Many within the Churches of Christ today insist that Genesis teaches that the Earth was created in six, literal, back-to-back, 24-hour days 6,000-10,000 years ago. This is generally referred to as Young Earth Creationism.
Alexander Campbell, a leader of the Restoration Movement, from which the Churches of Christ sprang, however, taught:
- Genesis 1:1-2 indicates there were millions or more years between God’s creation of the Earth and the six creation “days” in Genesis
- at least the first three “days” of Genesis are not 24-hour days
- the Genesis “days” could be any length, thousands of years or more
- to say that the days of Genesis 1 are of equal length is “preposterous.”
He did so even before the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859.
Alexander Campbell: Old Earther
Questions about the age of the Earth and Genesis 1 arose well before Darwin, particularly in light of geologists’ finding the Earth’s strata proves the Earth to be much, much older than 6,000-10,000 years old, the age of the Earth calculated by one particular interpretation of the Bible.
Alexander Campbell, in a lecture given in 1859, said that we take the Biblical account “against the skepticism of geology.” He considered using strata to compute the age of the Earth “fallacious” in light of Genesis’s statement that “[t]he earth was without form, and the Spirit of God” (a mighty wind) “moved upon the face of the waters.”
That is, he was highly skeptical of geologist’s use of the Earth’s strata to calculate the age of the Earth and he accepted the creation account in the Bible.
Accepting the creation account in the Bible, to Campbell, though, did not mean accepting Young Earth Creationism.
Referring to Genesis’s description of the Spirit of God hovering over the surface of the waters after God’s creation of the heaven and earth in Genesis 1:1-2, Campbell said that “[h]ow long ago that was we know not,” explaining that Genesis 1 “gives us a vague idea of a pre-existence, which might have been for millions of years.”
Essentially, Campbell interpreted Genesis 1:1-2 to allow for an indefinite amount of time—millions or billions of years or more—between the creation of the Earth and the specified “days” of creation in Genesis 1. This is sometimes referred to as a form of “The Gap Theory,” a theory contrary to Young Earth Creationism.
Campbell also foreshadowed the concept of evolution. He asserted that everything was originally created (sun, moon, and the stars) in a perfect state. Apparently without knowledge of Darwin, Campbell made reference to a form of evolution, referring to a “sort of progress” that can be seen in life, such as the “instinct” of certain plants and, “in its highest development, the reason of man himself.”
Alexander Campbell: Those Aren’t 24-Hour Days
Campbell had expressed previously that he did not believe that all the “days” of the six days of creation described in Genesis and elsewhere were 24-hour days. His view was that while “the last days of the creation week may have been no more than twenty-four hours, the first two or three may have been 24,000 years, for anything which science or the Bible avers on the subject.”
Campbell explained “to say that the time from darkness to darkness or from light to light called evening and morning is necessarily of one length is as unwarranted from the Bible as it is from analogy or from the changes which must have happened to the vaporous mass formless and void of which this globe was formed.”
He reasoned that the Earth, for example, “now revolves upon its axis in twenty-four hours; but that it must have occupied no more time when it was an immense volume of vapor spread over a thousand million of times its present occupancy of space, and uninfluenced by the same laws that now govern it, would be a preposterous conclusion ….”
Alexander Campbell, progenitor of the Churches of Christ, thus would disagree with Young Earth Creationism and with those who insist that the Bible must be interpreted to mean that the Earth was created in six, literal, back-to-back, 24-hour days 6,000-10,000 years ago.
For a description of David Lipscomb’s views on Genesis, evolution, and related matters, see my next article (spoiler alert— He is no Young Earth Creationist, either).
For a description of some of the scriptural problems with insisting on Young Earth Creationism, see my earlier article.
Sources & Notes
 Alexander Campbell, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch: Delivered Before the Morning Class of Bethany College, During the Session of 1859-1860 (Cincinnati, Ohio: H.S. Bosworth, 1867), 138 (hereinafter “Alexander Campbell, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch”).
 Ibid. at 138-139.
 Ibid. at 141. See also ibid. at 71 (“The second verse is especially important, inasmuch as it has to do with the many dates entertained by geologists, in regard to the antiquity of creation. But as already remarked, we take the Mosaic account, against all the world of authority of whatever nature — always accepting however, the geological history, so far as it accords with the inspired record. In this verse Moses presents us with a statement of the condition of things, in that undefined period, anteceding all the acts in the drama of creation, presented in the sequel of this chapter. How long a measure of time is assumed in this series of facts, is beyond the mental scrutiny of mortal man. It seems that the earth was premature matter, ‘void of form — ‘ a desolate, confused mass; and during this period, no light having yet been created, darkness brooded or rested over the mighty deep — the fathomless abyss — and enveloped all things.”).
 Ibid. at 140.
 Ibid. at 142.
