The Early Church Fathers and Creation

One of the claims made by the people at AiG is that most of the Early Church Fathers accepted, literal six-day creation.

Most church fathers accepted the days of creation as ordinary days.1 It is true that some of the early church fathers did not teach the days of creation as ordinary days—but many of them had been influenced by Greek philosophy, which caused them to interpret the days as allegorical.

– http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/could-god-have-created-in-six-days

Let’s start with the ones AiG specifically names:

Origen

We answered to the best of our ability this objection to God’s “commanding this first, second, and third thing to be created,” when we quoted the words, “He said, and it was done; He commanded, and all things stood fast;” remarking that the immediate Creator, and, as it were, very Maker of the world was the Word, the Son of God; while the Father of the Word, by commanding His own Son–the Word–to create the world, is primarily Creator. And with regard to the creation of the light upon the first day, and of the firmament upon the second, and of the gathering together of the waters that are under the heaven into their several reservoirs on the third (the earth thus causing to sprout forth those (fruits) which are under the control of nature alone, and of the (great) lights and stars upon the fourth, and of aquatic animals upon the fifth, and of land animals and man upon the sixth, we have treated to the best of our ability in our notes upon Genesis, as well as in the foregoing pages, when we found fault with those who, taking the words in their apparent signification, said that the time of six days was occupied in the creation of the world, and quoted the words: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.”

-Against Celus 6:60

Clement of Alexandria

That, then, we may be taught that the world was originated, and not suppose that God made it in time, prophecy adds: “This is the book of the generation: also of the things in them, when they were created in the day that God made heaven and earth.” For the expression “when they were created” intimates an indefinite and dateless production. But the expression “in the day that God made,” that is, in and by which God made “all things,” and “without which not even one thing was made,” points out the activity exerted by the Son. As David says, “This is the day which the Lord hath made; let us be glad and rejoice in it; ” that is, in consequence of the knowledge imparted by Him, let us celebrate the divine festival; for the Word that throws light on things hidden, and by whom each created thing came into life and being, is called day.

-Miscellanies 6.16

Augustine of Ambrose

But simultaneously with time the world was made, if in the world’s creation change and motion were created, as seems evident from the order of the first six or seven days. For in these days the morning and evening are counted, until, on the sixth day, all things which God then made were finished, and on the seventh the rest of God was mysteriously and sublimely signalized. What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive, and how much more to say!

-City of God 11:6

Now for those AiG doesn’t name specifically.

Justin Martyr

For as Adam was told that in the [d]ay [h]e ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression, ‘The day of the Lord is as a thousand years,’ is connected with this subject.

-Dialog with Typho the Jew chapter 81

Irenaeus

And there are some, again, who relegate the death of Adam to the thousandth year; for since “a day of the Lord is as a thousand years,” he did not overstep the thousand years, but died within them, thus bearing out the sentence of his sin.

-Against Herasies, 5:23

Cyprian of Carthage

As the first seven days in the divine arrangement containing seven thousand of years, as the seven spirits and seven angels which stand and go in and out before the face of God, and the seven-branched lamp in the tabernacle of witness, and the seven golden candlesticks in the Apocalypse, and the seven columns in Solomon upon which Wisdom built her house l so here also the number seven of the brethren, embracing, in the quantity of their number, the seven churches, as likewise in the first book of Kings we read that the barren hath borne seven.

-Treatises 11:11

Others Early Church Fathers that held to an unclear or allegorical understanding

That’s a far cry from “some.”  AiG’s comment doesn’t stand up against reality.
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9 thoughts on “The Early Church Fathers and Creation

  1. Craig,
    The other day I responded to your four questions directed towards YEC believers. Again, though I do not strictly hold to their creed, I clearly do not accept the Darwinian proposals for our universe and its life. Let me propose a question for you.
    Hypothetically, God does create all that exists in our universe in six literal days approximately 10,000 years or so ago. What would you propose a universe created thus would look like? (Particularly, a man created on the sixth day–would he appear as the first day development of an embrionic human seed or as a mature male of, say, twenty five years of age?)

    • I believe that based on the biblical witness, God gives us proof to aid in our belief. That’s one of the points of the “Doubting” Thomas narrative. Christ provides Thomas with the necessary proof to overcome his doubt. Science, to the best of their ability, has proved that the earth is older than 10,000 years old. Why would God create a world that appears to have fossil records dating back millions of years? To make us think the world is older?

      As to what a younger world would look like, I have no idea.

      Do I believe that God created everything? Absolutely. Is it necessary for my belief that creation is a literal six days? No. Why? The biblical narrative is about God’s salvation history, how God has chosen to save a people.

      There is also the issue of the definition of yom. I think that AiG, at best, twists the meaning of the word, into 6 consecutive days, and at worst, discounts the other meanings of the word, which do provide for longer periods of time than a literal 24 hour day.

