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Chapter 3

The Days of Genesis 1

The Early Church & the Age of the Earth

The development of a Christian chronology owes much to the need to answer a persistent charge made by their opponents. It was alleged that Christianity was a new religion, and as such, unworthy of serious consideration. On the contrary, the Christians replied, Christianity is in fact the oldest, and therefore, the true religion.(1) Whatever was good or noble in the writings of pagan philosophers was there because it had been plagiarised from Moses. This “Theft of the Greeks” argument became very popular in the early church (see Table 3.1) and the development of a chronology to support it was a natural consequence.(2)

Table 3.1: Church Fathers Who Believed In “The Theft of the Greeks.”

Church Father



Justin Martyr

c.100 - c.165

Hortatory Address (whole book)



Address, 31

Clement of Alexandria

c.150 - c.215

Miscellanies, 1.21; 2.5; 6.3

Eusebius of Caesarea


Preparation, 10.11-13.21

The belief that the world would last 7 000 years appears to have been almost universally accepted by the early church (see Table 3.2). The early church writers based their teaching on the days of Genesis 1, Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8 and the biblical genealogies. They reasoned that as God created in six days and a day is as a thousand years, therefore the earth would last for 6 000 years. After this would come a thousand years of rest, equivalent to the seventh day. The same idea is found in Jewish literature. The Babylonian Talmud refers to a chronological scheme by which history is divided into three ages of 2 000 years each: an age of chaos; the age of the Law, and the age of the Messiah.(3) A thousand years of rest would follow.(4) Because the origin of this teaching cannot be dated accurately we cannot say with certainty if the belief was widespread within Judaism or at what time it originated.

Quoted in full Psalm 90:4 reads: “For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.” It means that viewed from God’s perspective the span of a man’s life is like the twinkling of an eye. The verse is therefore not saying that the two lengths of time are identical, rather it is making a comparison concerning divine and human perspective. While we might disagree with their exegesis the widespread acceptance of the creation week pattern for earth history implies the acceptance by many of the church fathers’ of two important points:

  1. The earth is young (less than 6 000 years old).
  2. The biblical genealogies provide an accurate chronology.

Table 3.2: Church Fathers Who Believed that This World Would Last 6 000 years




Pseudo Barnabas

70-135 AD

Epistle of Barnabas 15:1-4



Against Heresies 5.28.3

Gaudentius of Brescia

d. after 410

Tractatus 10.15


d. 235

Commentary on Daniel 4.23

Hilary of Pontiers


In Matthew 17:1; 20:6; Tract Myst. 1.41; 2.10


d. after 317

Divine Institutes 7.14-27

Firmicus Maternus


The Error of the Pagan Religions 25.3

Sulpicius Severus


History, 1.2.1


d. c. 400

Book of Rules, 5

In the interests of accuracy it is important to note that unlike most of the other writers listed above Tyconius rejected the idea that the seventh ‘day’ of earth’s history was to be interpreted as a literal 1 000 years. Augustine does note that he believed himself to be living in the sixth millennium of world history, but believed that the 1 000 year rule of Christ on earth was to be interpreted spiritually.(5) Elsewhere he rejected the exegesis upon which the entire “day=1 000 years” formula was based as well as the use of this formula to calculate the date of the return of Christ.(6)

Progressive creationist Dr. Hugh Ross interprets the evidence presented above rather differently. He argues that the fathers believed that the days of Genesis were a thousand years in length and not 24 literal hours.(7) Ross cites two writers in support of his position: Justin Martyr and Irenaeus of Lyons. Justin Martyr wrote:

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, 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.(8)


And there are some again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since “a day of the Lord is as a thousand years,” he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin. Whether, therefore, with respect to disobedience, which is death; whether [we consider] that, on account of that, they were delivered over to death, and made debtors to it; whether with respect to [the fact that on] one and the same day on which they ate they also died (for it is one day of the creation); whether [we regard this point] that with respect to this cycle of days, they died on the day in which they did also eat, that is, the day of the preparation, which is termed “the pure supper,” that is, the sixth day of the feast, which the Lord also exhibited when He suffered on that day; or whether [we reflect] that he (Adam) did not overstep the thousand years, but died within their limit…(9)

Both of these early Christian writers argue that because Adam was told that he would die on the day that he sinned, therefore he lived for less than a thousand years which is a day in the Lord’s sight (cf. Psalm 90:4). Irenaeus adds a further parallel between Adam and Christ: they both died on the sixth day of the week. Taken in isolation it might be concluded from this that both believed that all the days of creation were a thousand years in length, as well as the “days” of the history of the earth. Further research shows that the idea that Adam’s life span being less than a thousand year “day” was not a new one. It originated in Jewish literature and is found in the Book of Jubilees (c.105-153 BC):

And at the close of the Nineteenth Jubilee, in the seventh week in the sixth year thereof Adam died, and all his sons buried him in the land of his creation, and he was the first to be buried on the earth. And he lacked seventy years of one thousand years; of one thousand years are as one day in the testimony of the heavens and therefore was it written concerning the tree of knowledge: “On the day ye eat thereof ye shall die.” For this reason he did not complete the years of this day; for he died during it.(10)

