William Lane Craig’s intellectually dishonest attack on biblical creationists

William Lane Craig


William Lane Craig (1949– ) is a well-known Christian apologist, with earned doctorates in both philosophy and New Testament studies. He has written over 30 books, and is a very skilled debater, with one atheist admitting:

As far as I can tell, he has won nearly all his debates with atheists. … I’m not the only one who thinks Craig has won nearly all his debates. For some atheists, it is rather maddening. … Craig is a skilled debater, an encyclopedia of facts and quotes, and a careful rhetorician. If you make a logical mistake, Craig knows exactly how to skewer you for it (and for this, I respect him). … This is especially embarrassing for atheists because Craig’s arguments and debates are easily available, and he uses the same arguments all the time. So it should be easy for atheists to prepare for a debate with Craig.1

Much of his material is very useful, and I’ve cited his work plenty of times, e.g. in:

However, the big bang has long been a part of his argument for a beginning. But this is fraught with biblical and scientific problems (see The mind of God and the ‘big bang’). Indeed, many secular cosmologists are abandoning the big bang because of all the fudge factors needed to prop it up. So what will happen to a large part of Craig’s apologetic armoury? (See Secular scientists blast the big bang: What now for naïve apologetics?)

Thus it is no surprise that he endorses the error-prone big-bang-adoring progressive creationist Hugh Ross as “evangelicalism’s most important scientific apologist. … I enthusiastically support his work.” However, this was in an article where Craig sharply criticizes Ross for his heterodox view of the Triune Godhead and Christ as both fully human and fully God, arguing that Ross borders on the kenotic heresy (see The Kenotic Heresy and Genesis compromise).2

Hostility to biblical timescale

For much of his long apologetics career, his aversion to the biblical timescale has merely been implicit—logically entailed by his embrace of long-age ideas. However, more recently Craig has taken to explicit attacks on ‘young-earth creationists’. In an interview, he said:

Yes, I’ve seen a comparable statistic that says that over 50% of evangelical pastors think that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Now when you think about that, Kevin, that is just hugely embarrassing. That over half of our ministers really believe that the universe is only around 10,000 years old. This is just scientifically, it’s nonsense, and yet this is the view that the majority of our pastors hold. It’s really quite shocking when you think about it.3,4

Craig’s view necessarily entails that animal death, suffering, and carnivory existed long before Adam’s sin, and he has defended this view explicitly.5 Dr Catchpoole wrote a fine overview on this issue, showing Craig’s fallacy (‘Billions of years’ makes Christians dumb (and atheists loud): A brilliant way to muzzle Christians: Get them to believe in long ages), so I won’t dwell on this here.

Craig vs creation days

Craig recently gave a series of talks where he attacked the biblical creationist view on the days of Genesis 1.6 In this article’s title, I indicated that this attack was “intellectually dishonest”, and I will explain that now. Any honest attack on a particular view should address the strongest claims for this view, which in turn demands that the critic should address the leading works defending this view. However, it becomes abundantly clear that Craig lacks the slightest familiarity with the leading creationist works on the issue (see recommended material, top right, for those from CMI). This is especially glaring when he attributes to young earth creationists a view that neither I nor anyone else in CMI has ever defended, and don’t know of any YEC who has; rather, this is a common view among old-earth compromisers! This will be demonstrated in the responses to his main points below:

WLC: Now similarly, so-called Young Earth Creationism takes the aim of Genesis 1 to communicate scientific information about creation.

JS: More accurately, we regard it as teaching accurate history. E.g. from ‘But Genesis is not a science textbook’:

Actually, Genesis is about history more than science (of course it touches upon, and is highly relevant to, aspects of anthropology, biology, geology, etc.). Normal (operational) science that puts men on the moon and cures diseases is based on repeatable observations in the present. Genesis claims to be an eyewitness account about the past, which can’t be repeated. In particular, Genesis is an account of world history from creation to the beginning of the Messianic people, Israel.
WLC: Young Earth Creationism [takes] take the account to be accurate, not to be obsolete anymore.

JS: Indeed we do. A major reason is that the Hebrew text teaches it, and another important reason is that Jesus, the Apostles, and the New Testament in general takes it this way.

WLC: God created the world in 6 consecutive 24-hour days about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.

JS: For many years now, major creationist organizations have taught that it’s about 6,000 years ago. See Biblical chronogenealogies (2003) and How does the Bible teach 6,000 years? (and response to questions about this article).

WLC: This interpretation takes the text in a prima facie way, that is to say, at face value. It takes the text literally in what it says, or at least as far as they can.

JS: As we have explained before:

We would usually call this hermeneutic “plain”, “historical-grammatical” or “originalist” rather than “literal”, i.e. what the text meant (and conveyed) to the original readers.33 This means there is an objectively right way to interpret this.

However, Craig’s comment could be defensible if we can take the wider sense of the word ‘literal’. Medieval and patristic interpreters used the term ‘literal’ to mean the grammatical-historical meaning, which could include a figurative meaning if that’s what the text taught. Thus to them, the ‘literal’ meaning of the ‘the windows of the heavens were opened’ (Genesis 7:11) would include its metaphorical usage for a massive rainfall. Rather, the ‘literal’ meaning was contrasted with a spiritualized or mystical meaning not grounded in the text.7,8 One example is allegorizing the Song of Solomon as referring primarily to Christ and the Church, whereas the text itself is romantic love poetry between Solomon and Shulamit (the Hebrew feminine form of Solomon, i.e. Mrs Solomon).9 Another example comes from the great Reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale (1494–1536):

Thou shalt understand, therefore, that the scripture hath but one sense, which is but the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave, thou canst never err or go out of the way. And if thou leave the literal sense, thou canst not but go out of the way. Nevertheless, the scripture uses proverbs, similitudes, riddles, or allegories, as all other speeches do; but that which the proverb, similitude, riddle or allegory signifieth, is ever the literal sense, which thou must seek out diligently.10

But now, ‘literal’ often means ‘woodenly literalistic’, denying any figurative language even when the text teaches it.

