by Travis Campbell
Is there biblical support for an ancient Earth? Guest author Travis Campbell makes a compelling argument for old-earth creationism from the sixth day of creation and addresses common young-earth counterarguments.
This is an interesting time in which to be a seeker of truth. We have more reasons to believe in God today than at any other time in the modern era thanks to confirmed facts of nature such as the big bang and anthropic principle. Moreover, the evidence reveals not just any deity, but points specifically to the God of the Bible. Substantiation for the biblical God is set forth in creation’s magnificent display. These evidences, which are anticipated in the biblical record, provide the church with a powerful apologetic, not only for what C. S. Lewis famously called “mere Christianity,” but also for the historical doctrine of inerrancy.
Yet, evidence from big bang cosmology and the anthropic principle, compelling though it is, often meets with rejection from those committed to a young-earth position. Any scenario that entails a 13.7-billion-year-old cosmos is incompatible with a view that dates the universe at 6,000–10,000 years old (based largely on Archbishop James Ussher’s biblical chronology, which calculates a creation date of October 23, 4004, BC).
Young-earth creationists generally refuse to accept the scientific arguments for an ancient cosmos and Earth, even though there is solid biblical support for an old-earth as well. This paper aims to outline a major scriptural argument for old-earth creationism (OEC) and then to address common young-earth criticisms of that argument.
On the Sixth Day
One of the most powerful arguments in favor of the day-age (old-earth) interpretation of the Genesis creation account is what we might call the argument from the sixth day. Put simply, too many events occurred on creation day 6 to be squeezed into 24 hours. Following the overview of creation described in Genesis 1:1–2:4, we read a detailed recap of the sixth day from man’s point of view in Genesis 2:5–25. Together, the two descriptions tell us that on day 6 alone God:
- created a host of creatures to live and flourish on the land (Genesis 1:24–25);
- created human beings (Genesis 1:26–29)—albeit in two stages, the first one being the formation of the man (Adam) out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7);
- planted a garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8);
- caused trees and plants to grow in the Garden of Eden in accordance with the same ordinary providence He exercised over creation from the beginning (Genesis 2:9; cf. Genesis 1:11–12, 2:5);
- placed Adam in the Garden (Genesis 2:15) and appointed him as its keeper;
- made a covenant with Adam (Genesis 2:16–17; cf. Hosea 6:7);
- recognized that Adam was alone and noted that this was not a good state of affairs (Genesis 2:18);
- introduced Adam to the animals, and allowed him to name them (Genesis 2:19–20);
- put the man to sleep, made a woman (Eve) from a part of Adam’s side, and then brought her to Adam (Genesis 2:21–22).
Another support for the day-age view is Adam’s reaction to Eve. When he saw her for the first time, he exclaimed, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 2:23, NASB). The Hebrew phrase translated “this is now” (KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB) is happa’am, which other Bible versions render as “this one at last” (NET, HCSB) and “this at last” (ESV, NRSV). This word choice seems to imply that Adam searched for more than 24 hours to find a mate of his own. As the 2001 New English Translation explains on page 29, note 13, “The expression [happa’am] conveys the futility of the man while naming the animals and finding no one who corresponded to him.”
Given Adam’s expression, plus the sheer number of day 6 events, there is good reason to believe that the creation days were not limited to 24 hours each. Old Testament scholars such as Gleason Archer and John Collins,1 cultural apologists such as Francis Schaeffer,2 cumulative-case apologists such as Kenneth Samples,3 systematic theologians such as Norman Geisler,4 and science apologists such as Hugh Ross5 have been persuaded by this line of reasoning. This particular argument for long creation days was also accepted by renowned, late-nineteenth-century Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck.6
Of course, young-earth creationists are familiar with these arguments for the day-age view and they do raise objections to them. In particular, I will address Jonathan Sarfati’s response to the sixth day issue, which represents a common YEC defense.