A similar saying occurs in Bereshith Rabba on Genesis 3:8: “I said to him, on the day thou eatest of it, thou shalt surely die. But you know not whether it is one of My days or one of yours. Behold I give him one of my days which is as a thousand years.”(11) This last quote appears to me to give us the key to understanding how the various “days” were viewed. There seems to be a distinction being made between one of the Lord’s “days” and one of man’s “days”. The former are a thousand years in length, the latter last for 24 hours. This would explain how Irenaeus, a few chapters after the passage quoted above is able to write:

For in six days as the world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all his works.” This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of the things to come. For that day of the Lord is a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.(12)

So Irenaeus seems to have seen no contradiction here. For him the days of Genesis were 24 hours long and served as a pattern for the history of the world. Adam lived for 930 years, which was 70 years less than a full “day of the Lord” and so he solved an apparent contradiction in Scripture. Justin Martyr makes no further reference to the days of creation, so we are unable to confirm that he too believed the days of Genesis to be “human” days, but it seems likely that he followed what appears to be an accepted practice. Later writers, such as Hippolytus, Lactantius, Victorinus of Pettau do not mention the “explanation” of Adam’s life span given by Justin and Irenaeus probably because they understood Genesis 2:17 (“...on the day you eat of it you will die...”) differently. Table 3.3 shows how the writers of the early church viewed the days of creation. We cannot be sure of the views of most writers for a variety of reasons already mentioned above. My own view based upon the style of exegesis of other passages of Scripture would lead me to think that the vast majority of those listed as having an unclear view would opt for 24 hours had they discussed the subject. The shortage of references does not mean that they thought the issue of the age of the earth was unimportant. On the contrary it was clearly an contentious issue in the early church, because the Greeks believed that the world was extremely ancient.(13) Lactantius wrote:

Therefore let the philosophers, who enumerate thousands of ages from the beginning of the world, know that the six thousandth year is not yet completed, and that when this number is completed the consummation must take place, and the condition of human affairs be remodelled for the better, the proof of which must first be related, that the matter itself be plain. God completed the world and this admirable work of nature in six days, as is contained in the secrets of Holy Scripture, and consecrated the seventh day, on which He rested from His works.(14)

Hugh Ross notes that Eusebius makes no reference to a date for creation or to the age of the earth anywhere in his works.(15) He then goes on to note that Eusebius twice cites Genesis 2:4(16) and finds in this proof that he took the days of Genesis 1 to be longer than 24 hours. It has been well been said that arguments from silence are seldom worth considering! The length of the “day” of Genesis 2:4 essentially tells us nothing about what an author believes about the days of Genesis 1 as to the best of my knowledge all modern writers and commentators take Genesis 2:4 to mean a period other than 24 hours - most take it to include (as Eusebius did) the entire period of God’s creative activity up to Genesis 2:3. The most that can be deduced from the available evidence is that there is no way of knowing what Eusebius believed on the subject of the days of Genesis 1.

Even those who rejected literal 24 hour days still believed in a young earth as Table 3.4 demonstrates. Origen believed that the world was less than 10 000 years old and Clement thought it was still younger. In my view Davis A. Young is right when he concludes that the early church fathers “...did not believe that the creation had taken place over six thousand years, but that the totality of human history would occupy six thousand years, a millennium of history for each of the six days of creation.”(17)

Table 3.3: The Length of the Days of Creation



24 hours





c.20 BC- c.AD 50




Creation 13


AD 37/38- c.100



Antiquities 1.1.1 (1.27-33)

Justin Martyr

c.100 - c.165









Theophilus of Antioch




Autolycus 2.11-12

Irenaeus of Lyons





Clement of Alexandria

c.150 - c.215




Miscellanies 6.16


c.160 - c.225




Julius Africanus





Hippolytus of Rome




Genesis, 1.5






Celsus, 6.50, 60





Chastity 5.7





Institutes 7.14

Victorinus of Pettau

d. c. 304




Eusebius of Caesarea





Ephrem the Syrian




Commentary on Genesis 1.1

Epiphanius of Salamis




Panarion, 1.1.1

Basil of Caesarea




Hexameron, 2.8

Gregory of Nyssa





Gregory of Nazianxus





Cyril of Jerusalem

d. 387



Catechetical Lectures 12.5

Ambrose of Milan




Hexameron, 1.10.3-7

John Chrysostom










Augustine of Hippo





Literal, 4.22.39

Table 3.4: Specific Statements Made by the Early Church Writers Concerning the Age of the Earth



Date of Creation of Adam (BC)


Clement of Alexandria

c. 150- c. 215

5 592

Miscellanies 1.21

Julius Africanus


5 500

Chronology, Fragment 1

Hippolytus of Rome


5 500

Daniel, 4



< 10 000

Celsus, 1.20

Eusebius of Caesarea


5 228


Augustine of Hippo


< 5 600

City 12.11

Dr. Richard Landes, in a detailed examination of the early church’s chronography, describes how the chronology of Hippolytus and Julius Africanus rapidly gained wide acceptance. This was then superseded in the 4th century by the chronology of Eusebius (republished by Jerome) which brought the date of creation forward by 300 years.(18) Despite New Testament injunctions against the setting of dates chronology was being used to predict the time of the Lord’s return. Landes argues that the change in dates was part of an attempt on the part of the church leadership to cool apocalyptic expectations by moving the predicted date further into the future.(19) This concern led to further revisions in calculation which made the world younger and younger as time passed.(20) From the 8th century calendars began to date events Annus Domini (AD) instead of the traditional Annus Mundi (A.M.).(21) For the purposes of our present study the important point to note is that it was ecclesiastical concern over eschatology rather than arguments that the world was more ancient that caused these changes.

