Why Would God Use 4.6 Billion Years? (RJS)

Why Would God Use 4.6 Billion Years? (RJS) July 19, 2011

There are a number of comments and questions that come up repeatedly in the discussion of science and faith. One of the issues raised often is the question of time. Why would God take 9 billion years to create a universe ready for the earth and for life? Why would God use 4.6 billion years to create life leading to humans on this earth?

Ben Witherington, Amos Professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, prolific writer and blogger, was at the Pepperdine Christian Scholars conference last month. He was there for a review and discussion of his textbook New Testament Rhetoric, but the conference also featured lectures by Francis Collins and John Polkinghorne on  science and faith.  Dr. Witherington commented on this conference on his blog last week: The Malibu Blues – Dispelling the Beach Boy’s Myths. OK the post was not really on the conference per se … but the opening paragraph was. And it sets up the question I would like to pose today.

So I go to Pepperdine for the Christian scholars conference and I run into this other alumnus from my period at Carolina—- Francis Collins.  I’m sure you’ve heard of him.  Turns out he became a Christian while he was there, and in fact so did I.  So picture us singing the UNC fight song at the science and faith conference.   Anyway,  he presented an awesome powerpoint lecture on genetic research and its ability to help us cure diseases, and he also talked about creation and evolution in a helpful and non-confrontational way.  I was still left wondering why in the world the God who can raise Jesus from the dead in a nano-second would need or bother to set the clock to millions of years until the creation process worked itself up to homo sapiens.  It doesn’t really compute.

Do you find it troubling that God used time, massive stretches of time, to achieve his purpose?

Does this raise questions?

This comment by Dr. Witherington was picked up and addressed in the comments where Jonathan and Justin B. responded. First Jonathan:

Regarding the “resurrection in a nano-second” question: It seems to me that God often chooses to work over the long haul, through historical processes. For example, God theoretically could have provided redemption more or less right away (say, within a generation) after the fall. Instead, God worked through several millennia of history before sending the redeemer. The second coming could have happened more or less immediately, but again God seems to be working over millennia, preparing for that.

And then Justin B.:

“I was still left wondering why in the world the God who can raise Jesus from the dead in a nano-second would need or bother to set the clock to millions of years until the creation process worked itself up to homo sapiens. It doesn’t really compute.”

I don’t think that’s a strike against evolution, though. God doesn’t seem concerned with doing something because we feel He should have done it faster. The same God who raised Jesus from the dead also waited a very long time to send His Son into the world at all.

Dr. Witherington responded to these comments:

Justin I disagree with this analogy. God waited a few thousand years to send his Son, and in between lots was happening God was involved with, like the Exodus or the monarchy. This is no comparison to the apparent millions of years of development leading up to homo sapiens. It really doesn’t make much sense.

God used and uses time. I agree with Jonathan and Justin here – God used and uses time. He used time to form Israel, he used time to bring us to the point of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection, and he is using time to move from the incarnation to the new creation, the new heavens and the new earth. We wonder why God worked as he did and is continuing to work as he does. Why did two devout Christian mothers in our church die of cancer this last year, leaving husbands and 6 children between them from elementary school to high school? Why would God use 9 billion years to produce the earth, 4 billion years to produce hominids and something like 140 million years to bring homo sapiens up to the point of culture and community leading to temples, farming, and civilization? To something like Gobeckli Tepe? (Dr. Witherington has a nice series on this site: One, Two, Three, Four – I envy his travels.)

Why didn’t God simply create the new heavens and the new earth? After all decay and sin will have no place in the new creation. If God can do it then why not now? Why not simply start with the ultimate goal? These why questions are necessary as we ponder the majesty of God, his creation, and his interaction with his people. But ultimately we cannot reason ourselves to an answer. What we can do is look at what God did do, the way he creates, the way he interacts with his people and move forward.

When we look at the evidence there is no real doubt. God used long stretches of time create the earth. He used long stretches of time and evolutionary processes to create humans on the earth. He used millenia to bring us to the present. We look at the present, we look at the past, we wonder why … but it does little good to argue against the evidence based on our limited expectation of what God should have done, or what we would have done had we been in the position.

What do you think? Do you agree with Dr. Witherington?

Do the long stretches of time in cause you to wonder?

As a technicality… a nanosecond (10-9 seconds), for some things, is a long time.  Electrons move in attoseconds (10-18 seconds), atoms in femtoseconds (10-15 seconds). Light travels a foot in a nanosecond. “Instantaneous” is at least as many orders of magnitude (factors of 10)  less than nanosecond as nanosecond is less than second. I don’t think the resurrection was instantaneous – it took time.

And, called to mind by the rest of Dr. Witherington’s post … Surfin’ USA:

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net

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  • I think lots was happening that God was involved with in between the first human being and the first living cell. What happened in between may not be as “significant” as the lives of Abraham or Moses. But things surely did happen.

    Under normal circumstances no question regarding “why so long?” surfaces. But in pain, that question does surface.

  • Taylor

    Justin’s response was good, but does raise another question. His state could be taken to the conclusion that God also doesn’t seem concerned about whether or not to do things we feel aren’t within the realm of scientific possibility.

    So, while not a strike against evolution, God’s extensive use of time is not a point in favor of evolution either. In fact, I would say God’s lack of concern with our perception of propriety is precisely the reason I favor a God who spoke into existence an adult earth.

  • Taylor

    oops – that should read ‘his statement’.

  • EricW

    A problem for me with the “appearance of age” instantaneous creation explanation of origins is that once you concede that, haven’t you now opened the possibility that the entire universe is still being continuously and instantaneously created and recreated anew every nanosecond, with you and everyone and everything else you interact with only appearing to have age and only thinking they had or there was a past? But if you say that’s nonsense, don’t you then render an “appearance of age” instant creation hypothesis nonsensical, too? Which leaves you with REAL age and REAL light-year distances and REAL multi-billion years of time, because that’s what it takes to turn billion-year-old carbon stardust into something golden. And, yes, it raises some questions, not about why or how, but about what the Bible really tells us versus doesn’t tell us.

  • I believe that God is powerful enough to create the world ex nihilo (Hebrews 11:3) and that He can create the world in 24 hours if He so likes. This creation confounds the so called wisdom of men as it is incomprehensible to us that such a creation could be created not only out of nothing but instantly by God. Our understanding of God and His wisdom are so limited (Romans 11:33-36) and creation itself should cause us to worship and adore Him who is an awesome creator.

  • J.L. Schafer

    Measured against the length of a human being’s lifespan, 4.6 billion years is a very, very long.

    And measured against the dimensions of a human body, the size of the universe is very, very big.

    Why isn’t the size of the universe just as problematic?

    And why is man the measure of all things?

  • EricW

    I don’t believe that either Hebrews 11:3 or Genesis 1 teaches creation ex nihilo. (See, e.g., Richard Elliott Friedman’s Torah translation and commentary.) I think that idea was more a product of Greek philosophical thought, though it has become ingrained in certain Christian traditions due to it being taught by some of the Church Fathers. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ex_nihilo

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS, thanks for this. I’ve thought of this at times, and can’t always get my head around it. Let’s assume the times given are indeed accurate — this is where I’d agree with you. Our question of “Why so long?” tells us something about ourselves — and I suspect at times it tells us that what we can’t imagine is because our imaginations of God are not big enough. I suppose God was at work and maybe creating alternative universes and interacting within the Trinity in completely sustaining (after all God is eternal) and satisfying ways and… and … and… to the point if we let our imaginations go we might wonder about other topics.

    And if we think time has some kind of analogy within God, say absolute futurity, we have to think eternity puts the 9 billion/4 million/140 thousand [?] into just a speck of time.

    Put differently, wondering why God took so long is as finite a perspective as we can have. And it is so anthropocentric … if these times are right, then we have so much to work with that it boggles.

  • David Himes

    Why do we presume that the human perspective is somehow significant to God?

  • TDSutter

    I realize this is an important topic to some people… but for me, it seems like an argument about how many angels can dance on the head of pin. I mean, doesn’t the very basis of the discussion assume that God exists the constraints of time?

  • Scott Eaton

    I was going to make the same point Scot (8) did. If God is eternal is 14-15 billion years really that long?

    I also agree with Jeremiah (1). If God used the biological process of evolution to create then he wasn’t doing nothing. To say he was doing nothing sounds like deism to me.

