It becomes frustrating when many great Christian scholars and theologians who are so accurate in regard to their approach to the Bible—but only from Genesis 12 onwards! I have interspersed in this paper some of the covers of the books used in the research. You can get them at Amazon.com, unfortunately few of these are in kindle format.
Why do we even squabble over creation vs. evolution? Does it really matter what we believe about where we came from? Absolutely, although many people would claim it does not matter. Our views on morality, justice, purpose, self-worth, humanity, obligation, and destination are all closely tied to our views on human origins. Either we were created nobly or we are no more important than pond scum.
Is it reasonable to acknowledge a Creator or an Intelligent Designer? When challenged by skeptics to prove the existence of a Creator scientifically, Dr. Wernher von Braun, the “Father of the American Rocket and Space Program,” replied, “Must we really light a candle to see the Sun? …The electron is materially inconceivable, and yet it is so perfectly known through its effects that we use it to illuminate our cities, guide our airliners through the night skies and take the most accurate measurements. What strange rationale makes some physicists accept the inconceivable electron as real, while refusing to accept the reality of a Designer on the ground that they cannot conceive of Him? …The inconceivability of some ultimate issue (which always will lie outside scientific resolution) should not be allowed to rule out any theory that explains the interrelationship of observed data and is useful for prediction.” [i]
For instance, consider Dr J.P. Moreland. Qualified in philosophy, theology and chemistry, Dr Moreland has written many books,[ii] and been published in a wide variety of journals.[iii] He served with Campus Crusade for 10 years, planted three churches, and has spoken on over 175 college campuses.[iv]
One can only have great respect for Dr Moreland. His credentials as brilliant scholar, an excellent writer and speaker, and a devout follower of Jesus Christ cannot be touched. I have no doubts about his sincerity and integrity, and have learned much from his writings especially (Love God with all Your Mind, Body and Soul).
However, on the subject of the age of the earth, he does not display, in my opinion, the careful reflection that is so characteristic of his writings in general.
An article he wrote some time ago[v], published on the ‘Reasons to Believe’[vi] (discussed in https://larryemarshall.wordpress.com/2015/03/17/calendar-day-vs-day-age-creationism/ ) website from a lecture he gave at a progressive church. Dr Moreland attempts to justify allowing the days of creation to be long periods. Sadly, his comments are typical within Christian circles today. Focusing on Dr Moreland is simply to show the way in which great Christians (we all have feet of clay at times) use faulty reasoning to justify their rejection of the six literal days of creation only a few thousand years ago.
To his credit, Dr Moreland states regarding the days of Genesis that ‘we ought not allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament.’[vii] Then he turns around and does exactly that becoming a day-age creationist or dac! Consider carefully his reasoning as he seeks to justify acceptance of millions of years for the age of the earth and thus the rejection of literal creation days.
First, he says something similar to what we often stress: ‘The argument is that if you take the days of Genesis as not being six days and take them as maybe longer periods of time, then where do you draw the line … why wouldn’t the same reasoning imply that we’ll eventually have to reinterpret the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus.’
The major reason most Christian scholars do not accept six literal days is that they start from outside of Scripture, accepting an old earth (which they claim is based on ‘science’), and thus proceed to ‘reinterpret’ the clear meaning of the word ‘day.’ This is not exegesis, but using man’s fallible ideas (the supposed millions of years) to impose a meaning upon the text. Applying the same principles, one should also reinterpret the Resurrection and Virgin Birth, since all observational (operational) science indicates that people do not rise from the dead, nor do virgins conceive.
Without mentioning this particular fault in his reasoning, Dr Moreland then refers to biblical passages which speak of the ‘four corners of the earth’ and say that the sun ‘rises’ and ‘sets.’ This is a common point of reference on many atheist web sites (of which I have been blocked from commenting on several of them).