WLC: Even Young Earth Creationists are not totally literalists. For example, some aspects of the narrative are not taken literally, such as the creation of the sun on the fourth day in Genesis 1.

JS: Actually, we do indeed take the creation of the sun on the fourth day literally. It shouldn’t have been too hard to verify this, e.g. How could the days of Genesis 1 be literal if the Sun wasn’t created until the fourth day?

WLC: Very typically, Young Earthers will not embrace the view that there was plant life and life on earth prior to God’s creation of the sun. Rather, the creation of the sun on the fourth day is interpreted to mean something like the sun appeared on that day. That it came out from behind the thick cloud canopy that had been enveloping the earth.

JS: Since Craig asserts that this is ‘very typically’ the view of YECs, he should have had no trouble in producing one example of this. But this is most definitely not a typical YEC view. It is in fact the view of Hugh Ross—the one he commended as “evangelicalism’s most important scientific apologist”, remember? Ross argues that the planets including the earth started with opaque atmospheres, that dissipated only on the fourth ‘day’ (age), allowing the luminaries to become visible from the earth’s surface.11 Thus Craig should have been aware that this view was held by one on his own side.

However, in my book Refuting Compromise (RC), I answered this view. If Craig had performed even the most minimal research, he would have known that this view was one we reject:

This is not only fanciful science but bad exegesis of Hebrew. The word ‘asah means ‘make’ throughout Genesis 1, and is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘create’ (bara’)—e.g. in Genesis 1:26–27. It is pure desperation to apply a different meaning to the same word in the same grammatical construction in the same passage, just to fit in with atheistic evolutionary ideas like the big bang. If God had meant ‘appeared’, then He presumably would have used the Hebrew word for appear (ra’ah), as He did when He said that the dry land ‘appeared’ as the waters gathered in one place on Day 3 (Genesis 1:9).
Craig gets the next thing right:
WLC: Clearly, Genesis 1–3 are intended to be historical at some level. For example, Adam and Eve are presented as the first human couple, the origins of the human race. They are treated as historical individuals who actually lived. They’re not just symbols of mankind. They’re actual people who are connected to other people in Genesis like Abraham and his descendants by genealogies that linked Adam and Eve to indisputable historical persons. It’s clear that Adam and Eve are not just symbolic figures in this narrative. The author does think of them as real historical persons who have descendants that eventually lead to Abraham and the people of Israel.

JS: However, many compromisers, including Craig as well as John Lennox for example (also addressed in the Catchpoole article), exhibit a curious blind spot in this area: human death before the fall. That is, according to dating methods accepted by long-agers, there are undoubted human fossils ‘older’ than any possible date for Adam. For example, Homo sapiens fossils with evidence of intelligent cultural activity12,13 have been ‘dated’ at 160,000 years old.14 Also, two partial skulls of Homo sapiens unearthed in 1967 near the Omo River in south-western Ethiopia have been radiometrically re-dated to about 195,000 years old.15,16 This is a real problem to reconcile with biblical chronology, because the text of the chronogenealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 doesn’t allow for gaps (see Biblical chronogenealogies).

But suppose for the moment that we allow gaps, how many missing generations would be needed? To stretch Adam back from about 4,000 BC to 193,000 BC would mean adding 189,000 years to the biblical timeline. Even if we allow the long generation times in Genesis 5, with an average age of fatherhood of 156 years, this would require over 1,200 missing generations.

One must wonder how a genealogy could miss out all these without any trace. And since many of the names that are mentioned include no trace of any deeds or sayings by them, why would the writer bother to mention these when so many others had been omitted?

In fact, there are huge numbers of human fossils ‘dated’—by methods that Lennox and Craig implicitly must accept—long before any biblical date of Adam. And many of these humans are victims of sinful violence such as murder and cannibalism, and many others had diseases.17 Once again, they must have died after the Fall, which should undermine trust in any ‘dating’ system that places them before about 4,000 BC. But this would undermine Craig’s whole case for millions of years.

Craig goes downhill from here from the previous section:
WLC: On the other hand, the Genesis narrative is also undoubtedly, I think, meant to be symbolic and metaphorical in certain respects. For example, the name Adam in Hebrew just means man. In the beginning, God created man. And Eve means the mother of all living.

JS: This is not too bad yet. In Genesis 1:26–28, God says, “Let us make man”. ‘Man’ is here the Hebrew word ‘ādām אדם, and here means ‘mankind’. The next verse makes it clear that both sexes are included here. Of course, most English readers are far more familiar with the same word as the proper name for the first man: Adam. But there are also many places where Adam is clearly treated as an individual, not as a metaphor for humanity. For example, Adam had relations with his wife (Genesis 4:1), fathered three named sons and other sons and daughters, and lived for 930 years (Genesis 5). In the New Testament, Paul states that Adam is “the first man” in contrast to Christ, “the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:45).18 In Romans 5, Paul contrasts two heads of humanity: Adam and Christ.”19

However, it should not be surprising that the individual first man Adam had the name he did. What could be a better name for the progenitor of all humanity than one signifying just that? The ESV rightly translates the Hebrew word without the definite article as the name Adam, while when it refers to a single person with the article, it’s ‘the man’.

WLC: Adam and Eve are not just historical individuals like Janice and Jim. This is man and the mother of all living human beings. They represent humanity before God. They are symbolic, I think, and metaphorical for humanity.

JS: In one sense, Adam did represent humanity—but he did so as an individual man. This latter must not be undermined.

Gustave Doré, 1866.7362-gustave-dore
WLC: In the creation story, as it continues in Genesis 2, we have clearly metaphorical or perhaps anthropomorphic descriptions of God. God is depicted in human terms. For example, God is depicted as walking in the garden and looking for Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are hiding from God and God calls out, “Where are you?” He’s looking for them in the garden.

JS: Is this a problem? This is not the only theophany, or visible manifestation of God, in the Bible. John Milton’s famous epic poem Paradise Lost depicts this as the pre-incarnate Christ. Before sin, Adam and Eve enjoyed a fellowship with God that they lost with sin. The same applies to their descendants, who won’t enjoy such a level of fellowship with God until the New Heaven and New Earth (for the descendants redeemed in Christ, “the last Adam”).

