Recent Creationism and the Bible, Part 1: The Bible Does NOT Teach a Recent Creation!

Sam A. Smith

If I may set the stage for my comments, let me say that I am a Christian, with a firm commitment to the full verbal inspiration of the Bible, including the opening chapters of the Book of Genesis. As well as being a Bible teacher for the past forty-five years, I have also taught both the physical and biological sciences. In my early years as a Christian in the 1960s I witnessed a paradigm shift within evangelical/fundamental Christianity with respect to the creation issue. Prior to the 1960s the most common position among Bible-believing Christians was either the Gap Theory, or some form of what I now term as a “Preformative” View. Neither of these views subscribed to a recent original creation (ex nihilo, i.e., “out of nothing”). Actually, both views and their many varieties, which were often vague, had little to say about the actual age of the Universe, though certainly most adherents accepted the possibility that the Universe, and the earth could be quite old.  However, in the 1960s there was an explosion of interest in recent creation theory, largely as a means of countering evolutionary teaching. Recent Creationism was largely championed by organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research, and by individuals like Dr. Henry Morris, Dr. John Whitcomb, Dr. Dwayne Gish and a host of others, mostly scientists, and with the notable exception of Dr. John Whitcomb, an almost complete absence of Bible scholars. Over the past fifty years the recent creation movement has grown to exert a significant influence on the evangelical/fundamental church.

While I never subscribed to recent creationism, for reasons that will become obvious further along, nevertheless I would like to say at the outset that I have the highest regard for the motives of those who have been the leaders in this movement. I have no doubt that these men, for they were almost exclusively men, were deeply committed Christians, most with outstanding academic credentials, who worked tirelessly and selflessly to advance a cause they truly believed to be correct, and to refute evolutionism which quite literally overwhelmed American higher education in the mid to latter part of the Twentieth Century. While I do not question the motives and sincerity of these men, I do most emphatically question the correctness of some of their conclusions; and not only so, but I believe the teaching of Recent Creationism (i.e., that the Universe is probably less than ten thousand years old) not only to be factually incorrect, both biblically and scientifically, but to be a major impediment to the message of the gospel, and to the scientific advancement of Christian young people. Error, whether it is the rejection of God and his Word through the promulgation of an atheistic theory of origins, or whether it is the misrepresentation of the message of the Bible by well-meaning Christians, is still error; and it cannot but harm the progress of the gospel and the advancement of Christianity.

Up to the present time I have said little on this topic, other than teaching on the various creation views and pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of each view. I have reluctantly taken the position that the Recent Creationists’ opposition to biological evolution and their somewhat literal view of the six days of the Genesis creation account far outweighed the downside of their insistence on a recent creation (ex nihilo). However, I have come to a “tipping point.” This was underscored for me recently at a presentation sponsored by one of the major recent creation organizations in which the speaker stated that based on the first chapter of Genesis we could conclude that “the earth is older than the stars,” since, as he said, “the earth was created on the first day and the stars on the fourth day.”  I was dismayed, to say the least, by the deplorable lack of understanding both of Genesis and of relevant physical observations of the Universe. I was also disturbed that young people in attendance would take this distorted view of both the Bible and science back into their classrooms. While I have read similarly unbiblical and unscientific statements from recent creationists in the past, I think it was the presence of young people in the audience, and how damaging I knew this misinformation to be that was the turning point for me in speaking out on this issue. The problem is that such statements are endemic to the recent creation view because, while presented as biblical, Recent Creationism is in reality a malformed idea that is superimposed onto the Bible and as such cannot help but present a distorted view of both the Bible and science. While recent creationists’ criticism of biological evolution and evolutionary geology has been very helpful in the struggle against naturalism, the sad fact is that many churches in sponsoring recent creation seminars and distributing recent creation materials are aiding in the dissemination of a view of Genesis that is about as much of a fairy tale as the pictures of Noah’s Ark in children’s books. The church cannot afford to substitute fairy tales for biblical interpretation, or for science; if we do so we risk losing the battle for our culture, and for our youth.  Now that I hope I have made my motives clear I would like to share in this series of articles why Recent Creationism is both unbiblical and unscientific, and should not be promoted by churches or Christian educational institutions.

