J.P. Moreland’s advice to young-Earth creationists
Many leading Christian apologists—an apologist is one who makes a reasoned defense for the faith—are old-Earth Christians. They hold firmly to the truthfulness and reliability of the Scriptures, but reject the hyperliteralism of the young-Earth creationist movement. One such scholar is J.P. Moreland, professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.
In the book Three Views on Creation and Evolution (edited by Moreland and John Mark Reynolds), Moreland offered the following advice to young-Earth creationists:
Suppose we are interpreting some biblical text and we have hermeneutical option A and option B. Suppose further, that on exegetical grounds alone, we compare the text with other portions of Scripture and find that (1) A and B are both plausible, that is, within the bounds of reason exegetically speaking; and (2) A is superior to B. Now suppose further that B harmonizes Scripture with what we have pretty good reason to believe is true outside the Bible, but A flies in the face of these extrabiblical factors. In short, B solves external conceptual problems. Then, in my view, it is hermeneutically permissible to adopt B as the correct interpretation of a text.
In this scenario, we can let the young-Earth “literal” 24-hour calendar day interpretation be option A and various old-Earth interpretations be option B. Some young-Earth creationists acknowledge that old-Earth interpretations are possible, but they think the young-Earth interpretation is better. If the young-Earth interpretation of Scripture were superior and the scientific evidence pointed to a young Earth, then I would be a young-Earth creationist. As it is, however, there are old-Earth interpretations that work well (I like the analogical days interpretation, perhaps with elements of the day-age interpretation tacked on) and are well within the bounds of good hermeneutics and Christian orthodoxy; and young-Earth science fails miserably. I am quite comfortable, therefore, with being an old-Earth Christian.
Elsewhere, Moreland has stated,
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, an 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 a 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.
To believe that the Bible allows for millions of years is not something forced on the text from the outside. One can make a strong case for biblical ambiguity regarding the age of the Earth without any references to geology or astronomy. We can add J.P. Moreland to the long list of old-Earth biblical scholars.
Grace and Peace
One group of biblical scholars who recognized that there is more than one way to interpret the opening chapters of Genesis was the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. They wrote the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, which gives a standard definition of what is and isn’t meant by “inerrancy.” Many of the scholars who wrote this document were themselves young-Earth creationists, but they recognized that there are other valid options, and that YEC is not an essential part of the Christian doctrine of Scripture. The vote to leave young-Earth language out of the document was almost unanimous.
Another group of theologically conservative scholars who recognized that old-Earth interpretations are possible, even though many of them are themselves YECs, are those who served on the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) Creation Study Committee. Their report gives an excellent overview of the young-Earth and various old-Earth interpretations.