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Who Is Fallible? Proper Exegesis and the Origins of the Earth


I must be quite the quixotic fellow. I was actually cheered when I came across an article online that was about creationism and was entitled, “You can trust God, but men are fallible.” It is too rarely acknowledged or accepted that what the word of the infallible God says about how and when He created the universe and the life in it can be trusted, and cannot be trumped by fallible men who claim that secular science has showed something very different. And that would be true even if the formats in which we received the information were the same, but they are not; the perfect word of God comes to us in the form of actual propositional statements, the basic form of communication of knowledge, while the assertions of secular science are only indirect inferences from empirical data.

So of course we can “trust God” when He tells us He created the world in six 24-hour days a maximum of 7,681 years ago, and we can understand that claims that the earth is actually 4.6 billion years old are errors made by “fallible” men. This is a rather obvious insight and so should not draw particular applause; still, since increasing numbers of evangelicals fail to see it, the title of an article about creationism that affirmed that “You can trust God, but men are fallible” was heartening.

Silly me.

That is not what the author of the article, Lydia McGrew, is saying, not at all. According to Lydia, the problem is that “fallible” men misinterpret the clear propositional statements of Genesis 1 to conclude, wrongly, that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Meanwhile, the idea that the indirect inferences drawn by “fallible” secular scientists from empirical data could be wrong (and, indeed, are more likely to be wrong) does not seem to be on the table at all. Alas.

Oh, well, once more unto the breach.

How to Do Exegesis

We should note first of all that the Bible is the word of God, breathed out by God Himself as stated in 2 Timothy 3:16 (πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος “pasa graphē Theopneustos” = “All Scripture is God-breathed”). His words are “pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6b), and “The entirety of [His] word is truth” (Psalm 119:160a).

Furthermore, the Bible was given to us in order to communicate God’s message to us; it was not given as some sort of esoteric puzzle. It was given in human language using known human vocabulary and grammatical structures precisely because God wants us to understand it – else why give us a Bible at all?

Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision and make it plain …” (Habakkuk 2:2a)
For we are not writing any other things to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand … (2 Corinthians 1:13a)
“Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand) …” (Matthew 24:15)

Apropos to this, it is worth noting that Lydia wrote her article using the English language, with its vocabulary and grammar, and it is difficult not to think that she did so in the expectation that English-speaking readers would understand exactly what she intended them to understand, and not that her “fallible” readers would come to different “interpretations” of it. Why that same expectation should not be extended to the author of Scripture is not explained.

Now, there are certainly some parts of Scripture that are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16), but Genesis 1 is not one of them. While the Hebrew word יֹום (“yōm” = “day”) can occasionally mean something other than a 24-hour day (or the daylight period of a 24-hour day), there are far too many contextual indicators to take יֹום in Genesis 1 as anything other than a 24-hour day:

In Genesis 1 יֹום is ordinally numbered (vv.5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). This occurs elsewhere in the OT in 359 places, and it always refers to a 24-hour day in these other places.
In Genesis 1 יֹום is demarcated by “evening and morning,” which is clearly the demarcations of a 24-hour day. And this occurs in 38 other places in the OT, always in reference to a 24-hour day in these.
In Genesis 1 יֹום is distinguished by light and darkness, which distinguishes the halves of a 24-hour day, not any other period of time.

In Exodus 20:11a, which states that:

For in six days (יָמִים “Yammim,” the plural of יֹום) the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.

The plural form יָמִים occurs in 845 places in the OT, always in reference to 24-hour days. So coming to a clear understanding of what Genesis 1 is saying is not at all difficult; the words and grammar of the text make it plain that God created the universe and all life in it in six 24-hour days. That is the meaning conveyed by the text, and no “interpretation” that says something different is necessary or possible. This, folks, is how proper exegesis is done.