First of all, let’s define what we’re talking about. Recent Creationism claims the Universe and everything in it was created recently. The timeframe normally allotted by recent creationists is generally in the range of eight to ten thousand years or there about. According to Recent Creationism, God made the world in a mature, or fully developed state. Accordingly, since the world was created in a mature state, they say, it appears older than its actual age. Recent crea­tionists claim that either Genesis 1:1-2 is included as part of the first day of creation, or that these verses are a sum­mary title to the creation account. In other words, they dismiss the idea that Genesis 1:1-2 could be referring to something that occurred prior to the first day. They also see support for recent creation in Exodus 20:11, which, they say, states that nothing was created prior to the first day of Genesis. Since the first day of Genesis would have been fairly recent (eight to ten thousand years based on a reasonable Old Testament chronology), according to Recent Creationism neither the Universe nor anything in it could be older about ten thousand years; hence, the Universe and everything in it is a recent creation.

What does the first chapter of Genesis actually say?

The Genesis record (Genesis 1:1-2:3) gives the most detailed account of creation contained within the pages of scrip­ture. It tells of the creation (ex nihilo) of the raw materials of which every­thing is made, and how those materials were formed to make heavenly bodies, plants, animals, and finally man. Since we are approaching this topic from a biblical perspective, it is important to acknowledge our premise that the Genesis account is factually true, when understood as the original author intended. The most prominent feature of the Genesis account is the six formative days (vv.3-31). I say “formative” be­cause there is no indication of creation ex nihilo during these six days.

Recent creationists universally contend that the original creation ex nihilo occurred on (not before) the first day of Genesis 1. While a few have contended that verses 1 and 2 form a summary title to the rest of the account, most assert that those verses are part of the first day; and many, if not most, appeal to Exodus 20:11 for further support. Exodus 20:11 says, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them….”

Genesis 1:1-2 describes, in abbreviated form, the original creation (ex nihilo) of the Universe (i.e., the heavens and earth), and places this prior to the first day of Genesis 1. In other words, the physical creation ex nihilo preceded the first day of Genesis 1. Since the Bible does not tell us how long before the first day the original creation occurred, it is not possible to determine from scripture the age of the Universe. That this position is the correct understanding of the creation narrative is confirmed by two facts that will be further developed: 1) that the first day of this chapter begins at verse three, not with verse one as most recent creationists contend, and 2) that no creation ex nihilo occurred on any of the six days described in this chapter (Exodus 20:11 not withstanding); thus, Genesis 1:1-2 must describe the original creation sometime prior to the first of the six days of Genesis 1:3-31.

Genesis 1:1-2 says,

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
2The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. [All references are from the NASB]

[Note that while most of the English translations place a period at the end of verse one, grammatically these two verses comprise one sentence, since verse two is composed of three circumstantial clauses dependent on the main verb in verse 1.]

Virtually all Old Testament commentators and most recent creationists regard these two verses  as a reference to the original creation ex nihilo. Only those recent creationists who view this sentence as a “summary title” do not; in which case they are forced to the odd conclusion that there is no explicit reference to the original creation ex nihilo in this chapter. Exactly how this section of the narrative relates to the remainder of the chapter can only be determined by analysis of the remainder material (vv.3-31). Therefore, prior to stating any firm conclusions about the first two verses it will be necessary to at least survey the remainder of the chapter.

The Six Days (Genesis 1:3-31)

Day One

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

[Quotations here are taken from the NASB. Phrases and clauses shown in bold print are repeated in the descriptions of subsequent days.]

On the first day (vv.3‑5) God said, “Let there be light.” It is apparent from the context (v.5) that this was the light of the Sun shining upon the earth, for it says that God “called the light day, and the darkness He called night.” Note that the passage does not say that there was no light in the Universe previously, or that light was first created on this day. In fact, the word create[d] does not appear at all in this passage. All that can be determined with certainty from this passage is that God brought forth light upon the earth in such a way as to result in a day/night cycle. We know that the day/night cycle is a function of the light of the Sun and the Earth’s rotation. It is possible that the Earth’s rotational velocity was first established at this time, but the text is not clear on that point. The text also does not say that the Sun first began to give light at this time, simply that the Earth was “dark” previously (v.2). While the text does not tell us precisely what God did to make light shine upon the earth, it is possible that nothing more was required than the clarification of space from the presence of dust and debris in the solar system. In any case, if more was done it must be inferred, for the text does not tell us. It is important to recognize as has been said before that no word signifying the idea of “creation” is used in this passage. So far as the text indicates, nothing was created. There is a rather popular misconception that on this day God illuminated the earth with a temporary light, which was replaced on the fourth day with a permanent light (the Sun). Such a view is completely conjectural.