Before we move on to discuss the Day-Age Theory it is worth noting the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses on the length of the creation days. They, it might well be argued, take the “creation week” model for the history of mankind to a ridiculous extreme. The reasoning presented in their publications might be summarised as follows:

God created the world in six “days”. In Scripture a day can mean long periods of time (cf. Zech. 14:8; Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8, 10).(22) Adam died on the “day” in which he sinned, a “day” in this case being equal to a thousand years.(23) The seventh “day” on which God rested is still continuing today. Six thousand years have elapsed between the creation of Adam and the year 1914 when Christ established his heavenly throne.(24) After this there remains a thousand years until the end of the seventh “day”.(25) Therefore, each of the days of creation was 7 000 years long.(26) This of course raises the question of how the year 1914 for the establishment of Christ’s rule is arrived at. The Witnesses argue that just as Nebuchadnezzar was removed from the throne for seven ‘times’ (in his case seven years, Daniel 4:10-17). Seven years is 84 months of 30 days or 2 520 days. Ezekiel 4:6 in the New World Translation reads: “I have appointed thee each day for a year.” So, the 2 520 days now become 2 520 years. As Jehovah’s theocracy on earth (the independent nation of Israel) ended in 607 BC, the date of the restoration of His new theocracy (the Watchtower organisation) is arrived at by adding 2 520 years to this date, giving you 1914 AD.(27)

Their argument appears to be that because a ‘day’ can mean something other than a 24 hour day it can therefore mean any length of time that you want it to. Such elastic exegesis contradicts the fundamental principle of linguistics which states that a word’s possible range of meanings is limited by its context. The Jehovah’s Witnesses view is therefore a product of an arbitrary manipulation of Scripture carried out to support a preconceived theological framework. Needless to say that there is no basis in the teachings of the early church to support them.

The Early Church & The Day-Age Theory

Perhaps no other writer of the early church has been so consistently called upon as a to support theistic evolution as Augustine of Hippo. Such is his inherent authority that appeals made to him are evidently considered quite important. Many writers have argued that Augustine supported the Day-Age interpretation of Genesis 1, whereby the creative days lasted for long periods of time. One of the most influential proponents of this position was William Greenough Thayer Shedd (1820-1894). Shedd placed special emphasis on the history of Christianity as a means of identifying and countering false teaching.(28) For this reason his opinions on the history of doctrine continue to carry a great deal of weight. He wrote in the first volume of his Dogmatic Theology:

Respecting the length of the six creative days, speaking generally, for there was some difference of views, the patristic and mediaeval exegesis makes them to be long periods, not days of twenty-four hours. The latter interpretation has prevailed only in the modern church. Augustine, teaches (De Genesi ad literam, IV.xxvii.) that the length of the six days is not determined by the length of our week-days.(29)

In similar vein John Dickie commented:

But long before Christian thought and scholarship had any knowledge of the close relation between Babylonian and Hebrew accounts of the Creation, the theory was widely held that the six days of Creation meant six extended periods of time.(30)

More recently Oliver Barclay, wrote in a conclusion to a published creation/evolution debate that:

...many on both sides of the discussion will agree that the most natural reading of Genesis 1 is in terms of creation in six 24-hour periods. That, after all, is how it has normally been understood in the history of the church until quite recently. There are exceptions, like Augustine who thought it referred to a long process, and he had considerable influence, but at least since the seventeenth century most people have understood it in terms of six periods of 24 hours, until modern geology got going in the early nineteenth century (before Darwin).(31)

Barclay here contradicts many of Shedd and Dickie’s arguments, but continues to repeat the same interpretation of Augustine. A far more accurate assessment of Augustine is given by Bernard Ramm, who points out that in his work on Genesis:

Augustine does not call them geological days, and it has been argued that there is nothing in Augustine to justify any belief in a period of time for these days. The point Augustine actually makes is that the creation days are so great, so majestic, so profound that we cannot consider them as mere sun-divided days but as God-divided days. They are creative days, not solar days, and so he calls them natures, growths, dies ineffabiles.(32)

With the recent translation of Augustine's works on Genesis into English writers unfamiliar with Latin no longer have to rely on secondary sources when discussing his views. It is to be hoped that this will finally lay to rest the idea that he supported the day-age theory.

Creation According To Seminal Principles

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)Several of the early church fathers believed that God created the universe in the form of seminal principles, including Hilary of Pontiers (c. 315-367),(33) Gregory of Nyssa(34) and Augustine.(35) As Augustine’s writings present the most developed version of this theory it is worth looking at them in some detail.

