A Summary of the Different Categories of Old Earth Creationism
Genesis 1:26 “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and overall the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” [All Scripture is from the KJV unless otherwise noted.]
In Christianity, there is a dogmatic view concerning creationism and how we are to interpret the first two chapters of Genesis. Traditionally, there is the so-called “conservative” view that the beginning of Genesis is to be taken literally. This means that the seven days mentioned in the first chapter are to be taken as literal 24-hour days, the “beginning” mentioned in the first verses is to be taken as a literal moment, and the “creating” being done is an instant act done in the 24-hour day. However, there are five views that I will mention that are less than “traditional” concerning creation. That said, some of the views have roots in Jewish tradition and early church fathers. We will have a summary of these five views in this post. I am not saying my view (whether traditional or modern), and I am not claiming that these views are the only views (they are not). This is just a reference point. The views are allegorical theistic evolution, literal theistic evolution, progressive creationism, gap theory, and then there is also “Old Earth Ministries” (AKA: “OEM”) joint theory.
Allegorical Theistic Evolution
Obviously, this involves the theory of evolution. They believe that God made everything, including man, through evolution. This specific type of theistic evolution is allegorical. In other words, they believe the creation account in Genesis to be primarily metaphorical as opposed to a
literal and historical account of the earth’s beginnings. Peter Enns, a “liberal scholar,” subscribes to this view. He makes it clear in every one of his books that he believes almost all of the Bible, especially the Pentateuch and the historical books, to be hyperbolic and metaphoric. He is most definitely not alone in this viewpoint. If this were true, it would mean that Christianity can easily play in the same ball-field with not only the majority of scientific facts but also the majority of the most popular theories in science, aside from maybe string theory.
A lot of both old-earth and young-earth creationists disregard evolutionism because they claim that it is not possible because it breaks the laws of nature (The law of biogenesis, etc.). While there are most definitely varying views within allegorical theistic evolution concerning God’s involvement with creation, they stand firm on their stance on evolution. Some of them believe God was directly involved in all of creation, while others take almost a deist approach and say that God made the laws of nature and let “nature take its course.” Either way, when debated by the old earth and young earth people about the “impossibility” of evolution, the allegorical (and literal) theistic evolutionists can always say, “with God, all things are possible.” Last time I checked, making man from the dust of the ground breaks certain scientific laws as well, but even the traditionalist would admit to believing that. The point is, either way, God’s hand is in it!
As far as the days are concerned, the ATE believe that in the first day, the big bang is what God used to create the universe and light from the stars. They look at creation from the view of someone watching the world rotate from the surface of the earth. The earth started out formless and without life. On the second day, God brought the water cycles and landforms and created the laws of science and nature. On day third, plants evolve. They take the phrases “let the earth bring..” and “…and the earth brought..” in Genesis as God commanding the earth to do the actions, and then the earth fulfilling those commands. This is one of the places they see as proof for evolution. On the fourth day, God apparently allowed gasses that were in the atmosphere to clear up so that the sun and moon could clearly be seen. On the 5th day, water creatures and birds evolved. The same language as before is used in the text, commanding the elements to do the work. This does not necessarily mean God was not involved, but rather that earth was doing work commanded to it in the same way that we as humans do work and God helps us. On the 6th day, God commands the earth to bring cattle and other creatures, and then right after he commands this, the verse says that He did what He commanded. ATE believe that God commanded earth and then was directly involved with the work that earth was doing. Man evolved from earlier hominids, and then God put His image (eternal soul and spirit) into man. Some believe this to just be one hominid which he called Adam (which means “man” in Hebrew), and some believe “Adam” to represent a collection of people. The ones who believe “Adam” to represent man as a whole suggest that this was done roughly 150,000 years ago. On the seventh day, God had his non-literal day of rest (completion) which continues even today, as we read of in Hebrews 4.
Literal Theistic Evolution
For the most part, LTE agrees with ATE, but there are some distinct differences which we will speak of here. Obviously, the main difference here is that LTE believe the events to be literal for the most part, speaking of real people and events. You will notice more of what this means as we go through each of the days.
On the 1st day, the LTE believe the same as the ATE for the most part (big bang, void earth, etc.), and they also believe that there is a gap between Genesis 1:1, Genesis 1:2, and the six days of creation. They believe that the actual creation started after the first mass extinction 65 million years ago. On the 2nd-5th day of creation, the LTE believes the same general ideas as the ATE, especially concerning evolution and God commanding the earth to bring certain life forms.
However, on the 6th day, the LTE believe that Adam and eve were for sure literal beings, as opposed to figurative “types.” Some believe Adam came from hominids 5.5 million years ago, and some believe in a later 60,000-year-old hominid. They also claim that there is a difference between God calling the world and everything in it “good” and then calling the garden “perfect.” Death happened outside of the garden because this is natural, but it did not happen inside of the garden until the fall of man. On the seventh day, God “rested,” just like in Hebrews 4.
