Notes from a Sunday School that began on May 25.
Comments, corrections, and routine editing: absolutely welcomed!
5.2. There’s Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and finally…
So the early church fathers solved this dilemma [Oops: It seems that on that day, Adam surely did not die] in a different way, and the way they conceived is important for other reasons. It was the millennial day solution.
Justin Martyr (100-165) is on everyone's top ten list of early church fathers. Wikipedia provides this thumbnail biography:
Most of what is known about the life of Justin Martyr comes from his own writings. He was born at Flavia Neapolis (ancient Shechem in Judaea/Palaestina, now modern-day Nablus). According to church tradition Justin suffered martyrdom at Rome under the Emperor Marcus Aurelius when Rusticus was prefect of the city (between 162 and 168). He called himself a Samaritan, but his father and grandfather were probably Greek or Roman, and he was brought up a Pagan. It seems that St Justin had property, studied philosophy, converted to Christianity, and devoted the rest of his life to teaching what he considered the true philosophy, still wearing his philosopher's gown to indicate that he had attained the truth. He probably traveled widely and ultimately settled in Rome as a Christian teacher.What did Justin write concerning the problem at hand?
"For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years [Gen. 5:5]. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression 'The day of the Lord is a thousand years' [Ps. 90:4] is connected with this subject" (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew, 81 [A.D. 155]).What Justin is saying, is that a solution to the problem is to take "day" in Gen. 2:17 to mean a thousand years, a la Ps. 90:4 and 2 Pet 3:8.
Another prominent church father is Irenaeus (1?? – c200). Again we make use of Wikipedia:
Irenaeus was bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, now Lyons, France. He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology. He was a disciple of Polycarp of Smyrna, who was said to be a disciple of John the Evangelist.Regarding this same problem, Irenaeus mentions the same solution as Justin:
Irenaeus's best-known book, Against Heresies, (c 180) is a detailed attack on Gnosticism, which was then a serious threat to the Church, and especially on the system of Valentinus. As the first great Catholic theologian, he emphasized the traditional elements in the Church, especially the episcopate, Scripture, and tradition. Irenaeus wrote that the only way for Christians to retain unity was to humbly accept one doctrinal authority--episcopal councils. Against the Gnostics, who said that they possessed a secret oral tradition from Jesus himself, Irenaeus maintained that the bishops in different cities are known as far back as the Apostles — and none of them was a Gnostic.
"And there are some, again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since 'a day of the Lord is a thousand years,' he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin" (Against Heresies, 5:23:2 [A.D. 189]).Based on the wording one might argue whether Irenaeus himself accepted this solution. For our purposes it doesn't matter. What matters is that Irenaeus did not view the solution as improper for a Christian. Even if he did not affirm it, and he very well may have, he did not disparage or criticize the millennial day solution.
Later in the third century, Lactantius (c 250-325), Victronius of Pettau, and Methodius of Olympus also argued for the millennial day view.41
Other church fathers wrote concerning Genesis. Consider Clement of Alexandria (c150 – c215). He wrote:
"And how could creation take place in time, seeing time was born along with things which exist? . . . That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: 'This is the book of the generation, also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth' [Gen. 2:4]. For the expression 'when they were created' intimates an indefinite and dateless production. But the expression 'in the day that God made them,' that is, in and by which God made 'all things,' and 'without which not even one thing was made,' points out the activity exerted by the Son" (Miscellanies 6:16 [A.D. 208]).And finally, read the words of Origen (c185-c254). He makes the argument that since the sun did not appear until day four, the concept of "day" cannot possibly have its ordinary meaning:
"For who that has understanding will suppose that the first and second and third day existed without a sun and moon and stars and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky? . . . I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries, the history having taken place in appearance and not literally" (The Fundamental Doctrines, 4:1:16 [A.D. 225]).
"The text said that 'there was evening and there was morning'; it did not say 'the first day,' but said 'one day.' It is because there was not yet time before the world existed. But time begins to exist with the following days" (Homilies on Genesis [A.D. 234]).
"And since he [the pagan Celsus] makes the statements about the 'days of creation' ground of accusation—as if he understood them clearly and correctly, some of which elapsed before the creation of light and heaven, the sun and moon and stars, and some of them after the creation of these we shall only make this observation, that Moses must have forgotten that he had said a little before 'that in six days the creation of the world had been finished' and that in consequence of this act of forgetfulness he subjoins to these words the following: 'This is the book of the creation of man in the day when God made the heaven and the earth [Gen. 2:4]'" (Against Celsus 6:51 [A.D. 248]).
"And with regard to the creation of the light upon the first day . . . and of the [great] lights and stars upon the fourth . . . we have treated to the best of our ability in our notes upon Genesis, as well as in the foregoing pages, when we found fault with those who, taking the words in their apparent signification, said that the time of six days was occupied in the creation of the world" (ibid., 6:60).
"For he [the pagan Celsus] knows nothing of the day of the Sabbath and rest of God, which follows the completion of the world's creation, and which lasts during the duration of the world, and in which all those will keep the festival with God who have done all their work in their six days" (ibid., 6:61).
41Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, bk. 7, chap. 14. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, ed. v7.