WLC: Or, again, when God creates man, it says that he fashions him out of the dust of the earth and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. Clearly, this isn’t intended to mean that God literally bent down and performed CPR on Adam through his nose. Rather, this is using literary and metaphorical devices for describing his creation of humanity.

JS: This account is still a historical account: God first made Adam from non-living substance. Only after God breathed on him did he become alive. H.C. Leupold’s famous commentary on Genesis says:

The verb employed here accords more with the “Yahweh” character of God; yatsar means to ‘mold’ or ‘form’. It is the word that specifically describes the activity of the potter (Je 18:2 ff). The idea to be emphasized is that with the particular care and personal attention that a potter gives to his task God gives tokens of His interest in man, His creature, by molding him as He does. No crude material notions of God need to be associated with this verb. Let them misunderstand who insist that they must! Nor can it justly be claimed that an author who previously spoke of this work as a ‘creating’ and ‘making’ must be so limited and circumscribed in point of style as to be utterly unable to describe such a work of the Almighty from any other point of view and say He ‘formed’. Such an author must have an exceedingly cramped and wooden style. …
But more, a far more prominent distinguishing mark characterizes man’s creation: God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” A personal, vitalizing act of the Creator imparts life to man—an honour bestowed upon none of the lesser creatures. This breathing on God’s part must, as Keil rightly reminds us, be understood θεοπρεπώς [theoprepōs], i.e. in a manner befitting God. Nor can we for a moment hold that air or human breath was what God breathed into man’s nostrils. It was His own vital breath. …. Much as we may be inclined to claim that the distinctive element in man’s creation is the “breath of life” breathed into his nostrils, this is a supposition that cannot be maintained. For the expression involved, nishmath chayyîm, is practically the same as that used in 7:22 with reference to all life that perished in the flood, the only exception being that the phrase is altered to “the breath of the spirit of life” (nishmath rûch chayyîm). Not this breath itself but the manner of its impartation indicates man’s dignity.20

This is yet another huge problem for any attempt to reconcile molecules-to-man evolution with Scripture. Theistic evolution teaches that man evolved from living creatures. But in Genesis, man was made from non-living matter, with no suggestion that the ‘dust’ is intended as a metaphor for something living. Nonetheless, a common theistic evolutionary dodge is to regard ‘dust’ as a metaphor for the ape-like ancestors from which man allegedly evolved. But consider Genesis 3:19, where God judged Adam:

… till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

If the theistic evolutionists were right, then it logically follows that upon death we should become an ape-like ancestor. This is a reductio ad absurdum of the theistic evolutionary dodge. It shows once again that ‘solving’ one problem with eisegetical pretzelizing of the text creates far more problems than it ‘solves’.

Also, Eve was formed from Adam’s rib, again not from ape-like creatures. That is why she could be the “mother of all living”—all the rest of humanity are descended from Eve, who was herself a sort of descendant of Adam. So Paul could explain to the Athenians that all humanity comes from one man (Acts 17:26).

WLC: In fact, the whole narrative in Genesis 1 is an incredibly carefully crafted piece of Hebrew literature. It really is unique. There is nothing like this in Hebrew literature elsewhere. Scholars generally agreed that it is not poetry. It’s not a Hebrew poem, nor is it a hymn exactly. Though, it seems to have strophe or verses. But it’s not just straight forward prose either.

This chapter is a highly stylized piece of writing that is constructed with certain parallels running all through it, for example “And God said,” “And God made,” “And it was so.” You find this structure repeated over and over again through the chapter. It is a very carefully stylistically constructed passage that exhibits an enormous amount of literary polish.

JS: Indeed so. Craig is right that it is not poetry. It is a structured Hebrew narrative:

  1. Command: ‘And God said, “Let there be …
  2. Fulfilment: ‘And it was so.
  3. Assessment: ‘God saw that it was good.
  4. Closure of the day: ‘There was evening, there was morning, Day X.’

That is, God’s commands were fulfilled and even assessed within each 24-hour day. Attempts to avoid the clear historical time frame of Genesis destroy the connection between God’s commands and the response of His creation to His commands, making Genesis inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, and with His revelation in Christ, the ‘exact representation of God’ (Hebrews 1:3)—see also Why is CMI so dogmatic on 24-hour creation days?

WLC: The fact is that yom exhibits the same sort of latitude that the English word ‘day’ does. It can be used to describe a 24-hour period of time, but it can be used more broadly as well. Like when we say, “In Lincoln’s day, there were no automobiles yet” Obviously there, you are not referring to a 24-hour period. Yom, in Hebrew, exhibits exactly that same sort of latitude.

JS: Of course, we have long said the same thing. See for example our article ‘In my father’s day’: To determine whether ‘day’ means a long period of time, the hours of daylight, or a 24-hour period, you need to look at the context.

WLC: Also, the very phrase that is used in Genesis 1 for the first day, yom ehad or “day one”, is also used elsewhere in scripture in a non-literal sense.

JS: Actually, this phrase is very strong evidence for literal days in Genesis 1. Andrew Steinmann, Distinguished Professor of Theology and Hebrew at Concordia University, Illinois , explains:

The answer may lie in the use of the terms “night”, “day”, “evening”, and “morning”. Gen 1:5 begins the cycle of the day. With the creation of light it is now possible to have a cycle of light and darkness, which God labels “day” and “night”. Evening is the transition from light/day to darkness/night. Morning is the transition from darkness/night to light/day. Having an evening and a morning amounts to having one full day. Hence the following equation is what Gen 1:5 expresses: Evening + morning = one day.
Therefore, by using a most unusual grammatical construction, Genesis 1 is defining what a day is. This is especially needed in this verse, since “day” is used in two senses in this one verse. Its first appearance means the time during a daily cycle that is illuminated by daylight (as opposed to night). The second used means something different, a time period that encompasses both the time of daylight and the time of darkness.
It would appear as if the text is very carefully crafted so an alert reader cannot read it as ‘the first day’. Instead, by omission of the article it must be read as ‘one day’, thereby defining a day as something akin to a twenty-four hour solar period with light and darkness and transitions between day and night, even though there is no sun until the fourth day.21,22
WLC: For example, this phrase is used in Zechariah 14:7 to refer to the day of the Lord. Zechariah 14:7 refers to the day of the Lord that is to say, God’s judgment upon Israel which is clearly not meant to be just a 24-hour period of time. So the language in Genesis 1 should not be pressed to indicate literal 24-hour days.

