It is my contention that Dr. Norman Geisler, like so many other theologically conservative theologians, has adopted two different hermeneutical principles by which he interprets Scripture. This inconsistency causes problems.
I have great respect for Dr. Geisler. He is a prolific author who for many years has contended for the faith and equipped Christians with some excellent apologetic arguments to defend the Christian faith against many secular attacks. Dr. Geisler is the Chancellor and Distinguished Professor of Apologetics at Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Murrieta, California, and is the co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina (where he is currently a Distinguished Visiting Lecturer).
At the same time I assert that he and many others in Christian leadership (contrary to their sincerely good intentions) are unwittingly undermining the reliability and authority of the Scriptures they love and work so hard to uphold.
Can such a serious allegation be substantiated?
Since my evolution/creation debate with Bill Nye “the Science Guy” on February 4 at the Creation Museum, there has been a plethora of articles and blogs on the origins issue in secular and Christian media.
On February 12, Dr. Geisler wrote an opinion piece for the online Christian Post titled, “Does Believing in Inerrancy Require One to Believe in Young Earth Creationism?”
In this commentary, Dr. Geisler attempted to use various arguments to discredit those (like those of us at Answers in Genesis) who insist that God’s Word clearly teaches a creation week of six approximately 24-hour days (followed by a day of rest), and a relatively young age for the universe (approximately 6,000 years).
Even though Dr. Geisler briefly discussed the meaning of the Hebrew word for day (yôm) and biblical genealogies (e.g., in Genesis 5), I suggest that his column article was really an attempt to justify a particular motivation he holds.
For instance, Dr. Geisler in his Systematic Theology states:
In addition to the biblical evidence for long periods of time, there are scientific arguments that the world has existed for billions of years. The age of the universe is based on
(1) the speed of light and the distance of the stars;
(2) the rate of expansion of the universe;
(3) the fact that early rocks have been radioactively dated in terms of billions of years;
(4) the rate that salt runs into the sea and the amount of salt there, which indicates multimillions of years.
While all of these arguments have certain unprovable presuppositions, nonetheless, they may be true and, hence, point to a universe that is billions rather than thousands of years in age.1
In some of his other writings, Dr. Geisler has made similar statements regarding a billions-of-years-old universe. I suggest that his ultimate motivation for attempting to discredit a literal six-day Creation Week is because he has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists of very old ages, so that he can allow for or believe in billions of years. Thus he goes to great lengths in an attempt to justify various efforts by Christians to fit billions of years into the biblical record. I do believe (regardless of whether Dr. Geisler accepts this or not), this is his ultimate motivation.
He has been influenced by an authority outside the Bible: the majority view among scientists.
Also keep in mind that the belief in billions of years actually came out of naturalism, as fallible humans, using autonomous human reasoning, attempted to explain the origin of the earth and universe.2
When I study the writings of numerous contemporary Christian scholars, I find they propose a variety of ways to interpret Genesis. But they all have the same motivation. Somewhere in their writings, they will admit to believing in, or allowing for, the supposed billions of years for the age of the universe.3
Now when I read Dr. Geisler’s writings when he deals with the New Testament, I have discovered that he never starts with beliefs from secular scientists and takes them to the Bible to interpret, say, the account of Jesus’ Resurrection or Virgin Birth. He accepts those Scriptures as written. But when he looks at the account of origins in Genesis, Dr. Geisler does not take it as written, but allows ideas outside of God’s Word to be reconciled to Scripture. As a consequence, he reinterprets the plain meaning of God’s written revelation.
I strongly and respectfully suggest that Dr. Geisler and many other Christian scholars have one hermeneutical principle for Genesis chapters 1–11 (eisigesis4) and a different one for the rest of Scripture (exegesis5).
Because of this approach, Dr. Geisler misrepresents biblical creationists who believe in a young earth/universe. For example, here is what he stated in his Christian Post commentary:
For some, the belief in a Young Earth seems to be based on a kind of intuition or faith in what they believe an omnipotent God should do. It reasons that if God is all powerful, then certainly He would not have taken millions of years to make the earth. However, by reduction ad absurdum, one could ask why God did not create it in six minutes or six seconds rather than six days? If He is all-powerful and can make something from nothing, then why did He not create the whole thing lock-stock-and barrel instantaneously!
Furthermore, it is not a question of what God could or should do; it is a question of what God actually did do. And it is presumptuous for a mortal to divine what God should have done.6
For biblical creationists, however, it has never been a “question of what God could or should do.” And it is really not primarily a “question of what God did do.”
At Answers in Genesis, we have always stated that it’s a question of what God said He did! The priority is taking the Word of God naturally. There are many biblical and contextual reasons for concluding (as almost the whole church did for 1,800 years and much of the church holds to today) that Genesis 1–11 is straightforward literal history. Genesis teaches us more than mere history, but not less than history. And the literal history is critical to what it teaches us about God, man, sin, marriage, etc. We must let God speak to us and not in any way allow fallible man’s ideas to be imposed on Scripture.
