Science in Christian Perspective



Some of the Problems of Chronology in Genesis
Calvin College

From: JASA 7 (September 1955): 43-46.

We accept the infallibility of Scripture. We also interpret Genesis, chapter one, to involve a miraculous creative activities of God. The supernatural character of these activities is far more important than the length of the day, in this chapter. These supernatural, creative activities are truly revealed by God to man in Scripture. But this does not at all imply that the activities are intended by God to be fully understood by man. What we do understand is that the Sabbath was made for man. Meanwhile, "It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, it is the glory of kings to find it out," says the Book of Proverbs.

It is the glory of God to conceal the structure of the atom, especially of the heavy elements and of Carbon 14, it is the glory of the kings of science to find it out.

But while they find it out, our problems of chronology in Genesis increase.

The text of Genesis I and 2 puts us on our guard that there are problems of chronology here. This text is correctly translated in Harper's "Hebrew Method and Manual," as far as the chronology is concerned, as follows: Day one, a second day, a third day, a fourth day, a f if th day, the sixth day and the seventh day.

The sixth day,--does the article look forward to the presence of the article in the seventh day, or backward to the absence of the article in all the prior days? Evidently the sixth day looks forward to the seventh day. But why then the absence of the article with all the days of Genesis I before the sixth day? The Scriptures do not tell us but they thus put us on our guard that there are mysteries here.

But how about the word day? It is used in three senses in the story, day versus night, day including night, and day including the entire series of six days, in the expression: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth in the day that they were created," in Genesis 2. Such a variety in the usage of the word day should put us still more on our guard.

And the seventh day is not delimited by evening and morning, like the prior days. Both Bavinck and Aalders use this argument from silence to argue that the seventh day is a long period, not delimited by an ordinary evening and morning.

But an occasional evening and morning is also peculiar in Scripture: "At evening time there shall be light,"-we read in Zechariah 14:7 and morning in Psalm 49:14 has a peculiar usage: "They are appointed as a flock for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd: and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning."

Not morning but day is used somewhat peculiarly in the title of the Egyptian Book of the Dead: "The coming out into the day." All is night here, but in heaven there shall be no night. If the soul should be weighed in the balance and not found wanting, it experiences "the coming out into the day," at least hypothetically.

But that day of heaven is a long period of light. And so the title of the Egyptian Book of the Dead contains the word day as a period. It is probable that the Israelites in Egypt knew this expression "the coming out into the day," and its usage involving a long period of light, in that title.

Whether such knowledge would put them on their guard still more in interpreting the word day in Genesis 1 and 2 is hard to say. But the opportunity was there. In Psalm 90 we have a peculiar expression in a context concerning creation, "before the mountains were brought forth or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from age to age thou art God." This is also sometimes translated even from everlasting to everlasting thou art God. The translation from age to age, is more literal. Furthermore, the term "day of the Lord" in Scripture also involves a period.

Under the circumstances it is a small wonder that our Reformed fathers present several interpretations of day in Genesis 1.

Bavinck and Aalders take day in Genesis I as a long period for all the six days of creation. Kuyper takes the first three days as periods and the last three days as ordinary days, after the sun and moon were made to indicate days and seasons and years. Berkhof takes all six days as ordinary days. And Berkhof, Kuyper and Bavinck interpret Exodus 20:11 accordingly, each in line with his respective views of Genesis, chapter one. Such differences of view also appear in other denominations. Thus the exegetes cast the problems of chronology in our lap and put us still further on our guard against jumping to hasty conclusions. It is not necessary to bring these matters to a showdown. The supernatural character of God's creative activity is more important. But if we are warned by the Scriptural indicia to be on our guard concerning the chronology of Genesis 1, we are also put on our guard by the Scriptures concerning the chronology of the genealogies. The New Testament casts light upon these genealogies of the Old Testament. The New Testament adds a link to the 0. T. genealogies and occasionally subtracts several links. The New Testament adds the link Cainan, in Luke 3:35 and 36: "the son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad."

But this Cainan is not in the record of Gen. 11 :12 which reads as follows: "And Ar-pachs-had lived 35 years and begat She-lah." Here the middle link Cainan is missing. Cainan is the missing link, here, in the Hebrew of Genesis 11:12. But in the Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, this Cainan is found, and again in Luke 3:36. The Septuagint probably added the name from some ancient source. But the inspired record of Luke 3:35 and 36 leads us to respect that ancient source as correct on this score. And so we get with Luke 3:35, 36, "The son of Shelah, the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad."

But when the 0. T. tells us that Ar-pachs-had lived 35 years and begat Shelah, while the New Testament has Cainan as Arphaxad's son and Shelah as his grandson, we come to the conclusion that Ar-pachshad lived 35 years and begat Shelah's ancester Cainan, who according to Luke 3:35, 36 is the son of Arphaxad.