JS: Another very weak argument. Kulikovsky explains about Zechariah 14:7:

The ‘day’ in question is surely the same as that mentioned in verses 1, 4, and 6, and it is clear from verse 5 that on ‘that day’ the Lord will come. In other words, it describes a specific time at which a space-time event occurs in the future. How can the coming of the Lord take a long period of time? It is an event: at one moment on that day, He will be absent—in the next moment He will have returned. Therefore the ‘unique day’ in Zechariah 14:7 does indeed refer to a literal 24-hour day.23

WLC: On behalf of those who do interpret it literally, I think one of the best proof texts for interpreting yom as literal in Genesis 1 actually isn’t in the book of Genesis. It’s in the book of Exodus. If you look at Exodus 20:9–11, the author is reflecting back on the Genesis narrative.

He is looking back on this seven day creation week and reflecting on it. In Exodus 20:9–11 he says this:

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 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. 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.

Here the passage says that in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. Defenders of the literal interpretation will say that this shows that Genesis 1 is intended to refer to a literal week of six consecutive 24-hour days.

JS: Indeed we do. But Craig tries to explain it away:

WLC: But I think that this interpretation may be pressing the passage in Exodus a little too hard. What the Exodus passage is talking about clearly is the pattern that is set down in Genesis, namely, the pattern of God’s laboring for six days creating the world and then resting on the seventh day.

That pattern is the same that Israel should observe in its literal work week. Israel should work for six literal days and then rest on the seventh day. But that doesn’t mean to say that because the pattern is the same, that therefore, the periods of time or the days described in Genesis 1 are therefore exactly the same length as our ordinary calendar days. Look at how the Sabbath commandment is repeated in Exodus 31: [18:45] 12–17. …

JS: In RC, I wrote:

The clearest of all [evidences for 24-hour Creation days] is the Fourth Commandment, which, in both Exodus 20:8–11 and 31:17, has the causal explanation ‘For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the Earth … but he rested on the seventh day’. The word ‘for’ (Hebrew כי, also having the sense ‘because’) at the beginning of this expression is a causal explanation, showing that the Creation Week is the very basis of the working week. In these passages, it’s explicit that the Creation Days were the same as those of the human work week. There is no point even trying to understand the Bible if a word in the same passage and same grammatical context can switch meanings, without any hint in the text itself.

Craig continues with his eisegetical pretzelizing:

WLC: Notice that in this passage, it refers to the seventh day as the day of God’s Sabbath rest. It says, “On the seventh day, God ceased from labor and was refreshed by this day.” But when you read Genesis 1, the seventh day is clearly not a 24-hour period of time. It, unlike the other days, does not come to an end with evening and morning.

So “the seventh day is clearly not a 24-hour period of time”—not even something tentative such as “might not be”, mind you. This would have been news to most of the Church Fathers, medieval theologians, and Reformers. For example, the leading theologian and apologist of the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274):

The words ‘one day’ are used when day is first instituted, to denote that one day is made up of twenty-four hours. Hence, by mentioning ‘one’, the measure of a natural day is fixed. Another reason may be to signify that a day is completed by the return of the sun to the point from which it commenced its course. And yet another, because at the completion of a week of seven days, the first day returns which is one with the eighth day. The three reasons assigned above are those given by Basil (Hom. 2[8] in Hexaem).24

More recently, Steinmann pointed out:

Likewise, the seventh day is referred to as הַשְּׁבִיעִי [hashəvî’î] (Gen 2:3), with lack of an article on יום [yôm]. This, also, the author is implying, was a regular solar day. Yet it was a special day, because God had finished his work of creation.25

Also, systematic theologian Dr Doug Kelly responded to this sort of argument as follows—and since this is a favourite of Craig’s hero Hugh Ross, I cited this in RC:

To say the least, this places a great deal of theological weight on a very narrow and thin exegetical bridge! Is it not more concordant with the patent sense of the context of Genesis 2 (and Exodus 20) to infer that because the Sabbath differed in quality (though not—from anything we can learn out of the text itself—in quantity), a slightly different concluding formula was appended to indicate a qualitative difference (six days involved work; one day involved rest)? The formula employed to show the termination of that first sabbath: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made” (Gen. 2:2) seems just as definite as that of “and the evening and the morning were the first day.”26
WLC: God is still in the day of his Sabbath rest. God is still in the period of no longer being active in creating new things.

JS: As I pointed out in RC:

If someone says on Monday that he rested on Saturday and is still resting, it in no way implies that Saturday lasted until Monday.27
WLC: If the seventh day, though it is referred to as a day and is the model for Israel’s literal Sabbath day, isn’t to be taken literally as we know, then why should the other days also be taken literally as 24-hour periods of time?

JS: Surely, if Craig is using the absence of evening and morning as proof that the 7th day is not 24-hours, then we have an answer to his question: that the other days do end with evening and morning!

WLC: Sometimes those who defend the literal interpretation of six consecutive 24-hour days will point out that when an ordinal number is used with the word yom as in second day, third day, and fourth day, then it always refers to a literal 24-hour day. When you use an ordinal number like second, third, fourth, fifth with yom, then it’s always referring to a literal 24-hour day. … They will say that the use of the ordinal number with yom indicates that it’s a 24-hour period of time. However, I don’t find this to be a convincing argument at all.

First of all, there is no grammatical rule in Hebrew that says that yom followed by an ordinal number has to refer to a 24-hour period of time. Even if it were the case that nowhere else in Hebrew literature that we have extant do we find yom followed by an ordinal number not referring to a 24-hour day, that could just be an accident of the Hebrew literature that happens to have survived.

