The Westminster View of Creation Days: A Choice between Non-Ambiguity or Historical Revisionism

David W. Hall

To see the Nov. 19, 1998 Revision and update, click here.

The Westminster Divines and the long stretch of church history prior to the 19th century DID have a view on the length of creation days. This historical fact is often obscured by either biased presuppositions or a research vacuum. Despite the prevalent claim from some quarters (actually relatively recent, primarily since the 1800s) that the confessional words “in the space of six days” really could mean up to 16 billion years, when primary writings by the divines are consulted, it becomes very difficult to maintain that the divines were more chic than hertofore imagined.

Contrary to the theological mythology of the past 150 years, the leading Westminster Divines did leave explicit testimony, in writing, repeatedly, and uniformly on this subject. A review of their own writings only permits embarrassment for those who assert that they expressed no view on this subject.

First, in order to follow the trail, good theological detectives may have to weed out many of the urban legends that have been recently and industriously sown. We have been told that there is little or no record of what the original divines intended. That is not true, unless one limits himself to a very narrow set of documentary evidence. We have also been led to believe that English Bibles use the phrase, “in the space of six days,” to paraphrase biblical teaching. We cannot find one. We have been told that many puritans, like William Ames, allowed for long periods of creation. That, too, is a myth. The view of Augustine has been distorted, and we are supposed to believe that Augustine was an early day Carl Sagan--a myth that only a committed revisionist would believe. From the record of history and from the Scriptures, these claims simply do not sustain the case that the language of the Confession is unclear. The Westminster standards consciously asserted a truth claim by their words: “in the space of six days.” That language had specific meaning when it was asserted, and it still means what is says today. Persons may differ with the Confession's assertions and doubtless other issues must be addressed, but its meaning is verifiable and unambiguous.

The urban legends I have mentioned above have, however, become fairly entrenched and widely taught in academic classrooms for a century. Much of this, at least in reformed circles, hides behind the authority of recent reformed heroes. It is also mythical that we are obliged to follow leading theologians when they were wrong.

I am happy to acknowledge the debt we owe to Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield. They were great home run hitters of their day, the Babe Ruth and Mark McGwire of their respective days. But even great hitters hit foul balls occasionally, and in the matter of the span of the creation week, they were afield. Even good men err, and the reformed tradition has consistently affirmed that it prefers real history to following the traditions of the elders, even if the elders are Hodge, Shedd, or Warfield.

If one considers some of the considerably culture-biased statements of Hodge and Warfield, they will hardly suffice as role models on this issue. They were, in fact, quite influenced by the ideological currents of their day. Jonathan Wells observes that as early as 1863 Charles Hodge was accused of “Remaining open to the possibility that Scripture would have to be re-interpreted in light of scientific evidence.” [1] Further, the New York Observer accused Hodge of being guilty of letting “Science lead the way and the Bible followed.” [2] On several occasions Hodge had to defend himself from his contemporaries that he was “not guilty of subordinating Scripture to science.” In at least this instance, other contemporaries suspected that Hodge could be “persuaded by scientific evidence to modify his interpretation of Scripture,” and that he served to “reconcile Scripture with established scientific facts.” [3] That Hodge was contouring the Bible to the findings of science to some degree is seen from his comment in an 1856 review: “If science should succeed in demonstrating that the earth is millions of years old, then we will with the utmost alacrity believe that the days of creation were periods of indefinite duration.” [4]

Abraham Kuyper warned similarly about the uneasy alliance between Hodge's approach and secular geology. Kuyper at one point wrote, “There is, to be sure, a theological illusion abroad . . . which conveys the impression that, with the Holy Scripture in hand, one can independently construct his theology from this principium.” [5] In this criticism, Kuyper was likely thinking of Hodge and others who championed scientific orthodoxy based on their presupposition of the finality of facticity.

Kuyper criticized Hodge by name in another section. He faulted Hodge for his “combination of facts and truths” which overthrows his own system. Kuyper said that Hodge demanded that the “theologian be the one to authenticate these truths.” [6] Further, Kuyper accused Hodge of succumbing “to the temptation of placing Theology formally in line with the other sciences.” [7] Continuing his critique of Hodge, the Dutch theologian said: “The authentication of his facts brought him logically back again under the power of naturalistic science. And though as a man of faith he bravely resisted this, his demonstration lacked logical necessity . . . the entire subsequent development of theological study has actually substituted an utterly different object, has cut the historic tie that binds it to original theology, and has accomplished little else than the union of the sub-divisions of psychology and of historic ethnology into a new department of science, which does not lead to the knowledge of God, but aims at the knowledge of religion as a phenomenon in the life of humanity.” [8]

Kuyper protested “every appearance of neutrality, which is after all bound to be dishonest at heart.” In contrast to Hodge, Kuyper maintained that there could be no neutrality toward the scientific datum--an early form of a presuppositional apologetic. Wells perceptively remarks: “Although Hodge died without conceding that evolution could be reconciled with the Bible, his theology contained the seeds for such a reconciliation.” [9]

It appears that these angels were unaware of the inherent dangers of accommodation at this juncture. As Theodore Bozeman perceptively wrote at the conclusion of his book:
 

Indeed, for Bozeman: “It is revealing that [certain] prominent Old Schoolers . . . were now willing to suggest that if an `indisputable' result of thorough induction manifestly contradicted an existing doctrine of the church, the theologian must reconsider his interpretation of God's word, and see if he has not misunderstood it. In view of the firm biblical literalism and the unbending confessionalism to which the Old School was committed, this was a substantial concession.” [11] Science could at least theoretically have preeminence over Scripture--at least as an intermediate hermeneutic.

Benjamin Warfield is another glaring illustration of this flaw, and when our friends claim to follow Warfield, they may claim far more than they wish.

In a 1915 work entitled “Calvin's Doctrine of Creation,” one marvels at Warfield's hermeneutical gymnastics as he tried to mold Calvin into a proto-evolutionist. Warfield was to the point of saying: “Calvin doubtless had no theory of evolution; but he teaches a doctrine of evolution. He had no objection and so teaching it, cut to preserve the creative act . . .” [12] Warfield even speculated that had certain preconditions come about “Calvin would have been a precursor of the modern evolutionary theorist.” [13] In a footnote responding to Herman Bavinck, Warfield concluded: “Calvin accordingly very naturally thought along the lines of a theistic evolutionism.” [14] That claim is as stunning, as it is erroneous. In either case, Warfield ought not be our authority on this matter. If one consults Calvin's Institutes or other Calvinalia, the possibility that Calvin might have been an evolutionist is quite remote.

Even excellent men like Hodge, Warfield, and others may be wrong on this issue and still worthy of great respect in other areas. The challenge remains to explore a wider selection of theologians than recent exemplars alone in order to ascertain what the catholic and apostolic church held on the matter.

I. Short Tour of Pre-Westminster Exegesis

A brief review of pre-Westminster exegesis focussing on Augustine and the reformers indicates that they did have definite views on this subject that were contrary to those of Hodge and Warfield. So did virtually the entire church prior to the last century.

Frequently, Augustine is misappropriated to support a long creation week, although it seems that most misappropriators have not read Augustine himself in context. What was Augustine's view of the length of the creation week? Let me summarize his view, since he is so frequently misrepresented. Was he a literal 144 hour creationist? No; he was a .000001 second creationist. To be sure, he allowed for non-literal interpretation of the days, but in the OPPOSITE DIRECTION of modern claims. Augustine did NOT believe in long days. He believed all was created in a nano-second.

Augustine is often appealed to, as are Origen, and later Aquinas. [15] Some even blame fundamentalism for the genesis of creationism. Often earlier theologians are misrepresented. While Augustine argued for a non-literal approach, he certainly did not envision or support a long expanse for creation as modern revisionists assert. It is utterly indefensible to suggest that Augustine would have agreed that “in the space of six days” could mean millions of years. The best that appeals to Augustine can demonstrate is that symbolic language is appreciated in earlier commentaries. [16] That is one thing--conceptually different from adjusting the Confession to modern geological long periods. It is a reach, nevertheless, to infer a repudiation of traditional (pre-Darwinian) creationism from these authors' use of a symbolic hermeneutic. [17] Virtually every appeal seeking Augustine's support for long creation periods misappropriates his view.