Answers in Genesis has published numerous articles on the meaning of the Hebrew word for day in Genesis, the supposed gaps in the genealogies, and the problems with trying to determine the age of the earth using the various “scientific” methods.7 Perhaps one of the most thorough analyses we have of the Hebrew word for day comes from chapter 5 of my new book Six Days.
It is true that many of the church fathers and the early creeds did not deal with the age of the earth/universe. But that is simply because almost all of them were young-earth creationists, such as Augustine. He held to a global Flood, the great lifespans of the pre-Flood patriarchs, and that Adam lived less than 6,000 years before Augustine. He was only confused about the days in Genesis 1 (thinking creation was in an instant, not over millions of years) because of his faulty Latin Bible and his ignorance of Greek and Hebrew.8
In addition the famous reformer John Calvin believed that the world had not yet “completed its six thousandth year” (Calvin 2009, p. 90). Luther and Wesley also held to the young-earth view. In fact, this was the overwhelmingly dominant view in the church till the early 1800s, when the idea of millions of years was developed in geology and so much of the church accepted it.9 Frankly, Dr. Geisler is mistaken regarding beliefs about Genesis in the history of the church. The church quickly compromised with the idea of millions of years in the early 19th century (not because of new more careful exegesis of the biblical text, but because Christians made the geologists their final authority of the subject). And sadly most Christian leaders (including Spurgeon, Hodge, Scofield, Warfield and the authors of The Fundamentals ) have followed suit with an equally shallow analysis of the Genesis text and other relevant passages.10
In his Systematic Theology, Dr. Geisler uses erroneous arguments to reject the days of creation as literal days, such as this one:
Third, and finally, yom is elsewhere used of long periods of time, as in Psalm 90:4, which is cited in 2 Peter 3:8: “A day is like a thousand years.”11
The context of Psalm 90 and 2 Peter 3, however, is that God is outside of time. He is not limited by natural processes and time as humans are. These passages have nothing to do with the meaning of the Hebrew word for day in Genesis 1.
I’m surprised that a scholar like Dr. Geisler would make such erroneous statements, including in his recent Christian Post column. But it helps illustrate that he is really “clutching at straws” in an attempt to discredit biblical creationists and allow for millions of years. For instance:
- He appeals to New Testament abbreviated genealogies that contain no chronological information to argue for gaps in the detailed genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 in the Old Testament, which are loaded with chronological information!
- Dr. Geisler uses instances where the Hebrew word for day (yôm) in context does not mean an ordinary day to argue against taking the days of creation as ordinary days (when in the context of Genesis 1 each of the six days clearly means an ordinary day, evidenced by the fact that yôm is modified by a number and the words evening and morning; further, in every other use of yôm in those contexts means a literal day). Dr. Geisler tried to counter this argument by citing Daniel 8:14. But the 2,300 mornings and evenings mentioned in Daniel 8:14 (and 8:26) are literal, and this prophecy about 6 1/3 years was fulfilled by Antiochus’s persecution of the Jews from 171–165 BC.
- Because the book of Hebrews states that God is resting, Dr. Geisler uses this passage to argue that the seventh day of the Creation Week is still ongoing! However, God rested from His work of creation (Genesis 2:1–3). So now He is currently resting from that particular work. Hebrews does not say the seventh day continues to the present, but that God’s rest (cessation of His creation work) continues till now.
- Although he mentions the issue of death before the Fall, Dr. Geisler ignores the fact that the fossil record, supposedly laid down millions of years before man appeared, contains not only death, but also disease (e.g., cancer and brain tumors in the dinosaur bones), thorns, and evidence of animals having preyed on other animals. All this flies in the face of the fact that the Bible states that animals and humans were vegetarian before sin (Genesis 1:29–30), God declared everything “very good” before the Fall of man (Genesis 1:31), and thorns came after the curse (Genesis 3: 17–18).
Sadly, Dr. Geisler is using eisegesis for the early chapters of Genesis. This approach ultimately “unlocks a door” that opens doubt about the rest of the Word of God. Such doubt can (and does) put many people on a slippery slide of unbelief towards the Word of God, though that has not happened in Dr. Geisler’s life.
I assert that many great men of God in today’s world are contributing to a generational loss of biblical authority because of their insistence on accommodating man’s belief in billions of years with the infallible Word of God. Such a loss of biblical authority is contributing enormously to a massive exodus of young people from the church (see Already Gone) and an increasing decline of Christian influence on the culture.
Of course, for all Christians, compromising God’s Word is a very serious matter.
Do not add to His words. (Proverbs 30:6)
Note: Dr. Terry Mortenson assisted in writing this article.