Nor is it difficult to calculate the approximate age of the earth. In Genesis 5 and 11 are chronogenealogies, which are genealogies that include the number of years between the births of each person listed in the genealogy. For example:

Adam lived one hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth. After he begot Seth, the days of Adam were eight hundred years; and he had sons and daughters. So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died. Seth lived one hundred and five years, and begot Enosh. After he begot Enosh, Seth lived eight hundred and seven years, and had sons and daughters. So all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years; and he died. Enosh lived ninety years, and begot Cainan. (Genesis 5:3-9)

It can easily be calculated that the birth of Cainan occurred three hundred and twenty five years after creation. This is not a matter of interpretation, but of fact; the meaning of “year” and the numbers and events are not subject to debate.

The numerical data in the chronogenealogies in Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 allow us to calculate the time span from creation to Abraham, and other explicitly stated lengths of time from Abraham onwards allows us to calculate the time span from Abraham to the start of the Israelite monarchy (Genesis 21:5, 25:26, 47:28, 15:13; Exodus 12:40; 1 Kings 6:1), and the regnal data of the kings allows us to calculate the time span from the beginning of the monarchy to the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, which itself can be dated by links with recorded world history. This data reveals that the earth is a maximum possible 7,681 years old. This is not an “interpretation”; it comes from specific, unambiguous statements in Scripture and so must be accepted if we believe the Bible is word of God – unless we wish to accuse God of making an error in the timeline He specified in Scripture.

This, then, is how exegesis is supposed to be done: a careful examination of the vocabulary and grammatical structure to understand the meaning – not an “interpretation” – of the passage, as God intends us to do. Again, there are some passages hard to understand, and there may indeed be room to debate proper interpretation of those, but that is not so in most cases, and certainly not in this case; as we have seen, the language of the relevant passages is sufficiently clear that the meaning is beyond dispute. And, having understood it, it is necessary to assent to it.

On the other hand, it is a very different story when it comes to the indirect inferences obtainable by scientific methods about the age of the earth. Many people, for example, think that the age of the earth can be measured by radiometric dating, but that is not correct. When radiometric dating is done, it is not the age of the earth that is measured but the amount of a radioactive substance (i.e. the “daughter” product of a radioactive decay chain from a “parent” substance) that is present in a sample, usually a rock. One then calculates the age of the sample by assuming both the initial amount of the “parent” substance and the initial amount of the measured substance in the sample, neither of which is directly testable or knowable, and making the untestable and unprovable (and farfetched) assumption that the rock was a “closed system” (i.e. no mother or daughter product was added to or removed from the system at any point throughout billions of years by any means other than radioactive decay). Is it plausible that there is more room for error in this method than in exegeting the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1?

It gets worse. Radiometric dating is based on theory, so how can we know if it works in real life? Obviously it must be tested by using it to measure the age of rocks whose ages are already known by other means (e.g. volcanic rock formed by eruptions that happened at known times), and when this is done, the results are not encouraging. Routinely the method does not come close. For example, lava flows at Mt. Ngauruhoe in New Zealand were radiometrically dated to between 270,000+ years old and 3.5 million years old – though the flows took actually took place between 1949 and 1975. Certainly the fallibility of man is in play here.

Should we really think that such shaky, indirect inferences are more reliable than the clear propositions in Scripture? Certainly not; it is the undeniable meaning of Scripture that must stand in judgment over these fallible methods. (And, for those who are interested, there is plenty of scientific evidence that supports an earth that is no more than 10,000 years old. Why more Christians are not aware of these is a mystery.)

With this established, let us turn our attention to Lydia’s case.

How NOT to Do Exegesis

Lydia begins by citing a quotation she identifies as being from Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis. The quote is “If we can’t trust God about Genesis 1, how can we trust him about John 3:16? Before she discusses the quote, however, she proceeds “to lay [her] cards on the table.” Let us examine her hand.

