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Monday, November 24, 2008

A Biblical Case for an Old Earth, by David Snoke, part 8

I continue my posts on David Snoke's A Biblical Case for an Old Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006). The most recent post is here. In that post, I considered some of Snoke's biblical evidence that the days of Genesis 1, and of Genesis 2:1-3, were not necessarily consecutive 24-hour days.

Snoke has more evidence. On page 141, he points out that Genesis 2:4, which, of course, comes right after Genesis 2:3, uses "day" to refer to a period of time that clearly is not a 24-hour day:

Genesis 2:4 These are the generations
of the heavens and the earth when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. (ESV, emphasis added. All scripture quotations from this version.)

(Not all versions of the Bible use "day" here -- the NIV and the NLT do not, but at least the KJV, the NKJV, the NASB and the RSV, as well as the ESV, use "day." I checked the Hebrew -- I do not know Hebrew, but can look it up, using an option in the Blueletter Bible -- and the Hebrew word used in Genesis 1 and in Genesis 2:4 is the same word, as far as I can tell.)

Mr. Snoke says, correctly, that young-earth proponents often recognize that "day" is used in the Bible for periods longer than a 24-hour period, but say that when "evening" and "morning" are used with "day," it always means a literal day. Not so, he says, citing Psalm 90, which is usually attributed to Moses, who apparently wrote Genesis:

You return man to dust

and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

A day, yesterday, is said to be like a thousand years, and evening and morning are used in the same passage. The Hebrew word for yesterday is not the same as the Hebrew word for day, used in the passages above, and doesn't even seem to have been derived from it, which weakens Snoke's argument. Snoke mentions other passages which use evening and morning in a non-literal sense, namely Psalm 30:4-5, Psalm 49:14, and Psalm 90:10, 13-14, but they don't use a word for "day," or even "yesterday."

On page 144-5, Snoke says, again correctly, that some young-earth advocates agree that "day," and "morning and evening" can refer to non-literal periods of time, but say that if days are numbered, they must be literal 24-hour days. Snoke's response is that Genesis 1 is the only occasion where the Bible uses numbers with days, in this way, so there is no way to check this claim. He mentions Numbers 29, but says that the construction is quite different.

Snoke discusses Genesis 2:5-7:
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.

I have posted on this passage previously, and, in that post, link to two other, more important authors, both of whom argue, as Snoke does, that this passage is difficult, or impossible, to reconcile with Genesis 1, if Genesis 1 is taken to mean consecutive 24-hour periods when it uses "day."

To quote A Biblical Case for an Old Earth: Note that if the land had emerged from the waters just three days earlier (assuming that these events [of Genesis 2:5-7] happen on Day 6, and the land appeared from under the waters on Day 3, in the young-earth view), then it hardly makes sense that the land would be dry and unfertile. For that matter, giving any discussion of causation for the lack of vegetation seems out of place, if the land had only just appeared. The sense of the text is that the land had been around a long time, so long that it had dried out. (p. 153) The young-earth view is that the events happened on day 6.

Snoke also writes about the rivers mentioned in Genesis 2. He says that the Pishon river (no river now existing is named that) was most likely a river that flowed across the Arabian peninsula in the past. (The other rivers, the Gihon, Tigris, and Euphrates, still exist.) He cites Carol Hill (See here for her paper -- Snoke mistakenly calls her "Caroline.") as evidence for this claim.

As Snoke says, these rivers present a serious problem for young-earth creationism:
. . . this river lies on top of sedimentary geological layers that young-earth creationists would say were deposited in the flood of Noah. So do the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. To accept this convincing case for the historicity of Genesis, Bible scholars must either accept an old-earth view or believe that God created sedimentary rock at the beginning, before the fall and the flood. (p. 155. "this river" is the Pishon.)

It seems to me that Snoke has assembled evidence, as presented here and in the previous posts, that makes it difficult to sustain an argument for young-earth creationism.

Thanks for reading.


Anonymous said...

I tend to be a very "plain meaning" kind of fellow. Hebrew words have multiple related meanings (think "age" in English), but that doesn't mean you can willy-nilly choose between alternate meanings. yom can mean "time period", but it usually means day. The context in Genesis 1 is day; if I said "I was here in the evening and the morning of the third day", you wouldn't be inclined to then say "he meant the third month or the third year".

