Discussion of Young Earth Creationism vs. Old Earth Young Life Creationism

Article origins: On September 11, and again on September 28, Spectrum published articles by D. Stuart Letham and Col J. Gibson on ice cores and the lessons they might hold for Adventist understanding of the several perspectives on Creation held by members within the Church. Acknowledging that the present “official position” is probably Young-Earth Creationism they opted instead for a viewpoint that has been described as Old-Earth, Young Life Creationism, or as they phrased it, Old-Earth, Recent Creation. We wish to respond to the original authors and to their discussants with observations directed not toward either of these two positions but to the assumptions that undergirded the discussion.

Young-Earth Creationism (YEC) vs Old-Earth Young-Life Creationism (YLC).

We are struck by the pivotal role that the English word “earth” plays in this controversy and would observe at the outset that the participants appear to be assuming (as the lawyers would say) “facts not in evidence.” That is, the discussants on both sides of the question appear to be taking it for granted that:

  1. When the underlying Hebrew word ’erets was translated the translator picked the correct English equivalent from the available possibilities of: “land” (far and away the most frequent choice by translators of the Hebrew Bible), “earth” (the second most frequent), “country,” “territory,” “world” and “ground” (chosen by translators much less often),

  2. When the translators selected “earth” (for the Hebrew ’erets) they fully intended it to mean “Planet Earth” (not some lesser entity such as “land”), and that such an intention was legitimate. Few would pay any attention to a discussion pitting the Young-Land Creationist viewpoint against Old-Land, Young-Life creationist position.

We begin this exploration of Hebrew word meanings by identifying our position. We think that the original audience could not have conceived of “Planet Earth” for the straightforward reason that nobody could at that time and place. It would be more than 2,000 years into the future (after Copernicus and Galileo) before any listening audience interested in such matters would be able to conceive of a planet, such as Earth, circling the sun. In the discussion that follows (a slightly edited version of a handout provided to the studio audience participating in a recently video-taped presentation “Earth,” “Land” and Other Words; Why the Translation of ’erets Looms So Large, which can be accessed at ToBeginWithGod.com.), we enlist the aid of two imaginary characters because it helps in the complicated task of exploring what “they” thought then versus what “we” think now. Moshe is our imaginary, paradigmatic, early, Old Testament Hebrew. Moshe’s modern-day counterpart (also imaginary) is Ian Michael O’Dern (I’M odern).

One Word in Hebrew → Multiple Words in English

To Ian Michael the words, “earth, “world,” “land,” and “country” are quite different. With “earth” he almost certainly envisions a rotating sphere—Planet Earth—in relationship to other planets and the sun…all of them spheres. With “world” he may picture something similar. On the other hand, “land” and “country” are virtually never visually or conceptually attached to the solar system. They are not spherical nor do they rotate. These English words are clearly less imposing (less important?) and denote a much more limited reality.

There is, however, another aspect of “land” that Ian Michael readily recognizes in appropriate settings, but it may not come to mind when he when he reads the Bible. It is “land” that evokes a deep-seated, almost lyrical attachment to one’s roots, an attachment that is difficult to capture adequately in prose. It is this “land” that is the subject of poetry and song. This is the “land” of Sir Walter Scott in The Lay of the Last Minstrel, who wondered, “Breathes there a man with soul so dead / Who never to himself hath said / ‘This is my own, my native land”?’ For Francis Scott Key it is “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” For generations of American school children it is the “sweet land of liberty” of which they sing in the words of Samuel Francis Smith—the “land where my fathers died,” the “land of the pilgrims’ pride.” And for Woody Guthrie in the 1970s, “This land is my land, this land is your land.” Indeed, “this land was made for you and me.”

What the Translator Pictures Will Be What the Reader Gets

How can it be that the English words “earth” and “world,” “land” and country” words that produce such different images in our minds can all express the meaning of the same Hebrew word? As a translator works—“carrying across” the meaning of the source language (Hebrew) into the target language (English)—his/her mental picture of what is expressed in the source language will influence the choice of words in the target language. For this reason, whatever Ian Michael pictures when reading a Bible version in English is going to be similar to the picture the translator had upon reading the underlying Hebrew. Hopefully, ’erets, when translated, conveys the same mental picture that existed in the minds of the original author and his audience—Moshe and his kinsmen.

