Friday, August 15, 2008

Science and Faith at War?  4. The Genesis Days

Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.

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Location: Grace Baptist Chapel
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Hampton, VA 23666
Time: 10:00-10:45 am

4. The Genesis Days

The greatest challenge facing those who would like to see greater acceptance of science and faith compatibility comes in the question of the age of the earth. This in turn is tied closely to the interpretation of the word day in Genesis One as an ordinary 24-hour day. Others (myself included) believe that the same word should be interpreted as an indeterminate period of time. Some thoughts to keep in mind:
  1. The insistence on an ordinary day interpretation as a “line in the sand” issue (and as we’ll see, it is indeed in some churches) is relatively modern. It was the advent of the theory of evolution that started this trend. Evolution needs a great deal of time. If you believe the theory of evolution is contrary to the faith and wish to dismiss it trivially, then the easiest way is to insist on a young earth. The evidence for this is found in the creeds and confessions of the church. The Apostle’s and Nicene creeds state that “God created the heavens and the earth.” Neither says when, or how long it took. The Athanasian Creed makes no statement on creation, other than to say each member of the Trinity was not created. The Heidelberg catechism makes no mention of creation days. Similarly for the Belgic Confession. The one exception might be the Westminster Confession, but in fact what it does is quote scripture, which no view finds objectionable.

  2. While the 24-hour view is often called the “literal” interpretation, which tends to give it the high road, in fact it is not the only possible literal interpretation. For it to be the unique literal translation it would have to be the case that the words translated as day always means an ordinary 24-hour day, at least in the context if its usage in Genesis One.

  3. The second point highlights the importance of vocabulary. The leads to a third interesting factoid: Biblical Hebrew had a vocabulary of about 4000 words (not including proper nouns.) Modern English is around 600, 000. That means that a given ancient Hebrew word is likely to map onto multiple English words. And keep in mind that the men who chose the particular mapping were influenced by their culture and their level of scientific knowledge. And they were not infallible.
Had I been one of the translators for the KJV, with no reason to suspect an old earth in 1604, I too would have chosen to use the word day and would have inferred that it meant an ordinary 24-hour period.

Another thing we want to ask ourselves when we approach this topic: what are the priorities as presented in scripture? Consider the following table: 33

The point of the table is that scripture says a great deal about creation, but it says much more about who and what than it has to say about when.

The goal of this section is not to convince anyone that a 24-hour view is incorrect. The goal is to demonstrate that a 24-hour view (and along with it a young earth view) is not required. The issue of the early times is not unlike the end times:

  • Both are subject to radically different interpretations by well-meaning Christians who affirm biblical inerrancy and inspiration.

  • Neither was deemed a line-in-the-sand issue by the early church fathers, creeds, or confessions. Those said nothing more than God created the universe and in the end, Christ will return and all will be judged.
As to testify to the fact that some do in-fact elevate the young-earth view to cardinal importance we take the example of John Morris. Morris is the President of the Institute for Creation Research (, an organization dedicated to teaching “Creation Science” that was founded by his father, Henry Morris. Concerning. Recently I stumbled upon this "Ask Dr. Morris" essay, reproduced here, and entitled Should a Church Take a Stand On Creation? 34
Recently my family and I joined a small church plant pastored by a former student of mine at Christian Heritage College—a man of real wisdom and integrity.

A church constitution was being written, which, of course, included a Statement of Faith. A solid creation and young-earth plank appeared in the first draft.

Although there was no disagreement among the members (many of whom were young Christians) as to the doctrine of special, recent creation, there was concern in making this a requirement for membership. I was asked to comment.

Given the fact that most of America's Bible colleges and seminaries would not even agree with the content of the plank, I acknowledged my own hesitancy about being so exclusive, but I proceeded to demonstrate how beliefs in creation and a young earth are integral parts of Christianity.

The doctrine of God is at stake. for example, is the God of the Bible a gracious, purposeful God of wisdom, or does He resort to trial and error in His deeds, testing His creation by survival of the fittest and delighting in the extinction of the weaker? Is God long ago and far away—only occasionally involved, or is He near and intimately concerned with the affairs of life?

The doctrine of Scripture comes into play. There are few Biblical teachings as clear as that of creation in six days and the companion doctrine of the global flood. Yet these two teachings are denied and ridiculed in many Christian churches today. Can the Scriptures be trusted? Can God say what He means? If a Christian can distort Scripture to teach such beliefs as evolution, progressive creation, an old earth, or a local flood, can that Christian be trusted with other doctrines?

The doctrine of man becomes skewed. Can man, with a brain and reasoning powers distorted by the curse, evaluating only a portion of the evidence, accurately reconstruct the history of the universe? Should his historical reconstructions be put on a higher plane than Scripture? Or is man and his mind locked in the effects of the curse—a poor reflection of the once glorious "image of God"—now blinded by sin and the god of this world, seeing things through a glass darkly?"

The doctrine of sin becomes questionable. If death and bloodshed preceded Adam's rebellion against God, then what are "the ways of sin?" How did the entrance of sin change things?

