The Creation movement has increasingly caused many to face up to the powerful, Biblical arguments for such things as:
However, many of the Christians who now accept the above points are still overawed by certain arguments from astronomy for billions of years. This seems to have compelled a number of writers to come up with novel ‘interpretations’ of the Bible to try to harmonize it with the idea that there were ‘billions of years’ before the creation of living things during the six days of Creation Week.
We are not talking here about the classical ‘gap’ (or ruin-reconstruction) theory, which has long been ‘on the ropes’.1 Rather, we are addressing recent books by Christian writers trying to find room in the Bible for vast ages, who say that the sun, moon and stars were all made long before Day 1.2
But what does the Bible actually say? God’s historical record in Genesis 1:1–5 reads:
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.’
The first thing God tells us in the Bible is that there was a beginning. Not a beginning to God,3 but a beginning to time and to the Earth and to the space-time environment in which we live. These words assure us that, as linguist Charles Taylor says, ‘The universe was no accident, though many evolutionists think so, and some Eastern religions suggest so, with a near-eternal universe and gods emerging from it.’4
The first Hebrew word in Genesis 1:1 is bereshith; it occurs without the article and so is a proper noun, meaning ‘absolute beginning’. Why is this important?
Answer: Because the construction does not allow it to be translated ‘In the beginning of God’s creating’ or ‘When God began creating’,5 as some theistic long-agers would prefer. What does ‘God created the heaven(s) and the earth’ mean?
The description of day and night before the existence of the sun gives a stamp of authenticity to the Genesis account.
The phrase ‘heaven(s) and earth’ in Genesis 1:1 is an example of a Hebrew figure of speech called a merism, in which two opposites are combined into an all-encompassing single concept.6 Throughout the Bible (e.g. Genesis 14:19, 22; 2 Kings 19:15; Psalm 121:2) this means the totality of creation, not just the Earth and its atmosphere, or our solar system alone. It is used because Hebrew has no word for ‘the universe’ and can at best say ‘the all’.7
One of the words in this Hebrew figure of speech is the plural noun shamayim, which signifies the ‘upper regions’ and may be rendered ‘heaven’ or ‘heavens’, depending on the context.8 The essential meaning is everything in creation apart from the Earth. The word translated ‘the earth’ is erets, and here refers to the planet on which we now live.
The opening sentence of the Bible (‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’) is thus a summary statement (the details follow) that God made everything in the universe. The rest of Genesis 1 gives the details of how this happened over a period of six days.
Answer: Yes, a summary statement can be either at the end of the list of happenings it summarizes, or at the commencement. Inspired by God, Moses put it first. By analogy we might say, ‘At the beginning of this year I built a garden shed. On the first day I laid the foundations. On the second day I erected the walls. On the third day I put the roof on. On the fourth day I installed the lights. On the fifth day I added some fish in a tank and some birds in a cage. On the sixth day I added some rabbits in a hutch. On the seventh day I rested.’
Some long-agers have claimed that this summary statement in Genesis 1:1 means that the sun, moon and stars were created over a vast time period, before there were any days on Earth.9 Is this valid?
First, note that the Hebrew text does not allow there to be any gap in Genesis 1 between verses 1 and 2, i.e. before Day 1.10,11 Second, note that the Hebrew makes no mention of the greater light (sun), the lesser light (moon) and stars until Day 4. There is therefore no mandate for anyone to add these items to the text of Genesis 1:1.
The term ‘heaven(s) and earth’ is used by Moses in Exodus 20:11: ‘For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.’ The Bible here unequivocally states that everything in the universe was created within a time period of six days (the same phrase ‘six days’ is used in an earlier part of the passage to refer to our working days), and thus nothing was created before these six days. Since Adam was created on Day 6, and we have the genealogies from Adam to Christ, this verse totally precludes ‘billions of years’.
