Non-Essentials of Young Earth Theology
Although various authors over the past decades have expressed strong beliefs in one or the other details of young earth theology, many such details are extraneous to the system, mainly because of limited biblical revelation. In this section, I briefly list a few such details that are not essential to young earth creationism.
For instance, it is not necessary to believe in an exact age of the earth, such as 6,000 years, or to adhere to Ussher’s Chronology. Dogmatism on the precise age is not necessary as long as the age is “young.”13 It is not required that one be dogmatic on an absolute absence of gaps or missing names in the Genesis genealogies.
It is not necessary to believe in the water vapor canopy theory. This theory had many early adherents but has lately fallen out of favor.
It is not necessary to believe that the second law of thermodynamics started at the Fall. Perhaps it did begin then, but the pre-Fall situation would seem to be unworkable if heat would not transfer from hotter to colder entities. Perhaps God provided special counteracting features in creation that overcame the second law perfectly until he removed those counteracting features after the Fall.
Young earth theology does not require one to hold a particular view on the initial light source used during the first three days. Nor need one believe that the speed of light has changed or that the universe is of small size, or that time dilation accounts for the appearance of age. It is not necessary to believe that radioactive half-lives have changed, nor that God only created fresh water and not salt water.
It is not required that one believe that angels were created at a particular point in the creation week, although the fact that they were created during that week is part of young earth theology.
Multiple answers or hypotheses on these issues are consistent with young earth creationism. No particular view is demanded by Scripture.
Finally, it is not necessary to abandon true (observational) science or be intellectually backward. The number of accomplished Ph.D.-level scientists over the centuries who have embraced young earth theology is enough to dispel that myth.
The focus of this essay is not on speculations as to the scientific reasonableness of this or that detail of young earth creationism. Details like that are covered capably elsewhere by scientific creation ministries such as Answers in Genesis, Institute for Creation Research, The Creation Research Society, etc. These ministries have focused on answering questions about various details of young earth creation, but ultimately it is Scripture that informs us that young earth creationism is true and what we should believe about it.
Essentials of Young Earth Theology
In contrast to those non-essential matters listed in the previous section, I will now offer a list of essentials of YET. The list of essentials is not necessarily irreducible. I believe it is more important to carefully delineate the various facets of young earth theology rather than try to provide a minimalist list. Still, if any of these characteristics are taken away, the resulting theology cannot be called “young earth” as its own adherents have understood it for the last half century.
Furthermore, this listing is not novel. Many have written on matters such as these. And although such lists of essentials can be synthesized from elsewhere, I believe it is valuable to provide in a single publication a list of essential characteristics of young earth theology. I believe those necessary characteristics are:
- Hermeneutic: Literal.
- Method: Direct and supernatural acts of God.
- Extent: Comprehensive.
- Duration: Six consecutive 24-hr days.
- Age: 6,000 to 10,000 Years.
- Anthropology: Real Adam.
- Hamartiology: Sin and resulting death.
- Geology: Global Catastrophic Flood.
- Authority: The Sufficient Scriptures.
Each of these is of the essence of young earth creationism. They will now be examined in turn.
(1) Literal Hermeneutic
It does not really matter to the young earth creationist whether God created the universe recently or a long time ago—not nearly as much as it matters that we believe that he created it in the way that he plainly explained in the Bible. If the text of Genesis, taken in its most basic sense, indicated that the earth is old, young earth creationists would be old earth creationists. That is because the authority of the Bible matters more to the young earth creationist than does the age of creation.