If you read Genesis 1 plainly, the author means 7 days. It's only when you attempt to make Genesis 1 consistent with current scientific understanding that you "have" to make it mean 7 ages.

There's just one problem: you cannot reconcile Genesis 1 with current scientific understanding. Genesis 1 says God separated the land from the sea and created the plants before the sun existed. Under our current scientific timeline, that's completely impossible.

Genesis 1 requires so much rewriting and "he really meant Y, not X" that I'd rather someone just be honest and say "Genesis 1-11 isn't inspired". The latter position is theologically dangerous for a Christian IMHO, but not nearly as dangerous as saying it's inspired but almost completely wrong.

(In general, I find "the author can't mean that; he must instead mean..." a sign that the speaker desperately wants the Bible to hold his own interpretation, instead of letting the Bible speak for itself.)

The river question for Genesis 2 is easy to answer: none of those 4 rivers exist anymore. They were in Eden, and were rerouted or scoured off the Earth during the Flood and associated plate techtonics. After Noah landed, people named the new Tigris and the Euphrates after the pre-flood rivers. (This is easy to reason out, since the Tigris and the Euphrates are from widely-divergent sources now, and there are no reasonable candidates anywhere in the Middle East for the Gibon or Pishon.)

I'll have to go back and read your previous posts on this subject, as well as Mr. Snoke's book, but I am disappointed so far that a 2006 book seems stuck in the 80s. Most of these arguments appear to be ones the YEC community has answered over the last 20 years.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Kentucky Packrat.

Indeed, it would be dangerous to say that Genesis 1-11 are not inspired, and I wouldn't say that.

I prefer to hang in there, and believe that God's revelation through scripture and His revelation through evidence from nature are completely compatible, if we understood both correctly, which, of course, we don't. Perhaps that's overly optimistic, or avoids harsh realities, but, on the other hand, perhaps that's really the way it is. We have to start somewhere.

Thanks again.

Ktisophilos said...

Lita Cosner wrote a review of Snoke's book: A pathetic case for an old earth. Since you're a retired prof at a Wesleyan University, it's notable that she is a graduate of Oklahoma Wesleyan University with awards in Greek and is now a masters student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity school.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Ktisophilos. I'll check out that review.

Southern Wesleyan University and Oklahoma Wesleyan are both institutions of The Wesleyan Church. Wesleyans don't agree fully on many things, including our view of origins.

Provident 360 said...

Dear Friend,

Very interesting. I believe that God created the Earth in six days because that's what the Bible says. My questions for Mr. Snoke are:

Where was he when God laid the foundations of the earth?
Who determined the earth's dimensions and stretched out the surveying line?
What supports earth's foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness?
For God locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores.
God said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’

Has he ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
Has he ever made daylight spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness?
As the light approaches, the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal; it is robed in brilliant colors.
The light disturbs the wicked and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

Has he ever explored the springs from which the seas come?
Has he ever explored their depths?
Does he know where the gates of death are located?
Has he ever seen the gates of utter gloom?
Does he realize the extent of the earth?

Where does light come from, and where does darkness go?
Can he take each to its home?
Does he know how to get there?
But of course he know all this! For he was born before it was all created,
and he is so very experienced!

Has he ever visited the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of hail?
(God have reserved them as weapons for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war.)
Where is the path to the source of light?
Where is the home of the east wind?

Who created a channel for the torrents of rain?
Who laid out the path for the lightning?
Who makes the rain fall on barren land, in a desert where no one lives?
Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground and make the tender grass spring up?

Does the rain have a father?
Who gives birth to the dew?
Who is the mother of the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?
For the water turns to ice as hard as rock, and the surface of the water freezes.

Can he direct the movement of the stars— binding the cluster of the Pleiades or loosening the cords of Orion?
Can he direct the sequence of the seasons or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens?
Does he know the laws of the universe?
Can he use them to regulate the earth?

Can he shout to the clouds and make it rain?
Can he make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct?
Who gives intuition to the heart and instinct to the mind?
Who is wise enough to count all the clouds?
Who can tilt the water jars of heaven when the parched ground is dry and the soil has hardened into clods?

If he can answer these questions then maybe he's on to something.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Provident 360. Of course, Snoke, nor you, nor I, can answer those questions, because God is the creator.

