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If the days of creation are really geologic ages of millions of years, then the gospel message is undermined at its foundation because it puts death, disease, thorns, and suffering before the Fall. The effort to define “days” as “geologic ages” results from an erroneous approach to Scripture—reinterpreting the Word of God on the basis of the fallible theories of sinful people.
It is a good exercise to read Genesis 1 and try to put aside outside influences that may cause you to have a predetermined idea of what the word “day” may mean. Just let the words of the passage speak to you.
Taking Genesis 1 in this way, at face value, without doubt it says that God created the universe, the earth, the sun, moon and stars, plants and animals, and the first two people within six ordinary (approximately 24-hour) days. Being really honest, you would have to admit that you could never get the idea of millions of years from reading this passage.
The majority of Christians (including many Christian leaders) in the Western world, however, do not insist that these days of creation were ordinary-length days, and many of them accept and teach, based on outside influences, that they must have been long periods of time—even millions or billions of years.
God communicates through language. When He made the first man, Adam, He had already “programmed” him with a language, so there could be communication. Human language consists of words used in a specific context that relates to the entire reality around us.
Thus, God can reveal things to man, and man can communicate with God, because words have meaning and convey an understandable message. If this were not so, how could any of us communicate with each other or with God?
Romans 3:4 declares:
“Let God be true, and every man a liar.”
In every instance where someone has not accepted the “days” of creation to be ordinary days, they have not allowed the words of Scripture to speak to them in context, as the language requires for communication. They have been influenced by ideas from outside of Scripture. Thus, they have set a precedent that could allow any word to be reinterpreted by the preconceived ideas of the person reading the words. Ultimately, this will lead to a communication breakdown, as the same words in the same context could mean different things to different people.
Most church fathers accepted the days of creation as ordinary days.1 It is true that some of the early church fathers did not teach the days of creation as ordinary days—but many of them had been influenced by Greek philosophy, which caused them to interpret the days as allegorical. They reasoned that the creation days were related to God’s activities, and God being timeless meant that the days could not be related to human time.2 In contrast to today’s allegorizers, they could not accept that God took as long as six days.
Thus, the non-literal days resulted from extrabiblical influences (i.e., influences from outside the Bible), not from the words of the Bible.
This approach has affected the way people interpret Scripture to this day. As the man who started the Reformation said,
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.3
Again and again, such leaders admit that Genesis 1, taken in a straightforward way, seems to teach six ordinary days. But they then say that this cannot be because of the age of the universe or some other extrabiblical reason.
Consider the following representative quotes from Bible scholars who are considered to be conservative yet who do not accept the days of creation as ordinary-length days:
From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression would seem to be that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four-hour days. ... This seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago.4
We have shown the possibility of God’s having formed the Earth and its life in a series of creative days representing long periods. In view of the apparent age of the Earth, this is not only possible—it is probable.5
It is as if these theologians view “nature” as a “67th book of the Bible,” albeit with more authority than the 66 written books. Rather, we should consider the words of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the renowned “prince of preachers,” in 1877:
We are invited, brethren, most earnestly to go away from the old-fashioned belief of our forefathers because of the supposed discoveries of science. What is science? The method by which man tries to conceal his ignorance. It should not be so, but so it is. You are not to be dogmatical in theology, my brethren, it is wicked; but for scientific men it is the correct thing. You are never to assert anything very strongly; but scientists may boldly assert what they cannot prove, and may demand a faith far more credulous than any we possess. Forsooth, you and I are to take our Bibles and shape and mould our belief according to the evershifting teachings of so-called scientific men. What folly is this! Why, the march of science, falsely so called, through the world may be traced by exploded fallacies and abandoned theories. Former explorers once adored are now ridiculed; the continual wreckings of false hypotheses is a matter of universal notoriety. You may tell where the learned have encamped by the debris left behind of suppositions and theories as plentiful as broken bottles.6
Those who would use historical science (as propounded by people who, by and large, ignore God’s written revelation) to interpret the Bible, to teach us things about God, have matters front to back. Because we are fallen, fallible creatures, we need God’s written Word, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, to properly understand natural history. The respected systematic theologian Berkhof said:
Since the entrance of sin into the world, man can gather true knowledge about God from His general revelation only if he studies it in the light of Scripture, in which the elements of God’s original self-revelation, which were obscured and perverted by the blight of sin, are republished, corrected, and interpreted. ... Some are inclined to speak of God’s general revelation as a second source; but this is hardly correct in view of the fact that nature can come into consideration here only as interpreted in the light of Scripture.7
In other words, Christians should build their thinking on the Bible, not on science.
