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Update: Link added to the article online (HT: Daniel Hyde).

It is sometimes claimed that the church has historically interpreted Genesis 1 as taking place in six twenty-four hour days, such that this is the “traditional” interpretation, with the rise of other interpretations as being solely due to scientific theories with naturalistic assumptions, especially those of Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century.

In light of this claim, it’s instructive to read the historical survey conducted by Robert Letham in his article, “‘In the Space of Six Days': The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly,” Westminster Theological Journal 61 (1999): 147-74.

Professor Letham writes, “This article focuses on how the six days of creation in Genesis 1 have been understood in exegetical history until the time of the Westminster Assembly [1640s]. . . . We will simply ask how the matter has been viewed in the past, for if it is as obvious as some make out we might expect a broad measure of agreement to exist.”

What follows are his summary points at the end of the article:


(1) Before the Westminster Assembly there were a variety of interpretations of Genesis 1 and its days. If the text of Genesis is so clear-cut why did the church down the centuries not see it that way? Does that not say something not only about the interpreters but also the text? Claims that a literal reading of the days of Genesis 1 is obvious fall down when the history of interpretation is taken into consideration.

(2) We will be wise to heed the warnings Augustine and Calvin give on the difficulty of interpreting this chapter, and so beware of dogmatic claims they themselves did not advance. Jerome pointed to the Jewish rabbis’ refusal to let anyone under thirty interpret it. Creation transcends our knowledge and experience. A heavy dose of medicine from Job 38:1ff is in order. As with any other passage, Genesis 1 must not be interpreted in isolation but in the context of the whole of Scripture.

(3) Until the mid-sixteenth century the interpreters we cited were all abreast of the philosophy and science of their day, and often made use of it in biblical interpretation. That we reject many of their scientific beliefs is because of our own scientific knowledge. That we place implicit faith in the laws of gravity is due to what we know scientifically, rather than from the Bible. So far I, for one, have found this reliable! Calvin allows and supports scientific work. He indicates Genesis is of a different literary genre than a science text book.

(4) The Reformed tradition of the sixteenth century interpreted creation theologically. The classic Reformed creeds consider it in the context of the doctrine of God, as an ex nihilo work of the Trinity. In so doing, they affirm their continuity with the historic teaching of the church. The question of the days of creation was not even a matter of discussion. It does not appear in theses for debate by students. Its absence is striking. It was never a matter of confessional significance.

(5) The Puritans until the time of the Westminster Assembly are significantly different from the historic church in their conspicuous lack of interest in creation in general and Genesis in particular. They never even attempted a serious theological interpretation of creation. Nor were they interested in interacting with contemporary science. At a time of such scientific and philosophical ferment this is astounding. Their interests had switched to the narrowly soteriological and ecclesiastical. Evidently, the focus of this article was not a matter of controversy for them.


You’ll have to track down the full article to see the historical homework behind these conclusions.

To be sure, none of this settles the issue—which ultimately must be settled by careful exegesis. But it is a helpful reminder for us not to assert or assume that the history of interpretation before Darwin was uniform.


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Comments:


155 thoughts on “How Did the Church Interpret the Days of Creation before Darwin?”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    How Did the Church Interpret the Days of Creation before Darwin?

    Good post. This is an internal debate between creationists.

    Creationists can, and really should be, united staunchly together against evolution, including against “theistic evolution.”

  2. Gavin O. says:

    Thanks for pointing this out, that article looks really helpful.

  3. Garrett League says:

    “But it is a helpful reminder for us not to assert or assume that the history of interpretation before Darwin was uniform.”

    If we could all simply acknowledge this fact, how much better would our discussions on this topic be? Maybe then people would be more comfortable accepting the current non-uniformity as well instead of viewing it as simply going liberal because of Darwin.

  4. Bill Gorman says:

    Though it isn’t available broadly online if you access to ATLA, you can download a PDF of this article.

    1. Bruce says:

      Does anyone know how to access it at the ATLA site? I cannot seem to locate it there.

  5. Jeff Downs says:

    David Hall’s lecture from a Greenville conference might also be of interest titled The Confession and Creation.

    1. Michael says:

      I just listened to Hall’s lecture and he clearly shows that none of the orthodox church fathers, divines, etc, held to the modern-day old earth theories pre-Darwin.

  6. Michael says:

    “We will be wise to heed the warnings Augustine and Calvin give on the difficulty of interpreting this chapter, and so beware of dogmatic claims they themselves did not advance”

    Like these dogmatic claims??

    “They will not refrain from guffaws when they are informed that but little more than five thousand years have passed since the creation of the universe.” Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 2:925

    “They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed. AUGUSTINE, CITY OF GOD BOOK XI p. 232 ”

    “The question of the days of creation was not even a matter of discussion.”

    It wasn’t because almost all agreed in 6 day, 24-hour creation. If there was a disagreement, it would have shown up in all the writings of this time.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      These quotes are about the age of the earth, not about the duration of the days. The issues are often conflated, but it’s helpful to distinguish them. Hence, Augustine did not believe in 24-hour creation days, even if he did believe in a “young earth.” In contrast, someone like John Sailhamer believes in 24-hour days and holds to an “old earth.”

      1. Michael says:

        For most people, six, 24 hour days would imply a young earth. But Sailhammer does linguistic gymastics when he takes the Hebrew word translated “beginning” and says it refers to an “indefinite period of time, we cannot say for certain when God created the world or how long He took to create it.”

        Does Gen. 1 describe creation ex nihilo or not? Jesus implied it does in Mark 10:16. Adam and Eve were created “from the beginning of creation”. Not after the gap.

        Andrew Kulikovsky has done an excellent review of the major problems Sailhammer’s modified gap theory cannot account for.

      2. Andy Chance says:

        I appreciate the article and the distinction that you’ve made between the age of the earth and the length of the days.

        But don’t you think that misses the point? Isn’t the apparent age of the earth part of the modern justification for the day-age theory?

    2. Jordan says:

      That’s a good distinction to keep in mind.

    3. Augustine believed in instantaneous creation, that is, it all leapt into existence in a single moment. He didn’t have a problem interpreting the six days as something other than six 24 hour periods.

  7. John Thomson says:

    The really important question is what did/would those to whom the book of Genesis was originally written make of Gen 1 or for that matter Gen 1-3?

    Would they see it as symbolic or take it at face value? It’s hard to imagine they would treat it as other than literal (yes I know there is temple imagery at work). Certainly Moses seems to have read the days as literal days.

    Exod 20:8-11 (ESV)
    “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

    1. Terry says:

      I was thinking along the same lines. Jewish people were commanded to work 6 days and to rest 1 day each week. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all this is in them, and rested on the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11, ESV).

      I cannot imagine a Jewish man arguing that he could work on the Sabbath because one should not take the days of creation literally, the days on which the Sabbath law was based. At least, I can’t imagine him getting away with such an argument.

  8. Craig Hurst says:

    When I first read Augustine’s Confessions I was surprised he held to what we would call the Day-Age theory. I remember going to my Church History professor in seminary with utter shock.

    This is a discussion that comes up frequently between my wife and I. I was raised a literal 6-day/24 hr creationist. My wife’s parents are Day Age theorists but my wife never agreed with it.

    I have done a fair amount of reading on this and I have developed sympathies for the Day Age Theory and some arguments for Sailhamer’s Literary View. There are some things my conscience will not allow me to let go yet but I am still working through it.

    I think if more Christians knew the diversity of opinions on this before Darwin they might be shocked. I have always said that the Scientific Revolution and Darwin changed the way we read and interpret Gen. 1-3 and I dont think it has necessarily been for the better.

    I think first it needs to be read for its intended theological aim within its ANE context (though not going as far as Walton has in his new book). The exegesis is hard on it because the results depend on the type of literature you think it is. This is where I get hung up.

    1. Perhaps I misspoke. I read somewhere else that Augustine believed creation happened in an instant. He was more of a day-age guy?

      1. Craig Hurst says:

        Now I am honestly questioning what he said so I am going to go back to his book and skim through my highlights to find it.

  9. John R. says:

    Michael, it seems to me that the quotes you provide regard the age of the earth rather than the exegesis of Genesis 1–which is actually the subject of Letham’s paper. Your quotes (if accurate, which I have no reason to doubt) establish that Calvin and Augustine believed in a young universe. They do NOT establish that each believed Genesis 1 to be speaking of six 24-hour days. Perhaps each did believe that; I’ve not read Letham’s paper nor Calvin and Augustine on that topic, so I can’t say. But what I can say is that the quotes you provide do not directly address Letham’s thesis.

  10. Jeff Downs says:

    The language in the Confession “in the space of six days” comes directly from Calvin.

  11. Glenn says:

    Augustine believed that the world and everything else came into existence in a split second because he could not conceive of the almighty God taking so long as six days.

    Calvin roundly disputes this in his commentary on Genesis;
    “Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”

    Luther;
    He [Moses] calls ‘a spade a spade,’ i.e., he employs the terms ‘day’ and ‘evening’ without Allegory, just as we customarily do we assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read. If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit.
    Martin Luther in Jaroslav Peliken, editor, “Luther’s Works,” Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1-5, Vol. 1 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), pp. 3, 6.

    Prof. James Barr, Hebrew scholar and Oriel Professor of Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford University
    “[S]o 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 world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”

  12. Dan Phillips says:

    Does a clear passage cease being a clear passage when sufficient people say it is not a clear passage? If so, what is the threshhold?

    2 Timothy 2:12 is unpopular today, but not unclear. At that point will we have to say that it is unclear? How many truths are decided, not on the merits of the text, but on the skills of the interpreters?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      My point was just about the historical claim.

      Exegetically I don’t think the 24-hour view works, but for those who hold to it, I don’t think they should give the impression that this view has been the uniform view of the church before Darwin.

      1. Dan Phillips says:

        Well, esteemed brother, my response would be: I think that, exegetically, the 24-hour view is absolutely necessary.

        So it pretty well must work.

        (c:

        1. Scott says:

          No it’s not. Carry on.

      2. Michael says:

        Justin, from the points above, the “historical claim” is based on bad research.

        “The formulation of the WCF and the use of the phrase “in the space of six days” were contributed by Calvin to refute Augustine’s view of creation and to show support for his own
        view, the six 24-hour day view. J. Ligon Duncan comments “the Assembly (referring to the Divines) was generally if not unanimously committed to a literalist view of the six days of
        creation, and was aware of ancient or contemporary non-literal interpretations of the creation days, and precisely because of those non-literal interpretations chose to employ Calvin’s explicitly literalist language (“in the space of six days”) in an effort to promote one particular view of the manner and time-span of creation as over against other views.” Duncan also says there is no evidence yet of any divine holding a view different than a literal 6-day, 24-hour view.

        J. Ligon Duncan, Animadversions on Alex Mitchell’s View of the Westminster Assembly and the Days of
        Creation, Responses to Covenant Seminary’s Paper on Creation, 31-32.

        1. Justin Taylor says:

          Respectfully, you’ll have to read Letham’s article before publicly pronouncing it “bad research.”

