The following is from a conversation I had with a Catholic friend I like and admire:
You made a passing comment about the lack of uniform belief in a literal week about 6,000 years ago through church history, and of course I cannot deny this. But then, no church had a doctrine of transubstantiation for the first thousand years of church history, and most today still do not.
One must build a case for what the Bible does and does not teach by the Bible, not by popular vote.
As AiG answers this better than I could, I shall just do a little cut and paste action here to explain why this is not an argument against my position, but rather, the history behind this question is a case against the OEC position.
Is Genesis non-committal on the age of the earth, as Sproul and many other scholars today say? If so, why is it that throughout church history most of the church fathers came to a conclusion on how old the earth was? As early as 181 AD Theophilus of Antioch wrote, “All the years from the creation of the world [to Theophilus’s day] amount to a total of 5,698 years . . . .”
Interestingly, Theophilus goes on to say of the chronology of the world set forth by the Greeks: “ . . . yet not of thousands and tens of thousands, as Plato and Apollonius and other mendacious authors have hitherto written” (Theophilus, 3:28, 29). The conflict over the age of the earth is not new since it has always been a debate between pagans and Christians. Theophilus accepted that the chronology of the Bible was accurate and reliable as did the great theologian of the early church Saint Augustine. Even though he did not believe that the days were literally 24 hours, Augustine gave an answer to the assertion of those who ascribe to the world a past of many thousands of years:
“Those who hold such opinions are also led astray by some utterly spurious documents which, they say, give a historical record of many thousand years, whereas we reckon, from the evidence of the holy Scriptures, that fewer than 6,000 years have passed since man’s first origin” (Augustine 2003, p. 484).
Furthermore, the reformer John Calvin believed that the world had not yet “completed its six thousandth year” (Calvin 2009, p. 90). Even scholars who do not hold to a young earth recognize that when Genesis is taken at face value, “If we add up numbers, the result is something like the scheme devised in the seventeenth century by Bishop James Ussher, who assigned creation to 4004 BC . . . ” (Walton 2001, pp.48–49). The author of Genesis meant for the figures contained in the chronologies in Genesis 5–11 to be taken and understood at face value. This was the assumption throughout church history with most of the church fathers arriving at an age for the creation of the world as Davis Young, an old-earth creationist, points out:
“The church fathers also suggested that the world was less than six thousand years old at the time of Christ because of the chronology of the genealogical accounts of Genesis 5 and 11 and other chronological information in Scripture” (Young 1982, p. 19).
C. John Collins, a Reformed theologian who believes in an old earth, correctly points out that “prior to the rise of the new geology in the eighteenth century, most Bible readers simply understood the creation period to be one ordinary week . . . and the creation took place somewhere in the vicinity of 4000 BC” (Collins 2006, p. 123). Collins recognizes that the various attempts to harmonize Genesis with old-earth geology and old-universe cosmology are novel.
It was the rise of uniformitarian science in the 1800s that caused a re-evaluation of how the early chapters of Genesis were interpreted. The belief that the earth’s history is millions of years old changed the way the days of creation were interpreted as it seemed that the geological data for an old earth was too convincing to maintain a belief in a literal view of the days (Mortenson 2008, pp.83–104).
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