OT scholar: Genesis teaches a short timescale
Jonathan Sarfati chats with Old Testament professor Dr Travis Richard (‘Rick’) Freeman
Dr Travis Freeman serves as Professor of Old Testament at the Baptist College of Florida in Graceville. He is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University (B.A.) and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div., Ph.D.). He has been a young-earth creationist for over twenty years and is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society Creation Fellowship. He has been married to Dawn for over 50 years, and they have a son and daughter, and a grandson and granddaughter.
I met Dr Freeman recently when he hosted me at a conference at his Baptist College. But I was already familiar with his cogent defence of a straightforward biblical timeline in Genesis,1 which was the topic of his doctoral thesis, The Genesis 5 and 11 fluidity question.
Does Genesis have gaps?
Some claim that there are gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. Dr Freeman points out that there can be no time gaps, because: The biblical text gives the number of years between the births of the descendants of Adam in the line leading to Noah. By adding these numbers together, we can calculate the number of years from Adam to Noah. These numbers would be superfluous, even misleading, if generations are missing between fathers and sons. In fact, one strains without success to even imagine why the author of Genesis would include these numbers unless he meant to tie the generations together in a continuous sequence without chronological gaps.
“This type of genealogy seems to be designed for chronological purposes and never contains gaps, at least none that anyone has ever demonstrated. In fact, every biblical genealogy of this sort has been shown to be without gaps.Thus we can calculate that Genesis 5 and 11 record that about 2008 years passed between creation and Abraham’s birth around 1996 BC, thus rendering a creation date of about 4004 BC.”
Dr Freeman also pointed out that this understanding is hardly a novelty. Rather, “nearly all Bible scholars, Jewish and Christian, from the first century BC to about AD 1800, understood Genesis 5 and 11 as setting forth a no-gap chronology of ancient history. So, unless we are prepared to show how all of these scholars were wrong, we should reject the idea of gaps.”
Why was this clear understanding doubted from around AD 1800? Dr Freeman reminds us this is when old-earth ideas started to become popular in ‘science’, due to the Flood-rejecting uniformitarian dogma of Hutton and Lyell, explicitly designed to “free the science from Moses.”2 Long-age beliefs almost invariably come from such outside ideas being imposed upon the text, rather than anything in the text itself.
But don’t other genealogies, such as the Matthew 1 genealogy of Jesus, have gaps? Dr Freeman points out that this is a different genre, and a key difference is that “Matthew 1 does not record the number of years between generations. This type of genealogy often contains generational gaps, that is, some names are omitted for the sake of brevity or symmetry.”
The doctrine of creation
One of Dr Freeman’s most popular classes is his ‘The Doctrine of Creation’, which he summarizes in three statements:
- God created all things in six twenty-four-hour days about 4004 BC in mature form.
- God created all living things according to distinct kinds that were programmed to produce only their kinds but able to adapt to their environment within their kinds.
- God ravaged the earth with a catastrophic flood which began about 2348 BC, lasted about a year, covered the entire world, destroyed and rebuilt Earth’s crust, left behind millions of fossils, left behind vast coal and oil deposits, and permanently altered Earth’s environment.
Since Dr Freeman teaches at a school that affirms the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, I asked how all that is supported by the Bible. He pointed out that Genesis 1 declares that God created all things in six days. He explained that when modified by a number or by the phrase ‘evening and morning’, the Hebrew word for ‘day’ always means a solar day, not an indefinite period of time, in the Old Testament.
Also, the same chapter describes Adam, Eve, fruit trees, and other living things as mature at the time of their creation, and it says that they would reproduce after their kinds. That is, one created kind did not evolve into another, leading eventually to a group of human-like creatures.
Dr Freeman also stresses that Genesis 7 and 8 describe the Flood of Noah’s day as year-long, worldwide, earth-devastating, and deadly to all land vertebrates but those on the Ark. These things would be responsible for the formation of most of Earth’s sedimentary rock layers and fossils.
What is the problem with millions of years?
But many people in the church think that it’s OK to believe in evolution over millions of years. Dr Freeman points out severe problems. One of the most important for Christians is surely that “Jesus contradicted evolution and millions of years when he said that God created Adam and Eve at the beginning of creation (Mark 10:5–9), not billions of years after a big bang.”
He further points out that a straightforward understanding of Genesis indicates that God created humans, animals, trees, and so on in mature form, and only a few thousand years ago.
Dr Freeman explains that real archaeology opposes long-age dogma, revealing no civilizations or historical documents older than a few thousand years. Geology also opposes this dogma, because creatures must have been buried quickly to form fossils, so the layers must have been deposited catastrophically. Also, there must be little time between the layers, because the contact lines are flat and largely erosion-free, and they have other features such as footprints that must have been preserved quickly.
How does creation matter to Christians?
Many in the church think of creation as a side issue. Naturally, Dr Freeman disagrees, and explains why it is actually foundational:
“God has placed in every person the desire to know the answer to some basic questions about life, such as who am I, where did I come from, why am I here, where am I going, and how should I then live? The biblical doctrine of creation answers those questions and thus helps us understand the need for obedience to our Creator, including belief in the Gospel. The doctrine of creation also helps us believe in the accuracy of the Bible, because we see that its opening chapters are compatible with history and science.”
Indeed, it was very important to Travis personally. First, as a young man, he was an agnostic: “I did not know the answer to those questions, especially, how I should live. I was confused about the meaning of life, or if there even was a meaning. The confusion showed in my behaviour.”
However, when he was 32, a pastor shared the Gospel with him. Like many people, Travis “objected that the Bible and its Gospel could not be true because we humans came into being through billions of years of blind evolutionary processes.” Many would-be evangelists would try to change the topic. Fortunately, not this pastor, who was well informed:
“In God’s providence, the pastor was also a biology teacher at a nearby university. He informed me that evolution was not even a good theory, and certainly had not been proven. His comments spurred me on a journey to find out the truth for myself. I soon came across several books, including The Genesis Flood by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, which exposed the flaws in evolution and showed how the Bible and empirical science actually agree. Once I saw the accuracy of the Genesis account of creation, I knew instinctively that the rest of the Bible must be true. So, I repented of my sins and believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Now my life has meaning and direction—and may I add, great joy!”
We know of literally hundreds of people whose faith was ‘shipwrecked’ on the jagged reef of biblical compromise, but who, like Dr Freeman, were restored thanks to consistent biblical creation teaching. We trust that his encouraging testimony will help many more.
Genesis is real history
Dr Freeman has documented that Genesis 1–11 bears the marks of genuine and accurate history for a number of reasons, including:
- Genesis 1 uses the word ‘and’ (Hebrew = vav or waw) repeatedly to tie together its sentences. Such usage is characteristic of ancient Near Eastern historical literature.
- Genesis 7–8 records no less than 12 chronological references concerning events that occurred during the flood of Noah’s day. Historians generally view the presence of such references as evidence of real history, as opposed to myth or legend.
- The authors of the rest of the Bible refer to the events of Genesis 1–11 as factual history. Luke even reports that the patriarchs from Adam to Abraham were Jesus’ real-life ancestors just like David and Solomon, drawing from Genesis 5 and 11.
- The first 11 chapters of Genesis employ the same style of writing as the other parts of the Old Testament commonly accepted as real history, including Genesis 12–50.
References and Notes
- Freeman, T., The Genesis 5 and 11 fluidity question, J. Creation 19(2):83–90, 2005, creation.com/fluidity. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D and Walker, T., Charles Lyell’s hidden agenda—to free science “from Moses”, creation.com/lyell, 19 August 2009. Return to text.