          1. Michael says:

            True. Which is why I can only deduce “from the points above” that you have quoted. But I will read it asap. The article can be found here:

            http://files.wts.edu/uploads/pdf/publications/wtj/v61-2-1999fall-toc.pdf

            1. That’s just the table of contents.

      3. Mike Johnson says:

        I’m just curious; in what way do you think the 24 hour view “does not work”?

  13. Dan Phillips says:

    Grr. “At that point: = “At what point”

  14. Jeff Downs says:

    “Exegetically I don’t think the 24-hour view works” Justin, you need to come to Greenville Seminary and sit in Dr. Pipa’s class on hear his exegesis of Genesis 1-2.

    Or, our Summer Institute for 2011 will feature Dr. Pipa and Jonathan Sarfati; Dr. Pipa will be dealing with exegesis and theology…IMHO you’ll hear the best exegetical defense of six-days.

  15. Fadi Hanna says:

    Interestingly, the notion of a literal six 24 hour days, to me, conflicts with what we see in the transition to a historical account in the very next chapter (Genesis 2). While there are other reasons for my rationale, I don’t believe we need to look outside Adam’s response in verse 23 when Eve is presented to him, where he, in effect, animatedly proclaims “at long last!” This response does not appear compatible with a “literal” reading of Genesis 1 – 2:3 (a passage, unlike the remainder of chapter 2, not written in the same form or manner as the other historical accounts of the Hebrew Scriptures), which states man and woman were both created on day 6. Having stated that, I realize it is technically compatible, but the nature of Adam’s response, to me, would make it quite unlikely that Eve was created within 24 hours of Adam.

    1. That’s actually pretty good!

      1. Dan Phillips says:

        What part? Reading v. 23 as if vv. 19-20 didn’t precede and explain? Overlooking Matthew 19:4-6, where the Lord Jesus collates Genesis 1 and 2 as equally historical? Where’s the “good”?

  16. Casey Hough says:

    Justin,

    Just out of curiosity, why do you believe that 24-hour days does not work exegetically? Before you answer, let me say that this is not an “ah-ha” type of question. I have NO desire to be confrontational. I was just curious to hear what exegetical reasons lead you to adopt a differing position. If there is good resource or article that you would rather refer me to, that would be just a good. Thanks for all you do.

    In Christ,

    Casey Hough

  17. Sean Rice says:

    If I didn’t see the whole of Genesis 1 as a poetic (not literal) framework, I think that the ‘there was evening, and morning’ line would pretty well lock me in to a 24-hour day sort of view.

  18. It always surprises me that hardly anyone takes the view that strikes me as most likely — that the word ‘yom’ is being used to describe literal 24-hour days within the account, but the account’s days don’t necessarily refer to actual days or any specific longer periods of time (or even to chronologically-ordered events). I think the six-dayers are right on the linguistic level, but that has no bearing on how long it took God to create.

    I think there’s even a strong biblical-theology argument against taking the six days to refer to six 24 hour periods, if (as I think the NT writers do) we should take ourselves still to be in the seventh day. So the idea that no one would ever come to take them other than the six-day view is not only historically false, as this article argues, but contrary to what some of our best biblical theologians have been (rightly in my view) arguing about how the Bible fits together. But my main point here is that none of that undermines the exegesis that within the narrative it clearly means six 24-hour days. It’s certainly presented that way. But the parable of the sower and the seed presents the gospel as seed, and it clearly doesn’t refer to seed even though it literally does mean seed. (The farmer isn’t sowing gospel. Those the farmer stands for sow the gospel. The farmer literally sows seed.)

  19. Glenn says:

    Sean, there is nothing in the Hebrew of Genesis which in any way indicates ‘poetry’.

    Prof. James Barr, Hebrew scholar and Oriel Professor of Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford University
    “[S]o 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 world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”

    1. Sean Rice says:

      Would Bruce Waltke qualify, contra James Barr?

      There are plenty of Hebrew and Old Testament scholars who would agree that Genesis 1 does bear the marks of poetry, or at least of elevated (near-poetic) prose. Plus it’s worth noting that non-literal interpretations of the Creation story go all the way back to Josephus himself (early 70’s A.D.).

      On points (b) and (c), a quick word:

      (b) misses the possibility that the genealogies could be abbreviated, and (c) assumes that I don’t believe in a worldwide flood – which I do. I hold to the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy; I don’t call for a non-literal interpretation of the text unless I believe the text itself warrants it within an inerrantist framework.

      1. Also, no one has mentioned (so far) the “toledot”s of Genesis. The first one is at 2:4 indicating that a new literary section has begun. If 1:1-2:3 is “elevated (near-poetic) prose” then perhaps the “toledot” indicates an end to the elevated prose section and the commencement of the historical narrative. That also seems to reconcile why there are two creation accounts so close together.

  20. Steve says:

    On the fourth day the luminaries were made. This was because God, who possesses foreknowledge, knew the follies of the vain philosophers. He knew that they were going to say that the things that grow on the earth are produced from the heavenly bodies. For in this way, the philosophers exclude God. Therefore, in order that the truth might be obvious, the plants and seeds were produced prior to the heavenly bodies. For that which is later cannot produce that which precedes it. ~ Theophilus of Antioch

    ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth,’ that is, the substance of the heavens and the substance of the earth. So let no one think that there is anything allegorical in the works of the six days. No one can rightly say that the things that pertain to these days were symbolic. ~ Ephrem the Syrian

    For you seem to me, O Theophila, to have discussed those words of the Scripture amply and clearly, and to have set them forth as they are without mistake. For it is a dangerous thing wholly to despise the literal meaning, as has been said, and especially of Genesis, where the unchangeable decrees of God for the constitution of the universe are set forth. ~ Methodius

    We assert that Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read. If we do not comprehend the reason for this, let us remain pupils and leave the job of teacher to the Holy Spirit. ~ Martin Luther

    I have said above, that six days were employed in the formation of the world; not that God, to whom one moment is as a thousand years, had need of this succession of time, but that he might engage us in the consideration of his works. ~ John Calvin

    It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create or make of nothing the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good. ~ Westminster Confession

    There have always been signs of him throughout the ages. Ours are the prophecies. Other ages had other signs.

    These proofs all support one another. If one is true, so is the other. Thus every age, having proofs proper to itself, has known the others though them.

    Those who saw the Flood believed in the Creation, and believed in the Messiah who was to come. Those who saw Moses believed in the Flood and the fulfillment of the prophesies.

    And we who see the prophecies fulfilled should believe in the Flood and Creation. . ~ Blaise Pascal

    1. Dean Davis says:

      Thank you, Steve. A rich contribution to a good dialog. D

    2. Daniel Hyde says:

      Where are the references to these quotes? Not doubting they’re accurate; just want to follow-up on them.

  21. Glenn says:

    Having now read through the whole document that started this whole thing off I have to say it is poorly argued and in several sections the conclusions reached do not match well with the source material used.

    I am really surprised that this document is being given the credence which it does not actually deserve.

    It is now very late here in the UK and I must away to bed

  22. Justin Taylor says:

    FYI: In terms of genre, “exalted prose narrative’ (so C. John Collins) is probably the best description. D. A. Carson puts it well in The God Who Is There when he makes the observation that “There is more ambiguity in the interpretation of these chapters than some Christians recognize.”

    1. Casey Hough says:

      What exegetically makes Collin’s hermeneutical category the “best description” of Genesis? Carson’s comment about ambiguity is a fair observation of historical development, but Carson also contends that critical exegesis trumps hermeneutical presuppositions. So again I ask, what exegetically warrants Collin’s category as being “probably” the best?

  23. Glenn says:

    FYI: In terms of genre, “historical narrative” is the best description of Genesis

  24. Ben Edwards says:

    A few thoughts:

    Many of the interpreters cited as not holding to 24 hour days are know for practicing an allegorical hermeneutic, thus it is not surprising they would deny a literal interpretation (e.g., Origen, Augustine, Anselm)

    The fact that there was a diversity of interpretations does not mean that the text is unclear–there was a diversity of interpretations regarding justification by faith for years in the church (e.g., Rom 3), but I don’t think we would say that makes that text unclear. It means that people were not interpreting accurately.

    The historic position of the church does not change based on the existence of dissenting positions. This line of argumentation is like claiming that the historic position of the church is not that Jesus is fully God and fully man because there are interpreters who proposed other explanations.

  25. Dean Davis says:

    J. Sarfati’s long and well-documented chapter on the history of the interpretation of Genesis 1-11 concludes as follows:

    “The vast majority of exegetes, from the early church fathers through the Reformers and up to the early 19th century, believed that the creation days were 24 hours long. Even those who did not accept literal days erred in the opposite direction (from modern compromisers), by allegorizing the six days into an instant.” (Refuting Compromise)

    He also points out that theological liberals, like Barr, readily assent to the fact that 1) the most natural reading of the text is six 24 hours days, and 2) this has been the majority position of orthodox Judaism and Christianity down through the centuries.

    In a fallen world where the Word of God and the word of Satan are ever in conflict, there will always be many who scorn the biblical cosmogony. More importantly, reflecting the same spiritual warfare, there will also be some who name the name of Christ, yet deviate from the true sense of a given biblical text.

    It seems to me that in such a world the majority of professing Christians are likely the ones hearing from the Spirit. No, I am not saying that truth is established by a Christian majority. However, the majority view is surely the best place to begin.

    And contra Mr. Letham, I am thinking that most often it is the best place to wind up.

    For a short article on the historic Reformed view of the days of creation, see: http://bylogos.blogspot.com/2009/08/is-traditional-view-of-genesis-reformed.html

  26. Scott C says:

    It seems to me that it depends on how one interprets the evidence. James R. Mook in his well researched article, “The Church Fathers on Genesis, the Flood, and the Age of the Earth” (from “Coming to Grips with Genesis”) concludes the following:

    “Most of the fathers held to the six days as being literal 24-hour days. At the very minimum, they all believed that creation was sudden… No father proposed anything that could be taken as affirming deep time. It does not follow logically that if a father did not specify the exact length of each creation day, or even treated them as purely symbolic, then he would not see the time frame of creation as being important, or that deep time was a viable option. The oft-used counter examples of Clement, Origen, and Augustine, best understood through the lens of Alexandrian allegorical hermeneutics, all held that creation had been fully completed in an instant.”

  27. Michael says:

    Thanks to Danny Hyde’s site for posting the article in full, I have now read it. I’m not seeing how Letham’s article infers any historical advantage to the Old Earth Creationist. All of the people he cites, with the exception of Origen (and his followers) hold to an instantaneous or literal 6 day creation. And Letham admits that Origen held this view due to his neo-platonism and allegorical interpretation. But even Origen does not make statements that would lead one to believe in millions or billions of years.

    Letham’s article shows some diversity in the historical interpretation of Gen. 1, but nothing helpful to an Old Earth creationist.