Day Two

Then God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so.
God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.

On the second day (vv.6-8) God made an “expanse” to separate “the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse.” God called the expanse “heaven,” a term representing the atmosphere (cf. v.20), which did not previously exist (v.8). Again, notice that while this was a supernatural act (i.e., a miracle) it did not require the creation of anything out of nothing (ex nhilo). The waters already existed; they were simply separated into upper and lower regions, with the in-between area forming the earth’s atmosphere. Again note that there is no word for create[d] in this passage; the word “made” is ‘asah and is used only of forming that which already exists. There is no indication that anything was created ex nihilo.

Day Three

Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so.
10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so.
12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
13 There was evening and there was morning, a third day.

On the third day (vv.9-13) God gathered together the waters below the heavens forming the ocean and likewise, the dry land. It is possible that all that was required was an adjustment to the relative elevation of the earth’s crust, forming depths for water to drain into and revealing dry land in the higher elevations. While certainly miraculous, there is no indication of anything being created ex nihilo on this day.

Day Four

14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years;
15 and let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.
16 God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.
17 God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,
18 and to govern the day and the night, and to separate the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.
19 There was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

This section (vv.14-19) has occasioned much discussion, likely because it contains a summary of some things done prior to, and on the first day, but expanded upon in newness of purpose here. Notice the absence of any word denoting creation ex nihlo. Day and night had already been established on the first day (vv.3-5), which presupposes the earlier creation of the Sun, a star.  The first and principle idea in this passage is that the heavenly bodies would now be able to be used (eventually, when man appears on the scene) for the establishing of calendars (days and years), which of course has been the case from ancient times. All of this had been made possible by God making the Universe (vv.1-2), making the light of the Sun visible upon the earth (vv.3-5), establishing the earth’s rotational velocity, and possibly its angle of inclination, and orbit around the Sun, and perhaps now of clarifying interstellar space so that the stars could be seen with sufficient clarity to be useful for this stated purpose. It should also be noted that the word “placed” in verse seventeen should more appropriately be translated “gave” as virtually all of the Hebrew authorities recognize (see the same word in verse fifteen translated “give” in the phrase “to give light”). This passage states that what God did on the fourth day, combined with what he had done cumulatively was unto a specified purpose now revealed: that it would be for the marking of time, which as we know is essential to human progress and eventually even to the recording of God’s Word. However, it is important to note that there is not a hint of creation ex nihilo in this passage. The word “made” in verse 16 is from the root ‘asah, which could be translated “formed,” and is not used of creation ex nihilo. (How can one “form” what does not exist?) Regrettably the detail and complexity of the description of this day (the fourth and sixth days are the two most complex descriptions) has given cover for a number of odd theories, including not the least of which is that the light created on the first day was only temporary and was replaced on the fourth day by the Sun and Moon. Such notions are completely baseless since the passage yields to a much simpler explanation that best fits the context.

Day Five

20 Then God said, “Let the waters teem with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open expanse of the heavens.”
21 God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarmed after their kind, and every winged bird after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
22 God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
23 There was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

The fifth day (vv.20-23) describes the making of living creatures to inhabit the waters below (i.e., the ocean), of birds in the heavens, and large aquatic creatures. Here in verse twenty-one we encounter, for the first time during the six days, the use of ‘bara (“to create”), which is capable of, but does not always signify creation ex nihilo.  However, we know from 2:19 that just as man was created from the dust of the ground, so too were the animals; thus, there is no creation ex nihilo to be found in the description of the fifth day. (‘Bara is also used in verse one; however, as we will see that was not part of the six days.)