Lydia says, “I’m pretty sure the earth and the cosmos are very old.” Why? What has convinced her not to accept the temporal data in the chronogenealogies and elsewhere in the Bible? She doesn’t tell us.
Lydia tells us, “I would call myself an old-earth progressive creationist.” Why? She does not tell us.
Lydia tells us, “I’m an outspoken advocate of intelligent design theory … I think this evidence supports repeated intelligent interventions in the making of various species and animals … [though] I don’t have enough expertise to state precisely how often God probably created new species.” Why does she embrace this view which, prima facie, does not sound much like what Genesis 1 says? She doesn’t tell us. And she refers to “this evidence.” What evidence? Again, she doesn’t tell us.
Lydia tells us, “I’m also an extremely strong supporter of the historical Adam, though I think he lived a lot longer ago than 6,000 years.” Why does she think that, contrary to the temporal data in the Bible? She doesn’t tell us.

So that is Lydia’s hand; she believes, or even strongly believes, in an ancient earth and rejects six-day young-earth creationism, but we have not even a hint as to why she holds these views, or the rigour with which she has examined the evidence or her ability to understand complex scientific issues.

Now, “with all that out of the way,Lydia returns to Ken Ham’s statement that she quoted at the beginning of her article – “If we can’t trust God about Genesis 1, how can we trust him about John 3:16?” – and boldly asserts, “It’s wrong. And why is it wrong? “It’s wrong, to begin with,” Lydia informs us, “because it confuses God with man. What Ham is doing there is identifying his interpretation of Genesis 1 with ‘God’s word’ and insisting that, if Ken Ham is not infallible in his interpretation of Genesis 1, then God is a liar.

Just a moment; let’s look at Ham’s statement again:

If we can’t trust God about Genesis 1, how can we trust him about John 3:16?

Where, pray tell, in this statement is there anything about how Genesis 1 is to be interpreted? That’s right; nowhere. So the claim that Ham “is identifying his interpretation of Genesis 1 with ‘God’s word’” here is not even remotely true, since there is nothing here about his interpretation of Genesis 1 or how it should be interpreted. And to say that Ham is “insisting that, if Ken Ham is not infallible in his interpretation of Genesis 1, then God is a liar” is troubling indeed. Her accusation that this brother in Christ would ever accuse God of being a liar because He does not agree with Ham is indefensible.

What about Lydia’s claim that Ham’s statement “confuses God with man”? How so? Does Lydia not realize whence Ham got this statement? It is a perfectly legitimate application of Jesus’ own statement in John 3:12, wherein He says:

“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”

The history of the earth (in Genesis 1) is an earthly thing and eternal life (in John 3:16) is a heavenly thing, so it is Jesus who asks if He is not to be believed on the former, how is He to be believed on the latter? That is God the Son speaking, not man. Ham’s statement, then, is eminently correct; he in no way “confuses God with man.

Lydia presses on and insists that,

it is a perilous and a misguided matter to identify your interpretation of one passage of Scripture with what God says, with no questions or differences of opinion allowed. All the more so when the question at issue is one where scientific evidence also comes into play.

But what is the alternative? Are we to believe that the word of God isn’t sufficiently clear that we can ever be certain we understand it? That would be a very strange approach to take, and it would certainly be wrong, as we have already seen that God gave us the Bible specifically so that we could understand it.

Strangely, in light of the preceding, Lydia then avers that,

I don’t want to be misunderstood. This isn’t meant to encourage a facile argument of the sort one hears from social liberals nowadays, “Jesus never condemned homosexuality, so why are you Christians getting so het [sic] up about it?” Jesus explicitly taught that God made male and female and created marriage between them. The Apostle Paul again and again condemns homosexual practice. And then there is the natural law, which is another topic altogether.

Apparently, when it comes to homosexuality, Lydia thinks we can know what God said about it. This one is not just a matter of interpretation; it can be identified with what God said. Why? How do we decide what it is clear and understandable, and what is just a matter of interpretation? There is certainly a growing number of Biblical scholars who insist that we have misunderstood these passages about homosexuality, who say the condemnations only apply to pederasty, or who proffer some other explanation as to why loving same-sex relationships are in fact acceptable. When that number reaches a critical mass, are we to say that there are different viable interpretations on the passages about homosexuality and that “it is a perilous and a misguided matter to identify your interpretation of [these] passage[s] of Scripture with what God says, with no questions or differences of opinion allowed”?

