This chapter explains the problem which this book addresses. It also presents a few surprises concerning what we think we know about Scripture.
Chapter 1: Judging Ourselves First
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:3-5.
It would be nice to be able to show scientists who are atheists the error of their ways and to lead them to Christ. It would also be nice to be able to remove some untrue “scientific” teachings from our public schools’ curriculum. But before we correct others, we must apply Jesus’ admonition (quoted above) and remove errors from our own position.
Because our position is founded upon God’s word the Bible, we might assume we have made no errors. Unfortunately, it is easier to make mistakes about facts than we normally suppose – even about Biblical facts.
Consider the passage in Isaiah describing peace between all animals during the millennium. This makes such a beautiful picture that it is often the subject of paintings and statues. We have all heard preachers describe this scene to us on numerous occasions; but do we really know what the Bible says about even this familiar scene? Does Isaiah mention some predator which lies down with a lamb?
Most of us “remember” that the lion and lamb will lie down next to each other; but this is not what the Bible actually says! What Isaiah 11:6 says is:
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” – K.J.V. Emphasis mine. See also Isaiah 65:25.
In fact, as a few minutes with a Bible and an exhaustive concordance will prove, the Bible never describes this scene exactly as most of us “remember” it.
For another example, most of us “remember” that Jesus stumbled and fell while He was carrying His cross; but again, the Bible doesn’t actually tell us this. We know that Jesus carried His own cross (John 19:17); we also know that Simon was forced to carry it (Matt. 27:32, Mark 15:21, Luke 23:26); but we can only speculate as to why Simon might have taken over. The Bible simply doesn’t tell us this.
It is easy to confuse what we have merely heard with what the Bible actually says. If we hear something repeated often enough, we are likely to accept it as Biblical truth. We hear things from people we trust and tell those things to others who trust us. We hardly ever stop to apply the scriptural admonition:
“Test everything. Hold on to the good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Still, this may not sound too important. It doesn’t really matter whether or not Jesus actually stumbled while carrying His cross, or how many types of animals will lie down in which combinations during the millennium. These questions are not really central to our faith; but are we any more careful when the questions are important?
Consider an example which relates to death as a consequence of sin. In the second chapter of Genesis, God gave one commandment which, in Adam’s day, was all the law that existed:
“Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” – Genesis 2:16, 17, K.J.V.
This single commandment was all Adam needed to understand and obey. As Christians, we still look back to this verse to sharpen our own understanding of what Jesus’ death means for us; but do we understand what this verse means? Did Adam really die in the day he sinned? The Bible tells us that he lived for many years after he ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 5:3, 4).
Most of us have heard from people we trust that Adam died spiritually rather than physically in the day he sinned. Many of us have even explained this to other people who trusted us; but how many of us have critically examined this interpretation to see if it is the truth? Because it is not a literal interpretation, we have good reason to be skeptical. To test this, the accepted method of comparing scripture with scripture must be applied. There are several places in the Bible where death is referred to as a consequence of Adam’s sin.
For example, consider how Jesus died to atone for Adam’s sin. The Bible tells us His death was physical. We see in the gospels that there was no way that the crucifixion could be avoided (Matthew 26:39, 42, Luke 24:20, 26). If physical death could have been avoided, it would have been. In fact, it would appear from the resurrection that Jesus did not die spiritually at all.
Romans 5:14 presents another place in scripture where we can test the nature of Adam’s curse:
“Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, …”
Here Paul is using the obvious fact that all men between Adam and Moses died physically, to prove his claim (from back in verse 12) that sin and human death entered through just one man; but notice also that Paul considers these physical deaths to be so firmly an effect of sin that their existence proves the presence of sin – even where no specific law has been broken. If this were not true, Paul’s argument would be worthless; if Adam’s sin only brought spiritual death, the physical deaths of all those men would prove nothing about sin’s presence or absence.
Scripture teaches that Adam’s sin brought physical death upon mankind and that Jesus had to die physically to atone for it. Whatever spiritual aspects might be involved, and regardless of their importance, the related references confirm the physical aspects. Where death is spoken of as being the result of sin, the counsel of other scripture teaches that physical death should be assumed irrespective of what decisions are made about including or excluding spiritual death. God even confirmed this physical aspect within the curse which He pronounced upon the ground after Adam’s fall, “… for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19).
In Romans, Paul uses “death” in a spiritual or figurative sense:
“Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.” – Romans 7:9.
Here Paul describes a kind of “death” which results when knowledge of the law gives sin an opening (see also Romans 7:11). This is different from Adam’s death which resulted from his breaking of a law which he had already heard. Although related, Paul’s spiritual or figurative death is not quite the same as the death which results from Adam’s original sin. We die physically because Adam sinned – whether or not we have heard the law; we do not die in the sense Paul describes until we have heard the commandment.
