Young Earth Creationism (YEC) is the view that God created the universe in six, consecutive, and literal 24-hour days. By adding together the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11, they date the age of humans (and thus the universe) anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 years ago. Here we will engage the biblical arguments given for a Young Earth.
Bishop James Ussher (1581-1656) added the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 together, dating the Earth to 4004 BC. YECs follow in his footsteps, considering these genealogies to date the age of humanity, and therefore, the universe as a whole. But this approach is seriously flawed.
First, at most, this approach would give us the age of humanity, not the age of the Earth or the universe. Even if the days of Genesis are consecutive 24-hour days, we must note that these days do not begin until Genesis 1:3. The text does not tell us how much time transpired between the creation of the universe (Gen. 1:1) and the creation week.
Second, the Bible nowhere adds the years of the genealogies together. This is an inference of the interpreter—not a teaching of the text itself. This is quite interesting because the Bible elsewhere adds up cumulative spans of time. For instance, it states that the Hebrews lived in Egypt for 430 years (Ex. 12:40), and Solomon built the Temple 480 years after the Exodus (1 Kin. 6:1). But Genesis never adds up the genealogies like this.
Third, the words used in the genealogies have a broad semantic range. Specifically, the verb “became the father of…” (yālad) and the noun “father” (ʾāb) do not imply strict successive ancestry.
“Became the father of…” (yālad) means to “bear, beget, bring forth.” However, the word “does not necessarily point to the generation immediately following. In Hebrew thought, an individual by the act of giving birth to a child becomes a parent or ancestor of all who will be descended from this child.” In fact, the term “may show the beginning of an individual’s relationship to any descendant.”
“Father” (ʾāb) can be translated as “father” or as “forefather.” The term “designates primarily ‘begetter,’ though by extension, ancestor, and metaphorically, an originator, chief, or associate in some degree.” The term can be translated as “grandfather” (Gen. 28:13; 32:9) or even as a “remote ancestor” (Gen. 10:21; 1 Kin. 15:11).
Fourth, without a doubt, generational gaps exist in the biblical genealogies. Consider a few examples:
“Arpachshad lived thirty-five years, and became the father of Shelah” (Gen. 11:12). However, Luke points out that “Cainan” lived between these two people (Lk. 3:36), adding another generation.
“Joram his son, Ahaziah his son, Joash his son, 12 Amaziah his son, Azariah [Uzziah] his son…” (1 Chron. 3:11-12). Matthew skips these three generations in his genealogy (e.g. Ahaziah, Joash, Amaziah), stating that Joram was the “father” of Uzziah—not Ahaziah (Mt. 1:8), rather than the great-great grandfather.
“Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi” (Num. 16:1). Levi was one of the twelve patriarchs who entered Egypt. Therefore, these three generations extend “over four hundred years,” which obviously implies that “numerous intervening generations are demanded.”
“Shebuel the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, was officer over the treasures” (1 Chron. 26:24). A straightforward reading of this text states that Moses was the grandfather of Shebuel. The obvious problem with this interpretation is that there is a 400 year gap between these time periods.
Matthew records that Jesus is the son of David (1,000 B.C.), and also the son of Abraham (2,000 B.C.). Clearly, Matthew didn’t intend for us to think that Jesus was the literal son of David. Instead, he meant that David (and Abraham) “fathered” him by being his distant ancestor.
1 Chronicles 6:3-14 omits Jehoiada (2 Kings 12:2), Urijah (2 Kings 16:10-16), Azariah (2 Chron. 26:17), Eli (1 Sam. 1:9; 14:3), and Abiathar (2 Sam. 8:17). When we compare this with Ezra 7:1-5, we find that Ezra omits some of the names in 1 Chronicles 6, and he adds two names.
Fifth, the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 have literary symmetry that might imply generational gaps. Noah is the tenth generation from Adam (Gen. 5), and Abraham is the tenth generation from Noah (Gen. 11). Much like the genealogy of Jesus, the author used this symmetry to connect the major figures of history—not to give an exhaustive list of descendants.
Sixth, a strict chronological reading leads to absurd conclusions. For instance, Noah lived 350 years after the Flood (Gen. 9:28). If we add up the dates between Shem (Noah’s son) and Abraham, only 292 years went by (Gen. 11:10-26). This would mean that Noah lived during the days of Abraham! Furthermore, since Abraham lived around 2,000 BC, this strict chronology would date the Flood to roughly 2,300 BC. However, the Egyptian civilization existed long before this time—perhaps as early as 3,100 BC.