What does the Bible tell us about the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1? A word can have more than one meaning, depending on the context. For instance, the English word “day” can have perhaps 14 different meanings. For example, consider the following sentence: “Back in my grandfather’s day, it took 12 days to drive across the country during the day.”
Here the first occurrence of “day” means “time” in a general sense. The second “day,” where a number is used, refers to an ordinary day, and the third refers to the daylight portion of the 24-hour period. The point is that words can have more than one meaning, depending on the context.
To understand the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1, we need to determine how the Hebrew word for “day,” yom, is used in the context of Scripture. Consider the following:
Dr. James Barr (Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University), who himself does not believe Genesis is true history, nonetheless admitted as far as the language of Genesis 1 is concerned that
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 Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) 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 (c) Noah’s Flood was understood to be worldwide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.16
In like manner, nineteenth century liberal Professor Marcus Dods, New College, Edinburgh, said,
If, for example, the word “day” in these chapters does not mean a period of twenty-four hours, the interpretation of Scripture is hopeless.17
If we are prepared to let the words of the language speak to us in accord with the context and normal definitions, without being influenced by outside ideas, then the word for “day” found in Genesis 1—which is qualified by a number, the phrase “evening and morning” and for Day 1 the words “light and darkness”—obviously means an ordinary day (about 24 hours).
In Martin Luther’s day, some of the church fathers were saying that God created everything in only one day or in an instant. Martin Luther wrote,
When Moses writes that God created Heaven and Earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But, if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go.18
Similarly, John Calvin stated, “Albeit the duration of the world, now declining to its ultimate end, has not yet attained six thousand years. ... God’s work was completed not in a moment but in six days.”19
Luther and Calvin were the backbone of the Protestant Reformation that called the church back to Scripture—Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). Both of these men were adamant that Genesis 1 taught six ordinary days of creation—only thousands of years ago.
Exodus 31:12 says that God commanded Moses to say to the children of Israel:
Six days may work be done, but on the seventh is the sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work in the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the sons of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant. It is a sign between me and the sons of Israel forever. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested, and was refreshed(Exodus 31:15–17).
Then God gave Moses two tablets of stone upon which were written the commandments of God, written by the finger of God (Exodus 31:18).
Because God is infinite in power and wisdom, there’s no doubt He could have created the universe and its contents in no time at all, or six seconds, or six minutes, or six hours—after all, with God nothing shall be impossible (Luke 1:37).
However, the question to ask is, “Why did God take so long? Why as long as six days?” The answer is also given in Exodus 20:11, and that answer is the basis of the Fourth Commandment:
For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.
The seven-day week has no basis outside of Scripture. In this Old Testament passage, God commands His people, Israel, to work for six days and rest for one—thus giving us a reason why He deliberately took as long as six days to create everything. He set the example for man. Our week is patterned after this principle. Now if He created everything in six thousand (or six million) years, followed by a rest of one thousand or one million years, then we would have a very interesting week indeed.
Some say that Exodus 20:11 is only an analogy in the sense that man is to work and rest—not that it was to mean six literal ordinary days followed by one literal ordinary day. However, Bible scholars have shown that this commandment “does not use analogy or archetypal thinking but that its emphasis is ‘stated in terms of the imitation of God or a divine precedent that is to be followed.’”20 In other words, it was to be six literal days of work, followed by one literal day of rest, just as God worked for six literal days and rested for one.
Some have argued that “the heavens and the earth” is just earth and perhaps the solar system, not the whole universe. However, this verse clearly says that God made everything in six days—six consecutive ordinary days, just like the commandment in the previous verse to work for six consecutive ordinary days.
The phrase “heaven(s) and earth” in Scripture is an example of a figure of speech called a merism, where two opposites are combined into an all-encompassing single concept, in this case the totality of creation. A linguistic analysis of the words “heaven(s) and earth” in Scripture shows that they refer to the totality of all creation (the Hebrews did not have a word for “universe”). For example, in Genesis 14:19 God is called “Creator of heaven and earth.” In Jeremiah 23:24 God speaks of Himself as filling “heaven and earth.” See also Genesis 14:22; 2 Kings 19:15; 2 Chronicles 2:12; Psalms 115:15, 121:2, 124:8, 134:3, 146:6; and Isaiah 37:16.
