“The History of Creation” (Genesis 1:1) more >>
One of the most vigorously debated topics in the Christian community is how the Genesis creation account (originally written in ancient Hebrew) is to be interpreted and understood. All creationists agree God was involved in the creation of the universe. However, there is disagreement about when God’s creative works took place, how long God took to complete creation, the extent of God’s role in creation and whether the creation account in Genesis is to be interpreted literally or whether elements of the account were intended to be interpreted in a non-literal fashion. While Christians tend to hold very strong positions on these issues, the great majority of Christians do not believe the issues determinate one’s salvation.
The purpose of this article is not to promote or denigrate any particular interpretation of the Genesis creation account. There is no shortage of resources that already do that. Rather, the purpose of this article is to accurately summarize different views of the Genesis creation account so each account is better understood by those with differing views and the strengths and weaknesses of those views may be fairly considered.
Different Views of Creation (skip to >>)
Young Earth Views
Conclusion (skip to >>)
“The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.”
— Proverbs 18:17 (NAS)
Scholars who publish opinions regarding the interpretation of the Genesis creation account tend to have very strong convictions about how the Bible should be interpreted and, therefore, also tend hold to their views regarding Creation very strongly. Because the goal of many scholars is to convince others of their particular point of view, they often fail to address weaknesses in their positions, fail to discuss differing viewpoints on important issues and sometimes fail to fairly present the arguments and objections advanced by scholars with different views. Consequently, many people form opinions on these issues without having the benefit of considering constructive criticisms offered by some very well-respected theologians and apologists.
FactsandFaith.com is dedicated to providing its readers with an avenue to honestly investigate Christian thought and fairly evaluate the truth claims advanced by Christian theologians and apologists. Accordingly, FactsandFaith.com will not only provide complete and detailed summaries of each of the creation views, but will fairly summarize the criticisms and objections raised against each of the views, as well as summarize the responses offered in rebuttal to those criticisms and objections.
In general, the different interpretations of the Genesis creation account can be divided into two main categories — Young Earth and Old Earth Views:
Young Earth Views (views that require a young earth, i.e., about 6,000 – 10,000 years old)
Old Earth Views (views that allow for an old earth, i.e., about 4.5 billion years old) (skip to>>)
Gap View (skip to >>)
Young Earth Creationists (YECs), such as those associated with Answers in Genesis (www.answersingenesis.org) and the Institute of Creation Research (www.icr.org), believe Genesis 1 unequivocally states that God created the heavens and earth in six consecutive 24-hour days (i.e., 144 consecutive hours) and that God rested from His acts of creation on the 7th 24-hour day. Additionally, based on the genealogies set forth in Genesis 5 and 11 (which YECs contend are set forth in consecutive order), YECs maintain God created the heavens and the earth about 6,000 – 12,000 years ago.
The great majority of YECs firmly believe there can be no compromise on these issues. Some YECs hold a slightly less stringent position stating that because the Bible does not state a specific age for the cosmos, the age of the universe “can only be derived by extrapolation from the text [and] such interpretation always opens up broader possibilities of error or misunderstanding.” [Paul Nelson & John Mark Reynolds, Three Views on Creation and Evolution, pg. 49 (1999)]
YECs offer two primary reasons why they believe secular scientists and Old Earth Creationists (OECs), who both contend the universe is billions of years old, have misinterpreted the scientific data: 1) They have a pre-suppositional belief the earth must be old because they have bought into evolutionary theory which is premised on gradual changes occurring over millions or billions of years and 2) They have not considered the fact that the record of nature is inherently unreliable due to the effects of man’s Fall and the catastrophic effects of the flood described in Genesis 6-8.