If not, on what basis do we say that we can know God’s word on this issue but not on origins? Does Lydia have an objective way to decide which issues are clear and which issues are open to more than one valid interpretation?

No. No, she seems she doesn’t. She certainly hasn’t even hinted at one. But there is an alternative; instead of trying to find such an objective way, we can do what we are supposed to do, to exegete each passage of Scripture according to the vocabulary, grammar, and context of the passage and then accept the result as, yes, God’s word. Even though this, as we have seen, necessitates accepting six-day young-earth creationism.

Next, Lydia presents us with a couple of misfires. First, she writes,

You aren’t turning into a Christianity-denying liberal if you think the story of the rich man and Lazarus was a parable that Jesus was telling and that Jesus wasn’t actually affirming that it happened. Jesus often told parables. This looks like one of them.

But that is neither here nor there. Inerrancy means that anything the Bible affirms happened really happened. In the account of this incident (Luke 16:19-31), the Bible affirms that Jesus told this story (we are not told explicitly whether Jesus was telling an historical story or a parable), so all inerrancy requires is that Jesus actually told this story, not that the story itself be an historical account. On the other hand, the events of Genesis 1 are affirmed as historical narrative, and so are to be accepted as such; it is not merely presented as a story told by someone and so it is not at all parallel to the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

Lydia misfires again by asserting that Ken Ham’s statement (“If we can’t trust God about Genesis 1, how can we trust him about John 3:16?”) “strongly implies that there are no levels of importance amongst doctrinal statements … It certainly implies that a young-earth position is right up there in importance with, say, the doctrine that Jesus died for our sins, taught in John 3:16.” But Ham’s statement implies no such thing; it isn’t about relative importance but about reliability. Ham did not say that Genesis 1 is as important as John 3:16, but asked whether we can trust John 3:16 if we can’t trust Genesis 1.

We need to remember that Ham is simply applying a principle here that Jesus Himself taught. It was He who said,

“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

So the issue is not importance, it is not about whether a Christian can reject the clear teaching of the Bible on the age of the earth and still be saved (he can), but whether one should reject it under the mistaken impression that fallible secular scientists have shown that the earth is billions of years old. The answer to that latter is “no”.

Next, Lydia raises what she sees as a “related problem” with Ham’s statement, saying,

It teaches that all literal biblical interpretations stand or fall together. It strongly implies that, if the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of Genesis 1 is called into question, it becomes impossible to know what any other part of the Bible means.

She goes on to tell us that,

that’s not true. I might be wrong about whether the days in Genesis 1 are ages or 24-hour days, but I can say with much greater confidence that the Gospels are asserting that Jesus really lived, really walked on this earth, really said various things, really died on the cross, and really rose again.

Once again, Lydia has missed the point of Ham’s statement; it is not that if what Genesis 1 says is not believed, then it becomes “impossible” “to know” what any other part of the Bible means; it is that if Genesis 1 is wrong in what it asserts, so may other parts be wrong in what they assert. Anyone can certainly agree with Lydia with great confidence “that the Gospels are asserting that Jesus really lived, really walked on this earth, really said various things, really died on the cross, and really rose again;” after all, that is the “most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of” what the Gospel books say. But there will be those who will reasonably ask, “If I cannot believe ‘the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of’ of Genesis 1, then why should I believe ‘the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of’ the Gospel books?”

Now, while we are glad that Lydia can reject the plain meaning of Genesis 1 and the temporal data in the Bible that shows the earth is no more than 7,681 years old and still believe the Gospel, many can’t. In fact, as shown in Ken Ham’s book Already Gone, the biggest reason by far that professing Christians abandon the faith is that they become convinced that there are errors and contradictions in the Bible. And, like it or not, proper exegesis shows beyond any doubt that the Bible teaches creation in six 24-hour days a maximum of 7,681 years ago, so if the earth is 4.6 billion years old, then the Bible is in error, and it is the conviction that there are errors such as these in the Bible that cause people to abandon the faith. Denying “the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of Genesis 1,” then, is not without tragic consequences. Lydia’s final point is troubling indeed. She says,,

That slogan [i.e. Ham’s quotation] communicates to young people that, if they are not young-earth creationists, they might as well be atheists, because they have ‘stopped trusting God.’ It teaches an inflexible theology that presents apostasy as the stark alternative to an acceptance of precisely this interpretation of this passage.