    1. Martin Ricquebourg says:

      Thanks to archive.org, I have managed to obtain about 50 commentaries of Genesis pertaining to the Darwinian era in particular, and it is true to say that the battle for Genesis was fought and lost many decades before Darwin. What i cannot concede, however, is that the literal interpretation of Genesis has been anything but predominantly orthodox over the last two thousand years. Until the mid 1700s, churchmen and scientists alike respected Genesis as history with precious few expections. It was only in later years that the so-called “enlightenment” had its way with biblical interpretation and paid its toll in full on the first few chapters of our Bibles. Letham’s survey is disappointingly thin (omitting many notable theologians prior to Darwin who maintained a literal exegesis of this text), and in other places misleading. For instance, he states that, “Calvin in his commentary on Genesis (1554), does not deal directly with the details of the discussion on the days of creation” when in fact he does! Consider the following quote: “Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.” I can’t help but feel that Letham’s agenda to justify anything but the literal interpretation of Genesis is influencing the objectivity of his survey.

      As things stand i would have to agree with David Hall who maintains, “it is a very difficult task to reproduce pre-1800 Christian literature that both employs rigorous exegetical methodology and that defends something other than a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11.” Without question, the evidence (when it is stated in full) strongly supports the fact that the orthodox interpretation of Genesis over the last two millenia has indeed been the literal interpretation. For substantiation of this claim, there are two excellent papers by David Hall and James Mook available in the book Coming to Grips with Genesis (already mentioned by Scott C., and available in full on Google Books). They have both done extensive research on this question and provide a helpful critique of Letham’s paper. It is always useful to engage with the other side of the story – I think you will find the evidence quite overwhelming in retrospect.

      Thus, even though “Calvin allows and supports scientific work” i am sure he would not support the kind of extrabiblical eisegesis which is pervading Genesis commentaries today. Why do we think that we can make God’s word somehow more “scientifically” appealing by letting it bow and scrape to man’s current cosmological opinions? Why is it that the framework hypothesis, day-age theory, gap-theory, analogical days theory, Genesis-as-myth theory, and theistic evolutionary theory all find their origin in the 19th and 20th centuries? I’m sure as popular scientific opinion changes with regards to evolutionary ideas in the years ahead we will have many more new interpretations of Genesis to contend with. Why can’t we just accept the text as it stands? Is it because we trust the scientists of our day more than the words of God?

  28. A number of the latest comments have misinterpreted Justin’s argument, in a pretty seriously uncharitable way, especially given his clear statements about what he’s arguing. As he’s now said more than once, he’s not arguing that this article supports Old Earth over Young Earth. What he’s arguing is that a certain claim often made in support of Young Earth is actually demonstrably false based on the actual history of interpretation. He’s not saying that there are no historical claims that they could have made instead that would have been better. He’s not saying that the particular views of historical figures before Darwin had much to do with Old Earth views of today. He’s just saying that it shows one particular Old Earth claim that gets trotted out quite often (and has been affirmed more than once in this conversation despite its falsity) to be a pretty twisted account of what really happened.

    He’s right about that, and I don’t think that should even be under dispute. There are plenty of places to dispute once that’s agreed upon. There’s the issue of what the exegesis really should come to. There’s the issue of whether we should believe what scientific consensus has come to when it seems to conflict with what might seem to be the best exegesis of the text. There’s the issue of how you should take things hermeneutically once you’ve settled the literal exegesis. There’s the issue of whether what seems more likely as an exegetical issue must be held up as a test of orthodoxy or whether a less likely interpretation may still be kosher, even if less likely (and when science bolsters it, it leaves more room for doubt if the text is in fact less than 100% unambiguous). There are issues of how your handling of this text will affect how you put your Bible together.

    Nothing in Justin’s argument requires any particular answer to any of those questions. It simply blocks one very common claim given to try to force some views off the map by pretending one interpretation has been consistently affirmed by all Christians for all time until very recently. That’s simply not true.

    1. gus says:

      Jeremy, so you basically agree with Taylor and Letham — that there is a wide variety of interpretations prior to Darwin?
      If so, what are your thoughts in response to the some of the comments above that Letham and Taylor are merely being selective in their historical survey?

      1. I don’t know about Letham, since I haven’t read the article. His general thesis strikes me as correct given what I know about church history, and he’s certainly right about Augustine. Whether it’s selective depends on how he casts it. If he claims that there’s never been any majority view, he’s certainly wrong. If he claims that it wasn’t an issue of orthodoxy but a disputable matter (even among those who took the six-day view), then for all I know he’s right about many people. Even Calvin doesn’t declare Augustine a heretic on this issue. He just thinks he’s wrong and without basis He doesn’t think it does justice to the text. He doesn’t make the baseless and disunifying claim that those who do this are destroying the gospel. He doesn’t make the non sequitur that it requires disbelieving in a genuine person named Adam, as some here have. Those who make this sort of thing a test for orthodoxy are, in my view, causing divisions over non-gospel issues, which is viewed as a very serious offense in the New Testament.

    2. Ben Edwards says:

      “He’s right about that, and I don’t think that should even be under dispute.”

      Actually, many of the commentators have pointed out that JT’s point is under dispute (that 6-day is the historic or traditional interpretation). That’s why people have provided resources that counter Letham’s article, and why they have mentioned the selectivity of Letham’s article.

      If JT is trying to counter the claim that no one in church history has ever proposed any interpretation other than 6-day, then he’s right. The problem is that I don’t know of any serious YEC who is making that argument. They typically argue that it is the traditional or historic position (i.e., most have held it, and it has been generally accepted).

      That’s why I said that the existence of dissenting opinions does not destroy the claim that it is the historic position. Otherwise, the church has no historic positions on anything (b/c we can always find dissenting interpretations.)

      1. No, the evidence shows exactly what I said it shows. It shows that there hasn’t be one view for all Christians for all time before Darwin. I never said it shows that the currently-popular views were around before Darwin. All I said is that there were other views before Darwin, and they were held by pious believers who held to inerrancy, just as they are now held by pious believers who hold to inerrancy.

        Now I don’t see why we should need to produce someone who held the Old-Earth view prior to Darwin. The claim of the Old-Earth view is not that it’s the most obvious way to take the text. The claim is that the text allows room for several ways to take it and that it doesn’t disturb the inerrancy of the text if we discover something scientifically that seems to conflict with what we initially thought was the most obvious interpretation.

        Surely the most obvious interpretation of Joshua 10 is that the sun stopped moving around the earth. It wasn’t until we discovered through science that the sun doesn’t move around the earth at all that people started taking that passage phenomenologically. I challenge you to produce someone before Copernicus who took the passage in a heliocentric way. I bet you won’t. By your own standards, therefore, you better give up your heliocentrism. For that matter, you better take pi to be 3, since Chronicles rounds it off at 3, and we’d have no way of knowing that that’s false without doing mathematical investigation.

        The usual hermeneutic when our best science seems to conflict with the most likely exegesis is simply not being applied in this case.

        1. Ben Edwards says:

          I imagine this was meant to be a reply to the comment below mine (since you don’t address my comment at all), but I want to reiterate that I don’t know of any serious YEC who is saying there has been one view for all Christians before Darwin. They are saying that the historic position of the church (i.e., the one held by the majority and considered to be correct) is 6-day. After Darwin the variety of views and number of people not holding to 6-day increased dramatically.

          If you want to argue against something no one is saying, feel free, but I don’t see how it would be helpful.

          1. It was a reply to both, and I did respond to something you said. You pointed out that the instantaneous creation view is not the same view as the day-age view (and so on), but Justin wasn’t saying that it is the same view. He was simply relying on the fact that neither view is the six-day view, and that means those who say that the six-day view has always been considered orthodox are wrong. Augustine has almost never been thought of as unorthodox.

            1. Ben Edwards says:

              Actually, I didn’t say anything about the instantaneous creation or day age view, so you didn’t say anything about my comment. And, fwiw, Augustine was unorthodox in many of his teachings (especially in regard to the church…unless you are RC and not reformed).

              And for the final time, no one is arguing that there weren’t different views before Darwin. They are arguing that the historic and majority position of the church (basically, the orthodox position) was 6-day.

              To claim that YEC claims uniform interpretation prior to Darwin is putting statements in their mouth they have never made. Then, showing that the interpretation was not uniform to “overturn” that position is not good argumentation. There’s a name for that: erecting straw men.

              1. You’re right. It was Michael who said that. (That’s what I get for trying to respond to two comments with one comment.)

                As for the majority view vs. only view issue, that’s fine as far as it goes. But being the majority view does not make it the only view compatible with orthodoxy. It takes more than mere majority support for that. It takes being tied up with the gospel itself, and this issue surely is not. There are people whose acceptance of the gospel is complete who have held other views without inconsistency.

                The argument, as I take it, is not that a handful of extermists who were unorthodox held other views, and therefore it’s orthodox. The argument is that a number of orthodox believers have denied the six-day view without thereby abandoning orthodoxy. It’s not about counting heads. It’s about figures in church history who are regularly taken to be just fine on gospel issues, and that has implications for what we should today take as consistent with the gospel. Now I haven’t read the paper, but that’s where I see the force of this observation going.

              2. As for Augustine, I don’t see anything heretical in his false views on ecclesiology. His views on gospel issues are orthodox, and no views about anything else can be unorthodox. Besides, the historic position of the church on orthodoxy is that unorthodoxy amounts to rejecting something in one of the classic creeds. There’s nothing in any of the creeds I’m aware of that has a bearing on this issue. So you’re going against the historic position of the church on orthodoxy.

              3. Ben Edwards says:

                The word orthodox can have different meanings based on context and use. If it means “in line with the historic creeds of the church” then 6-day is obviously not orthodox (but neither is penal-substitution or justification by faith, which I would think are gospel issues).

                If it means “in line with the historic position of the church” then I think 6-day is basically orthodox (at least as orthodox as penal-substitution and justification).

                However, if orthodox means “you must believe this to be saved” then 6-day is not orthodox (but neither is penal-substitution–unless C.S. Lewis was not a christian–, and I would argue that procession of the Spirit from the Father and Son is not either, though it would be orthodox in the first meaning I mentioned above).

                Regarding the orthodoxy of the men mentioned in the article, let’s just look at 3.

                Origen taught that the Son was dependent on the Father for his existence, taught a spiritual (not bodily) resurrection of Christ, and universal redemption (are these orthodox…are any gospel issues?)

                Ambrose confuses justification with sanctification, holds to baptismal regeneration, the “transfiguration” of the elements in the Eucharist, the power of priests to forgive sins, and the intercession of the saints. (are these orthodox…are any gospel issues?)

                Augustine taught that justification was a process (not forensic), that the visible church is the channel of divine grace, that the validity of sacraments were dependent on the ordination of the person administering them, and that baptism cleansed from original sin. (are these all orthodox…are any gospel issues?)

                I don’t think anyone is arguing that a denial of 6-day makes one a heretic. They are saying it goes against the traditional/historic interpretation of the church and could lead to heresy.

        2. Michael says:

          Jeremy the interpretation of Joshua 10 did not change after Copernicus. Also the interpretation of the Chronicles Pi passage has not changed over the years either. The interpretation of Gen 1-2 has changed dramatically since modern geology and Darwinism has postulated new theories. But the question is should the scientific theories have any affect on our interpretation of a miraculous event like creation?

