Until approximately the mid-nineteenth century, most Christians understood the Creation account of Genesis to mean that God created “the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them” in six 24-hour days. But under the pressure of new geological theories maintaining a very ancient age of the earth, and later in response to Darwinian theory that required vast ages to make macroevolution “possible,” large numbers of true evangelical scholars began to re-interpret the six days to mean something like six long ages. This, they hoped, might remove unnecessary conflict between the Genesis account, which posits an earth a few thousand years old, and new views of science that aggressively required a cosmos that had existed for millions of years.
The great Charles Hodge of nineteenth-century Princeton, for instance, first followed the equally great Thomas Chalmers of Scotland in holding the “gap” theory and later shifted to the “day-age” theory. Many eminent Calvinist scholars have followed this day-age theory, from the magisterial J.H. Bavinck of Holland, who held a variation of it—the “analogical-day” theory—to significant contemporary thinkers.
This theory basically teaches that the Genesis text does not speak of six days of 24 hours each. Rather, it means six vast ages, which could have lasted billions of years, thus removing the necessity of defending the hopeless position of a young earth in the face of the strident claims of most modern chronology.
By removing this offense to the temporal claims of the reigning scientific paradigm, Christian thinkers hoped to preserve the redemptive message of the rest of the Bible. Their intention was honorable, but the time has come to put two honest questions to their methodology and its results.
First, and foremost, precisely why did good scholars suddenly decide, after some 1,800 years of church history, that the Genesis text did not mean what it traditionally was thought to have clearly stated: that God created all things within six solar days? Why did they attempt such tortured modes of interpretation to make references to a normal calendar day mean millions of years? Why did conservative professors, who otherwise carefully exegeted the Holy Scriptures, all of a sudden begin dealing with Genesis 1–11 in a very different way from the traditional histori-co-literal sense to which they were elsewhere (from Gen. 12 to Rev. 22) committed?
On the surface, at least, many of them argued that study of Scripture itself led them to do so. For instance, they noted that the Hebrew word for “day” (yom) is employed in various ways in the Bible. Certainly it is true that writers of Scripture sometimes refer to “the days of the judges,” “the day of the Lord,” and that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years” (2 Peter 3:8). But in all of these cases, a finite number of days is meant (never vast ages) and the immediate context makes clear that the normal 24 hours is not intended.