Even though I am a young-earth creationist, I get weary of reading a lot of young-earth creationist literature. Why? Because such literature often promotes poor theology as well as a distorted view of church history. The young-earth organization Answers in Genesis, for example, is one of the most reliable sources of information when it comes to the scientific data that relate to the creation/evolution debate and the age of the earth. One reason they are so reliable is that they have a team of scientists reviewing their materials, which helps to ensure a reasonable level of scientific accuracy. Unfortunately, when it comes to theology and early church history, they don’t seem to have much of a clue.
Consider what Answers in Genesis says about how to interpret the first chapter of Genesis:
The Hebrew language and context used in Genesis 1 can only mean literal (24 hour) days. Furthermore, as history, the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 provide an accurate chronology, so that from the creation of the first man Adam to the present day is only about 6,000 years.. 1
If you believe that the earth is anything but a few thousand years old, then, you are disagreeing with the clear meaning of Scripture. As convincing as this idea might sound, it is simply false, with a capital “F.”
First, let’s start with the definition of the Hebrew word translated as day (yom). Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance says this is the definition:
yom: from an unsed root mean. to be hot; a. day (as the warm hours) whether lit. (from sunrise to sunset, or from one sunset to the next) or fig. (a space of time defined by an associated term), age, always, chronicles, continually…
So “yom” definitely CAN mean “day,” but it can also mean a lot of other things, including “age,” “continually,” “chronicles,” and many other things I left out. How do you determine what definition to use? You make the determination by context. If I say something like “The yom of Reagan in the U.S. was a yom of great prosperity,” you know that I am NOT talking about a 24-hour day, as Reagan was president of the U.S. for more than a day. However, if I say, “The yom Reagan was first elected marks the point at which a majority of Americans decided that government was the problem, not the solution,” it is clear that I mean a 24-hour day, as Reagan was elected on a specific day (November 4, 1980).
The problem with using such a strategy in Genesis 1 is that the account is of an event for which there really is no context. The process of creation was a unique event that will never happen again. Thus, how do you judge the context of such an event?
Well, as Answers in Genesis says:
Any reputable Hebrew lexicon (one-way dictionary) will list the different meanings given to a word (like ‘day’), and the various contexts that determine these meanings. One will find that whenever yom (day) is qualified by a number or the phrase evening and morning, it always means an ordinary day. 2
The problem is that, once again, this statement is simply dead wrong. First, I challenge anyone to quote the expert on Hebrew who states this is a rule of translation. I can find no such rule. In fact, I can find many scholars who specifically tell us that no such rule exists. For example, Norman L. Geisler says:
Numbered days need not be solar. Neither is there a rule of Hebrew language demanding that all numbered days in a series refer to twenty-four-hour days. 3
Of course, if pressed, Answers in Genesis will tell you that “rule” they want to state as hard and fast is not really a hard and fast rule. However, since Scripture is to be judged against Scripture, that is the way to determine the context of yom in Genesis. They will tell you:
[In Scripture] Whenever the words ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ occur together in the same verse, it also refers to an ordinary day. Similarly, when an ordinal (first, second, etc.) is used, yom only ever means an ordinary day.. 4
Once again, however, this statement is just plain wrong. For example, consider Hosea 6:1-2:
Come, let us return to the LORD For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us. He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, That we may live before Him.
The second verse here uses ordinals (two and third) with the Hebrew word yom, but it clearly is not referring to three 24-hour days. It simply says that we will suffer twice as long as we think we can before God intervenes. Thus, yom refers here to an indefinite period of time, but it is used with ordinals. Most theologians will also agree that the ordinal + yom usage in Zechariah 14:7 does not refer to a 24-hour day.
In addition, the idea that “evening and morning” always refer to a 24-hour day in Scripture is incorrect. Psalm 90:5-6 says:
You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning-though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.” In this verse, the “evening and morning” references refer to the life of a man.
This is why I say that organizations like Answers in Genesis promote poor theology. There is simply no good theological reason to insist that the word yom means a 24-hour day when it is used in Genesis 1. As a result, it is simply poor theology to insist that the Bible teaches a young earth. While I agree that this is a possible meaning of Genesis 1 (indeed, it is the meaning I take from the passage), it is certainly not the only possible meaning. As such, we should not insist that all those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible believe in a young earth.
In fact, I can quote many, many theologians who know more about theology and Hebrew translation than I do, who accept the inerrancy of Scripture, and who have no problems with a billions-of-years-old earth. Norman Geisler, Gleason Archer, William Lane Craig, and Charles Hodge are four I can think of off the top of my head. In fact, J.P. Moreland said:
Now, when it comes to the days of Genesis… if there is an interpretation of the Old Testament that is exegetically permissible– that is, and old age interpretation; that is to say, if you can find conservative, inerrantist, evangelical Old Testament scholars that say that the interpretation of this text that treats the days of Genesis as unspecified periods of time, and that is a completely permissible thing to do on exegetical grounds alone, then my view is that that is a permissible option… 5
In fact, even some early church fathers interpreted yom as something other than a 24-hour day! Origen, Clement of Alexandria, and Augustine are three examples. I will be spending more time on this fact in another post. This is why I say a lot of young-earth creationist writing promotes a distorted view of church history. While a 24-hour-day interpretation of Genesis 1 was by far the most popular interpretation among early Christian leaders, it was not the only one, regardless of what Answers in Genesis tells you. Of course, Answers in Genesis calls theologians like Norman Geisler and church fathers like Origen “compromisers.” I call them more knowledgeable about the Bible than me or any member of the Answers in Genesis team.
1. Andrew Snelling, “How Old Does The Earth Look?”, 2009, http//www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2009/05/12/how-old-does-earth-look
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2. Ken Ham, “Eisegesis: A Genesis Virus,” Creation 24:16-19, 2002, http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v24/i3/eisegesis.asp
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3. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, (Zondervan, 1999), p. 271.
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4. Heath Curtis, “Serpentine subtlety: Defending the truth about Genesis,” Creation 22:52–53, 1999. http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v22/i1/subtlety.asp
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5 J.P. Moreland, Lecture at Northshore Church in Everett, Washington on February 2, 2002.
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