          Before the 17th century the literal interpretation was the standard unless the theologian was influenced by Platonism, Gnosticism, etc.

          1. Jonathan Chan says:

            Michael, can you point us to some links or quotes indicating that the interpretation of Joshua 10 did not change with widespread acceptance of heliocentric theory?

            1. Michael says:

              What would be sufficient proof that it did not change? The burden of proof lies on the one who claims it did change. From the human standpoint the sun stopped. Maybe liberals dismiss the miracle completely but I’m not aware of the interpretation changing with Copernicus.

              Do you say the earth had rotated into the sunlight in the morning or that the sun has risen? Is it okay to say I watched a sunset or should I word it in more scientific jargon?

            2. Jonathan Chan says:

              I’m sorry, I don’t understand how the burden of proof lies more with one side than another. Sufficient proof, at least in my opinion, would be a couple of primary sources, or a survey of secondary accounts of interpretations of the passage prior to acceptance of heliocentrism. A document similar to (or better than) the one that Justin posted would be helpful to me. A book suggestion, like the one Scott C made to me below, would also be great.

              Michael, I hope I haven’t given you the impression I have some sort of axe to grind, or am out to “get” anybody. I’m just trying to collect as many facts and understand as many views as I can.

              1. Michael says:

                Jonathan, thank you for your kind response. Here are a couple of articles that may help:

                http://creation.com/joshuas-long-day

                The modern questions around Joshua 10 are about how the miracle occurred, not in understanding what the Biblical author is trying to convey to us.

    3. Michael says:

      Jeremy, based on current issues surrounding the Gen. 1 account, the implication of this blogpost (and some of JT’s comments) is to show that there is a wide variety of interpretations before Darwin, so there’s no need to make a big fuss about Old Earth creationism today.

      “pretending one interpretation has been consistently affirmed by all Christians for all time until very recently. That’s simply not true.”

      You will have to bring forth better evidence than has been shown here to prove your statement. Letham’s article does not help much, unless you are arguing for an instantaneous creation account.

      Let’s just ask the underlying question: Can anyone show an Old Earth view pre-18th century that is based on exegesis and not Platonism, Gnosticism, Naturalism, etc.?

      1. Scott C says:

        It is correct that there is a variety (I wouldn’t say wide) of interpretations before Darwin. Where the issue becomes misleading is to suggest that this means there was no broad consensus in the Church on how to interpret Genesis 1. Clearly, the majority historic position was a literal interpretation. Now that position is in the minority (that is, if you examine the major evangelical commentaries on Genesis since Darwin). That suggests that Darwin has driven the interpretation of Genesis and not grammatical historical exegesis.

        1. John Thomson says:

          Surely Scott’s observation is correct.

        2. Jordan says:

          It’s more than just Darwin, but it is surely correct that science has driven the interpretation of Genesis. It would be better if more people admitted that their interpretation was based partly on the science. It seems no more absurd to admit this than it is to admit that one’s interpretation of the NT is based partly on knowledge of ancient Greek and how other extra-Biblical authors used it.

  29. John says:

    In a heretofore unparalleled irony, some who advocate a “six 24-hr literal creation day” view – and who presumably eschew Darwinism – are more than quick to assume that “ancient Hebrews” were barely evolved neanderthals, entirely incapable of understanding such literary devices as poetry, metaphor, simile, or pretty much anything more complex than Dick, Jane, and Spot.

    1. Dan Phillips says:

      What Jeff Downs said. Ten names would be good. Or five.

      Or one.

      Or a retraction.

  30. Jeff Downs says:

    You claim there is an irony, but do you care to mention some names and example?, otherwise you accusation is hollow.

    1. John says:

      I would encourage you not to conflate observation with accusation. No, I don’t care to, but thanks for asking.

  31. Craig Hurst says:

    Looks like someone needs to write a book called “A History of Interpreting Genesis 1 & 2 from the Church Fathers to Darwin” and then another picking it up from Darwin to the present. This could be set up similar to Ferguson’s book Baptism in the early Church but it would seek to cover to the present in two volumes as I am sure the amount of material would warrant it.

    Another book could be “Changes in Interpreting Genesis 1 & 2: How the Scientific Revolution and Darwinian Evolution Impacted the Church’s View of Origins”.

    1. Ben Edwards says:

      For starters, you could look at Mortenson’s adapation of his Ph.D. dissertation looking at the history of geology in relation to the teaching of the church in the 19th century: http://www.amazon.com/Great-Turning-Point-Catastrophic-Geology-Before/dp/0890514089

  32. Robert says:

    I think the creation of the whole ‘creation’ was done in Gen. 1:1. The question to consider isn’t the day=24 hr thing, but what is the ‘land’ that was created in teh 6 days. It seems to me, in light of the grand narrative, that the point is that God was preparing a special place to place his crown creation (man), which was the Garden. I think the 6 days are literal days but speak of God arranging what he had already created (Gen. 1:1) and preparing a home for man. Much like what he is now doing for man.

  33. JT,

    Brother, this article simply does not have the evidence to persuade that the church’s historical opinion on the matter is mixed. Arguments from silence are not convincing, and Augustine’s “instant creation” hardly demonstrates a wide swath of disagreement on the matter.

    The fact of the matter, of the exegesis, is that Moses could not have made a 24 day more clear if he had tried. “an evening and a morning, one day.” The only way it could be more clear is if he had said, “an evening and a morning, 24 hours, one day, I’m not kidding. Seriously.”

    The “old earth” interpretation upturns the reliability of the historicity of Adam and the fall of man. You may think that the exegesis that leads to a “24 hour day” is incorrect, but most deny it because of science and not exegesis.

    If we are embarrassed about the plain reading of page one, what will become of the rest?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      As I’ve mentioned before, one can hold to the days as 24-hour periods and not believe in a young earth. And yes, it’s possible to hold to an “old earth” and believe in historicity of Adam and the Fall.

      1. JT,

        I agree. I’m familiar with Dr. Sailhamer’s view and the gap view. I have spent much time thinking through Dr. Sailhamer’s “merism” argument. It is possible that he and others have come to a literal “six day” view with an “old earth” through exegesis alone and not because of pressure of the scientific community.

        Having said that, a large portion of people who abandon a young earth reading of Genesis One are not doing it because of the merism of ‘eth hashamyim v’eth ha arets. They are leaving it because of science. They are not thinking carefully about the impact it has upon the historicity of Adam, and as such they have opened the door for greater errors than an “old earth” cosmology.

        If everyone held Dr. Sailhamer’s view for Dr. Sailhamer’s reasons, I will just tut-tut snobbily. That is not the case, and one error is not like another. If someone believes in a historical Adam and denies theistic evolution, I just think that they are doing a poor job of exegeting Genesis 1. That’s not the unpardonable sin, but it is worth raising a fuss over.

      2. Dean Davis says:

        But Justin, is it possible to hold to an old earth and also say that all the evil, suffering, and death that has ever been in the universe entered with the fall of Adam (per Romans 5, 8)?

        That, I would say, is the material point in this whole debate.

    2. Scott says:

      Maybe it has nothing at all to do with being “embarrassed,” but with an honest search for the right interpretation?

  34. Terry Pergston says:

    It is no coincidence that those who refuse to believe that the Bible means what it says about the end also refuse to believe what it says about the beginning. If 1,000 years doesn’t mean 1,000 years, why should six days mean six days? If the passages which speak about the end times and God’s future plans for Israel don’t actually mean what they say, why not allegorize away other parts of the Bible we are uncomfortable with? It is no coincidence that those who refuse to hold to a consistent hermeneutic including many of the reformers) throughout ALL of scripture are willing to jettison a literal interpretation of the Bible when they want to.

    It is no coincidence that there is such harmony between the doctrines of amillennialism, replacement theology, continuationism, and non-young earth creationism.

    What a sad, sad day when this blog comes out swinging against those who hold to a consistent, Biblical hermeneutic.

    If Genesis 1 and 2 do not mean what they say, at want point do the readers of this blog start believing that the Bible is accurate? Genesis 3? Genesis 4?

  35. Carlton Weathers says:

    Terry:

    What is sad is the way many wooden literal interpreters attack the majority of church history on the issue of interpretation. You are mistaken if you believe that the reformers allegorized the Scripture. In fact, they followed the biblical hermeneutic as presented by Christ and the Apostles. Could you help me understand how the Apostles interpreted the OT? If you go to the missional speeches contained in Acts and the sermon recorded in Hebrews, then you will see that the NT writers do not hold a strictly literal, by your definition, approach to interpretation. The fact is that JT and others are trying to understand the Scripture in its biblical context. They are not trying to make Scripture fit their narrow view. It would be helpful to you and many others to spend time reading outside the narrow camp of dispensational theology. Start with any book written by Edmund P. Clowney, Dennis Johnson, Goldsworthy, Calvin, Augustine, Edwards, etc.

    JT, thanks for presenting good resources for us to read and digest! Your blog is very helpful to young pastors like me.

  36. Robert says:

    Hello Justin,

    I probably should not get involved in this discussion as I don’t appreciate getting attacked unnecessarily by other believers. But thank you for making this article available and known. I appreciate your having the intestinal fortitude to post on this topic: many others would have been too scared to do so. :-)

    Now a couple of observations on this issue.

    First, Benjamin Warfield who is basically **the** guy responsible for establishing a strong position regarding INERANCY, was not a young earth creationist. Does that mean that he was not saved? Or did not take the bible seriously? Or was attacking the bible? Or was not a good calvinist? And yet if Warfield were posting on this thread I have no doubt he would be unfairly excoriated by some others here. And it would be completely unnecessary and counterproductive.

    Second, for a more modern example, take Vern Poythress. The guy is brilliant and no one can question either his Christian commitment, his view on inerrancy, his calvinism, his educational background (he has a PhD in both mathematics and bible, so he is competent in both), or the fact that he is a committed Christian who loves the Lord. And yet he also is not a young earth creationist. He wrote an excellent book on these issues by the way: REDEEMING SCIENCE. Has anyone else here read it? I think it is great. And yet I know certain people will hate it because he does not espouse their view.Should we then question whether or not he is saved? Does he really believe the bible? Is he not really reformed? And yet if Poythress posted here on his views he would get blasted as well.

    Third, when I look at the early chapters of Genesis and ask what was the author’s intention here? It seems clear that the author intended to get across the WHO and the WHAT (i.e. that God is the one who created the world exnihilo out of nothing; and that God did in fact bring into existence the entire world). What the author does not seem to have been concerned about (though contemporary Christians will seemingly fight to the death on it) is the WHEN and HOW. Nowhere in Genesis are we told HOW God did any of it. And we are also nowhere told WHEN God did what he did. I see no reference to billions of years nor to thousands of years. I see no reference to how God created various beings. It seems to me then that if we accept that God is the WHO and the creation is the WHAT then we have believed precisely what the author intended us to believe. I was taught in “cemetery” (where you also learn to marry them and bury them, :-)) that we should limit ourselves to what a text presents. Not ask questions the author is not asking or adding issues and concerns that the author is not actually addressing. I also have many scientific friends who seem not to be concerned about WHO and WHAT but much more concerned about HOW and WHEN things happen. Hmm?

