How Old is the Earth?
by Mitch Cervinka

The Framework Hypothesis

In recent years, the "Framework Hypothesis" has gained considerable acceptance among conservative Christians as a way to accommodate the Bible to the claims of secular science.  This theory, popularized by theologian Meredith Kline, often appears intellectually impressive—especially to those who have accepted the old-earth claims of secular science.

The gist of the theory is that the six days are merely a "literary framework" in which to topically organize the acts of creation. Kline claims that there is a parallel between the first three days and the subsequent three days of creation week. Days 1-3 allegedly describe the creation of various "creation kingdoms", and days 4-6 describe the creation of the "creature kings" that rule over them.

Creation Kingdoms
Day 1 light, day and night
Day 2 sea and sky
Day 3 land and vegetation
Creature Kings
Day 4 luminaries: sun, moon, stars
Day 5 sea creatures and birds
Day 6 land creatures and man

Kline would have us believe that because the days are arranged topically and in a parallel structure, we should not understand the days to be literal or sequential.

He argues, from Genesis 2:5—"… no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land …"—that ordinary providence was in operation during this time. In other words, it would have taken more than six days for the lack of rain to have kept plants from growing, and so he argues that the six days could not have been literal, 24-hour days.

He claims that Genesis 1-2 teach a "two register cosmology", which involves an upper (heavenly, invisible) register and a lower (earthly, visible) register, where the lower register is but a type of the upper register. He uses this distinction to pigeonhole various aspects of creation into the upper or lower register, and claims that the creation week is "a literary figure, an earthly, lower register time metaphor for an upper register, heavenly reality."[1]

Unlike the first six days, the seventh day does not end with the formula, "And there was evening and there was morning, the ___th day." Kline concludes from this that the Sabbath day continues to the present, and argues that God would have had to resume His creative activity on the eighth day if the days were meant to be literal days.

Fallacies of the "Topical Days" Argument.

Kline imagines that the parallelism between days 1-3 and days 4-6 somehow proves that the days are not literal days, but this is not a valid argument. Even if it could be shown that a valid parallelism exists between the first 3 days and the subsequent 3 days, this would not disprove literal days. All it would prove is that God arranged his creative activity in a particular chronological order, accomplishing specific acts on each of the six days, and that He acted with purpose and design.

One of Kline's arguments why the days should not be taken literally is that the light created on day 1 would require a light source, but these were not created until day 4, and so days 1 and 4 must be describing the same event, not sequential events.  However, this assumes that no other light source existed prior to day 4, and scripture makes no such claim.

Kline argues that it would have been extravagant for God to create an alternate light source for the first 3 days, only to replace it with the sun, moon and stars on day 4.  This is hardly a compelling argument, since there are other sources of light than the sun, moon and stars. Disorganized plasma[2], such as nebulae and the interstellar medium, can produce light without the need for stars. Given that Kline is attempting to harmonize the scriptures with secular science, he should not be opposed to the idea that light existed chronologically prior to the sun, moon and stars, since the Big Bang theory teaches this as well.

The parallels between the first 3 days and the last 3 days are not as harmonious as he would have us believe.  The waters, for example, existed on day 1, were separated by an expanse on day 2 and were gathered into seas on day 3; so it is quite arbitrary to make day 2 the particular representative of the creation of the watery realm.

Day 1: "… And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." (vs. 2)
Day 2: "And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so." (vs. 7)
Day 3: "And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good." (vss. 9-10)

The "lights" of day 4 were set in the "expanse" created on day 2. The sun, moon and stars are never called the "rulers" of light. Rather, the sun rules the day, the moon rules the night, and the stars are never said to rule anything (Gen. 1:16).

Genesis 1:14-18
14 And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years,
15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth." And it was so.
16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.
17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth,
18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.

Likewise, the sea creatures, birds and land animals are never said to rule anything.  Man, on the other hand, is said to have dominion, not merely over land and vegetation, but "… over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth" (Gen. 1:28), and these were created on days 5 and 6! Kline's parallelisms are therefore shown to be contrived and contrary to clear statements of scripture.

