This is the first in a series of posts that may eventually turn into a book. I’ve been studying and debating the age of the earth for about fifteen years. I began in 1999 as a freshman in Bible college debating professors from UNC Charlotte in an internet discussion board. If you’ve read my book on the founding fathers, you know that I always prefer to read not just the original source but also the earliest printing of that source available, and I applied that same approach to the question of the age of the earth. Consequently, I’ve read things like Newton’s Principia Mathematica, Copernicus’ On The Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, Einstein’s Relativity, “The Great Expansion” by Gamow, “The Inflationary Universe” by Guth and Steinhardt, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking and many, many more. I am not a trained scientist in the sense of having received a science degree from a university, but I have hunted down the original source of every argument that I’ve met with in regards to the old age of the universe, and I’ve found them all to be severely flawed. Now, I’d like to share a little bit of what I have learned in the process, and I hope that you will add your comments to the discussion as well.
To begin the discussion, I would like to start with the creation account found in the pages of Scripture. The primary reason that I am a young earth creationist is that I believe this position to be the best explanation of the various statements which God made about creation in the Bible. As I’ve read, watched and listened to theologians discussing the first two chapters of Genesis, I’ve noticed that the debate over the meaning of this account hinges on the question of whether it was written as a narrative account of history or as a metaphor intended merely to turn the Jews away from the gods of Egypt and toward the God of Abraham. The metaphorical view is the predominant view of our day, but I do not think that this view is consistent with the actual text of Genesis.
The primary indicator that the first two chapters of Genesis are a historical narrative is the use of the phrase “these are the generations of” in Genesis 2:4. This phrase is used eleven times in the book of Genesis, but it is only found twice in the rest of the Bible. It is used once in Numbers 3:1 and once in Ruth 4:18, but all of the remaining occurrences are found in Genesis. Let’s take a look at a few of the uses of this phrase.
Let’s start with the last occurrence of this phrase in Genesis. In Genesis 37:1-2, we read:
And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.
Now, if you’re familiar with the book of Genesis, you should have noticed something very interesting in these two verses. These two verses mark the transition from the account of Jacob to the account of Joseph. Jacob’s account began in Genesis 25:19, and it is the focus of the book from that point until Genesis 37:2 where the focus shifts to Joseph. Now, if we go to the beginning of Jacob’s account in Genesis 25, we will find the following:
And these are the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son: Abraham begat Isaac: And Isaac was forty years old when he took Rebekah to wife, the daughter of Bethuel the Syrian of Padanaram, the sister to Laban the Syrian. And Isaac intreated the LORD for his wife, because she was barren: and the LORD was intreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived. And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to enquire of the LORD. (Genesis 25:19-22)
Here we see our phrase being used again, and just as in Genesis 37, it is used here to mark a transition from the account of one individual to that of another. In this case, the phrase is marking the transition from the account of Isaac to the account of Jacob. Now, there is not a definable transition between the accounts of Isaac and the account of his father, Abraham. These two accounts are blended seamlessly together because of the fact that Isaac was promised to Abraham at the very beginning of Abraham’s account (Genesis 12:1). However, when we turn back to the first mention of Abraham, we find this passage:
Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. (Genesis 11:27-29)
Once again, we find another occurrence of our key phrase being used to introduce a transition. In this case, the text is transitioning from the account of all the descendants of Noah and the nations which they founded (Genesis 10:32) to the account of a particular descendant, Abraham, through whom God was going to establish His chosen nation. And the account of Noah’s descendants also begins with the same phrase, for this is what we read in Genesis 10:1:
Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood.
Here, again, this phrase is used to transition from the account of Noah to the account of his descendants, but the transition at the beginning of Noah’s account is decidedly different from all the other transitions in Genesis. Noah’s account begins with this verse:
These are the generations of Noah: Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God. (Genesis 6:9)
This transition is unique in that our key phrase is used as an introduction the character being transitioned to rather than as a farewell to the character who was the focus of the preceding chapters. It is written as if there was no one else alive at the time of Noah whom God had any interest in discussing. “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord,” but everyone else was so vile that God essentially wrote them out of the account. He mentions the direct line to Noah in chapter five, but He took from them the honor of being the focus of the passage and bestowed it upon Noah instead.
Then, in Genesis 5:1, we find another use of our phrase. There we read:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created. And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth: (Genesis 5:1-3)
Once again we have a transition from the account of Adam to that of his descendants who very quickly became so wicked that God destroyed their entire civilization with a flood. Now, Adam’s account begins a few chapters earlier in a verse that is very familiar to those involved in the debate over the age of the earth. His account begins with this passage:
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:4-7)
This marks the first occurrence of the phrase “these are the generations of” in the book of Genesis, and it is used in the same manner in which this phrase is used in every other instance that we have examined. It marks a transition from one account to another. In this case, the transition is from the account of the heavens and the earth to the account of Adam, the first man on the earth. In all the other instances, this phrase is used to conclude an actual, historical narrative.
Several of those narratives contain claims which are inconsistent with our present observations of nature. For example, there are the claims that Methuselah lived 969 years, that a flood of water covered the entire earth, that Sarah conceived at the age of 90, that animals which conceived next to striped rods brought forth striped and spotted offspring, and that a slave boy correctly interpreted the dream of the king and saved an entire nation from famine. All of these accounts are contrary to what we observe in nature today, and yet the passages containing them are recognized by the vast majority of Christian scholars to be written in the historical narrative format.
If every other use of the phrase “these are the generations of” is indicative of historical narrative regardless of the inclusion of claims which would be rejected by skeptical scientists, then it seems safe to conclude that the first two chapters of Genesis are also a historical narrative even if they contain information that skeptical scientists deny. The use of this phrase solidifies the fact that the creation account in Genesis is of the same genre as the remainder of the book. It is presented as a fact of history, and all that remains for us to do is to compare the claims of Genesis with those of other accounts of our origin to see if they agree. This is what we will begin to do in the next article.
Click here for Part 2: Hebrew Poetry
Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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