Why a Commitment to Inerrancy Does Not Demand a Strictly 6000-Year-Old Earth: One Young Earther's Plea for Realism (Part 3)


Originally published in Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (DBSJ) 2013. Used by permission. Read Part 1 and Part 2.

The 6,000-year-earth position may be questioned on the grounds of logical, hermeneutical, text-critical, and intertextual tensions. Anomalies in the biblical story line and extrabiblical historical records provide additional evidence.

Anomalies in the Biblical Story Line

The life story of Noah seems oddly truncated and his death out of place if there are no gaps in Genesis 11. When we come to the end of the ninth chapter of Genesis, we find the standard epitaph, “then Noah died.” But if the chronogenealogist is correct, Noah did not die until Abraham was 58 years old.1 Of course, it is possible to suggest that Noah had moved away and was quite forgotten by the time Abraham was on the scene, but the finality of Genesis 9:29 seems quite out of sequence if Noah didn’t die until the end of chapter 11. A natural reading of the early chapters of Genesis strongly suggests that the Noah story ended a long time before the Abraham story began.

Similarly, when Abraham entered into the land of promise, he entered into a land of well-established cities and local governments (Gen 15:19–21),2 not a land of fellow-pioneers migrating in the aftermath of the recent Babel incident (which by the chronogenealogist’s reckoning might have taken place as recently as 27 years earlier).3 One cannot escape the hermeneutical “feel” that the story speaks of greater antiquity than this.

Extrabiblical Historical Records

Up until this point I have appealed strictly to biblical evidence for modest gaps in Genesis 5 and 11. This has been deliberate, responding to the charges leveled above that such arguments flow uniformly from extrabiblical arguments fraught with the uniformitarian presuppositions of Lyellian geology and Darwinian biology. I would like to add now an undisguised extrabiblical argument—secular historical records—conceding readily the diminished warrant of such an appeal, but stressing also that is unfair to identify this appeal as flowing from uniformitarian principles. Instead, it represents a class of much “harder” evidence.4

The specific “hard” evidence to which I appeal is a well-established Egyptian chronology that extends back many centuries before the flood date demanded by the chronogenealogist. Of course, what must be proven here is that the Egyptian chronology is indeed “well-established,” a premise sharply disputed by strict 6,000-year YECs. One reads regularly in the writings of this group that the dates alleged by ancient record-keepers are uniformly skewed by (1) flawed readings of the Egyptian historian Manetho, whose 3rd-century B.C. Ἀιγυπτιακά identified a series of thirty pre-Ptolmeic Egyptian dynasties extending back to c. 3400 B.C. and (2) too heavy a reliance on Sothic cycles in establishing the beginning of the Egyptian calendar in the fifth millennium B.C. Instead, strict 6,000-year YECs propose that we should follow a lesser-known, compressed Egyptian chronology that is held by a minority of historians.5 The issues are far too complex to address fully in a presentation of this scope, but the following summary points prove most salient:

  • Prior to the nineteenth century, Manetho’s list took pride of place in dating Pre-Ptolmeic Egyptian history, and a linear/sequential reading of that list prompted many to date the unification of Egypt under Menes (the point at which the dynastic system commenced) to around 3400 B.C. Manetho’s list is no longer afforded the prominence it once held. It is now widely accepted that Manetho was painting a rather romantic picture of Egyptian history; further, the discovery of a great many co-regencies in Manetho’s list has eroded the earlier understanding that Manetho’s list was strictly sequential. Most mainstream Egyptologists today date the rise of Menes to a more recent date between 3150 and 2950 B.C., and place only minimal weight on Manetho’s list to come to this conclusion.6 This compression may seem to be something of a vindication of the 6,000-year model, but it really is not. There is no evidence forthcoming that the Egyptian chronology will be compressed any further than this; instead, a complex of sources have combined to fix the date for the beginning of the dynastic arrangement at least a thousand years earlier than the 6,000-year-earth model can allow.
  • The Sothic Cycle theory of Egyptian dating has likewise fallen from favor among modern Egyptologists: many reject the theory entirely; none embrace it in its totality. A bit of explanation is in order. The Egyptian calendar is based on a 365-day model, and makes no provision for the quarter day gained each year (a problem solved with a leap year in the Julian calendar). As such, the Egyptian calendar loses time like a bad watch, and aligns with the solar year once every 1460/1 years, an event allegedly marked by the heliacal rising of the star Sothis (Sirius). Eduard Meyer, arguing from (1) the deduction that the calendar must have been invented at the beginning of one of these cycles, (2) his discovery in Greek literature that one such realignment occurred in A.D. 139, and (3) his further discovery in the papyri of two earlier references to Sothic alignments (in 1320 B.C. and 2780 B.C., respectively), concluded that the calendar must have been invented exactly one cycle earlier—on July 19, 4241 B.C.7 Based on these astronomical benchmarks, he dated the unification of Egypt under Menes to 3315 B.C.8
    Many today dismiss Meyer’s theory entirely and opt for alternative factors to establish Egyptian chronology.9 Those who do recognize Meyer’s theory as valid limit its value to the cycles beginning in 1320 B.C. and 2780 B.C., and relegate the 4241 B.C. date to the realm of pure conjecture.10 Further diminishing the value of Meyer’s work is the fact that his papyri discoveries involved nameless kings, consensus for whose identity can no longer be established. As such, the only real point of agreement among Sothic sympathizers is that the first dynasty began sometime before 2780 B.C. To summarize, the inadequacies of the Sothic theory are now readily acknowledged—it is for all practical purposes irrelevant to the discussion.
  • If secular Egyptologists no longer depend on Sothic cycles to establish their chronology, and depend much more cautiously on Manetho than they did previously, what holds the modern consensus together? A cross-cultural network of witnesses far more ancient and well-established than was previously available. Two Egyptian sources are especially load-bearing: (1) the Palermo Stone, a fifth-dynasty basalt stele that covers the period from the beginning of the first dynasty under Menes through the middle of the fifth dynasty and (2) the Turin Canon, a 13th-century B.C. papyrus that details the first to the seventeenth dynasties in extreme detail.11 Beyond these, though, we also have the widespread corroboration of the records of contemporary ANE cultures, including (3) the Assyrian king lists (dating to Tiglath-Pileser II, c. 967 B.C.), (4) the Hittite king list (specific from the 17th century B.C. forward, but offering background material that extends as early as the 24th century B.C.),12 (5) the Babylonian king lists (dating to the 19th century B.C. in its more conservative “A” list rendering), and (6) the Sumerian king list (the earliest independently corroborated king of which dates to approximately 2600 B.C., with the 24th-century B.C. Sargon of Akkad its most famous representative).13 Other Elamite, Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hebrew sources could be cited as well, though much of argument here rests on linguistic similarities of names to those discoverable in other ancient sources.14 It should also not go unnoticed that significant advances in radiometric and thermoluminescence dating methods have corroborated the collocated witness of these various Ancient Near Eastern records in establishing a date for the beginning of the dynastic system between 3100 and 2900 B.C.15
    The significance of this last paragraph cannot be understated. If the academy could offer no proof of Egypt’s antiquity other than the exaggerated numbers offered by a third-century Egyptian who may have been less interested in history than in reviving an ancient ancestor cult (Manetho) and the dubious speculations of the Sothic theory, then we might rightly question the reliability of the conclusions of the academy. But this simply is not the case. The network of ANE sources that argues consistently for an earlier flood-date is extensive, complex, cross-disciplinary, and even multi-cultural. The task of explaining it away is overwhelming in its scope. It will never do for the 6,000-year creationist to claim victory on the strength of a partial discrediting of the claims of Manetho.
  • Finally, I cannot stress enough that appeals by some 6,000-year YECs to the compressed dating theories of Immanuel Velikovsky, whether directly or as modified by some of his sympathizers (e.g., David Rohl, Donovan Courville, and Roger Henry), really must be discontinued posthaste.16 That Velikovsky developed a small following for his compressed Egyptian chronology does not mean that the theory is worthy of our attention. Quite simply, Velikovsky was an imaginative psychiatrist whose theories of colliding planets, close encounters, and cultural amnesia are more the makings of an interesting Star Trek episode than anything resembling careful historiography or science. We simply cannot afford to link the Young Earth movement to these kinds of absurdities.


