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.
10 thoughts on “J.P. Moreland’s advice to young-Earth creationists”
The YECs make a choice about WHICH verses to be hyper-literal. Other verses, they ignore as if they were not there, especially the first two verses of the Bible.
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I go back and forth between YEC and OEC. But one point that tilts me toward YEC is how to account for “and there was evening, and there was morning, the Xth day” mentioned after each and every time span in creation? I can come up with no reasonable explanation for creation to go through hundreds/thousands/millions/billions of years’ worth of alternating darkness and light.
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I had occasion recently to look up the circumstances of Henry Morris not signing the ICBI statement on hermeneutics. This is an excerpt from “Already Compromised”: http://tinyurl.com/bjjlt7t It’s quoting from this book: “The Genesis Factor: Myths and Realities”, p. 17, by Morris.
Sorry about the book picture – I didn’t know it would do that.
Here are a few thoughts about “evening and morning” from an old-Earth perspective:
1. “Evening and morning” do not make a complete 24-hour day. In Hebrew thinking, the complete day ran from sunset to sunset, not sunset to sunrise, which is what is implied by “evening and morning.”
2. It is hard to see how “evening and morning” existed before the sun is mentioned on day four. This implies that the days could in some way be non-literal. The typical YEC response is that light existed, even if the sun did not, but that is not a completely satisfying answer, because it is the sun that governs the day (verse 18).
3. One of the purposes of Genesis 1:1-2:3 is to set the pattern for the Sabbath. The pattern, however, is not just for the seven day week, but also for the Sabbatical year every seventh year, and even for the year of Jubilee after 49 years.
4. There are many things in Genesis 1 that are analogies. God’s work sets a pattern for our work, but God’s work is not like our work. God works by speaking; we have to use our muscles. God’s rest sets a pattern for our rest, but God’s rest is not like our rest. God rests because he is done; we rest because we are tired. If our work is similar but not identical to God’s work, and our rest is similar but not identical to God’s rest, could it also be that our day is similar to but not identical to God’s day?
5. The “evening and morning” therefore, could simply God taking a break from his work at intervals to set a pattern for our daily rest. God took six shorter breaks (evening and morning) from his creative activity, just like we take a break from our work for the evening and morning. At the end of the creative week, God took a longer rest, just as we take a longer rest at the end of the week. God’s day does not have to be identical to our earthly day for this to be true.
6. As far as we know, Moses only wrote one psalm, Psalm 90. The context of the psalm is creation, and it is here where it is recorded that “a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” (Ps 90:4 NIV 1984). It is interesting that Moses wrote both Genesis 1 and Psalm 90, and that he announces that God’s time is not the same as our time.
This is all derived from a close reading of the text of Scripture, not a result of reading science into Scripture.
I hope this helps.
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Virginia — that is indeed a big picture. I’ve seen various versions of what happened with Henry Morris at the ICBI meetings. What is clear is that even the other young-Earth creationists at the meetings didn’t give in to his my-way-or-the-highway insistence that to deny YEC is to deny the truthfulness of the Bible.
Here is the list of signers of the first ICBI statement: http://library.dts.edu/Pages/TL/Special/ICBI_1_typed.pdf
I wonder how many of the YECs may have stronger views now – there’s an addition to the statement here:
Hopefully this will help you: http://think.dolhub.com/apologetics/Old-Earth-Creation#Days
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Someone (above) cited Ps. 90 – “a thousand years in your sight are like a day.”
Ironically, “day” in the citation in Ps. 90 is a normative 24 hour day.
Also, “like” = simile, whereas no mother thinks that “pain in childbearing” in Gen. 3 is a simile or metaphor.
Moreover, it seems quite unarguable that all of the following words in Genesis 1-3 should be interpreted literally: “God,” “created,” “the heavens & the earth” (1:1), “waters” (1:2), “light,” “darkness” (1:3), “vegetation,” “plants yielding seed,” “fruit trees” (1:13), “the greater light,” “the lesser light,” “stars” (1:16), “living creatures,” “let birds fly” (1:20), “sea creatures” (1:22), “livestock” (1:24), “man” (1:26), “male & female” (1:27), “bush,” “rain” (2:5), “a mist was watering the ground” (2:6), “nostrils” (2:7), “garden” (2:8), “a river” (2:10), “gold” (2:11), “a helper” (2:18), “sleep,” “ribs” (2:21), “a woman” (2:22), “naked” (2:25), “serpent,” “fig leaves & loincloths” (3:7), “belly” (3:14), “head,” “heel” (3:15), (“pain in childbearing,”) “husband” (3:16), “voice” (3:17), “thorns & thistles” (3:18), “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (3:19), “wife,” “mother,” “living” (3:20), “garments of skins & clothed them” (3:21), “sword” (3:24). + Abraham’s circumcision, Isaac, Jacob….
The citation of Ps. 90 demonstrates how far old earthers r willing to go to prove their presupposition: The earth is old. Why can’t we just let the Consummate Communicator speak for Himself – instead of re-defining “day” – when NO Christian thinks it rained 40 million years in Noah’s day (only 6 chapters later). & the work week in Ex. 20 was 6 literal days….
Finally, old earther’s need to come up w/ a QUALITY answer to the q that ATHEISTS asked (at the U of CO Atheist Club), “How can God call everything ‘good,’ when cheetahs were sinking their teeth into zebras?” I frequently find myself doing damage control when the atheists (at the U of CO) illustrate how old earther’s tweak the Bible to fit the prevalent view of science – or, rather, the view of the majority of SCIENTISTS!
Why is cheetahs sinking their teeth into zebras a bad thing? Could it be argued that it is good for both the zebra and the cheetah? Is the ecosystem a bad thing?