  • Since God is interested in communicating with humanity (e.g. through the Scriptures, and most especially and significantly, through the incarnation — the Word who became flesh), I do not think we can say that the human perspective is insignificant to Him. That would seem to be at odds with the purposes He has demonstrated.

  • phil_style

    JL Schafer (comment 6)

    Why isn’t the size of the universe just as problematic?
    And why is man the measure of all things?

  • Wm

    Wouldn’t the notion that man evolved make nonsensical the ‘fall’ of man, which would then unravel the need for atonement? While I think the evidence for ‘evolution’ is pretty clear, it seems to render biblical explanations for blood sacrifice the only real ‘creation’. Thoughts?

  • rjs


    I don’t think that the human perspective is insignificant – especially not in our relationship with God or his with us. But I do think that many of the things that puzzle us do so because our perspective is necessarily finite and limited.

  • @ EricW, what about Col 1:16?

  • David

    Yes, it causes me to wonder deeply indeed. I feel very small in the universe, both temporally and spatially. I’m insignificant yet with individual dignity. It is an odd combination.

    Just curious, do any of you struggle with the time idea going the other direction? 4.6 billion years is almost incomprehensibly long, but “infinity” or “eternal” is incomprehensibly incomprehensible. Imagine (I’m not really trying to speculate) living so long that you would have experienced billions of earthly lifetimes, so long that for any particular 70 year of your existence your finite mind, even a perfect mind with perfect (but finite) memory, is more likely to remember nothing than even one snippet of information. That troubles me for some reason if I stop to think about it.

  • RJS, certainly our perspective is finite and limited (which goes as much for scientific interpretations of data as it does for philosophical and theological musings and biblical interpretations).

    And yet, God is able to communicate to us various time scales, whether of days or ages.

    The age of the universe is relative. For us, who live 80-100 years, a thousand years is a long time ago, two thousand years is ancient history. But for God, it is not even a drop in the bucket. Six thousand ago, six million years ago, six billion years ago, six trillion years ago, or even six nanoseconds ago — it is all the same to God. Likewise the size of the universe.

    So, if God decided to create the universe in six days or six nanoseconds or sixteen billion years, that would not be troubling. But the real question is how long did God actually decide to take. And for me as a Christian, what does God say about how long He took to do it?

    If God took billions of years, the human perspective is not so limited that we cannot understand that, and the ancient Hebrew texts certainly had ways to communicate that. OTOH, if God took six days, the human perspective can certainly understand that as well, and the Hebrew Scripture has ways of communicating short periods such as 24-hour days.

  • Jonathan

    If I recall correctly, Augustine had to respond to contemporary critics who thought a god who needed an entire week to create the universe to be therefore a wimpy god.

    Today, we have people saying that a god who creates the universe in a mere week is a powerful god, while one who creates over a long period is a wimpy one.

    Both these viewpoints assume that humans can and do know the right methods and timeframe by which God should have created the universe to be a god worthy of respect.

  • Scott W

    Why would YHWH create in this fashion? LOVE! Creativity is an outgrowth of love and it also implies risk and suffering. Through the processes which constitute creation, life in all its forms has participated in the divine plan, with all its stops and starts, progression and regression. It’s the this struggle that life unfolds and redemption is made manifest in Jesus Christ also. The key word is synergy.

  • Love is when one risks death and suffering himself. Great love has no man than this, Jesus said, that a man lay down his life for a friend. And indeed, the love of God was supremely manifested for humanity by the death of Jesus on the cross.

    But when one freely risks the death and suffering of untold millions — this is not something we call love but depraved indifference and cruelty. This, it seems to me, is exactly what theistic evolution proposes. Doesn’t look like love to me.

  • EricW

    @Jeremiah Duomai 16.:

    I would argue that at some point there became something from nothing – i.e., creatio ex nihilo – and Colossians 1:16, and perhaps other Scriptures, too, could probably support that. I was more focusing on the fact that Hebrews 11:3 only says that the seen (blepô) things came from things that are not visible (phainô), not that they came “from nothing,” and that according to Friedman and others, the Hebrew text of Genesis 1 doesn’t present the creation events depicted there as being creatio ex nihilo. I’m not sure it absolutely says how or from where or what the heavens and the earth, or the skies and the lands, and the deep (waters) came to be, only that God “created” them and/or that they were there. I don’t think it’s clear if Genesis 1:2 follows from Genesis 1:1 (“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 And (after God created it) the earth was formless and void,” etc.) or is simply a further explanation of 1:1 (“1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, 2 the earth (at that time) being formless and void with darkness over the surface of the deep and God’s spirit hovering over the surface of the waters,” etc.), and the way different translations punctuate and translate Genesis 1:1-3 shows the difficulty of determining this.

    From the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis re: bara בָּרָא

    …2. In the past, biblical theologians, eager to discover theological significance in individual words, have overloaded בָּרָא, create, with semantic freight in three respects. First, it was commonly emphasized that this vb. is predicated only of Israel’s god as subject; second, that בָּרָא never appears with explicit mention of the material out of which something has been “created”; third, that בָּרָא was a uniquely nonmetaphorical, nonanthropomorphic vb. for creation, since it was predicated only of Israel’s god. Upon these linguistic foundations theological arguments concerning the uniqueness and incomparability of Yahweh’s creative activity were erected. These points (and theological pronouncements founded upon them) are, however, somewhat misleading.

    Though בָּרָא does not appear with mention of material out of which something is created, it is regularly collocated with vbs. that do (e.g., Gen 1:26–27; 2:7, 19; Isa 45:18; Amos 4:13). More significantly, בָּרָא is used of entities that come out of preexisting material: e.g., a new generation of animals or humans, or “a pure heart” (Ps 104:29–30; 102:18 [19]; 51:10 [12]; cf. 1 Cor 4:6)…

    …The foregoing linguistic matters lead to several conclusions. בָּרָא as a root is not a uniquely theological term. Moreover, it does not, contrary to other predications concerning God, denote an act without metaphoric parallels to human actions. While cosmic creation is a unique and ultimately incomprehensible divine activity, the OT expresses this in a humanly comprehensible, highly metaphorical vocabulary. Thus, even in Genesis 1 בָּרָא can alternate with עָשָׂה (especially Gen 1:31–2:4) and, as a process, employ vbs. of separation (בָּדַל, hi.; #976).

    The root בָּרָא, Genesis 1, or creation by the word (contra Foerster) cannot explicitly communicate a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, yet the intention of this later, more abstract theological formulation (2 Macc 7:28) is not false to Genesis 1. This text is best understood as communicating an absolute beginning of the universe as well as the absolute sovereignty of God in bringing reality into being and ordering it according to his will (contra Levenson; cf. Eichrodt; Westermann; Wenham, 1987).

    From the Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament on bara:

    …The review of materials in (3) and (4) indicates that the determinative factor is not that there was “nothing” prior to creation but that God’s activity brings about something new, which (as such) did not exist before (also Isa 41:20; Psa 51:12; 102:19). On its own, then, the verb does not describe a creation ex nihilo, but it refers precisely to that which other systems of thought (see 5) seek to ensure through discussions of creation ex nihilo: God’s extraordinary, sovereign, both effortless and fully free, unhindered creation.

  • EricW

    From the New American Commentary (Kenneth A. Mathews, Broadman & Holman) on Genesis 1:1:

    “Created” (bārāʾ) is used in the Old Testament consistently in reference to a new activity. It forms a sound play with the previous “in the beginning,” where the three initial letters are the same: brʾšyt brʾ. It occurs in the creation account six times (1:1, 21, 27 [3x]; 2:3; cf. also 2:4a).54 The etymology of the term is disputed and is of little help, but its frequent appearance in the Old Testament enables us to define its meaning with some security.55 The striking feature of the word is that its subject is always God.56 It therefore conveys the idea of a special activity accomplished only by deity that results in newness or a renewing. Also bārāʾ always refers to the product created and does not refer to the material of which it is made. For these reasons commentators have traditionally interpreted the verb as a technical term for creatio ex nihilo (“creation out of nothing”). In doing so, it is often contrasted with the verb ʿāśâ, meaning “to make” or “do,” which may have as its subject human activity (as well as divine). In particular ʿāśâ is used where “making” involves existing material.57 As the argument goes, ʿāśâ can refer to human activity in which preexisting material is transformed, but bārāʾ is used exclusively of God’s activity with no presence of preexisting material.