Thus, there is no scriptural warrant for restricting Exodus 20:11 to earth and its atmosphere or the solar system alone. So Exodus 20:11 does show that the whole universe was created in six ordinary days.
“Science” has shown the earth and universe are billions of years old; therefore the “days” of creation must be long periods (or indefinite periods) of time.
Human beings and higher animals are described in Genesis 1 as having a nephesh, or life principle.The Bible makes it clear24 that death, bloodshed, disease, thorns, and suffering are a consequence of sin.25 In Genesis 1:29–30, God gave Adam and Eve and the animals plants to eat (this is reading Genesis at face value, as literal history, as Jesus did in Matthew 19:3–6). In fact, there is a theological distinction made between animals and plants. Human beings and higher animals are described in Genesis 1 as having a nephesh, or life principle. (This is true of at least the vertebrate land animals as well as the birds and fish: Genesis 1:20, 24.) Plants do not have this nephesh—they are not “alive” in the same sense animals are. They were given for food.
Man was permitted to eat meat only after the Flood (Genesis 9:3). This makes it obvious that the statements in Genesis 1:29–30 were meant to inform us that man and the animals were vegetarian to start with. Also, in Genesis 9:2, we are told of a change God apparently made in the way animals react to man.
God warned Adam in Genesis 2:17 that if he ate of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” he would “die.” The Hebrew grammar actually means, “dying, you will die.” In other words, it would be the commencement of a process of physical dying (see Genesis 3:19). It also clearly involved spiritual death (separation from God).
After Adam disobeyed God, the Lord clothed Adam and Eve with “coats of skins” (Genesis 3:21).26 To do this He must have killed and shed the blood of at least one animal. The reason for this can be summed up by Hebrews 9:22:
And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.
God requires the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. What happened in the garden was a picture of what was to come in Jesus Christ, who shed His blood on the Cross as the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Now if the Garden of
Eden were sitting on a fossil
record of dead things
millions of years old, then
blood was shed before sin.
This would destroy the
foundation of the Atonement.
The Bible is clear: the
sin of Adam brought death
and suffering into the world.
As Romans 8:19–22 tells
us, the whole of creation
“groans” because of the effects
of the fall of Adam,
and the creation will be liberated
from the bondage of
corruption into the glorious
liberty of the children of
God” (Rom. 8:21). Also, bear in mind that thorns came into existence after
the Curse. Because there are thorns in the fossil record, it had to be formed
after Adam and Eve sinned.
The pronouncement of the death penalty on Adam was both a curse and a blessing. A curse because death is horrible and continually reminds us of the ugliness of sin; a blessing because it meant the consequences of sin—separation from fellowship with God—need not be eternal. Death stopped Adam and his descendants from living in a state of sin, with all its consequences, forever. And because death was the just penalty for sin, Jesus Christ suffered physical death, shedding His blood, to release Adam’s descendants from the consequences of sin. The Apostle Paul discusses this in depth in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15.
Revelation 21–22 makes it clear that there will be a “new heavens and a new earth” one day, where there will be “no more death” and “no more curse”—just like it was before sin changed everything. If there are to be animals as part of the new earth, obviously they will not be dying or eating each other, nor eating the redeemed people!
Thus, adding the supposed millions of years to Scripture destroys the foundations of the message of the Cross.
According to Genesis 1, the sun was not created until Day 4. How could there be day and night (ordinary days) without the sun for the first three days?
Where did the light come from? We are not told,27 but Genesis 1:3 certainly indicates it was a created light to provide day and night until God made the sun on Day 4 to rule the day. Revelation 21:23 tells us that one day the sun will not be needed because the glory of God will light the heavenly city.
Perhaps one reason God did it this way was to illustrate that the sun did not have the priority in the creation that people have tended to give it. The sun did not give birth to the earth as evolutionary theories postulate; the sun was God’s created tool to rule the day that God had made (Genesis 1:16).
Down through the ages, people such as the Egyptians have worshiped the sun. God warned the Israelites, in Deuteronomy 4:19, not to worship the sun as the pagan cultures around them did. They were commanded to worship the God who made the sun—not the sun that was made by God.
Evolutionary theories (the “big bang” hypothesis for instance) state that the sun came before the earth and that the sun’s energy on the earth eventually gave rise to life. Just as in pagan beliefs, the sun is, in a sense, given credit for the wonder of creation.