Augustine believed that God created all things ex nihilo,(36) instantaneously.(37) He identified “in the beginning” with the beginning of time(38) which is considered one of his most valuable contributions to the doctrine of creation.(39) By coining this theory Augustine cut the ground from under his opponents, the Manichees, who asked “What was God doing before he created the world?”(40) If time was created with the world then such temporal questions become meaningless, because you cannot have a time before time existed!(41) Augustine based his doctrine on Sirach 18:1 which reads “He who lives forever created all things together” in the Old Latin and Vulgate.(42) The NRSV of this verse reads: “He who lives forever created the whole universe", so his argument is based on a mistranslation of an apocryphal book, which Augustine apparently accepted as inspired.(43)

In his exegesis of Genesis Augustine recognised three acts of creation. The first, the plan of everything in the mind of God,(44) in the second (Gen. 1:1 - 2:4) of the creation of everything instantaneously in the form of seminal principles. The final act (Gen. 2:5 onwards) describes God’s works within time which we now experience in which the principles became this world and its creatures.(45) The creation of man took place as part of God’s third act,(46) as did the making of Eve from one of Adam’s ribs.(47) However, even this formation of Eve from a rib was part of the seminal principles created during God’s second act.(48)

It is probable that Augustine derived his concept of seminal principles from Stoic and Pythagorean teaching. This stated that every living thing is derived from seeds and that from these tiny particles the fully grown plant or animal developed. The seeds created in the beginning were not the same as those observed now, being far smaller.(49) These in turn produced the world as we now know it just as an acorn produces an oak tree. Closely linked with this is Augustine’s acceptance of the widely held belief in the spontaneous generation of such creatures as flies, bees and frogs.(50) Such a belief required that both living and dead matter contain these seeds, from which these creatures sprang. Augustine wrote that

With regard to certain very small forms of animal life, there is a question as to whether they were produced in the first creatures or were a later product of the corruption of perishable beings. For most of them came forth from the diseased parts or the excrement or vapors of living bodies or from the corruption of corpses; some also from decomposed trees and plants, others from rotting fruit.… it is absurd to say that they were created when the animals were created, except in the sense that there was present from the beginning in all living bodies a natural power, and, I might say, there were interwoven with these bodies the seminal principles of animals later to appear, which would spring from the decomposing bodies, each according to its kind and with its special properties, by the wonderful power of the immutable Creator who moves all His creatures.(51)

The seminal principles developed into everything we now know in the visible universe over a period of six ‘days’. In his earlier works Augustine maintained that these were literal 24 hour days,(52) but later in his Literal Meaning of Genesis he changed his view.(53) The days of Genesis 1 were not for Augustine temporal periods at all, but a way of describing creation as it was revealed to the angels.(54) Six days are described, not because God needed that length of time, but because six is the first perfect number.(55) Thus the “...story of the six days is a dramatic representation of what took place at once as a whole.”(56) Augustine even suggests a logical framework for the six days, based on the numbers which make up the number 6 (1, 2 and 3)(57) as shown in Table 3.5 below.

Table 3.5: Augustine’s “Framework” Interpretation of Genesis 1




Creation of Light

2 & 3

Creation of heaven and earth.

4, 5 & 6

Creation of visible beings in heaven and earth.

He admits that there may be a better interpretation of the meaning of the passage, but admits that after years of study he has been unable to find it. To those who disagree with him he wishes God’s help in finding the true meaning.(58)

The concept of seminal principles has often been seized upon and interpreted (anachronisticly) as proof that Augustine was a theistic evolutionist.(59) According to this reasoning what Augustine described as the seminal principles actually to refers to God’s guidance of the evolutionary process following the “Big Bang”. Closer analysis of Augustine’s argument shows that such a parallel is not justified. The doctrine of seminal principles requires that every living creature is potentially formed at the beginning. There is no room for a development from molecules to man because from the outset species are fixed and cannot be changed.(60) Augustine’s view excludes any idea of millions of years of development because in his view the change from seminal principles to a mature creation was instantaneous.(61)

The Early Church & The Pictorial Day Theory

The modern pictorial-day theory was developed by Air Commodore P.J. Wiseman (1888-1948). Wiseman held that the days of Genesis 1 were not days of creation at all, but rather six days of revelation during which God explained what He had done to Adam.(62) He considered this theory to be original to himself(63) and did not attempt to find support for it in the writings of the church fathers. His theory allows for an old-earth and a local flood and was championed by Robert E. D. Clark (1906-1984).(64) It may be true to say, however, that Augustine may have been the source of what Bernard Ramm refers to as the pictorial-day theory in that he believed “that creation was revealed in six days, not performed in six days.”(65) Wiseman cites Origen and Augustine as supporting the view that the creation days extended over long periods of time,(66) but it is probable that he was relying on a secondary source for this information.(67)

The Early Church & The Framework Hypothesis

The Framework Hypothesis is founded on the supposed parallel of days 1-3, 2-5 and 4-6 of the creation week. Henri Blocher,(68) Charles E. Hummel,(69) Roger Forster & Paul Marston(70) and Victor Hamilton(71) all cite Augustine as a supporter of this theory. Examination of the reference that Hamilton gives (City of God 11.6) shows that Augustine believed no such thing. Although he did experiment with various parallels,(72) Augustine eventually rejected them in favour of the pattern shown in Table 3.5. Such an error is not only poor scholarship, but is also an example of the importance of establishing a historical tradition for a doctrine. In this case the tradition cannot be traced to the early church, the Framework Hypothesis being formulated only two centuries ago by Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803). Von Herder wrote:

The earliest picture of creation is arranged after this model, and the division of the so-called six days’ work has also a reference to it. When the heaven is lifted up, the earth is brought forth also and adorned; when the air and the water are peopled, the earth also becomes inhabited. The same parallelism of the heavens and the earth pervades all the hymns of praise that are grounded on this picture of creation; the psalms, where all the works of nature are invoked to praise their Creator; the most solemn addresses of Moses and the prophets; in short, it appears most extensively throughout the poetry and the language.(73)

The idea that the first three days describe the acts of creation, separation and adornment has a much longer history. It is mentioned by Martin Luther in his Lectures on Genesis, but Luther disregarded it because in his opinion it did not appear to fit the facts. He referred those interested in such trivia to the work of Nicholas de Lyra (c. 1270-1349) on Genesis, to whom Luther himself was heavily indebted.(74) Recognising a parallel between the activities that took place on successive days is a long way from asserting that the days themselves are unreal.

The Early Church & The Gap Theory

The Gap, or Ruin-reconstruction Theory, as it is sometimes known, attempts to harmonise Genesis with an old-earth geological model by arguing that millions of years passed in between Genesis 1 verse 1 and verse 2. The theory has been discussed in depth by other writers, so I won’t repeat those details here.(75) For our present purpose it is necessary only to note some of the major assumptions of the theory:

1. ) The universe is millions of years old. Gap theorist G.H. Pember wrote:

It is clear that the second verse of Genesis describes the earth as a ruin; but there is no hint of the time which elapsed between creation and its ruin. Age after age may have rolled away, and it was probably during their course that the strata of the earth’s crust were gradually developed. Hence we see that geological attacks upon the Scriptures are altogether wide of the mark, are a mere beating of the air. There is room for any length of time between the first and second verses of the Bible.(76)

2. ) Fossils are the remains of the destruction of the first creation by God before the creation of Adam and Eve.(77)

3. ) Many (but not all) adherents of the Gap Theory believe that Noah’s flood was a local and tranquil.(78) If the fossil bearing strata was laid down before Genesis 1:2, then there is no need for the Noah’s flood to explain it.

Supporters of the Gap Theory have often appealed the early church fathers.(79) The preceding discussion should be sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the majority of the early writers believed that the earth was young, and so they did not need any device to dispose of embarrassing aeons. Rather than list all the ancient writers whose work provides no support for the Gap Theory it is necessary only to deal briefly with the writer to whom appeal is made: Origen of Alexandria.

Arthur C. Custance is perhaps the most famous of the modern supporters of the Gap Theory. He argued that Origen was a gap theorist on the basis of the following quotation. While discussing Genesis 1:1, Origen wrote: “For it is certain that the firmament is not spoken of, nor the dry land, but that heaven and earth from which this present heaven and earth which we now see afterwards borrowed their names.”(80) Given the complexity of Origen’s thought it would at the outset appear a somewhat dubious practice to read so much into such a short quotation. As we can see in Appendix 1, Origen believed that when Adam and Eve fell they took on physical bodies and the physical world which as we now know it was created to house them. So in context Origen is saying that the physical world was named after the spiritual world from which Adam fell. Ignoring the rest of Origen’s writings on the subject Custance insists that Origen is saying that it was the re-created physical world of Genesis 1:3 onwards that took its name from the physical world created in the beginning!(81) Weston W. Fields notes that Origen also speaks about the present heavens taking their name from the previous ones, not just the earth. Despite this Custance holds that it was only the earth that was destroyed between Genesis 1 v. 1 and v. 2.(82)

In contrast to Custance’s arguments it would seem that the Gap Theory is was unknown in the early church. It was first suggested by the Dutch Arminian theologian Simon Episcopius (1583-1643) and presented as a scientific theory in 1776 by J G Rosenmüller (1736-1815) in his book Antiquissima telluris historia.(83)

Creation with Appearance of Age

As numerous writers have pointed out, a literal reading of Genesis 1 leads almost inevitably to the understanding that God created a fully functioning ecological system in a very short space of time. It should therefore be of little surprise to see this view reflected in the earliest commentaries on Genesis. The first extant reference to what is known today as “creation with apparent age” is to be found in the writings of the Alexandrian Jew, Philo. He described the creation of plants in Eden as instantaneous, complete with ripened fruit, ready for the animals:

But in the first creation of the universe, as I have said already, God produced the whole race of trees out of the earth in full perfection, having their fruit not incomplete, but in a state of entire ripeness, to be ready for the immediate and undelayed use and enjoyment of the animals which were about immediately to be born.(84)

In the same way many of Rabbis held that Adam was created with the appearance of a twenty year old man.(85) Irenaeus for his part held that Adam and Eve were created as children,(86) with the intention that they grow in grace through willing submission until they reach the point when they would be ready to receive the Spirit of adoption.(87)

Basil of Caesarea provides one of the most detailed expositions of the six days of creation to come down to us from the early church. Basil was convinced that the world was created “in less than an instant,”(88) but writing about the creation of plants he wrote: “God did not command the earth immediately to give forth seed and fruit, but to produce germs, to grow green, and to arrive at maturity in the seed; so that this first command teaches nature what she has to do in the course of ages.”(89) Basil understood Genesis as teaching that God created the plants in the form of seeds, which grew and developed extremely rapidly (as Basil believed that days were only 24 hours in length) but otherwise in the same way as plants do today. In other words God did not create the plants as mature specimens; they grew into them. As Basil himself put it:

In a moment earth began by germination to obey the laws of the Creator, completed every stage of growth, and brought germs to perfection. The meadows were covered with deep grass, the fertile plains quivered with harvests, and the movement of the corn was like the waving of the sea. Every plant, every herb, the smallest shrub, the least vegetable, arose from the earth in all its luxuriance.…(90)
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.(91)

Animals and fish, on the other hand, were created fully grown. Basil’s belief in spontaneous generation led him to conclude that the same process of creation was continuing with such creatures as frogs, gnats, flies, grasshoppers, mice and eels.(92)

Ephrem the Syrian also believed that God created the plants, animals and Adam with the appearance of age:

Just as the trees, the vegetation, the animals, the birds, and even mankind were old, so also they were young. They were old according to the appearance of their limbs and their substances, yet they were young because of the hour and moment of their creation.(93)

The name of Philip Henry Gosse is one that springs to mind when creation with apparent age is mentioned. Of all the thousands of books written during the 19th century in an effort to reconcile Genesis and geology Gosse’s Omphalos has proved an extremely tempting target for anti-creationist writers.(94) Gosse himself did not claim that his idea was original and acknowledged his debt to Granville Penn(95) and J. Mellor Brown (1838).(96) His ideas were also anticipated by Viscount François-Auguste-René de Chateaubriand (1802)(97) and George Fairholme (1833).(98) In his book Gosse argued that just as Adam had been created with a navel (an omphalos in Greek), so all of creation had be formed with the illusion of previous existence.(99) Trees were created with growth rings already formed,(100) coral polyps on fully developed coral reefs(101) and light from distant stars was created in such a way that they could be seen from earth the moment they were formed.(102) Most controversial was his claim that the rocks were created with fossils already in them.(103) Gosse argued that this was not intended to deceive man, because such things as navels and tree rings are inseparable from the mature stage of men and trees respectively.(104) However, when he attempted to answer the question why God should have created fossils in the rocks his response sounds somewhat lame: they were put there to teach about God’s power in creation.(105)

It is somewhat unfortunate that Gosse’s name is so closely associated with creation with the appearance of age, because his theory contained a large number of unnecessary features. For example, one recent writer attacks Young Earth Creationists for believing in creation with appearance of age on the grounds that God would not have deceived mankind by creating a world with dinosaur remains already in its sediments. He does not cite Gosse as his source, but he clearly wishes to tar modern Young Earth Creationists with the same brush.(106)

© 1998 Robert I. Bradshaw


(1) W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 235.

(2) Francis C. Haber, The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin. (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1959), 15-19.

(3) Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 97a.

(4) Mishnah, Tamid 7.4

(5) Augustine, City, 20.7; Henry Bettenson, translator, Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), 908.

(6) Augustine, Exposition of Psalm 90.5 (NPNF, 1st series, Vol. 8, 442).

(7) Hugh Ross, Creation and Time: A Biblical and Scientific Perspective on the Creation-Date Controversy. (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Navpress, 1994), 17-19.

(8) Justin Martyr, Dialogue, 81 (ANF, Vol. 1, 239-240).

(9) Irenaeus, Heresies, 5.23.2 (ANF, Vol. 1, 551-552).

(10) Jubilees 4:29.

(11) William A. Shotwell, The Biblical Exegesis of Justin Martyr. (London: SPCK, 1965), 77-78.

(12) Irenaeus, Heresies, 5.28.3 (ANF, Vol. 1, 557).

(13) Origen, Celsus, 1.20 (ANF, Vol. 4, 404): “And yet, against his will, Celsus is entangled into testifying that the world is comparatively modern, and not yet ten thousand years old, when he says that the Greeks consider those things as ancient, because, owing to the deluges and conflagrations, they have not beheld or received any memorials of older events.”

(14) Lactantius, Insitutes 7.14 (ANF, Vol. 7, 211).

(15) Ross, 20-21.

(16) Eusebius, Preparation, 7.11; 11.29 (Gifford, Part 1, 343; Part 2, 603).

(17) Davis A. Young, Christianity and the Age of the Earth. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982), 20.

(18) Richard Landes, “Lest the Millennium be Fulfilled: Apocalyptic Expectations and the Pattern of Western Chronography 100-800 CE,” Werner Verbeke, Daniel Verhelst & Andries Welkenhuysen (eds.), The Use and Abuse of Eschatology in the Middle Ages. (Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 1988), 138-139.

(19) Landes, 152-154.

(20) Landes, 175.

(21) Landes, 179.

(22) Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania International Bible Students Association, Life - How Did it Get Here? By Evolution or by Creation? (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1985), 26.

(23) Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, From Paradise Lost to Paradise Regained. (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1958), 34.

(24) Paradise, 199, 212-213.

(25) Paradise, 18, 226, 240.

(26) Paradise, 10.

(27) International Bible Students Association, Let God Be True. (Brooklyn, New York: Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc., 1946), 245-246.

(28) Mark A. Noll, “Shedd, William Greenough Thayer,” The Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 1984, Walter A. Elwell, ed. (Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 1995), 1010.

