church for the equipping of the saints and the building up of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11–12). These influential leaders care for God’s people by instructing, exhorting, comforting and leading them in the application of the truths of God’s Word.

Due to the effects of uniformitarian thinking in the western world, many pastors and teachers today unfortunately no longer exhort or instruct their congregations correctly when it comes to understanding Genesis 1–11 as literal history. This has had a devastating effect on the worldwide body of Christ. Most pastors and teachers today who believe in the authority of Scripture and the principal of Sola Scriptura refuse to take a stand on the days of creation and the age of the earth. Many of these pastors and teachers have very influential ministries which impact the lives of numerous Christians around the world in their beliefs on Scripture.


Today, the vast majority of pastors and teachers do not interpret the days of creation to be twenty-four hours long. Many accept the current secular view of the age of the earth, and rather than questioning the “sure” and “tested” results of “science” they conclude that a literal six day creation is a misinterpretation of Scripture. The matter of the days of creation and the age of the earth for many of these pastors and teachers is seen as unimportant or at best as a side issue. Unfortunately, the big picture here is often either overlooked or completely ignored. There are several reasons why the issue of the days of creation are vitally important for the church today:

  • The Word of God clearly teaches that God created in six literal days about 6,000 years ago (Genesis 1:1–2:3; Exodus 20:11; 31:17; Genesis 5 and 11).
  • Scripture forbids to add to or take away from Scripture (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Proverbs 30:5–6; Revelation 22:18–19).
  • The idea of an old earth is based upon uniformitarian geology which understands the fossil record to have been laid down over millions of years. However the fossil record, which is believed to record that millions of years of earth’s history, is filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, violence, and extinction.
  • Scripture clearly teaches that God made the world very good without death of any kind in it (Genesis 1:29–31). Animal and human as well as physical and spiritual death came about as a consequence of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:7–8, 17–19; Romans 5:12–21 Romans 8:19–22; 1 Corinthians 15:21–22; Revelation 21:4, 22:3).
  • The global Flood is key to understanding the age of the earth. The idea of the great age of the earth came from the belief that the fossil record was laid down over millions of years. However, either the fossil record is the evidence of millions of years, or it is largely the evidence of Noah’s Flood. It cannot be both, we cannot logically believe in millions of years and a global Flood.
  • For this reason many old-earth creationists and theistic evolutionists believe that the Flood mentioned in Genesis 6–9 was either a local flood or a myth. However, the Genesis account of the Flood is clearly a historic global catastrophe in which only Noah and his family were saved (1 Peter 3:20). This is asserted by the text itself (Genesis 6:13, 17; 7:11–12; 7:17–24) and by the New Testament authors (Luke 17:26–27; 2 Peter 3:5–6).
  • Two major problems for rejecting the Flood as a historical global catastrophe are: (1) after the Flood God made a covenant never to destroy the earth again by a flood. However, if the flood were only local then God has broken this promise as there have been many local floods since then. (2) Jesus speaks of the Flood of Noah as analogy of the judgment to come at the end of the age (Matthew 24:37–39), so if the judgment in Noah’s day was local then so must be the one at the end of age.

For these reasons it is important for the church to hold to the clear teaching of Scripture regarding what God has revealed to us in the early chapters of Genesis.

This paper will evaluate the statements and views on these topics of the following influential pastors and theologians: R. C. Sproul, John Piper, D. A. Carson, Michael Horton, and Timothy Keller. It is important to examine what these men teach concerning Genesis 1–3 as they influence not only their congregations or seminaries but many other Christians all over the world.

It should be pointed out that all of these men have done much for the Kingdom of God having defended the gospel and biblical authority for many years. This is not an attack on them personally but simply an examination of their teaching regarding origins. Scripture tells us to “test all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). And just as Paul’s teaching was examined daily by the noble Bereans (Acts 17:11), it is important to examine what these men teach regarding the days of creation and the age of the earth.

Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura was one of the formal principles of the Protestant Reformation and was regarded as the formal cause of the Reformation, inspired by Martin Luther’s famous speech at the Diet of Worms (1521) after he was asked to recant his teachings:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand, may God help me, Amen (Luther 1955–76, vol. 32. p. 112–113).

Luther was convinced that the Scriptures and the Scriptures alone were the final arbiter of what we should believe. However, Scripture’s authority today has been reduced to areas of faith and practice, and it is fallacious to limit Scripture’s authority only to these matters. Jesus stated in John 3:12, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things”? Biblical doctrine is linked to history and science; therefore, whatever Scripture affirms on those matters is true. For example, the doctrine of the Resurrection is that Jesus rose bodily from the dead on the third day. However, naturalistic scientists would say that it is impossible for dead men to rise. Jesus also taught that Adam and Eve were at the beginning of creation (Mark 10:6), not billions of years after the beginning, and He believed in the literal account of Noah’s flood (Matthew 24:37–38), but again naturalistic scientists would not believe such things.

The vast majority of pastors and theologians today who teach theistic evolution or long age creationism have jettisoned the principle of Sola Scriptura, perhaps unknowingly, and unintentionally, in order to accommodate millions of years or even evolution. In spite of these men’s sincere intentions to the contrary, this has been disastrous for the church, and the secularization of the once-Christian Western society is evidence of this. The church today needs to return to the principle of Sola Scriptura and preach and teach boldly the biblical account of creation and redemption that are set forth in Scripture.

R. C. Sproul

Dr. R. C. Sproul is a theologian and apologist. He is also co-pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, the founder of Ligonier Ministries and president of Reformation Bible College.

The July 2001 publication of Tabletalk, which focused on the subject of creation, contained an article entitled “Galileo Redux” in which Dr. Sproul stated that, after reading Douglas F. Kelly’s Creation and Change, he became convinced that God recently created the universe in the literal creation week described in Genesis 1 (Sproul 2001). While Sproul accepts that the days of creation are literal twenty-four days and a young earth, in his book Truths We Confess: A layman’s guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, Volume I, he appears to be non-committal about the age of the earth.

Although the Bible clearly says that the world was created in six days, it gives no date for the beginning of the work. It would be a mistake to become embroiled in too much controversy about the date of creation (Sproul 2006, p. 121).

He goes on, however, to make it plain that he rejects the view that the earth is billions of years old:

If we take the genealogies that go back to Adam, however, and if we make allowances for certain gaps in them (which could certainly be there), it remains a big stretch from 4004 BC to 4.6 billion years ago (Sproul 2006, pp. 121–122).

Nevertheless, even more recently Sproul answered a question regarding the age of the universe during a question and answer session at Ligonier Ministries’ “The Christian Mind” 2012 National Conference:

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 (Mathison 2012).

It is surprising given Sproul’s background in philosophy that he is so easily tossed to and fro and carried about by the theories of scientists such as the expanding universe and astronomical dating. Keith Mathison, an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine of Ligonier Ministries, commented on Sproul’s response:

I suspect that some conference attendees were disappointed when they heard this answer. Some probably expected Dr. Sproul to proclaim dogmatically one way or the other. A large number, however, applauded. I believe they recognized the wise humility evidenced in this answer (Mathison 2012).

Was Dr. Sproul’s answer humble or was it influenced by other factors such as “expanding universe” and “astronomical dating” rather than the biblical text. At the same conference Stephen Meyer,1 a proponent of intelligent design and an old-earth creationist, had previously given a lecture that may have influenced Sproul in what he said.

