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Biblical Reliability

Can Christians Disagree About the Creation Account in Genesis?

Can Christians Disagree About the Creation Account in Genesis
Image Credit: Tumisu from Pixabay

The creation period described in the Book of Genesis is of great interest to many Christians. As a result, much discussion has been had within Christianity itself as to the nature of the creation account and the length of time over which creation could have occurred. Many Christians in America hold to a creation period wherein the universe was formed over the course of six 24-hours periods; other Christians believe the period of creation to be much longer, perhaps even millions of years.

One of the central questions related to this issue concerns the use of the Hebrew word “yom” in the opening lines of Genesis. Translations of this word into English use the word “day” in place of “yom,” so that the biblical passages indicate acts of creation on six consecutive days (as in, exact 24-hours periods). This plain reading of the word is simple and concise, likely one of the reasons a large amount (likely the majority)[1] of Christians today hold to a 24-hour interpretation; a 24-hour period would seem the most reasonable interpretation absent some good reason to read a different meaning. The 24-hour interpretation allows the Christian to read the language of Genesis and interpret the language in its most basic terms. To hold a 24-hour view does not require the “wrestling” or interpreting scripture in light of other meanings. Thus, a Christian holding this view can defend the authority of scripture by simply maintaining a straightforward interpretation.

Christians who hold to a longer creation period interpret “yom” in a different way. These Christians point to the use of “yom” to mean a period other than 24-hours. The Bible does use “yom” in several other ways throughout its text, such as to mean “day” (as in daytime rather than nighttime) in Numbers 9:21, an unspecified period (“day of the Lord”) in Amos 5:18, and as a general time frame in Deuteronomy 16:3.[2] While the 24-hour position is often considered the default or traditional view in the eyes of those who hold it, the discussion surrounding interpretation of the creation account is longstanding; some ancient Christians held to an “old-earth” view which allowed for a longer creation period, such as Augustine, Origen, and St. Thomas Aquinas.[3] These ancient Christians did not have modern science to influence their perspective but rather held their views on the basis of the text of scripture alone. The age of the universe and the length of creation days is an “in-house” debate. Christians on both sides of this discussion are just that: Christians. Click To Tweet

And this takes us to the issue of modern science. Scientists, for the most part, have a strong bias towards a longer creation period. Many scientists suggest the universe is billions of years old[4] and that millions of years transpired between the events of the “first day” in Genesis and the time in which humanity was created on the “sixth day.” The scientific case should inform Christians on both sides of this debate, but the inferences of most scientists fit most neatly within the latter, “longer-than 24-hour” interpretation.

That being said, the age of the universe and the length of creation days is an “in-house” debate.

Christians on both sides of this discussion are just that: Christians. A robust creation theology regarding every minor detail of the timeline is not an essential element to the Christian faith (even while belief in a creator is a central tenant).[5] The length of creation is not a universally held position in the church, it is not explicitly required by the text of scripture (due to the various interpretations of “yom” described above), it was not universally agreed upon by early Christians, and it appears in no Christian creed.

This is an issue for brothers and sisters to enjoy debating but not an issue to divide over.

Although of interest to the believer, the question of time with regards to creation may not carry the same weight to a skeptic or non-believer; while either position may be acceptable for the Christian, that does not mean each view is equally practical when talking to a specific skeptic. In an encounter with a skeptic who holds firmly an alternative view it may not be a wise tactical decision to attempt to rid them of their beliefs (even if it conflicts with the Christian’s understanding of creation). As an apologetic method, spending time arguing with a skeptic over the length of creation may not be fruitful. A factually accurate view of the length of creation is not necessary for the skeptic’s salvation, but a correct view of Jesus Christ is. Conceding a skeptic or non-believer’s point about the length of creation does not disqualify them from learning the truth about Jesus, but it may remove one more distraction on their road to finding the Lord.

For more information about the reliability of the New Testament gospels and the case for Christianity, please read Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels. This book teaches readers ten principles of cold-case investigations and applies these strategies to investigate the claims of the gospel authors. The book is accompanied by an eight-session Cold-Case Christianity DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.

