Christianity fails a fundamental test of naturalistic science. Miracles, such as Christ’s Virgin Birth and Resurrection, do not mesh with modern scientific beliefs, which require truth to be “testable and repeatable.” This conflict does not deter Christians, however, who trust their eternal destiny to these historical facts that are revealed in Scripture, even if they aren’t repeated today. Yet many of those same Christians reject the straightforward, historical reading of the Genesis creation account simply because they believe it cannot be verified by science.
This was not the case through most of history. Not until the nineteenth century did Jews and Christians begin rejecting, in large numbers, the plain understanding of Genesis 1. At that time, long-age views in geology had gained prominence, largely because of the philosophy of uniformitarianism. This view denies the possibility of miraculous interventions in history, such as divine creation and the biblical Flood, proposing instead that only current, slow physical processes may be used to explain the past. Not wanting Christianity to appear foolish by the standard of their era’s prevailing philosophy, several Christian leaders responded by seeking to harmonize Scripture’s creation account with the concept of millions of years.
As the weaknesses of each compromise view became apparent, Christians strayed further and further from the literal meaning of Genesis in a vain attempt to conform it to modern “scientific” interpretations of the past. In the process, they set a dangerous precedent. They began reinterpreting Scripture to match scientists’ claims, even when the new interpretation ignored the actual words of the text or forced contradictions into it.
When Christians reinterpret God’s Word to try to make it conform to secular ideas, they open the door of compromise. That door often leads to rejection of fundamental doctrines, which is exactly what is happening today. A brief look at the most popular compromise views, in the order they were first introduced, reveals a disturbing trend—each new view drifts further from the straightforward meaning of Genesis 1.
Opening the Door to Compromise
The Gap Theory (1804)
First promoted by Presbyterian minister Thomas Chalmers, the gap theory inserts an indefinitely long period between the first two verses of the Bible. During this gap, Satan allegedly fell, causing the downfall of the initial creation before God wiped it out with a worldwide flood. Then, beginning in Genesis 1:2, God recreated the world in a manner close to the one described in the rest of Genesis 1.
The gap theory gained near-inspired status among many conservative Christians, especially after the influential Scofield Reference Bible promoted it in a marginal note for Genesis 1:2. Scofield stated, “The first creative act refers to the dateless past, and gives scope for all the geologic ages. . . . Relegate fossils to the primitive creation, and no conflict of science with the Genesis cosmogony remains.”
A popular modern view known as historic creation could be classified as a modified version of the gap theory. This position asserts that the heavens and earth were slowly formed over millions of years before God created the land, plants, animals, and people over the course of six days.
Straying from the Plain Meaning of the Text
The Day-Age Theory (1823)
Anglican clergyman George Stanley Faber proposed that the “days” of Genesis 1 should be understood as long periods of time. Proponents of this view often cite 2 Peter 3:8 in support of it: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
In his Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge advocated this position. “If the word ‘day’ be taken in the sense of an ‘indefinite period of time,’ . . . there is not only no discrepancy between the Mosaic account of the creation and the assumed facts of geology, but there is a most marvelous coincidence between them.”1 Tens of millions of Christians assumed this compromised Creation view, unaware of the destruction it wreaks on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Progressive creationism is essentially an updated version of the day-age view. Progressive creationists argue that the days of Genesis were long periods of time, but they generally reject biological evolution. Instead, they believe God created plants and animals at different points along the evolutionary timescale, as described by theologian Millard Erickson: “God created in a series of acts over a long period of time.”2
Denying the Plain Meaning of the Text
Framework Hypothesis (1924)
A sophisticated view was developed in the past century. The framework hypothesis reclassifies Genesis 1 from historical narrative to something more akin to poetry. The most popular claim to support this interpretation is that Days 1–3 parallel Days 4–6. So rather than being literal days of creation, these “days” are merely a literary device used by the author to speak of the “days of formation” and “days of filling.”
Christians may not recognize the name of this view, but they likely can identify some of its fruit. For example, many Christian leaders have stated that Genesis tells us about the “who” and the “what” but not the “when” and the “how.” In other words, since Genesis 1 is merely a literary framework to teach the basic truth that God created everything, it reveals nothing about how and when He performed this work.
Abandoning the Text
Theistic evolution is not new, but until the late twentieth century it was not common among evangelicals. When evolutionary ideas spread in the nineteenth century, a common response from theological liberals was simply to ignore the Genesis text altogether and claim that God created everything through the process of evolution. Evangelicals have long rejected this approach, believing the special creation of Adam is foundational to the gospel. Sadly, a growing number of professed evangelicals no longer think it is important to believe in a historical Adam. Consequently, they have no qualms with joining the liberals in claiming that God used evolution to create life.
Other ideas have been advanced to harmonize Scripture with deep time, such as “revelatory” days or multiple gaps. There is not enough space here to critique any of the views fully, but all of them suffer from three common errors.
Adherents to each of these positions must rearrange events described in Scripture.
First, in their desire to adopt the idea of billions of years, adherents to each of these positions must rearrange events described in Scripture. For example, each alternate view places the creation of the sun before the creation of the earth, rather than trusting God’s Word that the sun was created on Day Four after the earth on Day One. Furthermore, with the exception of the gap theory, old-earth models put reptiles long before birds, but Genesis reveals that God created the flying creatures on Day Five and the land animals, including reptiles, on Day Six.
Second, since harmonizers accept earth’s rock strata as a record of billions of years, they cannot consistently accept a global Flood in Noah’s day. A worldwide Flood would obliterate the rock layers and form thousands of feet of new layers (most of the fossil record). Thus, they reinterpret the Genesis Flood as a regional event or a worldwide yet tranquil event.
Finally, perhaps the most disastrous error of all of these views is that they necessarily place billions of years of death, suffering, disease, and bloodshed long before Adam sinned. So God must have created a world full of death and suffering and then called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). This attacks the perfectly holy nature of our Creator. Also, if physical death is not a consequence of Adam’s sin, then why did Jesus Christ need to die a physical death on the Cross and rise physically from the dead to save us from our sins? If death has nothing to do with sin, the gospel has no foundation.
The initial attempt to harmonize Scripture and belief in long ages was the gap theory, the most “literal” of the positions in that it takes most of Genesis 1 in a straightforward manner. The day-age theory also attempts to deal with the text, but it changes the meaning of the word day in its context so several verses must be reinterpreted. The most recent views advanced by evangelicals, such as the framework hypothesis or theistic evolution, essentially allegorize or ignore large sections of the text.
All of these harmonistic efforts are futile since the vast ages they seek to accommodate did not take place. God’s Word plainly sets forth the true history of our universe: God created everything in six days approximately 6,000 years ago.
Resources for a Full Critique
Get a better understanding of what’s wrong with various compromised views with these books.
Six Days by Ken Ham: This book critiques the numerous views that attempt to blend Genesis with billions of years and/or evolutionary thinking. The author also explains the impact these views have had on the church over the past two centuries.
Old-Earth Creationism on Trial by Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle: This book offers a critique of the wide array of arguments used by Christians who have accepted the idea of billions of years. Also included is a rebuttal of the many attempts to reinterpret the global Flood account in Genesis as being merely a regional event.
Coming to Grips with Genesis by Terry Mortenson and Thane Ury, editors: A team of scholars contributed to this academic defense of the straightforward reading of Genesis 1–11. This thorough treatment of the topic addresses exegetical, theological, scientific, and historical concerns related to the issue of the age of the earth.