Generally speaking, YECs believe old earth creationists (OECs) have compromised the inerrant and infallible word of God to accommodate modern science, including evolutionary theory, which has resulted in widespread rebellion against God and is the philosophical root of many evils including fascism, racism, homosexuality, abortion, humanism, etc. [See, John Morris, Back to Genesis, “How Can a Geology Professor Believe That the Earth is Young?”, pg. d (1991); Henry Morris, “The Long War Against God“, pgs. 105, 134 (1992)] YECs steadfastly maintain all death (animal and human) entered the world as a consequence of man’s sin and sin was the reason Christ had to die on the cross. Accordingly, they assert all old earth creation views must be rejected because such views necessarily allow for the existence of animal death before the Fall which, in the YEC perspective, makes a mockery of Christ’s work of atonement. [See, Mark Van Bebber & Paul S. Taylor, Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross, pgs. 15-19, 117 (1996)] Some YECs suggest Christians who support an old earth creation view in which pain and death of animals occurred before the Fall, exhibit heresy, if not blasphemy. [Henry Morris, Back to Genesis “The Eternal Future of Time, Space, and Matter,” (2004)]
Day-Age Creationists, such as Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe (www.reasons.org), maintain the creation account in the Bible is consistent with the findings of Big Bang cosmologists who calculate the universe came into existence about 13.7 billion years ago and the earth was formed approximately 4.5 billion years ago. Proponents of the Day-Age view point out the Hebrew word “yom” (translated “day”), which is used in the Genesis 1 creation account, has several literal meanings, one of which is a “long, finite period of time.” Accordingly, Hugh Ross proposes that each creation “yom” (day) referenced in Genesis 1 literally refers to a long finite period of time, with some “days” being longer than others. According to the Day-Age view, God began resting from his creative works on the 7th “yom” and we are still living in that “yom” of creation rest which is the reason why scientists have only observed the extinction of animal species and no appearance of any new species. However, in the future, God will again engage in creative works and will create a new heaven and a new earth as promised in 2 Peter 3:12-13 and Revelation 21:1.
In Ross’ view, God has revealed truth in Scripture (special revelation) and the record of nature (general revelation). Ross believes all truth is God’s truth; therefore, if both revelations are accurately interpreted, they will reveal the same truth. Consequently, Ross maintains it is perfectly appropriate for Christian apologists and theologians to attempt to harmonize the truth revealed in Scripture with the truth God has revealed in the record of nature. He further proposes that more can be learned about the literal meaning and correct interpretation of the Genesis creation account by considering other biblical passages which reference God’s creation of the universe/Earth (e.g., Psalm 104:1-35, Isaiah 40:12, 21-22, 25-28) as well as studying what scientists have learned from studying what God has revealed via general revelation in the universe and on Earth.
With regard to the genealogies set forth in Genesis 5 and 11, Ross maintains that close scrutiny of the original Hebrew words used in those genealogies demonstrates the genealogies were “telescoped” which was a common practice in that day. Since telescoped genealogies only reference noteworthy persons in a genealogical line (as opposed to every single person born into the line), Ross contends the age of the earth cannot be determined by simply adding up the number of years each person referenced in the Genesis genealogies lived.
Additionally, contrary to the beliefs of YECs, Ross does not believe the death of animals before man’s fall makes a mockery of Christ’s work of atonement because the Bible affirms God does not view animal death the same way He views the death of humans, who He created in his image (Gen. 1:26). Moreover, since Christ did not die for the salvation of animals, the death of animals before the Fall in no way makes a mockery of Christ’s atonement for man’s sin on the cross. As argued by Ross, whether God chose to create the universe in six 24-hour days or chose to create the universe over long periods of finite time has no bearing on the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
As maintained by Ross, although the motives of YECs in defending the gospel may be praiseworthy, YECs who describe OECs as deserters of the faith and secular evolutionists as evildoers, not only cut off meaningful dialogue with other Christians, but also with evolutionists who need to be reached with the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. In Ross’ view, although evolutionary theory may have been developed by those who have rejected God and may lead others to reject God, evolutionists are unbelievers who should be treated with consideration, love and respect as potential converts, not enemies “to be attacked and destroyed.” [Hugh Ross, Creation and Time, pgs. 85-90 (1994)]
Robert Newman proposes an Intermittent-Day View of the biblical creation account. For argument’s sake, Newman concedes each day (i.e.,”yom“) referenced in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour period as maintained by YECs. However, Newman proposes that each 24-hour “day” only introduced a new creative period and after the 24-hour day introduction, each period has continued up to the present time. Although those who hold to Newman’s view agree with YECs that each “yom” mentioned in Genesis 1 is a sequential period, they do not believe the days were consecutive (i.e., that they occurred one right after the other). Rather, each “day” (yom) introduced a new creative period that proceeded for a long period of time before a new creative period was introduced by another creation “day” (yom). Consequently, those who hold to Newman’s Intermittent-Day View not only believe the earth is billions of years old as asserted by secular scientists, but that all the creative periods described in Genesis 1 will continue until God creates the new heaven and new earth described in 2 Peter 3:12-13 and Revelation 21:1. Only then will God will enter His 7th day of rest.