Day Six

24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth after their kind”; and it was so.
25 God made the beasts of the earth after their kind, and the cattle after their kind, and everything that creeps on the ground after its kind; and God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you;
30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so.
31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

The sixth day records the creation of land animals and man, which as Genesis states, were formed out of the ground (cf. 2:19; 3:19). Again there is no indication of creation ex nihilo.

Having surveyed the six days, it is apparent that none involved any creation ex nihilo. Thus, the only possible reference to the original creation is in verses 1 and 2.  If, as some recent creationists have claimed, verses 1 and 2 form a summary title to the six days, how could the creation ex nihilo summarize a section that contains no creation ex nihilo? Also, if the singular sentence contained in verses 1 and 2 is only a summary, or descriptive  title for the six days, in which no creation ex nihilo occurred, then there would be no explicit reference to the original creation in the entire chapter! If that were the case,  how could the recent creationist who holds such a view know that the world was recently created, since he cannot know when the creation ex nihilo occurred? Of course, recent creationists saw this problem early on and most have since migrated to another view of Genesis 1:1-2.

Today, the most common position among recent creationists is that verses 1 and 2 should be grouped with the first day, but whereas the summary title view presented an insurmountable logical problem, grouping these two verses with the first day presents a major interpretive problem. Why? Because the Genesis 1 text is highly structured, and that structure unmistakably places the first two verses prior to the first day, not on the first day. This is clear from the fact that each of the six days begins with the phrase, “And God said. . .” and ends with, “there was evening, and there was morning the {number} day.” (See the bolded phrases and clauses in the quotations above.) This very familiar structure is called an “inclusio.” These structures, sometimes referred to as literary “bookends,” are used to mark where a segment of the text begins and ends. When repeated as they are here (they are used six times in this short chapter), they form a symmetry that makes the story both easy to understand and to remember. These intentional and highly visible structures are used to help the reader see the natural breaks in the passage; and what they clearly indicate is that the account of the first day does not begin with verse one, but with verse three. If the analysis of this chapter tells us anything, it tells us in the clearest possible way that the first two verses should not be grouped with the first day. Every one of the six days in this chapter begins and ends in precisely the same way; that is how the inspired writer, Moses, chose to present this material. If the first day began with verse one, it would be the only day that was introduced differently; and since the formalized beginning of the first day clearly appears at the beginning of verse three, there can be no doubt about where the first day begins in the text. Any interpretation that begins the first day at verse 1 blatantly ignores the clear intent of the author. This leads to an important question: Since verses one and two cannot legitimately be associated with the first day, in what way do they relate to the six days that follow?

What does Genesis 1:1-2 signify?

There are essentially two possibilities as to what Genesis 1:1-2 signifies and how these verses relate to the rest of the Genesis 1 account. Logically, either these verses describe events that chronologically preceded the first day, or they do not. (According to the Law of the Excluded Middle, one of these options must be true and the other false.) If these first two verses do not chronologically precede the first day they would have to be a summary (descriptive) title to the six days. We have already stated the problem with viewing these first two verses as a summary title, but can we be absolutely certain that these two verses describe something that preceded the first day? The answer is an emphatic, “Yes.”

If these verses were a summary title to the six days, they would summarize the activities recorded for those days. On the other hand, if they refer to events that took place prior to the first day, it should be possi­ble to detect a sequence of progression from the description in verses 1 and 2 to what follows. Genesis 1:1-2 says, ”In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was form­less and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” In order to deter­mine if this is a summary title we need to ask: Does “formless,” “empty,” and “dark” summarize the activity of the six days (vv. 3-31)? The answer is clearly “No,” actually quite the opposite. The next question is: Can we see a sequence of progression between these first two verses and the rest of the creation story? And the answer is “Yes”; what is “dark” in verse 2 is illuminated in verse 3, what is “form­less” in verse 2 is formed in verses 3-31; what is “empty” in verse 2 is filled with living things in verses 11-31 . This sequence of progression plainly indicates that Genesis 1:1-2 de­scribes activity (v.1) and a state (v.2) prior to the first day. Therefore, we can say with certainty that the original creation (ex nihilo), recorded in verse 1, and the state of that creation described in verse 2 was chronologically prior to the first day, which begins with verse 3. Recent creationists have sought to link the original creation with the first day because they know from biblical chronology that the first day likely happened within the last ten thousand years (according to a very general, but reasonable biblical chronology); thus supporting their contention that the Universe itself could not be more than about ten thousand years old. But if the original creation preceded the first day by an unspecified amount of time as Genesis 1:1-2 clearly indicates, the recent creation argument breaks down completely. The simple fact is that the Bible provides no information whatsoever regarding the age of the Universe, and recent creationists have been forced to distort the first chapter of Genesis in their quest to manufacture support for a recent creation.