Thus the inspired text of Luke 3:35 and 36 shows that Genesis 11 :12 omits at least one link in the genealogy. And if one link is omitted more links might be omitted, as is frequently done in the New Testament. For instance Matthew 1:8 omits three links at once. There we read: "And Joram begat Uzziah." But the three genealogical links Ahaziah, Joash and Amaziah are omitted here by Matthew. In other words when Matthew 1:8 says: "And Joram begat Uzziah", we must interpret this, in the light of the 0. T., that Joram begat Uzziah, his grandson's grandson.

Thus the historical style of the Scriptures permits of the principle of omission in genealogies, both in the 0. T. and in the N. T.

And thus we cannot follow Usher's chronology but the genealogies allow for gaps chronologically, even vast gaps. Though the ancient Hebrews may have known more about these patriarchs than we do, the Scriptures are very economical in the historical references to most of the genealogical links that are indicated.

And so we come to the conclusion that chronologically there may be many years that are not indicated in the genealogies. Raven suggests that the Scriptural age of the father in the genealogies when he begat a certain son, really means the age of the father when lie begat either that son or an ancester of that son. At any rate we are put on our guard by the Scriptures of the 0. T. and the N. T. themselves that the principle of omission obtains in these genealogies. In fact there may be very many missing links, besides Cainan, in Genesis 11:12 and Ahaziah Joash and Amaziah in Matthew 1:8. For the words beget and bear, like the words, father and son, are used with far more elasticity in Hebrew and Greek than in English.

Thus the elasticity of the genealogies allows for the chronologies of the Assyriologists, the Egyptologist and the students of Carbon 14, as far as the age of man is concerned. Though 10,000 years, for the age of man, might satisfy all these scholars, we should not let them do our exegetical work for us. We might better remain somewhat non-committal on this score.

But how about the age of the animal and the table kingdoms? The elasticity of the word "day". Genesis 1, again allows for the 20,000 to 30.000 - approximately involved in the dating of artifacts Carbon 14, some 20,000 years for the animal kingdom and some 30,000 years for the vegetable kingdom.

Now we do not have perfect agreement in Calvin College Faculty in these matters. Dr. John Vries, one of our professors in Chemistry, has given attention to the structure of the atom, to the heavy elements and to Carbon 14, in his scientific and in popular lectures favoring long periods for Genesis. However, Dr. E. Y. Monsma, one of our profes sors in biology, does not favor long periods for Gen 1, but ordinary days. But even our ordinary days some elasticity: the longer the light, the longer day.

I have audited six semester hours with Dr. J. Vries in which he discusses such matters for our seminary students. The text-book and the lectures concerned with Chemistry, Physics, Geology and shift in Astronomy, in a semi-popular way. I also read the long monograph of Dr. E. Y. Mons on the problems involved, in his interpretation of days of Genesis one as ordinary days.

Both of these scholars would like to bring the matter to a show-down. We theologians and Hebrew linguists love to watch that battle from a distance, like the battle between Ford and Chevrolet, without getting too much entangled in it. We Protestants will do well to refuse to be arbitrary in such matters, at least not ecclesiastically. T Roman Catholic church tried to be an arbiter in t field of natural science concerning the movements the sun and the earth, but we Protestants should ha more respect for the Scriptures and less respect f ecclesiastical tradition than the Catholics. And t Scriptures themselves allow for ample elasticity i such scientific matters, as we have seen.

This does not mean that the Scriptures allow f theistic evolution, unless the word evolution is used a non-technical sense. But evolution in the technical sense allows for no miracles in Genesis 1, and the exegete sees miracles, sees the supernatural hand o God, in Genesis 1. Both Dr. J. De Vries and Dr. E. Y Monsma have no hesitation at the supernatural,-we are happy to say.

The exegesis of Dr. Aalders tends more to the view of Dr. J. De Vries than toward the views of Dr. E. Y Monsma in these matters, both with respect to the heavy elements and with respect to Carbon 14. This especially clear from Dr. Aalder's large volume o Genesis Chapters I, II and III, which I have here. A this interpretation is in the tradition of Bavinck rather than that of Kuyper or Berkhof. All three tradition have been acceptable in our Christian Reformed circles, for decades.

These exegetical traditions are all linquistically possible, in the light of Genesis 1, and of the rest of Scripture. There will remain exegetical predilections, but these cannot be brought to such a showdown that any one of these three Reformed traditions would becorne exegetically and linguistically contraband. If that were possible, somebody would have been deposed long ago for deviating from Scripture, in denontinations like the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed churches of the Netherlands and of South Africa, where adherence to Scripture is emphatically required, by our Confessional standards.

The tentative efforts that have been made in the American Scientific Affiliation to align recent scientific studies with the six days of Genesis I are appreciated by us without our attaching finality to such exegesis. We refer to the articles by Peter V. Stoner and by Edwin K. Gedney, and others, "Modern Science and Christian Faith."