Like Hugh Ross (a Day-Age creationist), Robert Newman views science as engaging in the interpretation of God’s general revelation through the record of nature and exegesis of Scripture as engaging in the interpretation of God’s special revelation through Scripture. From Newman’s point of view, “both nature and Scripture are inerrant sources of information from God” but that “[b]oth have fallible human interpreters.” Therefore, Newman concludes both sources may be considered and reconsidered in seeking to understand the details of God’s creation of the universe. Newman does not view science as an enemy of Christianity; rather, science is merely a process men use to study God’s general revelation. In Newman’s view, both general revelation and special revelation will be in harmony when both are correctly interpreted. [Robert Newman, Evangelical Affirmations, Chapter 10 – “Evangelicals and Modern Science, pgs. 412-417 (1990) (ccel.us/EV.ch10.html)]
Literary Framework View
Literary Framework theorists, such as Meredith Kline and Lee Irons, propose the six creation “days” in Genesis do not refer to literal 24-hour earthly days. Rather, the “days” are metaphoric and refer to time spans of unknown length which occurred in the heavenly realm. According to the Literary Framework View, the author of Genesis purposefully arranged the “days” in a literary framework to provide a literary structure within which to organize and narrate God’s creative works in topical order. Although narrated in a topical order within a literary seven day week organizational structure (instead of a sequential order) Framework theorists firmly believe all the creative works described in Genesis 1 and 2 are true historical events. [Lee Irons & Meredith Kline, The Genesis Debate, pgs. 218-219, 235-236, 247-248 (2001)] Although many who hold a Literary Framework View believe scientists have presented compelling evidence of an old age for the universe/earth, the Framework View does not require the earth to be old; therefore, one is free to believe in a young earth, if so convinced. [Lee Irons & Meredith Kline, The Genesis Debate, pgs. 217-218 (2001)]
Those who propose a Gap View of the Genesis creation account maintain that “in the beginning” God created the heavens and the earth as clearly stated Genesis 1:1. However, Gap theorists contend a large gap of time elapsed between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. During that large gap of time, Satan fell and the earth become formless and void as described in Genesis 1:2. It was also during this gap that the geological record, which demonstrates the passage of billions of years, was laid down. The creation week described in Genesis 1:3-27 occurred approximately 6,000-12,000 years ago during a period of restitution in which God “recreated” or “reformed” the earth in six consecutive 24-hour periods as described by Young Earth Creationists.
Analogical Day View
According to the Analogical Day view, the “days” in the Genesis account are God’s creative work days which are analogous to, but not necessarily identical to, work days of man. God’s purpose in using analogical days in the biblical creation account was to set a pattern for man’s work and rest cycle in which man was to work six work days and then rest one day. Most Analogical Day creationists propose that the “days” in Genesis 1 are “broadly consecutive” in that the “days” are successive periods of an unspecified length, however, parts of the creation “days” may overlap and/or the works within the creation days may be grouped in a topical fashion.
The above summaries of different views of creation have been, and will continue to be, hotly contested within the Christian community. In future articles, each of these views and other views will be set forth in greater detail. In addition, criticisms and objections that have been made to each view will be outlined, along with how proponents of each view respond to those criticisms and objections so that each of the different perspectives on this important issue may be fairly and fully considered.
© 2012 by Andrina G. Hanson
Published: May 3, 2012 / Last Updated: October 11, 2017
QUICK LINKS TO SOURCES REFERENCED OR RELIED ON IN THIS ARTICLE
Lee Irons and Meridith Kline The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (Crux Pr Inc., 2000)
Henry M. Morris The Long War Against God (Master Books, 2000)
Robert C. Newman and Perry G. Phillips, Genesis One and the Origin of Earth, 2nd Ed. (2007) free download available at: www.newmanlib.ibri.org/NewmanPhillips_Gen1OrigEar/GN1OE-pics-071109-small.pdf
Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy(NavPress Publishing Group; 1st edition, 2004)
Hugh Ross, Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy(Navpress Publishing Group, March 1994)
Mark A. Van Bebber and Paul S. Taylor Creation and time: A report on the progressive creationist book by Hugh Ross Eden Communications; 2nd edition (1996)
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Slideshow photo: “The History of Creation” by Jouni Paavilainen (downloaded from ChristianPhotos.Net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications) (Back to article >>)