Inconsistencies in the Old Earth Creation paradigm

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

(Click here to read Monday Musings ... the place where I discuss the thinking that went into this article.)

Question: Does the Hebrew word “yom” appear in each day of the creation story? Why do we interpret it as longer periods even if it says morning and evening for context?

If the flood was local (as most OECs believe), why wouldn’t God migrate the animals and Noah to another area?  And why do some people interpret the word for “Earth” as “Land?” Is this an effort to make the flood regional? Is this the same for the Tower of Babel?

Answer: Greetings friend. Thank you for touching down with us at Mainsail Ministries. I take the OEC (Old Earth Creation) position… believing that the universe is 13.8 billion years old as opposed to only thousands of years old. Yet many people I love and respect take the YEC (Young Earth Creation) position. This is a hot topic among Christians… like we need another one of those! Nevertheless, let’s get into it — and I will start by addressing your questions about the Hebrew word yom.

Yes, the word yom appears in each of the six days of creation. But be careful here: not every OEC advocate insists that these days are longer than 24 hour periods. I am one of these… as are Drs. Gerald L. Schroeder, Sarah Salviander and William Lane Craig. (I will give you links to their work in the appropriate spots.)

Although the Hebrew word yom has four meanings — and only one of them means 24-hour days — I agree with my YEC counterparts that there is no grammatical basis for interpreting the word yom in Genesis chapter one as anything other than six-24-hour days. Yet, I’m still an OEC! So the natural question is, doesn’t a literal interpretation of Genesis chapter one work against the OEC paradigm? Not in my case. Here’s why.

Before we use words like “day” symbolically or as figures of speech, they must be grounded in their original meanings. Therefore, not only and I’m good with yom meaning six 24-hour days, I need this to be so! Before I interpret these words contextually — the process by which I see them as collectively representing billions of years — we have to understand their basic meaning… and at this point, I have no argument with the YEC community. I affirm that the word yom in Genesis chapter one means 24-hour days.

But let me up the ante. Not only am I an OEC advocate, I subscribe to biblical inerrancy. I affirm that God’s word is both inspired and inerrant under the terms of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978). So, how can this be?

To understand how this can be, I’m going to briefly touch on four experts that have helped me break free from the YEC camp… and have helped me maintain my OEC beliefs over the years.

The first expert is the odd man out. Astronomer Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe Ministries teaches the Day-Age Theory. He is the odd man out because this theory arrives at a 13.8 billion-year-old universe at the expense of the six days of creation. He does not believe that these days are 24-hour periods. Yet, he is my brother in Christ.

I held this theory for many years, and I am still of the opinion that there is “room” in the etymology of the word yom to accommodate those days representing ages. As such, I count it as a legitimate interpretation. What Ross does very well is correlate the twenty teachings about creation in the Bible and show how they cannot work together except under the Day-Age Theory.

Click here to see a short video of Hugh Ross talking about the Day-Age Theory. For sake of balance, I’m also including a link to Got Questions Ministries article on the same topic. (Got Questions Ministries holds a YEC view.) Click here to see their article.

I will now move on to experts who revere Scripture, take a literal interpretation of the six creation days... while acknowledging that the universe is 13.8 billion years old. They do so for different reasons, and I hope by showing these differences, you will be less inclined to handle the word yom more rigidly than the context demands.

The first person on my list is not a Christian. He is an Orthodox Jew. Dr. Gerald L. Schroeder received his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — so he knows a bit about the science! But he is a devout Jew who reveres the Scripture and its traditional commentaries. This puts him in a unique position: he can look at the Scripture with no Christian bias... and he sees plenty of room in those words for the billions of years that — as a scientist — he is sure have existed.

He has written a few books, but the one I am familiar with and recommend is The Science of God: The Convergence of Scientific and Biblical Wisdom. In this book, he explains how even if we just examine the physical systems, what we read in the Bible as one day is indeed one day... yet also millions and billions of years!

But this is not another version of the Day-Age Theory. This is standard physics… but combined with a direct literal reading of the text in Genesis chapter one. Now, note this well: Schroeder reveres the Scripture... so he does not force science into it. He just calls it like he sees it. Click here for more information about Schroeder and his books.

My next resource is Dr. Sarah Salviander. She received her Ph.D. in astrophysics from the University of Texas at Austin — and not only is she a Christian — she is a Christian apologist! What she has done was take Dr. Schroeder’s work and made it more accessible to the layman. Her ministry is called SixDay Science, and I will give you a link to one of her key resources.

SixDay Science has a 141 image slideshow that explains hers and Schroeder’s premise: the days in Genesis are literal days! ... yet the way God built the universe, they add up 13.8 billion years. I’ve also included a link to one of her recent talks. She was raised as an atheist and found God during her studies of science. This talk contains her testimony, and it is well worth a listen. Click here to see Salviander’s testimony. Click here to see the slide show.