It is interesting to contrast the speculations of modern cosmology with the writings of the early church father Theophilus:
On the fourth day the luminaries came into existence. Since God has foreknowledge, he understood the nonsense of the foolish philosophers who were going to say that the things produced on Earth came from the stars, so that they might set God aside. In order therefore that the truth might be demonstrated, plants and seeds came into existence before stars. For what comes into existence later cannot cause what is prior to it.28
2 Peter 3:8 states that “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years,” therefore the days of creation could be long periods of time.
Insisting on six solar days for creation limits God, whereas allowing God billions of years does not limit Him.
Actually, insisting on six ordinary earth-rotation days of creation is not limiting God, but limiting us to believing that God actually did what He tells us in His Word. Also, if God created everything in six days, as the Bible says, then surely this reveals the power and wisdom of God in a profound way— Almighty God did not need eons of time. However, the billions-of-years scenarios diminish God by suggesting that mere chance could create things or that God needed huge amounts of time to create things—this would be limiting God’s power by reducing it to naturalistic explanations.
Adam could not have accomplished all that the Bible states in one day (Day 6). He could not have named all the animals, for instance; there was not enough time.
Adam did not have to name all the animals—only those God brought to him. For instance, Adam was commanded to name “every beast of the field” (Genesis 2:20), not “beast of the earth” (Genesis 1:25). The phrase “beast of the field” is most likely a subset of the larger group “beast of the earth.” He did not have to name “everything that creeps upon the earth” (Genesis 1:25) or any of the sea creatures. Also, the number of “kinds” would be much less than the number of species in today’s classification.
When critics say that Adam could not name the animals in less than one day, what they really mean is they do not understand how they could do it, so Adam could not. However, our brain has suffered from 6,000 years of the Curse—it has been greatly affected by the Fall. Before sin, Adam’s brain was perfect.
When God made Adam, He must have programmed him with a perfect language. Today we program computers to “speak” and “remember.” How much more could our Creator God have created Adam as a mature human (he was not born as a baby needing to learn to speak), having in his memory a perfect language with a perfect understanding of each word. (That is why Adam understood what God meant when he said he would “die” if he disobeyed, even though he had not seen any death.) Adam may also have had a “perfect” memory (something like a photographic memory, perhaps).
It would have been no problem for this first perfect man to make up words and name the animals God brought to him and remember the names—in far less than one day.30
Genesis 2 is a different account of creation, with a different order, so how can the first chapter be accepted as teaching six literal days?
Actually, Genesis 2 is not a different account of creation. It is a more detailed account of Day 6 of creation. Chapter 1 is an overview of the whole of creation; chapter 2 gives details surrounding the creation of the garden, the first man, and his activities on Day 6.31
Between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve, the King James
Version says, “Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the
field and every fowl of the air” (Genesis 2:19). This seems to say that the land
beasts and birds were created between the creation of Adam and Eve. However,
Jewish scholars did not recognize any such conflict with the account in
chapter 1, where Adam and Eve were both created after the beasts and birds
(Genesis 1:23–25). There is no contradiction, because in Hebrew the precise
tense of a verb is determined by the context. It is clear from chapter 1 that
the beasts and birds were created before Adam, so Jewish scholars would have
understood the verb “formed” to mean “had formed” or “having formed” in
Genesis 2:19 If we translate verse 19, “
Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field,” the apparent disagreement with Genesis
1 disappears completely.
Regarding the plants and herbs in Genesis 2:5 and the trees in Genesis 2:9 (compare with Genesis 1:12), the plants and herbs are described as “of the field” and they needed a man to tend them. These are clearly cultivated plants, not just plants in general (Genesis 1). Also, the trees (Genesis 2:9) are only the trees planted in the garden, not trees in general.
In Matthew 19:3–6 Jesus Christ quotes from both Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 when referring to the same man and woman in teaching the doctrine of marriage. Clearly, Jesus saw them as complementary accounts, not contradictory ones.
There is no “evening and morning” for the seventh day of the Creation Week (Genesis 2:2). Thus, we must still be in the “seventh day,” so none of the days can be ordinary days.
Look again at the section entitled “Why Six Days?” above. Exodus 20:11 is clearly referring to seven literal days—six for work and one for rest.