JS: Of course, we could get into the debate about whether grammatical rules are prescriptive, as Craig evidently believes, or descriptive—describing the way the language is used. Indeed, it is true that day with a numeric does mean an ordinary day in Hebrew. See for example the carefully documented study The days of Creation: A semantic approach.

Also, Craig’s excuse is really special pleading. In RC, I responded to a similar claim:

Long-agers Bradley and Olsen claim that all exegetical bets such as the number/day connection are off, because Creation is the one exception to the rule:
There is no other place in the Old Testament where the intent is to describe events that involve multiple and/or sequential, indefinite periods of time. If the intent of Genesis 1 is to describe creation as occurring in six, indefinite time periods, it is a unique Old Testament event being recorded. Other descriptions where yôm refers to an indefinite time period are all for a single time period. Thus, the absence of the use of yamîm for other than regular days and the use of ordinals only before regular days elsewhere in the Old Testament cannot be given an unequivocal exegetical significance in view of the uniqueness of the events being described in Genesis 1 (i.e, sequential, indefinite time periods).28
This is classic question-begging—they assume that the authors’ intent was to describe sequential indefinite periods of time, yet this is what needs to be demonstrated. And claims of exceptions require exceptionally strong reasoning! Secondly, as we have pointed out, we are perfectly aware that there are some occasions where yôm can mean an indefinite period of time. This is so only when it is modified by a preposition such as be (e.g. as we have shown with Genesis 2:4 [see below]). However, none of the instances in Genesis 1 are modified in this way.

WLC: Secondly, in any case, the claim is simply false. It is false. We do have passages where yom is used with an ordinal number to refer to a non-literal day. One such passage would be Hosea 6:2. In Hosea 6:2, it says, “He will revive us after two days. He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before him.” Here the days are not meant to be 24-hour periods of time. It is talking about God’s judgment upon Israel. He’s rent Israel. He has judged Israel. But on the third day, he will raise us up.

The third day is symbolic of the day of God’s deliverance and healing and restoration of Israel after it’s having been wounded and rent by the Lord’s judgment. It’s simply false that yom used with an ordinal number always refers to a 24-hour period of time. In Hosea 6:2, it is clearly not referring to a literal 24-hour period of time.

JS: From RC, yet again:

The old-Earth creationist Alan Hayward, whom Ross praises for ‘sound theology’ despite being a unitarian,29 so denying the Deity of Christ as is clearly taught in the New Testament (e.g. John 1:1–14, 5:18; Titus 2:13), claimed that this passage “is at least one exception that shatters the so-called rule.”30 Not surprisingly, Ross accepts and repeats this argument (C&T:47).
However, this verse is set in a very specific sort of poetic synonymous parallelism. It is a common Semitic device, which takes the form X//X+1, i.e. one number followed by the next one, but where the numbers are not meant to be taken literally because they refer to the same thing in different ways.31 Other OT examples that illustrate the synonymity are:

Job 5:19:From six calamities he will rescue you, from seven no harm will befall you.

Prov. 6:16:There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him:

Prov. 30:15:There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, “Enough!

Prov. 30:18:There are three things that are too amazing for me, four that I do not understand.

Amos 1:3:This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Damascus, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath…

Hosea 6:2 is likewise this specific Semitic figure of speech, so must be interpreted accordingly. So the use of ‘two days’ and ‘three days’ are not intended to give literal numbers, but to communicate that the restoration of Israel mentioned in the previous verse will happen quickly and surely. This applies regardless of eschatological views about when this takes place.

Therefore, these instances must refer to normal days, or maybe even shorter periods, as opposed to long periods, otherwise the device would lose its meaning, i.e. the restoration would not be quick and sure if the days were long periods of time.

So Hayward and Ross are wrong to use this verse with a special grammatical structure to try to overturn the hundreds of crystal-clear examples of yôm used with a number.

WLC [in the following week’s lecture]: We saw in particular that it would be unwarranted to think that the word yom or day has to refer to a literal day. For example, in Genesis Chapter two and verse four, you have the word yom used in a clearly metaphorical way. In Genesis two-four, it says “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”

Now in this passage, Genesis two-four, it refers to the entire creation week as the day in which the Lord made the heavens and the earth. Even in the very creation account itself we have the word yom used in a metaphorical sense to describe the entire creation week not just a 24-hour period of time.

In any case, showing that the word yom means a 24-hour day really doesn’t begin to address the question of whether or not a 24-hour day might be used as a metaphor for something else.

JS: Now Craig wrenches a word from one context to twist the same word used in a completely different context. As Hebrew scholar Robert McCabe explains:

In Genesis 2:4 יוֹם yôm is part of what I can call a grammatically bound construction. To communicate my point, I will provide a literal translation of 2:4: “in-the-day-of-making by the Lord God earth and heaven.” The five hyphenated words in this translation comprise this compound grammatical relationship. These five words involve three closely related words in the Hebrew text: an inseparable preposition (“in,” ) immediately attached to “day” (yôm) a construct, singular noun, and an infinitive construct (“making,” ‘āśôt). Elsewhere in the Bible, this compound bə yôm is often a Hebrew idiom for “when”, thus the verse means, “when the Lord God made the earth and heaven.32
Furthermore, as pointed out in RC:

There is also a parallel passage in Numbers 7:10–84. In verses 10 and 84, beyôm is used in relation to the whole 12 days of sacrifice at the dedication of the tabernacle. But in between these at verses 12, 18, 24, etc. we have yôm used with a number to refer to each of the 12 literal days.33

WLC: Even if it were true that the word yom means 24-hour period of time, that doesn’t even begin to address the literary question of whether or not a 24-hour day might not be used as a literary metaphor for something else. I don’t find the arguments on behalf of the literal interpretation compelling. …

JS: But unlike Craig, the vast majority of exegetes have found a literal interpretation compelling—until the rise of uniformitarian geology and capitulation of many conservative Bible commentators to this view. See How has Genesis 1–11 been understood throughout history? and Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history?