The physical evidence for an expanding universe is an actual fact and is unconnected with the origins debate. However, the big bang theory, which old-earth creationists hold to, is an interpretation of the interpretation of that redshift evidence. This alone should cause Sproul and others to have concern as the big bang theory is not only based upon philosophical naturalism (the belief that nature is all there is and that everything, including origins, can be explained by time, chance, and the laws of nature) used to interpret the observational data, but it also contradicts the biblical account of creation in several ways. First, accepting the big bang model is to ignore what the Creator has revealed concerning how He created the universe. The Bible clearly teaches that God created everything in heaven and earth supernaturally by His word within six days (Psalm 33:6–9; Exodus 20:11). This is in contrast to the big bang model, which explains the universe and earth as being created over billions of years by natural processes. Second, in the big bang theory the stars existed for billions of years before the earth while the Bible teaches that the stars were made (not “appeared,” which is used in Genesis 1:9 of dry land) three days after the earth. Finally, the Bible also teaches that the earth was completely covered with water (Genesis 1:2–9; 2 Peter 3:5), whereas the big bang model teaches that the earth started out as molten rock and has never been completely covered with water.

While there may be questions as to why the universe is expanding (if indeed it is), the Bible itself talks about God “stretching out the heavens,” which may shed some light on the subject ({ scripture "Isaiah 42:5; Job 9:8" %}).

Why is it that throughout church history most of the church fathers came to a conclusion on how old the earth was?

Is Genesis non-committal on the age of the earth, as Sproul and many other scholars today say? If so, why is it that throughout church history most of the church fathers came to a conclusion on how old the earth was? As early as 181 AD Theophilus of Antioch wrote, “All the years from the creation of the world [to Theophilus’s day] amount to a total of 5,698 years . . . .” Interestingly, Theophilus goes on to say of the chronology of the world set forth by the Greeks: “ . . . yet not of thousands and tens of thousands, as Plato and Apollonius and other mendacious authors have hitherto written” (Theophilus, 3:28, 29). The conflict over the age of the earth is not new since it has always been a debate between pagans and Christians. Theophilus accepted that the chronology of the Bible was accurate and reliable as did the great theologian of the early church Saint Augustine. Even though he did not believe that the days were literally 24 hours, Augustine gave an answer to the assertion of those who ascribe to the world a past of many thousands of years:

Those who hold such opinions are also led astray by some utterly spurious documents which, they say, give a historical record of many thousand years, whereas we reckon, from the evidence of the holy Scriptures, that fewer than 6,000 years have passed since man’s first origin (Augustine 2003, p. 484).

Furthermore, the reformer John Calvin believed that the world had not yet “completed its six thousandth year” (Calvin 2009, p. 90). Even scholars who do not hold to a young earth recognize that when Genesis is taken at face value, “If we add up numbers, the result is something like the scheme devised in the seventeenth century by Bishop James Ussher, who assigned creation to 4004 BC . . . ” (Walton 2001, pp.48–49). The author of Genesis meant for the figures contained in the chronologies in Genesis 5–11 to be taken and understood at face value.2 This was the assumption throughout church history with most of the church fathers arriving at an age for the creation of the world as Davis Young, an old-earth creationist, points out:

The church fathers also suggested that the world was less than six thousand years old at the time of Christ because of the chronology of the genealogical accounts of Genesis 5 and 11 and other chronological information in Scripture (Young 1982, p. 19).

C. John Collins, a Reformed theologian who believes in an old earth, correctly points out that “prior to the rise of the new geology in the eighteenth century, most Bible readers simply understood the creation period to be one ordinary week . . . and the creation took place somewhere in the vicinity of 4000 BC” (Collins 2006, p. 123). Collins recognizes that the various attempts to harmonize Genesis with old-earth geology and old-universe cosmology are novel. It was the rise of uniformitarian science in the 1800s that caused a re-evaluation of how the early chapters of Genesis were interpreted. The belief that the earth’s history is millions of years old changed the way the days of creation were interpreted as it seemed that the geological data for an old earth was too convincing to maintain a belief in a literal view of the days (Mortenson 2008, pp.83–104).

John Piper

Dr. John Piper was until recently pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is also the founder of the Desiring God media ministry and Bethlehem College and Seminary.

Dr. Piper does not seem to have commented extensively on the issue of the days of creation and the age of the earth. Nevertheless, in an article on Dr. Piper’s website,, entitled: What Should We Teach About Creation? He makes a few general statements:

  1. We should teach without any qualification that God created the universe and everything in it. It wasn’t always here. It didn’t spontaneously emerge from a big bang alone, however God did it. God did it. That’s clear, and everybody who believes the Word should preach that.
  2. Secondly, I think we should preach that he made it good. There was no sin in it, when he first made it.
  3. Thirdly, I think we should preach that he created Adam and Eve directly, that he made them of the dust of the ground, and he took out of man a woman. I think we should teach that. I know there are people who don’t, who think it’s all imagery for evolution or whatever. And we should teach that man had his beginning not millions of years ago but within the scope of the biblical genealogies. Those genealogies are tight at about 6,000 years and loose at maybe 10 or 15,000. So I think we should honor those genealogies and not say that you can play fast and loose with the origin of man.

Piper goes on:

That’s not the age of the earth issue here. That’s the origin of what is a human being, when did that human being come into existence. I think we should say he came into existence by God’s direct action and that it wasn’t millions of years ago. That was within the scope of these genealogies (Piper 2010).

While Piper is right that we should preach that God created the universe, it is not enough to simply stop there or the author of Genesis need only have written verse one. Genesis, while not meaning to be exhaustive, gives the order and details of how God brought His creation into being. Because of Piper’s belief in an old earth, this means he also accepts the evolutionary time scale of “billions of years” for the age of the earth and universe, which runs into a glaring problem. The big bang accepts the secular order of events, not the biblical order (as contrasted below).

creation order comparison

Piper’s article is not intended to be a comprehensive explanation of his view. Still, his answers are seriously flawed. For example, Piper’s second point was that we should preach that God made creation good with no sin in it. However, the Bible states that the finished creation was not only good but very good (Genesis 1:31). And while Piper is right that there was no sin in God’s creation this runs against his belief in an old earth that is based upon uniformitarian geology understanding the fossil record to have been laid down over millions of years. The fossil record is filled with death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence.

Piper is correct to say that God created man directly, as this is based upon the text of Scripture. However, his point that the origin of human beings is not the same thing as the age of the earth goes against what Jesus himself taught. In Mark 10:6 Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” The statement “from the beginning of creation” (see John 8:44; 1 John 3:8 where “from the beginning” refers to the beginning of creation) is a reference to the beginning of creation and not simply to the beginning of the human race (Mortenson 2008, pp. 318–325). Jesus was saying that Adam and Eve were there at the beginning of creation, on Day Six, not billions of years after the beginning. Jesus understood from the text of Genesis that Adam was created at the beginning of creation, which is directly opposed to the old-earth opinion of the origin of man.

Piper recognizes that the more controversial issue is how to construe Genesis 1–2 about how God did it and how long it took. Piper states:

I’m totally sympathetic with a pastor who is going to lay his view down, having studied it, and is going to say to his people, “Here is my understanding of those chapters. These six days can’t be anything other than six literal days, and so that’s how long God took to do it. And this universe is about 10 or 15,000 years old. Though it looks old, that’s the way God made it. He made it to look old.

The claim that the earth or the universe “looks old,” is often made because people have been indoctrinated to think it “looks old.” Also people have accepted man’s ideas about fallible dating methods and approach this issue on that basis. However, a distinction must be made between an “old” creation and a “mature” creation. When God created things, they were fully functional from the beginning (i.e., Adam and Eve were created as mature adults ready to reproduce, not as babies or fertilized eggs).

Piper has chosen to follow John Sailhamer’s interpretation of Genesis. Piper comments on Sailhamer’s view:

His view is that what’s going on here is that all of creation happened to prepare the land for man. In verse 1, “In the beginning he made the heavens and the earth,” he makes everything. And then you go day by day and he’s preparing the land. He’s not bringing new things into existence; he’s preparing the land and causing things to grow and separating out water and earth. And then, when it’s all set and prepared, he creates and puts man there.