Grammatically, chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis are typical of historical narrative rather than poetry or other non-literal genres. Frequent use of the waw consecutive[3] with finite verbs[4] is an identifying trait of sequential narrative, and this construction occurs frequently in Genesis 1 and continues throughout the book of Genesis.

Fallacies of the "Ordinary Providence" Argument.

Genesis 2 is a recapitulation of certain events in chapter 1, focusing on the creation of man, but giving additional details. Genesis 2:5 says that the reason why no plants had grown was that no rain had yet fallen, so Kline concludes that Genesis 2 must be describing a longer period of time than simply a day or two.

Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth,
and no plant of the field had yet sprouted,
for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth,
and there was no man to cultivate the ground.
But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
Genesis 2:5-6, NASB
As we consider the meaning and implications of this passage of scripture, we need to keep in mind that Kline is not merely arguing against a literal-day interpretation, but claims that his theory is compatible with the secularist's claim of billions of years.  We need to ask, therefore, whether Kline's interpretation of Genesis 2:5-6 fits an old-earth scenario.

Genesis 2:5 is preparing us for the creation of man (in verse 7) and of man's home, the garden of Eden (in verse 8). Kline would have us believe that the passage is describing conditions on the earth before plants were created. In an old-earth context, this would have been billions of years prior to the creation of man. Such an interpretation violates the context, introducing an enormous gap not only in time, but in thematic continuity.

Two reasons are given why no shrubs or plants of the field had yet sprouted:  1) God had not sent rain upon the land, and 2) there was no man to cultivate the ground.  The passage can be outlined as follows:

1. The problems:
      a. no shrub
      b. no plant
2. The reasons:
      a. no rain
      b. no man
Kline would have us believe that the only reason for no shrubs or plants was "no rain", but the passage gives two reasons, and "no man" is one of the reasons. Is it valid for Kline to ignore the "no man" reason? In his way of thinking, the passage is describing a time in earth's history prior to the formation of the first plants—when rain was not yet falling on the earth. Once God started sending rain, Kline would have us believe that the conditions required for plants to grow was satisfied, and that man was not needed.

Why does God mention man at all, if all He means is that plants need rain to grow?  Verse 5 is preparing us for the creation of man in verse 7. If man is unnecessary to the argument of verse 5, then how can verse 5 serve as a logical introduction to the creation of man?  Clearly, verse 5 is not saying merely that plants need rain in order to grow, and we need to dig a bit deeper to see what is really in view.

First, the phrase "of the field" that appears twice in verse 5 qualifies the types of shrubs and plants under discussion, denoting cultivated plants[5], such as we would find in fields or gardens.  The Hebrew word is often used of a tilled or cultivated field (see Genesis 23:9; 31:4; 33:19; 34:5; 37:7; 39:5; 41:48; Exodus 9:19; 22:5; etc.). This anticipates Eden, which was to be a cultivated garden, planted by God (verse 8).

Second, Moses' readers were accustomed to find cultivated plants growing in places where rain fell regularly, or in arid places where men would dig wells or build canals to provide irrigation. Genesis 2:5 assures us that neither of these conditions were met prior to the creation of Adam.

Some take verse 6 to be the institution of rain. However, it is contrasted with verse 5 ("… God had not sent rain … but a mist used to rise …"), indicating how the earth was watered before the Lord began to send rain.  This is often translated as a "mist" that customarily arose from the ground during that period of time—implying either a heavy dew that watered the plants, or perhaps a natural sprinkler system where the water sprayed up from the ground, forming a mist, similar to a lawn irrigation system.

However, several translations[6] suggest that "mist" should be translated "springs" or "flow".[7]  In this case, plants could receive needed water only near springs and along the streams that flowed from them. This could produce oases, marshes and tree-lined streams, but not cultivated fields or gardens—unless, of course, there was a man present to dig and maintain irrigation ditches, or to carry water to the plants.

This agrees with the sense of verse 10, which describes the river that flowed from Eden and says that the purpose of the river was "to water the garden". This would be unnecessary if the earth received adequate rainfall at that time.

