Originally published in Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (DBSJ) 2013. Used by permission.
The young-earth creationist community is in the midst of an identity crisis relative to the age of the earth. Some within the community aggressively defend a strict 6,000-year-old creation and chafe even at minimal deviation on this point. For these, a rigid terminus a quo for the age of the universe is the simplest and best arbiter for establishing one’s young-earth creationist credentials. Conceding even a slightly older universe is for this group equal to (1) discarding or at the very least compromising biblical inerrancy1 and (2) granting philosophical independence to the sciences, whether astronomy, geology, biology, or archeology.2
This rigidity has not always existed in the young-earth community. John Whitcomb, patriarch of young-earth creationism and co-author of the groundbreaking work The Genesis Flood, defended a span of 3,000 to 5,000 years between the Flood and Abraham, offering a probable date for the original creation of between 6,700 B.C. and 8,700 B.C.3
While Whitcomb and others of his generation held tenaciously to a young earth of thousands rather than billions of years,4 the sine qua non of their movement was not a rigid date, but adherence to other interpretive factors, including:
- Belief in a recent and immediate creation of the universe in six literal, successive, 24-hour days.
- Belief in a catastrophic global flood as the principal dynamic for explaining the geological and fossil records.
- Belief in a literal, historical, and immediately created Adam, prior to whose fall death was absent in the universe.5
These factors, early young-earth creationists agreed, together insulated Genesis 1–11 from the philosophical threats of modernism and uniformitarianism that threatened biblical authority. Viewing the earth as young was important to these pioneering modern creationists, but an exact identification of the earth’s age was neither necessary nor even possible—the Bible simply did not supply this level of precision. And so, irrespective of whether they favored a 6,000-, 10,000-, or 25,000- year-old earth, proponents of this new movement readily set aside this minor quibble in the interest of a united front against the ridicule and arguments of scientists, archaeologists, and scholars from other disciplines who argued for “deep time.”
This article is a plea for the young-earth creationist community to return to this older standard of fellowship. It proceeds on the assumption that there are evangelical stances on the age of the earth that do not honor the bedrock principle of biblical inerrancy. However, it also argues the possibility of affirming, without abandoning a clear and normal reading of the text or surrendering to the dictates of uniformitarianism, something other than a strict 6,000-year-old earth. In short, this article is a warranted request for the young-earth community to recognize and make unqualified place in its ranks for the excluded middle of young-earthers who argue, based on (1) commonly accepted exegetical techniques and (2) other non-uniformitarian grounds, for a modest relaxation of the 6,000-year benchmark for the age of the earth.
THE BASIS FOR THE INFLEXIBLE 6,000-YEAR-OLD EARTH THEORY
The centerpiece of the argument for a 6,000-year-old earth is the identification of the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 as gapless “chronogenealogies.” Proponents argue that the precise numbers and calculations unique to these two genealogies reveal unmistakably the divine intention to supply a meticulous and comprehensive timeline of the world from Adam to Abram.6 While a modest relaxation of this stance might not immediately upend the young earth model, proponents argue, even the slightest tinkering with the numbers represents the proverbial camel’s nose in the tent—a slippery slope upon which misadventurers tend to slide into the yawning chasm of biblical errancy and “deep time.”
It is not my intention to detail all of the arguments for gapless chronogenealogies. Proponents have long since made their case and have offered little by way of new arguments for years. But I do not intend, either, to denigrate the gapless chronogenealogy theory. Instead, I simply wish to create reasonable doubt concerning this theory—doubt reasonable enough to allow modest dissenters full membership in the YEC guild.
THE CASE FOR REASONABLE DOUBT ABOUT THE INFLEXIBLE 6,000-YEAR-OLD EARTH THEORY
The 6,000-year-earth position may be questioned on several grounds, some more substantial than others. I would like to suggest, though, that while all of the arguments developed below are load-bearing, the intertextual-exegetical arguments take pride of place in the ensuing material.
(Part 2 posts tomorrow.)
1 Travis R. Freeman argues, for instance, that those who allow for gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are guilty of “a violation of…an inerrant view” of Scripture, and suggest that proponents of gaps are not among “those who trust the Bible” (“Do the Genesis 5 and 11 Genealogies Contain Gaps?” in Coming to Grips with Genesis, ed. Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury [Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008], 283, 308).
2 Freeman argues later in the same that the proposal of gaps in the Genesis 11 chronology points “no doubt” to “widespread acceptance of Lyellian geology and Darwinian biology…rather than sound hermeneutical principles” (ibid., 307). Though he recognizes that some who recognize gaps argue only for a few thousand years while others argue for billions, he insists that they all argue alike from unbiblical presuppositions (see, e.g., the wide range of “evangelical scholars” who affirm gaps in ibid., 286–89).
Similarly, Larry Pierce and Ken Ham, who also defend a strict 6,000-year-old universe, assert that proponents of a 10,000-year-old earth uniformly use evidence that is “just as flimsy…as the evidence for long ages” (“Are There Gaps in the Genesis Genealogies?” in The New Answers Book 2, ed. Hen Ham [Green Forest, AR: Master Books], 60).
3 John C. Whitcomb and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1961), 489. I was delighted, after conversing personally about this topic with Dr. Whitcomb, to receive access to a prepublication copy of an essay that he has prepared to address this issue: “The Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11.” I lean heavily on this essay for portions of this article.
4 Whitcomb goes on to qualify his estimate of the earth’s age by opining that “even the allowance of 5,000 years between the Flood and Abraham stretches Genesis 11 almost to the breaking point” (ibid.). Clearly there is no room here for the deep time that uniformitarian science demands.
5 There is no universally accepted, “official” list of such delimiters. I offer these as a modest proposal to that end, but recognize that they could be multiplied and/or refined.
6 See, e.g., James B. Jordan, “The Biblical Chronology Question: An Analysis,” Creation Social Science and Humanities Quarterly 2 (1979):1–6; Richard Niessen, “A Biblical Approach to Dating the Earth: A Case for the use of Genesis 5 and 11 as Exact Chronology,” Creation Research Society Quarterly 19 (June 1982): 60–67; David T. Rosvear, “The Genealogies of Genesis,” in Concepts in Creationism, ed. E. H. Andrews, Werner Gitt, and W. J. Ouweneel (Welwyn, England: Evangelical Press, 1986): 68–77; S. R. Kulling, Are the Genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 Historical and Complete, That Is, Without Gaps? (Riehen, Switzerland: Immanuel-Verlag, 1996); Jonathan Sarfati, “Biblical Chronogenealogies,” Creation ex Nihilo Technical Journal 17 (2003): 14–18; Freeman, “Do the Genealogies Contain Gaps?”
Mark Snoeberger is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and has served as Director of Library Services since 1997. He received his M.Div. and Th.M. from DBTS and earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Baptist Bible Seminary in Clarks Summit, PA. Prior to joining the DBTS staff, he served for three years as an assistant pastor.