    Robert (other than the earlier Robert)

    1. Craig Hurst says:

      Robert, dosent the repeated phrase “And God SAID, Let there be…and there was….” speak to the HOW in some way such tat we can say God spoke everything into existence? From a trinitarian perspective Jesus is the Word who by all things came into existence (John 1:1-3). At some level this certainly contributes to our understanding of the HOW even if it were referring to some kind of evolutionary process.

      1. Robert says:

        Hello Craig,

        “Robert, doesn’t the repeated phrase “And God SAID, Let there be…and there was….” speak to the HOW in some way such that we can say God spoke everything into existence?”

        No, in fact that further reinforces and proves my point. It says THAT God did it, but says absolutely nothing about HOW.

        So the author of Genesis (which I believe to be Moses) is saying THAT God did it but not HOW. If it were describing how it was done then we would be told sequences of actions on the part of God, cause/effect relationships that resulted in X, Y and Z. But the text says and gives ****none of that**** at all.

        “From a trinitarian perspective Jesus is the Word who by all things came into existence (John 1:1-3).”

        Absolutely true, and which is why other bible texts on the creation present it in a shorthand way: God created everything. Which again tells us WHO and WHAT but not HOW and When.

        “At some level this certainly contributes to our understanding of the HOW even if it were referring to some kind of evolutionary process.”

        Not really because if the text said precisely HOW it was done, we could then point to exactly where in the text we are told HOW it was done. But there is no such thing anywhere in the texts of Genesis.

        Robert

        PS- on the other hand Science does deal with HOW things happen. Does describe cause/effect relationships. Gives models and theories as to HOW things occur.

    2. Steve says:

      Jeremy Pierce
      February 14, 2011 at 10:46 pm

      A number of the latest comments have misinterpreted Justin’s argument, in a pretty seriously uncharitable way

      Robert
      February 15, 2011 at 3:03 pm

      I probably should not get involved in this discussion as I don’t appreciate getting attacked unnecessarily by other believers.

      What is the point of questioning the good faith of fellow brothers in Christ? I have not seen anyone attacked in this thread. I have seen ideas being disputed. It should not be difficult to vigorously attack ideas without offending the persons holding those ideas. Robert, I can assure you that the attacks you have read on your ideas are every bit as necessary as your need to defend them.

      1. I didn’t say anyone was attacked in this thread. I said Justin’s argument was being misrepresented. I didn’t say they did it in bad faith, either. I don’t know their motives, but I doubt they deliberately misrepresented him. Yet they got his view wrong, and I think it involves not giving his argument enough credit to interpret it in a more reasonable way than they were interpreting it.

  37. Jeff Downs says:

    “I probably should not get involved in this discussion as I don’t appreciate getting attacked unnecessarily by other believers.”

    Robert, you seem to be saying that since many of us would take issue with your position, some have taken issue with your research, that you are being attacked; surely you don’t think that, but that is exactly what you have stated above. Is this what you mean?

    1. Robert says:

      Hello Jeff,

      “Robert, you seem to be saying that since many of us would take issue with your position, some have taken issue with your research, that you are being attacked; surely you don’t think that, but that is exactly what you have stated above. Is this what you mean?”

      Do you think I am some new kid on the block? :-) I have seen how some (especially young earth creationists) will attack other believers who hold different views (calling them heretics, questioning their salvation, questioning their commitment to the bible, etc. etc.). I have seen it get real nasty so often that I have no interest in being any part of it. Better to be a living dog than a dead lion! :-)

      Robert

      1. Scott C says:

        The charge cuts both ways and becomes a non sequitur in this conversation.

  38. Jonathan Chan says:

    Does anybody have a response to this point made by @Jeremy Pierce

    “Surely the most obvious interpretation of Joshua 10 is that the sun stopped moving around the earth. It wasn’t until we discovered through science that the sun doesn’t move around the earth at all that people started taking that passage phenomenologically. I challenge you to produce someone before Copernicus who took the passage in a heliocentric way. I bet you won’t. By your own standards, therefore, you better give up your heliocentrism. For that matter, you better take pi to be 3, since Chronicles rounds it off at 3, and we’d have no way of knowing that that’s false without doing mathematical investigation.”

    I believe that Jeremy is referring to both I Kings 7:23 and 2 Chronicles 4:2, wherein the writer refers to the diameter of a circular basin in Solomon’s Temple as being ten cubits in diameter and 30 cubits in circumference. Mathematically speaking, that’s impossible, as the value of pi is 3.14, and thus a circle with diameter=10 has a circumference of approximately 31.4.

    I would love to hear responses to this assertion, which seems to undermine some of the other comments on this post, at least at face value.

    1. Ben Edwards says:

      Couple of quick thoughts on these issues:
      1) Regarding the sun: I haven’t seen any studies on this issue (interpretations before Copernicus), but I’m not sure it could be used to prove what he wants to anyway. Even now, we are still basically interpreting it literally: “I.e., the sun stopped moving across the sky.” After all, we still talk about the sun rising and setting today, so if that miracle happened today I think most people would refer to it as “the sun stood still in the sky.” Also, the reason people held to a geocentric view of the universe was b/c of the scientific reasoning of the day (not a “woodenly literal” interpretation of the Bible.)

      (His point would have more validity if he wanted to argue that our understanding of science today shows that the sun did not literally stand still, but only appeared to do so through an illusion, since science shows us that the earth could not stop rotating.)

      2) Re pi: This is really unrelated to the point at hand (since it’s an issue of rounding numbers, not science). Our understanding of pi today has not lead anyway to reinterpret the passage. It just means we realize he was rounding numbers (which probably alot of people thought before hand).

      1. Jonathan Chan says:

        Thanks for the response.

        If I’m not mistaken, the Catholic Church convicted Galileo of heresy for holding views contrary to a literal interpretation of Scripture, namely that the earth was not at the center of the universe and in fact rotated around the sun. I’m fairly certain, though not completely, that the final judgment stated that such views “explicitly contradict…the literal meaning of the words as well as the common interpretation of Scripture…”. Couldn’t that be construed as holding to a “woodenly literal” interpretation of the Bible?

        Of course, in and of itself, it is no slam dunk shot (i.e. ipso facto, we shouldn’t interpret Genesis 1 literally). More is clearly needed to draw that conclusion.

        1. Scott C says:

          Galiileo was condemned for not holding the Ptolemaic worldview of the RCC not for some breech of interpretation. The fallacious Galileo argument gets old.

        2. Jonathan Chan says:

          This translation of the relevant documents seems to indicate otherwise, at least insofar as the accusers claim that Galileo’s views contradict Scripture. What evidence can you provide that shows that the RCC held this position because of Ptolemaic influence, rather than than their interpretation of Scripture?

          Does anyone know what the Reformers had to say about this debate? I imagine, Scott, that you would assert that the Reformers would have held a position based more on the Scripture, not on tradition.

          Sorry, Scott, if I’m asking questions you’re tired of answering, I’m not well-informed here, though I wish to be.

          1. Scott C says:

            I would suggest reading the book “The Soul of Science” by Nancy Pearcey and Charles Thaxton. They cover this issue in a fascinating and page turning way. Their argument about the philosophical underpinnings of science applies to Biblical interpretation as well and explains why I am a presuppositionalist apologetically. In short, the RCC ptolemaic worldview was so entrenched in their thinking that Genesis was interpreted through this grid. Copernicus and later Galileo had the guts to buck scientific consensus and lay the roots for a paradigm shift (read Thomas Kuhn for more on that).

            We see the same thing happening today. Darwinism has become so entrenched in the scientific conscience that to buck it is anathema; something akin to what happened at that time in history as well. The scientific consensus is regarded as infallible while grammatical exegesis is not and so we must adjust our interpretive principles to adhere to the infallible rule of science. So the heretics here are those that reject the scientific consensus for the natural reading of the text. Of course what that means today is that the heretics get laughed out of the academy whether secular or Christian. Not too many YECers in the academy anymore.

            1. Jonathan Chan says:

              Thanks for the recommendation, I look forward to reading it!

          2. Brad Knight says:

            Here’s a CT article on the Reformers views on Copernicanism…

            http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/2002/issue76/7.22.html

      2. Ben, you’re right that we’re still interpreting it literally, in exactly the way that I say Genesis 1 should be taken literally. Within the phenomenology of Joshua’s perspective, the sun did stand still. Within the presentation of the Genesis 1 creation account, the days are 24-hour periods. But the sun standing still in Joshua’s phenomenology turns out (given our best science) not to be a sun literally standing still. And (also according to our best science) the 24-hour literal days of the account don’t seem to refer to actual 24-hour periods of time.

        Also, the reason people held to a geocentric view of the universe was b/c of the scientific reasoning of the day (not a “woodenly literal” interpretation of the Bible.)

        Exactly. Or at least because of the lack of a better science that conflicted with their commonsense understanding of things. And the reason people held to 24-hour creation days before Darwin was because of the lack of a science that conflicted with that. Once such a science occurred, people started to rethink whether their interpretation had to be correct, and many have concluded that it doesn’t have to be the only one.

        since science shows us that the earth could not stop rotating

        There are all manner of possibilities for what actually happened. Perhaps God manipulated the rate of time’s passage in a region of space so that things outside that spatial region seemed to be moving more slowly than the things within it. I can think of several other explanations of what actually occurred. There’s a difference with the age of the universe, though. You either have to postulate that God created the universe at least as long ago as it would take light to reach us from stars on the other edge of the universe, or you have to take God to have performed a miracle to fool us into eventually concluding that such a thing is true. How that miracle took place is as open to possibilities as the Joshua case, but the difference is that there’s a scientific observation we can now make that seems to suggest very strongly that the universe is far more than 6000 years old. The young earth view makes God out to be a deceiver of sorts. You have to consider it a miracle either way for God to create, as with Joshua, but the reason to prefer the scientific account with the age of the universe is the fact that otherwise God set things up to deceive us.

        My point about pi is not that no one before a certain time would have taken it to be other than 3. It’s that the same reasoning being used against Old Earth views can be used against pi as an irrational number. The argument is that we shouldn’t impose on the text anything that we don’t get from the text but have to use our God-given reasoning abilities to come to understand and then interpret the text in light of. If we didn’t have mathematical understanding of the ratio between the circumference and radius of a circle, we wouldn’t have a clue that the ratio is merely rounded off to 3 and not actually 3. Scientific and mathematical understanding can inform us of events and truths knowable outside the text, which can then aid us in eliminating certain interpretations as either wrong or less likely than other interpretations, and that is no threat to either inerrancy or sola scriptura. Those who have held to both views have repeatedly done this sort of thing in other places. Consistency requires recognizing that it’s all right here too.

        1. Ben Edwards says:

          FWIW, you admitted in this comment the point that most people are trying to make by the historical/traditional claim (which this post is supposedly trying to overturn)

          “And the reason people held to 24-hour creation days before Darwin was because of the lack of a science that conflicted with that. Once such a science occurred, people started to rethink whether their interpretation had to be correct, and many have concluded that it doesn’t have to be the only one.”