(29) William G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 1. (Edinburgh: T.& T. Clark, 1889), 475-476.

(30) John Dickie, The Organism of Christian Truth: A Modern Positive Dogmatic. (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., n.d.), 121.

(31) O.R. Barclay, “Summary and Conclusion,” Derek Burke, ed. Creation and Evolution. Where Christians Disagree, 1985. (Leicester: IVP 1986), 269-270. Italics is original.

(32) Bernard Ramm, The Christian View of Science and Scripture. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), 147. Italics in original

(33) Hilary of Pontiers, Trinity, 12 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 9, 228)

(34) Gregory of Nyssa, Apologia in Hexaemeron, 77D.

(35) Augustine, Literal 4.33.51-52 (Taylor, No. 41, 141-142).

(36) Augustine, Unfinished, 1.2; 4.14 (Teske, 146, 153) Manichees, 1.6.10 (Teske, 57-58); Literal 1.14.8-1.15.29 (Taylor, No. 41, 35-36); Confessions, 12.7.7 (NPNF, 1st series, Vol. 1, 177); City, 12.1 (Bettenson, 472).

(37) Augustine, Literal 1.14.28-29; 6.6.9 (Taylor, No. 41, 35-36, 183-184).

(38) One of the favourite questions of the Manichees was apparently “What was God doing before he created the world.” By saying that time began with the universe Augustine cut the ground from under them, because there can be, by definition, no “before” before the commencement of time! Armstrong, History, 402-403.

(39) Struder.

(40) Augustine, Manichees, 1.2.3 ( Teske, 49).

(41) Augustine, Confessions, 11.30.40 (NPNF, 1st series, Vol. 1, 174).

(42) Augustine, Literal 4.33.53 (Taylor, No. 41, 142, 254 n. 69). Gousmett, 227: “This is one of a number of places where Augustine’s exegesis is adversely affected by the quality of the translation he was using.”

(43) Augustine, Doctrine, 2.8.13 (NPNF, 1st series, Vol. 2, 539). See further F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 1988), 95

(44) Augustine, Literal 5.12.28; 5.13.29 (Taylor, No. 41, 163, 164). These are analogous to Plato’s forms, that is the plan to which God made the created things.

(45) Augustine, Literal 5.11.27-28 (Taylor, No. 41, 162-163).

(46) Augustine, Literal 6.3.4 (Taylor, No. 41, 180).

(47) Augustine, Literal 6.5.7 (Taylor, No. 41, 182).

(48) Augustine, Literal 6.5.8-5.6.11 (Taylor, No. 41, 183-185).

(49) Eugene Teselle, Augustine the Theologian. (London: Burns & Oates, 1970), 217-218; Gousmett, Chris “Creation Order and Miracle according to Augustine,” EQ 60 (1988): 219-222.

(50) Augustine, City, 15.27; 16.8 (Bettenson, 647, 660).

(51) Augustine, Literal 3.14.22, 23 (Taylor, No. 41, 89-90).

(52) Augustine, Manichees, 1.14.20 (Teske, 68-69).

(53) Augustine, Literal, 4.26.43 (Taylor, No. 41, 133-134).

(54) Augustine, Unfinished, 11.34 (Teske, 170); Literal 4.22.39 (Taylor, No. 41, 129-131).

(55) Because it is the first number that is the sum of its parts (1 + 2 + 3). Augustine, Literal 4.2.2, 6; 4.7.14 (Taylor, No. 41,104, 106, 112); City, 11.30 (Bettenson, 465).

(56) Christian, 5.

(57) Augustine, Literal 2.13.27; 4.3.7 (Taylor, No. 41, 64-65, 107-108).

(58) Augustine, Literal 4.28.45 (Taylor, No. 41, 136).

(59) These include Canon Dorlodot, Darwinism and Catholic Thought, trans. Rev Ernest Messenger. (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1925), 80-87, 141-151; Henry Fairfield Osborn, From The Greeks To Darwin: An Outline of the Development of the Evolution Idea. (London: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1927), 71-72. Even some creationists, such as Bolton Davidheiser, have been deceived into including Augustine as one of the forefathers of Evolution. See Evolution and Christian Faith. (USA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1969), 41-43.

(60) Henry Woods, Augustine And Evolution: A Study in the Saints De Genesi Ad Litteram and De Trinitae. (Universal Knowledge Foundation, 1924), 79-86; Teselle, 218; Etienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of Saint Augustine. (London: Victor Golloncz Ltd., 1961), 207.

(61) Woods, 62-78.

(62) P.J. Wiseman, Clues To Creation In Genesis, Donald J. Wiseman, editor. (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1977), 110, 137-139, 176-177.

(63) Wiseman, 142.

(64) Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. London: California University Press, 1993), 155.

(65) Ramm, 222. Italics in original.

(66) Wiseman, 122, 177.

(67) Wiseman cites Dickie, 121. Wiseman, 122. Wiseman omits full bibliographic details and a page number.

(68) Henri Blocher, In The Beginning: The Opening Chapters of Genesis. (Leicester: IVP, 1984), 49.

(69) Charles E. Hummel, The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts Between Science and the Bible. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 1986), 205.

