In my previous question, I asked about the origins of the modern Young Earth Creationism movement, especially in America. Originally, the question asked when the YEC belief (mainly with regards to a literal reading of the Genesis account of creation) became widespread, and was subsequently informed that the account of creation in Genesis had been read literally by Christians ever since ancient times.

What is the evidence for this claim? I'm specifically looking for evidence that the early church interpreted Genesis 1 literally in a manner consistent with modern Young Earth Creationism beliefs. The six-day creation and 6000-year-old age aspects may be treated separately, if and when appropriate.


3 Answers 3


Note that none of this is to say that there weren't also evolutionary views in ancient times. There were. And that this isn't about whether the YEC view is true, it's about whether it was a belief that existed, as the primary belief among Christians (and in Judaism), long before the modern scientific views of origins.

I'd also like to point out that my comment on the other answer didn't say it was the primary view held by everyone. Just that the view pre-dated modern scientific views. It would be foolish to argue that a Biblical YEC view, based on the Genesis account was widely held by anyone outside Judaism or Christianity

The modern YEC view has several variants, but there are two main points on which YEC'ers agree, which can easily be shown to have been a common belief: A young earth, and flood geology (also creation geology or diluvial geology)

Of course, the people that held this view didn't call it "young earth creationism". They simply called it history. People simply believed the Bible, and it wasn't until people came along to introduce modern ideas like uniformitarianism and an old earth, that the idea that the Bible might be wrong even occurred to Christians.

Case in point: Charles Lyell's book "Principles of Geology" (available for online reading here in pdf form) is the book that introduced the idea of Uniformitariansim, and was one of the first scholarly book addressing geology from a "scientific" view. In chapter three, he states:

It had been the consistent belief of the Christian world, down to the period now under consideration, that the origin of the planet was not more than a few thousand years; and that since the creation deluge was the only great catastrophe by which considerable change had been wrought on the earth's surface.

It was simply common knowledge at the time that Christians believed in a young earth, and flood geology.

Of course, the Biblical creation account wasn't the only creation theory held in ancient days. Many other cultures had their own creation stories. While it's not my avorite source, Wikipeda has a fine article tracing the history of creationism as far back as the 5th century BC. Some excerpts:

Early history

David Sedley, in his book Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity, traces creationist thought to the presocratic thinkers Anaxagoras and Empedocles, in the 5th century BC.2 Sedley states that Anaxagoras was recognized by Plato as "the first overt champion of a creative cosmic intelligence. Anaxagoras theory was that the original state of the world was a roughly even mixture of all opposites, and that it was the effect of the action of nous (intelligence or mind) that led to the partial separation of such opposites, hot from cold, land from water, rarefied from dense.

and later...

170 – Theophilus of Antioch wrote in defense of creation beliefs and a relatively young Earth:

"There are not myriads of myriads of years, even though Plato said such a period had elapsed between the deluge and his own time, . . . The world is not uncreated nor is there spontaneous production of everything, as Pythagoras and the others have babbled; instead the world is created and is providentially governed by the God who made everything. And the whole period of time and the years can be demonstrated to those who wish to learn the truth. . . . The total number of years from the creation of the world is 5,695.29 ... If some period has escaped our notice, says 50 or 100 or even 200 years, at any rate it is not myriads, or thousands of years as it was for Plato . . . and the rest of those who wrote falsehoods. It may be that we do not know the exact total of all the years simply because the additional months and days are not recorded in the sacred books."[this quote needs a citation]

And as long as I've sunk to using Wikipeda, I may as well include their article to show the history of flood geology.

The great flood in the history of geology

Many early Christians, including Tertullian, Chrysostom and Augustine, believed that fossils were the remains of animals that were killed and buried during the brief duration of the Flood.[13] The geological peculiarity in northern Europe where much is covered by layers of loam and gravel as well as erratic boulders deposited hundreds of miles from their original sources furthered acceptance of the idea. Early geologists interpreted these features as the result of massive flooding (in the mid 19th century geologists accepted that they had been formed by ice age glaciations).[14] The global flood was associated with massive geographical upheavals, with old continents sinking and new ones rising, thus transforming ancient seabeds into mountain tops.[15][16]

During the Age of Enlightenment, naturalists began proposing natural causes for the miracles recounted in the Bible. Naturalistic explanations for a global flood were posed by John Woodward, (1695), and Woodward’s student William Whiston, (1696).[17]

Finally, since Christianity sprang from Judaism, it seems appropriate to address what early Jewish belief was.

Classical rabbinic teachings

The vast majority of classical Rabbis believed that God created the world close to 6,000 years ago, and created Adam and Eve from clay. This view is based on a chronology developed in a midrash, Seder Olam[disambiguation needed], which was based on a literal reading of the Book of Genesis. It is attributed to the Tanna Yose ben Halafta, and covers history from the creation of the universe to the construction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Although a literal approach is not always used when interpreting the Torah, there is a split over which parts are literal.