          I’m not saying whether that’s good or bad, just that’s the point YEC are making–Darwinian science is the key factor in the multiplicity of interpretations today, not the text.

  39. Earl says:

    The gospel is not that God created the world in 6 24 hour days 5-6000 years ago. It is a second level doctrine with room for disagreement while maintaining fellowship. It is worth investigating and seeking the truth, but it is foolish to declare the matter an essential doctrine or to declare the matter to be closed to any reasonable alternative.

    Justin’s point was to eliminate those who would use church history and tradition as an argument. Just like I would eliminate those who would ask “How would the original audience have understood it?” That’s another flawed thought process. If that was the case, when we read “The sun rose…” in the Bible, we would have to assume the original audience held a heliocentric worldview, and thus the sun must truly “rise” in the morning. Authoral intent and context matters, but audience reception doesn’t.

    1. Robert says:

      Hello Earl,

      “The gospel is not that God created the world in 6 24 hour days 5-6000 years ago. It is a second level doctrine with room for disagreement while maintaining fellowship. It is worth investigating and seeking the truth, but it is foolish to declare the matter an essential doctrine or to declare the matter to be closed to any reasonable alternative.“

      I totally agree with you. That is why I intentionally brought in old earth creationists Warfield and Poythress as examples. But I have seen certain believers who go ballistic if any other view than theirs is espoused. They then resort to instant attack mode on the “them” dat don’t quite beleave like de do.

      I refuse to be drawn into an emotional and nasty “debate” with people who would likely agree with me on the trinity, the deity of Christ, the incarnation, the miracles of the bible, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead bodily, the final judgement, the reality of eternal destinies with and separated from God, etc. etc.

      “Justin’s point was to eliminate those who would use church history and tradition as an argument.” Just like I would eliminate those who would ask “How would the original audience have understood it?” That’s another flawed thought process.”

      Flawed thought process? I thought we were supposed to interpret by authorial intent. And the intent of the author is what he wanted the first (as well as later readers) to understand. Seems obvious to me that the author of Genesis wanted us to know and understand that God created the world out of nothing. That makes him very powerful and very trustworthy as the creator. And trust is the major goal not science education when it comes to Genesis.

      “If that was the case, when we read “The sun rose…” in the Bible, we would have to assume the original audience held a heliocentric worldview, and thus the sun must truly “rise” in the morning. Authoral intent and context matters, but audience reception doesn’t.”

      We should take into account phenomenological language, how things appear. But it seems to me that when God is describing how he brought things into existence out of nothing, we are way beyond our league. Even if he actually spelled it out I don’t think we would understand it. So instead of spelling it out like a scientific explanation he says more abruptly: I did it, and I did it all!

      Robert

  40. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

    A meta-debate question:

    Suppose an observer of this debate were to make either of the following two comments:

    (A) “I don’t want to be a Christian because Christians fight, attack, and argue with each other all the time.” Or…

    (B) “All this in-house fighting between Young-Earth Christians and Old-Earth Christians does not bring glory to God and is not edifying to the Body of Christ.”

    Question: Should observations or comments like that above inhibit vigorous in-house debate? Or should vigorous in-house debate continue regardless of what 3rd-Party observers think and say?

  41. John Thomson says:

    Earl

    I’m only dropping into this debate from time to time so I’m not I confess up to speed with all that has gone before. However, I am interested in your comments about audience.

    Authorial intent and context I agree are important but surely audience must be too. Surely the writer (especially of narrative)writes intending his audience to largely understand.

    Now I understand that ‘sun rising’ and sun standing still are phenomological and not scientific statements. I imagine his audience did not think any kind of ‘scientific’ statement was being made. Yet in this phenomological sense it was literally true.

    How will they understand Gen 1? More importantly how will they think the writer intended them to understand Genesis 1? Will they believe it is self-evidently intended to be parabolic or myth?

    And need we really on conjecture? Does not Moses tell us how the days were understood when he writes,

    Exod 20:8-11 (ESV)
    “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

  42. John Thomson says:

    PS

    I am not demonising ‘old earthers’ I am still ‘open’ to persuasion.

    PS disregard my poor spelling of phenomenological above.

  43. Earl says:

    Any idea or concept being communicated is only accurately conveyed when the author accurately communicates the idea and when the audience accurately receives (or interprets) the communication. That is the only way an idea can be accurately transferred from one person to another. In this case, our messenger is God, who accurately translated thoughts to spoken and written word. But, on the receiving end we have sinful fallen man, who doesn’t always receive the messages intent accurately. So in scripture, it doesn’t matter what the audience thought at the time – it only matters what the messenger thought at the time. The audience is not the arbiter of truth – the messenger is.

    Hope that makes sense…

    1. Michael says:

      Earl it sounds as if you’re denying both historical interpretation and the perspicuity of Scripture. Gen 1 was written to the Israelites in the wilderness. If they could not understand it without modern science then God’s purpose of writing it was not fulfilled. The Bible was written to man in human language to be understood by the original hearers. A believer can understand it due to the Holy Spirit’s influence.

      1. Earl says:

        The perspicuity of Scripture is more complex than to just say we can understand it due to the Holy Spirit’s influence. If that is the case, then premills and amills cannot both be saved. While the Holy Spirit does aid us in understanding Scripture, our indwelling sin does not allow us to understand it fully in this world. There is also the possibility that like Jesus using parables to reveal truth to a limited audience, Scripture may be limited on purpose in some areas (like eschatology). And, while we can gather clues from culture and context as to authoral intent, gathering clues from original audience interpretation is much less reliable. For example, the original audience receiving Isaiah 53 and Daniel 7 would have expected two saviors, the suffering servant and the conquering king. Also consider, the audience receiving scripture is not limited to the elect. All receive it. Only the elect will generally understand it. And, even the elect will misunderstand it at times, only to have it clarified directly or indirectly in other passages.

      2. Did people understand that the sun in Genesis 1 is a huge ball of gases much bigger than the earth? Did people always know just from reading Rev 3 that the cold water of Laodicea is actually a good thing rather than seeing lukewarm as bad because it’s too much like the cold? (Laodicea produced awful water no good for anything, not like the cold water for drinking or warmer water for bathing that other cities had. But people have often read the passage as saying to avoid trying to be between good and evil. That’s not the point. It’s about being useless and bitter, where being cold or hot would be genuinely good.)

        Apparently not in either case, but we don’t think that undermines the perspicuity of scripture. So perhaps we need to rethink what the doctrine of perspicuity of scripture says if we think it implies such things.

  44. John Thomson says:

    Earl

    My point was not whether an intended audience would fully and accurately understand but whether the script written to them was understandable by them. What ‘sense’ did it expect to convey… expect them to reasonably extract?

    In reading Genesis would/could Israel reasonably be expected to see the days as figurative?

    My instinct here is no. And I feel this is strongly supported by Ex 20. How do you relate Ex 20 to Gen 1?

    1. Earl says:

      I made no case for or against a literal 6 24 hour day. So, how I relate Ex. 20 and Gen. 1 is irrelevant. But, when you say “What ‘sense’ did it expect to convey?”, you are really making a case for the truth being closely related to authoral intent, not audience interpretation. Was all of scripture entirely understandable by the original audience? I’d say not. It’s not 100% understandable to us today with the help of the Holy Spirit and thousands of years of scholarly scrutiny.

    2. If the six-day presentation reflects any truth at all, then why would it not reflect the same truth in Ex 20? Its use in Ex 20 doesn’t require that it refers to six 24-hour periods if its use in Gen 1 doesn’t require that. Whether it has to mean that would go for both in the same way. So its use in Ex 20 doesn’t show one way or the other what its use in Gen 1 has to refer to.

  45. John Thomson says:

    Jeremy

    That Moses structures the literal seven day week on the Genesis seven day week strongly suggests that he saw the Genesis seven day week as literal. At the very least it places the burden of proof even more strongly on those who say it is not.

    1. Moses didn’t structure anything. That was given directly to him by God, who knew full well what Gen 1’s description referred to, whether Moses did or not. So there’s no argument here from Moses’ limited knowledge of it and authorial intent.

      As for the burden of proof, surely there is a higher standard to meet if you want to argue that the most obvious reading of a text is not the right one. But it’s not as if people aren’t giving very good reasons. The claim is that on the traditional reading it makes scripture out to be saying false things. That strikes me as pretty much meeting the demand for a higher standard. If we’re first convinced of the authority and inerrancy of scripture and then discover that the most obvious way of taking something conflicts with what we know to be true about the world, then we either give up inerrancy or look for alternative interpretations. I, for one, am more convinced of inerrancy than I am of the claim that the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1 is the only possible one. It’s not about science vs. what God says. It’s about how sure I am of inerrancy vs. how sure I am that I’ve interpreted Gen 1 correctly, and inerrancy wins hands down in my view.

      1. Robert says:

        I noticed Jeremy’s comments after I posted, so I want to comment on his latest comments.

        I agree with Jeremy that if we are committed to inerrancy then we are simultaneously committed to adopting the best and correct interpretation that does not lead to a contradiction (namely if science properly done, not Scientism or the philosophy of naturalism being injected, leads to certain conclusions, then our interpretation is not going to contradict or be contradicted by the findings of science).

        But the “joker” in this deck, which in my opinion is neglected or missed by too many people is the fact of accommodation and presence of accommodation in the early chapters of Genesis. God accommodates things first of all by revealing Himself by means of language. And yet when we are looking at the early chapters of Genesis, it seems to me that since no human person was there and since the actions of God in creating a world out of nothing are completely beyond our understanding.

        That means that there are two distinct levels of accommodation going on in the early chapters of Genesis. First in using human language (and we address that best in my opinion by following what is called the grammatical historical method of interpretation) and second in talking about God’s creative acts that are beyond our understanding. Since accommodation is going on, a clear red light is flashing that we be careful not to take things too woodenly or “literally” in these early chapters.

        I have given my own suggested parameters that I find helpful in guarding against error (i.e. realize that the early chapters of Genesis are not dealing with the HOW and WHEN of creation, but with the WHO and the WHAT of creation). As long as you stick with the WHO (the one true God) and the WHAT (that this one true God created the universe out of nothing, that He is the creator of this Universe not something or someone else) you will not have problems contradicting inerrancy or science (again I mean science properly done, **without Scientism**, **without using science** as an attempt to prove the atheistic worldview and philosophy of materialism, that the material and physical alone exist, that Science alone yields genuine truth).

        And yet it also seems to me from what I know about science properly done, that the scientific evidence seems to lead to the conclusion that the universe is “old” (and this conclusion alone does not contradict inerrancy). It is only if you demand that the universe is only 10,000 years old based on one particular interpretation of Genesis that you end up with a contradiction (namely between science properly done and this particular interpretation). As Jeremy hints, I would rather give up a particular interpretation (if it conflicts with what we know to be true, i.e. what science properly done suggests) than give up inerrancy. And personally I do not see a contradiction between biblical texts (properly interpreted) and science properly done.