Finally, we need to distinguish between cause and purpose in seeking to understand verse 5. Is the passage saying that an extended period of drought had kept plants from growing, or that, in His wisdom, God did not set out the cultivated plants until He had provided a suitable environment for them—one in which they would receive adequate water and regular care? I submit that the passage is not describing a chronic problem in need of a solution (i.e. no plants having sprouting due to no rain having fallen), but explains God's design—that cultivated plants (especially in the absence of rain) need man to care for them—as an introduction to the creation of man in verse 7 and Eden in verse 8.

In summary, Genesis 2:5-6 is not discussing the creation of plants nor the inception of rain.  Nor does it imply that any significant time elapsed prior to the creation of Adam. All that can be inferred from the passage is that cultivated plants were not present until God created Adam and placed him in the garden. This is the subject matter of chapter 2—namely the creation of man, and of man's home—and we should not read into the passage a broader scope than the context will bear.

Fallacies of the "Two Registers" Argument.

Kline's appeal to the "two registers" of heaven and earth is the most speculative, and hence the least defensible, of all his arguments. Genesis 1:1 assuredly says that "… God created the heavens and the earth", but it never says that the acts of Genesis 1 are to be paired and pigeonholed into one or the other of an "earthly" or "heavenly" category, nor that there is any necessary correspondence between these two "registers".

It should be noted that Genesis 1:1 uses the plural "heavens" with the singular "earth". God created multiple heavens, but a single earth. There is no mystery to this—the ancients could see a daytime sky (corresponding to earth's atmosphere), and a nighttime sky (corresponding to outer space).[8]  The phrase "heavens and earth" therefore refutes a "two register" interpretation of Genesis 1. These are not two contrasting categories but denote three major regions that God created: the starry sky, the atmosphere, and the earth.

In his essay "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony", Kline gives a table illustrating the various items he associates with the upper and lower registers.

Two-register Space in Genesis Prologue[9]

Verse 1  Verse 2  Days 1-6  Day 7
heaven  Spirit  fiats  God's
earth deep fulfillments Sabbath

Kline writes:

The six evening-morning days do not then mark the passage of time in the lower register sphere. They are not identifiable in terms of solar days, but rather relate to the history of creation at the upper register of the cosmos.[10]
This assertion does not follow from the evidence Kline presents. He wants to put the sabbath exclusively in the "upper register", and to conclude from this that all the other days must therefore belong exclusively to the "upper register" as well.

Contrary to Kline's assertions, "day" and "night" are a "lower-register" phenomenon. In Genesis 1:5, God defines a "day" to be the "light" that He created in verse 3 and separated from darkness in verse 4. He calls the darkness "night". The narrative gives us every reason to believe that He is speaking of ordinary "lower register" phenomena due to the rotation of the earth on its axis as it receives light from a particular region of space. Nothing in the text gives us reason to believe that there are corresponding "days" in heaven.

In fact, Revelation 22:5 would lead us to believe that successive periods of "day" and "night" are meaningless in the upper register, for the heavenly sphere enjoys but one eternal, uninterrupted day, continually illuminated by the manifest presence of the Lord God.

Moreover, if the "two-register" theory is valid, then why limit it to the days of creation week? Every event of earthly history was ordained by God and therefore has an associated "upper register" fiat. Shall we say that any and every reference to "days" in scripture does not mark the passage of time, but refers instead to activities in the upper register? Kline is obviously not applying the same hermeneutical principles to Genesis 1 that he applies to other passages of scripture.

By claiming that the days are topical rather than literal and imposing his "two register" construct upon the text, Kline seems to be confusing the work of systematics with the work of exegesis.  Exegesis seeks to understand the meaning of a passage using normal rules of interpretation, such as grammar, context, word meaning, literary genre and historical context. Systematics then seeks to categorize and systematize these teachings topically to see how they relate to one another, allowing parallel passages to shed additional light on a particular doctrine. Kline, on the other hand, is trying to import systematics into the text itself—seeking to make topical that which is expressed in sequential and historical language, and to thereby nullify its evident meaning.

Fallacies of the "Continuing Sabbath" Argument.

The phrase "And there was evening and there was morning, the ___th day" affirms that a single night separated any two successive days. It is not, as Kline supposes, merely a way to mark the conclusion of a particular day. Genesis 1 is concerned only with creation week—the first seven days—and does not relate to us the events of the eighth or ninth day after creation. It has no need to mention the transition between the seventh and eighth days, so the "evening and morning" formula is not needed at the conclusion of the seventh day.

