Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Reasons to be sceptical of the seven thousand year plan

One of the strangest reasons used to deny evolution and insist that creation in six literal consecutive 24 hours days six thousand years ago is a non-negotiable first principle is the seven thousand year plan. This idea, with its roots firmly in dispensational Christianity, argues that just as the entire universe was created in six days, followed by a seventh day of Divine rest, human history stretches over six thousand years, to be followed by a one thousand year kingdom period.

The seven thousand year plan is of course theological nonsense. There is no unambiguous scriptural evidence for it, being at most a strained argument from analogy. In addition, given that the genealogies simply cannot be used to arrive at an exact date for Adam, a point the conservative Christian scholar W.H. Green noted in the 19th century, one simply cannot declare that Adam was created 6000 years ago. Finally, the analogy falls apart because apart from a rough correspondence between the birth of Christ approximately 2000 years ago and the inauguration of the united kingdom of Israel under David approximately 3000 years ago, there are no significant events corresponding to 1000 CE and 3000 BCE. The scientific evidence against the 7000 year plan is definitive, but the Biblical and theological ones are even more compelling.

Explicit scriptural support for a seven thousand year plan is lacking, with passages commonly alluded to (Hebrews 4:1-11, Psa 90:4) saying nothing about creation occurring six thousand years ago, with every day explicitly corresponding to a specific one thousand year period. Explicit references to something akin to a seven thousand year plan come not from Scripture, but from the writings of some post-apostolic Christians such as Tertullian, Lacantius, Papias, and Pseudo-Barnabas. In Barnabas 15 one reads:
The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: “And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it.” Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, “He finished in six days.” This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, “Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years.” Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. “And He rested on the seventh day.” This meaneth: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.
Irenaeus in Against Heresies likewise argues:
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." (Book V 28:3)
Both Irenaeus and Barnabas brings nothing extra to the argument other than a strained argument from analogy, so one cannot appeal to their proximity to the apostolic era to claim that this represents an echo of an apostolic tradition given that the Bible makes no explicit statement about the reality of a seven thousand year plan.

One major problem with the 7000 year plan is of course the inability to accurately date Adam. As W.H. Green pointed out, one simply cannot use the genealogies to arrive at a date for creation:
It can scarcely be necessary to adduce proof to one who has even a superficial acquaintance with the genealogies of the Bible, that these are frequently abbreviated by the omission of unimportant names. In fact, abridgment is the general rule, induced by the indisposition of the sacred writers to encumber their pages with more names than were necessary for their immediate purpose. This is so constantly the case, and the reason for it so obvious, that the occurrence of it need create no surprise anywhere, and we are at liberty to suppose it whenever anything in the circumstances of the case favors that belief .
The omission of names alone should be enough to remind adherents of the 7000 year plan that the genealogies do not have the precision required to use them to date Adam. Furthermore, variation between the Old Greek, Masoretic, and Samaritan Pentateuch serve to remind the exegete of the perils inherent in seeking to use the genealogies as an accurate dating mechanism:
As is well known, the texts of the Septuagint and of the Samaritan Pentateuch vary systematically from the Hebrew in both the genealogies of Gen. v. and xi. According to the chronologies based on these texts respectively, the interval between the Flood and the birth of Abraham was 292 (Hebrew), 942 (Samaritan), or 1172 years (Septuagint). Some have been disposed in this state of the case to adopt the chronology drawn from the Septuagint, as affording here the needed relief. But the superior accuracy of the Hebrew text in this instance, as well as generally elsewhere, can be incontrovertibly established. This resource, then, is a broken reed. It might, however, be plausibly imagined, and has in fact been maintained, that these changes were made by the Septuagint translators or others for the sake of accommodating the Mosaic narrative to the imperative demands of the accepted Egyptian antiquity. But if this be so, it is only a further confirmation of the argument already urged that the ante-Abrahamic genealogy cannot have been intended by Moses as a basis of chronological computation. He knew as much of the age of Egypt as the Septuagint translators or any in their day. And if so brief a term as this genealogy yields, was inadmissible in their judgment, and they felt constrained to enlarge it by the addition of nearly nine centuries is it not clear that Moses never could have intended that the genealogy should be so interpreted?
Green concludes:
On these various grounds we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the creation of the world. [1]
Another problem with the seven thousand year plan argument is that if one is going to reason by analogy from creation days to millenial periods, one should expect the conclusion of each 1000 year period to correspond to an event of theological significance. This is not true. At best, one still has two gaps:

4000 BCE: Creation
3000 BCE: ?
2000 BCE: Abraham
1000 BCE: Kingdom of David
      0  CE
: Birth of Christ
1000  CE: ?
2000  CE Return of Christ

There is a remarkable component of circularity in any claim that literal creation in six consecutive days is a non-negotiable fact because the 7000 year plan depends on it. This of course presupposes that the 7000 year plan is a first principle, but contrary to what conservative sections of our community may believe, belief in a 7000 year plan is hardly normative for our community. It is a mistake to think that what is commonly accepted in very conservative parts of our community are likewise held by the broad mainstream, and use it as a reason to insist on the literality of creation in six days. Unless one can show unambiguously that the seven thousand year plan really is a non-negotiable first principle, and show beyond doubt that a seven thousand year plan is contingent on creation in six literal days six thousand years ago, any attempt to appeal to it in order to decree evolutionary creationism heretical can be safely dismissed.

Finally, adherents of the seven thousand year plan should realise that the fossil evidence for anatomically modern human beings stretches back nearly 200,000 years. [2] As modern human beings have been on this planet for around 190,000 years longer than the beginning of any 7000 year plan period, any adherent of this view is obliged to show how such a plan is consistent with the scientific facts, and to date, no convincing explanation as to how to reconcile the scientific facts with a literal reading of Genesis 1 exists. In the absence of such a convincing reconciliation, one is quite justified in placing little confidence in the 7000 year plan.


1. Green W.H. Primeval Chronology Bibliotheca Sacra (1890) 47:285-303
2. McDougall I, Brown F.H., Fleagle J.G. "Stratigraphic placement and age of modern humans from Kibish, Ethiopia." Nature (2005) 433:733-6.