We have to remember that that “slogan,” as Lydia styles it, is a legitimate application of the principle Jesus Himself enunciated. But Lydia pushes on, asserting

I would rather that someone I love were wrong about Adam and still believed that Jesus Christ is God the Son who came to this earth to die for our sins and to rise for our justification than that he decided he might as well go whole hog and become an agnostic or an atheist because of an all-or-nothing theological system! All the more so should we take such an attitude concerning the age of the earth all by itself.

Well, yes; I would hate to think Lydia was suggesting that Ken would rather have it otherwise. But, again, the issue is not whether we would rather have people be Christians who believe the earth is 4.6 billion years old than to be atheists; the issue is whether more people are going to become and remain Christians if they accept “the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of Genesis 1” or if they believe that passage is mistaken, so that the Bible contains mistakes.

Which brings us to Lydia’s final point, an anecdote about a man she knew who “lost his faith in Christ … in his twenties.” According to Lydia, he began “sneering” at young-earth creationism “and then had made it clear that he didn’t believe Christianity at all, that he no longer regarded himself as a Christian.” It is a tragic case, and, as Lydia points out, his parents would of course rather their “son believed in an old earth and were still a Christian, still a follower of Jesus Christ, still believed in God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and in Jesus’ death and resurrection for sin.

Well, of course. But if Lydia means to imply that we should be more open to believing that the earth is 4.6 billion years old to keep our children from falling away, she has things backwards. It is doubting the accuracy of the Bible that leads children to fall away, and no matter how Lydia parses it, a 4.6-billion year-old earth is not compatible with Biblical inerrancy, for reasons we have already seen. And this claim is not based on a heart-wrenching anecdote, but on actual evidence.

Gallup has been surveying Americans on the issue of origins since 1982 and the results they published in 2014 are telling. Belief in six-day young-earth creationism has essentially held steady since 1982, despite the onslaught of secular evolution propaganda and the efforts of some evangelicals who have become increasingly strident in promoting a reconciliation between evolution and/or a 4.6-billion year-old earth and the Bible. On the other hand, belief in atheistic evolution has more than doubled in that time, from 9% to 19%. Whence is this growth coming? It is not from young-earth creationists, whose numbers have held steady. It comes from those who previously held to some sort of amalgam of creation and evolution but rejected six-day young-earth creationism. In other words, the evidence indicates that the falling away has not come from among those who accepted “the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of Genesis 1” but from among those who tried to reconcile this plain teaching with “science falsely so called.” They are the ones who are already gone.


The Bible is the word of God, and God does not make mistakes. What He affirms in His word is to be accepted as true by Christians. It is incumbent, therefore, on Christians to formulate their views on any issue addressed in the Bible by bringing the tools of proper exegesis to bear in order to understand (understand, that is, not “interpret”) what the Bible says on that issue. And, while there are “some things hard to understand” in the Scriptures, the days of Genesis 1 and the age of the earth are not among them.

As we have seen, there are more than enough contextual indicators in Genesis 1 to show that יֹום (“yōm”) cannot be taken as anything other than a 24-hour day. Furthermore, as we have seen, the temporal data in the chronogenealogies in Genesis are clear and simple, as is the temporal data elsewhere in the OT. Together, they do not admit of any other possible understanding than that the earth is a maximum of 7,681 years old. And this is what we must accept. Lydia McGrew says no.

According to Lydia, we can comfortably believe in an “old” earth; we do not have to accept that 7,681-year upper limit. She does no exegesis of the relevant passages to try to support her point. She hints at “scientific evidence” but makes no attempt to explain what the evidence is that is sufficient to overturn “the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of Genesis 1” or what the evidence is that has convinced her to do so.