WLC: I want you to notice something very peculiar when it comes to the third day. If you have your Bible, take a look at Genesis chapter 1, verses 11 and 12. This is one of the most interesting features of this narrative.

Genesis chapter 1, verses 11 and 12 says, “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth, bearing fruit after their kind with their seed in them,’ and it was so.” The earth brought forth vegetation and fruit trees, etc., etc.

Notice it doesn’t simply say here, “And God said, ‘Let there be fruit trees and vegetation,’ and it was so,” a sort of miraculous creatio ex nihilo. No. What it says is, let the earth bring forth vegetation, and fruit trees bearing seed after their kind, and bearing fruit after their kind. Then it says the earth brought these things forth.

We all know how long it takes, for example, for an apple tree to grow up from a little shoot, become a sapling, then grow into a big tree and blossom and put forth flowers and then put out apples, finally.

JS: God, the creator of time, is hardly limited by time. A number of the Church Fathers thus believed that God caused instantaneous growth, e.g. Basil the Great (AD 329–379):

“Let the earth bring forth grass.” In a moment earth began by germination to obey the laws of the Creator, completed every stage of growth, and brought germs to perfection. …
At this command every copse was thickly planted; all the trees, fir, cedar, cypress, pine, rose to their greatest height, the shrubs were straightway clothed with thick foliage. The plants called crown-plants, roses, myrtles, laurels, did not exist; in one moment they came into being, each one with its distinctive peculiarities. Most marked differences separated them from other plants, and each one was distinguished by a character of its own. …
“Let the earth bring forth.” This short command was in a moment a vast nature, an elaborate system. Swifter than thought it produced the countless qualities of plants. It is this command which, still at this day, is imposed on the earth, and in the course of each year displays all the strength of its power to produce herbs, seeds and trees. Like tops, which after the first impulse, continue their evolutions, turning upon themselves when once fixed in their centre; thus nature, receiving the impulse of this first command, follows without interruption the course of ages, until the consummation of all things.34

WLC: Finally, notice also the sixth day. This is the day that God creates Adam and Eve. When you read chapter 2 of Genesis, it makes it plausible that the author didn’t intend that sixth day to be just a 24-hour period of time. He goes on in chapter two to describe Adam’s activity on this day prior to Eve’s creation, naming all of the animals, for example.

Hundreds and thousands of animals that must have been known to the ancient Israelites, and in order to get acquainted with their habits, to realize that none of them is fit for him as a mate, that he is alone and unique in creation, and then having him fall asleep, and Eve finally being created, seems to envision a longer period of time.

JS: More tired old arguments, long ago answered by YECs:

First, Genesis 2:19 clearly states that God brought the animals to Adam. So there was no need to expend time finding and capturing them.
Second, as explained earlier, the number of kinds was much smaller than the number of today’s species.
Third, the list of animals that Adam had to name was far from exhaustive. Scripture explicitly states that Adam named all the ‘livestock’ (behemāh), the ‘birds of the air’ (‘oph hashāmayim) and all the ‘beasts of the field’ (chayyat hassādeh). There is no indication that Adam named the fish in the sea or any other marine organisms, nor did he name any of the insects or arachnids. So, like the Ark’s obligate passengers (see comments on Genesis 7), this involved only a small fraction of all the kinds of animals. Furthermore, the animals Adam had to name were even fewer—Genesis 2:20 omits ‘creeping things’ (remes, reptile), and the ‘beasts of the field’ are a subset of the ‘beasts of the earth’ of Genesis 1:24.

Combining both facts—that ‘kinds’ are broader than species, and that there was only a small subset of all kinds—there were probably only a few thousand animals involved at most. Even if we assume that Adam had to name as many as 2,500 kinds of animals, if he took five seconds per kind, and took a five-minute break every hour, he could have completed the task in well under four hours.35,36

When at last Eve is presented to Adam in chapter 2, verse 23, what does he say? “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The word there, “at last,” is a word that connotes a period of time or a period of waiting.

For example, it’s the same word that’s used in the story of Jacob with Leah and Rachel, where Jacob “at last” is able to leave Laban after 14 years of working to win Leah and Rachel as his wives. Also, when Jacob finally sees his son, Joseph, and is ready to depart this life and to die, the same word is used. “At last” he is ready.

This phrase “at last” is used in Genesis elsewhere to indicate a long time of waiting. That again suggests that the author didn’t see what he said in Genesis 1 as being a description of a 24-hour period. For these and other various reasons, I think that one can legitimately approach Genesis one-three with greater flexibility than what the literal interpretation would imply. If this is right, that would mean that the creation account is not meant to be transpiring in 6 consecutive 24-hour days. …

JS: Another eisegetical fairy tale from the Rossite woods, once again addressed in RC:

Happa’am = ‘at last’?

Happa’am (הפעם) is merely pa’am (פעם) with the definite article added, so the ‘p’ is doubled. Although Ross claims this is ‘usually translated as “now at length”‘, this is simply not supported by major translations such as the KJV, NKJV, NIV or NASB. Nor is it supported by other parts of the Bible. Rather, the lexicons show that while pa’am has a variety of meanings, and is most often translated ‘time’, with the definite article it means ‘this time’.37 This is illustrated by passages Ross conveniently omits:
  • Judges 6:39—Gideon says to God, ‘may I speak once more … let me make a test once more’. Both times, ‘once more’ is the NASB translation of happa’am, but the second test is only 24 hours after his first test. The KJV has ‘but this once’.
  • Genesis 18:32—Abraham said to God, ‘I shall speak only this once’ (NASB); ‘I will speak yet but this once’ (KJV). Here, happa’am is translated ‘this once’, and it is used at the end of a short dialogue about the coming destruction of Sodom.
There is no basis for saying that this word carries with it the idea of a long period of time in Genesis 2.
WLC: Historically, it’s interesting to note that many of the church fathers and the rabbis down through history did not take Genesis 1 to refer to literal 24-hour days. People like Augustine and Origen and Justin Martyr, for example, and others of the church fathers took these to be not 24-hour periods of time.

