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Was Genesis 1 written from the perspective of “God’s time,” unlike the rest of Scripture?
In an effort to insert millions of years of time into the Bible, some Christians argue that God’s time is not the same as ours. Because “a day is as a thousand years” to the Lord (2 Peter 3:8; Psalm 90:4), they say the “days” of creation in Genesis 1 could have lasted millions of years. Recently, Dr. William Dembski, philosophy professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas, has given this argument a new spin.
His influential book, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World, proposes a new way to harmonize millions of years of death, disease, violence, and extinction with the Bible’s revelation about history. The traditional, orthodox Christian understanding—based on Scripture—is that all natural evils result from, and follow, God’s judgment after Adam’s sin, as recorded in Genesis 3. Dembski, however, argues that all this natural evil is indeed the result of the Fall but that this evil occurred millions of years before the Fall.
A key to his argument is that the New Testament uses two Greek words for time: kairos and chronos (pp. 124–126). He says that kairos is God’s time in the invisible, heavenly realm, which relates to Genesis 1 (or 1–3; his book is unclear). But chronos is our time in the visible, earthly realm.
Dembski presents several arguments to defend his view of time. First, he cites the standard Greek-English lexicon1 and contends that these two words for time have different meanings. Chronos denotes mere duration of time, while kairos denotes time in combination with purpose. To support this novel interpretation, he quotes the liberal theologian Paul Tillich, who rejected the personal God of the Bible.
In light of his definition of these words and the technical difference between our use of logic and God’s logic, Dembski concludes rather confusingly,
Genesis 1 is therefore not to be interpreted as ordinary chronological time (chronos) but rather as time from the vantage of God’s purposes (kairos). Accordingly, the days of creation are neither exact 24-hour days (as in young-earth creationism) nor epochs in natural history (as in old-earth creationism) nor even a literary device (as in the literary-framework theory). Rather, they are actual (literal!) episodes in the divine creative activity.
William Dembski, End of Christianity (B&H Publishing, 2009), p. 142.
His reasoning about time and the origin of natural evil is fatally flawed.2 The cited Greek lexicon does not support his or Tillich’s distinction of kairos from chronos. Furthermore, Dembski fails to analyze the New Testament uses of these words. When that is done, it is clear that both terms refer to our time-space reality, not some supposedly special version of time experienced only by God.3
But we can learn more about time from Genesis 1. Time began in Genesis 1:1 (“in the beginning”). Then God created everything in six literal days—just like our time, according to Exodus 20:8–11.4 Adam was created during this week, and “all the days” of Adam were 930 years (Genesis 5:5). According to these verses, Adam was created, lived, and died in a specific number of literal days like ours.
Yet Dembski says that Creation Week was “kairological time” (God’s time), while the rest of Adam’s life was experienced in “chronological time” (our time). No real, physical human being could live in both kinds of time, if they are, as Dembski contends, significantly different kinds of time. So, contrary to Dembski’s claims otherwise, his time argument, in effect, undermines the historicity of Adam and with it the historicity of the Fall.
God could not be clearer in His Word. He created time, and He created in time— the same kind we experience today.
Jesus treated Genesis 1–11 as straightforward, literal history in His references to several early figures in history—Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:3–9), Abel (Luke 11:50–51), and Noah (Matthew 24:37–39). Jesus was clearly a young-earth creationist, believing that Adam and Eve were there at the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning (Mark 10:6).5
Paul also taught that creation has given mankind a clear witness of God’s existence and nature “since the creation of the world” (Romans 1:20). In fact, every time the New Testament writers refer to Genesis 1–11, they always treat it as literal, historical time of the same kind that we experience.6
What about the “day as a thousand years” in 2 Peter 3:8 and Psalm 90:4? Well, neither verse was written to define the length of creation days. In context both speak of God’s timelessness or eternality. Even if these verses did apply to Genesis 1 (but they don’t), they would only indicate a few thousand years during Creation Week. There is absolutely no basis in these two verses for inserting millions of years before or during Creation Week.
Dembski’s view of time is fatally flawed. Sadly, his book has been enthusiastically endorsed by many highly influential Christian leaders and scholars.7 But God could not be clearer in His Word. He created time, and He created in time, the same kind of time we experience today.
Time, as we know it, began on the first day of Creation (Genesis 1:1). All the natural evil, including that which we infer from the fossil layers of the earth, happened in chronological time after Adam’s Fall. This is all clear from Genesis as well as the testimony of Jesus and the apostles. The only question is, will we believe God’s Word or not?
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.