 Alexander Campbell, “Supernatural Facts,” Millennial Harbinger, Vol. 3, No. 6 (June 1839), in Alexander Campbell, The Millennial Harbinger: A Monthly Publication Devoted to Primitive Christianity Vol. 3 (Bethany, Virginia: Alexander Campbell, 1839), reprinted Joplin, Missouri: College Press, 251. He apparently thought that by the time Adam was present on the sixth day, the days were 24-hour days. See Alexander Campbell, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch: Delivered Before the Morning Class of Bethany College, During the Session of 1859-60, Cincinnati, OH: H.S. Bosworth (1867), 77 (“It is in accordance with this theory that we look at the sun in his first attitude with respect to the latitude and longitude of man’s first locality — the garden of Eden. When that great luminary was formed and placed in the heavens, it did not appear to Adam, rising from the east, but first appeared at high noon, in full-orbed and surpassing splendor. And how emblematic of perfection and design was its position ! From that stand-point, the sun began to descend, until it disappeared from Adam in the western horizon. The earth having revolved once round on its axis, from west to east, the splendid orb, at the end of twenty-four hours, had arrived (the next day noon) at its starting point, ‘and the evening and the morning were the first day.'”).
 Campbell, “Supernatural Facts,” supra, at 251. Also see ibid., pages 248-252, in which Campbell, in arguing against the scientific theory that the laws of nature have remained static since the beginning, seems to argue for multiple changes in the systems of nature during the time of creation described in Genesis (“The present earth was formed under water. Geology, and the Bible, Moses and Peter agree in this testimony…. [T]he vegetable and animal structures and creations, requiring atmosphere, did not, could not, possibly exist from the beginning. Therefore, a new class of supernatural facts, or a new series of supernatural operations, must have succeeded the first system of nature, before the fiat which separated the waters above and under the firmament, and which caused the dry land and the pure air to appear? … The creation, then, of all the vegetable genera and species, each of which is a special operation, a new suspension, violation or deviation of the then laws of nature, next ensued, and became a distinct category of supernatural facts—a new system of nature. … Then … a new series of supernatural interpositions was required to fill the air, the sea, and the earth with inhabitants, requiring vegetable productions mediately, or immediately, for their sustenance. This occasioned more supernatural facts. … [And the creation of humans] called forth those divine energies that called man into existence…. [H]ow baseless the hypothesis that nature’s laws, operations, and powers, have continued always as they now are. Nothing can be more absurd …. LaPlace’s hypothesis of the uniformity and continuance of the laws of nature falls prostrate to the dust. [Astronomer’s have observed formations of stars]…; but in the first instance one of their diurnal revolutions may occupy thousands of years, while as they condense into more solid and less bulky masses their motion increases until their days, like those of our planet, from thousands of years are reduced to a few hours. … [B]oth geology and astronomy, when fairly and impartially considered, compel the conclusion that various systems of nature must have preceded the present; and to the commencement of each a divine or supernatural interposition was absolutely necessary.”).
Moreover, Campbell noted that some have argued that the days of Genesis could not be 24-hour days because the Earth’s strata could not have been created in six consecutive 24-hour days. See Alexander Campbell, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch: Delivered Before the Morning Class of Bethany College, During the Session of 1859-60, Cincinnati, OH: H.S. Bosworth (1867), 137. Campbell had taught that those days were not each 24-hour days (see text at footnote 7, supra, and source cited), but, here he explained, it is not because of the challenge presented by the Earth’s strata, as he did not believe the scientists were correct in their assessment of the strata in light of a conflict he saw with respect to the initial verses of Genesis. See ibid. at 69 (“We are aware that some writers of modern, as well as of ancient, time, think the Mosaic account of creation should be discarded as erroneous, because the various strata of earth, according to Geology, evince a higher antiquity than five or six thousand years. The geological theory differs in some respects, from the record given by Moses. Nevertheless, we affirm his statement to be true, and shall stand or fall by it ; because it does not conflict with the scope and meaning of the six days labor, as we understand them. We place the inspired record, as given by Moses, under a divine commission, against all the theories founded upon nature or science, as interpreted by man; and we believe the Mosaic account will grow brighter and brighter, as the geological theory fades and recedes into comparative oblivion.”); ibid. at 137-139 (“Some have supposed that the day at that time, did not, as now, consist of twenty-four hours — that it was a figurative expression, as illustrated in the sentence — a thousand years is with the Lord as one day — which is indeed a highly figurative expression, to show that there is no difference in point of time, with God. The Jews did not reckon time by days of so many hours each; and for this reason some have contended, that the earth’s strata furnish the only reliable accounts, of the age of the world. You will find a great many skeptics in the world, who make a great deal of capital out of the geological structure of the earth; and being unable to harmonize this, with the Mosaic account, they say it is out of the question to suppose, that all these strata, have been created in six consecutive days, of twenty-four hours each. But, as before remarked, we take the Mosaic account, against the skepticism of geology; We are sorry to have to say, that some of the best men, have perplexed themselves with these questions, and have in some instances adopted conclusions, far more difficult to admit, than the Mosaic history itself. We take the first book of the Bible — the book of Genesis — as the key to the mysteries of creation, geology to the contrary notwithstanding. … From [the initial verses of Genesis 1] and other expressions of the Mosaic account, we hold the geological affirmations — that the earth is a volume of pages — that these pages or strata, continue ad infinitum — that we can by these strata compute the age of the earth, as we can that of a tree by its successive annual growths — we say, we hold these statements to be erroneous, fallacious.”). He taught that those days were not each 24-hour days for other reasons (see text at footnote 7, supra, and source cited),
Notably, Campbell was highly skeptical of scientific proof of a young Earth (and his view of science seems off). Yet, he still asserted that the Bible does not require a Young Earth. Thus, his scriptural interpretation does not seem driven by his view of the science.