[1] Gose, Tia. “4 in 10 Americans Believe God Created the Earth 10,000 Years Ago.” LiveScience, last modified June 5, 2014. https://www.livescience.com/46123-many-americans-creationists.html

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[2] Biblical Hermeneutics, “Can ‘Yom’ in Genesis 1 be translated as an ‘aeon/age’?” Stack Exchange, accessed March 25, 2021. https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/8412/can-yom-in-genesis-1-be-translated-as-a n-aeon-age

[3] Biologos, “How was the Genesis account of creation interpreted before Darwin?” last modified January 18, 2019. https://biologos.org/common-questions/how-was-the-genesis-account-of-creation-interpreted-bef ore-darwin

[4] Rice, Doyle, “Universe is 13.8 billion years old, scientists confirm,” USA Today, last modified July 15, 2020. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/07/15/age-universe-13-8-billion-years-scienti sts-confirm/3287409001/

[5] Keller, Tim, Russell Moore, and Ligon Duncan, “Keller, Moore, and Duncan on the Non Negotiable Beliefs About Creation,” The Gospel Coalition, Aug 29, 2012, YouTube video, 11:59, https://youtu.be/HfKBCXAOarY.

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Written By

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and is currently completing his MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. SHELLEE

    June 12, 2021 at 7:59 am

    The earth has to be at least as old as the oldest fossils/dinosaur 🦕. We know about when they existed.We are created in God’s image,but we don’t really know what that image was. We base the picture of him as we are now. Christ was born to Mary,so we had an image of God we could relate to,since we would be unable to look upon God ourselves.
    My BIG QUESTION! How to share Christ’s salvation with someone who doesn’t EVEN believe in GOD as creator? No God,No Jesus.
    I believe in an infinite God. HE is beyond our understanding,but the world around me & all thats amazing in it tells me he is real. My mind is finite, so I make the choice to believe.To an unbeliever thats not very convincing.

    • Jono Martin

      June 14, 2021 at 7:43 am

      Regarding the question of whether or not God or Jesus exist, I like Ray Comfort’s explanation:
      – You know there’s a builder because there’s a building.
      – You know there’s a painter because there’s a painting.
      – You know there’s a Creator because there’s a creation.
      Buildings don’t build themselves.
      Paintings don’t paint themselves.
      Creation doesn’t create itself.

      The evidence for the existence of God is overwhelming and it takes great amount of blind faith to believe otherwise.

      For Jesus, there’s more evidence–outside the Bible–for the existence of Jesus in the first 150 years of his death and resurrection than there is for the existence of Tiberias Caesar, the Roman emperor at the time. To deny the existence of Jesus based on evidence is to force one to deny the existence of Tiberias Caesar. It takes a LOT of denial of plain evidence to deny Jesus existed.

      It’s utter foolishness to deny the existence of God or Jesus (see Ps 14:1; 53:1 – The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”)

  2. Douglas

    June 12, 2021 at 8:45 am

    Consider this: God made all things fully complete and ready for living life. If it took millions of years, then one could say that what God created was not fully completed. So, Earth and the stars, moon and sun were created in a “fully complete” state, thus, “looks” millions of years old. Another fact to consider is fossils can be created in moments. Take Mount St. Helens eruption where fossils were created in an instant of time, but, when measured or dated appear millions of years old?! There is plenty of proof in the text where all God created was fully complete and “very good.” I still believe in a young Earth and see evidence of that all around us. Even our solar system appears very young with gas giants and comets are still with us and should have discontinued millions of years ago, if measured by our standards today. This is still unsettled and perhaps we all should look to the Lord for answers. The main path is knowing Jesus first and obtaining the free gift of eternal life.

  3. Mark

    June 15, 2021 at 12:50 pm

    Have you ever been to the Creation Museum in Kentucky? Ken Ham and his organization show significant evidence in support of a young earth, approximately 6000 years old. The eruption of Mount Saint Helens and the resulting aftermath and land changes show what likely happened during and after Noah’s flood and that millions of years are not needed. Check it out.

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