JS: Actually, it’s very hard to find plausible candidates apart from Augustine, Origen, and a handful of others. That’s why their names keep coming up as if they were representative of the early Church views, when they were actually a small minority. And even they do not support the compromisers’ case.

As Patristics scholar Dr Benno Zuiddam has documented, Augustine was a young earth creationist—theistic evolutionists take this Church Father out of context. At one time, he wanted instantaneous days—the opposite of the long days that Craig’s hero Ross wants. But he came around to 24-hour days. CMI has long ago pointed out that Augustine strongly denounced ages longer than 6,000 years, while Origen was scathing of ages over 10,000 years.

Justin Martyr did not believe in long creation days. Rather, he was one of a number of early writers who believed that the six days of creation were a pattern for six thousand-year periods of history. This came from the widely misunderstood passage 2 Peter 3:8, which in turn cites Psalm 90:4, “one day is like a thousand years”—see the correct explanation for this; note that it is a simile not an equation. But it’s important to note that they didn’t say that the creation days were a thousand years long. They believed the world would only last for six thousand years from Creation before the return of Christ and the Millennium. In other words, each Day of Creation corresponded to (but was not equal to) one thousand years of subsequent Earth history, which culminated in the Millennium (the thousand-year reign of Christ) that paralleled the 7th Day (of rest), and the world as we know it would last no longer than seven thousand years. Long-ager Davis Young affirms:

But the interesting feature of this patristic view is that the equation of days and millennia was not applied to the creation week but rather to subsequent history. They did not believe that the creation had taken place over six millennia but that the totality of human history would occupy six thousand years, a millennium of history for each of the six days of creation.38

Here is what Justin Martyr actually said:

Now we have understood that the expression used among these words, “According to the days of the tree [of life] shall be the days of my people; the works of their toil shall abound” [Isaiah 65:22] obscurely predicts a thousand years. For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression, “The day of the Lord is as a thousand years,” is connected with this subject. And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place. Just as our Lord also said, ‘They shall neither marry nor be given in marriage, but shall be equal to the angels, the children of the God of the resurrection.’ [Luke 20:35f.] 39

So we see in this passage that Justin believed in a future literal millennium, which he had related to “The day of the Lord is as a thousand years.” But note that he never applied this thousand year period to the creation days. Justin also applied this simile to solve another problem—that Adam died on the same 24-hour day he ate the fruit (Genesis 2:17). Justin pointed out that Adam failed to live to 1,000 (he reached 930 (Genesis 5:5). However, this passage should not give old-earth compromisers an excuse, because the ‘day’ in Genesis 2:17 lacks both a numeric and the combination of evening and a morning.

The solution lies in the Hebrew, which uses forms of the same verb ‘to die’ (mût (מות)), together: môt tāmût (מות תמות). It literally means ‘dying you shall die’, but the sense is the certainty, hence the translation ‘you shall surely die.’ Kulikovsky explains:

When the infinitive absolute precedes a finite verb of the same stem (as is the case here), it strengthens or intensifies the verbal idea by emphasizing “either the certainty (especially in the case of threats) or the forcibleness and completeness of an occurrence.”[40] In other words, the emphasis is on the certainty of their death rather than its precise timing or chronology.[41] This is demonstrated in 1 Kings 2:37–46: Shimei could not possibly have been executed “on the day” he exited his house since he was not killed until after he had travelled from Jerusalem to Gath, located his missing slaves, and travelled back to Jerusalem.42

Kulikovsky suggests an alternative understanding as well, that this phrase could be taken in the ingressive sense43—that is, a verbal form that designates the beginning of an action, state or event. In other words, the focus is on the beginning of the action of dying—i.e. God’s warning really means, ‘… for when you eat of it you will surely begin to die.’

Consider this analogy: if a branch is chopped off a tree and it falls onto hard concrete, one can say that it’s already dead, cut off from the source of life. But the process of physical death takes some time―the cells in the leaves will continue to photosynthesize for several days at least. Similarly, when Adam sinned, he immediately cut himself off from the Source of life, but the dying process took 930 years.44


Although Craig is an excellent apologist in many fields, he fails woefully to dent the strong case for biblical creation. It is even worse that he has failed to interact with the leading biblical creationist literature. This is like an atheist trotting out the juvenile “If God made the universe, then who made God” in a serious work, but failing to address the rejoinder that Craig specialized in with the Kalām argument: “Everything which has a beginning has a cause.” Craig would do well to treat YECs with the respect he would demand of his atheist critics.

