Saturday, February 7, 2009

How Did It All Begin? Part 3- The Bible and Billions of Years

If you have not already, please read my post "Nature vs. Scripture" before continuing.

In Part 1 of this series of posts, I defined what the Big Bang is and provided a few things that point to it in the Bible. In Part 2, I separated the Big Bang from Evolution. In Part 3, I'm going to show what Biblical evidence convinced me that the Bible has no incompatibilities with the Big Bang's claim of billions of years.

Until about five years ago, I was a strict young-earth creationist. I believed that the Bible had no room for interpreting that the earth was older than about 10,000 years. I was (and still am) a strict inerrantist (I'll publish a post on this topic in the future). I believed (and still do) that the Bible must be taken literally, unless the context leads us to otherwise (i.e. Jesus' parables).

There are two main pieces of evidence that convinced me that an old-earth interpretation is perfectly acceptable- without compromising biblical innerrancy or a literal reading.

First, the word translated as "day" in Genesis 1 is yom. In ancient Hebrew, there only existed about 3000 words (for perspective, English today includes over 2 million). Many words were used to refer to many similar things. The word yom has three literal meanings:
1. A 12-hour period, from either sunset to sunrise or sunrise to sunset.
2. A 24 hour period from sunset to sunset.
3. A long, but finite, period of time. (There's another word for an infinite period of time).

Now this only allows for an old-earth interpretation, it does not prove anything. We know that it is possible, but possibility does not equal true. Is there any evidence that yom actually refers to a long, but finite period of time in the text? The second piece of evidence builds this case.

In the original Hebrew each of the days of creation were completed with the statement "evening was, morning was, day X". This is true of all the days with the exception of Day 7. This leads us to believe that we are still in God's day of rest. This would be an example of Day 7 being a long period of time. Revelation tells us that Day 7 is finite (God will create again- the New Creation).
Genesis 2:4 use the word yom to refer to the entire creation period described in Genesis 1.

These two pieces of evidence opened my mind to the interpretation being biblical. Here's a few more that had solidified this idea for me:

1. Adam did way too much (naming all the animals and tended the garden) before God created Eve for that one day to be just 24 hours.
2. When Adam saw Eve, he exclaimed, "At long last!" (in the original Hebrew). Unless Adam was extremely impatient, he would not have said "long".

The most common biblical objection that I run into on this is that God compares His creation week to our work week of 6 days + 1 rest (Exodus 20:11). The claim here is that this verse proves that our days are identical to God's days. I have a couple of counter arguments for this.

The first is just from basic reading of the verse by itself. If you were to replace the word "day(s)" with "period(s) of time", would it make sense? Since another literal definition of yom is "period of time" this is completely acceptable to do as a test. The answer is "yes". Once again, this does not prove anything, it just let's us know that it would be an acceptable interpretation if other evidence is found that pushes us that way.

Second, read it in context. This is the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. Nowhere is the equivocation of the length of our days made equal to God's. At best, this is an analogy. An analogy is a description that is used to connect similar ideas, not exact ideas. Considering the fact that the focus is not on the days themselves, but the fact that God rested, makes this a weak analogy, even if you want to take that position. However, whether Ex 20:11 is taken as a literal definition of the length of the day or analogous to the length of the day, it contradicts another scripture.

At this time, I will invoke Psalms 90:4 "For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by..." If God's day equals 24 hours (as claimed above) and it equals 1000 years, we have a problem. Exodus and Psalms now conflict. Obviously, Psalms is an analogy (indicated by the word "like"). But that doesn't get us out of the contradiction. 1000 years is not analogous to 24 hours, no matter what kind of mathematic gymnastics you attempt. If we are to assume that Ex 20:11 is an analogy too, then we still have a contradiction.

Whether Ex 20:11 is accepted as literal or analogous, young-earth creationists have a contradiction. The only way to avoid the contradiction (and maintain biblical inerrency) is to recognize that Ex 20:11 is not saying anything about the length of God's days and only that "He rested after six periods of time, therefore we should also".

Third, God established a pattern in The Law of "work six, rest one". He did this in the proper care of farm land. God states that Israel is to work the land for six years, then allow it to rest a seventh year. This pattern is also recognized in God's acts of creation, and in his establishment of man's week (Exodus 20:11). God was only continuing his pattern of 6+1 in the commandment.

The second most common objection is that the text uses the phrase "evening was, morning was, day X". It is claimed that "evening" and "morning" refer to a 24 period. My rebuttal to that is this: evening to morning is at the most 12 hours (unless creation took place near one of the poles). If this was referring to 24 hours, it would have been stated like this: "evening was, morning was, evening was, day X". "Evening" and "morning" are simply referring to the fact that the days began and ended (finite period of time).

For more information on this topic Reasons to Believe has a complete section of their website and several books devoted to it.

Reasons to Believe "Age of the Earth" Web Page
Reasons to Believe "Does Old-Earth Creationism Contradict Genesis 1?" Web Page
Matter of Days by Dr. Hugh Ross
The Genesis Question by Dr. Hugh Ross

Here is a series of blog posts by Billy Pratt from the Ankerberg Theological Research Institute about the issue:

"What is the Meaning of the Word 'Day' in Genesis" Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

In Part 4, I'm going to go a bit more into the theory of Evolution. Did God use evolution as the mechanism for His creation?

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