In preparing this article I wrestle with the tension of a great many friends who hold to a 6,000-year earth. Indeed, I can honestly say that I have come to understand and respect more fully that position after reading several of its more credible defenses. And while I obviously disagree with them, I have no desire to cut off such friends, ridicule their studied conclusions, or force them out of the young-earth community on account of our disagreement. I would like to appeal for such a stance to be reciprocal within the young-earth creationist movement.

If I can close with a provocative analogy, I would like to make this suggestion: 6,000-year onlyism has become for the YEC movement today what the textual debate was to the fundamentalist movement of the 1990s—an unsustainably exclusive and sometimes shrill stance that threatens the already-fragile credibility of its movement. If anyone wishes to defend a 6,000-year-old earth, I will respectfully demur, all the while regarding him as a brother-in-arms. If, however, the YEC “guild” tells me that I must believe in a 6,000-year-old earth under threat of exclusion as a modernist, a uniformitarianist, or a Bible denier, then I will be obliged to advocate for a young earth quite apart from that guild.


1 In fact, Shem actually outlived Abraham by the chronogenealogists’ reckoning.

2 Shortly after his arrival, we also find Abraham in the mighty empire of Egypt, complete with a Pharaoh (12:15); Philistines entrenched in their traditional territories after displacing the Avvim (Deut 2:23); and cities of the plain with wickedness so advanced that the cup of God’s wrath was already full against them—an ignominious feat that took the rest of Canaan fully 400 years to achieve (Gen 15:13–16). See Whitcomb, “Genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11,” 4.

3 Assuming (1) that the division of the earth in Peleg’s days (Gen 10:25) references Babel, and (2) that Genesis 11 is a gapless chronology, then Peleg died when Abraham was 48 years old (2119 B.C. by the reckoning in our chart, above).

4 I distinguish here between soft evidence that stands on the philosophical foundation of uniformitarianism (e.g., extrapolation from stratification and erosion rates, seriation, radiometric decay, thermoluminescence, etc.), and hard evidence that stands upon the manifest ground of direct observation and record-keeping. By making this distinction I am not saying that secular records possess the infallible warrant of special revelation or that they offer unassailable proof of anything (such records regularly contain conjecture, exaggeration, and outright lies); however, they offer us evidence that cannot be rightly and uniformly dismissed as “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col 2:8). Recorded history is in a category fundamentally different from uniformitarian extrapolations from history to more remote conclusions.

5 See, e.g., Elizabeth Mitchell, “Doesn’t Egyptian Chronology Prove That the Bible Is Unreliable?” in The New Answers Book 2, ed. Ken Ham (Green Forest, AR: Master Books), 246–63; Damien F. Mackey, “Fall of the Sothic Theory: Egyptian Chronology Revisited,” TJ 17 (2003): 70–73.

6 The venerable Cambridge Ancient History (1970) offers a date of 3119 B.C. (1.1:173–93); Anthony Spalinger a range of 3050–2950 B.C. (Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, 3 vols., s.v. “Chronology and Periodization,” 1:267); and Joachim Friedrich Quack a date of ca. 3050 B.C. (“Egyptian Rulers Until Alexander the Great,” in Chronologies of the Ancient World: Names Dates, and Dynasties in Brill’s New Pauly, Supplements, ed. Walter Eder and Johannes Renger [Leiden: Brill, 2007], 35). In line with these key sources is Fekri A. Hassan’s suggestion of 3125 B.C. (“Radiocarbon Chronology of Ancient Egypt,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 39 [July 1980]: 203–7).

7 Eduard Meyer, Ägyptische Chronologie (Berlin: Akademie der wissenschaften, 1904), 45.

8 Ibid., 178.

9 Spalinger acknowledges the possibility of a Sothic cycle and other astronomical occurrences in establishing the Egyptian chronology, but concludes, “Nevertheless, it was mainly the Turin Canon, Manetho’s works, the king lists, and an important series of dated monuments and texts that helped establish a relatively accurate arrangement of the pharaohs and their regnal years” (“Chronology and Periodization,” 1:267; also ibid., “Calendars,” 1:225; and esp. Patrick O’Mara, “Censorinus, the Sothic Cycle, and Calendar Year One in Ancient Egypt: The Epistological Problem,” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 62 [2003]: 17–26).