    “Create,” however, does not necessarily mean an altogether new thing. For example, Ps 51:10a [12a] reads, “Create [bārāʾ] within me a new heart”; this line parallels “renew [ḥādaš] within me an upright spirit” (v. 10b), indicating here that “create” has the nuance of restoration.58 David was asking for a transformation, not a new entity. Isaiah 57:19 speaks of God “creating praise on the lips of the mourners.” The context of the passage involves restoration of his wayward people in which he will “heal” and “restore” (“repay,” NRSV). The sense of bārāʾ in the context of Isaiah 57 indicates that God will renew again the lips of Israel’s mourners where there once was praise.

    More importantly, in the context of the creation account itself “create” and “make” are used interchangeably for the creation of human life (vv. 26–27; cp. 2:7; 5:1).59 In the heading of the following tôlĕdôt section (2:4), “created” and “made” occur in matching temporal clauses.60 The term ʿāśâ at 2:3 is used to elucidate the meaning of bārāʾ: “which God created by doing [ʿāśâ ].” By itself ʿāśâ occurs in 1:7, 16, 25, where it indicates God uniquely accomplished his creative task. If bārāʾ were a technical term among the Hebrews for creatio ex nihilo, in distinction from human endeavor, we would expect it to dominate the creation narrative. However, it is used sparingly in the account and is reserved for highlighting significant aspects of the creation where the blessing of procreation is bestowed on the first animate life (1:21–22) and supreme animate life (1:27–28). If the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is expounded here, it must be from the tenor of the text and not from this single lexical term.61 Elsewhere in the narrative it is apparent that God created ex nihilo (e.g., 1:3).

    While we disagree that “create” is a technical term for fiat creation, it is clear that bārāʾ, with God exclusively as its subject, indicates special significance for God as autonomous Creator. The term maintains our focus on the thematic subject of God, who alone can accomplish creation. The declaration of v. 1 without any intimation of competing preexisting matter is so distinctive from its ancient counterparts that we must infer that all things have their ultimate origin in God as Creator.62

  • AHH

    Picking up on a couple of comments, it is a good point that, since “God has all the time that there is” (I forget who I’m quoting there), billions of years is a drop in the bucket just like 6000 years or 6 days is.
    Why should we expect God to work fast compared to our human timescales? Modern humans seem to care a lot more about speed and efficiency than God does.

    Putting it another way, 6 days is way longer than God would “need” to do such a thing — Augustine apparently in some of his writing advocated an instantaneous creation (with the 6 days being a literary construct) in part for this reason.

  • Amos Paul

    I find time to be an arbitrary and irrelevant measure as to ‘how’ or ‘why’ God could have Created anything. As I’ve discussed previously, the act of Creation itself was a raw and powerful miracle. Indeed, it seems more presumptuous to me that we think we can figure out ‘when’, scientifically speaking, God spoke things into existence. Even the ‘big bang’ theory hangs upon a delicate balance of hypotheses of how long it took, how it began, how it operated, what sort of time frame things occurred, how that time fram was possible, etc.

    I don’t think that our measure of a proper starting point in the natural world could possibly be on par with God’s measure. His motivations and understanding run deeper than ours possibly could.

    This is not, however, to discourage scientific thinking concerning the topic of natural history. As I also stated before, *whatever* ‘time’ God created the Universe, he set everything up in rationally ordered ways. There is and ought to be predictable models by which we can inspect the natural operations of things–birth/growth/development cycles and so on. We *must* study the apparent history of these cycles to practically apply any human ingenuity to the future because post-humous study of natural occurrence is all we have to study!

    That being said, the thing that troubles *me* is the scientific presumption that if model X perceives some data as having some meaning about the world’s history thousands to millions of years ago, then we should adjust our thinking about the whole universe as that model is ‘proven’ more likely. Indeed, scientific models are proven wrong, thrown out, modified, adjusted, and debated almost daily–no matter how longstanding they might be. Just because we have some data doesn’t mean we’ve collected it adequately, understand it adequately, or are interpreting it adequately. In fact, C.S. Lewis once said in his excellent ‘The Discarded Image’ that only the laymen have any real trust in scientific models because the *experts* of any particular field see all the holes.

    Chesterton also reminds us in ‘Orthodoxy’ that presuming to understand the Universe and its totality of operations, their necessart conclusions, etc. is thinking that your part can grasp the whole. He says, “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

    No matter what scientific models we develop for practical application, ancient history and the Universe can and *should* always have a great degree of Divine Mystery about it. The old adage comes to mind that, the more one learns, the more questions one has. This can equally apply to humanity as a generic whole. Indeed, presuming that the rational order by which our minds understand things is actually the same way that the Unvierse operates is itself a Divine assumption, in my opinion, since we have no other reason to believe that we actually perceive and understand things the way the really are.

  • Joe Canner

    I was going to say “Why 6 days?”, but several others beat me to it.

    The scientific answer to this question is that billions of years was what was required. The 10 billion years to get from the Big Bang to the formation of the earth was required because carbon, oxygen, nitrogen and other elements necessary for life weren’t formed until the end of the life of the first stars (i.e., when they were 10 billion years old). Likewise 5 billion years was necessary to progress from the primordial earth to where we are now.

    Turning this into a theological question implies that God intervened in stellar and biological evolution and that he could have sped up the process if he had wanted to. While this is certainly possible, it doesn’t seem to fit with what we know about God to assume that he would have established certain natural laws and processes, then turned around and violated those laws because he was impatient, all at the risk of making his existence so apparent as to obviate the need for faith.

  • EricW @22,

    In Hebrew 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible,” the invisible things the author has in mind is the word of God. Notice the “so that” which connects the second half of the verse with the first. The visible world was framed by the Word of God, which is invisible. The most natural referent for this would be Genesis 1, where we read over and over again, “And God said,” followed by the word He spoke.

  • EC

    If the question “Why so long?” is being used here to question whether or not our age dates are correct, then the question really is trying to advance this argument: “If we can’t think of a good reason why God did something a certain way, then he must not have done something a certain way.” So, if we come up with a good reason (to us) then he did it that way, and if we don’t come up with a good reason (to us) then he didn’t. That’s just a bad argument, all there is to it.

    Now, if we ask the question “Why so long?” in order to understand more about God, then the question serves to advance this argument: “We can learn something about God through observing how he does things, he created over a long period of time (so we observe), that tells us something about God.” This is a better argument to advance in my mind. We can question the observations, we can question whether or not our observations of the world can tell us something about God, but we can’t question the motivations (reasons) for God’s doing something to prove whether or not he did it.

  • Wm

    If God took billions of years to create life, in what way is man made in God’s image? Does that redefine ‘sin’? Why would atonement need to be made from an evolved being? Wouldn’t ‘time’ render theology merely the discussion of man’s ‘myths’, rather than reality?

  • EC, we have not observed that God created over a long period of time. Nobody has been around long enough to observe anything like that. Rather, data has has been interpreted to that effect, based on certain assumptions.

  • rjs

    Wm (#14, 29)

    I don’t think time or evolution remove the need for atonement (or the reality of fallen human nature) but it does require some serious consideration.

    I will get back to Jack Collins’s book on Adam and the fall next month (I am swamped with deadlines and travel just now). This fall we will also discuss a new book Pete Enns has coming out that should lead to some excellent discussion.

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #21: “But when one freely risks the death and suffering of untold millions — this is not something we call love but depraved indifference and cruelty. This, it seems to me, is exactly what theistic evolution proposes. Doesn’t look like love to me.”

    How is this different than what God risked under the traditional creationist view? God created man and put him in a garden with a tree he was not supposed to eat. When man fell and ate the tree he brought death and suffering on all of creation.

  • In questions of time, we must remember that time is indeed relative. What this means is that the closer one is to the speed of light the slower time becomes. Now to think about this in light of the nature of God, who is light and transcendent of time, one can see that to God’s perspective, creation was instant and to our perspective much longer. Imagine the perspective from a Big Bang, perhaps the forming of the cosmos was merely six days and we find ourselves in day seven, albeit we see it as several billion years.

    I am no scientist and my science may be rather flawed, but I feel these are some interesting things to consider in light of this discussion.

  • Fred

    “Do the long stretches of time in cause you to wonder?”

