When did God call the universe into being? When did God create Adam and give him the injunction to subdue the earth? When were the mountains formed? Was it during the Noachian deluge or long before the creation of man? Were the coal beds created in their present form or are they the product of physical and chemical action extending over a long period of time? If the latter is true, when did this process take place?
These, and similar questions, have been asked again and again by thinking men throughout the ages. The Christian never has had much difficulty in answering the question, “Whence?” since his Bible starts there. God, in the beginning, created the heavens and the earth by an act of his almighty will and at the same time ordained the laws which were to govern his new creation. And we also believe that he, ever since that first moment, continues to uphold and govern this universe by his divine providence.
What else happened there “in the beginning”? Time began there. Before that momentous event there was no such thing as time—there was God. God is eternal. That means that he has no beginning in time—God existed before time began. In the beginning God created, among other things, time. Time is finite, only God is infinite. God has no limits of any kind. He is boundless and immeasurable. Man is bound by time and space. This aspect of creation is too often forgotten. And we may well ask ourselves the question, “When did time begin?”
What Are Creation “Days”?
There are many devout Christians who believe that the creative acts of God took place about six thousand years ago. They contend that the entire universe came into being during the course of six literal days of twenty-four hours each. Those who hold to this position say that the mention of “evening” and “morning” demonstrate that literal days are intended. This writer has frequently been admonished by well-meaning folk to just simply let the Bible speak for itself on this matter. This means, of course, that these individuals choose to take the Bible literally here and ignore the fact that Hebrew scholars have never been willing to insist that there is only one interpretation of this passage.
It is unfortunate for all of us that theologians who know the Hebrew are themselves not in agreement as to the meaning of this word. Even in the days of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas there was a division of opinion on this matter. These two men taught long before the age of modern science that these days were periods of time. If “day” as used in Genesis I means twenty-four hours, then what must we do with the word “day” in Genesis 2:4 where we have a summary and an elaboration of the creative process? In this case it certainly refers to all that took place during the time God was creating, and one logical interpretation certainly would be “the period of creation.” God’s resting on the seventh day—the period in which no new creative processes are taking place also can be cited by those who feel that the “days” of creation were periods of time of unequal lengths.
The Dutch Theologians
Those among us who are acquainted with the Dutch theologians know well that men like Geesink, Aalders, Grosheide, Schilder, Bavinck and A. Kuyper, Sr., are all inclined to interpret these days as being different from our usual day. And, although it is dangerous to make sweeping generalizations, I do believe it is safe to say that this is the view which predominates in the Netherlands today. What impresses me especially concerning this is that such ideas were propagated by men long before the new knowledge concerning atomic structure had been applied to the problem. Some of these men were willing to base their conclusions on the theories of geology long before these theories were credited with real scientific standing. In view of the fact that there is some disagreement among conservative Calvinistic Christian scholars on this question, it seems only natural that we should appeal to other fields for aid in solving our problems. By way of personal confession, we wish to point out that the safest way in attacking our problems is to go, first of all, to the Bible to see what it says about them. If the leading exegetes among our theologians tell us, after careful study, that certain passages are to be taken literally, we should accept the results of their study. We do that from week to week when we listen to them expound the Word of God for us. On such occasions we believe that God speaks to us by means of these ordained men. But when they are unwilling to assert dogmatically that only one interpretation can be given to a passage, then it seems logical to study the conclusions of other fields of intellectual endeavor. This is the sensible way to attempt to solve our perplexing problems.
The American Voice
At the risk of being misunderstood by some, we propose to set forth in a series of articles some of the scientific evidence which would seem to indicate that the days of creation were not twenty-four hours long. We feel a need for this since little has been written on this subject among us who are members of the Christian Reformed denomination. Dr. William Hendriksen, in the Federation Messenger of November 1935, outlined the views held by various Reformed leaders on this subject, but adds that “he has arrived at the decision that it is best to omit stating what is his own personal opinion.” Professor Berkhof holds to the belief in his work on Reformed Dogmatics that these days were twenty-four hours each. Dr. Pieters has made his contribution for the Reformed Church in America in his commentary on Genesis. He accepts the period idea of creation. Other Reformed groups in our country may have contributed something of which we are not aware. But most of the teaching among us owes its origin to views propagated by the Seventh Day Adventists and others whose theological views we refuse to accept. As Christians, and this applies especially to those who are scientists among us, we should either be willing to accept the contributions which science has made in this connection, or show to the world the errors involved in these discoveries. Only in this way can we offer a positive witness to the world round about us. And if science has done anything for us it certainly has given us a new concept of time.