An earlier adversary, Andrew D. White—despite his wish to the contrary—admitted that Calvin had a “strict” interpretation of Genesis, and that “down to a period almost within living memory [1896], it was held, virtually `always, everywhere, and by all,' that the universe, as we now see it, was created literally and directly by the voice or hands of the Almighty, or by both—out of nothing—in an instant or in six days . . .” [18] Even opponents find it difficult to mangle this testimony, although with the effect of cumulative misrepresentations that is becoming more frequent. [19]

Ambrose of Milan (339-397) was one of the first theologians to explicate a mature view of creation. In his Hexameron, Ambrose affirmed, “God created day and night at the same time. Since that time, day and night continue their daily succession and renewal.” [20] In his fullest discussion of the lengths of the creation days, Ambrose commented:
 

In The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine—the alleged adherent of the framework hypothesis—commented: “Hence it seems that this work of God was done in the space of a day . . .” [22] “Thus, in all the days of creation there is one day . . .” [23] (4:26) He continued to explain: “That day in the account of creation, or those days that are numbered according to its recurrence, are beyond the experience and knowledge of us mortal earthbound men.” [24] (4:27) He believed that, “the whole of creation was finished in six days.” [25] (4:14) Augustine argued that the firmament, the waters, plants, trees, heavenly bodies, and all living creatures were “made simultaneously.” [26] In light of this and many other comments, Augustine's sensitivity to symbolism ought not be transformed into a cosmology which fits with a 16 billion year old cosmos apart from numerous, explicit, and consistent iterations or admission of ideological bias.

Lest one think that Augustine was arguing for an expanded period of creation so as to permit lengthy development, he also argued that the entire creation happened in only one day: “Perhaps we should say that God created only one day, so that by its recurrence many periods called days would pass by. . . . All creation, then, was finished by the sixfold recurrence of this day, whose evening and morning we may interpret as explained above.” [27] (4:20, 26)

So far was he from advocating a gradual evolution that he said: “For this power of Divine Wisdom does not reach by stages or arrive by steps. It was just as easy, then, for God to create everything as it is for Wisdom to exercise this mighty power. . . . Creation, therefore, did not take place slowly in order that a slow development might be implanted in those things that are slow by nature; nor were the ages established at the plodding pace at which they now pass.” [28] (4:33) That Augustine is incompatible with modern notions is seen from his comment: “[B]ut there was no passage of time when they [creatures] received these laws at creation. Otherwise, if we think that, when they were first created by the Word of God, there were the processes of nature with the normal duration of days that we know, those creatures that shoot forth roots and clothe the earth would need not one day but many to germinate beneath the ground, and then a certain number of days, according to their natures, to come forth from the ground; and the creation of vegetation, which Scripture places on one day, namely the third, would have been a gradual process.” [29] (4:33)

Augustine believed that there was no “before” or “after” in the moment of creation: “It follows, therefore, that he, who created all things together, simultaneously created these six days, or seven, or rather the one day six or seven times repeated.” [30] (4:33) He believed creation occurred in a split second, not over long days.

It is Augustine's view that was largely repeated by John Colet and a very few others. But it was explicitly denied by Westminster divines, their Confession, and their puritan contemporaries.

One can summarize Augustine's views as below:

Ernan McMullin confirms that Augustine concurred with the Alexandrine fathers who believed that creation was in a single moment; he clearly did not believe that creation “days” were indefinitely long periods of time: “In fact, he insisted that the creative action whereby all things came to be was instantaneous; the six `days' refer (he suggests) to stages in the angelic knowledge of creation. In properly temporal terms the `days' reduce to an indivisible instant, so that all the kinds of things mentioned in Genesis were really made simultaneously.” [33]

Augustine, Anselm, Lombard, and Aquinas are frequently alleged to have supported long days. Covenant Seminary Professor Jack Collins confirms that: “Augustine and Anselm do not actually discuss the length of the creation days. . . . Certainly Augustine and Anselm cannot be called as witnesses in favor of a day-age theory.” [34] Suffice it to say that neither did Aquinas consistently nor explicitly hold to “long days.” [35] Aquinas (1224-1274) believed: “The words one day are used when day is first instituted, to denote that one day is made up of twenty-four hours.” [36] Moreover, he commented elsewhere: “But it [cosmos] was not made from something; otherwise the matter of the world would have preceded the world . . . Therefore, it must be said that the world was made from nothing.” [37]

Peter Lombard, continued the analogy of faith on the subject of creation. Lombard, along with other contemporaries, recognized creation ex nihilo, Adam and Eve's special creation, and affirmed that “the Catholic faith believes that there was one principle, one cause of all things, namely God.” [38] Moreover, Lombard affirmed the “essentially hexameral plan” of creation, taking a clear position that God: “creates the angels and the unformed matter simul and ex nihilo. Then, in the work of six days, he produces individual creatures out of the unformed matter . . . The days referred to in Genesis are to be understood literally as lasting twenty-four hours.” [39] If one retains a proper understanding of the philosophical audiences and contexts of the great theologians prior to the Reformation, one discovers that a majority of orthodox commentators did not explicitly hold to long days, gradual development, or an old earth as is frequently claimed. [40]

Interestingly, had Calvin wanted to lobby for “long days,” two ideal verses presented themselves: Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. Oddly, while commenting on both of them, Calvin refrained from injecting the idea that the first days of creation could be as long as millennia. The exegesis which is becoming so common was avoided by earlier exegetes. These verses were not interpreted to satisfy certain scientific theories; rather they were interpreted simply to mean that God is above time. All in all, Calvin presents a rather consistent view on this subject which is antithetical to the modern attempts to recraft it after their own image. [41]

In his Commentary on Genesis (1:5), Calvin even uses the phrase “in the space of six days,” which was later adopted by the Westminster Assembly consistent with Calvin's view.

Martin Luther's view is largely uncontested, so explicit is it. [42] Numerous other citations could be assembled, but interestingly Luther is rarely misappropriated. It deserves to be stated, however, that the frequent omission of reference to Luther [43] (and others) illustrates the selectivity of sources drawn upon. A search for the mainstream of orthodox interpretation on this subject should not omit Luther, even if he mitigated the propositions ardently maintained by modern revisionism.

Robert Bishop concurs: “Neither the original audience of that book [Genesis] nor anyone else until about two hundred years ago would have understood a `geological era' to be a meaningful concept.[44] Thus the Confession considered no such option. To expect that the divines could speak to unimagined concepts is about like expecting Luther to stump for Mac computers over PCs four centuries in advance.

There is scant evidence, if any, that prior to the nineteenth century any view of creation that accorded with macro-evolution was anything but aberrant. [45]

It is an error to claim that Augustine, the ancient church, or the Westminster Divines held to long days or envisioned that as an orthodox possibility. [46] Such concept would only arise much later. There were only two major views on this issue prior to the 19th century, but the modern myth seeks to uphold a third view only embraced after the onslaught of evolution. That third view is a post-Darwin view, never held by the church, oddly, prior to the coincidence of that scientific era. The two pre-19th century views and the post-19th century view may be summarized as below.

This new third view of long creation arises only after the popularization of Darwin. As I have gone to the sources, following the reformers in style as well as substance, I cannot find pre-19th century interpretations that adjust the Confession to geologic eras or long periods of creation.

[Note: On July 1, 1998, I debated this thesis at a General Assembly meeting in St. Louis. In my zeal to make the rhetorical case, I may have over-reached. As I reported my research--which had turned up at least 20 Westminster divines who endorsed a 24-hour creation day--I offerred tickets to the St. Louis Cardinals' game to anyone who could produce a written citation to the contrary by one of the divines who contended for a long geologic period as a creation day. Some have misunderstood, and thought that a citation by any reformed theologian after 1800 should qualify. My exact point, however, is that the historic shift below is post-1800. Few, if any takers, have sought to produce a reference, and--with tickets unclaimed--we thoroughly enjoyed the 3-0 trouncing of the Royals on July 2. Mark McGwire was 0-2 that night.
    Still, I am told that several theologians will soon call my bluff. In the interest of fairness and unbiased research, I will still mail tickets to any researcher who produces a citation in writing by one of the Westminster divines who contended for a long geologic period as a creation day. I'll candidly announce my own shortcomings when the cite is produced, and also keep a running tally on our web site. Maybe I did overstate; perhaps at the end of summer the score will be 20-1 instead of 20-0. When the tally is anywhere close, my thesis will be surrendered.]
 

Before the church is expected to change, advocates of the long age view must prove their major points. The hinge issues are:

To endorse such unfounded interpretations is also to invite men with untested commitments to pass by without proper rationales. Indeed, this revisionism creates a new standard for the Westminster standards, and makes it unlikely that any Presbytery or Session will call into question framework hypotheses or other expansive views on creation. There must be a less radical way, and we can suggest several other methods to keep our church open, but at the same time not commit to pluralism.

II. What did the Westminster Divines have on their minds when they invoked the phrase, “in the space of six days.”

It is extremely difficult to produce pre-Westminster theologians who held to a long age for creation. About the only major theologians appealed to (other than a misunderstanding of Augustine or Philo, not exactly an exemplar for the reformed community) as possibly holding expansive views prior to the Westminster era are: John Colet (alleged by Alexander Mitchell) and William Ames (fabricated by John Macpherson). If these are the best candidates for influence-wielders over the Westminster divines, the case is considerably weaker than most proponents imagine.