If the translator believed the original author and audience pictured Planet Earth coming into existence during a period of six Creation Days, or Planet Earth in the throes of a Flood of “Biblical proportions,” then he/she will render ’erets as “earth.” So, is “earth” the correct rendering of the Hebrew ’erets, or would it be better translated as “land”? The answer, of course, depends on what Moshe pictured when reading or hearing ’erets; that is the way ’erets should be translated. The Genesis text was addressed to Moshe and it is his mental picture—his understanding (not the translator’s)—that ought to determine the meaning of the text.

The Meaning of “Earth” Has Changed Over Time

In Shakespeare’s England, which was also the England of the King James Version, “earth” most often meant dirt or soil and rarely, if ever, did it connote the entire “world” which by then was known to be spherical in shape (although the sun was still thought to travel around it). Today “earth” is virtually synonymous with Planet Earth circling the sun. This is so because lunar missions beginning in the 1950s have enabled Ian Michael to see his home planet as it appears when viewed from outer space. So for him, “earth” in a cosmological context such as Genesis 1, almost inevitably means Planet Earth. For Moshe that was impossible, for the obvious reason that for him the ’erets was fixed and certainly did not travel around the sun held in its orbit by gravity. On the contrary, ’erets could never be moved; God said so (1 Chronicles 16:30, Ps. 104:5).

’erets in Genesis and Some Very Interesting Statistics

From Creation to the end of Genesis chapter 11, the translators of the King James Version decided that 88% of the time (84/95) that 'erets meant “earth” In the rest of Genesis they decided that ’erets meant “land” 88% of the time (162/183). This is clearly not a random happening. This complete about-face from “earth” to “land” underscores the influence of translator judgment on what our Bible says.

“Earth” to Tyndale Meant Dirt, Soil, the Ground On Which We Live

Tyndale, laboring over the first English Old Testament translation directly from Hebrew (1530 CE) did not have our problem with the translation of erets, for in his day “earth’ could not have been taken for Planet Earth. At that time neither Tyndale nor anyone else knew that “earth” was a planet. For Tyndale the choice of “earth” or of “land” was a choice between words with very similar meanings. However, within a hundred years of Tyndale’s death, following the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo, most well-read people in England and Europe understood “earth” (’erets) to be “Planet Earth.”

Before the Flood, Moshe was informed that God was going to “make it rain upon the land (’erets) for forty days and forty nights” and would “blot out every living thing ... from the face of the soil” (adamah) (Gen 7:4). On reading Genesis now, Ian Michael may well picture God promising to “...make it rain upon the entire planetary globe (’erets) for forty days and forty nights” and to “blot out all existing things ...from the face of the soil” (adamah).

After the Flood, Moshe understood that God had indeed “blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the soil (adamah)...They were blotted out from the land (’erets) (Genesis 7:23). For Ian Michael reading Genesis now, God “blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the soil (adamah)...They were blotted out from the planetary globe (’erets). Given that both of these texts link “face of the soil” (adamah) with ’erets, we are convinced that translating ’erets as “earth” is now linguistically in error. It is indeed misleading. A translation that invites the reader to link a “planetary globe” (’erets) with “the face of the soil” (adamah) is certainly incorrect (where “correct” is what Moshe would have understood by ’erets).

Conclusion

Has any mischief resulted from Tyndale’s innocent selection of “earth” as an English equivalent for the Hebrew erets; a selection that was perpetuated by the King James Version and has been reinforced by virtually every translator since? Absolutely! Because subsequent translators continued to use “earth” even though in the interim its meaning had changed to “Planet Earth,” the Bible has been accused of promulgating pseudo-science. Rendering ’erets as “earth” has lent credence to the mistaken—but widely accepted—notion that there is ongoing “warfare between science and religion.” It has also led to the idea that if the Flood was truly “global” in extent, then evidence of that Flood would still remain in sedimentary rock layers over the entire planet, the planet that Ian Michael envisions whenever he reads about the “earth” in Genesis. The validity of Flood geology thus rests on whether ’erets actually refers to Planet Earth or to what Moshe understood it to be—something on the order of “land” as in Moshe’s Promised Land, the Land of Israel ('erets Israel), the “land” that, in the beginning, God had created along with the “sky.” It is for that reason that our own translation of the Hebrew of Genesis 1:1, a translation we have designated the Original Hearers Version reads:

“To begin with, God created the sky and the land” Gen 1:1 (OHV). (For more, see: B. Bull, F. Guy, God, Sky and Land: Genesis 1 as the Ancient Hebrews Heard It. Adventist Forum, Roseville, California, page 33.)