You believe God created the earth in six days because you believe that interpretation of what the bible says. You may be correct, of course. But other people, including Snoke, also believe the Bible, but, after careful and prayerful examination, believe that it should be interpreted differently.

Marv said...

I just found your series on Snoke's book, though I have not read all your posts. I similarly have a series on this book at my blog (still ongoing actually). If you wish to read it go to I am afraid, however, that your assertion that "It seems to me that Snoke has assembled evidence, as presented here and in the previous posts, that makes it difficult to sustain an argument for young-earth creationism" is considerably wide of the mark. His exegesis is not very strong, particularly when he makes inferences from the Hebrew, with which he seems at best poorly acquainted.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, Marv. All I can say is that it sounded good to me. I do not know Hebrew (or Greek) at all, however. I'll try to check out your posts.

Martin LaBar said...

Marv gave the wrong URL for his own blog, apparently. His blog is at

JC said...

Mr. Snoke mentioned that 1 day might not be 24 hours literally by quoting Psalm 90.
Psalm 90:4, "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past or as a watch in the night."
Let's assume that Snoke is right that a day should not be interpreted literally a day.
Bear in mind that a day has been used in Psalm 90:4 as a thousand years. As God has created the world seven days, it implies God would have taken 7 days (that is 1 week) x 1000 years = 7000 days to create the world. Yet Evoluntionists mention more than a billion years. How could these 7000 days be turn up to more than a billion years?
Besides, when God mentions a day as if to be a thousands years in Psalm 90, he speaks using his own visualization and his impression upon the earth.
The same is mentioned below:
2 Peter 3, "But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
As the phrase, a thousand years as one day, is mentioned in 2 Peter 3 with the phrase, that with the Lord, it implies that to our God, his visualization and impression of a day is just 1000 years.
If that could be so, 7 days x 1000 thousands = 7000 years. How could then evolutionists arrive at more than a billion years?
If we speak 7000 years, it would make up of many evenings and many mornings. The words, evenings, and mornings, should be in plural tense. Yet Genesis 1 mentions the phrase, evening, and morning, to be in singular tense. It refers literally to be a day. It is speaking on human's point of view instead of God's view.

JC said...

As mentioned above that if the land had emerged from the waters just three days earlier, it would make no sense that the land would be dry and unfertile on thirdth day.
But to God, everything is possible.
To men, it is impossible for Jesus to create the bread that could be edible immediately from nothing. Yet He could create so many bread and even fish with complexity nature within a few minutes so as to feed 5,000 people.
Matthew 19:26, "But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Martin LaBar said...

I don't think that the Psalmist was trying to do mathematics, any more than Jesus was when He said to forgive someone 70 times 7 times. I doubt very much that he meant exactly 7,000 (or 6,000, leaving out the day of rest).

God is outside of time. He created it. I believe that the Psalmist meant that He sees very long times (or very short times) differently than we do.

Thanks, JC.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, JC.

Of course it's possible. But the creation of the universe, however and whenever it happened, is a much greater miracle. Just because it's possible doesn't mean that it had to happen that way, of course.

zuma said...

Genesis 7:6, "Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came upon the earth."
If one day represents one thousand years, Noah should have lived 6,000 x 1000 years = 6,000,000 years.
The figure would turn up irrationally.

zuma said...

If one day for God should not represent 1,000 years, why should Psalm 90:4 agree with 2 Peter 3?

zuma said...

Luke 17:4, "and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him." (ESV version)
As the phrase, seven times, is mentioned in Luke 17:4 with the phrase, in the day, it implies the forgiveness of sins here refers to a day.
When the disciples asked him to confirm whether it should be merely seven times to forgive, yet he increased further. The following is the extract:
Matthew 18:21-22, "Then Peter came and said to him, 'Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? AS MANY AS SEVEN TIMES?' Jesus said to him, 'I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.'"
As Jesus mentioned seven times for forgiveness initially and yet later mentioned seventy seven times, it implies that the Lord does not fix the number of times to whom a person should forgive per day.

Martin LaBar said...

The Bible nowhere says that a day always means a thousand years, as in the case of Noah's age, and I don't think it necessarily means (in a few places) exactly a thousand years. Peter and Psalm 90:4 were most likely just saying that God's time is different that ours (if God has time at all) and used the same figure of speech to illustrate that. Peter perhaps got his phrase from the Psalm.

Thanks for your interest.