Piper believes this has the advantage of saying:

That the earth is billions of years old if it wants to be—whatever science says it is, it is—but man is young, and he was good and he sinned. He was a real historical person, because Romans 5 says so, and so does the rest of the Bible.

Piper’s statement reveals the controlling factor in his interpretation of Genesis is that of “science saying that the earth is billions of years old.” It is interesting that Piper believes that “science” shows the earth to be billions of years old. However, he believes that man is young, Adam was a real historical person, and that he was good and then sinned because of what Romans 5 and the rest of the Bible say. Unfortunately, Piper is seriously inconsistent in his views here because the same “science” that he accepts when it speaks about the age of the earth is the same “science” that would disagree with his conclusions regarding Adam and the consequences of sin. Why accept science in one area and not in the others? Furthermore, Piper draws his conclusion about Adam because the “Bible says so,” but the Bible also states that God created everything in six days (Genesis 1:1–2:3; Exodus 20:11, 31:17).

Piper does say that he could be wrong about this view stating that “I’m 63 years old, and I’ve never preached through Genesis yet.” It is admirable of Piper to say that he could be wrong; however, it is strange that given Piper’s many years in the ministry that he has never taken the time to preach (and therefore to carefully study) through the book of Genesis given that it is foundational to all biblical doctrine and that it often faces attack from secular society.

Piper acknowledged that his view of creation was influenced by John Sailhamer’s view of Genesis 1. In his book Genesis Unbound Sailhamer adopts a unique view of the creation account in order to supposedly harmonize it with science. Sailhamer rightly points out that although science may provide helpful insights, the focus of interpretation must be the text itself (Sailhamer 1996, p. 20). He believes that Genesis 1:1 refers to the creation of the entire functioning universe, including the sun, moon, and stars in the heavens, and the plants and animals on earth (Sailhamer 1996, p. 14). Sailhamer argues this way because he believes that the Hebrew bərēšît means that God created the universe over a period of time, rather than in a single instant. Sailhamer uses Jeremiah 28:1 as an example of bərēšît used this way.

While it is true that bərēšît is sometimes used this way (Jeremiah 28:1), Sailhamer’s conclusion is very dubious. Context must always govern interpretation. In Jeremiah, “in the beginning” is modified by “of the reign of Zedekiah.” However in Genesis 1:1 there is no such modifier. In Genesis 1:1 bərēšît is used in the absolute state and is independent of the verbal clause (“God created”), while the qatal form of the verb (bārā) refers to an action rather than a state of being. What God said He did “in the beginning” as well as God’s commentary on Genesis 1 in Exodus 20:11 clearly indicates that Genesis 1:1 is referring to the absolute beginning of creation. Although Sailhamer said the text should be allowed to speak for itself, it is clear what is really controlling his hermeneutic when it comes to interpreting Genesis 1 when he states, “Given what appears to be true about the age of the earth, it is likely that millions or billions of years transpired during this time of “the beginning” (Sailhamer 1996, p. 105).

It is unfortunate that Piper has chosen to follow Sailhamer’s flawed interpretation of Genesis, which is merely another attempt to fit millions of years of evolution into the Bible.

D. A. Carson

D. A. Carson is Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, and has authored more than forty-five books, including The Gagging of God.

In his book The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, a book dealing with the main teachings of the Bible, Carson briefly gives some of his thoughts about the early chapters of Genesis. Carson deals with the issue of Genesis and Science because “ . . . much of the twenty-first-century culture is convinced that contemporary scientific thought is fundamentally incompatible with the opening chapters of Genesis . . . ” (Carson 2010, p. 14). He begins by mentioning the different positions among Christians in interpreting the opening chapters of Genesis: young-earth creation, day age theory, the gap theory, the framework hypothesis, and the mythical approach. Carson identifies his own position this way:

[T]he Genesis account is a mixed genre that feels like history and really does give some historical particulars. At the same time, however, it is full of demonstrable symbolism (Carson 2010, p. 15).

Concerning symbolism Carson states “Sorting out what is symbolic and what is not is very difficult” (Carson 2010, p. 15). While Carson is not being exhaustive in his discussion on the subject of creation, he does not state what the demonstrable symbolism is.

Appearing 55 times in 34 verses the waw consecutive is consistent with the narrative material found in the remainder of Genesis.

The young-earth view of Genesis 1 is that the Hebrew text is not written as myth, parable, or poetry.1 A main element of Hebrew poetry is parallelism and strophes with figurative language being more predominant than in prose and more difficult to understand (Osborne 2006, pp. 238–239). Importantly, the characteristics of Hebrew poetry are lacking in Genesis 1, in particular the absence of parallelism (Young 1964, pp. 82–83; Boyd 2005, pp 631–712). Genesis 1 is a sequential narrative which differs from that of the Psalms. However, even some of the Psalms (Psalm 78:9–14; 136) recite several of the key events of the history of Israel in poetic form. Although there may be a discussion concerning artistic elements of the Genesis creation account, there is compelling textual evidence to conclude that Genesis is not a poetic text (Blocher 1984, p. 32; Hasel 1994, pp. 19–21; Kaiser 2001, pp. 80–82). Furthermore, there can be no doubt that Genesis 1 is definitely a unique piece of literature, but this is surely partly because of the unique events recorded. However, this does not mean that it is a “mixed genre.” Genesis 1 is a chronological, historical narrative recording God’s divine acts of creation that occurred in space-time history (Kaiser 2001, pp. 80–83).2 The repeated use of the waw consecutive, which is an essential characteristic of narrative adding to the past narration an element of sequence, helps to identify it as such (Kaiser 2001, p. 80). Appearing 55 times in the 34 verses in Genesis 1:1–2:3, the waw consecutive is consistent with the narrative material found in the remainder of Genesis (McCabe 2008, p. 217). What is more, there is no difference in Genesis 1 grammatically and in form to the other historical accounts in Genesis as there is no break in the literary style in the first twelve chapters. These are all in the same literary category as they use the same rubric “toledot” to tell the story (Kaiser 2001, p. 82).

Carson does not declare directly his view regarding the days of creation or the age of the earth, but he does state:

Even if your understanding of origins belongs to the dominant modern paradigm in which our entire known universe developed out of a big bang that took place something like fifteen billion years ago from an unimaginably condensed mass and became our universe, there is an obvious question to ask. Whether or not you subscribe to the view that this big bang took place under the guidance of God, sooner or later you are forced to ask the question, “Where did that highly condensed material come from?” (Carson 2010, p. 16) (See Sproul’s section above for refutation of the big bang).

Carson makes it clear that he will refrain from telling everything that he thinks that these chapters are saying. But what he wants to suggest is that

[H]owever complex the debates over the symbolism and literary genre of Genesis 1–2 and however debated their relationship to contemporary science, there is an irreducible minimum that these chapters must be saying for the Bible to have any coherence at all . . . (Carson 2010, p. 17).

Carson lists seven things:

  1. God simply is.
  2. God made everything that is non-God.
  3. There is only one of Him.
  4. God is a talking God.
  5. Everything God makes is good—very good.
  6. God comes to an end of His creative work, and He rests.
  7. The creation proclaims his greatness and glory.

It is interesting that Carson says of point number five:

[Y]ou discover that there is no hint in Genesis 1–2 of death or decay, of butchery, malice, hate, one-upmanship, arrogance, pride, or destruction (Carson 2010, p. 20).

Although Carson does not directly state that he believes in an old earth, several of his previous statements suggest this. The idea of an old earth, however, is based upon uniformitarian geology, which understands the fossil record to have been laid down over millions of years. Yet, the fossil record contains death, mutations, disease, suffering, bloodshed, and violence. To accept millions of years of human and animal death before the creation and Fall of man undermines the teaching on the full redemptive work of Christ (Romans 5:12–21; Colossians 1:15–20). So either Carson has overlooked this fact or is not aware of this issue. His belief in an old earth contradicts his statement regarding God’s very good creation.