        Robert

      2. John Thomson says:

        Jeremy

        I think the first part of your answer suggests God is playing mind games with people. He tells Moses to tell the people the seven day week is based on the week of Gen 1 while he knows (though the poeple don’t) that Gen 1 is not a real week. Now such a proposition is possible but is it really probable?

        I personally am open to an old earth. A can see an element of literary structure in Gen 1 that may support a non-literal interpretation. However, once again I think it fits the possible rather than probable category.

        My greater problem lies with how Gen 1 is interpreted in the rest of Scripture. Ex 20 I have already mentioned. I find your reasoning here as I say somewhat strained. Then we look at Matt 19 when Jesus speaks about divorce and his comment, ‘from the beginning it was not so’. The expression ‘the beginning’ seems to refer back to Gen 1-3 viewed as a unit. Again, ‘the beginning’ may refer to millions of years from the ‘big bang’ or whatever until Adam; it may, but it is not the most natural reading; again, possible (barely) but not probable.

        I agree that given a choice I would rather choose the less likely interpretation over abandoning inerrancy. However, a couple of points here too. Must we be so sure science has it right? I am a non-scientist but I still have an instinct that says certainty about things lets say 20,000 years ago and beyond seems to me improbable. I may be naive here. I accept that.

        The last point is, if, on the basis of current scientific orthodoxy, we are forced to abandon the apparent meaning of a text and adopt an improbable one at what point does the inerrancy and truthfulness battle get lost anyway? Increasingly science seems to be putting pressure on us to abandon a literal Adam. Leading OT evangelical scholars are now mooting such a possibility. Do we invent a fancy hermeneutic to preserve an inerrancy that will be lying in tatters? Will we not simply be seen whatever hermeutic we create to be denying the emperor has no clothes.

        These are bleak reflections. My real question is are we putting to much confidence in the science of cosmology etc?

        1. Robert says:

          Hello John,

          Your comments seem to be based upon a lot of fear. As Christian we need not fear science or anything else: I mean aren’t the nations less than a drop in the bucket compared to our God? Especially the fear concerning a possible conflict between biblical interpretation/faith and science. Read this paper by a friend of mine, it may be helpful to help you think through the issues.

          http://www.asa3.org/ASA/dialogues/Faith-reason/CRS9-91Plantinga1.html

          Robert

        2. I know of no YEC advocate who thinks scientists have gotten the speed of light wrong or who thinks the starts are much closer than astronomers say they are. Instead, they say that God created the world as if it had been around for much longer, which I think constitutes an act of deception. I’m not going to rule out God doing things that lead to unbelief. Read Isaiah 6. But he does it there by having Isaiah preach the truth to them, and the truth itself leads them to reject the message. In that sense, God stands behind their darkened hearts, but it’s not by direct deception. This would be an act of direct deception, and it doesn’t seem as if there’s a reason to allow it like there was when God told Samuel to lie about his reasons for being in Bethlehem when he anointed David or when he commended the midwives’ lies.

          1. Ben Edwards says:

            I’ve seen this charge of deception mentioned a couple of times, but I don’t think it holds. It’s based on this reasoning:
            A. The stars appear old b/c we know how far away they are and what the speed of light is today.
            B. If YEC is true, then the stars are not as old as they appear.
            C. Therefore, God deceived us by making them look older.

            The problem is first: If God told us they were younger (which is what YEC are saying he did in Scripture) then he’s not deceiving. He’s simply asking us to believe what he said and not what we think is right based on our reasoning and senses (in essence, the same thing Adam and Eve failed to do: let God determine truth, right, good, etc.)

            Second: I think the same charge could be made for most miracles in the Bible. For example, when Jesus turned water into wine, was he deceiving people? They would have thought it came from grapes, which grew over a period of time, and then were allowed to ferment. Thus, the substance would have been around for a period of time, when in reality it had just appeared. How deceptive of Jesus!…or maybe not.

            1. Jeff Downs says:

              Brian, I believe something similiar could be said about how we see God acting at various time (repenting, remembering, etc.). Since we know that God does not sin, therefore no need to repent, or God does not forget because he knows all things…are we being deceive, or the original individuals involved (or readers) being deceived when we read of these things in scripture. I think not, but it would seem this is where Jeremy’s accusations would lead.

              1. Actually, I think that goes the other way. Since God can use such accomodationist language, it shows that God could have done the same thing in Genesis 1. There’s a difference between

                a. conveying a truth in a way that we can understand it, which if took a different way would lead to a false conclusion (but if stated more literally would lead to even more deceptive results, as if God has no personhood, interaction with us, or emotions whatsoever) and (and this is important, since it shows it’s not deceptive) there are clear scriptural statements elsewhere (sometimes in the same chapter even; I believe in I Sam 15) that show the other side of it.

                and

                b. doing something that seems to have an obvious implication that turns out to be a false implication, when there’s no reason to do that action in that way (i.e. it isn’t to guard against a different misunderstanding), and the description of it in scripture can be taken in other ways (even if those other ways aren’t the most natural reading).

            2. John Thomson says:

              Ben

              I’m with you on this. That we misread creation and refuse to contemplate a mature creation is not deceit on God’s part. The darwinian drive (in the secular world) is fueled as much by an atheistic ideology as it is by science.

              The much maligned analogy from the water into wine miracle seems to me cogent.

              Good blog. Its points deserve an answer.

              Robert

              Thanks for concerned response. I don’t think I do particularly fear for largely I leave questions like these in abeyance.

              I was more responding to the point ‘believe the less probable rather than give up inerrancy’. I do not think we should for a moment give up inerrancy but if we convince ourselves of an interpretation that is highly improbable and teach it as the proper interpretation then people will see how hollow it is and the case for inerrancy/faith will be lost by default. My worry is some present ‘interpretations’ of Gen 1-3 begin to fit such a scenario.

              I guess I feel we are perhaps too quickly conceding to supposed science. Unless and until conclusive proof can be given that the most apparent reading of Gen 1-3 is incorrect then I champion it holding open the door that I might just be wrong.

              I do confess, however, if the case for Adam not being a literal person were conclusively proved then I would have significant difficulties with the faith. I don’t, however, expect such proof to be forthcoming.

              I will read the link. Thanks.

            3. The problem is first: If God told us they were younger (which is what YEC are saying he did in Scripture) then he’s not deceiving. He’s simply asking us to believe what he said and not what we think is right based on our reasoning and senses (in essence, the same thing Adam and Eve failed to do: let God determine truth, right, good, etc.)

              The same reasoning could apply to Copernicus. We should go by what God said rather than by what our reasoning and senses tell us. God said he put the sun in the sky and that the sun stood still in the sky. The sky is the atmosphere around the earth. Therefore, science is wrong when it tells us the sun is way outside the sky and doesn’t move around the earth.

              You have to allow for sources of information outside the Bible, or else we couldn’t even know what the Bible says, since that involves inferring that our senses are giving us information about the way the world is, including that there’s a book out there that says something. Once we realize that our senses are reliable, we have to conclude that they’re also reliable in giving us information about other aspects of the world, and it becomes rational to conclude that there are laws about how the world works. Jesus even relies on such an assumption in several of his parables (e.g. about what has to happen for a seed to grow), and there’s much of that in the prophets and in Proverbs. Paul in Romans 1 even insists that we can draw inferences from creation as distant from our immediate sensation of it as the conclusion that God exists.

              Now you’re all right in pointing out that at certain times God seems to be doing something that either suspends such laws or relies on deeper laws than the ones that seem generally true when we discover laws of nature, ones that take precedence perhaps over them. But we’re talking about cases where there are two interpretations of the data we have:

              1. God is behind something that can be explained through the laws we already know about
              2. God is behind it in a way that can’t be explained through the laws we already know about

              If the text can be interpreted either way, I think we should assume the first is more likely. I don’t think the text can be explained in the first way with the water and the wine, walking on the water, resurrections, the initial act of creation, or the sun standing still in the sky. So it would be wrong to conclude that we must favor science over what God says.

              But there are interpretations of the length of time of creation, indeed even of much of the process of creation, that fit with 1, just as there are interpretations of a good deal of what took place in the plagues in Egypt that completely make sense according to natural laws. You could imagine God working through a natural disease to kill all the firstborn and just ensuring that only the firstborn of those outside Goshen got it. We don’t have to assume anything outside of the ordinary, except that God is in control of the natural forces (but it’s not as if that’s not true at any other time).

              Also, there’s a reason Jesus does something in his miracles that, if you didn’t know a miracle had occurred, would seem to lead to the wrong conclusion (e.g. the origin of the wine being grapes, when it wasn’t). It’s because that particular thing is the very miracle he’s doing. On the other hand, with creation, it’s the creation that’s the miracle God is doing. The making of it to appear a huge amount older than it is isn’t part of the miracle itself, and there seems to be no motivation for it. Jesus wanted to show how astounding it was that he could walk on water. It was to illustrate something about him. When God created, it was to make things. It wasn’t to show that he could create a story midway with all the signs of there having been a first half of the story when there wasn’t. That wasn’t the point of creating. So it’s an extra thing not needed for the miracle to have occurred, and it’s a pretty important clue about the history of the universe that God would have deliberately interfered with if the YEC account is correct. I just find that too hard to believe. It’s much more plausible that God had the author of Genesis use language that wasn’t intended to convey the exact details of how creation took place in terms of timeline and ordering but was about the order God brought to it and the organization of what God created.

              1. Jeff Downs says:

                Jeremy,

                If God wanted to communicate a literal six-day creation, how else would have said it? How different would it look from what is already stated?

              2. John Thomson says:

                Jeremy

                Firstly, I have enjoyed dipping into your blog in the past and particularly found helpful your commentaries lists and projections.

                If God created a tree as a mature tree what would it look like? It would presumably be ringed… have all the marks of age.

                Now I know there are problems here for it seems as if the creation story suggests that the trees etc grew out of the ground (which presents a problem for a garden with man in it a few days later… a reason I have some sympathies with the creation account being literary).

              3. Ben Edwards says:

                “God is behind something that can be explained through the laws we already know about
                2. God is behind it in a way that can’t be explained through the laws we already know about

                If the text can be interpreted either way, I think we should assume the first is more likely. I don’t think the text can be explained in the first way with the water and the wine, walking on the water, resurrections, the initial act of creation, or the sun standing still in the sky. So it would be wrong to conclude that we must favor science over what God says.”

                So, what about people who interpret the text as meaning that Jesus did not literally rise from the dead, but that it was a spiritual resurrection. That would fit better with 1, so should we accept that interpretation? Or should we only accept it if you think it can be interpreted that way?

                IOW, what you are saying about these things (miracles) is what YEC are saying about Gen 1-2: other interpretations do not do justice to the text, so we are going to believe what God said (not denying outside information–they usually point to outside information that confirms these truths.)

                (And as an aside, Rom 1 says nothing about drawing inferences from creation that lead to a knowledge of God. It says they knew God, not that they reasoned to God or could have reasoned to God but failed to.)

