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Genesis 1: The length of days in Genesis, age of the Earth, and doctrinal balance

By: Paul Di Toma

Evolutionists believe that life is merely a byproduct of time and chance. There are some who believe that evolution was the mechanism God used to create life. This is known as theistic evolution. Those who hold to this explanation of origins are trying to reconcile the modern atheistic belief that the earth is billions of years old with the Genesis account of Creation. This is not a tenable position. Genesis clearly teaches direct creation without transitional forms. You would have to abandon the truth of the Genesis account to believe in theistic evolution, but even for those who believe the Genesis account, questions still arise.  The questions I am addressing in this blog are: how old is the earth and how long were the days of creation?

While I do not believe in theistic evolution and lean towards a young earth position, I am not dogmatic on literal, six, 24-hour days. Now, before you label me a heretic, I believe in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Scriptures. I am just not convinced that we can definitively answer this from Scripture. The Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth. It is deduced from certain assumptions. They are as follows.

  1. Genesis 1:1 is just a summary or a title for the creative acts that follow in verses 2-2:3
  2. Genesis 1:2-2:3 describes the act of creation itself
  3. Each “day” (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to a literal 24-hour period of time
  4. The approximate age of the earth can be determined from the genealogies in Genesis

I can’t address all four points here, but let me briefly address point 3 and 4.

If one assumes that each day of creation was 24 hours in length and if the genealogies recorded in Scripture are complete, the earth would then be only 6,000 years old, give or take. Let’s look at both of these assumptions.

“Yom”

First, In Gen. 1:1-2:4, the Hebrew word YOM translated “Day” is used in 4 different ways.  

In Gen. 1:5, It is used twice. Once to describe the morning only, and then, morning and evening.

God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

In chapter 2 verse 4, it is used to describe the entire process of creation.

his is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.

In Gen. 2:3 it is used as a period of time that continues to this present day. See Heb. 3:7-11, and 3:16-4:11.

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.

Notice that the phrase, “There was evening and there was morning, the ____ day” is omitted in day 7. That is because the 7th day never ended. It continued up until the day the book of Hebrews was written, and according to the text, has continued another 2,000 years, to the present day.  

In addition to the four uses of the word YOM mentioned here, the word is also used elsewhere in the OT to mean an indeterminate period of time. So it is not possible to know with certainty from the use of the word YOM, how long the first 6 days were, or even if they were of the same duration.

Second, it is a fact, that ancient genealogies were often incomplete. Sometimes they deliberately skipped generations. When we are told that so and so begat so and so, it is not always their son who is mentioned but, their grandson or someone else in their lineage. Now any omissions would not add up to millions of years, but if the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 are incomplete then that would make the earth that much older.   

Only speaking where Scripture speaks

We must be careful not to go beyond what Scripture teaches. The Bible contains History and science, but it is neither a history or science textbook. I want to maintain a degree of humility where Scriptures is not abundantly clear. The text does not allow me to have the same weight of conviction on the length of days, as say, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, Christ’s substitutionary death upon the cross, the resurrection, or His second coming. It is preferable to say, “I don’t know” then to make dogmatic statements where Scripture is silent.  It should be sufficient to say that we believe the Bible is the inerrant, infallible, word of God, and that is it the final authority in doctrine and life.

There are many conservative Christians who were not, or are not, convinced that God created the universe in six literal, 24hrs days, including Saint Augustine, J. Gresham Machen, E. J. Young, O.T. Allis, and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., Carl F. H. Henry, Gleason Archer, Louis Berkhof, Francis Schaeffer and James Montgomery Boice.

Others who believed that the creation days might have been longer than 24hrs include: John Ankerberg, Walter Kaiser, William Lane Craig, Norman Geisler, J.P. Moreland, Chuck Colson, Paul Copan, Greg Koukl, C.S. Lewis, (Lewis believed in Theistic evolution)  Hugh Ross, and Lee Strobel. Even the venerated R. C. Sproul, a staunch defender of Biblical Inerrancy, admitted he didn’t know. For much of his teaching career Dr. Sproul held to the framework hypothesis, but later changed his mind.

“For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation…” R. C. Sproul

Years later, he changed his mind again. At the Ligonier’s 2012 National Conference, Dr. Sproul said the following.

When people ask me how old the earth is I tell them “I don’t know,” because I don’t. And I’ll tell you why I don’t. In the first place, the Bible does not give us a date of creation. Now it gives us hints and inclinations that would indicate in many cases a young earth. And at the same time, you get all this expanding universe and all this astronomical dating, and triangulation and all that stuff coming from outside the church that makes me wonder.

Changing one’s mind is not a sign you’re a waffler! Sometimes the evidence is just not compelling enough to keep you nailed down. I believe a person who is open to changing his mind on a position, is a person who believes the seeking truth, is more important than being right, but even where we are convinced of our position, we should hold that position with great humility, knowing that we are human and prone to err.

I trust that this blog has stimulated your thinking. I encourage you to check out the links at the bottom of this page. The first two are from Ligonier Ministries. The first article is older and references Sproul’s first position and subsequent change. It also provides a brief explanation of some other views. Read this article first. The second article/link is more recent and it reflects his position he held up until his death last year. I think it well written and formative for us, as we seek to engage people with the Gospel.

I close with the words of Moses from the book of Deuteronomy.

Dt. 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.

 

Further Study!

 

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