  • So is a literal six-day creation not an essential part of YEC? Apr 19, 2013 at 14:54
  • @BruceAlderman The point is that the "literal" reading was the mainstream reading. That would obviously include things like "6 days" and "God created the stars"... if a hundred years from now people started claiming that God created everything except the stars, you might ask "when did the idea that God created the stars become mainstream?" The answer would be the same as David Stratton's answer here, but that doesn't mean we would find ancient (extra-Biblical) sources saying "God literally created the stars."
    – Jas 3.1
    Apr 19, 2013 at 17:26
  • @Jas3.1: But since it's easy to find ancient Christians who explicitly denied that Genesis should be interpreted as teaching a literal six days, I don't see why we should assume a literal interpretation was the default position. Apr 19, 2013 at 19:27
  • I had addressed the literal 6 days part in an earlier edit, but took it out because I don't want to get sucked into the whole "Does 'day' really mean 'day'" argument. fredsbend addressed the part I removed, so it would be silly to add it back in when I can just vote him up. Apr 20, 2013 at 0:43

The most convincing evidence for what the ancient Jews believed is straight from the Ten Commandments:

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. Exodus 20:8-11

The Sabbath is to be honored because God created the Earth and everything in them. God worked for six days then rested, so man will work six days then rest. Since the Jews worked six literal days then rested one literal day it makes sense that they considered the creation to be 6 literal days.

The phrasing "For in six days ..." is common elsewhere in the Bible, especially when the point was that God is the creator of all that is.

There is the issue over when that creation occurred. The genealogies are the primary source for calculating when the creation started, and the Ancient Jews were known to skip generations when documenting genealogies, preferring to highlight important persons rather than equally mention all of them. However, as a matter of mathematics and practicality, the date of the creation would likely not be argued for much earlier than 15K or 20K BC.

Having been critiqued that I did not actually address the early church this is what Justin Martyr says on the same topic.

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. Chapter 67.

Justin Martyr seems to have thought that the world was made in a day; the first day of the creation story.

  • +1 Since we are trying to determine how Jews viewed the history of creation, it makes sense to look at the Jewish historical writings (i.e. Scripture)!
    – Jas 3.1
    Apr 19, 2013 at 17:33
  • The word "made" in Exodus 20:8-11 "in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth" is the Hebrew word "H6213 וַיַּעַשׂ `asah" meaning "to complete". It has a different meaning than Genesis 1:1's "created", which is "H1254 בָּרָא bara" which means "to create the essence from nothing". That's where YEC are mistaken; not realizing that billions of years took place between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. Apr 5 at 18:32

Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs Several quotation from the Early Christian writers may be of help in answering your Question:

In as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years it will be concluded...For the Day of the Lord is as a thousand years. In six days created things were completed. It is evident, therefore, that that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year. (Irenaeus, c. 180

Celsus [a pagan critic] harbors a secret desire to discredit the Mosaic account of the Creation. It teaches that the world is not yet ten thousand years old, but , in fact, is very much older than that. (Origen, c. 248)

Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, "He finished it in six days." This implies that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years , for a day with Him is a thousand years. (Barnabas, c. 70-130)

I have already shown above that when six thousand years are completed, this change must take place. So the last day of the extreme conclusion is drawing near...All expectation does not exceed the limit of two hundred years [before the completion.] The subject itself declares that the fall and ruin of the world will shortly take place. However, while the city of Rome remains, it appears that nothing of this kind is to be feared. (Lactantius, c. 304-313)

God completed the world and this admirable work of nature in the space of six days, as is contained in the secrets of Holy Scripture. (Lactantius, c. 304-313)

It seems that the "6 day-6 thousand year" theory held sway through much of the Christian landscape in the early years. This was, of course, based on an actual 6-say Creation week, and not the evolutionary theory which alleged hundreds of thousands of years of chance formation within the confluence of bumping atoms espoused by the Greeks: Epicurus, Democritus, et al.

Of those who have given themselves to philosophizing, we have heard that some deny the existence of any Divine power. Others ask daily whether there is a God or not. Still others would construct the entire fabric of the universe by chance accidents and by random collision [of atoms]. They fashion it by the flowing together of atoms of different shapes. (Arnobius, c. 305)

Obviously, with the passing of the Year 2,000, decades ago, the day-for-a-thousand-years interpretation has been proven false. We are not in a "millennium", nor has the End of the World happened. But it does not totally eliminate the 6-day Creation position of some modern scientists or theorists. Nor does it settle the debate over the amount of time since the Divine Creation of the universe.

{Two things to note: Darwin did not originate the Theory of Evolution.

The above quotations are from A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, David W. Bercot, ed., Hendrickson Publishers, 1998.}

  • There are enough problems with exact dating (and also e.g. does the remaining 2000 years start with Christ's birth, or with the Crucifixion?) that it hasn't been conclusively invalidated. OTOH, many modern Christians believe that interpretation was never valid in the first place, since it contradicts that the End "will come like a thief in the night". That said, it is interesting that 4004 BC is often suggested as the date of Creation, and Jesus' birth is generally believed to be 4-6 BC. That interval does seem suspiciously close to a nice, round number. (Maybe 2996 should worry?)
    – Matthew
    Feb 21 at 23:22

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