      • The point of my question was not to defend the position of a literal six day creation, but to reject the position of a thirteen billion year universe, at least on the basis of atheistic scientific hypotheses that that is the only possible explanation for what we see. (I use atheistic not to suggest all scientists are atheist or even agnostic, most probably aren’t, but that their observations and theories are proposed with the assumption that there is no god supernaturally active within his creation)

        When we eliminate the possibility of god in our attempt to explain what we see, when there is a god, we are like a person trying to explain the existence of a car but with the assumption that there are no car designers or factories.

        You believe in a creative God, but when and where is that God in your universe? Only at the beginning bringing about a “big bang?” At intervals through history? And if he acts in history, or even at the big bang, where is the evidence, scientifically?

        That’s why I asked about “Adam.” Does your God create man supernaturally at a point in the history of earth, or is he the product of a chain of evolution that God began with the big bang? If God created man/Adam supernaturally, does he appear at the moment of creation with age–the apparent age of a ten year old, a twenty year old, or a thirty year old man, for example. Would that be deceptive of God?

        Regardless of the apparent age of the universe, God does not deceive us into thinking it is older than it actually is. He created it. It is not really important for us to know exactly when, or how. And so the apparent age may simply be us deceiving ourselves–and those who interpret Genesis 1-3 literally may be doing the same thing.

        “As to what a younger world would look like, I have no idea.” But suggestion is that it would look exactly as it does today. Whether the creative work of God took place 10,000 or 10,000,000,000 years ago makes little difference.

        While I don’t care much for the dogmatic and divisive tone of AIG and many YEC with their interpretations of the Bible, I find many who accept modern science’s interpretation of the data just as dogmatic and divisive.
        Thanks for responding, and excuse me for such a long post.

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  4. Many of the quotes you have provided do indeed present an allegorical interpretation of the days of creation, but this does not necessarily negate a literal interpretation as well. Many passages of Scripture have several layers of meaning. Other of the Patristic quotes are, in my opinion, simply hard to decipher. For most, if not all of these Fathers it is possible to find other passages that give a clearer interpretation of the days which show that they did in fact interpret the days literally.

    — Clement of Alexandria, Stromata Book 4.25
    Whence He commands them not to touch dead bodies, or approach the dead; not that the body was polluted, but that sin and disobedience were incarnate, and embodied, and dead, and therefore abominable. It was only, then, when a father and mother, a son and daughter died, that the priest was allowed to enter, because these were related only by flesh and seed, to whom the priest was indebted for the immediate cause of his entrance into life. And they purify themselves seven days, the period in which Creation was consummated. For on the seventh day the rest is celebrated; and on the eighth he brings a propitiation, as is written in Ezekiel, according to which propitiation the promise is to be received.

    5.6
    Now the high priest’s robe is the symbol of the world of sense. The seven planets are represented by the five stones and the two carbuncles, for Saturn and the Moon. The former is southern, and moist, and earthy, and heavy; the latter aerial, whence she is called by some Artemis, as if Aerotomos (cutting the air); and the air is cloudy. And cooperating as they did in the production of things here below, those that by Divine Providence are set over the planets are rightly represented as placed on the breast and shoulders; and by them was the work of creation, the first week. And the breast is the seat of the heart and soul.

    — St. Justin Martyr, 1st Apology, chapter 67
    But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead.

    — St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.28.3
    For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded. And for this reason the Scripture says: “Thus the heaven and the earth were finished, and all their adornment. And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works.” This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.

    — St. Cyprian of Carthage, Treatise 11.2
    It is an ancient adversary and an old enemy with whom we wage our battle: six thousand years are now nearly completed since the devil first attacked man.

    (this responds to 11.11 which says “As the first seven days in the divine arrangement containing seven thousand of years.” That passage is put forth as proof of a non-literal reading, but 11.2 proves a literal timeline. If each day was 1000 yrs then the 6th and 7th days are 1000 yrs each and the time from first attack of Satan to St. Cyprian would be more like 8000 years.)

    Treatise 12.20 1st Book
    Also in the first book of Kings: The barren has borne seven and she that had many children has grown weak. But the seven children are the seven churches. Whence also Paul wrote to seven churches; and the Apocalypse sets forth seven churches, that the number seven may be preserved; as the seven days in which God made the world; as the seven angels who stand and go in and out before the face of God, as Raphael the angel says in Tobit; and the sevenfold lamp in the tabernacle of witness; and the seven eyes of God, which keep watch over the world; and the stone with seven eyes, as Zechariah says; and the seven spirits; and the seven candlesticks in the Apocalypse; and the seven pillars upon which Wisdom has built her house in Solomon

    — Tertullian, An Answer to the Jews, Chapter 2
    But—as is congruous with the goodness of God, and with His equity, as the Fashioner of mankind—He gave to all nations the selfsame law, which at definite and stated times He enjoined should be observed, when He willed, and through whom He willed, and as He willed. For in the beginning of the world He gave to Adam himself and Eve a law, that they were not to eat of the fruit of the tree planted in the midst of paradise; but that, if they did contrariwise, by death they were to die.