Alexander Campbell makes what appears to be at first glance an ambiguous remark about twenty-four-hour days in Genesis 1 in Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch. There, referring to the 7 days noted in Genesis 1, he says “[t]hese seven days constitute our week” and that “nothing on earth or in heaven, can be assigned as an argument for the week, aside from the fact that the heavens and the earth were created in six days of twenty-four hours each.” Ibid. at 96. At first glance, he appears to assert as a factual premise that the Earth was created in 6 days, each consisting of 24 hours, and that the only possible explanation for our week of 7 days, each consisting of 24 hours, is that premise, and therefore that explanation is the correct one. On closer inspection, though, it becomes apparent that he is expressing that while the only argument for the reason for our week based on nature (what is in “earth or in heaven”) must refer to the 6 creation days of 24 hours each, the reason for the number of hours in our day depends on a law of nature, but the actual explanation for the 7-day week is simply that God willed our week to be 7 days since there were 7 days of creation in Genesis 1. That is, while the length of the day depends on whatever the laws of nature require at the time, the length of the week is not based on any law of nature but simply comes to us through the will of God. As noted in some of the cites above, Campbell viewed the laws of nature as assigning different lengths of time to the different “days” of Genesis 1. See, e.g., ibid. at 96 (“We are informed in the beginning of the second chapter of the book of Genesis, that ‘the heavens and earth were finished, and all the host of them.’ Also, that ‘on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made.’ It appears, therefore, that the creative acts extended through six days, and that ‘God rested on the seventh day from all his works.’ These seven days constitute our week. Now, we desire you to concentrate your minds upon the phenomenon of weeks. There is nothing in nature to suggest it. We know that the moon works out the months, and the sun rules the day, while for seasons are produced by the variations of the earth, revolving upon its axis, as affecting the relative positions of the earth to the sun. Nature makes the day, the month, and the year; but what makes the week ? This is a question of great importance — a question that staggers the boldest of infidels, and the most expert of theorists. The subject has developed much ingenious thought, and profound reasoning, but we affirm that nothing on earth or in heaven, can be assigned as an argument for the week, aside from the fact that the heavens and the earth were created in six days of twenty-four hours each. This ordinance of time, depends entirely upon absolute will for its origin. The cessation of the creative labors of God on the seventh day, gave rise to this division of time; for which there is no type in nature.”); ibid. at 159 (“All the institutions of the Bible, as we have already said, come under two classifications — the positive and the moral. We have already illustrated the positive, by reference to the ordinances of time — the week being a subdivision, which depends upon the absolute will of Deity, while the day, month and year, are the result of the laws of nature. The week is, therefore, a positive institution. There have been much learned comment and profound reasoning on this topic, but after all is said, we are bound to conclude, that it depends for its origin upon the absolute will of God.”); Campbell, “Supernatural Facts,” supra, at 248-252 (quoted, e.g., in the text at footnotes 6 and 7 and in footnotes 6 and 7, relative to the varying length of the “day” and changing supernatural facts).
Campbell says that Genesis 1 includes a period of “millions of years” after the creation of the Earth in Genesis 1:1-2 (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”). See text and cites associated with footnotes 2-3, supra. He goes on to say Genesis also describes “twenty-three hundred and sixty-nine years of the world’s history. It is the most eminently historical of all the books, of Moses. Exodus gives us an account of the departure of the children of Israel from Egypt; but the three books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy are merely didactical, and explanatory of the institutions which God had established. In the Pentateuch we have all the history extant of the first twenty-five hundred years of the earth’s existence. Four hundred years only intervened between the prophetic age and the coming of Messiah. This book gives all that pertains to the Jewish religion, and, as before remarked, it was necessary that there should be three distinct forms of religion, so far as outward profession was concerned — to-wit : the personal, the family, and the national.” See Alexander Campbell, Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch, supra, at 158.
For more on Alexander Campbell, see my earlier article.
(Picture: Portrait of Alexander Campbell from Library of Congress site, copyright expired)