These individuals do not believe in evolution but rather that God and Him alone made each specific thing. However, they believe that the “days” mentioned in Genesis represent long days or “ages.” On the first day, they believe basically the same thing as the ATE and the LTE. On the second day, God starts earth’s water cycles and landforms. On the third day, God (Himself) created the plants. They believe this started roughly two billion years ago and ended 700 million years ago. There are new plant fossils that come after this time, but it could be argued that God never said in the text that all plant forms were made on this day, just that this “day” is when vegetation started. Day 4 is looked at in the same light as TE. Some believe God made the sun earlier on, but the “standing on earth’s surface” perspective (that Genesis was possibly written in by Moses) would not be able to see it because of the gasses in the atmosphere. Some believe that the only light before this point was from possible stars. The fifth day is when God directly made the sea creatures and birds. This is thought to be around 530 million years ago- 65 million years ago. The sixth day is when God made land animals 65 million years ago and humans 50,000 years ago. Finally, on the seventh day, there was (is) a day of rest, just like with ATE and LTE.
Gap theory believes that there are two different creation accounts. These two accounts are between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” and then, Genesis 1:2 “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” The first “creation” was believed to be billions of years and took into account modern views and theories about the age of the earth and its beginning. The second account is literal 24-hour days and events.
On the first day, God created light and also formless and void earth. On the second day, God created water cycles and gave form to land. This was all done in a literal 24-hour day. The land was already there from the first creation; God just rearranged it before man was created. On the third day, God created all of the land’s plants in one 24-hour period. On the 4th day, God remade the stars and moon and sun. He apparently made them before in the first of the creation, but they died out 12,000 years ago and were remade 6,000 years ago. On the fifth day, God himself created all of the sea creatures and all of the birds in one 24-hour period in time. Finally, on the sixth day, God created mankind and all the land animals at once. The seventh day is unlike it is for the views given before concerning God’s completion; the gap theory suggests that this was a literal 24-hour day of rest.
Old Earth Ministries Joint Theory
Finally, we have an even stranger view in the OEM joint theory. This theory is a mix between progressive creationism and theistic evolution. There is a lot of overlap in theories and overlap in “days.” They suggest that “evening and morning” do not mean a literal evening and morning, but rather the season it took to complete a specific day’s tasks.
Day one is basically the same as the ATE view. It happened roughly 4.5 billion years ago. In the age of day two, God created water cycles and formed land and continued to form land. Days 3-6 are said to do kind of an over-lap. The natural laws continue to change all of the landscape. Whether it be by evolution or by other causes is beside the point with this theory because the days overlap. Plants were created on day three and continued through day six. This “day” started roughly 3.5 million years ago. On day four, God made evident the sun and stars and moon. It doesn’t matter if they were always there from the beginning or if he literally made them this “day,” either way, they were made evident on the fourth day, according to this theory. This causes no theological problem. In the fifth day’s age, it is hard to find a starting place because of the incompleteness of the fossil records. But whenever this day started is when God made sea creatures and birds, either directly by Himself or through evolution. Day five overlaps with day six. On day six, God made land animals through evolution (or directly). He did this roughly 350 million years ago. On the last day of creation, God had a rest (or age of completion).
The Perspective of Moses
We believe through implication that Moses wrote the Pentateuch and that the Pentateuch included Genesis. Therefore, we can safely assume that Genesis was at least primarily written by Moses. We could go into more detail on this matter, but there isn’t room in this article. Perhaps another time!
It is believed by several who hold the five views above that Genesis (especially the first part of Genesis) was written by Moses from a Human perspective. One might ask why this would be so and how this would be possible. Here are a few possible answers: 1) It is not at all unusual for God to use metaphors to explain genuine truths to us. This is possible because the principles and truths behind these “types” are more important than the literal things that happened or that will happen. God (or the angels of God) could have very well done this for Moses and explained creation to him in a symbolic way. 2) It could also be that Moses knew the literal truth through God but explained the more important matters through figurative means because of the schemes that were built up by Israel because of their cultural mindsets. It was easier to comprehend, but still be able to understand God’s major point in Genesis 1 and 2. 3) It is also possible that Moses was shown a vision by God, whether literal or figurative, and that vision is what he recorded in his writings in Genesis. This would not be at all unusual. Yes, it is still possible that Genesis is literal, and Moses recorded it in a literal way, but it is also equally possible that any of these options given above could be valid.
The point is: We may never know all the details of our origin or the origins of the earth, but we should always use humility and have an open and honest mind. Let it be known that this is simply a summary of all of these views. There can be (and have been) tons of books written on the detail of each view that was given in this paper. Granted, some things seem to be a stretch, but the same could be said for traditional creationism. Just because some details seem to be stretched does not mean that we should throw the entire idea out without having an honest look at all the material presented before we call it “heresy.” Study, read, communicate, and pray to God for guidance when searching for the beginning of His creation. There’s much more that could be said on this topic and much more that I will likely talk about in the future. This article will hopefully serve as a good introduction to some understandings outside of your own. – Jesse