This issue of death and suffering before the Fall is one of the reasons why the age of earth is vital for Christians today to consider as it impacts the Bible’s meta-narrative of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and New Creation.

Michael Horton

Michael Horton is professor of theology at Westminster Seminary California, host of the White Horse Inn radio program, and editor of Modern Reformation magazine. Horton has written a Systematic Theology in which he discusses his views on creation.

In Part 3 of his Systematic Theology, Horton deals with creation and Genesis. Although Horton never explicitly mentions young-earth creationists, a number of his statements reflect a caricature of this position. An example of this is when he states that Genesis 1 and 2 are not intended as a scientific description (Horton 2011, p. 325). While Horton is correct to state this, young-earth creationists refer to Genesis 1–11 as historical narrative, recording events that occurred in space-time history and not as a scientific account.

While Horton does not explicitly say that he believes in an old earth, many of his statements clearly reveal this. When speaking of scientific discoveries that show the vastness of the universe, he quotes Owen Gingerich, who states: “but not really infinite; it is a universe with an age and a history, albeit an unimaginably long one.” Horton comments on this, in a footnote, “I am referring here to the expanding universe resulting from something like an original explosion” (Horton 2012, p. 342). (See Sproul section above for critique of the big bang theory.)

Another misrepresentation of the young-earth position from Horton is in his understanding of fiat (spoken supernatural) creation:

Reacting against naturalistic accounts, it is easy for us to embrace a hypersupernaturalism that attributes this continual creation or providence to immediate divine interventions. However, is this warranted by Scripture? (Horton 2011, p. 345).

Horton notes that Genesis 1 contains two divine declarations “Let there be . . . ” (with the report, “And it was so”) and God’s command to creation to put forth its own powers with which He has endowed it and with which the Spirit is operative (Horton 2011, p. 345). In discussing “hypersupernatural creationism” he comments that:

[W]here every divine act in creation must be immediate and direct, creation loses the kind of distinct agency that the second type of speech acts (“Let the earth bring forth . . . ”) suggests (Horton 2012, pp. 345–346).

But why does this mean that they could not have been brought forth immediately within the confines of the context—a 24-hour day? In the context of fiat creation the divine command “let there be” is a jussive form of the verb which is followed by “and it was so” which reveals rapid fulfillment of that command with no process:

Narration: “God said . . .”
Commandment: “let there be . . .”
Fulfillment: “there was”
Evaluation: “God saw that it was good”
And conclusion: “there was evening and morning”

This is confirmed by the rest of Scriptures. For example, Psalm 33:6, 9 states:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.

And Psalm 148:1–6 says:

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all you stars of light!
Praise Him, you heavens of heavens,
And you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For He commanded and they were created.
He also established them forever and ever;
He made a decree which shall not pass away.

The New Testament further attests to this by God who spoke through His Son to create the world (John 1:1–3). Hebrews 11:3 also affirms that the world was made by “the word of God.” The author of Hebrews has in mind the divine command “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3) interpreting it in the fashion of Psalm 33:6, 9 (Bruce 1990, p. 279). Since God is the Creator of time, He does not need time to create. The New Testament bears witness to this through the miracles of the Creator of the world, Jesus Christ, who is called “the Word” (John 1:1–3). We see this most clearly in His encounter with the Roman centurion in Matthew 8:5–13 where the Centurion’s servant was healed the very moment Jesus commanded it. All His miracles in fact were instantaneous. Furthermore, in Mark 10:52 a blind man “immediately” received his sight when Jesus healed him. If he had not received his sight immediately, but slowly over the next few years, many would have failed to attribute the miracle to Jesus. There is no indication of a lengthy period of time in which creation unfolded through a developmental period.

Horton rightly recognizes that:

Whether in theology or the natural sciences, presuppositions play a formative role . . . Contemporary science tends to assume that there is no teleology of hope for creation. It is pointless evolution of an expanding cosmos that will (or may) eventually lead to implosion or some other purely natural apocalypse (Horton 2012, pp. 347–348).

However, while Horton recognizes the presuppositions of scientists regarding the future of the universe, he fails to recognize their naturalistic presuppositions with regards to the age of the creation. Regarding his interpretation of the days of creation, Horton says:

I take the days of creation to be analogical. That is, they are not literal twenty-four-hour periods, but God’s accommodation to the ordinary pattern of six days of labor and a seventh day of rest, which he created for humankind (Horton 2011, p. 381).

Horton also holds to the framework hypothesis3 being influenced by Meredith Klines’ interpretation of Genesis 1. Horton states: “ . . . these opening chapters of the Bible do indeed address the question of human origins and history, but with theological interest” (Horton 2011, p. 383). This is a false dichotomy: why can’t Genesis be addressing both? He further notes that the structure of Genesis 1 is broken down into seven sections:

Realm Ruler
Day 1 Light and Darkness Day 4 Sun, & Moon
Day 2 Water and Skies Day 5 Fish & Birds
Day 3 Land Day 6 Land Animals & Human Beings
Day 7 Creator (Sabbath)

These supposed parallels between Days 4–6 and Days 1–3 reveal a failure to carefully examine the details of the biblical text. The parallels just do not exist:

  • Light on Day 1 is not dependent on the sun, as the sun was created on Day 4.
  • Secondly, the waters existed on Day 1 and not only on Day 2.
  • Water was made on Day 1 but the seas were not gathered until Day 3.
  • The sea creatures of Day 5 were to fill the “waters in the seas” which were gathered on Day 3 not Day 2, and none of the sea creatures or birds or land creatures other than man were to “rule” anything.
  • On Day 2 it was not the sky that was created but the expanse (rāqîa‘) to separate the waters below from the waters above.
  • On Day 4 we are told that God made the sun, moon, and stars in the expanse rāqîa‘ (verse 17) and that they were created to fill something that was created not on Day 1 but Day 2.
  • Man was created on Day 6, not to rule over the land and vegetation (Day 3) but over the land animals created on Day 6 and the sea creatures and birds created on Day 5.

The framework hypothesis is simply a more “sophisticated” approach to Genesis 1 that seeks to de-historicize the text.

Horton offers a warning concerning Genesis 1 and 2:

Instead of allowing Genesis 1 and 2 to tell their own story and perform their own intended operation, many interpreters (both liberal and conservative) have come to the text with modern questions that are alien to the text (Horton 2011, p. 381).

The insinuation from Horton here seems to be that creationists are the ones who are imposing modern questions on the text. Horton, however, should consider his own words as the framework hypothesis itself is a modern interpretation of Genesis, and no one interpreted the text this way until Arie Noordtzij in 1924. The framework hypothesis did not come from trying to understand the text of Genesis but from trying to accommodate modern secular scientific dogma. The motivation behind Klines’ view is not the biblical text but rather that he can shoehorn in an old universe:

In this article I have advocated an interpretation of biblical cosmogony according to which Scripture is open to the current scientific view of a very old universe and, in that respect, does not discountenance the theory of the evolutionary origin of man. But while I regard the widespread insistence on a young earth to be a deplorable disservice to the cause of biblical truth . . . (Kline 1996, p. 15).

A further objection to the days being literal from Horton is the following:

Genesis 2:4 recapitulates the creation account in chapter 1, “in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens”—“day” being the same Hebrew word (yom) used earlier in the six days (Horton 2011, p. 382).

