6,000 Years?

THE TIME SPAN from Creation to the present continues to be an issue of concern to some Seventh-day Adventist scholars. There are those who hold rigidly to a 6,000 year approximation; others are prepared to concede an extra one or two thousand years, maintaining that the important issue is the fact of fiat Creation; there are still others who, at least privately, have been prepared to concede the possibility of considerably longer periods of time. . .

-president of Columbia Union College at the time this article was written

THE TIME SPAN from Creation to the present continues to be an issue of concern to some Seventh-day Adventist scholars. There are those who hold rigidly to a 6,000 year approximation; others are prepared to concede an extra one or two thousand years, maintaining that the important issue is the fact of fiat Creation; there are still others who, at least privately, have been prepared to concede the possibility of considerably longer periods of time.

Clearly, the Bible does not offer an exact chronology of time since Creation week, although it does present some very precise details that do have significance to such dating. There have been many at tempts to date Biblical events, but even the most notable, that of Archbishop Usher, cannot be accepted without obvious reservations. If it is not possible to as certain a precise date for Creation week, then one might ask why such an issue is important.

To me, its importance lies in the fact that once we relinquish our belief in the 6,000 year approximation, it is easy to extend to 10,000 years, 200,000 years, and even millions of years. Also, strangely enough, the further back we place Creation week, the less imminent the return of Christ seems and the less urgent our mission.

Predating the Creation week by a few thousand years does nothing to answer the hypothesized eons postulated by modern scientists. However, those who concede one or two additional thousand years usually have done so to accommodate the evidence of archeological findings that indicate existing remains of civilizations that have been dated to at least 3,000 or 4,000 B.C. The nature of some of these remains points to a postdiluvian date for their establishment. Thus to con cede one or two thousand years helps to accommodate archeological data, though not other scientific evidence.

Those who concede small extensions of time to the 6,000 year approximation, offer supporting evidence from a few chronological gaps found in certain sections of Scripture. The most notable of these is Moses' apparent exclusion of Cainan between Arphaxad and Salah (see Gen. 10:24; 11:12) while Cainan is named in Luke's chronology (see Luke 3:36). How ever, it is important to note that these gaps can account for only minute changes in the projected time since Creation.

The trend to extend the projected time also parallels a growing concern among many Adventist scholars with the rising tide of scientific evidence and theorizing, and with the positions of other Christian scholars, particularly the conservative theologians. This has led some to conclude that, while the Bible is a valid expositor of those matters relevant to salvation, it is neither a history nor a science text, and therefore in these "nonessentials," the possibility of error is not excluded.

The critical nature of such a position rests in the logical consequences of its import. If in those areas of Scripture that are open to investigation, i.e., historical and scientific utterances, there are some possibilities of significant factual error, how can we accept the inerrancy of the principle of salvation, which is not so open to such investigations? It is essential to recognize that the Bible never allows this kind of error (see 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:16- 21), and that Christ supported the historicity of the Old Testament (see Mark 10:6; Matt. 24:38, 39; 12:3-5).

Certainly Ellen White leaves no doubt as to the historical and scientific reliability of the Bible. The following statements are representative of many she makes:

"Science is ever discovering new wonders; but she brings from her research nothing that, rightly understood, conflicts with divine revelation." --Education, p. 128.

"The Bible is the most ancient and the most comprehensive history that men possess. It came fresh from the fountain of eternal truth, and throughout the ages a divine hand has preserved its purity. . . . Here only do we find an authentic account of the origin of nations. Here only is given a history of our race unsullied by human pride or prejudice." --Ibid., p. 173.

There is no question that God's Word is reliable, not only in its detailing of the plan of salvation, but also in its scientific and historical utterances. There is always the danger of testing the Word of God by the changing hypotheses of men. It is well to note two strong warnings against such approaches.

"The Bible is not to be tested by man's ideas of science, but science is to be brought to the test of this unerring standard." --Counsels to Parents and Teachers, p. 425. (Italics supplied.) (See also Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 114; The Ministry of Healing, p. 427; Testimonies, vol. 8, p. 325.)

"Whatever contradicts God's Word, we may be sure proceeds from Satan." --Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 55. (Italics supplied.)

At the risk of being called obscurantists, Seventh-day Adventists must hold immovably to the Word of God. It may sometimes mean ignoring the apparent evidence of our senses so that we might cling to His truth. It is reasonable to expect that Satan will seek to use the apparently controlled, careful investigations of the scientist in much the same way as he used the evidence of magicians in millenniums past.

We need as never before to place before our membership, especially our youth, the importance of developing implicit faith in the written Word. We should never equivocate on some matter of truth in an attempt to avoid censure by scholars and authorities, or to avoid a difficult situation, for any compromise is likely to undermine and not strengthen faith. Exercising faith today is critical to our preparation for the fearful tests ahead.

There is little doubt that scientific considerations underly the present uncertainty concerning the lapse of time since Creation. While the Bible does not give a precise date for Creation week, its internal evidence supports the six thousand year approximation. However, as the Bible makes no direct statement to this effect, it is the Spirit of Prophecy references that become most significant.

More than thirty times, Ellen White makes various statements that support or are consistent with the 6,000 year approximation view point. Those who concede a some what longer period of time usually suggest, however, that these statements are idiomatic, reflecting that which was commonly under stood at the time they were written. It must be observed, however, that the 6,000 year view was already under strong criticism at the time of Sister White's writing, even in the ranks of many Christians. Admittedly, the idiomatic interpretation gathers support from the similarity of expression of most of these statements. Typical of this expression is:

"But Jesus accepted humanity when the race had been weakened by four thousand years of sin." --The Desire of Ages, p. 49. (Italics supplied.)

"For six thousand years that mastermind that once was highest among the angels of God has been wholly bent to the work of deception and ruin." ---The Great Controversy, Introduction, p. x. (Italics supplied.)

Two statements from the prophetic pen, however, seem clearly to defy an idiomatic interpretation:

"Many who profess to believe the Bible record are at a loss to account for wonderful things which are found in the earth, with the view that creation week was only seven literal days, and that the world is now only about six thousand years old." --Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, p. 92. (Italics supplied.)

"During the first twenty-five hundred years of human history, there was no written revelation. . . . The preparation of the written word began in the time of Moses. . . . This work continued during the long period of sixteen hundred years from Moses, the historian of creation and the law, to John, the recorder of the most sublime truths of the gospel." ---The Great Controversy, Introduction, p. v.

It is further relevant to notice that in at least four statements the issue is further specified by the use of the phrase "nearly six thou sand years." (Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 172; Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, p. 371; The Great Controversy, pp. 518, 552, 553.)

Shortly before the completion of His earthly ministry, Christ asked, "Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).

Only God's remnant people will be able to give a positive answer to this question. It was in the Garden of Eden that man first lost faith in the Word of God. Those who will inhabit Eden restored will have placed unswerving trust in God's Word. As the theories of men be come more persuasive and the deceptions of Satan more subtle, God's people will know only one safeguard, the infallible Word of God.


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-president of Columbia Union College at the time this article was written

August 1974

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