‘I doubt, sir, that you or anybody else in the room takes the biblical passages that say that “Jesus will call his angels from the four corners of the earth” to teach a flat Earth. I also doubt that anyone in here says that when the sun rises and sets it literally means an earth-centered universe. But you must understand that … there were times when the church interpreted the text that teached [sic] that God—Christ will call his angels from the four corners of the world to teach very obviously that the world has four corners. The text says that. There is absolutely no evidence in that text that it means anything other than four corners. You can read it until you’re blue in the face, and it says that the Earth has four corners. Similarly, the Bible says the sun rises and sets. Now, that’s what it says. You can dance around it all you want. That’s what the text says. But there’s nobody in here that believes that. No one in here believes the earth has four corners. And so, what we’ve done is taken that language and interpreted it metaphorically. Similarly, with the rising and the setting of the sun, we treat that … phenomenological—we say that’s the language of description; it is not meant to be taken literally.’
The Four Corners
There are several problems with Dr Moreland’s and the many atheists out there about their line of reasoning about the shape of the earth.
First, the phrase, ‘four corners of the earth,’ only appears in the New Testament in Revelation 7:1 and 20:8[viii] in descriptive statements by the Apostle John. Jesus speaks only of the ‘four winds of the earth’ (Matthew 24:31 and Mark 13:27), as does John in Revelation 7:1.[ix] These are all the New Testament occurrences of these phrases. In the Old Testament ‘four corners of the earth’ appears only in Isaiah 11:12. The same Hebrew words appear in Ezekiel 7:2 but are correctly translated as ‘four corners of the land’ in the KJV, NKJV, NAS and NIV since the preceding words in the verse show that eretz (the Hebrew word that can be translated either as ‘earth’ or ‘land,’ depending on context) is referring to the land of Israel, not the whole planet as in Isaiah 11:12.
Second, we should note that all of the above passages are in prophetic, apocalyptic sections of Scripture, where (unlike Genesis) figurative language is frequently used. Therefore, a discerning reader will be careful about interpreting these phrases literally.[x]
Third, given the biblical allusions to the earth’s sphericity in Job 26:10; Proverbs 8:27; Ecclesiastes 1:6; Psalm 19:6 and Isaiah 40:22 and the fact that the ancients long before the time of Christ had figured out that the earth is a sphere,[xi] there is no reason to imagine that Christ or his disciples actually thought the earth was flat and that the wind only blew in one of four directions.
Fourth, the church never interpreted the ‘corners of the earth’ to mean that the earth is flat. It is a myth that the church ever believed in a flat earth. As historian Jeffrey Russell shows, that was the view of only a very few odd individuals scattered throughout the last twenty centuries.[xii]
(I’ve written about this before: https://iamnotanatheist.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/the-disappointment-of-predictability/ ) We use similar figures of speech today. Something is scattered ‘to the four corners of the earth’ meaning ‘all over the earth.’ The convention has always been to talk of four directions, or four compass points—north, south, east and west. Neither we nor the ancients ever took this to mean that there are only four directions in which one can travel, just as one still talks of the ‘four winds.’[xiii]
Fifth, these phrases are not worded as statements of literal geographical or atmospheric fact. In other words, neither in these verses nor in any other part of the Bible do we read statements like ‘the earth has four corners’ or ‘there are only four winds that blow on the earth.’
In light of this, we can be certain Dr Moreland is wrong in his assertion that there is no exegetical reason[xiv] to conclude these verses are teaching anything other than that the earth has four corners. All careful readers would know instinctively that the phrases ‘four corners of the earth’ and ‘four winds of the earth’ are idioms, meaning ‘everywhere on the earth’ or ‘from all directions.’[xv] In fact, Mark 13:27 shows that Jesus is not teaching geography or atmospheric science in that ‘from the four winds’ is used as a parallel synonym for ‘from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven.’
Thus, contrary to what Dr Moreland has stated, the term ‘corners’ is easily understood by good exegesis, without using scientific evidence external to Scripture which he is what he and atheists have to rely on instead of the plain truth in front of them.