Put simply, the purpose of biblical genealogy was not to show strict chronology. The purpose was to show ancestral descent—not dating.
The Hebrew word for “day” (yôm) has a wide semantic range. As in the English language, it usually refers to a 24-hour period. But it can also refer to a longer or shorter period of time:
- It refers to the 12 hours of sunlight (Gen. 1:5, 14, 16, 18).
- It refers to 144 hours (Gen. 2:4).
- It refers to a long period of time that even includes the changing of seasons (Prov. 25:13) or the 40 year wandering in the desert (Josh. 24:7).
- It refers to an indefinite period of time. For instance, Isaiah writes, “The LORD has a day [yôm] of vengeance, year of recompense for the cause of Zion” (Isa. 34:8). Elsewhere, the prophets refer to the “day” of the Lord (Isa. 2:11-12, 17; 4:2; 11:10-11; Lam. 1:20; 2:21; Zech. 14:7; Zeph. 2:3), which is thought to be a long period of time. Though this is not the common usage of the term “day” (yôm), even YEC Jason Lisle concedes that an “‘indefinite period of time’ is one of the lexical definitions of yom.”
When we use the word “day” in English, we might say, “Back in the day, I used to wear M.C. Hammer pants…” Of course, when we say this, we are not referring to a specific 24-hour period. Instead, we are referring to an embarrassing span of time, back in the early nineties. Similarly, the Hebrew word yôm has a broad range of meaning.
Just because a word can have a certain meaning, this doesn’t mean that it does have such a meaning. Are there good reasons for thinking that yôm could refer to an indefinite period of time in Genesis 1? OEC give several reasons for thinking it does have this meaning.
According to the YEC view, the sun didn’t exist until Day Four. Without the sun as a reference point, we cannot measure a 24-hour day. Ancient readers would recognize this just as well as modern ones. Ancient people didn’t have clocks or stopwatches; instead, they measured days according to the perception of the sun. The text even states that the sun functioned to measure “days” (Gen. 1:14).
Genesis mentions the growth of plant life, which implies a long passage of time (Gen. 1:11-12; 2:9). Genesis doesn’t state that God created the trees fully formed. Instead, the text states, “The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind” (Gen. 1:12). Ancient people knew how long it took for trees to grow and fruit to form. If the author intended us to see this occurring in a 24-hour period, then he would expect us to envision the trees growing in fast forward!
Adam’s expression “At last…” (happa’ am) implies a large passage of time. On Day Six, Adam cultivates the Garden (Gen. 2:15), names every animal in the Garden (Gen. 2:19), and then falls asleep (Gen. 2:21). This all implies a very long period of time—especially when we consider how many animals Adam needed to name and classify! These descriptions make sense of Genesis 2:23, where Adam says, “At last!” (ESV) when he sees his wife Eve. This implies that Adam had been waiting for a long amount of time to meet her. The same expression (happa’ am) occurs after Leah had been waiting to give birth after many years (Gen. 29:34), and when Israel sees Joseph after many years of separation (Gen. 46:30).
Day Seven is an indefinite period of time. Interpreters notice that the seventh day conspicuously lacks the repeated expression “there was evening and there was morning.” If this is a 24-hour day, it’s quite odd that it lacks this language.
The author of Hebrews explains the significance of Day Seven. He cites a variety of OT passages to show that God’s Sabbath rest continues to this day. He begins by citing Genesis 2:2, but continues to argue that God’s Sabbath rest continued into the days of Moses and Joshua (Ps. 95:11), the days of King David (Ps. 95:7-8), and even the Church Age. He concludes, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God… Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:9, 11).
From this interpretation of Genesis 2:2, we are currently in the seventh day of creation: God’s Sabbath rest. This means that the seventh day of creation is not a literal 24-hour period, but an extremely long epoch of time. If the seventh day can be extraordinarily long, then why can’t the other days also be indefinite periods of time?
The Hebrew language was very limited, and had no other word to describe a large span of time. Some claim that Moses could have used the term “everlasting” (ʿôlām) to refer to ages, but this term essentially means “remotest time” or “perpetuity.” In fact, it is used to describe the eternal nature of God himself (Gen. 21:33; Ps. 90:2). Surely, such language would have confused these original readers. Therefore, if Moses had a long period of time in mind, he would have needed to use the Hebrew word “day” (yôm).