Young-Earth Objections: Happa’am
In his book Refuting Compromise, Sarfati contends that the use of happa’am does not indicate that a significant amount of time passed before Adam met Eve. Specifically, he argues:
Although [Hugh] Ross claims this [happa’am] is “usually translated as ‘now at length’ [or ‘at last’],” this is simply not supported by major translations such as the KJV, NKJV, NIV, or NASB. Nor is it supported by other parts of the Bible. Rather, the lexicons show that while pa‘am has a variety of meanings, and is most often translated “time,” with the definite article it means “this time.”7
Both of these claims are false. First, although the translations Sarfati does mention all render happa’am as “this is now,” he fails to take into consideration the ESV, NRSV, JPSV, and HCSB. As I pointed out above, these versions of Scripture translate happa’am either as “this at last” or “this one at last.” But even the phrase “this is now” does not automatically exclude the possibility that Adam searched for a suitable companion for far longer than a 24-hour day.
Second, uses of happa’am in other parts of the Bible do, in fact, suggest that the phrase may indicate a long passage of time. For example, consider Judges 16:18a (ESV):
When Delilah saw that he [Samson] had told her all his heart, she sent and called the lords of the Philistines, saying, ‘Come up again, for he has told me all his heart.’
The Hebrew phrase for “come up again” is ‘ǎlû happa’am and can also be translated “[come] now, at length” (The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon), “come one more time” (HCSB), and “come up at last” (my translation). To paraphrase, Delilah essentially said, “Finally you can come up here, for Samson has at last told me his secret.” The narrative context supports this interpretation. It took Delilah awhile to convince Samson to give in and tell her the secret of his strength (all to his undoing, of course).
Another example is Genesis 46:30, in which Jacob, reunited with Joseph, declared, “Now [happa’am] let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive” (ESV). The NRSV reads “I can die now [happa’am]” and the HCSB, “At last [happa’am] I can die.” Again, context clearly indicates a long time (years in this case) had passed since Jacob had last seen Joseph. Other examples include Genesis 29:34–35, 30:20, and Judges 15:3.
Furthermore, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon renders happa’am in Genesis 2:23 as “now at length,” as it does with the other texts referenced above.8 Thus, even if Sarfati correctly interprets happa’am differently in other contexts, as he does in Genesis 18:32 and Judges 6:39,9 he still has not refuted the OEC exegesis of Adam’s use of happa’am.10
Young-Earth Objections: Naming of the Animals
As demonstrated earlier, creation day 6 included a large amount of activity, both on God’s part and on Adam’s. It seems intuitive to assume that all of these events could not take place within 24 hours. Specifically, I would like to focus on the timeline of one activity that young-earth and old-earth creationists disagree on: Adam’s naming of the animals.
In a debate on the age of the universe, young-earth proponent Jason Lisle acknowledged that, of all the day 6 tasks, Adam’s naming of the animals is a problem for his view (though not insurmountable).11 Sarfati, on the other hand, does not view it as a difficulty for YEC. He writes:
Scripture explicitly states that Adam named all the “livestock” (…behemah), the “birds of the air” (…‘ôph hashamayim), and all the “beasts of the field” (…chayyah hassadeh). There is no indication that Adam named the fish in the sea, or any other marine organisms, nor any of the insects, beetles, or arachnids. So, like the ark’s obligate passengers, there was only a tiny fraction of all the kinds of animals. Furthermore, the animals Adam had to name were even fewer—Genesis 2:20 omits “creeping things” (…remes, reptile), and the “beasts of the field” are a subset of the “beasts of the earth” of Genesis 1:24. Combining both facts—that “kinds” are broader than species, and that there was only a small subset of all kinds—there are probably only a few thousand animals involved at most.…Even if we assume that Adam had to name as many as 2,500 kinds of animals, if he took five seconds per kind, and took a five-minute break every hour, he could have completed the task in well under four hours.This hardly seems onerous even for people today, and with Adam’s pre-Fall stamina and memory recall abilities, the problem disappears totally.12
If five seconds per animal or animal kind seems an incredibly fast pace, consider that the young-earth view requires compressing the time span of the naming task in order accommodate all the other events of day six. Even one minute per animal would have consumed too much time. On top of that, it’s likely these activities were limited to daylight hours only—for God ended His creative activity at “the evening” of each day, a work ethic that humanity emulates (Genesis 1:27–31; cf. Exodus 20:8–11; Psalm 104:23). Hence, according to the young-earth view, every activity mentioned in Genesis 2:5–25 must have occurred within 12 hours approximately.13
Sarfati’s explanation for the naming of the animals faces several difficulties that, in turn, reinforce the reasonableness of the old-earth view. I will address three of these challenges.