However, the key point in understanding the length of the days in Genesis 1 is that they are in fact numbered, and are used with qualifiers such as “morning” and “evening.” Those contextual clues help us comprehend their meaning. Similarly, the contextual clues in Genesis 2:4 surrounding bəyōm (i.e., “in the day that the LORD made heaven and earth”) serve to indicate that a general time period is in view. Contextual differences show that “in the day” is being used generally of the entirety of the period of God’s creative actions (i.e., Days 1–6 of the Creation Week).

Horton’s failure to see the result of accepting man’s theories concerning the origin of the world is apparent in his defense of a historical Adam when he states:

Whatever one’s conclusions concerning the process of human origins, Christian theology stands or falls with a historical Adam and a historical fall (Horton 2011, p 424).

While Horton is correct in what he says concerning the necessity of a historical Adam, his statement shows a complete lack of understanding of the origins debate. Many theologians are now rejecting belief in a historical Adam and a historical Fall (Enns 2012, Lamoureux, 2010) because they accept the evolutionary “science” concerning the process of human origins; however this is the same “science” Horton accepts concerning the age of the earth. The conclusions concerning the process of human origins, Adam’s creation, is most crucial in the origins debate.

Horton’s statements, directly or indirectly, in his Systematic Theology concerning six-day (biblical) creation reveal a serious lack of engagement with contemporary creationist material. This is a shame for someone who as an academic scholar believes the Bible to be God’s authoritative Word and should be conversant with contemporary evangelical views that differ from his.

Further objections to young-earth creation from Horton are aired on an episode of the White Horse Inn, when Horton talked with Jeffrey Burton Russell, professor of history at University of California, on Myths about Christianity. Horton stated to Russell:

Basically the polarization that we see out there between really extreme secularists, who have a really metaphysical attachment to atheism and then some creationists who believe that the only way to interpret the Bible is with the earth being something like 6,000 years old. The dominance of those extreme positions as your two options doesn’t caricaturize the history of Christian thought in the wake of not only Darwin but in the wake of renaissance and reformation science (Horton 2012).

Russell responded:

Yeah, not at all, in fact this extreme literal interpretation of the Bible that creationists, erm, really is a twentieth century phenomenon (Horton 2012).

Unfortunately, Horton’s statement that creationists say the only way to interpret the Bible is with the earth being 6,000 years old is disingenuous. Rather, it should be stated that historical grammatical interpretation of the Scriptures (which Horton would hold to) leads to the conclusion that the earth is around 6,000 years old. Furthermore, this interpretation is one that has been held by the Church throughout its history contra to what Horton and Russell state.

Many of the church fathers understood the days in their plain and natural sense as days of twenty-four-hours. And most biblical scholars before the rise of uniformitarian geology accepted Genesis as literal history, as did the Jewish historian Josephus (Josephus 1897, 1.1.1, 1.3.2).

The early church father Irenaeus believed that the days of creation represented the future history of the world (of 1000 years for each creation day) yet still believed that the days of Genesis 1 themselves were literal days (Mook 2008, pp. 41–42). Lactantius (AD 250–325), believed that the days in Genesis were six consecutive solar days. Whilst, Basil, the Bishop of Caesarea (AD 370–379), also believed this saying that the words are to be understood by their plain meaning, and not to be allegorized (Mook 2008, pp. 26–32). The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) also agreed with six-day creation, as shown in his classic Summa Theologica:

Thus we find it said at first that “He called the light Day”: for the reason that later on a period of twenty-four hours is also called day, where it is said that “there was evening and morning, one day” (Aquinas 1947, Q, 69).

Aquinas, speaking of the seventh day, went on:

Nothing entirely new was afterwards made by God, but all things subsequently made had in a sense been made before in the work of the six days (Aquinas 1947, Q, 73).

Also the Reformers Martin Luther (Luther 1958, p. 3) and John Calvin (Calvin 1984, p. 78) accepted the days in Genesis as days of twenty-four hours. As did John Wesley, who said concerning the age of the earth:

The Scripture being the only Book in the world that gives us any account of the whole series of God’s Dispensations toward man from the Creation for four thousand years (Wesley 1763, II: p. 227).

Even the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), which Horton holds to, states in chapter IV/I:

It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.

Saint Augustine is often cited as someone who allegorized Genesis or took the days to represent long periods of time. In fact, the truth is that he did not believe the days were vast expanses of time or that the earth was very old. Rather, he believed that the Earth was thousands of years old (Augustine 1972, 12:10), and he made precisely the opposite mistake of believing that creation was instantaneous, due to the outside influence of neo-Platonic philosophy. Augustine understood from Genesis 2:4 that everything was created simultaneously. However, he had to rely on the Old Latin translation of the Bible, the Vetas Latina, which mistranslated the Hebrew in this verse. Since he did not know Hebrew, he did not know this and was most likely unaware that the Hebrew word for “instant” rega‘- Exodus. 33:5; Numbers 16:21) is not used in Genesis 2:4 (Sarfati 2004, p.118).

In a paper for BioLogos entitled The Truthfulness of Scripture: Inerrancy, Part 2 Horton stated:

To supplement their account, one could add that there are obvious discrepancies in biblical reports concerning numbers. However, these can be explained by recognizing the different methods of accounting, which are better known now than in the past. For example, on the basis of calculating the generations in Genesis, Archbishop Ussher concluded that the world was created on Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. However, we know more now about ancient Near Eastern genealogies, which were not exhaustive but singled out significant and transitional figures (Horton 2011).

As we have already seen (see Sproul section above), the author of Genesis meant for the figures contained in the chronologies in Genesis 5–11 to be taken and understood at face value. Up until the time of Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin in the 19th century virtually all believers understood Genesis 5–11 as continuous genealogies. While some genealogies in Scripture are not exhaustive, this does not prove that none of the genealogies in Scripture are exhaustive. It is important to understand the genre of the genealogy concerned as biblical genealogies come in more than one genre. For example, the genealogy in Ezra 7 aims mainly at establishing someone’s right to a certain office, position or inheritance and need not include every generation. Another genre includes sufficient details (i.e., numerical data) in order to establish a chronology (1 and 2 Kings; 1 and 2 Chronicles). This is the genre of genealogy in Genesis 5–11 (Freeman 2008, pp. 283–313).

Furthermore, it is unfortunate that Archbishop Ussher is yet again undermined when it comes to the accuracy of his conclusions regarding the genealogies in Genesis. Peter Williams, the warden of Tyndale House in Cambridge, England, comments on the accuracy of Ussher’s chronological work compared to our knowledge of them today:

I think on a historical level there are some amazing things about the Bible. If I can just mention one: Go back 400 years to someone like James Ussher (or 350) calculating the dates of Kings of ancient Israel, or Kings of Assyria. That was before archaeology had begun, before the language of the Assyrians had even been deciphered (that’s happened in the last 200 years) and he gets the dates of Tiglas Pileser within one year of what now people believe it to be, based on the Bible and he’s not got Hebrew manuscripts any earlier than 11th century AD and he’s getting reliable information from 1800 years earlier. You can document that. It’s not widely appreciated, but he gets the year 728 and we think it’s 727. It’s pretty remarkable, that sort of level of agreement. It is one of the most amazing stories to me, of historical accurate information being transmitted (Williams 2012).

Even today’s scholars recognize that when the genealogies are taken at face value, as did Ussher, the date for creation is around 4000 BC. For example, Gerhard Hasel, who was professor of Old Testament and Biblical Theology at Andrews University, calculated from the Masoretic Text that Creation took place at 4178 BC (Hasel 1980, pp. 53–70). Horton goes on to say about the genealogies:

Their goal (or scope) is to highlight the progress of redemption, not to provide general historical or scientific data. It is impossible to know how many generations are missing from such genealogies, and therefore efforts at calculating human history from them are always bound to fail. The fact that evenhanded historical research has resolved apparent discrepancies such as this one cautions us against hasty conclusions. Many of the alleged conflicts between Scripture and science have turned out to be founded on flawed biblical exegesis (Horton 2011).