Psalm 90 could imply using the term “day” (yôm) to refer to an indefinite period of time. According to the superscription, Moses is the author of Psalm 90, as well as the author of Genesis. In this psalm, Moses is reflecting on God’s eternal nature compared to creation. Therefore, this psalm gives tremendous insight into Genesis 1, because here we have the same author writing on the same topic. In Psalm 90, Moses writes:
(Ps. 90:2-3) “Before the mountains were born or You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. 3 You turn man back into dust and say, ‘Return, O children of men.’”
Moses begins by comparing God’s eternal nature to the temporary nature of physical creation (e.g. “the mountains… the earth… the world”) and human beings (“You turn man back into dust”). Moses’ reference to humans returning to “dust” of death (Gen. 3:19) shows that he has the creation account in mind. Then he writes:
(Ps. 90:4) “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday (yôm) when it passes by, or as a watch in the night.”
The OT often uses the term “thousand” to refer to a hyperbolic number (e.g. Ex. 20:6; 34:7; Ps. 50:10), and Moses states that a “thousand years” are like “yesterday” (yôm) in the sight of God. He even uses poetic intensification to call this a mere “watch in the night” or “a few night hours” (NLT). Day-Age interpreters argue that this gives insight into how God perceives time. As an eternal being, even a thousand year period seems like a day or even a few hours. Perhaps the days of Genesis are days from exactly this perspective—namely, God uses the word “day” to describe an indefinite period of time.
YECs argue that the natural reading of the formula “evening” (ʿereb) and “morning” (bōqer) requires 24-hour days. Admittedly, this argument carries interpretive weight. But caution is warranted in claiming this requires a 24-hour day. After all, besides its usage in Genesis 1, this formula only occurs in one other place in the entire OT in Psalm 55:17. Old Earth interpreters find themselves attracted to two common explanations.
OPTION #1. “Evening and morning” might refer to the “ending and beginning” of an indefinite period. After reflecting on creation, our same author (Moses) writes this,
(Ps. 90:5-6) “You have swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; in the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew. 6 In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; toward evening it fades and withers away.”
Moses compares the lives of people to grass that grows and dies. Ancient people knew that grass didn’t literally sprout, grow to maturity, and die all within a 12-hour period. This is why this language should “not to be taken literally.” Robert Newman observes,
We know of no grass that literally springs up in the morning and then is dead by the same evening. Rather, the psalmist has in mind the life cycle of grass in the Levant, which begins its growth with the November rains and dies with the hot, dry, desert winds of March. In this psalm, therefore, ‘morning’ stands for the period of growth and ‘evening’ stands for the period of death. This interpretation fits in with the tenor of the entire psalm, which encourages humans to be mindful of their time on earth; for just as the life cycle of grass is short with respect to human life, human life itself is short with respect to the ongoing activities of God.
Day-Age interpreters put forward that Moses may have a similar literary device in mind for the days of Genesis 1. After all, he is the same author, writing on the same subject. This language could show the ending and beginning of these creation days.
Another example comes from King David, when he writes, “[God’s] anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night (ʿereb), but a shout of joy comes in the morning (bōqer)” (Ps. 30:5). Here we see poetic parallelism: The evening is compared to a “moment,” while the morning is compared to a “lifetime.”
OPTION #2. “Evening and morning” might simply be analogous to human workdays. Ancient Israelites would know that work ended in the “evening” and began in the “morning” (Gen. 30:16; Ex. 18:13). Psalm 104 reflects on creation, and it makes this parallel: “Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until evening. 24 O LORD, how many are Your works!” (Ps. 104:23-24a). Commenting on this, Vern Poythress writes, “By analogy, God’s workdays in creation have times of initiation and times of completion, with rest before and after. The movement from rest to activity to rest constitutes an analogy between God’s workdays and man’s.” In other words, God used the common language of a human workday as an analogy to describe his work in creation—yet this wouldn’t speak to the amount of time God spent working and would leave the length of the days open for discussion.
The first use of the term “day” (yôm) in Genesis occurs in verse 5. It uses a cardinal number, which literally reads “one day.” This is different from the subsequent days, which use ordinal numbers (“second day… third day… fourth day… fifth day”). Does the use of a cardinal number require a 24-hour day?