    In one sense, not really. God created and He “saw that it was good.” Then he created man and it was all “very good.” I can see Him rubbing his hands with glee. I would want to stretch it out for a long time too.

    I want to believe that He somehow finds pleasure in watching me, too.

  • EC

    Jeff Doles #30 – I know we haven’t been around to observe the process. I used “observed” as short-hand for the scientific inquiry process (dating methods, etc.). Maybe that was a poor use of words. I apologize.

    But the point of my comment still stands. We can question the scientific process of dating (instead of observation) – as you have done – but asking the question “Why so long?” is still useless in determining what is actually the case about the length of time in creation.

  • On this issue, the “Young Earthers” tend to ask the wrong questions.

    We don’t get to ask the “why would God do it this way” type of questions, it’s all supposition if it’s not revealed.

    Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world, why was he raised in AD30? Why are we still here? Why does God allow the process of birth and generations to take place, why didn’t he just create exnihilo every person there ever would be?

    Ours is not to wonder why, ours is but to do or die!

    The typical YE crowd has the picture of the universe simply tootling along and then God “intervening” every once in a while.

    On the contrary, God is at work every second of every day within the processes that he created. He is constant and so are they. His consistency is the very reason why we can do observational science.

    Which shows more care “poof there I made it” and we’ve been here for a few thousand years… OR the last 15BILLION years have been leading up to this time of life and redemption.

    Which seems more in line of how long it would take to make a creature in the “image and likeness” of God? 6-Days or 15BILLION years?

    I’m not saying we should “swallow” some of what passes for “science” wholesale, but we should also not shut our eyes to the beautiful creation that God has given us, and obviously wants to reveal truth to us through.

    The variable that messes us up is God. Just as he said to Job “where were you” – God can do what he pleases, in 6-days, or one day for that matter, but why he chooses to do what he does is his prerogative and not within the realm of man’s right to even attempt a determination outside of revelation.

    At least, that’s the way I see it…

  • This difference, Joe #32, is that God gave man a free will to choose. Because love that is coerced is not love at all. True love requires real choice. In creating man with a capacity to choose, God was creating man with a capacity to love — and that is a very good thing. What Adam chose, and the consequences it brought, is on Adam, not on God. Because Adam was formed from the earth and given dominion over it, when Adam rebelled against God, it affected the whole planet. Again, that consequence was on Adam, not on God. So, though the suffering and death of humankind and millions of creatures was a possible outcome, it was not a necessary one. That is, it was not required as part of God’s plan.

    OTOH, what theistic evolution proposes is age upon age of creatures suffering and dying which had not choice in the matter, not as a possible outcome but as a direct and necessary part of God’s plan. I don’t think that jibes with the love of God.

  • My point, EC #35, is that this is a matter of science (or rather, scientists) interpreting data on the basis are certain a priori assumptions. That includes the “process of dating.” It is viewed through a particular lens that affects how one sees.

  • This whole question assumes that humanity, and only humanity is THE point or telos of creation. All those billions of years of nebulae spinning and single-celled organisms slowly turning into fish is thus a “waste of time.” Which is anremarkably anti-creation POV, when you think about it.

  • EC

    Jeff Doles #38 – That’s fine. I wasn’t trying to discuss the scientific validity of dating methods (I’m not a scientist). I can’t speak to whether or not the dating methods are really valid or not (I tend to think they are based on what little I do know and have read). I’m really not trying to argue about that at all.

    You can plug in 6 days or 4 billion years into my comments in #28 (in place of a long time), and it doesn’t affect what I was trying to get at. I’m trying to evaluate the logic of the argument behind the question. I say the logic doesn’t work. That’s all.

    Hope that clarifies things.

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #37: OK, so you’ve just shifted the responsibility from God to Adam. We’re still left with oodles of death and destruction as the result of one decision. And, depending on your view of God’s omniscience and sovereignty, He knew what the outcome was going to be and He let it happen anyway. I don’t see this as much of an improvement.

  • EC – actually we do observe.

    We can observe that the speed of light is basically constant, and we can see things that are 13.2 billion light years away, ergo – we can literally observe that the universe is at least 13.2 billion years old.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that reasoning is correct. God could have created light in motion, God could have sped up light at the get-go, but we certainly can observe it…

  • Jeff D. #37 – If the [only] difference is “free will” I’m guessing you have a pretty air-tight case to show “free will” in the Bible. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t believe that term is used in the Bible 😉

  • Joe Canner

    John Mark #42: I would also add that when we are observing something that is 13.2 bly away we are actually observing history. Nowhere else in science or history do we actually have this “time machine” ability to see things happening that actually happened in the past. Consequently, we can be pretty certain about things like supernovae, element formation, planet formation, etc.

  • Travis, it was not until the creation of man (male and female) in the image and likeness of God that God looked at His creation and saw that it was “very good.” Up until then, it was called “good,” but not “very good.” That says something to me about the creation of man.

    It is says something to me about man that he is the only creature who is said to be created in the image of God and to be like God. That seems to be a rather special designation, don’t you think.

    It also says something to me about man that he is the only creature that is described as being formed, as if by God’s own hand, and into whom God puffed, as if by His own mouth, the breath of life, upon which man became a living being. Though the animals were also called living beings, their creation was not described in terms anything like God’s creation of man.

    All this does not mean that man was the only point of creation, but I do think it means that man was the highest point of God’s creation.

  • Richard

    Reminds me of, “if angels don’t have physical bodies, how many can fit on the head of a pin?”

    How does an answer to this question actually advance anything and is it really a stumbling block for people?

    I love questions and wrestling and all that but this doesn’t seem to be one many people are asking.

    Even the resurrection in a nano-second point raises the question, “Why three days?”

  • #37 Jeff D. your “OTOH” is something that I’ve thought a lot about, mostly from New Testament perspective.

    But think about this, God is [I believe] outside of time.

    Jesus died as a sacrifice in AD30, what about everyone who lived before? What about everyone who lived after?

    The time of the sacrifice doesn’t matter [as far as time goes, it does matter for prophecy and God’s plan etc…] it just had to happen.

    Why would the same not hold true? Mankind sins, we all do, so the earth was subject to decay and destruction. It doesn’t matter when all of mankind sins, it just matters that we do.

    “but wait…” you might say “you can punish the creation before man sins…” But didn’t Jesus receive your and my punishment before WE sinned?

    I realize this is more of a “philosophical” argument, but that’s the territory we are in…

  • EC

    John Mark Harris #42 – Good point. I would have to agree. However, it’s all ancillary to my original comment.

    Actually the conversation with you and Jeff Doles seems to demonstrate that the better argument is found in the second part of my comment at #28 (as I asserted there) and the argument of trying to find what actually is the case by asking “Why so long” is not good.

    I’ll leave the discussions about the actual age of the universe to those who know more on the subject than I do.

  • John Mark Harris #42, we do not observe anything without interpretation based upon assumptions. Seeing distant starlight does not mean that you are actually observing what happened 13.2 bya. Assumptions are involved that are not universally agreed upon.

  • Amos Paul


    While not being the original commentor on the subject, I will say that, yes, Paul actually does blame what seems to be Adam for subjecting Creation (or at least, our immediate Creation) to the corruption of the Fall.

    Romans 8:19-22

    “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”


    Moreoever, Paul himself seems to allot ‘Creation’, by which I take to mean all living things, having will to make choices. Indeed, the Genesis story of Adam seems to hinge upon the idea that he made the wrong choice… that seems like a will that is free to decide things for itself. I would call that Biblical examples (among many) of free will… but I guess one’s opinion would be contingent upon how free they think ‘free will’ must be before they call it free. For example, I’m free to will teleporting myself to the Moon any second… but I’m obviously not free to actually make that happen.

  • Not an expert here, but it seems to me there are a few physical constants at work each necessary for carbon based life that would be affected had God chosen to create our world in less time.

    First, both the total mass of the universe and the speed of light have to be similiar to those we experience in this universe in order for carbon based life to exist.

    On the first front, a universe of the size of ours has to expand at a certain rate (not too fast, not too slow) to get to the point where it can develop galaxies like ours, capable of forming stars like ours, around which planets like ours can form, capable of supporting carbon based life. Hence – 4.6 Billion years.