The recent creationists’ misuse of Exodus 20:11

Recent creationists universally contend that Exodus 20:11 supports their view that everything, including the original creation ex nihilo, occurred within the six-day period. Since biblical conservatives generally regard the six days of Genesis as having occurred within the last ten thousand years, by linking the original creation ex nihilo with the first day they profess to demonstrate that the time of the original creation could not be more than about ten thousand years removed from the present.  Here is where the recent creationists bring in Exodus 20:11; that verse says, “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them….” However, when we look closely at this verse we see that the word translated “made” is the same Hebrew word (‛asah, meaning “to form”) that is used repeatedly to describe God’s activity during the six days for the forming of previously existing materials (cf. Genesis 1:7,16,25,26,31). Exodus 20:11 merely restates, in a very abbreviated way, what Genesis 1:3-31 has already said, that the “forming” process was accomplished in six days; it says absolutely nothing about the original creation ex nihilo being part of the six days. Actually, Exodus 20:11 adds no information about the creation process that we don’t already know from Genesis 1, and there is nothing in this passage that suggests that the creation ex nihilo should be lumped in with the first day as recent creationists insist. The use of Exodus 20:11 is little more than sleight of hand on the part of recent creationists to somehow group Genesis 1:1-2 with the first day, an idea clearly incompatible with the structure of the passage.

In summarizing the account of creation from Genesis 1:1-31, we should note the following: 1) The original creation of the heavens and earth ex nihilo is stated to have occurred prior to the beginning of the first day, and we have absolutely no way of knowing, from the Bible, how much time might have lapsed between the original creation (1:1-2) and the beginning of the first day (1:3). Hence, we cannot know, from the Bible, the age or even the approximate age of the Universe. Such should not be confused with the now defunct view known as the “Gap Theory,” which was also based on a distorted understanding of the biblical text (see Part 5 in this series). 2) The activity re­corded during the six days of Genesis was “formative” in nature, with no evidence of any crea­tion ex nihilo. 3) Even though the original creation of the Universe might have occurred long before the six days of Genesis, forma­tive activity would have occurred within thousands, not millions or billions of years in order to mesh with biblical history. 4) Scientific esti­mates of the age of the Universe in the range of billions of years are in no way averse to a normal, objective understanding of the Bible.

It is curious that both recent creationists and evolutionists claim, one proudly, the other derisively, that recent creationism is based on a “literal” understanding of Genesis. Nothing could be further from the truth. Recent creationism is nothing more than a distortion of the biblical text in support of a malformed doctrine. A “literal” understanding of the biblical text does not teach a recent creation.  Regrettably, this illustrates one of the major negative consequences of Recent Creationism; when one passes off a clearly malformed idea as the literal interpretation of the Bible, it inevitably erodes confidence in the reliability of the Bible and lends credibility to the critic’s attack that the Bible cannot be trusted. This is precisely what has happened in our day, and much of the blame is to be laid at the feet of recent creationists. Sadly, this bad biblical interpretation has been enabled to a great degree by pastors, Bible teachers, youth workers, Christian schools, and others who have abdicated their responsibility in this area of Bible doctrine to those they believed to be experts. Perhaps this is because scholarly Old Testament interpretation at the exegetical level has been dying out within evangelical/fundamental circles for some time, or perhaps it is due to the complexity of the physical and biological sciences that many Christian leaders have simply turned this subject over to specialists. It’s time that someone sounded the warning alarm because the “experts” have run the ship aground and it’s now being severely battered by the waves. If Bible-believing Christian leaders don’t wake up and realize what has happened soon, there will be nothing left to rescue.

[To go to the next article in this series: Why Recent Creationism is Illogical, tap or click here]

Copyright 2019, by Sam A. Smith
All rights reserved.
Published September 2019 by