Isaiah uses the exact same language to a non-literal span of time. In referring to the destruction of Israel, Isaiah writes, “The LORD cuts off head and tail from Israel, both palm branch and bulrush in a single day” (Isa. 9:14). The words “single day” (ʾechad yôm) are identical to the “one day” of Genesis 1:5. Yet Isaiah uses these terms to refer to a long period of time.
After Day One, Genesis uses ordinal numbers for days 2-6 (“second day… third day… fourth day… fifth day… sixth day…). Consequently, YECs argue that this numbering must refer to literal days.
Again, caution is in order. While this sequence carries weight, we must observe that the ordinal numbers only modify days two through five—not all seven days. At most, this argument would demonstrate that four out of the seven days were 24-hour periods.
Moreover, the OT uses ordinal numbers in only one other place to describe a strict succession of 24-hour days. This occurs in the eight-day Feast of Booths (Num. 29:12-40). But we can hardly derive a strict grammatical rule based on this only other occurrence.
Day-Age proponents argue that this could refer to the order of the days—not their length. To illustrate such a grammatical usage, Hosea writes, “He will revive us after two days; He will raise up on the third day” (Hos. 6:2). Here, Hosea uses an ordinal number to describe the “third day.” Yet this “day” (yôm) doesn’t refer to a 24-hour period. In Hosea 6, the prophet anticipates God’s regathering the nation after the Exile, which extends over a long period of time. Douglas Stuart writes,
The poetic figure should not be taken literalistically (in two or three days, all would be well) or to mean ‘soon’ (even in a relative sense) …Its intent is more likely that after ‘a set time’ Yahweh would again visit his people in mercy; thus he would not, in effect, forget them (cf. 3:4, 5).
Hosea’s third day is surely a long stretch of time—not 24-hours. He uses the word “third” to describe the order of the day—not the length of the day.
(Ex. 20:9-11) “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
(Ex. 31:16-17) “So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed.”
In Exodus 20 and 31, Moses compares our calendar week with God’s creation week. YECs argue that this demonstrates that both must refer periods of 168-hours.
To be sure, Moses does give a parallel between our calendar week and God’s creation week, but is he communicating that everything is parallel between the two? Upon reflection, this cannot be the case.
Many dissimilarities exist between God’s creation week and our calendar. For one, God’s creation week happened only once, while ours repeat continually when we go back to work. Second, God creates effortlessly as an omnipotent being, whereas humans strive and toil in our work. Third, God chose to rest from his work (Gen. 2:2-3), but humans need to rest. Fourth, and most importantly, God’s Sabbath refers to an indefinite period of time according to Hebrews 4:4-11, while the Hebrew Sabbath day refers to 24-hour period. Therefore, the length of the Sabbath, the very subject under discussion, is not analogous to a strict 24-hour calendar day view. So many elements are dissimilar between the creation week and our calendar week that this should give us pause in thinking that a strict chronological comparison is also intended. C. John Collins writes,
Our working and resting cannot be identical to God’s—they are like God’s in some way, but certainly not the same. For example, when was the last time you spoke and caused a plant to grow up? Rather, our planting and watering and fertilizing are like God’s work because they operate on what’s there and make it produce something it wouldn’t have produced otherwise. Our rest is like God’s, because we cease from our work for the sake of contemplating his works with pleasure.
The six-to-one pattern is elsewhere used to refer to large periods of time. For example, God commanded the Hebrews to work their land for six years, and then let the land lay fallow for one year (Ex. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:3-7). Leviticus states, “During the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD” (Lev. 25:4). The Year of Jubilee occurred after “seven sabbaths of years” or “forty-nine years” (Lev. 25:8). Moreover, the Feast of Tabernacles lasted for a week to commemorate the wandering in the wilderness (Lev. 23:41-42; Num. 29:12; Deut. 16:13-17). However, the length of the feast didn’t correspond whatsoever to the length of the 40 year wandering. This suggests that God used the unit of seven for various units of time—just like when he appointed 40 years of wandering because of the 40 days of disobedience (Num. 14:34; cf. Dan. 9:24-27).