Rather than explicitly arguing for an expansive period of creation, John Colet merely parrots Augustine both in Platonism and in suggesting that the entire universe was created “in a single and undivided instant of time.” (Source: Joannis Coleti Opuscula Quaedam Theologica, Letters to Radulphus on the Mosaic Account of the Creation, trans. and introduced by J. H. Lupton (London: George Bell and Sons, 1876), p. 5) Colet emphasizes that “God created all things at once” (p. 4, not over a long geologic period), that “the universe was created in eternity . . . that admits of no subdivision” (4-5), “There arose at once a clear formation of all things, and of the whole universe “ (p. 6), and in good Platonic terms that creation was a proof of the union of form and matter, taking place “in one undivided instant, namely, in eternity” (p. 6) which led to the bizarre interpretation, to wit: “That is to say, the time and measure of the whole creation is eternity; in which every time is one undivided time: every day is one day.” (p. 6) With such pantheistic tones, it is no wonder that the Westminster Divines did not follow or reference Colet who seemed more concerned to reconcile “dark matter” (p. 8) with “the undivided measure of eternity” (p. 8) than to reconcile doctrine to the Hebrew texts.

Colet hardly believed in the perspicuity of Scripture (“[T]he Mosaic records can be understood by no one” (p. 4), and frequently denigrated the original audience as “uninstructed people” (8), “a foolish multitude” (9), “homely” (9), “An ill-instructed people” (14), “country people . . . who observe nothing beyond the heavens above them” (14), and “homely and uncultivated” (28). His claim that Moses made a “grave blunder” (25) in presenting the creation account goes far beyond legitimate criticism and calls into question the ability of God to insure his own revelation.

Claims to interpret anthropomorphically are one thing; but Colet's claim is that the Scriptures were virtually inscrutable to the original audience, who were so uneducated as to be beyond communication from the Divine.

While arguing for “instantaneous creation” (p. 13; also “all things were begotten at once”, p. 16, and “the universe was briefly comprehended under the first day” -- p. 26), Colet also interpreted the “second day” to refer to “eternal time” (13). Other bizarre notions, stemming no doubt from Platonism, include references to Gnostic emanations, e. g.: “[T]he earth emanated from God before the stars had their birth in heaven; because a previous emanation must needs be finished, before a second is begun.” (18)

Even while following Augustine's misinterpretation of the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus 18:1 (“For it is unworthy of God, and utterly unbecoming, to suppose that he made first one thing and then another, as if he could not have made all things at once, in a single instant”-- p. 27), he still concludes that the intent of the creation narratives is to support a day of rest: “. . . to the intent that they should put an end to their daily occupations every six days, and spend the seventh in an exalted contemplation of God. This was the chief motive for that sixfold division of events; namely, the introduction therefrom, authoritatively and with the sanction of religion, of a distinction and order of days.” (p. 24)

Certainly Colet followed Augustine in a non-literal approach, but he was so far from calling for expansive geologic creation that one cannot even find a passage in this incomplete fragment (Ibid., v-vi) (also in different hand from Colet's Exposition of Romans) that discusses that topic. Hence, Alexander Mitchell's suggestion that the Westminster Divines “may have been acquainted” with Colet's discussion mistakenly assumes that Colet is a character witness for their case, when all along: (1) It is not certain that this work was even in circulation prior to 1876; (2) It is not certain that Colet was the author of the mss. which is abruptly cut off and bound together with another work in the original (Note: J. H. Lupton in his introduction to this work informs that a memo from Archbishop Parker associates the mss. with Cuthbert Tonstall, Bishop of Durham” (p. vii); (3) There is no reference to any of the Divines esteeming his work as a model to emulate; (4) Even if the above could be demonstrated, there is no passage in Colet that vaguely posits an option for a long period of creation, for (5) Alexander Mitchell's claim notwithstanding, all Colet does is follow Augustine, with an even more generous portion of eccentric Platonism, and asserts creation in a single moment--explicitly not over a long period of time, but in a nano-second.

It would be imprudent in the extreme to alter confessional understandings only upon the hope that contemporaries should depend on Mitchell's citation which depends on Colet which is a misappropriation of Augustine who is not the confessional authority on this issue when the Westminster Divines clearly did not follow Colet.

Colet was an ardent Platonist and according to leading scholars, his Letters to Radulphus on the Mosaic Account of Creation is the primary proof of that. [47] Moreover, all that epistle indicates, contrary to the presumption modern attempts, is that Colet followed Augustine in believing in instantaneous creation (not the same as the modern claim that long periods of time led to creation.) Miles clarifies (contrary to the thrust of the revisionists' invalid inference): “However, the Dean [Colet] concedes that the Mosaic `days' do signify a causal sequence, during which there was simultaneous emanation of angels, heaven, earth, the `inhabitants' of heaven (i. e., stars and planets), fish-inhabitants of earth, and animals, in that order” (Ibid.). That is the view of Augustine, not an advocacy for long-days.

It is clear from the context that Colet was advocating little more than what Augustine had advocated, except in an inferior way. Recall also that John Colet is not recognized as an authority in the reformed tradition. Colet also stumbled into other Platonic errors, even denying that God is omnipotent (Miles, 65). Miles summarizes: “It is astounding that he could absorb such a dose of pagan philosophy and still remain so much within the boundaries of Christian dogma.” (65)

All that Colet's Letters to Radulphus show is that some continued to hold to the Augustinian tradition. However, the Assembly in its use of “in the space of” employed a term that self-consciously rejected Augustine's eccentric formulation. Certainly Augustine was revered by these puritan divines, who would have given him the benefit of the doubt. Thus, when his view was repudiated by them and their contemporaries, it awaits documentation to prove that they held to such a liberal view, either in private or based on their writings.

Of weight and interest to this issue, William Ames, who is an appropriate authority for reformed orthodoxy--living a century after Colet, and a short time before the Westminster Assembly--denied this very Augustinian scheme, and certainly was a more dominant influence on the divines than Colet. It is difficult to find a single reference to Colet by the divines, but Calvin, Ames, Beza, and others who repudiated the Augustinian view are frequently cited by the divines.

As another example of the effort to find support where there is none, John Macpherson (1882) claimed that William Ames held to long intervening ages between the creation days. Although this mis-statement of fact has been widely and uncritically repeated, it provides no foundation for the desideratum when Ames himself is consulted.

The table below shows how Macpherson misappropriated Ames on the subject. [48]

William Ames

 
Correct Trans. Original Latin Erroneous Macpherson Trans
Eusden: The creation of these parts of the world did not occur at one and the same moment, but was accomplished part by part in the space of six days. 

Bailey: “However, the creation of these parts of the world did not occur at the same time and in one moment, but it was accomplished through parts, succeeding themselves in the space of six intervening days.” 

Amplified: “Creation [creatio] of these parts [harum partium, various parts of the creation; cf. I, 8, 27] of the world, however [autem signifies the connection to the previous paragraph], was not done simultaneously and in one moment [contra Augustine], but was accomplished through parts, each in its turn, succeeding within the space of six days.” 
 

creatio autem harum partium mundi non fuit, simul & uno momento, sed peragebatur per partes, sibi invicem sex dierum interstitiis succendentes. 

creatio autem harum partium mundi non fuit, simul & uno momento, sed peragebatur per partes, sibi invicem sex dierum interstitiis succendentes. 
 
 

creatio autem harum partium mundi non fuit, simul & uno momento, sed peragebatur per partes, sibi invicem sex dierum interstitiis succendentes.

Macpherson's commentary on The Westminster Confession of Faith (1882) refracts Ames to support 

that the active creative periods were six natural days, with indefinite intervals between them.” 

However, it seems that this addition of “indefinite” is Macpherson's redaction, not so much a direct citation from Ames. Moreover, when section 28 is compared with the previous paragraph, it seems clear that the reference is not to creation en toto, but to the creation of various parts (partes, partium) of the cosmos.

Latinist Wes Baker has verified that the Eusden translation is valid while the Macpherson interpretation is not. Sex dierum is in the genitive case, which expresses possession. Interstitiis is an ablative of time within which. The Latin sex dierum interstitiis literally says “within intervals of six days,” not “[during] six days with indefinite intervals between them.” [49]

John Collins, who has presented one of the more-researched and balanced studies of these issues, argues that William Shedd was more tolerant in this area. However, in keeping with our thesis, it must be noted that Shedd's claims were made nearly 30 years after Darwin and modern geological dating (as were the claims by Mitchell and Macpherson); thus indirectly supporting our central claim. While still holding high regard for Shedd in many loci, it appears that he fell in with Hodge and Warfield in committing this apologetic mistake. Collins's reference to John Macpherson's 1882 work is answered similarly.