  46. Robert says:

    I was rereading some of the posts and read where Jeremy wrote:

    “Ben, you’re right that we’re still interpreting it literally, in exactly the way that I say Genesis 1 should be taken literally. Within the phenomenology of Joshua’s perspective, the sun did stand still. Within the presentation of the Genesis 1 creation account, the days are 24-hour periods. But the sun standing still in Joshua’s phenomenology turns out (given our best science) not to be a sun literally standing still. And (also according to our best science) the 24-hour literal days of the account don’t seem to refer to actual 24-hour periods of time.”

    Jeremy is correct in what he says here. I would only add a couple things to amplify this.

    First, while the claim that “Joshua’s phenomenology turns out . . . not to be a sun literally standing still” is correct. Joshua in fact did **observe** the phenomena in question.
    The writer of Genesis did not and could not have observed the phenomena in question.

    Second, it seems obvious to me that if Moses did not actually see these events transpiring (and thus the language of Genesis cannot be phenomenological as is true with Joshua) and if these events involved actions by God an immaterial being, then as even Calvin noted some accommodation is going on. Whether you believe these events occurred over long time periods or instantaneously or in 6 twenty four hour days, or whatever, we are dealing with things that were not observed by any human person as they occurred and the actions of an invisible and immaterial being.

    Third since it is not phenomenological language (it cannot be as that would involve human experience of these events) and does involve some sort of accommodation on the part of God in revealing it to us. Again, I have no problem seeing it as God putting things in as easy a possible way of understanding that He is the WHO that created the universe out of nothing. And He is the one THAT created everything. He does not tell us HOW because it is beyond our understanding and he does not tell us WHEN as that is not necessary to get the points across that He intended (namely that He is the creator of the universe out of nothing). His initial intended audience is Moses and the Israelites that are being led out of Egypt (though since the “explanation” is simple, it can be understood by later readers as well). They don’t need a scientific explanation of creation (organized science does not come on the scene for centuries); they don’t need specifics about how God accomplished these things (of what help would that be to them as they went on their journey to the Promised Land). They do need to know that their God, the God of the bible is the one true God, is powerful and the one God who did in fact create the world (as opposed to all other gods including the Egyptian gods). So Genesis appears to have apologetics value for the Israelites (contrast our true God who did in fact create all of the world and your false gods who are demonic deceptions and have no creative ability at all).

    This means the nature and length of the days is really not much of a concern at that point (especially for the first hearers for whom the text was originally intended).

    I would also add that as God is also going to set up the Mosaic law and covenant with the Israelites (which includes later Sabbath observance) that He also includes the 6 day work and 1 day rest pattern in his revelation of His creative actions. And we know that that seventh day in Genesis cannot be a twenty four hour day so we don’t have to assume that the other six days are either. What is critical for the Israelites/the initial hearers, is the 6 day work and 1 day rest pattern.

    I asked earlier and ask again, has anyone else read Vern Poythress’ book REDEEMING SCIENCE? I held his view on the days before I read his book. And his view of the early chapters of Genesis does allow one to hold to God being the WHO and being the one THAT created the world, while not specifying the HOW and the WHEN. His view also allows science to be science (while rejecting Scientism) and be helpful in its own way to our understanding.

    Robert

    1. Ben Edwards says:

      I agree that it is probably not phenomenological language in Gen 1-2 (at least not before Adam was made. In theory it could be after he was created.) And, though I think we give too much credence to the accomodation idea, I also think we would agree that God’s use of language is sufficient to convey what He wanted to convey.

      “Again, I have no problem seeing it as God putting things in as easy a possible way of understanding that He is the WHO that created the universe out of nothing. And He is the one THAT created everything.”

      Granted this is speculation, but wouldn’t have been much easier to convey those to things (Who and What of creation) without setting them out over the course of six days and using terminology like “second, third, fourth” and “evening and morning”? After all, the Psalms seem to convey those truths pretty well by just saying “the heavens were made by God.” IOW, if that was all God was intending to communicate, he seems to have put quite a bit of unnecessary information in there.

      1. John Thomson says:

        Another post that expresses my questions well.

      2. Robert says:

        Ben wrote:

        “Granted this is speculation, but wouldn’t have been much easier to convey those two things (Who and What of creation) without setting them out over the course of six days and using terminology like “second, third, fourth” and “evening and morning”? After all, the Psalms seem to convey those truths pretty well by just saying “the heavens were made by God.” IOW, if that was all God was intending to communicate, he seems to have put quite a bit of unnecessary information in there.”

        Ben suggests that if God ONLY wanted to “convey those two things (WHO and WHAT of creation)” then it would not be necessary to talk about the 6 days and the 7th day (“if that was all God was intending to communicate, he seems to have put quite a bit of unnecessary information in there”).

        But I have made it clear in multiple posts here that while God intended for us to know that He is the one who created the world (the WHO and the WHAT), he also had other things he intended to communicate by these early chapters (including the early chapters of Genesis having apologetics value and being used to set up Israel’s Sabbath observance).

        Regarding the apologetics value I repeat: He intended for the Israelites to see that He not the false gods of Egypt and other false gods created the world. Showing that He is superior to all other gods. An apologetics lesson that has value for the first hearers the Israelites and for us as well).

        Regarding the Sabbath observance : he intended to provide a model or framework for the Israelite week of 6 days of work and 1 day of rest in order for them to have a Sabbath observance. I said this earlier that God wanted the Israelites to have a Sabbath day observance (this is revealed later in the Pentateuch, where their typical week is modeled after His “week”).

        Now I have stated all of these things already and yet Ben comes along and tries to suggest that a framework of days (if all he wanted to communicate was the WHO and WHAT), is “unnecessary information”.

        How is it “unnecessary information” if one of the purposes was to institute Israelite Sabbath observance?

        And where exactly did I say the references to days had no function or that He **only** wanted to speak of the WHO and WHAT?

        We could also (as some have brought up when discussing the early chapters of Genesis) note that the first chapters of Genesis in stating that God created the world are also directly and simultaneously attacking other false ideas as well (hitting multiple birds with one stone you could say). Atheism is false, agnosticism is false, Polytheism is false, all of the gods of Egypt are false, a dualism in which a good deity creates good things and an opposing bad deity creates bad things, anything other than monotheism is false. So those first chapters actually have quite a bit of apologetic value both then and now.

        Robert

        1. Ben Edwards says:

          First, let me say the reason I said “only the who and what” is you keep saying God didn’t intend to communicate the how and when…but I don’t see anything in the text that would lead me there. In fact, surprisingly enough, an lot of people in church history thought it was communicating a how and when. And, the apologetic nature of it and its ties to the Sabbath don’t explain all of the elements (e.g., “evening and morning”)

          “And we know that that seventh day in Genesis cannot be a twenty four hour day so we don’t have to assume that the other six days are either. What is critical for the Israelites/the initial hearers, is the 6 day work and 1 day rest pattern.”

          Really? We know it can’t be a 24 hour day in Genesis? How do we know that? And if you’re going to say there’s no “evening and morning” listed, just know that a very probably explanation is that there’s no transition to the eighth day, since that’s the phrases function in the text (that’s why it goes evening to morning, moving from day 1-2, 2-3, etc. There’s no move from day 7-8, so no need for the transition).

  47. Jeff Downs says:

    Robert said “And we know that that seventh day in Genesis cannot be a twenty four hour day…”

    I don’t get this at all. The text calls the seventh day, a day. “And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all his work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day…” (2:1-3) Just because the text does not have the markers, doesn’t mean the 7th is not a day.

    1. Craig Hurst says:

      Jeff, at one angle I agree with you. On another angle, there is the position of many that the 7th day of rest never ends for God. He is done creating out of nothing. This is symbolic to some degree so the question is then do we have double layered meaning in those verses?

      Does this make sense what I am trying to get at?

      1. Jeff Downs says:

        Sure does and I would agree, there is more to the seventh-day then just a normal day….God blesses it, sets it a part, and our Sabbath-day is based on God ceasing from his work of creation. But that certainly doesn’t take away from the fact that the text calls the 7th day, a day. So there is no good reason for Robert to say “And we know that that seventh day in Genesis cannot be a twenty four hour day…” (emphasis mine).

        1. There’s an end to all the other days in the text, and there’s no end indicated to the seventh day.

          It’s not as if God rested on that day and resumed work in the next day. He still works, even though he’s still resting from creating, according to Jesus in the Gospel of John. We can even enter that rest, according to Hebrews 4 and Ps.95. We enter it by entering what the sabbath is fulfilled by in Christ, and that’s the kingdom of God. Jesus was raised on the eighth day, and in one respect we who are believers are now in the eighth day also. There’s clearly a symbolism going on here that appropriates the seven days and uses it (as a mixed metaphor, to be sure, since we’re in the seventh day in one respect and the eighth day in another). But an argument can be made that God had such a typology in mind when revealing this account, and that means the purpose of organizing the account into days need not reflect anything to do with actual timeframes.

          This is not a knock-down argument, but it makes sense of a good deal of typology that’s clearly present in the Bible, and it fits with the lack of an end to a well-organized pattern that seems incomplete if the author didn’t intend something purposeful by leaving off the end to the seventh day.

          1. John Thomson says:

            Jeremy

            I agree that there is a symbolism at work in the creation story but that needn’t make it all symbolic. For example Paul sees the one flesh of the Adam and Eve story as really all about Christ and the Church. This does not mean the story is ahistorical. Adam and Eve are still real people.

            1. I’m not saying you can’t have the typology if it’s six 24-hour days. I’m saying that the typology is a good explanation of the 24-hour day arrangement of the passage, which answers the objection raised claiming that God wouldn’t have put it that way if it hadn’t been 24-hour days and answers the objection that God wouldn’t have presented the sabbath command in terms of 24-hour days if it hadn’t been 24-hour days. If the 24-hour days are typological, then the arrangement could have been actual 24-hour days or could just have been a literary arrangement for the sake of typology. I don’t think the typology settles it either way. But it does remove some of the otherwise strong objections to the view I think is correct.

              It’s that together with the fact that the text doesn’t end the seventh day that I think tips the argument against 24-hour days. As I’ve said several times here, I don’t think most of these considerations are knock-down arguments, but I think this consideration (when both issues are factored in) does favor thinking of them as not being actual 24-hour days but simply a literary device.

              1. John Thomson says:

                Your arguments (plus the evidently highly stylized use of numbers in the chapter an a few other literary points) are the reason why I hold the no-literal open. I still sit on the literal willing to be tipped the other way but not thoroughly convinced. But then, as I’ve said a few times, I dip into this subject simply from a Bible student perspective and not with any close involvement in science.

  48. Craig Hurst says:

    I am curious to know how everyone on here would interpret Ex. 20:8-11 and how the text clearly bases/compares our 6 day work week with 1 day of rest with 6 days of creation and God’s rest on the 7th day?

    [8] “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. [9] Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, [10] but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. [11] For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

    I am not saying this is the silver bullet argument for a 24 hrs day interpretation but it needs to be in the discussion and dealt with head on.

    1. Craig, that’s been commented on quite a bit above. Perhaps you could start here.

  49. Jeff Downs says:

    This response to Lethem’s article maybe of interest.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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