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Did God Create the Earth in One Literal Week?

by David Dann
via The Gospel Anchor, May 17, 2000

On the first page of the Bible we read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light': and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day" (Genesis 1:1-5). According to the text, God continued to exert his creative power over a period of six days, culminating in the creation of man on the sixth day (Genesis 1:6-31). Following the six days of creation we are told that God rested from his work on the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-2).

On the other hand, modern science teaches that the earth is actually billions of years old, and that the appearance of man was the result of an evolutionary process that has taken place over millions, if not billions of years. While the biblical text appears very straightforward in chronicling the creation of the world, many modern scholars tell us that the account should not be read in such a simple and straightforward manner. Since prominent geologists and science textbooks affirm that the earth is billions of years old, a number of theories have arisen in an effort to interpret Genesis 1 in a way that will harmonize with the claims of modern science.

Popular Theories of This Type Among Our Brethren

  1. The "Day-Age Theory." This theory holds that the "days" mentioned in the creation week of Genesis 1 and 2 are not literal 24-hour days, but in reality each represents an age which could last for millions of years.
  2. The "Literal Day-Long Gap Theory." Proponents of this theory affirm that the days of creation are literal 24-hour periods, however, long periods of time, perhaps millions of years, elapsed between each day.
  3. These theories serve a common purpose. Both theories are put forth in an effort to discount the notion that the creation week was a literal 144-hour week, and in order to harmonize the Biblical account of creation with the claims of modern science concerning the age of the earth.

Such theories as these prompt us to consider whether or not God created the world in one literal week. The following questions may help us come to some conclusions on the matter:

Can We Understand What the Word "Day" Means?

  1. The Bible gives a clear definition of the term in Genesis. The Bible says the completion of the initial creation of the physical universe, light, and darkness took place within a period known as "the first day" (Genesis 1:1-5). But how long was this first day? The text says, "the evening and the morning were the first day" (Genesis 1:5). Each successive day in the creation week is defined in this same manner. Therefore, there is no room in the text for days that last millions of years. There is only room for a day that includes one evening and one morning, as opposed to an age-lasting day, which would include millions of evenings and mornings. The Biblical text defines the word "day" to mean a literal 24-hour day.
  2. The days of creation are not only presented as literal, but also as successive. The first day of creation is immediately followed by the next. Notice the transition from day one to day two in the text: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, 'Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters'" (Genesis 1:5-6). The creation account moves from day to day with no perceivable break between successive phases of the creation. The text allows no room in between days for periods of millions of years.
  3. What about II Peter 3:8? The apostle Peter writes, "But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day" (II Peter 3:8). Some have appealed to this passage of Scripture in an effort to prove that we cannot know the exact length of the days mentioned in Genesis 1 because, "one day with the Lord is as a thousand years." However, Peter is emphasizing the eternal and unlimited nature of God, rather than presenting a literal measure of time that is meant to interpret Genesis 1. In order to be of any help to the day-age theorists, Peter would have had to say, "one day with the Lord is as a million years." II Peter 3:8 offers no comfort to those who wish to interpret the days of creation as anything other than literal 24-hour days.

Can We Allow Science To Interpret Scripture?

  1. Modern Science is often wrong. When it comes to determining such things as the age of the universe and the origin of life, it is obvious that modern science is not an exact science. The theory of evolution is just as far as ever from being a proven fact. Evolutionists themselves are forced to admit that they have found no fossils that demonstrate evolutionary transition from one species to another. The lack of evidence to support the claims of evolution is astounding. Those who affirm that the earth is billions of years old do so based upon a myriad of assumptions and unreliable dating methods. In reality, factual scientific evidence tips the scales in favor of a relatively young earth. However, much of this evidence is rejected by the evolutionists, because it does not fit in with their preconceived assumptions concerning the number of years required by the evolutionary process.
  2. The "Day-Age" and "Literal Day-Long Gap" theories fail to accomplish their purpose. These theories are put forth in an effort to harmonize the Genesis account of creation with the claims of modern science concerning the age of the earth. However, both theories fail in this regard. For example, all plants and vegetation were created on the third day of creation (Genesis 1:11-13), while the sun was not created until the fourth day (Genesis 1:14-19). If long periods of time elapsed between the third and fourth days, then we would have plants living for millions of years before the sun existed! Since it is a proven fact that plants require sunlight to live, such a conclusion would never be accepted by the scientific community. Furthermore, man was created on the sixth day (Genesis 1:26-31). If the sixth day, or the gap in between the sixth and seventh days, lasted for millions of years, then Adam would have been millions of years old when he died, rather than nine hundred and thirty years old as the Bible says (Genesis 5:5). These theories fail to do the very thing they set out to do, and make a mockery out of the Genesis account in the process.
  3. God's word determines truth. While speaking to God, the psalmist says, "Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever" (Psalm 119:160). Do we agree with his statement? Science is not a reliable measuring stick with which to determine the truth about the Genesis account of creation. Why not allow Scripture to interpret Scripture? Speaking of man and woman, Jesus said, "But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female" (Mark 10:6). There is no doubt as to what Jesus believed with regard to the Genesis account of creation. According to Jesus, man was made at "the beginning of creation." If the creation week lasted millions of years, then man was not "from the beginning of the creation," since man was not created until the end of the week! Those who affirm that the creation week spanned millions of years are placed in the unenviable position of disagreeing with the Lord.

Can We Conclude That Other Passages Of Scripture Are Not Literal?

  1. Where will we draw the line? If the Biblical account of creation is not to be taken literal, then what other passages of Scripture can we redefine? Are we free to manipulate Biblical accounts of other events in order to conform to the whims of modern science? What about the account of the virgin birth of Christ (Matthew 1:18-25)? Since modern science rejects the possibility of such a miracle, shall we theorize a way in which to harmonize it with science? What about the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:1-6)? Shall we reinterpret this great event in order to make it properly align with modern science?
  2. The very foundation of our faith will be destroyed. The "Day-Age" and "Literal Day-Long Gap" theories lead us down a path that dead-ends in the total and complete destruction of our faith. Paul says, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). However, many seem to have the idea that faith comes from hearing the claims of science, and then running to the Bible and interpreting it so that it will harmonize with those claims. How dreadful and shameful it is to realize that God's children could be caught in such a maze of empty deception. "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity" (II Timothy 2:19).

Conclusion

If God intended to convey the idea that the week of creation was actually a period of millions of years, wouldn't he have told us? Couldn't he have made that clear to us? Of course he could have. But, as usual, the problem has not arisen from what God has said. The problem has arisen over what he has not said. One could never read the Genesis account of creation and come away with the idea that it contains millions of years of history. The difficulty comes when a person accepts the speculative claims of science as fact and then reads those claims into the text of the Bible. We would do well to remember the apostle Paul's admonition to Timothy: "keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called; which some professing have erred concerning the faith" (I Timothy 6:20-21).