Collins (op. cit., p. 114) suggests that Ames was certainly “not under pressure from modernism to allow for” six days, with “intervening spaces” between the days. While it certainly is true that Ames was not under modernistic pressure, the fatal flaw in appeals to him is that he did not actually write what Macpherson and Collins allege. Moreover, when section 28 of Ames' Marrow is compared with the previous paragraph, it seems clear that the reference is not to creation en toto, but to the creation of various parts (partes, partium) of the cosmos. Thus, what Ames asserted was that—contrary to Augustine—the entire cosmos was not created simul & uno momento (simultaneously and in one moment); rather, the various parts were created “each in turn, succeeding in six days, with [normal] intervention [between each day].” If Ames is understood as opposing the Augustine/Alexandrine view that all six days of creation occurred in a singular instant, then Ames' claim is little more than a reaffirmation of Ambrose's (traditional) view. Further, insofar as Ames was not commonly understood as holding to long periods of creation (nor was that the majority view of the other testimony above and below), more than Macpherson's redaction is needed to prove that Ames had such a modern view. Ames actually agrees with the divines on this subject, rather than opposing him.

James Ussher: In The Westminster Assembly and its Work (Cherry Hill, NJ: Mack Publishing, 1972), Warfield sets out columns showing the close parallels of thought and expression between James Ussher and the WCF. Warfield includes both a reference to the use of “the space of . . . “ as well as showing Ussher's chronology that does not allow for geologic ages, when he records Ussher's comment: “Why may not men want the Scriptures now, as they did at the first from the creation until the time of Moses, for the space of 2513 years?” (op. cit, p. 179)

Warfield even admits: ““The parallelism [between Ussher’s Body of Divinity] is so close, however, that it is hard to believe that it did not affect some of the matter or even the phraseology.” (176-177). The same may be safely asserted about creation, although Warfied--a child of his day, in this foul ball behind home plate--did not follow Ussher on this.

The 1615 Irish Articles of Religion, which Warfield claims as a primary source for WCF I, confessed: “In the beginning of time, when no creature had any being, God by his word alone, in the space of six days, created all things, and afterwards, by his providence, doth continue, propagate, and order them according to his own will.” [Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, (Baker, 1983) vol. 3, p. 529] This phrase did not mean long ages. Ussher, perhaps following Ames in sensing the importance of repudiating the Augustinian view, injected this in the 1615 Irish Articles. Of interest, Ussher was not satisfied to retain the generic language of the pre-existing Thirty Nine Articles, nor the non-specific wording of the Apostles Creed ("maker of heaven and earth"). In the generation before, during, and after the composition of the Westminster standards, divines refined their creedal statements with more specificity. Indeed, the Irish Articles, the Westminster standards, and expositions of them consistently spelled out more detail than predecessor confessions. Hence, the claim that Westminster only parrots biblical language or in some way supports ambiguity on this point, can only be sustained if the context of Westminster's original intent is studiously ignored. The divines (and Ussher) were not content merely to leave this point undefined; they defined it . . . consistently in their writings by both repudiating Augustine (the only non 24-hour possibility at the time) and by invoking "24 houres" or "ordinary day" in their other writings.

In his Sum and Substance of Christian Religion (rpr. 1841, Hastings Robinson, ed., London). Ussher affirmed a young earth and argued that one of the reasons for this was “To convince all heathen, that either thought that the world was without beginning, or that it began millions of years before it did.” (p. 118). “And though,” asserted Ussher, “[God] could have perfected all the creatures at once and in a moment [ed., contra Augustine]; yet he was six days and six nights in creating the world.” (118) Another reason that Ussher cited was “That we might observe, that many of the creatures were made before those which are ordinarily their causes; and thereby learn, that the Lord is not bound to any creature, or to any means; thus the sun was not created before the fourth day, and yet days, which now are caused by the rising of the sun, were before that.” (118)

In his The Annals of the Old Testament from the Beginning of the World (from the 1650 Latin edition), James Ussher listed the creation days not only as 24 hour units, but as successive calendar days, the first being October 23, 4004 BC. The Westminster Assembly's Prolocutor and most revered theologian, William Twisse, along with most other divines adopted Ussher's chronology by referring to creation as "after the expiration of 2500 years . . ." (On the Morality of the Fourth Commandment {London, 1641}, p. 196; also 198).

While it is true that Ussher was appointed to the Assembly by Parliament but did not attend since he withdrew shortly thereafter to teach at Oxford in 1643, in light of his stature, a father to the divines, their departure from his position on creation would certainly have been considered a defection during their day. To expect that they `privately' held to long periods of creation is conjecture without documentation, especially when it is recalled that such a defection would be noticed in the confession.

Prior to Ussher, most others defined the creation days in similar fashion. Gervase Babington (1550-1610), Bishop of Worchester, commented on Genesis 1:7 that God created “not in one moment, but in six dayes space” (Non uno momento, sed sex dierum spatio), thereby exhibiting an early use of “in the space of six days” to refer to actual days. (The Workes of Gervase Babington, London, 1622, p. 6) Later Babington noted that God rested on the seventh day, following “six daies creating.” (Ibid., p. 9) There was certainly no hint of expansive period of creation at that time.

Another precursor to the Assembly was Andrew Willet (1562-1621). In his Hexapla in Genesis (London, 1632), Willet discussed whether the world was made in six days or instantaneously. He argued that the Mosaic account “must be taken plainly”: “For if the world was made at once, how can it be true, that it was made in six days? Augustine other-where holdeth the contrary, that the world was not made in one day, but in order . . .” This reference indicates that the generation prior to the meeting of Westminster consistently denied the Augustinian interpretation.

Furthermore, Ussher, was not alone in adopting his chronology; so did the premier OT scholar of the Westminster Assembly, John Lightfoot. While Lightfoot advocated a different form of government than the divines, few question his ability as an OT scholar or the fact that his views on the subject of creation were compatible with other divines. It is frequently and erroneously claimed that none of the Westminster divines or contemporaries left clues about their view on this controverted subject. Leading advocates of the post-Darwin position argue that if it had been important the divines would have clumsily injected “24 hour” in the confession or catechisms; consequently, some argue, the divines had no fixed view on this issue. Such argument, however, only indicates that they have not consulted other works of the divines that clearly indicate their understanding--the only one at the time--of the phrase “in the space of six days.”

Despite the counterfactual assertions that John Lightfoot followed Colet (e, g,. Mitchell) in allowing for an expansive period of creation, Lightfoot actually proves the thesis of the classic view. It was Lightfoot who advocated the same scheme as Ussher (earlier, in 1642), attended the Assembly, was quite eager to propagate that scheme, and whose temper and debating skills place the burden of proof exclusively on the shoulders of those who hold other views to indicate that he possibly would have kept quiet had the WCF been so crafted as to permit long geologic periods of creation. Lightfoot, like Ussher and many others, living long before Darwin did not dream of the interpretations that are suggested by modern exponents. The divines explicitly wrote to the contrary.

Lightfoot is so specific as to affirm that the heavens moved in darkness “twelve hours” before God commanded the creation of light (The Whole Works of the Rev. John Lightfoot, D.D., (rpr. J. R. Pitman, ed., London, 1825), vol. 2, p. 333), and also that all six creation days were 24 hour days and natural days (334-335). Of the second day, he claimed, “--and in four and twenty hours it was accomplished.” (334) To clarify the intent of Ames, Lightfoot stated that Moses presented “the seven days, or the first week of the world, altogether without interposition;” (336). The leading Hebraist of his day treated, as did Ussher, each of the creation days as natural days and as of limited duration (337). Rather than imagining a long period of evolution, Lightfoot commented (on Gen. 1:9) that “the earth instantly brought forth trees and plans in their several kinds.” (334)

In at least three other works, Lightfoot stated the same opinions. In his “Chronicle of the Times”, his understanding of 24 hour days is clear from the following: “Twelve hours was there universal darkness through all the world; and then was light created in the upper horizon, and there it enlightened twelve hours more.” (Works, 2:71) Similarly, in his “Rules for a Student of the Holy Scriptures,” he affirmed that day and night were each twelve hours, “And in four and twenty hours the command is accomplished.” (Works, 2:10-11) In his De Creatione, the OT expert of the Westminster Assembly wrote that the days were natural days, consisting of 24 hours. [50]

In a Sermon on Exodus 20:11, he called the six days “natural days,” a term at the time that meant 24 hour days. Lightfoot asked and answered as follows:
 

Significantly, Lightfoot claims that there was an orthodox view that "all grant," and that the only quibble was over the exact location of the creation event. Lightfoot, and several others, testify that the only view endorsed at the time, as "all grant," was that of 24 hours for creation days. Indeed, Lightfoot is on record in at least five different works affirming 24 hour days. Later thinkers may well dissent from his view, but the record should be allowed to speak for itself without prejudice.