She gives no reason whatsoever, in fact, that we should not believe the “the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of Genesis 1,” which is God’s own testimony as the only eyewitness, and instead prefer the claims made by fallible secular scientists. She just urges us to do so, while hinting that holding on to “the most natural, literal, on-the-face-of-it interpretation of Genesis 1” is dangerous to our children, saying,

If you, dear parents, think that Ken Ham is right about the saying at the top of this post, and all that it implies, I most earnestly urge you, in Christ, to reconsider.

It is an urging we must resist; what Ken Ham wrote is, as we have seen, a legitimate application of what Jesus Himself said, whereas the implications of what Ham says are not what Lydia thinks.

This, then, folks, is not what the church needs. In the face of increasing attacks on Biblical Christianity by an increasingly secular society and the abandonment of inerrancy by so many of our scholars, what the church needs are people who are willing to take God at His word, willing to practise proper exegesis to understand (understand, not “interpret”) what the word of God says, and follow it regardless of the gainsaying, whether that comes from the world or from fellow Christians.



1. McGrew, Lydia. “You can trust God, but men are fallible.” Posted on January 24, 2016, at All quotes from Lydia are taken from this source, with bolding occasionally added.

2. Hardy, Chris and Robert Carter. “The biblical minimum and maximum age of the earth.” Journal of Creation 28:2 (2014), p. 95

3. For more details and references on the exegesis of Genesis 1, see Tors, John. “Is a 4.6-Billion Year-Old Earth Compatible with Biblical Inerrancy? A Response to Norman Geisler” at

4. This means that it is irrelevant whether there are “gaps” in the genealogy. The numbers give the actual years between the births of the people whose names are listed, and that numbers does not change if there was one or more unlisted generations between any two listed names.

5. Hardy and Carter, op. cit.

6. It would be a gross error indeed, to mistake 4.6 billion years for 7,681 (or fewer).

7. Snelling, A.A. “The cause of anomalous potassium-argon ‘ages’ for recent andesite flows at Mt Ngauruhoe, New Zealand, and the implications for potassium-argon ‘dating.’” In Walsh, R.E. ed., Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship (1998), pp. 503–525.

8. See Lubenow, Marvin L. “The pigs took it all.” Posted at for another fascinating example.

9. See, for example, Batten, Don. “Age of the earth: 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe.” Posted on June 4, 2009, at

10. She does reject much of evolutionary theory and holds to an historical Adam and Eve.

11. Later in the article she avows that this “issue is one where scientific evidence also comes into play,” but that does not help, inasmuch as she does not tell us what scientific evidence she has in mind or how it might support one view over the other.

12. It is noteworthy that Lydia contends that we must not insist that one “interpretation” is God’s word and “all the more so when the question at issue is one where scientific evidence also comes into play.” There is already a cadre of scientists bringing putatively scientific evidence to show that same-sex relationships are as good as, or better than, heterosexual ones.

13. Quelle surprise, Lydia also tells us that “there is solid textual reason to doubt” that Mark 16:9-20 was “in the original text Mark wrote.” She is wrong on that, also. (See Tors, John. “Creation Ministries International an the Three-Headed Monster: Why the Monster Wins” at for details.)

14. Ham, Ken & Britt Beemer, with Todd Hillard. Already Gone: Why your kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it. Green Forest, AZ: Master Books, 2009.

15. Newport, Frank. “In U.S., 42% Believe Creationist View of Human Origins.” Posted on June 2, 2014, at

16. 1 Timothy 6:20 (KJV). The “science” referred to in this verse is not limited the theory of evolution and old earth claims, nor, in fact, only to claims based on what we define as “science,” but it certainly does apply to


17. See Tors, John. “The Three-Headed Monster and the Evangelical Betrayal of the Bible: Exposing the Major Weapons Levied against the Trustworthiness of the Bible”

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