The correct way to interpret Genesis 2:17 is that Adam was to die a literal physical death in the day he ate the fruit. It is an accepted rule of interpretation that the literal meaning of a word in scripture should be preferred over a spiritual, figurative or symbolic one whenever possible – especially when closely related scripture confirms the literal meaning.
There is still the problem that Adam did not die physically until long after he sinned. God’s command places the execution of judgement within the same day as the act of disobedience. Might we be misunderstanding the word “day?”
The book of Genesis, like most of the Old Testament, was originally written in Hebrew. The word “day” was translated from the Hebrew word “yom” which, not surprisingly, means “day.” 1 In fact, the present-day usage of our English word “day” is almost an exact equivalent of what “yom” meant back when Genesis was written. It even carries the same alternate meanings. For example, both can mean: twenty-four hours; the twelve hours in which the sun is shining; 2 a moment of glory; 3 or even a time period of indefinite length. 4 When a person speaks of “the present day,” (for example, in the third sentence of this paragraph) he is using the word “day” in the “indefinite period” sense. Notice that this usage is literal, not figurative, symbolic or spiritual. The “present day” is not a poetic comparison to a twenty-four-hour day; it is a literal time period of indefinite length. Likewise, the Bible sometimes uses the Hebrew “yom” in contexts referring to periods of greater length than twenty-four hours. For example, it is believed that “the day of the Lord,” (Isaiah 13:6, 9), will last more than twenty-four hours. 5
The related verses indicate that Adam died a literal physical death in the “day” he sinned; it follows that the “day” in question must have been a time period of indefinite length. 6 This very simple and quite literal understanding of the word “day” cleanly eliminates any problems.
It is easy to be wrong – even about important verses; but at least no real harm has been done. Perhaps we were too trusting when teachers we respect explained to us that Adam merely died spiritually. Maybe those of us who have spread this error should be more careful. Still, this is not very serious. It is not like gossip – where people might actually be hurt by the careless spreading of tales.
This brings us to the reason for this book. It is almost universally taught in evangelical Christian circles today that the earth is very young – about ten thousand years old or even less. We hear this repeatedly from teachers we respect and trust. We ourselves may have spread this teaching to those who trust us. But is this teaching the truth or an error?
How old does the Bible say the earth is? The Genesis account says it was created in six “days.” But what does the word “day” really mean? How long were the “days” of Genesis? This is the same question which we encountered regarding Genesis 2:17. Once again, a Biblical “day” is not necessarily twenty-four hours long.
It is difficult to simply read the first chapter of Genesis and come away with any but the six-consecutive-twenty-four-hour meaning; but how much of this is because of the actual wording of Genesis and how much is because of what we have simply heard? Do the actual words of Genesis really make literal sense to us? “And there was evening, and there was morning – the first day.” (Genesis 1:5). What could a literal “morning” possibly mean before the sun was “made?” (Genesis 1:16). Furthermore, the “plain English” which a modern reader encounters is not quite the same as the original Hebrew. Genesis might be harder to understand than is normally assumed. The first chapter of Genesis is an ancient work; for this reason, it might be difficult to understand. Consider this verse from The Faerie Queen, by Edmund Spenser, 7 first published in the year 1590 AD:
A gentle Knight was pricking on the plaine, Ycladd in mightie armes and silver shielde, Wherein old dints of deepe woundes did remaine, The cruell markes of many’ a bloody fielde; Yet armes till that time did he never wield. His angry steede did chide his foming bitt, As much disdayning to the curbe to yield: Full jolly knight he seemed, and faire did sitt, As one for knightly giusts and fierce encounters fitt. – Book 1, Canto 1, Verse 1.
To a modern reader, the term “curbe” (curb in modern spelling) seems to mean something like a command to “halt.” But this makes the rest of that line confusing. The term actually refers to part of the horse’s bit. In this example, the correct literal reading is not the plainest one! “Yielding to the curb” can even mean “being run off the road” in today’s “plain English.” This was written a mere 400 years ago and in an archaic form of our own language; yet it is still difficult to understand.
By comparison, the first chapter of Genesis was written in Hebrew, and thousands of years ago by even the most conservative estimates. There is evidence that the Hebrew may be a translation from a yet older account. 8 The original was probably written even before the sun and moon were given proper names. 9 Notice that they are simply referred to as “great lights.” It is difficult even to imagine an account of this antiquity.
Because we have difficulty understanding Spenser, who is relatively recent, we have no guarantee that a plain reading of Genesis 1 will make any sense at all to us. It is likely that we will have to be very careful if we hope to understand the creation account correctly.
As will be shown, there is an old-earth understanding of Genesis which is consistent with every detail in God’s word – only we will have to keep our eyes open to see it. The young-earth point of view is not the only possible understanding of Genesis 1; in fact, as will also be shown, the young-earth position is incompatible with the scientific evidence which God’s creation provides.
Scientists can easily determine the age of God’s creation. It speaks of its own age in many different ways. As will be shown in following chapters, there is no escaping the antiquity of the earth. It is billions of years old. The scientific evidence is very clear. The Bible itself even implies that a study of God’s creation will reveal that the earth is very old:
“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20, Emphasis mine.
