Last week Justin Taylor lit up the evangelical blogosphere with his post to the Gospel Coalition website, titled, “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods”.
I have frequently shared Justin’s blog posts on Facebook and Twitter. I admire his writing and his love for the Bible and his devotion to Christ. But I was saddened by not just the poor logic and biblical exegesis in his post, but also for the impact such a prominent writer can have on others, spreading his doubtful speculations to many who are not equipped to know how to respond to such reasoning. For this reason, I share a couple of my thoughts here, to equip and support people looking for biblical reasons to believe that Genesis means what it looks like it means. But I also want to encourage readers to take the time to carefully examine Justin’s argument, and, as Lita Costner wrote in her response (see below), to “ask yourself, ‘How many of these claims could I answer?’”.
So below are a couple of my thoughts—responses that came to mind as I read Justin’s post, followed by a link to Lita Costner’s excellent rebuttal on the Creation.com website.
The first thing I noticed in Justin’s article was his appeal to well-regarded experts to add credibility to his doubts about the meaning of the days of Creation week in Genesis 1. First, he quoted Reformed scholar, R.C. Sproul, saying, “When people ask me how old the earth is, I tell them I don’t know—because I don’t.” But as many pointed out in the comments to Justin’s post, R.C. Sproul is on record more recently saying he has changed his mind: he now agrees that Genesis 1 clearly means the days are normal 24-hour days:
“For most of my teaching career, I considered the framework hypothesis to be a possibility. But I have now changed my mind. I now hold to a literal six-day creation, the fourth alternative and the traditional one. Genesis says that God created the universe and everything in it in six twenty-four hour periods…” (Sproul, R. C. Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub, 2006. Pg. 127,28. Thanks to Joe Fleener in his comment for this citation.)
So Justin’s use of Dr. Sproul as a corroborating authority is misleading or ill-informed.
Then a little further into the post, Justin quotes a number of credible scholars, including Augustine, to show that doubt about the length of the “days” in Genesis 1 are not unreasonable or unprecedented. The problem is, he kicks off his list of authorities with a quote from Augustine:
“Augustine, writing in the early fifth century, noted, ‘What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to determine’ (City of God 11.7).”
I could not recall anything like that in City of God, so I went looking. I’m not sure what translation or edition Justin was quoting from, but here is what I found in the copy of City of God I have in the collection, Early Church Fathers, ed. Philip Schaff, translated by Dr. Marcus Dodds (included in BibleWorks 9 and available online at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102.iv.XI.7.html) :
We see, indeed, that our ordinary days have no evening but by the setting, and no morning but by the rising, of the sun; but the first three days of all were passed without sun, since it is reported to have been made on the fourth day. And first of all, indeed, light was made by the word of God, and God, we read, separated it from the darkness, and called the light Day, and the darkness Night; but what kind of light that was, and by what periodic movement it made evening and morning, is beyond the reach of our senses; neither can we understand how it was, and yet must unhesitatingly believe it.
City of God 11.7
Notice that Augustine’s words here are not about doubting what kind of “days” Genesis 1 is talking about, but about what kind of “light that was” that governed the days before the creation of the Sun. Moreover, as if to remove any doubt about what he believed Genesis 1 to mean, in spite of the uncertainty he had about how there could be “days” before there was a Sun, he adds, “…and yet we must unhesitatingly believe it.” Furthermore, in the next book of the City of God, chapter 10, Augustine removes any doubt at all about how old he believed the world to be at the time of his writing. He specifies that it was younger at that time than 6000 years—making him what is called a “Young Earth Creationist”:
They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed. And, not to spend many words in exposing the baselessness of these documents, in which so many thousands of years are accounted for… But not even thus, as I said, does the Greek history correspond with the Egyptian in its chronology. And therefore the former must receive the greater credit, because it does not exceed the true account of the duration of the world as it is given by our documents, which are truly sacred. (City of God 12.10)
Now for an excellent and thorough rebuttal of Justin’s arguments, I want to commend to you this article on Creation.com by Lita Costner.