However, why can’t the goal of the genealogies be both redemptive and historical/chronological? Horton is right that many of the alleged conflicts between Scripture and science have turned out to be flawed biblical exegesis as all compromised interpretations of Genesis with evolution show.

It is troubling that Horton whose article was defending inerrancy has chosen to associate himself with BioLogos who have people writing for them, such as Peter Enns, who openly deny the inerrancy of Scripture and even those who hold the heretical position that Jesus, Moses, and Paul made errors in what they said and wrote (Sparks 2010, p.7).

Timothy Keller

Tim Keller is Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York. His book the Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism was a New York Times top-ten bestseller. It contains many of the same arguments Keller uses in his paper for the theistic evolutionary organization BioLogos entitled, “Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople.”

Keller begins by saying in his paper:

Many secular and many evangelical voices agree on one “truism”—that if you are an orthodox Christian with a high view of the authority of the Bible, you cannot believe in evolution in any form at all. New Atheist authors such as Richard Dawkins and creationist writers such as Ken Ham seem to have arrived at consensus on this, and so more and more in the general population are treating it as given. If you believe in God, you can’t believe in evolution (Keller, p. 1).

Keller disagrees with this, stating:

This creates a problem for both doubters and believers. Many believers in western culture see the medical and technological advances achieved through science and are grateful for them. . . . How then, can they reconcile what science seems to tell them about evolution with their traditional theological beliefs? Seekers and inquirers about Christianity can be even more perplexed. They may be drawn to many things about the Christian faith, but, they say, “I don’t see how I can believe the Bible if that means I have to reject science” (Keller, p. 1).

Keller questions the premise that science and faith are irreconcilable (Keller, p. 1). Unfortunately, there are several problems with Keller’s statements. Firstly, he fails to make a valid distinction between different types of science, the distinction between origins science and operational science. Operational science involves discovering how things operate in today’s creation—repeatable and observable phenomena in the present. Origins science deals with the origin of things in the past—unique, unrepeatable, unobservable events. There is a fundamental difference in how they both work. Operational science involves experimentation in the here and now. Origins science deals with how something came into existence in the past and so is not open to experimental verification. What is more, creationists are not claiming that science and faith are irreconcilable but that evolution and science are irreconcilable and that evolution and millions of years cannot be reconciled with the Bible’s teaching. Rejecting evolution is not rejecting science but an ideology4 through which the evidence (which only exists in the present) is interpreted to reconstruct the unobserved, unrepeatable past.

Secondly, creationists do not say that belief in God rules out belief in evolution. However, they do argue that the whole point of Darwinian evolution is to show that there is no need for a supernatural Creator, since nature can do the creating by itself. This ultimately leads to a rejection of God. Darwin’s own great, great grandchild Randal Keynes said: “I don’t believe in God: how could I, given my great, great grandfather’s theories?” (Sunday Times 2000). Keller’s fear then that seekers are kept from even inquiring about Christianity because they fear it means rejecting science is based on a faulty understanding of the nature of science with regards the question of origins. What is more, many have already rejected God because they understand what accepting evolution logically leads to—agnosticism or atheism!5

Keller goes on to say:

Even if science could prove that religious belief has a genetic component that we inherit from our ancestors, that finding is not incompatible with belief in the reality of God or even the truth of the Christian faith. There is no logical reason to preclude that God could have used evolution to predispose people to believe in God in general so that people would be able to consider true belief when they hear the gospel preached. This is just one of many places where the supposed incompatibility of orthodox faith with evolution begins to fade away under more sustained reflection (Keller, p. 1).

There is an element of truth in Keller’s logic in that is it possible to be a theist, i.e. believe there is a “god” of some kind and believe in evolution. However, there are many problems accepting this view that “god” used evolution to create life. Firstly, a Christian cannot believe that he is a cosmic accident and at the same time believe in the Sovereign Creator God. To be a Christian is to affirm not only Christ the Redeemer but God the Creator. Theistic evolution is an attempt to synthesize evolution and the Christian faith whereas to try and merge Christianity with evolution is to invent a syncretistic creator-God of your own imagination. Secondly, in trying to mix Christianity and evolution together Charles Darwin would have been the first to disagree. Darwin knew what he was setting out to prove and disprove. In Darwin’s understanding of the world there never was a time that it was very good. Randal Keynes wrote in Annie’s Box: Charles Darwin, his Daughter and Human Evolution (a book focusing on Darwin’s family life) that: “After Annie’s death, Charles set the Christian faith firmly behind him” (Keynes 2001, p. 222). Keynes notes that the death of Darwin’s daughter marked a great turning point in Darwin’s life, because Darwin realized somewhere along the line you have to ask the question: What kind of god would deliberately use a process of death, disease, famine, and struggle to make the world, and then declare it to be very good (Genesis 1:31)? Atheist Jacques Monod was even more direct about this:

The struggle for life and elimination of the weakest is a horrible process, against which our whole modern ethics revolts. . . . I am surprised that a Christian would defend the idea that this is the process which God more or less set up in order to have evolution (Monod 1976).

Even Keller realizes that this problem, of evil and suffering, is worse for the believer in theistic evolution (Keller, p. 2). Because Keller is a theistic evolutionist his answers to suffering are seriously flawed. Nevertheless, in his book The Reason for God at the end of his chapter “Science has Disproved Christianity,” Keller affirms that “God did not originally make the world to have disease, hunger, and death in it” (Keller 2009, p. 96). He similarly asserts in his chapter on The Problem of Sin that “Disease, genetic disorders, famine, natural disasters, aging, and death itself are as much the result of sin as are oppression, war, crime, and violence” (Keller 2009, p. 170). However, this is contradictory to his position as a theistic evolutionist, as death, disease, hunger, oppression and violence have always been here, according to evolution.

Keller believes that

. . . many Christian laypeople remain confused because the voices arguing that Biblical orthodoxy and evolution are mutually exclusive are louder and more prominent than any others. What will it take to help Christian laypeople see greater coherence between what science tells us about creation and what the Bible teaches us about it (Keller, p. 2)?

Keller lays out three basic problems that Christian laypeople have with the scientific account of biological evolution and answers them in order to help believers and inquirers to relate science and faith coherently:

    • Question #1: If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?
    • Answer: The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking and agenda on them (Keller, p. 3).

Keller notes that in order to understand how an author wants to be read is to distinguish what genre the writer is using. Although Keller claims at the start of this section:

[I]f I as a pastor want to help both believers and inquirers to relate science and faith coherently, I must read the works of scientists, exegetes, philosophers, and theologians and then interpret them for my people (Keller, p. 3).

It is obvious that Keller’s reading has been selective as he states, “[T]o assert that one part of Scripture shouldn’t be taken literally does not at all mean that no other parts should be either” (Keller 2009, p. 3). No creationist would argue this way. This is a straw-man argument from Keller, and if he had read creationist material, he would have realized this. Creationists rightly recognize that Scripture contains narrative, poetry, prophecy, figurative language, hyperbole, etc. and interpret it accordingly.

Keller believes it is a false choice to say that Genesis is either prose or poetry. He chooses rather to side with Edward J. Young’s view that Genesis 1 is “exalted, semi-poetical language” (Keller, p. 4). However, calling it “exalted semi-poetic language” does not rule out that it is a revelation of literal history, just as Psalm 136 recites some of the key events of the history of Israel in poetic form. There can be no doubt that Genesis 1 is definitely a unique piece of literature. However, this is surely partly because of the unique events recorded. Nevertheless, this does not make it unique in its form. Gerhard Hasel states: “It is hardly sui generis [its own genre] in an exclusive literary sense which will remove it from communication on a factual, accurate and historical level” (Hasel 1994, p. 20).