(70) Roger Forster & Paul Marston, Reason & Faith: Do Modern Science and Christian Faith Really Conflict? (Eastbourne: Monarch Publications, 1989), 358.

(71) Victor P. Hamilton, “The Book of Genesis 1-17,” NICOT. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 55; Augustine, City, 11.6 (Bettenson, 435-436)..

(72) Augustine, Literal 2.13.26-27 (Taylor, No. 41, 63-65). Here the parallel is between days 1-7, 2-6, 3-5, 4. Augustine quickly acknowledges that such a parallel will not work.

(73) J. G. von Herder, The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, trans. James Marsh,.Vol. 1. (Burlington: Edward Smith, 1833), 58.

(74) Martin Luther, “Lectures on Genesis,” Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. Luther’s Works, Vol. 1. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 5.

(75) The two best refutations of the theory are: Weston W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled: A Critique of the Gap Theory. Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1976); John C. Whitcomb, The Early Earth: An Introduction to Biblical Creationism, revised edn. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 141-158. Sadly, the former is out of print.

(76) G.H. Pember, Earth’s Earliest Ages, G.H. Lang, ed., 1971. (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1876), 32.

(77) Pember, 34-36.

(78) Pember, 138; Arthur C. Custance, The Flood: Local or Global? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 33-43. Pember held that Noah’s Flood was universal; Custance that it was local and tranquil.

(79) Arthur Custance alleges that: “A few of the early Church Fathers accepted this interpretation and based some of their doctrines upon it.” Arthur C. Custance, Without Form and Void: A Study of the Meaning of Genesis 1:2. (Brockville, Ontario: Priv. Pub., 1970), 12.

(80) Origen, Principles, 2.9.1 (ANF, Vol. 4, 290).

(81) Custance, Without Form, 18.

(82) Fields, 22.

(83) O Zöckler, “Creation and Preservation of the World,” Samuel Macauley Jackson, Editor-in-Chief, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Vol. 3. (New York & London: Funk and Wagnalis Co., n.d.), 302.

(84) Philo, Creation, 42 (Yonge, 7).

(85) Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews, Vol. 1. (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1913), 59.

(86) “The man was a babe. He had not yet the perfect use of his faculties. Hence he was easily deceived by the seducer.” Irenaeus, Demonstration, 12; cf. Heresies 3.22.4, 4.38.1-4; 4.39.1 (ANF, Vol. 1, 455, 521-522, 522); Theophilus of Antioch, Autolycus 2.2 (ANF, Vol. 2, 94).

(87) Irenaeus, Heresies, 4.37.1; 4.38.3 (ANF, Vol. 1, 518-519, 521-522).

(88) Basil, Hexameron, 1.6 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 8, 55).

(89) Basil, Hexameron, 5.5 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 8, 78).

(90) Basil, Hexameron, 5.5 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 8, 78).

(91) Basil, Hexameron, 5.6 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 8, 78).

(92) Basil, Hexameron, 7.1; 9.2 (NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. 8, 90, 102).

(93) Ephrem the Syrian, Genesis, 25.1. St. Ephrem The Syrian, Selected Prose Works: Commentary on Genesis, Commentary on Exodus, Homily on Our Lord, Letter to Publius, trans. Edward G. Mathews, Jr. & Joseph P. Amar. Kathleen McVey, ed. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1994), 91.

(94) Martin Gardner, Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1957), 124-127.

(95) Philip Henry Gosse, Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knot. London: John Van Woorst, 1857), vii. Granville Penn, A Comparative Estimate of the Mineral and Mosaical Geologies, Vol. 1. (London: James Duncan, 1825), 254: “The same immediate operation of God, which, on the first day, gave perfect existence to His mineral system, and, on the third day, to His vegetable system; gave perfect existence, on this fifth day, to that first created part of His animal system, which comprehended every kind of marine and winged animal, in all the individuals pertaining to its first formation. These were formed in full maturity of structure, in all their component parts, by a mode disclaiming all secondary operation. And, though the bones of the first “whales” unquestionably bore the appearance of an ossifying process, as the textures of the first rock and of the first tree severally bore the appearance of a crystallising and of a lignifying process, yet, that appearance was no indication to reason that they were produced by such a process; because, reason perceives, that they acquired their ossified substance and phenomena before any process of ossification had begun to take place.” [Italics in original]

(96) Gosse, 9. J. Mellor Brown, Reflections on Geology, Suggested by Perusal of Dr. Buckland’s Bridgwater Treatise. London: James Nisbit, 1838.

(97) Viscount François-Auguste-René de Chateaubriand, Le Génie du christianisme (“The Genius of Christianity”), Ouvres complètes de Chateaubriand, Vol 2. (Paris, n.d.), 83: “God could create and without doubt did create, the world with all the marks that we see of old age and completion.”. Cited by Haber, 189-190.

(98) George Fairholme, General View of Geology and Scripture. Philadelphia: Key & Biddle, 1833.

(99) Gosse, 124.

(100) Gosse, 179-180.

(101) Gosse, 183-188.

(102) Gosse, 362-363.

(103) Gosse, 347.

(104) Gosse, 347-349.

(105) Gosse, 370-371.

(106) Don Stoner, A New Look at an Old Earth: Resolving the Conflict Between the Bible & Science. (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1997), 76-77.

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