Sunrise and sunset
Regarding the issue of the movement of the sun and the earth, Dr Moreland’s objection (which has been used against young-earth creationist arguments by others before him for almost 200 years) fails. The statements about the movement of the sun and earth are literal in a phenomenological sense, as he points out. In other words, a phenomenon is described from the viewpoint of the observer. We do the same thing today as we (even evolutionists) speak in everyday discourse about the sun rising and setting, even though we know much more about how the solar system works. From the observer’s position, that is exactly what happens.[xvi]
The Bible’s phenomenological statement that the sun ‘rises’ is consistent with either a geocentric or heliocentric view of the solar system. Now stay with me here- definitions are at: https://larryemarshall.wordpress.com/glossary/ ). Scientific evidence has enabled us to distinguish which of these two is actually a correct understanding of the solar system, but it has not changed our understanding of the meaning of the actual words of the Bible. For there to be a true comparison (as claimed by Dr Moreland and atheists) with the issue of the creation days, one would have to show that the use of the word ‘day’ in Genesis is intrinsically consistent with either a long age or an ordinary day. However, this begs the question that Dr Moreland is addressing in the first place!
In other words, Dr Moreland is arguing for permission to interpret ‘day’ as an ‘age’ by using an argument, which would only be sound if such permission were already there in the Biblical text! The argument is inevitably trapped in a vicious circle of its own making. In any case, young-earth creationists have demonstrated repeatedly over the last 200 years that the Genesis text simply does not permit the ‘long-age’ option, whereas the ‘sun rising’ texts do not clearly teach geocentricity and therefore permit a heliocentric option.
Furthermore, these statements about the sun and moon moving are very incidental and brief statements. We have very little in the Biblical text to go on to know how to interpret these phrases or sentences, and most of the references are in the poetic literature, where we should be on the alert for non-literal language. Finally, as with the phrases like ‘corners of the earth,’ we do not find an explicit statement in the Bible such as ‘the earth does not move and the sun and stars go around the earth,’ which could have easily been made in such simple language.
Contrast these brief statements with the lengthy accounts of creation and the Flood in Genesis. Here we have whole chapters which in various ways emphasize that God made the initial creation complete in six literal days (about 6,000 years ago, as the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 indicate) and that He judged the world with a global catastrophic Flood at the time of Noah. The only way to deny this is to not pay careful attention to the text of Genesis 1–11 and to ignore the passages in the rest of the Bible that show that Jesus and the biblical writers took these chapters as literal history. Jesus clearly shows Himself to be a young-earth creationist in Mark 10:6, Luke 11:50–51 and elsewhere. In these passages, he states that Adam, Eve, and their son Abel were at the beginning of creation, not billions of years after the beginning (as would be the case if the earth were truly billions of years old). There simply is no real comparison between the brief and less than clear verses about the movement of the sun and the lengthy and clear passages about creation and the Flood. If you do not want to believe the Bible, that is your choice, however, do not make changes to the text to prove your obscure point.
Dr Moreland continues in his argument as follows: ‘So then, suppose that you believe that…those verses do not teach that there are four corners and that the sun rises and sets? Are you now going to deny the virgin birth? Are you going to give up the resurrection? No, of course not. So, the point is…that the general argument from adopting a certain view of one verse, there’s no way to block the slide to doing that to other verses, is an example in philosophy of what is called hasty generalization; it makes a generalization based upon a slim sampling of evidence. The fact of the matter is that when you interpret biblical verses, you have to take each one at its own merits and you have to do the very best you can to handle that verse by itself. And so from the fact that one particular verse is handled in some way, it does not follow that…other verses will need to be handled in any way whatsoever, unless you can show that there’s a clear parallel in the way that the two verses are being handled.’
Young-earth creationists do not endorse ‘the general argument’ that ‘from adopting a certain view of one verse, there’s no way to block the slide to doing that to other verses.’ Given his expertise in philosophy, it is surprising to see Dr Moreland using a straw-man argument, attacking a position that misrepresents what most cdc believe. What we say is that Genesis 1–11 has plenty of evidence that it is historical narrative, even though it describes unusual and miraculous events, just as Matthew 1–2 and 26–28 are historical narrative passages describing unusual and miraculous events. There is a very clear parallel between these passages. It is therefore exegetically inconsistent to interpret the latter passages as literal straightforward history but not the former as such.