Published: 17 September 2013

References and notes

  1. Muehlhauser, L., William Lane Craig’s Debates (Reviews), commonsenseatheism.com, 7 February 2009. Return to text.
  2. Craig, W.L., Hugh Ross’s extra-dimensional deity: a review article, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42(2): 305–373, June 1999; ldolphin.org/craig/. Return to text.
  3. Craig, W.L., Young-earth Creationism is an embarrassment, youtube.com, 23 January 2013. Return to text.
  4. Hallquist, C., William Lane Craig: Young-earth Creationism is an embarrassment, cited on the theologically liberal site patheos.com, 17 February 2013. Return to text.
  5. William Lane Craig Q&A: Was there animal death before Adam?, drcraigvideos, youtube.com, posted 15 August 2013. Return to text.
  6. Craig, W.L., Doctrine of Creation: Excursus on Creation and Evolution, Parts 2–3, ReasonableFaithOrg, youtube.com, posted 12 July 2013. Return to text.
  7. Nemetz, A., Literalness and the Sensus Litteralis, Speculum (A Journal of Medieval Studies) 34(1):76–89, 1959 | doi:10.2307/2847979. Return to text.
  8. See also Cosner, L. and Sarfati, J. Non-Christian philosopher clears up myths about Augustine and the term ‘literal’, J. Creation, 27(2):9–10, 2013. Return to text.
  9. Fruchtenbaum, A.G., Biblical Lovemaking: A Study of the Song of Solomon, Ariel Ministries, 1983. Return to text.
  10. Cited in Packer, J.I., ‘Fundamentalism’ and the Word of God, pp. 101–114, Inter-Varsity Press, 1958. Return to text.
  11. Ross, H.N., The Genesis Question, pp. 26–27, Navpress, Colorado Springs, 1998. Return to text.
  12. D. Clark et al., Stratigraphic, chronological and behavioural contexts of Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia, Nature, 423(6941):747–752, 12 June 2003. Return to text.
  13. C. Wieland and J. Sarfati, Ethiopian ‘earliest humans’ find: a severe blow to the beliefs of Hugh Ross and similar ‘progressive creationist’ compromise views, creation.com/ethiopianskull, 12 June 2003. Return to text.
  14. Tim White et al., Pleistocene Homo sapiens from Middle Awash, Ethiopia, Nature, 423(6941):742–747, 12 June 2003. Return to text.
  15. I. McDougall, F.H. Brown and J.G. Fleagle, Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia, Nature, 433(7027):733–736, 17 February 2005. Return to text.
  16. Wieland, C., Redating Leakey’s Ethiopian human finds: more problems for compromise, creation.com/redating, 18 February 2005. Return to text.
  17. Lubenow, M., Pre-Adamites, sin, death and the human fossils, J. Creation, 12(2):222–232, 1998; creation.com/pre-adamites. Return to text.
  18. Cosner, L., Christ as the last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation narrative in 1 Corinthians 15, J. Creation, 23(3):70–75, 2009; creation.com/1-corinthians-15. Return to text.
  19. Cosner, L., Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of literal Adam, J. Creation, 22(2):105–107, 2008; creation.com/romans5. Return to text.
  20. Leupold, H.C., Exposition of Genesis, book 1, Baker Book House, Michigan, 1942; ccel.org/ccel/leupold/genesis.toc.html. Herbert Carl Leupold (1891–1972), a conservative Lutheran, was Professor of Old Testament Exegesis in the Capital University Seminary, Colombus, Ohio. Return to text.
  21. Steinmann, A., אחד as an ordinal number and the meaning of Genesis 1:5, JETS 45(4):577–584, 2002; quote from pp. 583–584; italics in original, bold added. Long-ager C. John Collins, professor of Old Testament at Covenant Theological Seminary, tried to evade the force of Dr Steinmann’s paper in The Refrain of Genesis 1: A Critical Review of Its Rendering in the English Bible, The Bible Translator 60(3):121–31, 2009. Dr Steinmann rebutted Dr Collins in Night and Day, Evening and Morning, The Bible Translator, 62(3):145–150, 2011. Steinmann’s further analysis of parallel passages, sequences, and cardinal/ordinal distinctions reinforces his original position that the phrase “there was an evening and there was a morning” refers to “one day”. He argues cogently that the evening/morning combination is a merism for a 24-hour day. Return to text.
  22. Sarfati, J., The numbering pattern of Genesis: Does it mean the days are non-literal? J. Creation, 17(2):60–61, 2003; creation.com/numbering, based on Steinmann, אחד as an ordinal number and the meaning of Genesis 1:5, Ref. 21. Return to text.
  23. Kulikovsky, Creation, Fall, Restoration, p. 166, 2009 (see resources, top right). Return to text.
  24. Summa Theologiæ, Question 74. All the seven days in common. Return to text.
  25. Steinmann, אחד as an ordinal number and the meaning of Genesis 1:5, Ref. 21. Return to text.
  26. Kelly, D., Creation and Change, p. 111; see resources, top right. Return to text.
  27. Anon (based on research by Mike Kruger), Is the seventh day an eternal day? Creation, 21(3):44–45, 1999. Return to text.
  28. Bradley, W. L. and Olsen, R. L., The Trustworthiness of Scripture in Areas Relating to Natural Science, in Radmacher, E.D. and Preus, R., Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1984. Return to text.
  29. Hayward admitted this in a letter to creationist David C.C. Watson, who reported it in his review of Hayward’s book in Creation Research Society Quarterly, 22(4):198–199, 1986. Return to text.
  30. Alan Hayward, Creation and Evolution, The Facts and the Fallacies, p. 164, London: Triangle, SPCK, 1985. Return to text.
  31. Roth, W.M.W., The Numerical saying x/x + 1 in the Old Testament, Vetus Testamentum, 12:300–311, 1962; Numerical Sayings in the Old Testament, A Form Critical Study, Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 13:6, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1965. Return to text.
  32. See also Graves, D., “ … when Yahweh God made the earth and the heavens, a proposal for the right translation of בְּיוֹם [bəyôm] in Genesis 2:4, Journal of Creation, 23(3):119–122, 2009. Return to text.
  33. Actually, these verses have bayôm, where the ‘a’ represents the definite article, ‘the’, meaning ‘on the day [xth]’, unlike beyôm, which lacks the article. Return to text.
  34. Basil, Hexaëmeron 5:5,6,10; newadvent.org/fathers/32015.htm. Return to text.
  35. Kulikovsky, A., How could Adam have named all the animals in a single day? Creation, 27(3):27, 2005; creation.com/naming_animal. Return to text.
  36. Grigg, R., Naming the Animals: All in a day’s work for Adam, Creation, 18(4):46–49, September–November 1996; creation.com/animalnames. Return to text.
  37. Kautzch, E., Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 2nd edition, translated by Cowley, A.E., Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 404, 1910. Return to text.
  38. Young, Ref. 9, p. 20. Return to text.
  39. Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, chapter 81. Return to text.
  40. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, 2nd ed., trans. Cowley, A.E., Oxford University Press, Oxford 1910: 113n, citing Genesis 2:17 as a specific example. Return to text.
  41. Hamilton, V., The Book of Genesis, chapters 1–17, p. 172, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990. Return to text.
  42. Kulikovsky, Ref. 23, pp. 192–193. Return to text.
  43. Kulikovsky, Ref. 23, p. 193, n. 88. Return to text.
  44. Thanks to Peter Sparrow for this illustration. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

Refuting Compromise
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft cover
Creation, Fall, Restoration
by Andrew S Kulikovsky
US $11.00
Soft cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard cover