Finding the Animals
While Genesis 2:19 clearly tells us that God brought the animals to Adam to be named, the account is thin on specifics. It is possible that God literally lined up the animals single file and Adam subsequently named them in that order. However, it seems more plausible that God led Adam to the animals’ environments and, in those places, creatures were brought forward to be given a name. There are, after all, famous examples of God bringing a person into a seeker’s presence (Genesis 24:10–21). Perhaps the Lord brought the animals to Adam as he sought a companion for himself. After all, Genesis 2:20 tells us “there was not found a helper fit for him” (italics added),14 suggesting that Adam was seeking each of these creatures out, without finding what he was looking for.
Even if we grant that God lined up the animals parade style, we must ask, does it seem reasonable to think that Adam limited himself to only five seconds per animal? Picture Adam glancing at each creature—taking no time to observe or even touch them —and uttering whatever name came to mind first before quickly moving on. Such a scenario strains credulity to a breaking point.
Few Bible students need to be told the importance of names in Hebrew culture. The name of a child often reflected his or her character, just as the name of the Lord, YHWH, is a reflection of His nature. The Jewish practice of waiting until the eighth day of a boy’s life (the day of his circumcision) to give him his name has deep roots grounded in the story of Abram, whose name God Himself changed to Abraham as they made a covenant together (Genesis 17:9–14; Luke 1:57–66). The patience and care the Hebrews took in naming their children reflected the importance they attached to names in general. So, it is not unreasonable to think that the ancient Hebrews would have been astonished, as we are, at the thought that Adam spent a mere five seconds naming the animals.
While I would not press the point that Adam spent eight days per animal, I do think it’s reasonable to believe he spent at least two or three days naming each creature. Even if I granted the low-end numbers proposed by some young-earth creationists (i.e., 1,000 animals)15 and limited Adam’s time to one to two hours per animal (a very reasonable assumption), that still reaches well over 24 hours.
Naming the Serpent
As a specific example of meaningful animal names, consider the description of the serpent in Genesis 3:1b (ESV), “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” In Hebrew, “serpent” is nāḥāsh, meaning “copper or bronze,”16 which may be an allusion to the animal’s shiny scales or color. This noun is related etymologically to the verb nāḥash which, in turn, is related to the noun naḥash, which means “divination or enchantment.”17 The picture painted in Genesis 3:1b, then, is a shiny or copper-colored creature, suggesting something beautiful, that is also enchanting (as in crafty), implying that the creature can be deceptive in certain respects (2 Corinthians 11:14). Thus, the fact that the name fits the description in Genesis 3:1 indicates that it reflects the animal’s behavior.
While we don’t know what language Adam spoke, we are told that he named all of the beasts of the field (Genesis 2:20), and since the serpent is listed as a beast of the field, it’s possible that Adam at least influenced the serpent’s Hebrew name. This idea raises the question, how would Adam possess this understanding of the serpent? The only reasonable explanation seems to be that Adam took his time observing the creature, studying its behavior, and named it accordingly. And if this is true of the serpent, it would easily be true of all the animals Adam named. He carefully observed each and every animal he discovered as he searched for a suitable helper throughout the land of Eden; and after a good while of study and observation, he gave each creature its name in accordance with its behavior.
Critics of this theory may insist that the description of the serpent comes from the narrator’s (Moses) perspective, not from Adam’s. However, since the descriptive name predates Moses, and the name ultimately came from Adam himself (whether in Hebrew or some other tongue), I think it is more plausible than not that Genesis 3:1 reflects Adam’s perspective as well.18
I’d suggest that Adam’s naming of the serpent also sheds light on Paul’s words to Timothy, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor” (1 Timothy 2:13–14, ESV). Paul’s point, of course, was not to excuse Adam from sin (cf. Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:22). Rather, if anything, he was informing Timothy that Adam’s sin was all the more culpable than Eve’s—she could have claimed some ignorance, while he had absolutely no excuses. Why was Adam not deceived? Because he had an adequate knowledge of the serpent’s capabilities. How did he possess such knowledge? Because he had studied the creature and given it its name.
A final and vital point to address is Sarfati’s argument—not uncommon among young-earth creationists—that Adam possessed superhuman capabilities before the fall. Sarfati contests these “greater abilities would give Adam greater speed at accomplishing his tasks.”19 I have two responses to this point.