What About Ussher?
At this point some of the older folk among us may feel inclined to protest and say that they have always been taught that the world is approximately six thousand years old and that they are minded to continue to believe this. This problem is, of course, inseparably connected with the idea of the length of the creation days. Although many people know something about the history of this notion, it might be well to give a brief summary of its origin. The man who started it all was Archbishop James Ussher, who was born in Ireland in 1581. He was interested in the problem of dating the important events recorded in the Bible and published the results of his studies in 1654. Among other dates, he announced that creation took place 4004 B.C. Ussher based his calculations On the assumption that the genealogies of the Old Testament do not omit any names and that the time periods run consecutively. The biblical chronology from Adam to Abraham is based on two genealogical tables. These are found in the fifth and the eleventh chapters of Genesis. The first table recounts the genealogy from Adam to Noah; the latter the genealogy from Noah to Abraham. By assuming that the sum of the series of numbers given for the age of each patriarch, at the time of the birth of the Son mentioned in the table, was the actual length of time covered by the series of generations in question, Ussher deduced the traditionally received date for the creation of the world, 4004 B.C. In 1701 this date and others, such as the Flood and the birth of Abraham, began to appear in the margins of many Bibles and they can still be found there today.
Gaps in Genealogies
Many Bible scholars have protested against this procedure, and although the influence of this view is no longer as great as it once was, it is still accepted by many Christians today. Professor B.B. Warfield, a conservative Old Testament Princeton theologian, pointed out years ago that there are several gaps in the above-mentioned genealogies. Professor William Green, also of Princeton, wrote in Bibliotheca Sacra in 1890 that “there is an element of uncertainty in a computation of time which rests upon genealogies, as the sacred chronology so largely does. Who is to certify us that the antediluvian (before the flood) and anteAbrahamic genealogies have not been condensed in the same manner as the post-Abrahamic? —But if these recently discovered indications of the antiquity of man, over which scientific circles are so excited, shall, when carefully inspected and thoroughly weighed, demonstrate all that any have imagined they might demonstrate, what then?”
These, and other Old Testament scholars, state that the date for creation of man may be pushed back as much as 20,000 years. In support of such a position they point out that a comparison of the tables in I Chronicles with those of the historical books show that names are omitted in some lists. The genealogy of Jesus as found in Matthew omits the names of several kings of Judah. Such abridgements of genealogies is not at all unusual in Scripture and in no way affects our belief in the verbal inspiration of the Bible.* In the light of the fact that it is well known that the Egyptians had developed their knowledge of astronomy by 4200 B.C. to such an extent that they were able to devise a calendar of 365 days, we must accept the fact that these genealogies in Genesis cannot be considered as chronologies. (Ussher dates the flood at 2348 B.C.) By 3500 B.C. they had developed a decimal system. Many other dates can be cited to show that Ussher’s chronology is in error. In view of the large amount of evidence to the contrary, it is difficult to understand why so many people continue to insist that the earth is only 6000 years old and regard with suspicion those who believe otherwise.
We are attempting to show in our series of articles how science has influenced our thinking. It has changed our notions concerning the earth and space, it has extended the universe in time, and it has also shown us that there is a basic unity in God’s creation. This article is the first of a group which will deal with the antiquity of creation—how science has given us a new concept of time. All we have done thus far in this article is to show that there is no uniformity of belief among Bible scholars as to the meaning of the word “day” in Genesis 1, and also that the date of 4004 B.C. for creation is erroneous. We feel this was necessary as a prelude to further discussion. We hope to show in the following articles that scientific evidence seems to indicate that the earth is much older than commonly supposed, and also that these discoveries which science has made lead us to a greater appreciation of the beautiful story of creation as is found in the Bible. Genesis 1 is as inspired as is the rest of the Bible and science has not been able, nor will it ever be able, to disprove its truths. In fact, a proper understanding of the discoveries of science should leave one with a deeper appreciation for the greatness of God’s creation. After all, that is the greatest contribution science can make to this questioning age.
*For those who are interested in studying several of these cases the reader is referred to Byron Nelson’s book entitled BEFORE ABRAHAM. It is published by the Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis,Minnesota.