Furthermore, historically speaking, in the church the rejection of the literal truth of Genesis preceded (and hermeneutically laid the groundwork for) the rejection of the literal truth of the Virgin Birth and Resurrection of Christ. Christians abandoned belief in Genesis 1–11 before they abandoned belief in the Gospels. Therefore, young-earth creationists are not the ones guilty of a hasty generalization, but rather Dr Moreland is. Young-earth creationists do not take, and never have taken, every word or verse in the Bible literally, contrary to what many of creationist’s critics charge. You must recognize that there are idioms, parables and other figurative, symbolic phrases or sections of Scripture. What we have contended is that Genesis 1–11 is not one of those sections. It is sober, true and inerrant history.
Dr Moreland continues: ‘Now, when it comes to the…flat earth and the rising and the setting of the sun: it was scientific evidence that caused people to say ‘maybe we’d better re-look at those passages.’ There was nothing exegetically or strictly in the Hebrew grammar and syntax. There was absolutely nothing about the literary genre of the passage or the historical-grammatical method of interpretation that could tell you anything at all about one way or the other—it was scientific evidence. So now the question was raised by the church interpreters: ‘Is there anything essential to this passage that’s violated if we take the four corners of the earth to be metaphorical?’ Now, their answer was, in that particular passage, ‘no.’ That particular text can allow for that without violating the teachings of the scriptures in that particular text. Now, is this procedure risky in other passages? You bet. But does it follow that it should never be applied? No, you’ve gotta take texts—each text, on its own. So, the devil’s in the details, and you’ve got to be very, very careful.’
Scientific evidence did not lead the church to reject the idea of a flat earth for the simple fact that as already mentioned it never believed this. Scientific evidence at the time of Galileo and later did cause people to re-examine the Scriptures. Moreover, they concluded that the relevant verses did not explicitly teach that the sun literally goes around a stationary earth, but only appeared to do so as seen from earth. So the Bible could be legitimately interpreted in such a way as to harmonize it with the Copernican theory (and the later revised version[xvii]), without doing violence to the verse .
In contrast, despite the best and most ingenious efforts of Christian scholars over the past 200 years, Christians have not been able to show how Genesis can be reinterpreted to make it harmonize with the evolutionary idea of millions of years. The gap theory, day-age theory, day-gap-day theory, framework hypothesis[xviii] and many other lesser-known reinterpretations of Genesis have all failed when examined carefully with an open Bible. [xix]
One of the biggest problems that all these interpretations face, but generally ignore, is the contradiction between the Bible’s teaching that death came after the Fall of Man and the evolutionists’ claim that death, violence, disease and extinction preceded the appearance of man on the earth by millions of years. Contrary to what Dr Moreland says and despite his impressive biblical credentials, the devil is not in the details. He is engaging in a superficial analyses of the Word of God. The Lord is in the details, because every word of Scripture is inspired by God – a tough position to hold and defend in this particular day and age. However, what about those godly scholars who are not young-earth creationists?
The Days of Genesis One
Dr Moreland continues: ‘Now, when it comes to the days of Genesis…I’m of the view on this that while we ought not allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament, nevertheless, if there is an interpretation of the Old Testament that is exegetically permissible—that is, and old age interpretation; that is to say, if you can find conservative, inerrantist, evangelical Old Testament scholars that say that the interpretation of this text that treats the days of Genesis as unspecified periods of time, and that is completely permissible thing to do on exegetical grounds alone, then my view is that that is a permissible option if it harmonizes the text with science because that option can be justified exegetically, independent of science.’
Dr Moreland is doing precisely what he says that creationists ought not to do—allow science to dictate to us our exegesis of the Old Testament. However, the question is not whether an interpretation is exegetically permissible in the opinion of some conservative, inerrantist, evangelical OT scholar, but whether it is exegetically probable and defensible. Truth is not determined by majority vote, as Dr Moreland should know.
The fact that most contemporary conservative evangelical OT scholars are not young-earth creationists means nothing. They are a minority in church history.[xx] More important is the fact that these contemporary conservative scholars, who are justly respected for their many helpful contributions to the church, do not hold to their old-earth views because of exegetical considerations but because they have surrendered the authority of Scripture to what they have been led to believe is solid science on this point. They too have been fooled by the years of propaganda by the secular humanist movement. I could come up with many quotes to support this claim, but I will cite just a few of the easily found ones, first by Dr James Boice and then by Dr Meredith Kline, both respected Bible scholars.