Dr. Brian Bull is a professor of Pathology and Human Anatomy at the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Dr. Fritz Guy is Ph.D. coordinator and professor of history of philosophy, philosophy of religion, ethics and philosophy of time at La Sierra University. Bull and Guy have co-authored several books and papers on Genesis and Creation.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7127
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Thank you for your diligent efforts on this topic within our denomination. Your work has helped those in our church who are truly seeking resolution about faith and science. Your description of original Hebrew and the original audience for which this was intended is most instructive for those who have ears and are willing to learn about what the Bible means to us today.

As a consumer of SDA education, I am concerned to learn that our church is creating its own science curriculum which, apparently, will be crafted to support a certain way of interpreting the Bible. My three children have been in SDA education all the way through university. However, I am unsure I will be able to advocate SDA education for young people in the future. One of the reasons I have chosen to send my intelligent children to SDA schools was that I had been convinced that they would be initiated on a journey to truth in all academic areas. Creating an SDA science curriculum is risky and could potentially cripple future students who plan to engage with the world in an academically rigorous way outside the SDA fishbowl. Undoubtedly well-intentioned, this endeavor in curriculum formation does rally political support from some segments of the church. However, I believe the creation of an apologetic SDA scientific curriculum will, in the end, harm our efforts to provide comprehensive higher education.

Dr. Bull and Dr. Guy are speaking truth to power. I hope someone will listen and learn from these gentlemen.

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Sorry, but I find this distinction irrelevant

The evidence for life is spread throughout almost all the rocks. The fossils clearly line up with continental drift, and the deposits of limestone are simply inexplicable by YEC - despite the charlatans at AIG and ICR etc. feeding fodder to the gullible.

To hold out hope that the rocks are old but life is young is to simply ignore the real issue.

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I trust God too and I trust that he is the God of scientists and their science. I also believe God made the earth and I trust what it shows me in living color. What cannot be trusted is an ancient legend and metaphor for a creation written by humans. Can God create the world in 7 days, yes. Did God do that, unlikely given all the evidence available from God’s hand. YEC is a general affront to God’s revelation on so many levels. The question was poised why someone would want to be SDA without a belief in YEC. I guess the better question is why be a SDA at all? The churches are empty and irrelevant, the schools are closing and teaching junk science and theology, the members focus on orthodoxy and fake meat. None of this is easy for God to ordain

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I have every admiration for Doctor Brian Bull and Doctor Fritz Guy!

Thank you for your eloquent interpretation of difficult Biblical texts.

However, the older I get the more bewildered I become at the labyrinthine,
analytical, esoteric, deductions we have to mentally compute, to obtain clarity of meaning in Bible texts. Even fluent Hebrew and Greek scholars, might not on their own, realize that different eras, might result in dissimilar translations of the same word.

Once explained it is an epiphany!
But why did God wait till the twenty first century to have Bull and Guy show us that the flood was probably not universal? Could He not have made an effort to be clearer in the original script?

Today many Adventists have graduate degrees, but in earlier eras, most of Christendom was illiterate. High school graduates of today would outsmart even the most literate individuals of the Middle Ages.

If God is the ultimate author of His “inspired” word, why did he cloak his messages in such abstruse verbiage? Why are there two conflicting reports of creation placed “back to back”? Surely God, foreseeing Darwinism, and atheism, would want to give his believers a “clear thus saith the Lord”?

The epistles of Paul, written with endless multi-clause sentences and the densest of prose, almost need a Ph D in English literature to decode. And why would the Lord allow Paul to plainly condone slavery when that affirmation would lead to the ultimate misery of millions?

Revelation is such morass of multiple beasts and images, Martin Luther preferred it not be in the canon of Scripture.

Currently Adventism, faced with doctrinal dilemmas of young earth creationism and women’s ordination are in no way helped when scriptural interpretation is a a maze and minefield of texts allowing multiple conflicting interpretations.

My grandson, a high school senior, could probably write clearer prose.

Why did God not choose audible, articulate, accurate authors???

