The creation account in Genesis is read in different ways. It would be easy therefore, to jump right into the Genesis text and show that I read it in one of those different ways.
I do read it in one of those different ways, and bringing out arguments accordingly would be easy. Before getting to my main set of points, let me give just one example. All sides agree that the Hebrew word for day — yom — admits of different meanings, just as the English word day does. For example, I could say, “Back in my grandfather’s day, he was a champion at picking corn, and, while it was day, could average ten bushels a day.” Now several things are true about this. One is that my grandfather really was a champion at picking corn, but that is another story for another time. The second thing is that day has three different meanings in the course of just one sentence. Day first means time, “in my grandfather’s time.” Second, it means “while the sun was up,” day as opposed to night. And third, it meant “twenty-hour increments,” Tuesday and then Wednesday, and so on. But the third thing to note about this is that for native speakers of English, the different uses of day do not throw us in a state of consternation. We pick up on all kinds of contextual clues that enable us to tell what is going on. Now when the Hebrew word yom is used elsewhere in Scripture, and is associated with evening and morning, it always means twenty-four hour day. And when it is used with either a cardinal or ordinal number it always means day.
Okay, so this is me taking my position about Genesis in a discussion of Genesis. But let’s come at this from another angle. Since we are talking about readings of Genesis, let’s turn to other readings of Genesis elsewhere in Scripture and see what we find there.
Since this is a debate about the interpretation of a passage, I want to begin by appealing to authorities, of equal authority to Genesis, who are themselves interpreting the passage. Not surprisingly, I want to begin with the Lord Jesus.
1. In His discussion of divorce, Jesus refers to the first man and the first woman, and He does so leaving an incidental time stamp on His statement, revealing how He understood the relative timing of the creation and the lives of our first parents.
“But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;” (Mark 10:6–7).
The Lord says that God made man “male and female” from the beginning (arche) of creation (ktisis). Now this makes good sense if Adam and Eve were created on the sixth day of creation, at the climax of that week, but it makes no sense if Adam and Eve emerged from a group of hominids billions of years after the first act of creation. Jesus doesn’t say He created us male and female from the beginning of our race. God created us male and female at the beginning of the creation.
Now any sentence that begins with “the Lord Jesus was wrong about Genesis because . . .” is theologically problematic. There are those who want to understand the incarnation in accommodationist terms, wherein Jesus fully participated in the ignorance of His times on certain matters. But this creates insurmountable problems for anyone who wants to call Jesus Lord. If He was mistaken about something like this, if He was reading the text wrong, what shall we then do with the Sermon on the Mount? What shall we do with those portions of the Sermon on the Mount that are particularly, um, confining?
2. The apostle Paul makes a passing reference to the creation that works in very much the same way.
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20).
Since the time of creation, mankind has clearly seen the majesty of God in that creation. Since the creation, God has been speaking, and as long as He has been speaking, there has been someone there who should have been listening. He is not saying that we can see the divine majesty now in the created order. He is saying that God’s eternal power and Godhead have been clearly seen “from the creation of the world.” This does not, in Paul’s way of expressing it, leave room for billions of years with an empty auditorium.
3. How was the Genesis passage read later on in the Old Testament?
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.” (Ex. 20:11).
“It is a sign between me and the children of Israel for ever: for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed” (Ex. 31:17).
Out of all the “explanations” of Genesis that are out there — gap, day/age, framework, etc. — the one that strikes me as being least like special pleading is the case that Wiseman made in Clues to Creation in Genesis. He argues that the days of Genesis are in fact 24-hour days, but that they are days of revelation, not creation. Adam was learning how to write (on cuneiform) and the evening and the morning were the first day (of writing) about the order of creation. But these passages in Exodus exclude that reading. In these passages, it was six days of fashioning the earth, not six days of revealing to Adam what He had done. So the Lord made the heaven, earth, sea, and everything in them, in the course of six days, which six days were the model for Israel in keeping the sabbath holy. It is clearly a pattern for weeks established by the first week.
It is a pattern, incidentally, that we still keep for that reason alone. There is a basis in the natural order for the other time markers we have — days, months, years, and so on. But the week has no cosmological basis. The only reason that seven days seems fitting before we start counting over again is the fact that God made the earth in this length of time.
4. As I have argued elsewhere, Adam was the one who brought death into the world.
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 5:12–13).
In an old earth, theistic evolution scenario, death has to precede Adam, because death is the mechanism that God used to create Adam. The fossil record is a gigantic graveyard record, and if it is older than Adam, then Adam cannot have been the one who introduced it all. And if Adam descended from these struggling and dying creatures, then what was God telling him when He said “the day you eat of the fruit you shall die”?
Someone might want to say that this just refers to the death of humans, not the death of animals. In addition to the fact that Adam’s great great grandparents had fallen into a tar pit, there are multiple problems with this:
First, the Bible teaches from beginning to end that the plan of salvation is intended to restore the entire created order. In Genesis, we were banished from Eden and the tree of life, and at the end of Revelation, the tree of life is there beckoning us, with leaves for the healing of the nations. And in that return to the Edenic state, God includes the creatures, which means that these creatures were included in the bliss we fell from. Why would they be restored with us if they didn’t fall with us?
“The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, And the lion shall eat straw like the bullock: And dust shall be the serpent’s meat. They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain, saith the Lord” (Is. 65:25).
Second, to exclude the created order from the effects of the Fall (saying that death was normal outside the human race) ignores what Paul says about how the creation is longing for the manifestation of the sons of God, knowing that its destiny is inexorably linked to ours.
“For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Rom. 8:22).
Third, it calls the goodness of God into question. There is a certain splendor in the way our fallen world works — e.g a lion chasing a gazelle — but which would be creepy in an unfallen world. Did God really call millions of years of screaming pain good?
And last, the curse given to Adam makes no sense if the Fall affected only mankind. After Adam sinned, and God cursed the world around him, what did that curse do exactly?
“And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field” (Gen. 3:17–18).
If you are going to listen to an unbelieving interpretation of rocks over against a faithful exposition of Scripture, you have a problem. We have fossils of thorns and thistles that antedate man by 300-400 million years — provided you always believe those who say the science is settled. But the science is always settled until somebody unsettles it.