Also, God stated that He “rested” from His work of creation (not that He is resting!). The fact that He rested from His work of creation does not preclude Him from continuing to rest from this activity. God’s work now is different—it is a work of sustaining His creation and of reconciliation and redemption because of man’s sin.
The word yom is qualified by a number (Genesis 2:2–3), so the context still determines that it is an ordinary solar day. Also, God blessed this seventh day and made it holy. In Genesis 3:17–19 we read of the Curse on the earth because of sin. Paul refers to this in Romans 8:22. It does not make sense that God would call this day holy and blessed if He cursed the ground on this “day.” We live in a sin-cursed earth—we are not in the seventh blessed holy day!
Note that in arguing that the seventh day is not an ordinary day because it is not associated with “evening and morning,” proponents are tacitly agreeing that the other six days are ordinary days because they are defined by an evening and a morning.
Some have argued that Hebrews 4:3–4 implies that the seventh day is continuing today:
For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: “So I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest,’” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works. . . .”
However, verse 4 reiterates that God rested (past tense) on the seventh day. If someone says on Monday that he rested on Friday and is still resting, this would not suggest that Friday continued through to Monday! Also, only those who have believed in Christ will enter that rest, showing that it is a spiritual rest, which is compared with God’s rest since the Creation Week. It is not some sort of continuation of the seventh day (otherwise everyone would be “in” this rest).32
Hebrews does not say that the seventh day of Creation Week is continuing today, merely that the rest He instituted is continuing.
Genesis 2:4 states, “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” As this refers to all six days of creation, it shows that the word “day” does not mean an ordinary day.
The Hebrew word yom as used here is not qualified by a number, the phrase “evening and morning,” or light or darkness. In this context, the verse really means “in the time God created” (referring to the Creation Week) or “when God created.”
The real purpose of the framework hypothesis can be seen in the following quote from an article by one of its proponents:
To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation “week” propounded by the young-earth theorists is a central concern of this article.37
|Biblical account of creation||Evolutionary/long-age speculation|
|Earth before the sun and stars||Stars and sun before earth|
|Earth covered in water initially||Earth a molten blob initially|
|Oceans first, then dry land||Dry land, then the oceans|
|Life first created on the land||Life started in the oceans|
|Plants created before the sun||Plants came long after the sun|
|Land animals created after birds||Land animals existed before birds|
|Whales before land animals||Land animals before whales|
Clearly, those who do not accept the six literal days are the ones reading their own preconceived ideas into the passage.
Other than the “gap theory” (the belief that there is a gap of indeterminate time between the first two verses of Genesis 1), the major compromise positions that try to harmonize long ages and/or evolution with Genesis fall into two categories:
All long-age compromises reject Noah’s Flood as global—it could only be a local event because the fossil layers are accepted as evidence for millions of years. A global Flood would have destroyed this record and produced another. Therefore, these positions cannot allow a catastrophic global Flood that would form layers of fossil-bearing rocks over the earth. This, of course, goes against Scripture, which obviously teaches a global Flood (Genesis 6–9).38 Sadly, most theologians years ago simply tried to add this belief to the Bible instead of realizing that these layers were laid down by Noah’s Flood.
Yes, it does matter what a Christian believes concerning the days of creation in Genesis 1. Most importantly, all schemes which insert eons of time into, or before, creation undermine the gospel by putting death, bloodshed, disease, thorns, and suffering before sin and the Fall, as explained above (see answer to Objection 1). Here are two more reasons:
When people accept at face value what Genesis is teaching and accept the days as ordinary days, they will have no problem accepting and making sense of the rest of the Bible.
Martin Luther once said:
I have often said that whoever would study Holy Scripture should be sure to see to it that he stays with the simple words as long as he can and by no means departs from them unless an article of faith compels him to understand them differently. For of this we must be certain: no clearer speech has been heard on Earth than what God has spoken.39
God’s people need to realize that the Word of God is something very special. It is not just the words of men. As Paul said in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, “You received it not as the word of men, but as it is, truly the word of God.”
Proverbs 30:5–6 states that
“every word of God is pure . . . . Do not add to His words, lest He reprove you and you be found a liar.” The Bible cannot be treated as just some great literary work. We need to “tremble at his word” (Isaiah 6:5) and not forget:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work(2 Timothy 3:16–17).
In the original autographs, every word and letter in the Bible is there because God put it there. Let us listen to God speaking to us through His Word and not arrogantly think we can tell God what He really means!
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.