Several other Westminster Divines lent their hand to the 1645 Annotations upon all the Books of the Old and New Testament (London, 1645). Among the divines appointed to draft these “study notes” were John Ley, William Gouge, and Daniel Featly, who were also appointed to the Westminster Assembly. Assemblyman John Ley composed the Annotations on the Pentateuch, and expressed the Westminster view that “the word Day is taken for the natural day consisting of twenty foure howres, which is measured most usually from the Sun-rising to the Sun-rising; or from the Sun-setting to the Sun-setting.” Ley noted that such sense was also used in Exodus 12:29, Numbers 3:13 and 8:17. Referring to other literal 24-hour periods, the view of the divines could hardly be invisible. [51]

In these Annotations, Ley reiterated: “This first day consisting of twenty foure howres . . .” and “. . . the Sabbath (being as large a day as an of the rest, and so containing twenty foure howres is measured from even to even.” As if not clear, Ley and other divines publicly commented on Genesis 1:14 that each creation day was a “day natural consisting of twentie foure howres.” Ley and the other divines of the Annotations also followed Ussher in other matters of chronology (Cf. on Gen. 2:4).

Elsewhere, William Gouge corroborates this view. In his The Sabbath's Sanctification (London, 1641, p. 2), Gouge catechized: "Of how many houres doth the Sabbath day consist? Of foure and twenty (Gen. 2:3). The Sabbath is called the seventh day; so as it is a seventh part of the week; therefore so many houres as make up every of the other days (which are four and twenty) must be accounted to this day." Earlier in his 1635 A Short Catechism, Wherein are briefly handled the Fundamental Principles of Christian Religion, Gouge adopted the same terminology as Ussher, Lightfoot, and Ames, viz., "How did God create all things? By his Word, of nothing, in six days, very good." To avoid the obvious qualification of the clarifying clause "in six days," some recent theologians seek to argue that this phrase has no meaning. Of course, if that were the case, Gouge and others would have simply omitted such--unless interpreters wish equally to permit the ignoring of the clauses "By hiw Word," or "of nothing.". The consistent presence of this phrase in the literature must be faced.

Another contemporary of the Westminster Assembly, John Richardson (1580-1654), Bishop of Ardagh had a hand in these 1645 Annotations. His later (1655) supplement to those additions was endorsed by Ussher and Westminster Divine Thomas Gataker. Richardson, with the blessings of at least one leading Divine (Gataker), wrote in his Annotations on Genesis that the creation days were “natural days consisting of 24 houres.” Furthermore, he commented: “The Evening, which is the beginning of the Night, and the Morning, which is the beginning of the Day, are called the first day, largely taken, the Day natural of 24 houres.” Later on Genesis 1:5, Richardson wrote that the day's time was one of normal Jewish reckoning, “as the beginning of the natural day of twenty four hours was reckoned from the Creation . . . the Point Material is, That it must comprehend twenty four hours.”

Perhaps most definitive of the view of the Divines is John White (an “Assessor” for the Assembly) who wrote a lengthy Commentary on the First Three Chapters of Genesis (London, 1656). He, too, followed Ussher's understanding of days and chronology (p. 3), and assuredly did not envision a long period of a geologic age as a doctrinal possibility. Most clearly, this Westminster Divine set forth his opinion, that is uncontradicted by the other divines: “Here, where it [day, yom] is distinguished from the Night, it is taken for a Civil day, that is, that part of 24 houres which is Light; but in the latter end of the verse, it signifies a Natural day, consisting of 24 houres, and includes the night too.” (p. 32) Moreover, “By the Evening, we must here understand the whole night, or space between the shutting in of the light, and the dawning of the next day. . . . In the same manner runs the computation of Times, among the Hebrews to this day.” (32) White's use of the term “space” and his reference to “God is here represented to us, in the Creation of the world, proceeding by leisure, and taking the time of Six dayes to perform that . . .” indicates that the Westminster divines had a definite meaning for the phrase “in the space of” that was not merely a summary for large, undefined periods of time.

The same contemporary testimony is contained in the Dutch Annotations upon the Whole Bible ordered by the Synod of Dort. This commentary admired by the Westminster divines observes the following on Genesis 1:5: “The meaning of these words [day/night] is that night and day had made up one natural day together, which with the Hebrews began with the evening and ended with the approach of the next evening, comprehending twenty four houres.”

The chief theologian of the Assembly, William Twisse, both followed the Ussher chronology and also endorsed a short creation period. In Twisse's Of the Morality of the Fourth Commandment (London, 1641), he asserted that Adam fell on the seventh day, following a 24 hour sixth day: ". . . and surely Adams naming of them cost him no study; and undoubtedly all this was done before noon, and space enough allowed for the Devil's conference with Eve . . ." (p. 51). Even if one differs with other parts of these original formulations, it is clear that the generation of the divines did have a definite and presumed view of the meaning of "six days."

Similarly, Simeon Ashe endorsed the following in The Good Old Way (or Perkins Improved): A Plain Exposition and Sound Application (London, 1653): “Principle I, Member 3, Q 5; “When was the world created? It is betwixt five and six thousand years since the world was created. If it be asked at what time of year, the most judicious answer [is] in the spring time; if in what time, in the space of six daies (Gen. 1:31 compared with 2:1 and Ex. 20:11) (p. 26)

The eminent mathematician (and Assembly member) John Wallis followed Herbert Palmer’s catechetical form as follows: “Q 9: What is the work of creation? Is it God’s making all things of nothing in the space of six days? Yes. Or was there somewhat which God made not, of which other things were made? No. Doth God make all things by the word of his power, without the use of instruments? Yes. (John Wallis, A Brief and Easie Explanation of the Shorter Catechism, London, 1657, p. 6) Wallis’ use of the phrases “in the space of six days” coupled with “without the use of instruments” make it clear that he did not hold to a long geologic period of creation.

One of the earliest commentaries on the Westminster Shorter Catechism was written by Thomas Vincent in 1674, while many of the divines were still living. The Shorter Catechism Explained From Scripture (1674, rpr. Banner of Truth, 1980), moreover was endorsed by Wesminster contemporaries John Owen, Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson, and 37 others who “highly approved the labours of this reverend brother” and estimated its utility as “Very worthy of acceptation.” Other Westminster divines who endorsed this Catechism were: Joseph Caryl, Edmund Calamy, James Janeway, William Jenkyn, and Thomas Case. Any claim that the Westminster divines had some other view must be reconciled to this fact of history and cannot stand except as mere speculation or anachronistic hypothesis. This heavy burden is still unproven.

In that commentary, contemporaneous with and explicitly supported by the Westminster divines, Vincent commented on Shorter Catechism Question #9. He claimed that the creation in view was not by “any ordinary production of creatures, wherein second causes are made use of”(45)--effectively denying any view other than creation in a short span of time. Vincent affirmed that “All things that were made the first six days were most properly and immediately created by God.” (45) These were created “by the word of his power,” not by natural processes occurring over a long period of time, a notion that would only arrive two full centuries later.

Clearly following Ussher and Lightfoot (instead of Augustine), Vincent elaborated:
 

Thereafter, Vincent devotes a question to what was created on each day. There is no indication at all that he, or the other Westminster divines who endorsed this, envisioned a concept that developed hundreds of years later.

Similarly, Thomas Watson, in a first person paraphrase queried: “He rested the seventh day' as if the Lord should say, Will you not follow me as a pattern? Having finished all my works of creation, I rested the seventh day; so having done all your secular work on the six days, you should now cease from the labor of your calling, and dedicate the seventh day to me, as a day of holy rest.” [52]

John Owen commented on Hebrews 11:3: “All the things we now behold in their order, glory, and beauty were made by the power of God out of that chaos, or confused mass of substance, which was itself fire made and produced out of nothing, having no cause but the efficiency of divine power.” (p. 216 of 1985 abridgement by Kregel.]

Moreover, Stephen Marshall in The Christian Sabbath Vindicated (London, 1645)--which was endorsed by Assembly leaders Charles Herle, Daniel Cawdrey, and Herbert Palmer--tied a regular Sabbath day to the days of creation: “ . . . it was in Time determined together, as the seventh day from the Creation, together with one Day of seven (Gen. 2).” (p. 248) Later, Marshall also tied the meaning of the Sabbath to a “revolution” of our sun.

Adoniram Byfield, a scribe of the Assembly, also composed a catechism prior to the Assembly. His Sum of the Principles, or A Collection of Those Principles of Religion (London, 1634) affirmed the same tenets of the Westminster standards, to wit: “First, that the world had a beginning and was not eternal. Secondly, that this world and the things therein was made by God. Thirdly, that all was made of nothing. Fourthly, that God made all things by his Word onely. Fifthly, that all things in their creation were made good.”