And more of such exegesis would be appreciated, again without attaching finality to such interpretations. For the exegete must keep such interpretations at a distance, while appreciating them, because the exegete has to interpret Scripture in such a way that he maintains the elasticity which is inherent in the linguistic data of Genesis.

The Hoover Commission and its friends feel that it could save Uncle Sam about 2 billion dollars. and the Chemists and astronomers feel that they too can estimate the age of the universe at about 2 billion years, 2 to 4 billion. Well,-what is a little matter of an extra two billion between friends? At any rate the Hoover Commission has made some progress with its problems, and the chemists and astronomers have also made some progress. Some men will go off the deep end at this progress, others will be as guarded as Calvin Coolidge, and as Calvin College. But since not all the brethren here are Calvinists, I would like to add that we have many an Arminian offering, a perfectly free will offering, in our churches.

The geologists also include men of guarded statements. For instance Baron De Geer was very guarded about the age of the tertiary layer, when he addressed the American Philosophic Society. This noted Scandinavian geologist has written several books on geology, has made important geological surveys in the old world of Europe and in the New World of America. He lectured at various places in America in 1921, and after his lecture before the American Philosophic Society meeting in Philadelphia he was asked by Professor Morris Jastrow about the age of the tertiary layer, He answered that young geologists frequently gave high figures but these were only guesses, and then he sat down. But Dr. Jastrow was not satisfied and asked him for his opinion. Baron De Geer arose and answered that he had no opinion for it would be only a guess and sat down again. Dr. Jastrow got up again and said that now we understood that he could give no opinion but only a guess, and what would his guess be. Baron De Geer got tip and said in substance that he guessed that 25,000 years would cover it. Well, this illustrates that some geologists are more guarded than others and that at any rate there is elasticity of opinion.

Such elasticity of scientific opinion is also evident from the many monographs available concerning the finds at the LaBrea pits of Southern California. These finds not only include the bones of many prehistoric animals, but also a human skull. And the monographs about these finds were on display at the Los Angeles County Museum, where a huge collection of bones is on display, together with restorations of sabre-toothed tigers and of other prehistoric animals. These animals had been regarded by scientists as of a much higher antiquity than the age of the human skull. And many controversial monographs resulted, concerning this find and similar finds elsewhere, tending to date such pre-historic animals down to the age of man. Carbon 14 also dates animal life back to something like 20,000 years, and vegetable life back to something like 30,000 years.

Meanwhile in the light of the heavy elements, the radio-active elements the inanimate world is regarded as from 2 to 4 billion years old. And the red-shift in astronorny leads to about the same age for the inanimate world.

Now what shall we say to all this, as exegets? There is one commentator that accepts such results. This is Dr. G. Charles Aalders, in his work on the first three chapters of Genesis, which I have here. He taught for many years at the Free University of Amsterdam. But his views have not convinced our Prof. E. Y. Monsma of the Calvin College biological department.

We prefer to rob the word day in Genesis chapter one, of rione of its elasticity for the Scriptures have not defined that term here.

Aalders Dc Goodedyce openbearing in de Eerste die loofd stichken van Zenesis. The Divine Revelation in the first three chapters of Genesis. p. 256. "Thus, for instance, because of the side mentation, in the oceans, the estimate led to an average of not less than 90 million years." p. 258. Meanwhile, to all this uncertainty there now seems to come an end through the discovery of the phenomenon of radio-activity. The element uranimum (and similarly the element thorium) has a remarkable property, that it is slowly but surely disintegrated, so that the atoms out of which it exists, out of itself, without the activity of any discernible outside cause, are broken down, page 259. And the age of the earth, as a firm mass, is placed, in this way, at an amount of years that in any case lies in the neighborhood of 16,000 million, page 228. We have to do here with distances which range from 850,000 light years to 140 million light years.

As to the red shift in astronomy, and the expanding universe I find nothing in Aalders, nor anything with regard to Carbon 14.

The seventh day becomes the Sabbath. And the Sabbath was made for man.

Meanwhile Bavinck and Aalders, as we have seen, point out that we do not read of evening and morning with the seventh day. And they use this argument from silence for their position that the seventh day, is a long period, as it occurs in Genesis II.

However we read here that God finished his work on the seventh day.

He truly finished his work of creation by the blessing and hallowing of the seventh day and by this kind of resting.
But sonic of the ancient versions read God finished on the sixth day instead of the The more difficult reading of the Hebrew is generally regarded as the better reading.

It surely is more difficult, and the difficulty creases when we consult the history of the earth by geology. Suppose, for the sake of argument we assume with Bavinck and Aalders that the day is a long period, continuing into the future.
Is there then any connection here? In other words does this finishing on the seventh day imply sq natural acts of God which can be recognized in history of the earth given by geology?