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Have you not heard of EGW? :grinning:

… AND, there you have it.

Robin, the answer is … (wait for it)… POETRY.

Nobody with the name “Mosha” could have been more “articulate” as he scratched on a tablet while tending the flocks. This is precisely why we need a bit of “edgication” to read the Bible properly - that is, if you’r looking for details like accuracy. Another thousand years from now when everyone learns quantum physics in grade five, those descriptions in Genesis will look even more fanciful. Even a small background in “world literature” #101 will tell anyone that context matters - history matters - science matters.

The strident stance on Genesis that played out in San Antonio was pure politics - an artificial way to to keep the “foundations” from crumbling - so is the new SDA science curriculum.

Now, Gregory, don’t be coy… but, you’re right. Adventist “theology” can always go back and access that 19th century expertise - and if not that, then surely the lady with 100 pound Bible in her outstretched hand has the answers and the final word.

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Certainly S.A. Had it all wrong. but do my two friends have it all right? I think they missed a beat when they did not figure Job in their attributions to Moses. they were about the sane vintage. The valid point is both Adventism and neo-Darwinian evolution have it all wrong. tom Z

Firstly, I would like to thank Spectrum for allowing for an ongoing scholarly debate, introducing different facets and perspectives to an issue that seems so important to Adventists (somewhat tongue in cheek, I’d like to refer Job 38:4).

Secondly, I would commend the authors for introducing a theological line of argument, based on linguistics (by the way … is that “historic critical”?). The argument actually is fairly simple to understand (for those who missed it: read literature and - even Adventist - articles of the 50s or earlier containing the word “gay” - it would be quite amusing, if you have some sense of humor). But the simplicity of the argument certainly does not weaken it, but rather shows how basic the misunderstandings can be in reading Genesis with “plain” (i.e. modern English) reading.

The implications are … debatable. :wink:

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I greatly appreciate this article! It tells me that there are many other words we attach certain meanings to that are inaccurate. We have mistreated groups of people based on inaccurate translation of words. It’s time to read the Bible from the mind of the authors in the time it was written and then apply the valuable principles and ideas. We would become a more user friendly loving church!

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I think you missed the point of the article. There are times to provide intrinsic analysis and times to offer extrinsic criticism of a viewpoint. A case of the former, the article undermines YEC at every point, by taking issue with its own premises and translations of the Hebrew. When speaking with YEC who say they believe the Bible literally, you cannot use extrinsic data or argument.

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What difference will it make 100 years from now whether the correct interpretations of creation were accurate? By that time who will read Genesis for understanding our world when it may be overtaken by high waters in all the large coastal areas? When science has discovered far more in our world and beyond that is unimagineable today?

Clinging to an ancient book for knowledge in all facets of life we have overlooked its real intent and meaning. It was to lead us to God, give us ethical and timeless principles on how to live and not how it all came together in the world we now enjoy. It’s all a waste of time; somewhat like certain states that are “revising” their history and science text to accommodate those closely held views, regardless of the known facts. Whither goes SdA education? Not very far if it is to be “true education” and not mere indoctrination.

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To understand the Complexity of the Scriptures.
Knowing a number of Jewish Rabbis over the past 4 years and listening to them expound on the Old Testament, particularly the “5 Books of Moses”, my understanding and sympathy has increased.
Even Jewish Scholars in this present day expound on Moses, attempt to discover the sense that is presented in HEBREW, the original language, that has been unchanged from Scribe to Scribe.
Sometimes they give variant interpretations of the intrinsic meanings of the phrases.

If they are not always in agreement in HEBREW, how can we, by literal reading in English, say this is what is meant by the original writer? Perhaps, like the Rabbinical Scholars, find there may be several interpretations and they are ALL correct?

OFF TOPIC-- How many of us recall pictures of Isaac on the Altar? What ages did you see? Ages 13 to about 18? And in church school and S.S, how old was Isaac perceived? Early to Late Teen?
In Jewish commentary of the story I discovered that Isaac was 37 YEARS OLD. And I read it again in print not long ago.
There is still a lot that we as SDA’s are ill-informed. and we do not pass this on in Bible discussion.

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Bull and Guy are trying to split hairs here.

For example, in Portuguese both planet earth and soil/land are referred to as “TERRA”.