Zacharias Ursinus' Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, (orig. 1616, rpr. Columbus: Scott and Bascom Printers, 1852) summarized that “According to the common reckoning, it is now, counting from this 1616 of Christ, 5534 years since the creation of the world. Melancthon estimated the age at 5579 years, Luther estimated 5576, “Those of Geneva” estimated 5559 years. Ursinus, in 1616, would have to be totally repudiated in 30 years, if the Westminster Assembly held to a long period of creation. Ursinus summarized: “These calculations harmonize sufficiently with each other in the larger numbers, although some year are either added or wanting in the smaller numbers. According to these four calculations, made by the most learn men of our time, (empahsis added) it will appear by comparing them together, that the world was created by God at least not much over 5559 or 5579 years. The world, therefore, was not created from everlasting, but had a beginning.” (p. 1450; emphasis mine)

Later, on the fourth commandment, Ursinus commented: “That by the example of himself resting on the seventh day, he might exhort men, as by a most effectual and constraining argument, to imitate him and so abstain on the seventh day, from the labors to which they were accustomed during the other six days of the week.” (531, emphasis added to show the basis of comparison)

SUM: The following lived and fellowshipped with or within a generation of the Westminster Divines. All testified to their belief in 24 hour days, a relatively short age for the universe, and a rejection of Augustine's position. No Westminster divine, conversely, has been cited who supported a long period of creation.

Within the generation before the Westminster Assembly: William Ames, Zacharius Ursinus, James Ussher, Andrew Willet, Gervase Babington. Many other Westminster divines wrote catechisms, which also corroborate their uniform view on this subject.

Westminster Assembly Divines

James Ussher: Irish Articles, Annals of the World, and Body of Divinity; Ussher's Principles of Christian Rreligion (1645) also catechizes: “In what manner had all things their beginning? A: In the beginning of time, when no creature had any being, God by his Word alone (Ed: This agency eliminates the need for long ages), in the space of six days, created all things.” (Mitchell, 140)

John Lightfoot (his Works): “--and in four and twenty hours it was accomplished.” (2: 334) Lightfoot is on record in at least five different sources affirming 24 hour days.

John White (Commentary on Gen. 1-3): “Here, where it [day, yom] is distinguished from the Night, it is taken for a Civil day, that is, that part of 24 houres which is Light; but in the latter end of the verse, it signifies a Natural day, consisting of 24 houres, and includes the night too.”

Joseph Caryl (Endorsed Vincent's Catechism explanation, 1674)

Edmund Calamy (Endorsed Vincent's Catechism explanation, 1674)

James Janeway (Endorsed Vincent's Catechism explanation, 1674)

Thomas Gataker (via John Richardson's Annotations); cf. Also his Catechism.

John Ley (Annotations): “This first day consisting of twenty foure howres . . .” and “. . . the Sabbath (being as large a day as an of the rest, and so containing twenty foure howres is measured from even to even.”

William Jenkyn (Endorsed Vincent's Catechism explanation, 1674)

Thomas Case (Endorsed Vincent's Catechism explanation, 1674)

William Gouge (Annotations); also in his 1635 A Short Catechism (London, 1635; rpr. Mitchell, 46) he asked: “How did God make all things? A: By his Word, of nothing, in six dayes, very good.” (cf. Also Ball, p. 69)

Daniel Featly (Annotations)

Massive documentation should be supplied, if we are to alter the understanding of the Confession. Of the other 15 divines who wrote catechisms, none of them supported a long geologic age of creation.

The testimony of the Divines is actually quite clear. The following, in one form or another, stated their concurrence with the meaning of “day” as of 24 hour duration, while NONE of the divines have been produced who believed the contrary!

1. Ussher (4 works)
2. Lightfoot (5 works)
3. John White
4. Joseph Caryl
5. Edmund Calamy (2 places)
6. James Janeway
7. Thomas Gataker
8. William Gouge (3 works)
9. Daniel Featly
10. John Ley
11. William Jenkyn
12. Thomas Case
13. Simeon Ashe
14. John Wallis
15. Adoniram Byfield
16. Herbert Palmer
17. Charles Herle (Second "Moderator")
18. Stephen Marshall
19. Daniel Cawdrey
20. William Twisse (First "Moderator")

John Ball's Short Treatise containing all the principle grounds of Christian Religion (London, 1650, 1670), prefaced and endorsed by Westminster divine Simeon Ashe also supports, to wit: "What is creation? That whereby God made all things of nothing in six days" (with the scripture reference to Ex. 20:11) . . . How was the first matter created? It was made simply of nothing in time (Heb. 11:3)" (pp. 65-66)

Shortly Later: John Owen, Thomas Vincent, Thomas Manton, Thomas Watson, Francis Turretin, and many others confirmed the same view and similar repudiations of the Augustinian view. Thomas Wylie's Catechism (ca. 1640, in Mitchell, op. cit., p 244) also counters Augustine, replacing instead an affirmation of limited duration: “Q: How many dayes was the Lord in the work of creation? A: Though all might have been ended at one instant, yet it cost the Lord six dayes for our capacitie.”

Lancelot Andrewes, Bishop of Winchester, asserted that the creation days should be measured as follows: “from Sunne to Sunne is counted a day.” (Lectures Preached in St. Paul's Church, London, 1657), p. 661). Later, Andrews would affirm: “[T]herefore we say a day hath twenty four hours . . this was a day by itself, as the other six days were by themselves.” (Ibid., 662) Citing Basil, Andrews commented that the word yom “had a meaning for our natural use that we should esteem twenty four hours one day . . . The first day is an example to the dayes after;” (Ibid., 663)

Patrick Simon, Bishop of Ely, commented similarly that the evening and the morning of the first day spanned “Twenty-four hours” and that “God made all things at the first, which did not appear together, but in the space of six Days.” (Patrick Symon, A Commentary upon the First Book of Moses called Genesis (London, 1698), p. 11)

Turretin, writing a generation after Westminster was quick to note: “Augustine thought that creation took place not during an interval of six days, but in a single moment.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, (1679-1685, rpr. James T. Dennison, Jr. ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1992), 444) He then rejected the Augustinian view, and sided with Ussher: “Nor does the sacred history written by Moses cover any more than six thousand years. . .. Greek history scarcely contains the history of two thousand years.” (438) Turretin went so far as to commend Ussher and others for specifying that creation happened in autumn, not spring. (442)

[Fisher's Commentary on Catechism (ca 1750) THE SHORTER CATECHISM EXPLAINED affirms:
 

Writing slightly later than Turretin, Thomas Boston continued the reformed repudiation of Augustinianism on this point (again miming the “space of” phrase). Boston wrote:
  Later, Boston reiterates contra Augustine and Colet that “although God did not make all things in one moment, “ still “in the space of these six days the angels were created;” (173). He then proceeds to enumerate what was done on each day, assuredly not envisioning more than 24 hours for those days. Agreeing with Ussher over Augustine, Boston echoes the consensus of his day: “It is probable that the world was created in autumn, that season of the year in which generally things are brought to perfection . . .” (174)

Ussher, not Augustine, dominated the 17th century divines, both before and after the Westminster Assembly.

Moreover, the King James Version published in 1611 shows no hints of Augustinian or Coletian influence. This version, reflective of the consensus of the day, used “the space” to indicate definite time in Dt. 2:14, Rev. 2:21, Ez. 9:8, Acts 5:34, Acts 15:33, Acts 5:7, Rev. 8:1, Gen. 29:14; Lev. 25:8, Acts 19:8 and elsewhere. However, it never uses the phrase “in the space of” in the creation narratives or subsequent references. Had they wished to, they could have, but these Elizabethan wordsmiths were careful to follow Scripture.

The phrase, “in the space of” is NOT in Scripture. It IS in the confession. It has meaning, it is not redundant or purposeless (especially recurring in both catechisms and the confession), and it means to signify a time factor. The confession's wording does not include a plurality of datings for the creation week. It means to emphasize limitation of duration. It means what it says, as our Elders and church members believe.

The Confession's language, even after all the scouring of the record, is still significantly different from Scripture. Innovative interpreters since the 1830s have yet to produce evidence (beside mere assertion) that the Westminster standards parrot an English version; nor have they produced a divine or a majority of divines who wrote advocating a long creation day. This embarrassing lack persists despite the existence of hundreds of available tomes on this subject--commentaries on Genesis 1, Systematic Theology treatises, confessions, writings from individual theologians. Numerous shelves of documentary evidence have been scoured--and we congratulate others who have scoured the record looking for a long period of creation prior to Darwin--and all that may be produced is: [View it as a table] an obscure 5th century historian, Procopius (whose cite by Mitchell has not been able to be located by this researcher and whose tracks in the history of theology are such that few of our theologians quote him on a wide range of subjects), a misunderstanding of Augustine (who was both implicitly rejected by Calvinistic divines on this subject and who actually proves our point, not the other), Ames--who is mistranslated, an invisible appeal to the “private thoughts of the Westminster Divines”, and several scholars after Darwin.

