Is the creation account contradictory? Did the Bible plagiarize?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: I have two questions. First, can you enlighten me about the claims of the Humanists that there are contradictions in book of Genesis about creation? Second, what about the Muslim claims that there was is plagiarism in the Old Testament? … and if there was plagiarism, would that be a reason for me not to believe the Bible? (Female, 31-45, Asia, Christian).

Answer: Greetings friend. It will be my pleasure to answer these questions today… although the second is open-ended. So, if you find that I did not answer the question that was on your mind, please re-query us. But if you do, be more specific — like, tell us which document was allegedly plagiarized, and tell us what portion of Scripture allegedly contains its text. The Old Testament has 39 books and 609,269 words… and people make a lot of frivolous claims about them.

As to your first question, nonbelievers of every stripe — including humanists — attack the beginning of Genesis. But a great deal of the controversy comes from the assumption that all Christians believe that the earth was created in six 24-hour days… and only tens (or hundreds) of thousand years ago. This, of course, flies in the face of the empirical data. I do not feel as if this is the majority belief among Christians any longer — and it’s definitely not mine. So, my answer will be from an old-earth point of view.

Maintaining a young-earth perspective has many problems, but it has two main ones — and they both have to do with the fact that the earth and the universe at least appear to be old… even to the layman. This has also been the scientific consensus for nearly a century now, and in that time scientists have continually gathered data and refined their hypotheses. More data leads to better knowledge, and scientists now estimate that the earth is 4.54 billion-years-old.

In my opinion, the earth looks old because it is old... and I think that skeptics and scientists would agree with me there. But the young-earthers are stuck with two explanations for an old-appearing earth: either the earth is actually young… and God made it look old by seeding it with fossils, creating geological strata rather than allowing it to form naturally, doing the same with the ice fields and seeding each layer with different levels of volcanic dust to mock annual changes, changing the isotope levels… stuff like that. Or perhaps he changed the laws of physics sometime after creation — but in a way that makes us confound tens of thousands of years with billions of years. I repudiate both of these ideas.

My main problem with any appearance-of-age solution is that I do not understand why God would do this. Time means nothing to him, so what would be his motive? Would he be trying to save time anyway… and if so, for what? For cosmic efficiency? Since God has unlimited power and since he transcends time, terms like “efficiency” and “waste” are meaningless in this discussion. The universe is 13.8 billion-years-old… and that is indeed old! But that’s an eyeblink to an infinite being.

My second objection is that if the earth only appears to be old (but is actually young), then God is a fraud or a cosmic joker… because he is teaching us that we cannot rely on empirical data. But is that a problem? You bet it is! God created us human beings to be discoverers… and he placed us in a discoverable universe — one that runs under unchanging rules so that we may discover how it works… but also, discover a little bit about the One who made it work that way.

Scripture tells us that the creation itself is a revelation from God… and about God (Romans 1:18-25). As such, an appearance-of-age would be at minimum a bait-and-switch. But at maximum, it would reveal a God who changed — a God whom we could not count on in spite of declarations to the contrary in his word (1 Samuel 15:29; Psalm 102:12, 25-28; Malachi 3:6). That’s too high a price.

But what perplexes me more than anything else in this issue is since the Hebrew word for “day” (yom) does not have to mean a twenty-four hour period, why force it to mean that… especially in light of God’s general revelation to the contrary. When I tell my kids what I did back in my “day,” I’m referring to an era, not a twenty-four hour period… and the Hebrew word for “day” can do the same thing… as in the following verse. Since this verse refers to all the creation time collectively as “the day,” it cannot mean a 24-hour period… yet the same word yom is used.

“This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day [yom] that the Lord God made earth and heaven.” (Genesis 2:4, NASB95)

You will find a more thorough explanation of this in any Hebrew lexicon, but I’ve found Bible Hub to be a handy and reliable resource. You will find their explanation of “yom” at the following link.

So, since there is no hermeneutical jeopardy in understanding the Hebrew word for “day” to mean long periods of time, I am amazed that so many people stick to the young-earth interpretation. I am an old-earth creationist who boldly affirms that I take a literal interpretation (but not a literalistic interpretation) of the Genesis creation accounts. I believe that God created everything in six literal consecutive days — and that we are now in the seventh — and that these days are long but finite periods of time. But I deny that they were 24-hour periods of time here on earth.

As to your question, if you interpret the account of creation from an old-earth perspective, the book of Genesis does not contradict the book of nature… and a humanist should have no quarrel with Scripture because of that. But if you interpret it from a young-earth perspective... well... that’s not on God. That’s on you. You’d be creating your own problems.

I recommend that you follow-up this part of your query by visiting Reasons to Believe ministries. RTB was founded by an astronomer, Dr. Hugh Ross, and for forty years he and his team have been demonstrating how taking an old-earth perspective is the key that unlocks both the word of God and the book of nature. Here is a link to one of their germane articles.

As to your second question, I do not know of anyone who claims that the Bible plagiarized the Koran… and perhaps for no better reason than the Bible is the oldest volume of the two… by a lot! … and that’s common knowledge. If you’re talking about the New Testament, it’s 600-plus years older, and if you’re talking about the Old Testament, it’s 2000 years older in some parts… so you can see my confusion. How can Scripture — which was in existence several centuries before the Koran — plagiarize the Koran?

I’ve seen plenty of the opposite accusations… that the Koran plagiarized the Bible. Could that be what you are thinking about? Do you have the documents reversed in your mind? … because the reverse is often asserted.

The late Christopher Hitchens, one of the “New Atheists” (and no friend of Christianity), accused the Koran of plagiarism. Now, don’t get too excited. He didn’t like the Bible either! But he understood that it preceded the Koran, and he understood that the Bible had a profound impact on society.

What we have here is a lot of people throwing the word plagiarism around... but I think that plagiarism is an unnecessarily pejorative word to describe what’s going on here. You see, Islam does not purport to be a new religion that would replace Judaism or Christianity… and in the process copped a lot of the Judeo-Christian ideas for the Koran. Instead, it avers that Mohammed is the final prophet in the Judeo-Christian tradition… and that we Jews and Christians had messed things up. So, God sent Mohamed to set things right.

Islam’s list of prophets includes people like Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus — some of Christianity’s most revered people. Therefore, since Islam says of itself that it is a continuance of the tradition of these prophets, then plagiarism is off the table. If they are using material from what they understand to be their own tradition, then they are not “stealing” anything… and they do feel as if they “own” the Judeo-Christian tradition… but that it needs a little tweaking… especially that Jesus-is-God part of it.

As to the very last part of your question, I can address that issue even though plagiarism is off the table. Christians should affirm that the Bible is the inerrant word of God… but this doesn’t mean that every word it contains is original. It just means that God ordained whatever words it contains — whether they are from David’s heart (Psalm 23) or from the pages of a pagan poet (Acts 17:28; 1 Corinthians 15:33; Titus 1:12). But let me make an even stronger statement to end.

Since every person who has ever lived has done so in the context of a culture, God would be a fool not to use their motifs, their cultural references — and even the occasional phrase — to write his inspired word. But when God does this, this is not plagiarism… him being holy and all that. This is just good writing.

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