The final expert on my list is Dr. William Lane Craig of Reasonable Faith Ministries. He advocates the Mytho-Historical method of interpreting the first eleven chapters of Genesis. This method preserves the literal 24 hour days grammatically… while having no argument with a 13.8 billion-year-old universe. Craig holds two European Ph.D.’s. He is a Christian Bible teacher and philosopher who holds to the inerrancy of Scripture.

The Mytho-Historical method is the one I currently prefer. Although I agree with the two scientific explanations above, I will get much more use out of this method because it helps to mitigate some of the other interpretive challenges in Genesis... the flood and the Tower of Babel among them.

The Bible’s historical narrative begins in Genesis chapter 12 with the call of Abraham. By way of contrast, the first eleven chapters are more mytho-history than historical narrative. This automatically eases the hermeneutical pressure on anything in that sweep of Scripture.

Under mytho-history, the stories are important; their details are less so. So, once we identify the difference between historical narrative and mytho-history, we can fine-tune the limits of biblical inerrancy. Every sensible stand on biblical inerrancy considers literary genres… and mytho-history is a genre many people miss.

Do not be afraid of the word “myth” in mytho-history, though. It does not mean fairytales or made-up stories as a layman might understand the word. Textual critics use the word “myth” to identify a literary genre. In this case, they relay a true history. They just do it in a style familiar to people of the Ancient Near East, and less familiar to today’s readers... especially to today’s lay readers.

Bible students understand that we cannot treat the poetry in the Bible the same way we treat the book of Romans. This is because poetry and Romans (at large) belong to different genres in literature. In like manner, it is not wise to take the apocalyptic sections of the Bible literally because that too is its own genre. The Bible has many genres — and mytho-history is merely one of them! If we treat the genres that are “less precise by design” too literally, we will end up debating moot issues.

In my opinion, the story is the Bible’s fundamental communicative structure. This is why I have no problem with God using mytho-history to communicate with people in the Ancient Near East. That was their native idiom. Dr. Craig has a short video where he introduces the Mytho-Historical method. Click here to view this video.

This is all I have to say about yom at this time. Let’s move on to the issues about the flood.

As to the animals, if the flood were not global — and again, that is my personal position — it would be a non-issue except for the local fauna. Animals near the edge of the flood would certainly leave the dangerous areas. If the local flood was big enough, some towards its center probably died. But no penguins were either threatened or preserved in the telling of this story. Although the ark project took (20? 40? 100?) years, I don’t think any of Noah’s people traveled to the Southern Hemisphere during that time.

So, why didn’t the story show God moving the animals instead? That would defeat its purpose. The flood is a judgment motif... and a salvation motif. To make this story work, the threat of destruction had to be maximized. So, the setup was that “all” living creatures were about to die!

Let's say that the flood was local… and not every animal in the world was about to be killed and some escaped at the flood edges. Including those details would have saved some animals — but it would have killed the story! So, remember my premise: the story is what’s important... not the details… and arguing about whether the flood was global is a detail — one that would militate against the story if it were part of the story. But, not only do I believe that the flood was local, not global, I believe that the Bible teaches that.

In the Bible, the concept of “all” is never the “mathematical all” that refers to the set of everything in a category — but with nothing left out! It usually means more like “all within the story’s view.” Biblical Hebrew is very imprecise as compared to contemporary English, and forcing the precision that today’s readers demand from their languages upon the people of the Ancient Near East is a hermeneutical travesty — and arguably — the main reason for the OEC/YEC divide.

When the Bible uses the phrase “the whole world”... it never means “the globe.” It merely means the part of the world that God has in focus. In the case of the flood, it would be “the world of sinful men,” and if Hugh Ross is correct, every human was at that location at that time. I do not subscribe to that part of Ross’s theory, but this impacts the “earth” versus “land” issue you mentioned.

I simply can’t lay out all those proofs at this time… having spent 2100 words where 600 should do… but here’s where I am in the OEC issue.

When we combine the paucity of evidence from the physical sciences that the global flood occurred with the weaknesses of the Genesis stories when interpreted literalistically, I conclude that the biblical flood was local... and in this, I agree with Hugh Ross. Click here to see his arguments.

I pray all this helped you.

 

(Mainsail Ministries articles often have a preamble where I discuss the thinking that went into them. These are called Monday Musings — and if you haven’t read the one associated with this article — consider doing so at the following link: 20211115 Old Earth Creationism and the word day (yom) ).

(For comments, or to join the Monday Musings mailing list, contact us at mainsailep@gmail.com. To submit a question about God, the Bible or the Christian culture, click here.)