Today marks a new beginning in the Liturgical Year. Today’s first reading is Genesis 1:1-19, the first four days of Creation. Tomorrow, we’ll hear the last three days of Creation, and continue reading through Genesis, day by day, until next Friday. It’ll cover all of the major events of Genesis 1 to 11 (it skips things like the genealogies). Here are a few brief thoughts on why I don’t subscribe to Young Earth Creationism.
The point of the Old Testament is to prepare Israel, and the world, for Christ. Everything in the Old Testament Scriptures, from the most epic accounts to the most minute details, serves this purpose. And the role of the Creation account of the Book of Genesis is easy to grasp. I mentioned last week that John’s Gospel shows us that Jesus is the New Genesis, and John 1-2 is structured “In the Beginning,” followed by seven days. Paul calls Christ “the last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45) and “the second Man” (1 Cor. 15:47), and the Early Church Fathers showed that Mary was the last Eve and the second “Woman” (John 2:4; John 19:26). The fruit of the tree prefigures the Fruit of Mary’s Womb, Jesus (Luke 1:42). The Tree prefigures the Cross (Gal. 3:13). The week of Genesis not only prefigures the week of John 1-2, but also is the basis for the Sabbath, which is fulfilled in Christ’s resting in the Tomb on Holy Saturday. Note that the days of Genesis begin in the evening (see Genesis 1:13, for example). It’s due to this peculiar structure that Christ is able to have the Last Supper and the Passion on the same day, fulfilling all of the Passover and Preparation Day prophesies in one day. I describe that in part I here. Clearly, the Book is Christological and prophetic, so by definition, it’s inspired.
It strikes me, though, that to try and reduce this to an account of our cosmological origins is to miss the whole point. It would be like hearing Jesus saying, “Destroy this Temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19), and declaring that for His Words to have any meaning, they must literally be referring to the Temple of Jerusalem. Ironically, this is the interpretation Jesus’ enemies take, and its this very over-literalism which provides the needed testimony to condemn Christ to death (Matthew 26:61), which ironically fulfills Jesus’ actual prophesy in John 2:19. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that the events of Genesis didn’t occur. I’m saying that they’re depicted in a particular way for a specific purpose – certain details are highlighted, certain details are omitted, and so forth.
Frequently, a “day” refers to a period of time much longer than twenty-four hours. The most famous example is 2 Peter 3:8, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” In this, Peter is referencing Psalm 90:4, and explaining why some of the prophesies (particularly about Christ’s return) weren’t going to be fulfilled as quickly as some of the early Christians thought.
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion.”
So Psalm 95 and Hebrews 3 are written on the same “day,” despite being thousands of years apart. And Hebrews suggests that this “Today” will continue as long as we still have a possibility of redemption — that is, “Today” lasts until the end of our time on Earth.
The simple fact is that Genesis 1 isn’t focused on the scientific origins of the Universe. It’s possible to view it as a simplification of Big Bang cosmology and evolution. Cristofer Urlaub is a Mormon blogger who’s done a good job of showing how each of the seven days matches what science is now claiming about the origins of the universe. Others have done the same, and I’m partial to this view myself. But the science leading to these conclusions could turn out to be false. Of course, it’s nice to know that if the science is correct, it’s one more indicator pointing to the inspiration of Scripture, and the role of a Divine Creator, but my faith isn’t hinged upon the science being right.
Likewise, Young Earth Creationism is fine as a theory, but it runs a serious risk. All too often, it hinges the faith of countless believers on the science being wrong. If it says, “the only way Genesis 1 is true is if it literal, and therefore, evolution must be wrong,” it’s starting from a false premise. That false premise has lead too many YECs to demonize their fellow Christians for not accepting a hyper-literal interpretation. The biggest risk we face in interpreting Genesis 1 is acting as our own pope, declaring that anyone who doesn’t accept our interpretation of Genesis (and our interpretation of science we’ve never studied) is less Christian than us.
Of course it’s fine to think that the events of Genesis 1 occurred over seven literal twenty-four hour days. There’s no sin in taking this view, and the Church has left this field wide open for multiple permissive interpretations. But it’s also possible to think that Genesis 1 is Divinely inspired, and not referring to these days literally.