Keller reasons that “Perhaps the strongest argument for the view that the author of Genesis 1 did not want to be taken literally is a comparison of the order of creative acts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2” (Keller, p. 4). Again if Keller had read creationist literature6 he would have known that his objections have long been answered. For example, Keller states:

Genesis 1 shows us an order of creation that does not follow a “natural order” at all. For example, there is light (Day 1) before there are any sources of light—the sun, moon, and stars (Day 4). There is vegetation (Day 3) before there was any atmosphere (Day 4 when the sun was made) and therefore there was vegetation before rain was possible. Of course, this is not a problem per se for an omnipotent God (Keller, p. 4).

If it is not a problem “per se” for an omnipotent God then what is the argument? The argument for light before the sun is invalid as it is not one that is based upon the text but a priori assumption in evolution. On the first day of creation God created light, and, although no light source is mentioned, it is not unreasonable to suggest that a temporary light source existed up until Day 4. Is it really too difficult for the God who is light (1 John 1:5) to create a source of light without the sun or the stars? Also, there will be no need for the sun in the new heavens and earth, because the presence of the glory of God provides the needed illumination (Revelation 21:23). So, God is not dependent on the sun to produce the phenomenon of light.

Keller concludes that Genesis 1 and 2 cannot be read “as straightforward accounts of historical events. Indeed, if they are both to be read literalistically, why would the author have combined the accounts, since they are (on that reading) incompatible?” (Keller, p. 5). In Keller’s mind you have to read Genesis 1 or 2 literally, but not both literally. Keller believes that the particular contradiction between the accounts is found in Genesis 2:5 where God did not put vegetation on the earth before there was an atmosphere and rain. But in Genesis 1 we do have vegetation before there is any rain possible or any man to till the earth (Keller, p. 4). This supposed contradiction is simply solved with a closer analysis of the text. Genesis 2:5 has to do with the soil, which is cultivated by human enterprise.

Genesis 2:5–6 is best related to the judgment oracles of 3:8–24 indicating what the world was like before sin. The Hebrew word erets occurs twice in verse 5. Erets has more than one meaning and can refer to (1) the whole earth (Genesis 1:1); (2) land = country (Genesis 10:10); (3) ground, surface of the ground (Genesis 1:26, 30); and (4) people of the land (Genesis 23:7, 12, 13) (Brown, Driver, Briggs 2006, pp. 75–76). The context must determine the meaning on each occasion where erets is used. The context of Genesis 2 refers to man in the specific place of the Garden of Eden. Therefore it is best to understand erets as “land” since it is the habitat of the first man that is in view. “Ground” (2:5) often has to do with the soil, which is cultivated by human enterprise (Genesis 2:9; 3:17, 23; 4:2; 5:29; 8:21), and it is the same substance from which man is made (Genesis 2:7, 19). There is also a play on words in verse 5 ground and man, indicating that the adama (ground) needs adam (man) to produce a harvest from it. When viewed this way, we find that the “shrub” and “plant” of 2:5 are not the same as the vegetation of Genesis 1:11–12. For example, “plants (eseb) of the field” describe the diet of man which he eats only after the sweat of his labor after sin (Genesis 3:18–19), whereas seed-bearing plants found in the creation narrative were produced by God for human and animal consumption (Genesis 1:11–12, 29–30; 9:3). These plants produce themselves by seed alone, whereas “plant” in 2:5 requires human cultivation to produce the grain necessary for edible food. This cultivation is how fallen man will eat his food (3:19). In 3:18–19, plants eseb (and bread le’chem from them) are the product of man’s cultivating the ground. Weeds, thorns, and thistles did not exist before the Fall; they came into existence after Adam sinned (Genesis 3:23). This means that man did not have to cultivate the ground before the Fall for food (Genesis 2:15 refers to Adam cultivating the Garden of Eden not the ground outside) (Mathews 1996, pp.193–194, 252–254).

However, Keller believes the best way to answer this is by comparing Genesis 1 and 2 to Exodus 14–15 (the Red Sea crossing) and Judges 4-5 (Israel’s defeat of Syria under Sisera) where there is a historical account joined to a more poetical “song” that proclaims the meaning of the event. Keller’s reasoning here is simply not valid. Looking for passages of poetry next to a historical account does not resolve the problem. It is obvious that Exodus 15 and Judges 5 contain poetry whereas the characteristics of poetry are absent in Genesis 1 and 2. Moreover one of the characteristics of narrative, the waw consecutive, runs throughout Genesis 1 and 2. What is more, even though the song of Moses is an exalted song, it still gives historical truth (Exodus 15:4). Keller also does not deal with the fact that Christ saw no contradiction between the accounts (Matthew 19:4–6). Keller’s conclusion regarding Genesis 1 is

. . . Genesis 1 does not teach that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days. Of course, it doesn’t teach evolution either, because it doesn’t address the actual processes by which God created human life. However, it does not preclude the possibility of the earth being extremely old. We arrive at this conclusion not because we want to make room for any particular scientific view of things, but because we are trying to be true to the text, listening as carefully as we can to the meaning of the inspired author (Keller, p. 5).

It is hard to see how Keller came to this conclusion when it is clear that he is determined to fit evolution into the text. Keller’s next question is:

    • Question #2: If biological evolution is true—does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes, and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?
    • Answer: No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a worldview.

Keller goes on for several pages to show why believing that evolution happened as a biological process does not necessarily mean that one has to embrace the “Grand Theory of Evolution” involving naturalism and social Darwinism (Keller, pp. 5–7).

While it is true that, as has already been made clear, it is possible to believe in God and evolution. This does not mean that you can be a consistent Christian and believe in evolution. The term “blessed inconsistency” should be applied here as many Christians who believe in evolution do not take it to its logical conclusions. The atheist philosopher Daniel Dennett, however, in his book Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, likened Darwin’s idea, of natural selection acting on chance variations, to that of a “universal acid” which is so corrosive that nothing can contain it. According to Dennett, Darwinism “eats through virtually every traditional concept” of mankind’s most cherished beliefs about God, value, meaning, purpose, culture, morality—everything (Dennett 1996, pp. 34–40). Theistic evolutionists, like Keller, who try and dismiss the atheistic implication of Darwinism need to realize that once you accept that chance and selection produced our brains, why then should we not accept that the products of minds (value, meaning, purpose, culture, and morality) are the result of the same mindless process.

Keller’s third question is:

  • Question #3: If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?
  • Answer: Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in a historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views.7

Even though Keller believes Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally and that God used evolution, he is concerned about the problems with reconciling evolution with a historical Adam. Keller does rule out Genesis 2–11 being borrowed from other ancient Near Eastern accounts (Keller, p. 8). Keller recognizes that Genesis 2–3 does not show signs of “exalted prose” or poetry; it reads as history (Keller, p. 8). However, he says:

This doesn’t mean that Genesis (or any text of the Bible) is history in the modern, positivistic sense. Ancient writers who were telling about historical events felt free to dischronologize and compress time frames – to omit enormous amounts of information that modern historians would consider essential to give “the complete picture.” However, ancient writers of history still believed that the events they were describing actually happened (Keller, p. 8).

Keller’s argument here is simply the arrogance of speaking out of modernity. Keller seems to be implying that the ancient Hebrews were less intelligent than modern man, which is an example of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” This is the idea that only recent and modern ideas can be right (Lewis 1955, p. 207). Keller seems to be saying that pre-modern, pre-scientific, “un-educated” men are unable to tell the difference between myth and history. This of course is utter nonsense. If a modern historian were covering 1,600 years of history in a 500-page book, he would give a lot more detail than Moses does in Genesis 1–11, although the modern would still have to omit enormous amounts of information. But if the modern had to cover 1,600 years in the amount of words in Genesis 1–11, most likely he would not do better than Moses.