‘We have to admit here that the exegetical basis of the creationists is strong…. In spite of the careful biblical and scientific research that has accumulated in support of the creationists’ view, there are problems that make the theory wrong to most (including many evangelical) scientists. … Data from various disciplines point to a very old earth and an even older universe …’[xxi]
‘In this article I have advocated an interpretation of biblical cosmogony according to which Scripture is open to the current scientific view of a very old universe and, in that respect, does not discountenance the theory of the evolutionary origin of man.’[xxii]
Another distinguished scholar, Dr Wayne Grudem, is more guarded in his statements and certainly feels the force of the exegetical arguments for the young-earth view. But he clearly indicates that it is the ‘apparently overwhelming’ scientific evidence for millions of years that is the deciding factor in his not accepting the young-earth view.[xxiii] Many other examples could be cited.
Dr Moreland says that an old-earth interpretation ‘is a permissible option if it harmonizes the text with science because that option can be justified exegetically, independent of science.’ No such old-earth interpretation exists. They all ignore at least some of the details in Genesis 1 and Exodus 20:8–11 that show overwhelmingly that these were literal days of creation. They all ignore (or treat shallowly) the theological problem of millions of years of death before the Fall and (knowingly or unconsciously) reduce the Curse in Genesis 3 to nothing more than a spiritual consequence affecting man alone. These old-earth views all ignore the clear testimony of Jesus that He was a young-earth creationist, as already noted. Furthermore, most old-earth proponents deny that Noah’s Flood was global and catastrophic. If they do believe that, they fail to realize that it had to have left a massive amount of evidence worldwide (which is exactly what we see in the geological/fossil record). But evolutionary geologists deny that the global Flood ever occurred and instead attribute those same fossils and rock layers to processes happening over millions of years. In other words, in spite of their godly sincerity, they fail to realize that it is logically impossible to believe in both a global, catastrophic Noachian Flood and millions of years. The geological evidence for one view means that there is no geological evidence for the other view. They are mutually exclusive. The Flood is crucial to the matter of the age of the earth, but it is ignored or rejected by old-earth proponents.
None of these old-earth reinterpretations are ‘justified exegetically, independent of science’ but rather are classic examples of eisegesis (reading into the text what we want it to say), whereby evolutionary, millions-of-years hypotheses and assumptions (not ‘science’) are used to make the text say what it simply does not say.
That is enough for now, and I’ll complete it later.
[i] Originally published in Edward F. Blick’s Special Creation vs. Evolution, 1988, pp. 29-31.
[ii] For example, Christianity and the Nature of Science, Scaling the Secular City, Does God Exist?, Immortality: The Other Side of Death, The Life and Death Debate: Moral Issues of Our Times, Love God with all Your Mind, Body and Soul (with Scott Rae), and is co-editor (with William Lane Craig) of Christian Perspectives on Being Human and Naturalism: A Critical Analysis.
[iii] For example, Christianity Today, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research and The American Philosophical Quarterly.
[iv] J.P. Moreland, Love your God with all your mind, Colorado Springs, Colorado, NavPress, 1997, p. 245.
[v] Moreland, J.P., ‘The Age of Earth,’ based upon a lecture at Northshore Everett, Washington, on 2 February, 2002, reasons.org/resources/apologetics/moreland_jp_age_of_earth.shtml?main, downloaded 29 August 2003.
[vi] This is the ministry of Dr Hugh Ross, a ‘progressive creationist’ who promotes billions of years, death and suffering before sin, local Flood, etc.
[vii] This and all further quotes by Dr Moreland are from his article in ref. 4.
[ix] In his respected 18th century commentary on Revelation 7 (in his An Exposition of the Old and New Testament, London, 1809, as found on Online Bible CD), John Gill wrote:
‘Four angels are mentioned, in allusion to the four spirits of the heavens … though the earth is not a plain square with angles, but round and globular, yet it is said to have four corners, with respect to the four points of the heavens; and though there is but one wind, which blows sometimes one way, and sometimes another, yet four are named with regard to the above points, east, west, north, and south, from whence it blows. These are commonly called “the four winds of heaven”…’
In fact, in every commentary I have consulted, without exception, it was obvious from the text that the term ‘four corners’ was metaphorical and easily understood on the basis of other parts of Scripture.