Is it possible the Hebrews were using “eretz” in the same way Brazilians do? Yes. There is simply no way of knowing whether the Hebrews had any distinction between “earth” and “land” and frankly, it matters little. The earth is made of “land”. Trying to prove that the ancient Hebrews were flat earthers is virtually impossible. It is not improbable however that they could have understood that the earth was much like the moon and the sun. But that again is besides the point.

As far as “the earth” in the flood accounts, I demonstrated forcefully here why the Biblical author means an “all earth-land” event:

As a science fan, I have a bone to pick with you two.

And also:

Circling the sun? Perhaps not. But the medieval educated (as well as other nonWestern peoples) most definitely did understand that Earth was a sphere. We could consult any number of texts on the subject. From James Hannam’s The Genesis of Science which happens to be within arms reach:

Gerbet [Pope Sylvester II] and all his fellow men and women of any education in 1000 A.D. were perfectly well aware that the earth was a sphere. … Gerbert and his contemporaries evidently also knew the approximate size of the earth… [p. 27-28]

David Lindberg and Ronald Numbers write that “there was scarcely a Christian scholar of the Middle Ages who did not acknowledge [Earth’s] sphericity and even know its approximate circumference.”

And why would they have known? They may have read 6th century A.D. philosopher Boethius. Or they read Ptolemy’s 2nd century A.D. astronomical work Almagest which was the authoritative text throughout the middle ages. Modern science students all know that Ptolemy estimated the Earth’s circumference. Or Pliny or Cicero, 1st century A.D. and 1st century B.C. respectively.

Then there are the ancient Greeks who knew that the Earth was a sphere as early as the 6th century B.C., Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle among them. Eratosthenes famously made a very accurate estimate of the Earth’s circumference in the 2nd century B.C.

We could argue that the medieval uneducated didn’t know that the earth was a sphere. I don’t know if this is the case or not, but they also weren’t the ones reading the Bible.

How about the ancient Hebrews and Moshe? I assume they believed in the ancient Near Eastern cosmology of a flat disk surrounded by water and covered with a dome-like sky. Some other passages (in Job, Isaiah, Psalms) refer to other ancient Near Eastern creation myths that assume this cosmology. So Moshe didn’t know that Earth was a sphere. But he also didn’t know what history is in the sense that our modern understanding of the word history didn’t exist the ancient Near East. Moshe, the biblical writers, and everyone else in that time and place would have understood the biblical creation story as myth, not as a story that was “true” or “false,” but as something that was somehow more than true. If you visited the author of Joshua 10 via time machine and explained to him that the earth actually revolves around the sun and the day is due to Earth’s rotation on its axis, he would probably say, “That’s interesting. But why are you telling me this?”

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We applaud RobertJacobsen’s articulate and informative post and agree with everything that he has said including the fact that it is virtually certain that Tyndale knew that the Earth was spherical.

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Thanks for pointing this out. My reaction was the same as Jacobsen’s. Magellan’s crew returned from successful circumnavigation of the planet in 1522, several years before Tyndale’s translation, and one would think something that momentous would have been known by then. I had missed your statement about the “world” because I understood you to be saying that Tyndale didn’t know that the planet was spherical. Thanks for your clarification.

Excellent article. I have profited much from your book on which this is based. I think that regardless of how Tyndale understood it, Moshe would have understood a flat earth with covering sky-vault/firmament (if I understand your book correctly).

But, do I understand you now to be arguing that the author of Genesis could have been describing a small region of land (on a spherical planet)? I suppose one could work with that to obtain some increased alignment in scripture vs. science, but it still seems a stretch to expect an ancient book written by prescientific people to reach alignment. Those who argue for a “plain reading” are still going to belabor the sun and stars being created, the firmament being created, all life being created, and it all being covered by water before creation and during the flood. Neither this account nor Sumerian creation myths seem to understand the water to be local and limited, do they?

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The Sun was not created in the same week as life on Earth, the Sun is much older.
Fish and birds were not created on the same day, the oldest fish fossils are much older than the oldest bird fossils. We cannot assume that Genesis 1 is literal.

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Robin, I have resolved that issue in my own mind by saying that God met people where they were, with the feeble understanding they had. Today He has given us so much more knowledge - and so many people with knowledge to help us understand the differences between three millenia, so that we can answer those who can only read the Bible literally.

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