It could be that God is simply using an analogy between his work and our work. God was “refreshed” (nāpaš) on the Sabbath (Ex. 31:17), which means to “take breath” or to “refresh oneself.” It comes from the root word “to breathe.” But surely this doesn’t mean that God was tired (Ps. 121:4; Isa. 40:28-31). This is anthropological language to show God’s rest being similar to our rest. Vern Poythress writes, “The six days may be interpreted as God’s ‘workdays,’ the times of his personal activity. They are analogous to man’s workdays. They are presented in terms of personal activity—interactive time—not in terms of clock time. Likewise, the seventh day is God’s ‘rest day,’ which is analogous to man’s rest day, the Sabbath.”
YECs state that Jesus affirmed a Young Earth, when he said, “From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female” (Mk. 10:6). They argue that Jesus placed the creation of the first humans at the “beginning of creation,” not billions of years after the Big Bang.
However, a careful reader will quickly discover that this proof-text doesn’t prove their point. On the YEC view, Adam and Eve did not exist at the beginning of creation (Day One). They came into existence 144-hours later (Day Six). To salvage this argument, Jonathan Sarfati states that human existence was “almost indistinguishable from the beginning.”
A simpler explanation is in order. What is the context of Mark 10? The creation of the cosmos? Big Bang cosmology? No… Marriage. The context is marriage! The parallel passage in Matthew makes this quite clear, when Jesus states, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female” (Mt. 19:4). The grammar refers to the beginning of the creation of humans (“them”), not the creation of the universe.
 Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 378). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Harris, R. L., Archer, G. L., Jr., & Waltke, B. K. (Eds.). (1999). Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 379). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Payne, J. B. (1999). 4 אבה. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 5). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Ronald Allen, Numbers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), p.834.
 Genesis 11:10-26 records that Shem became the father of Arpachshad two years after the Flood (Gen. 11:10). Arpachshad became the father of Shelah at age 35. Shelah became the father of Eber at age 30. Eber became the father of Peleg at age 34. Peleg became the father of Reu at age 30. Reu became the father of Serug at age 32. Serug became the father of Nahor at age 30. Nahor became the father of Terah at age 29. Terah became the father of Abram (Abraham) at age 70. If you add up these ages, we reach 292 years.
 The Hebrew word yôm usually refers to a 24-hour day. Out of the 1,900 uses in the OT, it is translated as a 24-hour day 1,835 times. This means that 96 percent of the time, the word is meant to refer to a 24-hour period.
 Jason Lisle, Understanding Genesis (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015), p. 108.
 Hugh Ross, The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1998), p.65.
 Macrae, A. A. (1999). 1631 עלם. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 673). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), pp. 55-56.
 VanGemeren, W. A. (1991). Psalms. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Vol. 5, p. 593). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
 Robert C. Newman, Perry G. Phillips, Herman J. Eckelmann, Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth (2nd ed. Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 2007), p.57.
 Vern Poythress, Interpreting Eden (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p.267.
 Lisle writes, “Such sequential enumeration is always indicative of ordinary days in all biblical historical narrative, and is always translated as such.” Lisle needs to specify “biblical historical narrative” for this statement to stand. As we demonstrate above, ordinal numbers are used for days in the prophetic books. Jason Lisle, Understanding Genesis (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015), p. 108.
 David Snoke, A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2006), p.
 D.A. Hubbard, Hosea: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989), p.135.
 Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1987), p.108.
 Vern Poythress, Interpreting Eden (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), pp.160-161.
 C. John Collins, Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), p.86.
 Gleason Archer, “A Response to the Trustworthiness of Scripture in Areas Relating to Natural Science,” Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, ed. Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academic Boods, 1986), p. 329.
 Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), p.271.
 Waltke, B. K. (1999). 1395 נָפַשׁ. R. L. Harris, G. L. Archer Jr., & B. K. Waltke (Eds.), Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (electronic ed., p. 587). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Jonathan Sarfati, The Genesis Account (Powder Springs, GA: Creation Book Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 8181.
 Vern Poythress, Interpreting Eden (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), p.266.
 Jason Lisle, Understanding Genesis (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2015), p. 110.
 Emphasis mine. Jonathan Sarfati, The Genesis Account (Powder Springs, GA: Creation Book Publishers, 2015), Kindle loc. 9442.
 Mark uses a noun for “creation” (ktiseōs), while Matthew uses a verb “create” (ktisas). The Lexham Greek-English Interlinear New Testament notes, “In Greek the direct object (‘them’) is understood and must be supplied in the English translation.”