God is eternal and powerful. His creation says so. Scientists have clearly seen the agelessness and power of God’s creation from their own personal observations and measurements. They know who God must be.
What happens when we Christians tell scientists that the Biblical text cannot be harmonized with an earth which is billions of years old? Scientists conclude that the God of the Bible is not the God of creation. This is because they have clearly seen God’s creation and we have told them the Biblical one is different! We have told them the Bible limits the age of the universe to about ten thousand years; and they believe it must. They trust us to understand the Bible and they take our word for what it says and means. Because they trust us, they will not bother to check the Scriptures for themselves. They simply conclude the Biblical account is untrue.
Of course Romans 1:20 also says that scientists who do not recognize their Creator are “without excuse.” Could it be that we are giving them one? If they trust us to give them an excuse to die in their sins, why won’t they trust us for the whole truth? The problem is that we have failed to remove the “plank” from our own eye first. As Jesus told us in Matthew 7:3-5 (quoted at the beginning of this chapter), we must fix our own eye before we can see clearly enough to fix our brother’s eye. We must have the right understanding of what Genesis really means if we are to see clearly enough to correct the scientists. Any false assumptions we make will certainly damage our attempts; if we are wrong, the scientists will know it and will not listen to us. As always, judgment should begin with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17).
Unfortunately, it is difficult for those of us who are not scientifically educated to tell the difference between scientific truth and error. An unsophisticated error will often be more alluring than the plain old ordinary truth. Because of this, we are unconsciously drawn to the wrong arguments. We enjoy mocking university graduates. Juicy claims about how some Ph.D. has misread the facts are circulated from Christian to Christian just like so much gossip. We hear these stories from those we trust and pass them on to those who trust us. Unfortunately, we never bother to find out if any of these stories are true.
We have been mocking educated men and, what is worse, we have done it from a position of blind ignorance. We have made fun of the fossil hunters; but how many of us have even held an authentic fossil in our own hands? We have called the men who dated those fossils fools; but how many of us would know how to date a fossil ourselves? Do we care enough about knowledge to study the fossils ourselves? We must ask ourselves if we aren’t really the fools; does Solomon’s description fit us?
“Wisdom calls aloud in the street, she raises her voice in the public squares; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out, in the gateways of the city she makes her speech: ‘How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? … ‘” – Proverbs 1:20-22
Even those of us who would never intentionally lie will thoughtlessly pass on almost anything we hear just so long as it appears to glorify God. We are much too gullible. We should always confirm information before we spread it to others. We should not pass on tales about the men who date the fossils unless we are willing to make sure those stories are true. And how can we make sure? Sorting truth from error requires careful testing. This cannot be accomplished by simply selecting those stories which please our ears. The truth is not always pleasant to hear!
In keeping with the spirit of this chapter, one last comment is in order. During the writing of this book, the Lord has been teaching me 10 how easily serious mistakes can be made. This has taught me to be more forgiving toward mistakes made by others. Making mistakes is an unavoidable consequence of being human; and I am as human as anyone is. Although this book has been checked over by many theologians and scientists, there are undoubtedly many remaining errors. Because this book deals, in part, with errors which have been made by our brothers in Christ, its errors are likely to be quite awful! My desire is to remain as much at peace with my brothers as is possible. Although this book is a necessary correction, it can’t be emphasized enough that the young-earth creationists and I are on the same side where it counts. Although they are in error concerning a lesser issue, we are both working for the same ultimate goal. Perhaps the age of the universe should never have been made into an issue in the first place; unfortunately, it has been made into a serious one which must now be resolved. I apologize in advance for any hurt which I may inadvertently cause; it is my goal to restore unity, not to fuel division.
Chapter 1 Footnotes:
- Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, C. 1979, Baker Book House Co., Grand Rapids, Michigan, p. 341, (entry #3117). According to Gesenius, the primary signification is the heat of the day but the word is used in a wide variety of ways. [Return]
- For example, “forty days and forty nights,” Genesis 7:4. [Return]
- English example, “every dog has his day.” Hebrew example, Hosea 7:5. [Return]
- Genesis 2:4 is normally assumed to refer to the whole creation period. [Return]
- Zechariah 14:7 is another example. [Return]
- The N.I.V. Bible translates “yom” as “when” in Genesis 2:17 to make this intended meaning clearer: “… you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” [Return]
- The Faerie Queen, Edmund Spenser, J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd., London, and E.P. Dutton and Co. Inc., N.Y., 1910 edition, p. 19. [Return]
- Ancient Records and the Structure of Genesis, P.J. Wiseman, C. 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, p. 20. This is an excellent book – highly recommended. [Return]
- Ibid p. 88. [Return]
- Here I needed to step forward; in the rest of the book I will hide behind the awful title “this author.” [Return]