But as the text of Genesis 1–9 stands, an originalist and literal interpretation14 demands young earth theology. This fact is recognized by some liberal scholars, if for no other reason than that there is no limit to what kind of interpretation might arise from a text if its plain communicative intent is ignored.15
Principles of Hermeneutics
Biblical hermeneutics entails principles that can be applied to the text of Scripture to arrive at the meaning of the text. Biblical meaning is informed and constrained by several factors. These include, first of all, the text itself. That is to say, the meaning of the text is in the text. It is not found outside of the text. Second, the author’s evident intent is a crucial factor. What the author wanted to convey has a pride of place in determining the meaning. With Scripture, this authorship is twofold divine and human, with God’s superintending work in inspiration ensuring that the words of the human author perfectly conveyed the intent of the divine author.16 Third, the principle of stability, namely that the text means what it meant originally. The meaning does not change with time. Fourth, lexicography must be taken into account. Words have a limited range of meanings, and only one of those meanings is active in a given context. Fifth, the word forms and arrangement influence the meaning conveyed, thus the need for grammatical study of the text. Sixth, the context must be considered. The context in which a text sits not only limits the semantic range of individual words, but also provides boundaries beyond which the meaning of the sentences and paragraphs cannot go. Seventh, the larger theological context includes all of Scripture. The coherent, non-contradictory system of truth that it conveys informs the meaning of a text. Eighth, the genre and form of a text can affect the meaning of a text. Narrative, poetry, epistolary, and parabolic settings have different effects on the interpretation of a given text. Ninth, the historical and cultural settings are factors in determining the meaning. Finally, tenth, the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture must be recognized. God intended to communicate with beings created in his image—beings who have the ability to communicate. We can rightly expect that his communication is perspicuous.
A consistently literal approach is the only proper way to interpret the biblical text. This is demonstrated by several biblical examples of the production and use of Scripture as clear communication from God (Neh 8:8, Num 12:8; Hab 2:2; John 16:25, 29; Deut 27:8; and Ezra 4:18). These texts show that not only in the use of Scripture but also in its production, a plain, literal meaning was intended by God. The Bible is essentially clear (Ps 119:105; 2 Pet 3:16). Some things may be harder to understand than others, but most of the Bible is straightforward.
None of it is in code language. This doctrine of the clarity of Scripture supports a literal hermeneutic.
A literal approach to the Scripture is further presupposed in the normal use of language to communicate propositions. God created man in his image with the ability to communicate. We expect that when God communicates, he will do so in an understandable, straightforward way. Literal interpretation is axiomatic. Without it, communication is impossible. It has to be assumed to even speak about it. The critics of literal interpretation certainly understand what it means, and in fact they must rely on it in order to clearly communicate their distaste for it.
These principles drive the conclusion that the plainest sense of Scripture is the right sense. Taking a figure of speech as such, for example, is plainer than the “woodenly literal” interpretation. In terms of the creation debate, for instance, a day should be considered a 24-hour day unless it is impossible to take it that way.
13 Mark A. Snoeberger, “Why a Commitment to Inerrancy Does Not Demand a Strictly 6000-Year-Old Earth: One Young Earther’s Plea for Realism,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 18 (2013): 3–17.
14 See Rachael J. Denhollander, “Restoring the Foundations,” Journal of Creation 25 (2011): 104–10. Originalism is distinguished from literalism in the following way. Literalism says that a text should “be interpreted only according to its language, without the context of any outside source, including the historical understanding of the language, to interpret the meaning of the terms” (108). This, the author argues, may appear to be less subjective than a “living constitution” theory, but apart from historical context, the words could only then be interpreted in terms of the present-day context. Such could easily distort the original meaning intended. So, originalism says that a text “ought to be interpreted according to how it was originally intended to be.” Original intent is “the contemporary usage and understanding of the language in the document.”
15 Most famously, perhaps, James Barr wrote in a 23 April 1984 letter to David C. C. Watson of the UK, dated 23 April 1984, “So far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story (c) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark. Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the ‘days’ of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know.”
16 By this statement, I intend to convey the ideas of verbal inerrancy and infallibility.
Dr. Postiff has served as Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church since 2006. He holds a PhD in computer engineering from University of Michigan and ran an engineering consulting firm specializing in design and simulation of computer microprocessors. He earned his ThM from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in 2010.