My friends who hold the expansive view deny that they are following early 19th century science, but they fail to produce examples of pre 19th century exegesis that advocates their view. That odd historical fact is deserving of explanation before new orthodoxies are enshrined. The question may reasonably be put this way: What from the scriptural text changed in the 1830-1859 period (and afterwards) to overturn the godly interpretation from all centuries prior to the Darwinian upheaval?

Write 1830-1859 in the middle of a page. Then in a left-column, list these: A patristic heretic (the advocates of novelty may defend Philo if they wish), a 5th century obscure historian (if his cite can be located), cross-out Augustine, Ames, and the Westminster Assembly divines, and Colet--for the entire history of theology prior to 1800, and ask: Are we obligated to follow that tradition, if it is one, and change our Confession and perhaps mislead our children and flocks? Or should we not at least list on the right-hand column: Ambrose, Augustine rightly understood, Basil, Chrysostom, Aquinas, Lombard, Calvin, Luther, Beza, Turretin, all confessions prior to the 20th century, and the likes of Twisse, Herle, Arrowsmith, Owen, Boston, Watson, Manton, Fisher and the majority of Christendom.

In all sincere respect, even though my fellow debaters claim the likes of Hodge, Warfield, and moderns, we feel safer standing with Luther, Calvin, Ambrose, the Westminster Divines, Turretin, and the long history of the church.

Moreover, the simple reason why so little testimony is found, and why such paucity itself has prevented the academic elite from convincing us is because it is not there, except in the most unusual cases (for yes, Lightfoot, Selden, and other Westminster Assembly divines were likely aware of earlier teaching; they merely chose to reject it). If held at all, it was very seldom until recently. Arianism and Arminianism can deduce far more texts from more theologians than this!

The issue for scholarship is not, nor ever should be: Can some obscure theologian, or a few, or those only subsequent to a certain philosophical revolution determine the confession and morals of the church? Theologians can always cites sources. The issue is: From an honest study of Scripture and the history of interpretation, did our forefathers--unless we brave the opinion that we are instinctively smarter than they, or we possess more insight by living in some scientific era--understand the Word of God to teach an expansive, undefined age of creation? Or do the Catechisms teach--even to the embarrassment of the modern age that is witnessing the demise of one of its own most favored theories--yes, God did just as he said!

And we can depend on his word--old and young alike, hermeneutical sophisticate and good ol' boy--to mean what it says. We believe God's Word is clear, and that no idea-revolutions have convinced us to the contrary. We will not follow Charles Hodge in this regard and “with the utmost alacrity” change our views if the winds of science suggest to the contrary.

We would not want to tie the church to a flat-world theory, or to Newtonian mechanics, pre-Copernican cosmology, or even the optical theory of 200 years ago. Neither do we wish our church, at its 125th anniversary to be reviewed as having followed a flawed 19th century fad, driven mainly by a secular discipline, instead of leading. We have a grand opportunity to stand and lead, to be a train engine instead of a caboose. Reformed denominations can lead instead of follow other evangelicals groups which have suffered the theological equivalent of Chinese water torture for over a century.

It is now clear that the Westminster divines did have a view on this subject: They repudiated Augustine and held to a 24 hour day view. That will not come as a shock to many, except to those who have studiously hoped to see other meanings for the words “in the space of six days.”

Appendix A: ON CREATION by John Lightfoot

Translated by The Rev. Wesley Baker
Pastor of the Lebanon Presbyterian Church in Learned, MS

§ I. Why, in Holy Scripture, Mention of Creation is made before other Things.

I. The first step in getting acquainted with God is through creation; and that which is known about God [in this way] is primarily his “eternal power and divinity” (Rom 1.20). Hence, the Holy Scriptures rightly begin, with the history of creation, in order that, from then on they may make his power clear; and throughout the whole of that history they use that name which declares his divinity. His name “Elohim” (though it is plural in form, in construction it is singular of number, and indicates by signification, “Power”) instructs us in the mystery of Divinity and his eternal power. And creation itself (which, if you consider [its] nature, is deserving of our wonder -- if [you consider its] order and “all-sided” beauty -- if, in short, [you consider its] perfection, it is in every way excellent) reveals that which is the greatness, wisdom and goodness of him who brought it forth.

II. When the history of the Church was written, it was first necessary to inquire when she had her beginning. Now it happens that she is discovered to have had her own beginning, just as the life of the world, at the same time with it, enduring to its [i.e., creation's] end.

III. It was appropriate that divine justice, in planting and transplanting peoples, and in either establishing or eradicating nations, not be portrayed through human blasphemy (a variety of all these have been produced as examples in Church history), [but rather it is] to be understood from the world's first origin, that the earth is the Lord's, who made it, and that it has been lawful [for him] to do as he pleases for himself among those who are his own.

IV. In short, the beginning of the world points out its purpose, so that, looking back to the beginning, we may be taught by God himself, who has his own origin, to look for and expect his purpose. And that, from creation we may be able to infer the resurrection; if indeed he, who created us from nothing (even us, since we are something) is able to arouse us.

§ II. WORKS OF THE FIRST DAY

Heaven and Earth

The Omnipotent Trinity, from all eternity dwelling in and with himself, foreseeing that it would be good to share himself with [his] creatures, in the beginning of all things created the heaven and the earth, the center and periphery at one and the same time, out of nothing.

The heavens were created perfect, with respect to their own substance, form, and order; the earth however, in the first moment of its creation, was lacking its own beauty, adornment, and perfection; and indeed the waters were covering all the way up to the peaks of the mountains; and in that immense void, between the convexity of the surface waters and the concavity of the heavenly waters, there was darkness. The heavens, moreover, from that instant in which they were created, were being moved by the Spirit of God in orbit, around the lower globe of earth and waters.

Clouds

The clouds were created at the same instant as the heavens, full with water, which, when suspended in their concavity, were being moved together with them.

By these clouds, are not to be understood those, which owe their own origin to vapor, whose motions we observe everyday in strong agitations; but those which are called “rushing waters,” “the sea,” and “the windows of heaven,” and which were opened to bring about the just annihilation of the human race in the universal flood.

We believe, however, that these had been founded at the same instant as the heavens, supporting this by two reasons. 1. Because, in the enumeration of the works of the second day, there is mention of the waters above the expanse, and there were some below the expanse. 2. Because, David says that God “founded his dwelling place upon the waters” (Ps 104.3), indicating that these clouds were founded as heaven itself. Whence it is gathered by the distinction of these two extraordinary parts of the world, that for the waters above the expanse, “heaven” is to be understood, and for those that were under the expanse, “earth” is to be understood.

Angels

Together with the heavens, it is rightly supposed that Angels were created as their inhabitants and residents, intelligent beings that are able to have communion with God. 1. In fact, God himself declared that the morning stars and the sons of God, by which excellent name these creatures are invoked, sang and even cried out, at the time when the foundation stone of the earth was laid. 2. David, in the same place [mentioned] above (Ps 104.2-4), places Angels by rank, even as the first in the in the whole of heaven.

Of the creation of Angels there is no mention in the writings of Moses, partly because he himself had been commissioned to handle only visible things; partly, that they [i.e. Israelites] not be induced, from superstition, on account of the disposition of the time in which they were created, to believe that they who were only spectators of creation, were actors themselves and his efficient causes.

Lux

After the heavens had been moved in darkness for twelve hours, God said, “Let there be light, and there was light” evidently in that hemisphere in which afterwards the Garden of Eden would be planted (for it was in respect of this that this history was written); and that [hemisphere] now shined for twelve hours, gradually descending with the movement of the heavens to the other hemisphere, opposite Eden, which likewise shined for twelve hours, whence in that part of the world, the first natural day, had its own course, consisting of twenty-four hours.

For indeed 1. that the world was made at the time of the equinox is not doubted by any, though by some it is held in doubt whether that equinox will have been vernal or autumnal; whichever was the case, however, at that time, days and nights were equal, consisting of twelve hours [each]: and the night was prior to the day (quite often, in fact, it is repeated that the evening and the morning made the day), whence, without an argument it is easily shown that the whole world was hidden in darkness for 12 hours before any part of it was rejoicing in the light, although they could give fuller confirmation to this opinion. 2. The first three days, which were illumined, not by the sun, but by light alone, necessarily ought to conform to the same manner and measure, similar in interval and period of light, because the following days were understood by reference to them, by which alone it was given [us] to understand; for otherwise, we are not able to designate a precise week, whether [it is] six, or by including the Sabbath, seven days. Only after the foundation was completed were the days having light and darkness for equal periods, and it is necessarily to be supposed that in the [first] three days there was the same mode of proceeding. Moreover, it is certain that the sun, having barely been established at the same time, illumined the other hemisphere, even as it is now the same way. From which, similarly, it is necessarily to be supposed that, by the same way of proceding, the earth had been illumined in the [first] three days; for otherwise, Moses had inconveniently enumerated the days as if they were uniform, and the sun just now made, had introduced [something] extraordinary, a change in the creation, if another kind of day had been followed, than [that which] before was holding place.