    On the later front, God could have created the world as is, without the expansion period. But given the speed of light, we would not be able to see the details of our universe, and as such a major source of knowledge about God’s power and creative qualities would be lost.

    On the question: “Why didn’t God simply create the new heavens and the new earth? After all decay and sin will have no place in the new creation. If God can do it then why not now? Why not simply start with the ultimate goal?”

    The answer must be that sin and death have *utility* in creating the ultimate state of affairs God dreams of. It seems an argument focused on freedom, growth and soul making (see John Hick) is worthwhiled here. That is, in order for creatures like us to reach their ultimate potential as children of God, they must choose adoption and perhaps choose it through times of trial.

  • Bill Trip

    I think the Jesus Creed has become the Huffington Post of Christianity. If your a liberal christian, have fun! I’m outa here!

  • Joe Canner #44,

    Yes, God is omniscient and sovereign and foreknew what would happen. But it was not His direct choice or action that brought about the consequences of death and destruction in the earth. That was Adam’s choice. Adam could have chosen to do otherwise (I believe in libertarian free will). It was his choice that made certain what was only possible before. God’s foreknowledge of that event does not mean that He meticulously rendered it certain. It was Adam’s choice. (If God is eternal and unbounded by time, then for Him it would not be foreknowledge, but merely knowledge.)

    But in the TE view, the suffering, death and destruction of untold living creatures is rendered meticulously certain by design. I think that is a very large difference, and I don’t think it accords with “God is love.”

  • John Mark Harris # 43,

    Well, you caught me using a term (“free will”) that is not used in the Bible. To save you time, I will go ahead and also admit that I believe in the Trinity of the Godhead, even though that term is not used in the Bible either. But this is not the thread for a free will and sovereignty discussion.

  • Joe #53 – If God is restricted by time for his judgment and love, then for thousands of years people were “saved” before Jesus paid their penalty. I don’t think that jibes with his Justice [according to your time-based-justice paradigm]. Additionally, I sinned well after Jesus died, yet my sins were paid for… This is a difficult and inherently philosophically sticky wicket.

  • #54 Jeff – sue, Trinity isn’t in the Bible, but we see Jesus, the Father, and the Spirit acting at the same time, John 1 makes clear Jesus is God, etc…

    So, the Bible clearly teaches “the Trinity” where as, not all agree that “Free Will” is there.

    And because you mentioned “Free Will” as what makes the difference between man and the animals, I think it’s pretty important.

    Personally, I think my dachshunds get to do pretty much whatever they want, I call that “Free Will” – on the other hand, doesn’t the Bible – written over 2,000 years ago – say that I will sin? Did I have a choice not to sin?

    Does that accord with “Free Will”???

    BTW – I’m a trouble maker… 😉

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #53: I could just as easily say that God set things in motion with the Big Bang and that evolution (and the resulting death and destruction) was a possible but not necessary outcome. Perhaps neither life nor death were “designed” into the universe. Perhaps life could have evolved without death. I readily admit that this strains credulity, but no more, in my opinion, than the notion that God created man and told him not to sin but still considered it possible for man to remain forever without sin.

    John #55: I think you meant Jeff, no?

  • John Mark Harris #37,

    That is an interesting view. But the death of Jesus on the Christ, though God knew it from eternity, from before the foundation of the world, does not actually change what happened in the past. It makes available, even to those who lived and died before the cross, the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It atones for sin, but it does not change history so that sin never actually happened in the past.

    OTOH, Adam’s rebellion against God changed the world moving forward, but we have no indication that it affected anything in the world before that. That would be putting effect before cause.

    The Cross does not do that. It removes the burden of sin, causing a new effect. But it does not cause the fact of sin to vanish from history. Because if man’s sin and rebellion were not a fact of history, then there would be no need for the Cross in the first place.

  • Amos Paul


    I’m pretty certain that historically, more Christians have read Free Will out of the Bible than they have the Trinity doctrine…

    Ex. Arianism, Nestorianism, Modalism, United Pentacostalism, etc.

  • As for Bill T #52 – I love it when people throw out the term “liberal”; who gets to define that?

    I’ve said this before, but B.B. Warfield – essentially the architect who defined what we call “inerrancy” today – saw no problem between inerrancy and Theistic Evolution… in fact, by all accounts, he believed it to be true.

    So, if you’re pointing your finger at B.B. Warfield saying “you are liberal compared to me” perhaps you’ve misunderstood your terms…

    …I’m just sayin’

  • @59 and I’m pretty sure the majority have believed in purgatory…

    Does that make them correct as well?

  • EricW

    @Jeff Doles 27:

    In Hebrew 11:3, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible,” the invisible things the author has in mind is the word of God. Notice the “so that” which connects the second half of the verse with the first. The visible world was framed by the Word of God, which is invisible. The most natural referent for this would be Genesis 1, where we read over and over again, “And God said,” followed by the word He spoke.


    By-faith we-understand to-be-fashioned the worlds by-(the)-utterance of-God, unto the not from being-visible-things the being-seen-things to-have-come-to-be. (rough literal translation)

    I can see your point. While the word of God is not said to be invisible, the author is clearly saying that the worlds we see did not come from visible matter. But could they have come from invisible matter? It doesn’t say what the “word of God” (instrumental dative?) made the worlds from (ek).

    New International Greek Testament Commentary on Hebrews 11:3:

    …The relation between ῥήματι θεοῦ and μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων is more problematical. (a) The order μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων is normal in classical Greek (BD §433[3]; Moule 168, 208) and does not affect the meaning, which ancient versions (d e f vg syp, h arm) correctly understand as “from things unseen.” There is therefore no reason to take μή with the entire clause: “… so that what is seen is not made from things that appear,” giving an awkward sense, rather than with the participle: “… made from things that do not appear,” following the Greek Fathers (Chrysostom, Hom. 22:1; Theodoret) and most modern commentators except Delitzsch. Even if ῥήματι θεοῦ and μὴ φαινόμενα are understood as synonymous, there is no reason to think of ἐκ as implying that the invisible word of God is the material from which the world was made. This is a possible meaning of ἐκ (Bauer 3h), but it is much more natural to take ἐκ as causal (Bauer 3e). (c) It is possible, with Stewart 1966, to see the word of God as hypostatized here (as it is not yet in Is. 55:11; Ezk. 37:4; Ps. 147:13ff.; cf. Sir. 42:14; Wis. 9:1), though without the christological implications of the divine Logos in Jn. 1:1–14. (d) Whether this verse assumes or states a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is much contested (see especially Braun ad loc.; F. F. Bruce 280n.24, with further references). There is no exact parallel, but cf. 2 Enoch 26:1 (1st cent. ce): “Let one of the invisible things come out solid and visible” (tr. F. I. Andersen; cf. 2 Enoch 25:1; 2 Bar. 21:4 (early 2nd cent. ce); “you … who in the beginning of the world called that which did not yet exist …” (tr. A. F. J. Klijn); Wis. 11:17: “your almighty hand … created the world out of formless matter” (REB); but 2 Macc. 7:28 more strongly affirms creatio ex nihilo: “God made [the sky and the earth] out of nothing” (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων). In any case Hebrews’ concern is less with creatio ex nihilo than with the unseen origin of the visible world, an origin perceived only by faith (P. E. Hughes 1972; Hughes 443–452 surveys patristic and later exegesis).

  • Amos Paul

    I wasn’t disputing correct or incorrect, I was disputing your claim Trinitarianism is easier to read out of the Bible than Free Will.

    *Though as a point of historical accuracy, purgatory was a later development as well and had/has dissenters. Many Eastern Orthodox, the Nestorian influences Eastern Church of old, Most Protestents, etc.

  • Amos Paul

    *that is, the Nestorian influencED Eastern Church of old.

  • Joe Canner #57,

    That is an interesting supposition. But it has no home. secular evolutionists don’t believe. Theistic evolutionists don’t teach that in any of the forms I’ve seen. And the Bible gives no indication of anything like that. It sounds rather ad hockish, don’t you think?

  • @58 I would respectfully disagree with your assessment that Jesus’ death on the cross did not change things in the past.

    I guess you believe that people died and went to hell and then left hell and went to heaven when Jesus died on the cross? I know that’s a big view out there, and that’s the only way your position makes any since to me. But, then again, I’m a little slow at times.