Keller states that ancient writers could also use much figurative and symbolic language giving Psalm 139:13 as an example. However, the Psalms are poetic and should generally not be taken literally. He goes on to say:

So when we are told that God “formed Adam from the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7), the author might be speaking figuratively in the same way, meaning that God brought man into being through normal biological processes (Keller 2009, p. 8).

To say that Genesis 2:7 speaks of God bringing man into being through biological processes is forcing the text into an evolutionary mold, to say the least, especially when Genesis 1 rules this out. Old Testament scholar E.J. Young comments on the figurative language in Genesis 2:7:

[W]hereas it might apply to some elements of Genesis 2:7; it does not include all of them. In other words, if anthropomorphism is present, it is not present in each element of the verse. . . . The man was real, the dust was real, the ground was real as was the breath of life (Young 1964, p. 57).

Keller rightly notes in Romans 5 that Paul believed Adam was a real figure. However, he quotes N.T. Wright’s work, from 2000, in support of a historical Adam when Wright today, writing for BioLogos, actually denies this believing Adam to be a metaphor for Israel (Wright 2010). To his credit Keller argues that it is necessary to Paul’s argument that Adam be a literal historical figure to understand sin and salvation (Keller, pp. 9–10). Unfortunately, Keller accepts a literal Adam and Eve as a product of evolutionary biological processes and his justification for this is Job 10:8–9 where Job says that God fashioned Job with his “hands,” like a potter shaping clay out of the dust of the ground, even though God obviously did this through the natural process (Keller, p. 10). However, as Keller has already noted, it is important to understand the genre of a passage. Job is written as poetry and Genesis 2, as Keller noted, is not poetry. Also this was Job speaking about how God made him, not God speaking about this. Keller believes that this approach

. . . would explain perennially difficult Biblical questions such as—who were the people that Cain feared would slay him in revenge for the murder of Abel (Genesis 4:14)? Who was Cain’s wife, and how could Cain have built a city filled with inhabitants (Genesis 4:17) (Keller, p. 10)?

This again shows that Keller has not taken the time to read creationist literature as these questions have long been answered.

Keller then goes on to answer the question about suffering and death before the Fall. He believes that the creation could not have been perfect if Satan was present in it:

One of the biggest unanswered (and unanswerable) theological questions is—what was Satan doing there? By definition, if Satan was somewhere in the world, it was not all a perfect place (Keller, p. 11).

Keller’s objection however is overstated. Satan did not have dominion over the creation as Adam did; the rebellion of Satan and the fallen angels did not affect the perfection of the rest of God’s creation as Adam’s sin did. Moreover, Ezekiel 28:12–15 indicates Satan was in Eden until he sinned and Eden was not made until Day Six (Genesis 2:8). Keller takes the typical flawed view of theistic evolution that the result of the Fall only brought spiritual death (Keller, p. 12). Those who believe that the Fall only brought about spiritual death overlook the plain meaning of Genesis 3:17–19, which is also part of the fulfillment of the threat of Genesis 2:17 and which began to take effect immediately after Adam’s disobedience. Also, the apostolic interpretation of this event is that both physical and spiritual death were brought about through this act of disobedience (Romans. 5:12–14; 1 Corinthians 15:22, 45). Moreover, Keller’s view fails to answer the question, why did Jesus have to die a real physical death if Adam only died spiritually? Keller and others who accept evolution have to view Genesis 2:17 as referring to spiritual death because if it does refer to physical death it contradicts the theory of evolution. Keller fails to see the contradiction in his belief that God used evolution when he states:

The world will finally be renewed, and become all it was designed to be (Romans 8:19–23), only when we finally become all we should be through the work of the Second Adam (1 Corinthians 15:42–45) (Keller, p. 12).

However, Keller, as all old earth creationists, must be able to explain what creation will be restored to. Will it be restored to a state of death and suffering? Keller concludes his article by stating:

My conclusion is that Christians who are seeking to correlate Scripture and science must be a “bigger tent” than either the anti-scientific religionists or the anti-religious scientists (Keller, p. 13).

Unfortunately, given the context of the article and Keller’s earlier statements, it is hard to imagine that “anti-scientific religionists” refers to anyone other than biblical creationists. For someone who claims to read what theologians and exegetes have to say on this issue in order to interpret them for his people, he seems seriously ignorant of what mainstream creationist literature says. If this were not the case he would have not raised such an embarrassingly simple question as “Where did Cain get his wife?

The Challenge for the Church Today

Martin Luther challenged the church in his day to return to the authority of Scripture and to get back to the Bible. Luther had his own challenge with some early church leaders concerning the length of the days in Genesis 1:

The “Days” of Creation were ordinary days in length. We must understand that these days were actual days (veros dies), contrary to the opinion of the holy fathers. Whenever we observe that the opinions of the fathers disagree with Scripture, we reverently bear with them and acknowledge them to be our elders. Nevertheless, we do not depart from the authority of Scripture for their sake (Luther 1959, p. 1523).

Luther’s statement should challenge us when it comes to listening to influential theologians and pastors today who stray from what Scripture plainly states. While we should acknowledge them to be our elders and respect them, we do not depart from the clear teaching of Scripture simply because they do not believe it.

In practice many teachers today are abandoning Sola Scriptura in favor of interpreting Scripture in light of the alleged “facts of nature,” which is really a principle of scriptura sub scienta. The church today needs a new Reformation to return to the authority of the Bible, the written Word of God, rather than trusting the fallible conjectures of unbelieving scientists. Unfortunately, it is often the culture that shapes the church when it should be the church that shapes the culture.


The arguments that each of these men use for not accepting some of the truths in Genesis 1–11 are not based on the historical-grammatical hermeneutic, which they use when interpreting the rest of the Bible. They have each allowed secular science to control their hermeneutic, which means they have to use creative special pleading, i.e., “mixed genre,” “exalted prose,” “framework hypothesis,” etc.

It is unfortunate that they cannot see the bigger picture when it comes to the issue of the days of creation and the age of the earth. For example, with respect to the issue of the origin of death and suffering, each of these men ultimately have a seriously flawed answer. Some even seem unaware that believing in an old earth undermines their position on this issue (e.g., Piper and Carson). Their acceptance of an old earth requires death and suffering to have always been here.

Even though all five of these men believe in the principle of Sola Scriptura, when it comes to Genesis 1–3 they have undermined their own position by allowing “science” to dictate what the Word of God means.


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Answers in Depth

2013 Volume 8


  1. Stephen Meyer’s lecture can be found at
  2. James Barr, Oriel Professor of the interpretation of the Holy Scripture, Oxford University, England, in a letter to David C.C. Watson, April 23, 1984. Barr, consistent with his neo-orthodox views, does not believe Genesis, but he understood what the Hebrew so clearly taught. “. . . probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story . . .,” (Oxford Hebrew scholar, Professor James Barr, on the meaning of Genesis).
  3. See Dr. Robert McCabe’s critique of the framework hypothesis and
  4. Michael Ruse, who was professor of philosophy and zoology at the University of Guelph, Canada, said “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion—a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. I am an ardent evolutionist and an ex-Christian, but I must admit that in this one complaint—and Mr. [sic] Gish is but one of many to make it—the literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today. “ . . . Evolution therefore came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity.” (M. Ruse, How evolution became a religion: creationists correct? National Post, (May 13, 2000) pp. B1, B3, B7.)
  5. Understanding evolution lead Charles Darwin to become an agnostic. See While Richard Dawkins stated, “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” (The Blind Watchmaker (W. W. Norton, New York), p. 6, 198.)
  6. See, for example, Do Genesis 1 and 2 Contradict Each Other?
  7. For Peter Enns in his book The Evolution of Adam views this as a non-option. So clearly, the theistic evolution camp is divided. (Peter Enns, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2012).)


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