A recent defender of the view that God created the stars and planet Earth long before the six days of Genesis 1 argues that ‘the heavens’, in Exodus 20:11, means the atmosphere.12 But this overlooks the context—that ‘heavens’ is not used in isolation but is combined with ‘earth’. As said above, this combination is a term for the entire creation. Also, the ‘heavens’ of Exodus 20:11 is the same Hebrew term that he elsewhere tries to make mean the sun and the stars when it occurs in Genesis 1:1—since Exodus 20:8–11 is clearly referring to Genesis 1, ‘heaven(s) and earth’ must mean the same thing in both passages.
Genesis 1:1 tells us that the totality of creation was ‘in the beginning’. Exodus 20:11 tells us that the totality of creation took six days. Genesis 1:14–19 tells us that the sun, moon and stars were created on the fourth of these six days.
Those who promote the long-age view often claim that there is a radical difference between the meaning of the Hebrew words bara (‘create out of nothing’ in Genesis 1:1) and asah (‘make’ in Exodus 20:11 and Genesis 1:16). They say that therefore, the latter refers to an appearing of the sun on Day 4, when dark clouds surrounding the Earth dissipated. However:
Genesis 1:3 reads: ‘And God said, Let there be light. And there was light.’ This verse alone should be sufficient to undermine the various ‘billions of years’ scenarios. If the sun, moon and stars were all created (and so shining) prior to Genesis 1:2, why was it necessary for God to create light, as recorded in verse 3?
Some long-agers invoke Job 38:4,9: ‘When I laid the foundation of the earth … I made clouds the garment and thick darkness its swaddling band’ to say that the sun shone on an opaque Earth until God commanded light to penetrate the blanket of darkness. However, this is using a Hebrew poetic expression (in Job), and putting a twist on it to justify changes to the plain meaning of the Genesis 1 text regarding both the creation of light on Day 1 and of the sun, moon and stars on Day 4.
Long-agers overlook the words of Jesus in Mark 10:6, ‘But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.’ The Lord Himself obviously did not envisage any ‘billions of years’ prior to the creation of Adam and Eve.
The whole concept of the need to allow for ‘billions of years’ shows ‘wrong-way-round’ thinking. It is the outcome of Christians’ using humanistic evolutionary scientific opinions to determine the meaning of the Bible, rather than vice versa.
Genesis 1:3 reads: ‘And God said, Let there be light. And there was light.’ This light source must have been independent of the sun, which was not made until Day 4.1
Sceptics and long-agers like to ask how there could have been light before the sun. The Bible provides at least four other examples of events involving non-solar light and God:
We therefore conclude that the first light that illuminated the Earth was an act of God quite in keeping with His several other acts, recorded in the Bible, involving light without the sun. Day 1 is described as involving an evening and a morning, so we conclude that the Earth was now rotating. Also, that the light was coming from one direction in relation to the Earth, thereby giving it a night/day cycle.2 Presumably on Day 4, when God created the sun, this first light source ceased.
The description of day and night before the existence of the sun gives a stamp of authenticity to the Genesis account. There was no way that a secular Jewish writer would have proposed a night/day cycle without the sun.
The ancients worshipped the sun as the source of light, warmth and life. Moses was brought up in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22), who revered the sun god Re (or Ra). Nevertheless, Moses rejected this pagan notion of the deity of the sun and, inspired by God, wrote that God created light before He made the sun.
See also ‘Light, life and the glory of God’ Creation 24(1):38–39
Just because our finite minds may not yet have worked out a definitive answer to this question does not mean that the universe has to be billions of years old.
The answer to this mystery is probably not that God created light ‘on its way’, as then we would be seeing things that never really happened (e.g. a star exploding ‘a million years ago’). And possibly not that light allegedly decreased in speed in the recent past, as those who propose this idea have not been able to answer all the problems it poses.
It may be provided in a new creationist cosmology developed by Dr Russell Humphreys within the laws of general relativity, for a finite and bounded universe, with Earth near the centre. This uses the concept that gravity distorts time, and would mean that Adam could have looked up on the sixth Earth-day at stars actually many millions of lightyears away.1Notes