    I’m not sure why, though, you project the “benefits” of the cross into the past, but cannot recognize the possibility of the corresponding punishment stretching into the past as a result of sin as well?

    Oh well, to each his own, that’s kina the point of a blog…

    I’m also not saying I buy my own words here, just something to think about.

  • John Mark Harris #56, I would be happy to discuss the free will debate with you at another time. But here it would only gunk up the thread. I was a Calvinist for about 25 years but came to a point, about 7-8 years ago, where I was no longer persuaded by it.

  • EricW #62, there is no indication of pre-existent invisible matter in Hebrew 11:3. What we have in ll:3a is the worlds framed by the word of God. What we have in 11:3b is things which are seen (corresponding to the worlds in ll:3a) and things not visible (or “not made by things which are visible,” which would mean then, by things not visible).

    You would have this to mean “pre-existent invisible matter,” introducing a totally new idea not indicated anywhere else in the text. I think it is better to follow the parallelism of the Hebrew author’s thought and take “things not visible” as corresponding to “Word of God” in 11:3a.

  • Scott W

    What concerns me is the theological implications of YHWH as Creator from from within this literal 6-day scheme for how we view God. In the so-called P story the creation first exited in an inchoate, chaotic state, which is a de-paganized take on the divine combat myth. “Chaos” is a part of God’s creation;what we speak of as creation is God bringing order to this chaos, systematically, the human being as YHWH’s vice-regent being the one who, in essence, in mediating this work. Chaos in nature is not alien and thus is a part of process,and add to that spiritual evil and human evil, you have a creation like we do. We have to accept the fact that we are all interconnected and human choices matter. YHWH wants us to cooperate in his redemptive plan and he works in accordance with out weak human nature in Christ.

    In all this we have to keep in mind eschatology: YHWH is and will ultimately remake and renew creation and judge humankind. We have to make a choice if we are going to be a part of YHWH’s salvific work or not and become agents of his creative purposes or revert to the chaotic state of creation or evil to our hurt and that of all creation.

  • John Mark Harris #66,

    I believe people who died in the OT went to the place of the dead. Those who died in faith in God and His promise went to what some call “Abraham’s Bosom,” a place of the blessed dead. The death of Jesus the Messiah removed the burden, the penalty, the curse, the guilt of their sin, but it did not erase the historical fact of their sin, that their sin actually occurred in time and space.

  • Erwin

    “I don’t think the resurrection was instantaneous – it took time.”

    It doesn’t really matter whether the resurrection took zero or a few nanoseconds. Witherington’s point is that the resurrection raises questions about the vast amount of time necessary for creation. A better reply would be that the resurrection is an eschatological event, a category different from creation and everything that has happened and is happening now.

  • Joe Canner

    Jeff #65: Nor am I looking for a home for it*. Science (theistic or otherwise) is not particularly good at speculating on the reasons “why” something happened or what could have happened; it looks at what did happen. Likewise, I think it is equally absurd to try to understand “why” God did what he did with respect to creation and Adam, and especially to try to measure God’s love on this basis. It is much more useful and interesting to observe the earth and humanity as it is, and to thank God for his love in saving us.

    * Having said that, I think it is an important to consider (perhaps not here) whether it was necessary for God to include both good and evil (or the potential thereof) in creation (evolutionary or otherwise). This is an important component of most discussions on theodicy. Jeff Cook nicely makes this point in #51.

  • @63 – I understand. Every Calvinist is a Trinitarian and denies “Free Will”

    They’re a pretty big group (and I’m not one, BTW – though I am “Trinitarian”)

  • @70 – Ahh, I see. So you literally hold to the pseudepigraphical belief in Abraham’s Bosom as a temporary place for dead people until Jesus died on the cross to them fly up to heaven.

    I’m guessing you take “The Rich Man & Lazarus” as an actual event as well.

    So not purgatory, a different kind of temporary dwelling place of the dead.

    (like I said – I’m a trouble maker).

  • EricW


    I’m not denying that the worlds were fashioned by the rhema of God. I’m saying, in agreement with the author of the NIGTC of Hebrews, that it’s not clear that Hebrews 11:3 is asserting creatio ex nihilo:

    …(d) Whether this verse assumes or states a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is much contested (see especially Braun ad loc.; F. F. Bruce 280n.24, with further references)…. In any case Hebrews’ concern is less with creatio ex nihilo than with the unseen origin of the visible world, an origin perceived only by faith (P. E. Hughes 1972; Hughes 443–452 surveys patristic and later exegesis).

  • @70 – so conversely… do you believe that Jesus was punished for the sin that would occur in time and space 2,000 years later?

    Then, logically, why could not animals 2,000 (or 2million) years before be punished for the sin that man would commit in their future in time and space?

  • rjs

    Erwin (#71),

    I don’t think that Witherington’s point makes sense – the resurrection, whether it took time or not – raises no questions at all about the nature of creation and the time required for creation.

    If the point is that God could have done it otherwise, and sometimes does act out of what we perceive as natural, … well sure. But the point of my post is that we cannot reason to why God acted in a given manner, in creation or in resurrection. We can look at what did happen – but not judge that something else would be better.

  • R Hampton

    That God used vast stretches of time is no different a consideration then God used vast stretches of Space, with a seemingly infinite number of galaxies, each with billions of stars and planets.

    So, why would God need more than one planet and one sun? Since we know that God chose to use more space & matter then would be “necessary,” it logically follows that God’s choice applied to time as well.

  • I think this is where Scot comes in and says “get back on topic please…”

    And incidentally, it’s when I go to lunch 😉

  • Joe #72, the question is not just about what God does but about what God is like. The Bible teaches us a lot about God’s ways as well as His acts. If God is perfectly and completely good, then it would be wrong to attribute to Him anything that is evil. If God is love, then it would be wrong to attribute to Him anything that is not in accord with that. So it seems quite appropriate to me to ask of anything that is purported of God outside of the Bible, “Does this agree with or contradict what the Bible teaches about the character and attributes of God?”

    When it comes to evolution, or theistic evolution, the Bible does suggest that creation actually happened in that way. So if a theistic evolutionist wants to put forth the idea of evolution as being compatible with the Bible, I look to see whether evolution, with all that is involved with it, is compatible with what the Bible teaches about the nature and character of God.

  • EricW #75,

    You don’t deny that the worlds were framed by the Word of God. Does that mean you agree that the worlds were framed by the Word of God? Or do you not know?

    The author of Hebrews affirms that the worlds were framed by the Word of God. And indeed, his point is about the unseen origin of the visible world. And that unseen origin is the Word of God. This connects the second half of the verse back to the first half. The visible world were framed by the Word of God, which cannot be seen. And we understand this by faith, which likewise cannot be seen — faith is the underlying reality of things hoped for (or expected); it is the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).

    In context, he is not speaking of the invisible as some pre-existent matter which happens to be invisible. He is speaking about faith and the Word of God.

  • R Hampton

    Jeff Doles,

    God’s definition of good may not match your expectations. So if God used evolution, then by God’s requirement it must be good and if that does not seem right to you, then it may be that your concept of “good” is the problem.

  • pds

    John #60

    You said:

    “I’ve said this before, but B.B. Warfield – essentially the architect who defined what we call “inerrancy” today – saw no problem between inerrancy and Theistic Evolution… in fact, by all accounts, he believed it to be true.”

    Warfield was not a “theistic evolutionist,” in the sense it is used today. Not like the Biologos folks.

    For example:

    “The formal completeness of the logical theory
    of Darwinism is fairly matched, therefore, by its almost
    ludicrous actual incompetence for the work asked of it.”

    Extended quotes from Warfield here:



  • EricW

    #81. Jeff Doles:


    “By-faith we-understand to-have-been-fashioned the worlds by-(the)-utterance of-God, unto the not from being-visible-things the being-seen-thing(s) to-have-come-to-be.” (rough literal translation)

    “It is by faith that we understand that the utterance of God fashioned the worlds, (with the result/for the purpose?) – i.e., what we see did not come from visible things.”

    The worlds were fashioned by the word/rhema of God. They did not come from (ek) things that are visible.

    I understand rhemati theou to be the means/instrumentality by which the worlds came into being, and their coming into being was not from (ek) visible things. Whatever or wherever they came from (ek), whether

    1. ex nihilo directly from the non-visible word of God, or

    2. by being fashioned by the word of God from (ek) some unstated non-visible matter,

    they came to be by means of the word of God and not from what we see.