    (this passage is not so explicit, but he does say that Adam and Eve were there at the beginning of the world. This makes sense if they were there from the 6th day onwards, but if those days were actually 1000 yrs or longer, then they wouldn’t have existed until at least the 6,000th year, which would actually be the halfway point of the earth’s time span from creation to Tertullian).

    — St. Hippolytus of Rome, On Genesis
    Gen. I. 5. And it was evening, and it was morning, one day.
    Hippolytus. He did not say “night and day,” but “one day,” with reference to the name of the light. He did not say the “first day; “for if he had said the “first” day, he would also have had to say that the “second” day was made. But it was right to speak not of the “first day,” but of “one day,” in order that by saying “one,” he might show that it returns on its orbit and, while it remains one, makes up the week.

    Gen. I. 6. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the water.
    Hipp. On the first day God made what He made out of nothing. But on the other days He did not make out of nothing, but out of what He had made on the first day, by moulding it according to His pleasure.

    — Eusebius of Caesarea, Preparation for the Gospel 13:12
    But what is clearly stated by the Law, that God rested on the seventh day, means not, as some suppose, that God henceforth ceases to do anything, but it refers to the fact that, after He has brought the arrangement of His works to completion, He has arranged them thus for all time.

    ‘For it points out that in six days He made the heaven and the earth and all things that are therein, to distinguish the times, and predict the order in which one thing comes before another: for after arranging their order, He keeps them so, and makes no change. He has also plainly declared that the seventh day is ordained for us by the Law, to be a sign of that which is our seventh faculty, namely reason, whereby we have knowledge of things human and divine.

    –St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration 43, Funeral Oration for St. Basil, Chapter 67
    I will only say this of him. Whenever I handle his Hexaemeron, and take its words on my lips, I am brought into the presence of the Creator, and understand the words of creation, and admire the Creator more than before, using my teacher as my only means of sight.

    (while this is not an explicit interpretation of the days of Genesis, his exalted praise of St. Basil’s work makes me doubt that he would take issue with the work, and St. Basil does explicitly interpret the days of creation to be literal.)

    — St. John Chrysostom, Homily 3.10, p. 44
    so Sacred Scripture speaks in that way, showing considerateness for the limitations of our hearing when it said,” God saw that the light was good,” and added, “God separated light from darkness; he called the light day and he called the darkness night,” allotting to each its own particular area and establishing limits for each right from the beginning so that they could keep to them permanently without interference. Everyone in his right mind can understand this, how from that time till this the light has not surpassed its limits, nor has darkness exceeded its due order, resulting in confusion and disruption. Really, this fact alone should suffice to oblige people obdurate in their lack of response to come to faith and obedience to the words of Sacred Scripture so as to imitate the order in the elements, respecting as they do their course uninterruptedly, and not overstep their own limitations but rather recognize the extent of their own nature. 11. Then, when he had assigned to each its own name, he linked the two together in the words, “Evening came, and morning came: one day.” He made a point of speaking of the end of the day and the end of the night as one, so as to grasp a certain order and sequence in visible things and avoid any impression of confusion.

    Commentary on Genesis 7:3
    The blessed Moses, instructed by the Spirit of God, teaches us with such detail … so that we might clearly know both the order and the way of the creation of each thing. If God had not been concerned for our salvation and had not guided the tongue of the Prophet, it would have been sufficient to say that God created the heaven, and the earth, and the sea, and living creatures, without indicating either the order of the days or what was created earlier and what later…. But he distinguishes so clearly both the order of creation and the number of days, and instructs us about everything with great condescension, in order that we, coming to know the whole truth, would no longer heed the false teachings of those who speak of everything according to their own reasonings, but might comprehend the unutterable power of our Creator.

    as for St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Jerome — according to one Catholic website (unfortunately I didn’t bookmark it and haven’t been able to find it again) St. Gregory gives a literal interpretation of the days in his Hexameron, and St. Jerome does the same in his Commentary on the Epistle to Titus, and his Praise of St. Basil’s Writings, but I have not been able to verify this information.

    as for St. Augustine, I think he elsewhere interprets the days to be actually one simultaneous moment, so you are correct that he is not a literalist. I do not know if you are making this post as an evolutionist, but evolutionists often point to St. Augustine’s interpretation since it is not literal, but his interpretation is certainly no more compatible with evolution than that of those who interpret the days literally! I believe Origen also interpreted the days to be actually one instantaneous moment, but it is precisely his understanding of creation for which he is anathematized, so I don’t really lend him much weight in this regard.

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