10 See, e.g., Shaw, Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 10–11.

11 Highly specific, the Turin Canon supplies not only years, but also months and days of each reign. In many cases it confirms Manetho’s list, but also improves on his list by identifying some of Manetho’s kings as regional governors and by excluding others, a fact that alerts us to the possibility that other names on his list are more parochial and overlapping than formerly imagined.

12 See the list in Trevor Bryce, The Kingdom of the Hittites, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), xiv, xv; note also his extended historical discussion that makes up the body of the volume.

13 The Sumerian king list is of special interest in that it lists 10 antediluvian kings and 39 postdiluvian kings, offering some curious parallels to Genesis and possibly (1) offering traces of a common tradition or (2) suggesting the number of postdiluvian generations for which we must account. Key differences between the lists (esp. the longevity of the Sumerian kings, three of whom reigned 72,000 years), however, make such links hazardous at best. For a helpful summary of this issue see Gerhard F. Hasel, “The Genealogies of Gen 5 and 11 and Their Alleged Babylonian Background,” Andrews University Seminary Studies 16 (Autumn 1978): 361–74.

14 For instance, speculations concerning the kings in Genesis 14 have included an identification of biblical Amraphel as Hammurabi of Babylon, the biblical kingdom of Ellasar as the kingdom of Larsa, and the biblical Chedorlaomer of Elam with Kudur- Lagamar king of Elam. Unfortunately, these identifications seem to have been made with greater optimism than precision (see, e.g., Hamilton, Genesis Chapters 1–17, 399–400). For more modest suggestions see, among others, Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 320.

15 The mere mention of radiometric dating causes many in the YEC to bristle, and with good reason—radiometric dating of antediluvian materials has not been kind to the YEC cause. Radiocarbon dating of organic, postdeluvian materials has not, however, been uniformly discouraging, especially when the additional benefit of dendrochrononological calibration is employed (q.v. Michael Hasel, “Recent Developments in Near Eastern Chronology and Radiocarbon Dating,” Origins 56 [2004]: 7). Calibration of radiometric dates for Egypt, based largely on astronomical data and cross-referenced ANE sources have been trending toward a sharp truncation of ancient dates for Egypt’s pre-history, but only to a point. A 1970 symposium tasked with determining specifically whether radiocarbon dating could establish a date of 3100 B.C., 3000 B.C., or 2900 B.C. as the beginning of Egypt’s first dynasty, for instance, failed in its goal, but did set very tight parameters on the discipline: the results of radio-carbon dating are not infinitely elastic, and point uniformly to Egyptian activity about a millennium earlier than what is feasible for 6,000-year YECs (T. Säve-Söderbergh and I. U. Olsson, “C-14 Dating and Egyptian Chronology,” in Radiocarbon Variation and Absolute Dating [Stockholm: Almqvist and Wiksell, 1970], 35–55).

16 See Immanuel Velikovsky, Worlds in Collision (Garden City: Doubleday, 1950); idem, Ages in Chaos (Garden City: Doubleday, 1952); idem, Earth in Upheaval (Garden City: Doubleday, 1955). Velikovsky’s theories have been preserved, with substantial modification, in later treatments such as Donovan Courville, The Exodus Problem and Its Ramifications (Loma Linda, CA: Challenge Books, 1971); Peter James, Centuries of Darkness (London: Jonathan Cape 1991); and David M. Rohl, Pharaohs and Kings: A Biblcial Quest (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995); idem, From Eden to Exile: The 5,000-Year History of the People of the Bible (London: Random House, 2002).


This was a good set of articles. This is definitely where I fall in. Like the author stated, there is a lot of physical evidence and historical data that shows the earth is greater than 6,000 years old. It would be very hard for every civilization around the globe to be off in exactly the same way. That, in conjunction with the fact that the Bible does not make a claim that the earth is 6,000 years old and that the text does provide much leeway in understanding the texts and that we as Christians should not be dogmatic about it.