  • rjs

    pds (#83),

    Warfield was more of a progressive creationist than a theistic evolutionist – in the context of his day and age.

    What he would be today – I don’t know.

    But for the sake of this post, and the issue of age, that doesn’t really make much difference.

  • What do you do with Col1:16??

  • EricW #84,

    There is no mention in Hebrews 11:3, in Hebrews 11, or in the book of Hebrews about pre-existent invisible matter. The only invisibles or non-visibles or non-see-ables we find in Hebrews 11 are faith and the Word of God. And the only one in verse 3 is the Word of God.

  • EricW

    #87. Jeff Doles:

    Then we’ll just have to agree to disagree about what the author of Hebrews may have meant in 11:3. I won’t rule out the possibility that he/she may have thought the worlds were fashioned by the word of God from non-visible stuff. You seemingly won’t allow for that possibility.

    As Yogi Berra said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

  • EricW #88, since I find no indication of non-visible matter in the text, I will not read it into the text. It is not the most parsimonious reading. Since the text already mentions something that is, by its nature, non-visible, namely, the Rhema (Word) of God, it is more reasonable to think the reference to the non-visible is about the aforementioned Rhema. The superiority of this reading is that it does not needlessly multiply entities. That is, it does not introduce into the interpretation things that are not evident in the text. Occam’s Razor slices it in my direction, I believe. Of course, the race may not always be to the swift, nor the battle to the strong — but that’s the way to bet.

  • EricW

    Hebrews 11 never mentions non-visible (i.e., aoratos) anything, but by asserting that the things we see (blepô) did not come from visible (phainô) things, one would or could infer that they therefore came from non-visible things.

    One of my non-scholarly objections to assuming that rhemati theou is the “non-visible” thing is the use of the preposition ek to describe the source of the worlds. If he/she had clearly meant to assert that the word of God was the sole sum and means by which the now-seen worlds came to be, I would instinctively expect to read eis to mê phainomenois instead of eis to mê ek phainomenôn, but it’s admittedly a weak objection. Also, the author says that the worlds were fashioned (katartizô), not created. Fashioned from what, I ask? The author tells us who/what did the fashioning, but doesn’t say from what, if anything, it was fashioned. Maybe it was fashioned from something, maybe it wasn’t.

    According to Muraoko, the LXX never uses katartizô for the Hebrew bara. Per BDAG:

    καταρτίζω fut. καταρτίσω; 1 aor. κατήρτισα, mid. κατηρτισάμην, 2 sg. κατηρτίσω. Pass.: aor. κατηρτίσθην LXX; pf. pass. κατήρτισμαι (ἀρτίζω, ‘get ready, prepare’, s. next entry; Hdt. et al.; ins, pap, LXX; TestSol 5:12 H).

    (1) to cause to be in a condition to function well, put in order, restore.

    ⓐ restore to a former condition, put to rights (since Hdt. 5, 28; 106; Dionys. Hal. 3, 10) τὶ someth. nets (by cleaning, mending, folding together) Mt 4:21; Mk 1:19 (cp. GWynne, Exp. 7th ser., 8, 1909, 282–85). Fig. κ. τινά restore someone ἐν πνεύματι πραΰτητος in a spirit of gentleness, i.e. in a gentle manner Gal 6:1. Pass. καταρτίζεσθε mend your ways 2 Cor 13:11.

    ⓑ put into proper condition (cp. Epict. 3, 20, 10 of a trainer who adjusts parts of the body), adjust, complete, make complete τὶ someth. καταρτίσαι τὰ ὑστερήματα τ. πίστεως ὑμῶν to fix up any deficiencies in your faith or to complete what is lacking in your faith 1 Th 3:10. τινά someone: ὑμᾶς ἐν παντὶ ἀγαθῷ make you complete in every good thing Hb 13:21. κατηρτισμένοι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ νοὶ̈ καὶ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ γνώμῃ adjusted / made complete in the same mind and the same conviction 1 Cor 1:10. ἐν μιᾷ ὑποταγῇ IEph 2:2. ἐν ἀκινήτῳ πίστει ISm 1:1. Abs. 1 Pt 5:10. κατηρτισμένος (fully) trained, practiced (Polyb. 5, 2, 11 τ. εἰρεσίαις κατηρτισμένοι) κ. πᾶς (μαθητὴς) ἔσται ὡς ὁ διδάσκαλος αὐτοῦ when fully trained, the pupil will be like the teacher Lk 6:40. S. Betz, Gal. 297 n. 43.

    (2) to prepare for a purpose, prepare, make, create, outfit.

    ⓐ act. and pass., of God (w. ποιεῖν) B 16:6. (W. κτίζειν) τὰ πάντα Hm 1:1. Pass. ὁ κόσμος κατηρτίσθη Hv 2, 4, 1; also οἱ αἰῶνες (s. αἰών 3) ῥήματι θεοῦ Hb 11:3. κατηρτισμένος εἴς τι made, created for someth.: σκεύη ὀργῆς κατηρτισμένα εἰς ἀπώλειαν vessels of wrath, designed for destruction Ro 9:22. ἄνθρωπος εἰς ἕνωσιν κατηρτισμένος a man set on (lit. made for) unity IPhld 8:1.

    ⓑ mid. (PGM 4, 1147) καταρτίζεσθαί τί τινι prepare someth. for someone σῶμα Hb 10:5 (Ps 39:7 codd.: BSA). W. reflexive mng.: for oneself κατηρτίσω αἶνον you prepared praise for yourself Mt 21:16 (Ps 8:3).—DELG s.v. ἀραρίσκω. M-M. TW. Spicq.

  • EricW

    Also, Jeff Doles, per my citation from BDAG, katartizô (2) can mean “create,” so I shouldn’t have said that Hebrews 11:3 says the worlds were fashioned, not created. One has to determine the meaning of katartizô by the context in which it’s used.

  • Scot McKnight

    OK, let’s get back to time and God’s way of creating if it took that long.

  • rjs

    Or the Beach Boys

  • AHH

    The Beach Boys’ Endless Summer is obviously telling us that periods of time need not always match up with our human expectations …

  • EricW #90,

    Words are, by their nature, invisible. The Rhema of God is not something that can be seen. It, like God, is invisible. But its effects can often be seen. Like when God said, “Light, be!” and light was.

    There is no individual word for “things” in Hebrews 11:3; that is a gloss in both instances. The meaning of the words given is about what is seen and what is not seen. Words in 11:3a, are things which cannot be seen. OTOH, the world is something that can be seen. In 11:3b, what is seen (see-ables) is not made out of what is visible (visibles). Implied is that the see-ables were made out of the non-visible.

    “So that” connects the two halves, because there is a relationship between them. The verse is not offering two different sets of information. “So that” alerts us that the see-ables relates back to “the worlds,” which are by nature, see-able. That matches up the first part of 11:3a with the first part of 11:3b.

    So, the see-ables (the worlds) were made out of the non-visible — and here is where you would like to insert “pre-existent invisible matter.” And you would indeed have to insert it there yourself because there is nothing in the text that gives any indication that the non-visible is made of up matter. But for those of us who don’t want to insert anything that is not indicated, the remaining option is to go with what is already evident in the text, something that is invisible by its very nature — the Rhema of God. With that, Hebrews 11:3b connects with 11:3a in a consistent and meaningful way without adding in our little bits from somewhere else.

    The worlds were “framed” by the Rhema of God. No, it is not the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew bara, but it is clearly a reference to God speaking things into existence in Genesis 1. You have not denied that Genesis 1 was the reference, and if you indeed thought it was not, I don’t think you would have bothered trying to disprove that Hebrews 11:3 was about creation ex nihilo. It is only because Hebrews 11:3 clearly refers to Genesis 1 that you must disprove creation ex nihilo in Hebrews 11, because you do not believe that Genesis 1 is about creation ex nihilo. So, “framed” is about the creation account in Genesis 1, whether it uses LXX language or not (NT authors were not bound to use only words found in the LXX).

    If I stand on my head, close one eye and squint with the other, and look at it from an oblique angle, perhaps I could see it your way. But I think that the most natural way to read 11:3 in the flow of the context, and without stretching and tugging at the text and tucking things into it, is to read the non-visible in 11:3b as reference back to the (invisible) Rhema of God in 11:3a.