First, nothing in Scripture suggests Adam possessed superhuman qualities. Too little is written about him to come to this conclusion. And, if we are allowed to speculate at all about Adam’s capabilities, the Bible itself gives us the grid through which we are to understand him, namely through the second “Adam,” Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:45). Like the first Adam, Christ was innocent of sin, righteous, and pure. Scripture tells us that the second Adam was like us humans in all things, including physical and mental capabilities, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Thus, we can conclude then that pre-fall Adam was also like us average humans in all things (except sin).
Furthermore, the gospels never depict Christ doing anything at superhuman speeds. In fact, His miracles are themselves done patiently, without any hint of rushing through the moment. Jesus’s miracles were not done in His own power as the Son of God; rather as a man He rested in the power of the Spirit to do the Father’s will—thereby giving us an example to follow.20 Therefore, there is no reason to think Adam possessed superhuman capabilities that gave him the power to perform his tasks at tremendous speeds.
Second, even if Adam did possess superhuman abilities, it still would not be relevant to the issue at hand. One of the problems I have with the YEC interpretation of the sixth day of creation is that it rushes Adam and leaves him no chance to enjoy what he is doing. As New Testament professor Vern Poythress helpfully notes in his book Redeeming Science, the YEC reading of this text presupposes a clock orientation embedded in the creation-week, wherein the passing of time is oriented to ticks on a watch.21 It is difficult to read Genesis 2 from such a perspective without envisioning God holding a stopwatch, as it were, and hurrying Adam through his tasks—as if it must all get done before the Sun goes down!
The pace envisioned by the YEC reading has a modern tone to it and fails to appreciate what Poythress calls an “interactive orientation”22 that seems to better capture Adam’s perspective as he performed his duties before the Lord. This type of orientation is one of rhythm, not ticks;23 relationships, not regulations; serenity and concord, not bustle and unrest. It is an orientation where Adam absorbed himself in his task, built relationships with the animals he named, and constantly found himself in jaw-dropping awe over each and every creature he discovered. Superhuman capabilities would have been insufficient to motivate Adam to rush through his tasks; but curiosity alone would have been sufficient to move him to slow down and enjoy the wonderful gifts of God.
Thus, we end our discussion of this topic with the insightful analysis offered by pastor and author Kent Hughes:
The considerable menagerie was likely drawn from Eden rather than from the entire earth. Even so, the process would have been daunting. And whereas before God had been the namer of creation, conferring the names “Day” and “Night” and “Earth” as an indication of his sovereignty over creation, now Adam performed the sovereign naming function. The process challenged Adam’s intellectual capacities. Naming demanded acquaintance and understanding of the animals. It was not a whimsical process of reviewing a ten-mile pet parade and saying, “Um, let’s see…I’ve got it! Aardvark! Ah…Chimpanzee. Oh yes, Zebra. There, you’re Pelican. I like that.”…No, Adam wasn’t Dr. Doolittle on amphetamines. The classic work of Keil and Delitzsch points out that we must not regard the names that Adam gave the animals as merely denoting their outward characteristics, “but as a deep and direct insight into the nature of the animals,” which penetrated far deeper than knowledge that comes from simple reflection. As Adam fulfilled his kingly responsibility of interpreting the animals for what they were and giving them appropriate names, his differentiating power became acute. He saw there was none that corresponded to him. In the process he also realized that many of the animals had a social companionship that he lacked. So Adam began to long for companionship with a being like himself. It is reasonable to surmise that the man began to ache for a corresponding other. God was preparing him to value his helper.24
This paper has looked at two important issues surrounding the argument from the sixth day—namely, that Adam must have taken longer than 24 hours to name every animal God brought before him and that his words to Eve (“at long last!”) suggest he was significantly older than 24 hours when he finally met his wife. Having looked at a popular critique of the OEC appeal to these particular points, I conclude that the argument from the sixth day still stands, both as a powerful critique of the calendar-day perspective as well as a strong argument for the day-age interpretation of the Genesis creation account.
These are not the only considerations a day-age theorist can offer in support of the argument from the sixth day. And, of course, this argument is only one of many biblical proofs of the day-age theory. That said, my hope is that the little I have written on this topic will encourage those who have called old-earth creationists “compromisers” to think twice before doing so again.