[x] The Old Testament occurrences of the ‘four corners of the earth’ are in the prophetic texts of Isaiah 11:12 and Ezekiel 7:2 (in this latter verse it refers to the corners of the land of Israel, but at this time, the boundaries had more than four corners and no Israelite would have taken this literally) and no I am not going to show a map- you can look it up for yourself.
[xi] Pythagoras (circa 530 BC) reasoned that the earth was a globe, Aristarchus (310–230 BC) estimated the relative size of the earth and moon, and Eratosthenes (275–194 BC) made a more exact calculation of the earth’s radius and circumference. Some atheists then make up a problem where supposedly describes pi as 3 instead of 3.14 etc. without reasoning that in context they are rounding off the measurement to the nearest whole unit- picky, picky, picky stupid.
[xii] See Russell, J.B., Inventing the Flat Earth, Praeger, New York, 1991. Russell is Professor of History, Emeritus, at University of California–Santa Barbara.
[xiii] It is presumably the convenient division of a circle (representing all directions, i.e., everything around us) by the vertical and horizontal planes which gives all these figures of speech the number ‘four.’ Algebra applied to ancient geography.
[xiv] It should be noted that sound exegesis involves more than simply studying Hebrew grammar and syntax, as Dr Moreland knows but here implies otherwise. It also involves studying the local and larger context and comparing Scripture with Scripture, since the Bible is its own best commentary.
[xv] Similarly, Jewish readers would have understood ‘corners of Moab’ in Numbers 24:17 to mean the whole land of Moab. The same can be said about the idiomatic phrase ‘end of the earth,’ which is frequently used in the Old Testament. But there are almost an equal number of verses that speak of the singular end of the earth as those which speak of the plural ends of the earth. We even find examples of both phrases in the same OT book. ‘So how many ends of the earth are there?’ a skeptic might ask. The question is ridiculous. No careful student of the Bible would likewise interpret 1 Samuel 2:8 to mean (or that Hannah thought) that the earth was sitting on pillars, like the roof of a building sits on pillars. In context, the pillars are referring to human leaders But more importantly, the older book of Job (written by Job, living around the time of Abraham, or by Moses) had already stated that the earth is hung on nothing (Job 26:7). You want to argue about this, send me a comment and I’ll reply.
[xvi] During the miracle of Joshua’s long day, which presumably involved supernatural interference in the rotation of the earth, the Bible describes exactly what the observers would have seen—the sun and the moon standing still in the sky.
[xvii] Copernicus and Galileo believed that the whole universe revolved around the sun, but now heliocentricity only applies to our solar system, which based upon the limited telescopes they could make would make logical sense.
[xviii] One popular view of creation held by many old-earth advocates is known as the “framework hypothesis.” This is the belief that the “days” of creation are not even distinct eras, but overlapping stages of a long evolutionary process. According to this view, the six days described in Genesis 1 do not set forth a chronology of any kind, but rather a metaphorical “framework” by which the creative process is described for our finite human minds. Bet you didn’t know that you had a ‘finite mind.’ You can’t imagine anything that somebody else hasn’t already imagined.
[xix] See Don Batten’s The Answers Book, Weston Fields’ Unformed and Unfilled, and Jonathan Sarfati’s Refuting Compromise,, as well as Hall, D. and Pipa, J., Did God Create in Six Days? Southern Presbyterian Press, Taylors, South Carolina, USA, 1999; and Jordan, J., Creation in Six Days Canon Press, Moscow, Idaho, USA, 1999).
[xx] In his book, Holding Fast to Creation, The Covenant Foundation, Oak Ridge, TN, 2001, David Hall documents from a Protestant perspective that the young-earth view was essentially universal in the church for 18 centuries. Fr Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation and Early Man, St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, Platina, CA, 2000, documents this historical fact from an Eastern Orthodox perspective.
[xxi] Boice, J.M., Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Vol. 1, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, 1982, pp. 57–62.
[xxii] Kline, M., Space and time in the Genesis Cosmogony, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48:15 (footnote 47), 1996.
[xxiii] Grudem, W., Systematic Theology IVPress, Downers Grove, Illinois, USA, 1994, pp. 297–98