Footnotes

[1] Jonathan Wells, “Charles Hodge on the Bible and Science,” Journal of Presbyterian History, Fall 1988, vol. 66, no. 3, p. 161.

[2] Ibid., p. 160.

[3] Ibid., p. 161.

[4] Ibid., p. 160. Emphasis added.

[5] Abraham Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology (rpr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), p. 574.

[6] Ibid., p. 318.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p. 319.

[9] Ibid., p. 163.

[10] Theodore Bozeman, Protestants in an Age of Science (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1977), p. 174.

[11] Ibid., p. 118.

[12] Mark Noll, ed., The Princeton Theology, 1812-1921 (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1983), p. 298.

[13] Idem.

[14] Idem.

[15] Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2nd edition (Orange, CA: Promise Publishers, 1991), p. 141. For support, particularly of Augustine's view, Ross cites the following: The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Books four and five; The Confessions, Book XIII, chaps. 48-52 (a mistake); The City of God, Book XI, chaps. 7-8, 30-31.

[16] It is not necessary to assert that biblical narratives on creation are intended to be literal in every aspect. Non-literal or symbolic hermeneutical conclusions are different from the positive assertion that earlier exegetes maintained notions compatible with quite modern theories.

[17] Collins is helpful to note the distinction between allegory and anthropomorphism (Cf. C. John Collins, “How Old is the Earth: Anthropomorphic Days in Genesis 1:1-2:3,” Presbuterion (Fall 1994), vol. xx, no. 2, p. 120, note 48). While it might be sustained that ancient evangelicals used an anthropomorphic interpretation in numerous places, that is not necessarily the same as pleading that they lobbied for long days in this instance.

[18] Andrew White, The History of the Warfare Between Science and Christianity (1896), p. 60.

[19] Modern liberal theologians ranging from Marcus Dods to James Barr support the fact that it is only very recent formulation that twists the original intent on this issue. Regrettably, much of that innovation has flowed from evangelical pens that have, in fact, been swifter to conform to the ideas of passing scientific trends than to defend classic orthodoxy.

[20] Hexameron, p. 72.

[21] Hexameron, pp. 42-43.

[22] “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” in Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, Johannes Quasten, Walter J. Burghardt, and Thomas Comerford Lawler, eds. (Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982), vol. 1, p. 29.

[23] Ibid., p. 134.

[24] Ibid., p. 135.

[25] Ibid., p. 125.

[26] Ibid., p. 141.

[27] St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, John Hammond Taylor, trans. (New York: Newman Press, 1962), vol. 1, p. 128, p. 133.

[28] Ibid., p. 141. Italics added.

[29] Ibid., p. 142.

[30] Ibid., p. 142.

[31] Ibid., p. 117.

[32] Ibid., p. 183. Nor did Augustine “hold that one species could arise out of another.”

[33] Ernan McMullin, Evolution and Creation (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), pp. 11-12.

[34] Collins, op. cit., pp. 113-114.

[35] Collins admits that Hugh Ross's claim that Aquinas held to long days is mistaken, even though in other ways Aquinas did follow Augustine (op. cit., 125-126).

[36] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1921), Q. 74, art. 3, p. 274.

[37] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, 1921), Q. 46, art. 2, pp. 248-249.

[38] Marcia Colish, Peter Lombard (Leyden: E. J. Brill, 1994), vol. 1, pp. 330-331.

[39] Ibid., pp. 337, 340-341. Marcia Colish, a leading historian of medieval theology summarizes Lombard's ideas as follows: “According to Peter, God and God alone is the cause of creation ex nihilo. He rejects the idea of exemplary causes, however understood, along with preexistent matter. Further, he sees God as such as doing the whole work of creation . . . God cannot be equated with the forces of nature he creates . . . God transcends the world he creates.”

[40] In an appendix, David Kelsey collects a number of earlier opinions on the subject. Cf. his “The Doctrine of Creation from Nothing,” Ernan McMullin ed., Evolution and Creation (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1985), pp. 192-195. He cites, among others, Anselm as affirming creation ex nihilo; the Fourth Lateran Council (1215): “Firmly we . . . confess . . . the true God . . . who by his own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing . . .”; and The Council of Florence (1441): “God . . . is the creator of all things visible and invisible, who, when he wished, out of his goodness created all creatures, spiritual as well as corporal; good, indeed . . . since they were from nothing . . .”

[41] His disciple, Theodore Beza, also affirmed that Hebrews 11:3 taught creation ex nihilo. Moreover, Beza explained: Mundum conditum ex nihilo: nemo potest compraehendere, quod ex eo quod non est fiat id quod est. (“The world is formed ex nihilo. We are not able to comprehend how from this which is not made, is that which is [made].”) Cf. Theodore de Beze, Cours Sur les Epitres aux Romains et aux Hebreaux (1564-1566) in Travaux d'Humanism et Renaissance (Geneva: Library Droz, 1988), vol. 226, p. 311. Further, in his Confession de Foi du Chretien (1558), Beza affirmed that God the Father “has created all out of nothing” (2.2), and “We believe that he has not only created the visible world, the heaven and the earth and all that they contain, but also invisible spirits.” (2.3; Cf. the English translation, The Christian Faith by James Clark (East Sussex: Christian Focus Ministries Trust, 1992), p. 3.

[42] Cf. e.g., Martin Luther, Luther's Works, vol. 17 (Concordia: St. Louis, 1972), 29, 118.

[43] Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 468 (St. Louis: Concordia, 1950; orig. 1924) notes, “The time in which creation was completed was six days, as Gen. 1:31 and Gen. 2:2 expressly state (hexameron). These six days are neither to be shortened, for pious reasons (to set forth God's omnipotence), to a moment (Athanasius, Augustine, Hilary), nor are they to be extended, for impious reasons (to bring Scripture into agreement with the `assured results' of science), to six periods of indefinite length (thus almost all modern theologians). Scripture forbids us to interpret the days as periods, for it divides these days into evening and morning. That forces us to accept the days as days of twenty-four hours.”

In a related footnote, Pieper quotes Luther as follows: “Hilary and Augustine, two great lights in the Church, believed that the world was made of a sudden and all at once (subito et simul), not successively during the space of six days. Augustine plays with these six days in a marvelous manner. He considers them to be mystical days of knowledge in the angels and not six natural days. . . . [ellipsis in Pieper] As Moses is not instructing us concerning allegorical creatures or an allegorical world, but concerning natural creatures and a world visible and capable of being apprehended by the senses, he calls, as we say in the proverb, `a post a post,' he calls the thing by the right name, day and evening; his meaning is the same as ours when we use those terms, without any allegory whatever.” (St. L. I:6) Vilmar, too, admits: “The manner in which these `six days' in Gen. 2:2-3 and later in the Law are used shows that days of twenty-four hours are meant, and the wording used seems to speak in favor of it.” (Ibid., p. 469)

[44] Robert C. Bishop, “Science and Theology: A Methodological Comparison” in Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, vol. v, no. 1/2 (1993), p. 155.

[45] Similarly, C. S. Lewis noted that many ancient scientists knew many of the concepts that are considered quite modern. However, a historical discrimination often occurs, as Lewis noted: “Here is a simple historical falsehood. Ptolemy (Almagest, bk. I, ch. v) knew just as well as Eddington that the earth was infinitesimal in comparison with the whole content of space. There is not question here of knowledge having grown until the frame of archaic thought is no longer able to contain it. The real question is why the spatial insignificance of the earth, after being known for centuries, should suddenly in the last century have become an argument against Christianity. I do not know why this has happened; but I am sure it does not mark an increased clarity of thought, for the argument from size is, in my opinion, very feeble.” C. S. Lewis, “Dogma and the Universe,” God in the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 39. Cf. also, pp. 74, 99.

[46] E. J. Young, although frequently misappropriated, argued: “Christian theology, with but few exceptions, has held fast to the literal, historical view of the account of creation.” Cf. Edward J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1979), p. 43. Later, Young concluded that “it does not follow that the mention of the days is anthropomorphic nor does it follow that the days are to be understood in a topical or non-chronological order rather than chronologically.” Ibid., 58.

[47] Leland Miles, John Colet and the Platonic Tradition (LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1961), p. 31.

[48] Grover Gunn thoroughly repudiated that attempt to revise Ames in his recent monograph. See http://capo.org/cpc/gunn.htm.

[49] Cf. Grover Gunn, op. cit.

[50] See the Appendix below which contains a modern translation of De Creatione by The Rev. Wes. Baker.

[51] I wish to express my deepest gratitude for much research assistance from Christopher Coldwell of Dallas, TX. Mr. Coldwell kindly provided photocopies of numerous rare books. He has uncovered much that entire faculties have not been able to unearth, and has made a signal and irrefutable contribution to this discussion.

[52] Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments (1692, rpr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), p. 94.