  • I am often perplexed by the ability of some (excluding BWIII, apparently) to dismiss so many things about God as “unknowable” or “humanly incomprehensible” and yet claim to know EXACTLY what God is like when asked about God’s love, his intention for their lives, the Parousia etc.

    I’m sure Christians don’t see it this way but to an outsider it appears that a God whose purposes are unknowable and whose wisdom is folly is not a being in whom you can put your trust. If God’s purpose requires that your child die of cancer, you might be able to accept it. What if God’s plan requires that the entire human race be lost so that His higher purpose can be achieved? What if what our human brains perceive as welcoming when seen through a glass darkly turn out to be alarming when viewed face-to-face?

    Perhaps Dr Witherington is one who is not comfortable with a God whose actions are so far beyond his ken that His conception of “good” ends up a surprise or worse when all is accounted for.

  • Scot #92,

    Glad you could drop by. 🙂

    God could have created it all in an instant. Or He could have created it in 16 billion years. Or He could have created it in six 24-hour days. None of these would have impinged upon His nature, His ability or His character. IOW, as a theoretical matter, it makes no difference. Time is not a problem for God, if, as I believe, He is the creator of time.

    The way RJS has framed the question, “Do you find it troubling that God used time, massive stretches of time, to achieve his purpose?” is complex and contains an assumption: that God used “massive stretches of time.” It is like asking, “Do you still beat your wife?”

    But I do not share that assumption. Even so, if the Bible had said that God took “massive stretches of time” to do the creation work of Genesis 1, I would not be troubled by it one bit. Or if it said He did it all in a nanosecond — it wouldn’t bother me at all. But the real question is not about how God could have done it but about how He actually did do it. I look to the Bible for that answer, and for me, the most natural way to read the text, even after exploring numerous interpretive schemes, is to understand the time element as six 24-hour days.

  • rjs


    You’re right – the question is how did he do it. But it often is expressed as a problem for science in the way I’ve posed it. God wouldn’t do …because

    I look to scripture for answers. But to look to scripture for an answer to the how question is to read something into scripture that is not there, at least not as we in our modern era think of “how”. This is the slant that I am getting, not from scientists but from OT scholars, like John Walton, Pete Enns, Tremper Longman, Bruce Waltke, and C. John Collins, and I could go on and list more. We need to look to scripture for the answers to the questions that scripture is addressing, not import the culture it is assuming to the present.

  • EricW

    Jeff, I’m taking the fork in the road Hebrews 11:3 and creatio ex nihilo.

    As for RJS’s post:

    “I don’t think the resurrection was instantaneous – it took time.”

    Does 1 Corinthians 15:51-52 suggest anything about the instantness of the resurrection?

  • rjs, the Bible does have something to say about the time factor, the amount of time God took to create. Also, through the chrono-genealogies in Genesis 5, 11 and through the remainder of the book, there is an indication of how long ago it was. Whether or not one agrees with the author of Genesis, I do think he had a sequence and a chronology in mind.

    Yes, their are a lot of Bible scholars today who disagree with the traditional reading — and I’ve read a lot about their various interpretive schemes (I just recently finished reading C. John Collins’ Genesis 1-4), and it seems to me like they make a lot of interpretive assumptions. They make some fascinating observations, but I have not been convinced by their arguments. I don’t come to all their conclusions because I don’t share all their assumptions. There are also plenty of OT scholars who agree with the traditional reading. Appeals to authority don’t work so well when the authorities are mixed on the subject. It ultimately comes down to what I find most persuasive.

  • EricW #99,

    Some of my friends are for it; some of my friends are agin’ it. I’m for my friends.

    Peace be with you.

  • gingoro

    Frankly I don’t know why God choose to create the way he did. Maybe there was no other way to produce the kind of universe and people that he wanted. This means that God could not perform the instantaneous thing.
    Or maybe with the limitation of kenosis the above is true?

    But in any case it sure seems to be the source of a lot of suffering and pain.
    Dave W

  • rjs


    I am not advocating an appeal to authority – although I do read a wide variety of sources and listen to what they say, trying to understand why and in what context.

    I think that the author of Genesis was a product of his time and culture and that is evident in the text. The question is how much of that culture is inspired timeless truth and how much is incidental to the inspired message. The genealogies often come up and they certainly reflect connections and time, but are a product and genre of a culture.

    We’ve been over this before – but Genesis 1 doesn’t only put forth 6 days, it also assumes an ancient near east cosmology that is not consistent with the moon in orbit around a (sort of ) spherical earth and both in orbit around the sun. A vault … among other things. The “traditional” scholars don’t make a big deal of this – it either isn’t even noted, or we go back to John Calvin and his comments on Saturn, astronomers, and accommodation.

    I don’t think Genesis contains inspired cosmology, and I don’t think it contains an inspired account of God’s method of creation.

  • EricW

    rjs wrote:

    “I don’t think Genesis contains inspired cosmology, and I don’t think it contains an inspired account of God’s method of creation.”

    Does it contain an “accurate account” of God’s method of creating and forming the adam and building his ishshah? We’ve been through this before, but isn’t the way Genesis describes the creation of man, and not just the fact of their creation, assumed by Jesus and Paul and reflected in their inspired teachings – e.g., man came from the ground, woman came from man, God made man a living being, etc.?

  • rjs,

    Yes, we have been through this before and I disagree with many of your points. I don’t see it your way. We can rerun the arguments, but I expect this thread is probably not the place for that. I’m not new to the big conversation, and I do not believe I am naive about it. I’ve looked at it from a number of angles. In fact, for about five years, I took the theistic evolution position and learned to argue pretty well from a number of different angles. I still look at what your batch of OT scholars say. I read John Walton a while back, open to be persuaded; I read C. John Collins just recently, open to be persuaded. But I kept seeing holes in their logic and questionable assumptions they made in their arguments. In a way, it was kind of disappointing.

  • I consider how “that long” a time period puts a whole ‘nother dimension to “love is patient.” (It also presents a huge challenge to us, only possible “in Christ” – to go and love others, likewise.) A few verses came to mind, too, such as Psalm 90:4, and also the Psalmist’s lament to God to recall how short a span is a human life (Ps. 89:47, e.g.).

  • Pointed here by the Beach Boys’ video … but, it seems to me that we consider the question of millions of years from our perspective of time. If God is eternal and unphased by time (even though he is also immanent), then millions of years is a human-encased-in-time perspective. If God see our experience only in the present, then maybe 9 million years is not much different to him than 9 tenths of a nano second.

  • Brian Considine

    I thought the current data from WMAP says the universe is over 14 billion years old. RJS says 9 billion. Gee I wonder who is right or why it matters?

  • rjs


    The best estimate for the age of the universe is 13.7 billion years give or take a little.

    Now 9 billion to get the universe ready for earth and life plus a 4.6 billion year old earth (again give or take a little) = 13.6 billion years total. This is close enough for the point I was trying to make (i.e. 13.7 – 4.6 = 9.1 billion years and I rounded off).

    Perhaps the newest data suggests 13.7 is closer to 14 – ok … doesn’t really change anything.

  • rjs

    Actually the best data I can find quickly online for WAMP is 13.75 billion.

  • God did not write the Bible, He inspired men and women to write it. So it seems to me that the text of the Bible is humans attempt to explain what they understand by faith. Yet the truth, God’s message to us, is within that “text” out of the human mind. The message God gives us in the creation story is that God created all things, seen and unseen. The comments here is very much the same. We are trying to explain how and why but the message is still there, God did it. Be Blessed

  • By the way, I think James Weldon Johnson’s Creation story is just as accurate as Gen 1:1 through 2:4

  • James M. Gillen

    If I remember correctly, I heard about a theory that, as the earth was forming, the speed at which the elements were spinning was very great. AND, it was felt that, that speed could well contribute to a “warping” of time/space. If that were the case,what,seemingly to us,took thousands/ millions/ billions of years, just MIGHT have happened in a few of God’s moments. (A lot of our present “knowledge” would have been considered “Magic” no TOO many years ago. Now it seems commonplace to so many of us). Some just refuse to acknowledge that, for us NOW, God cannot be put into a test tube. I believe that, eventually, science just may prove God’s existence.

  • Wonder what 4.6 billion years mean to God? After all, he’s above and beyond time itself.

    Nice article to reflect on though!