The doctrine of salvation likewise falls, for if death preceded sin, then death is not the penalty for sin, and Christ's death on the cross—accomplished nothing. Any form of evolution and old-earth thinking is incompatible with the work of Christ.

I still am uncertain about young-earth creationism being a requirement for church membership; perhaps it would be proper to give new members time to grow and mature under good teaching.

But I do know one thing: Creationism should be a requirement for Christian leadership! No church should sanction a pastor, Sunday school teacher, deacon, elder, or Bible-study leader who knowledgeably and purposefully errs on this crucial doctrine." (emphasis added)
Morris is not sure whether, were they to seek membership, he would find suitable for Christian fellowship men like: Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Charles Hodge, Benjamin Warfield, Gleason Archer, Francis Schaeffer, etc. Well, maybe they could join the church on a probationary basis, but extensive remedial education would be needed to wean them from spiritual Similac and onto solid food.

That aside, his essay is an exercise in logical fallacies. It is not evolution or Morris’s brand of young-earth creationism. Some forms of old earth creationism still invoke special creation. And even theistic evolutionists (who are different from old earth creationists) do not claim that error or chance was involved—they state that God was at all times in control of the genetic adaptations. And his conclusion that any death prior to the fall, say an elephant trampling and ant, an Christ’s work was meaningless, has no basis whatsoever in scripture and can only be said to impugn the deity of Christ and the omnipotence and sovereignty of God.

So, it is worth saying again, it is not the young earth view I seek to challenge, but the legalism of men such as John Morris.

Biblical Timelines

The King James translation was completed 1611. In 1642, John Lightfoot of Cambridge University analyzed genealogies to come with September 17, 3928 BC for the date the universe was created. Not to be outdone by an Englishman, eight years later James Ussher, Anglican archbishop of Ireland, corrected Lightfoot's work. He arrived at a date that would live in infamy: October 3, 4004 BC. (In a final iteration, Lightfoot corrected Ussher's correction, settling on October 18-24, 4004 BC as creation week, with Adam created at 9:00 AM on October 23.)

This date was so-ingrained in the Christians of that era that any child would recite 4004 BC as the year of creation. Ussher's timelines made it into both the marginal notes and the chapter headings of the King James Bible.

Their work ignored Hebrew scholarship. It was based, as mentioned, on biblical genealogies-even though it is well established that biblical genealogies are not chronologies. X begat (or "was the father of") Y does not always imply a one-generation relationship between the two. This both solves and creates problems. And while it is virtually meaningless in terms of the old/young earth debate, it does mean that accountings of the time since Adam roamed the earth are bound to contain errors.

On example we see is in Christ's genealogy in Matthew, where we read:
Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat, Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram
the father of Uzziah. (Matt. 1:8)
which one can compare with
11 Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, 12 Amaziah [Uzziah] his son, Azariah his son, Jotham his son, (1 Chron 3:11-12)
In this genealogy (Amaziah is the same person as Uzziah) we see that there are three generations missing from Matthew's account, which makes Uzziah appear to be Joram’s son rather than his great-grandson. That is all fine and dandy considering Matthew's purpose was to explain Christ's Davidic (legal) bloodline. Nevertheless it calls into question the precision of Matthew’s concluding:
So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the
deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Matt. 1:17)
I don't know a resolution to this issue, although I don't dwell on it very much. For a more striking example, we read:
Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was officer over the treasures. (1 Chr 26:24)
Shebuel is of the time of David, and yet Gershom is a true next-generation son of Moses (Ex. 2:22) . Thus there are 400+ years between Gershom and his "son" Shebuel.

It is also well known that if genealogies are also chronologies then there are a whole host of additional problems, such as Noah not dying until Abraham was in his fifties. No, it is clear that the bible uses genealogies as historic flows rather than precise family trees. We all are sons of Father Abraham.

These simple examples show that we cannot place too much emphasis on derived, genealogy-based timelines. It is possible that there was much more than two thousand years between Adam and Abraham. I personally believe, based on scientific and archeological evidence, that it was on the order of 100,000 years.

Secular research indicates that by the time Abraham is on the scene, civilizations have risen and fallen. The Stone Age gave way to the Neolithic era (ca. BC 10,000 the era for which remains from the original walled city of Jericho are dated) which gave way to the Bronze Age somewhere around BC 6000. The Bronze Age is subdivided into early, middle and late. Abraham appears somewhere in the "late-middle."

By the time Israel emerged as a nation in the late thirteen century BC, civilization was already ancient. In Mesopotamia, the Sumerian and Old and Middle Babylonian Cultures had already risen and fallen. Egyptian civilization, after an extended period of preeminence due to the predictability of Nile flooding, was waning. By Israel’s time, recorded Chinese history is well under way.

The picture from non-biblical history is: a great deal happened between Adam and Abraham. Or Noah and Abraham. Mankind spread about the world, civilizations rose and fell, and God waited patiently. Finally, however, God was ready for the next step in His redemptive plan: a covenant with Abraham. Why Abraham and not, say, some Indian or Chinese nomad? Who knows?--it wasn't because of Abraham's "goodness", it was because Abraham was chosen by God for God's good purpose.

33Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days, NavPress, 2004.
34See Should a Church Take a Stand On Creation? at

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