Is the Biblical Creation Story Literal?

Michael A. Rydelnik
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It seems every time a follower of Jesus runs for public office, someone in the press will ask, “Do you believe in the creation story as found in the Bible or do you believe in evolution?”

If candidates say they believe the Bible, the press will ridicule them for being unscientific and unfit for public service. And this is not just a hot-button issue for hostile reporters. Sometimes, friendly seekers will ask followers of Jesus the same question. There are genuine and thoughtful people who are considering faith in Jesus as their forgiver of sin and their leader in life, but stumble over the issue of creation as revealed in the book of Genesis. That’s why it’s essential for believers to understand the answer to this most basic question: Can a sane and thinking person believe the literal story of creation as found in Genesis 1–2?

I believe the answer to this question is an emphatic “Yes!” While many Bible-believing Christians hold to other views, I believe God created the world in six literal days. The following explains why I believe what I do about the creation narrative.

The Meaning of the Creation Story

To begin, I believe in a young earth. By that I mean that the world is not billions and billions of years old, as Carl Sagan put it. Rather, the Scriptures point to a world made much more recently. That doesn’t mean Bishop Ussher’s creation date of 4004 BC is correct. The sixteenth-century biblical scholar came up with that date by counting up the years in the genealogies in the early parts of Genesis. What he seemed to overlook is that these ancient genealogical records didn’t have to include every name in a family—a genealogy might just record every fourth or fifth generation or maybe even skip more than that. So, for the earth to be young, it need not be a mere 6,000 years old. Creation might have begun in 20,000 BC or even 50,000 BC. None of us really knows the actual date of creation.

Second, I believe that the word “day” as used in Genesis 1 of the six days of creation refers to a normal 24-hour day. That’s not to say that the word can’t mean a period of time. In fact, that’s exactly how it is used in Genesis 2:4—it calls the six days of creation “the day” or the period of time in which God made the world. Of course, we know the Bible also talks about the day of the Lord, and that’s not a 24-hour day but an extended period of time (e.g., Joel 2:31; 3:14). As a result, there are some respectable and responsible Bible interpreters who view the six days of creation as figurative for six ages in which God oversaw the evolutionary development of the world. Even though I don’t agree with them, I believe that they are still fellow followers of Jesus. On this we can certainly agree to disagree without being disagreeable.

The reason the word “day” in the first chapter of Genesis should best be understood as referring to an actual 24-hour day lies in the text’s emphasis on “morning and evening.” This phrase indicates a normal 24-hour rotation of the earth. Moreover, if these days were actually ages and not 24-hour days, that would require animals to have died to create the fossil record. If that were so, it would mean death entered the world before Adam sinned and that contradicts Genesis 2:17: “From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” It seems clear that death, for humans and animals alike, could only come into the world after Adam sinned.

The Support for the Literal Creation Story

If we’re to take the story of creation in the Bible literally, what answers can be given about the seemingly old age of the earth and the fossil record? Should those issues be ignored? Absolutely not! Here are three ideas which help address these issues.

Apparent Age

“If we trust in Jesus, we can have an eternal personal relationship with the Creator of the universe.”

First, it seems that God created the world with apparent age. Consider the creation of the first man, Adam. When God made him from the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7), when he was just a few minutes old, he didn’t appear as an infant. Rather, God made him a fully grown man with apparent age. In the same way, when God made the world, He built age into everything that was made. That would even include the light shining from the stars. Some people assert that since those stars are many light years away, it would have taken much longer for their light to reach the earth, requiring each day to be an age. But if God made them with apparent age, He could also have created their light to shine and reach the earth immediately. So much of the record that points to an old earth can be resolved by recognizing that God has the unique ability to create fully grown trees, fully developed valleys and mountains, and in fact, to present everything with apparent age.


Second, it also seems that much of the fossil record can be explained by cataclysm. This means that earthly catastrophes can leave remnants that appear to have happened much earlier than they actually did. The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 is an example of this. That volcanic eruption deposited over 1 million trees from the top of the mountain into Spirit Lake below. When those trees became water logged, they submerged to the bottom of the lake. And since the roots took on even more weight than the trunks of the trees, they seemingly planted themselves in the bottom of the lake in vertical fashion. So now, if we were to scuba dive there, we’d see a fossilized forest underwater. Significantly, if we didn’t know that this event happened after 1980, we’d think that this forest existed long ages ago and that a lake developed over it over many thousands of years. The same is true with the canyons surrounding Mount St. Helens. In fact, there is a mini-grand canyon with a river in it. It was formed in one day of eruptions in 1980 but if we didn’t know better, we’d believe it took millions of years to form.

Of course, the Bible depicts a major catastrophic event, the flood in Noah’s day (Gen. 6–8), that could explain much of the alleged evidence for a seemingly much older earth. At that time, it didn’t just rain, but the Bible says “all the fountains of the great deep burst open, and the floodgates of the sky were opened” (Gen. 7:11). This indicates there were earthquakes and likely volcanic eruptions in addition to tremendous rain. When people look at the effects of that cataclysm today, they believe it took millions of years to develop, not just the 40 days described in Genesis. Like the eruption of Mount St. Helens, the Noahic Cataclysm could have caused fossilization and canyons of epic proportions much more recently than the superficial examination of them would indicate.

Question Uniformitarianism

A third essential to accepting the creation story is not to assume that uniformitarianism is true. This is a scientific theory that presumes that the earth has always changed in the same exact way. Of course, everything really isn’t uniform. For example, in the primeval period, according to the biblical record, people lived much longer than they do today (cf. Gen. 5:3–32). Why can’t we believe that of animals as well? Moreover, even scientists recognize that changes of the earth’s temperature and climate have caused changes on the earth in a non-uniform fashion. That’s yet another reason it’s not necessary to believe that creation evolved over millions and millions of years.

Final Thoughts

Finally, here’s what’s most important: The Bible teaches that there is a Creator who made the world. Moreover, He made humanity, you and I, and He cares for us so much that He wants to have a relationship with us. That’s why the Creator became a man, the God-Man, Jesus of Nazareth, who died for us and rose again. If we trust in Him, we can have an eternal personal relationship with the Creator of the universe.

For Further Reading:

50 Most Important Bible Questions

by Michael A. Rydelnik

You’ve got Bible questions. We’ve got answers. The Bible is full of great truths for our lives . . . and also, if we’re being...

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