And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:5, KJV)
A hotly contested idea in Christendom is the age of the earth and the manner of creation.
There are a variety of views about the age (young earth, old earth), interpretation of Genesis 1 (day-age, framework, six 24-hour days).
Addressing all of these views – and all of the exegesis – is more than a short blog post can do. As such, I will provide my perspective. It is my conviction that it agrees with the scriptural witness, the historic view of the church, and the doctrine of the Reformers and the Westminster Standards.
I believe that God created the world in 6, 24-hour days and rested on the seventh, consecrating that day as holy. And that He did so approximately 6,000 years ago.
Here’s some quotes from church history on this topic:
Though he is often quoted as inconclusive or not supportive of the 6/24 view, his later work on Genesis – written near the end of his life – appeared to have moved him closer to it:
“Since the divine utterance was spoken without the limitations of time, because the Word, being coeternal with the Father, is not subject to time, was the work produced by the utterance also made independently of time? This is a question that might be asked.But how can such a theory be accepted? It is said that light was made and separated from the darkness, the names “Day” and “Night” being given to them, and Scripture declares, “Evening was made and morning made, one day.”40 Hence it seems that this work of God was done in the space of a day, at the end of which evening came on, which is the beginning of night. Moreover, when the night was spent, a full day was completed, and the morning belonged to a second day, in which God then performed another work.”
– On the Literal Meaning of Genesis
“For it is too violent a cavil [objection] to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”
– Sermons on Genesis, p.19
This German Reformer, who was the principle author of the Heidelberg Catechism, wrote a commentary on the catechism which was completed by his friend, David Pareus. Finished in 1616, the commentary states: “According to the common reckoning, it is now, counting from this 1616 of Christ, 5534 years since the creation of the world.”
On the age of the earth, Luther stated, “We know from Moses that the world was not in existence before 6,000 years ago.”(Lectures on Genesis, 1:ix,3)
On the 6/24 view, he wrote of Moses’s meaning in Genesis in the following way,
“Therefore, as the proverb has it, he calls ‘a spade a spade’, i.e., he employs the terms ‘day’ and ‘evening’ without allegory, just as we customarily do…Moses spoke in the literal sense, not allegorically or figuratively, i.e., that the world, with all its creatures, was created within six days, as the words read.”
– Lectures on Genesis, Works 1:5, p.41
The list goes on. We have Puritans such as William Perkins and James Ussher who wrote biblical chronologies that suggest a young earth. Reformers such as Wolfgang Musculus, Peter Martyr Vermigli, Henry Bullinger, Zanchi, all affirmed a young earth. The Westminster Confession of Faith affirms that creation occurred “in the space of six days” (4.1).
What is the practical importance of this? Why does any of this matter? Debates about creation can become heated quickly, especially in mixed company. Why bother talking about it?
We believe that Scripture reveals to us what to believe about God, and the duty we owe to him (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q3). We can have an assurance that, despite the varying interpretations that the world (and sometimes the church) may wish to advance to question the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture. While Christians certainly welcome the natural sciences as a way of understanding God and His creation, we ultimately must draw a line in the sand when God has witnessed to something contrary to the conclusions of academia. Finally, while attempts to exegete the text to reveal other interpretations ought to take place and ought to be wrestled with, we must ultimately shut our mouths when God has spoken.
And as we embark on this journey together in the Word, you may rest assured that God has not made His word obscure. He has made it so that, by ordinary means, we may understand what He has revealed (WCF 1.7).
If you are interested in further reading on this subject, I recommend this small pamphlet by Dr. Joel Beeke:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17, KJV)