The claim that God would have had to resume His creative activity on the eighth day is unwarranted. The creation week concludes at the end of the seventh day. The pattern of six days of work followed by a day of rest (Exodus 20:11) is based on the original seven days of creation only. This provides man with a weekly reminder of what God did when He created the universe, and is not meant as a complete history to the present.

A proper understanding of providence acknowledges that God has continued to work throughout the history of the universe.  Jesus said "My Father is working until now, and I am working" (John 5:17). Therefore, it would be false to say that God has been observing a sabbath ever since the seventh day of creation week began.  Such a claim is more consistent with Deism than with biblical Christianity. The various miracles recorded in the Bible are proof that God has not been resting since creation week.

We should remember that God's creative activity resumed after the Fall, when He began to regenerate fallen sinners like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Paul (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10; Acts 26:11-18). In no sense, therefore, can it be said that God has been observing a protracted sabbath that began at the end of the sixth day of the creation week.

Kline claims that the Sabbath day observed by God in Genesis 2:2 was an upper-register event. However, God did all His work in the lower-register, and it is in the lower register only where "rested from all His work" makes sense.  Since heaven enjoys a single, eternal, uninterrupted day, it makes no sense to put any of the days into the upper register, or to suggest that, in the upper register, God "rested from all His work".

Kline claims that the third and fourth chapters of Hebrews support his idea that the sabbath of Genesis 2:2 was an upper-register event. Hebrews 3-4 teach that there is a "sabbath rest" for the people of God and identifies it with God's resting on the seventh day of creation week.

Hebrews 4:4-5 says:

For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." And again in this passage he said, "They shall not enter my rest.
Verses 9-10 say:
So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
From this he concludes that the seventh day of creation week belongs to the "upper register", that it has continued ever since God completed His work of creation, and that it is the future hope of every true believer.

Kline's understanding of Hebrews 3-4 ignores the Christocentric focus of Hebrews and its target audience. The author of Hebrews is writing to Jewish people, exhorting them to place their complete trust in Jesus Christ, and not to trust in the Mosaic law for salvation. The "rest" that is in view in chapters 3 and 4 is a rest from ritual obedience to the Mosaic ordinances.

Christ is the focus of the first ten chapters of Hebrews.  Christ is superior to the angels (Hebrews 1:3-8).  Christ is superior to Moses (Hebrews 3:1-6).  Christ is superior to Aaron and the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 4:14-5:10). In the middle of this discourse on the superiority of Jesus Christ, the writer of Hebrews urges his readers to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior, and warns them of the danger of hardening their hearts against the gospel and falling short of the "rest" it promises.

Hebrews 3:5-12 - Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, … but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. … Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, …. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and … I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'" Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
Such unbelief would repeat the error of Israel in the wilderness, who did not enter the promised land because they feared the giants of the land more than they trusted the power and faithfulness of God. Notice that Israel's entrance into the land would have been immediate if they had not hardened their hearts. The writer of Hebrews, therefore, is not referring to heaven when he speaks of "God's rest" (Heb 4:10).  Instead, he is speaking of a present-tense salvation that can be enjoyed in this present life.

Hebrews 4:3, for example, teaches that believers have already entered into this rest:

For we who have believed enter that rest …
and verse 10 teaches that those who have entered God's rest have rested from their works:
for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
The phrase "… as God did from his …" shows that this is an analogy with Genesis 2:2, and not the same thing. Hebrews is not teaching that we enter into the sabbath-rest of creation week, but into something similar and analogous to that sabbath-rest: namely, the sabbath-rest of the spirit-filled life whereby we cease from seeking to justify ourselves by works of self-righteousness, and rest instead in the finished work of Christ for us.

This echoes a common New Testament theme:

Romans 4:5 - And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

Galatians 2:16 - yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ …

Ephesians 2:8-9 - For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Philippians 3:9 - and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Titus 3:5 - he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy …

Just as God created the world in six days and then rested, so also Christ has wrought our salvation (a "new creation", 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15) and is now resting from His redemptive work (Hebrews 1:3; 10:12). We enter into this new-creation "rest" by trusting Christ to be the "author of eternal salvation" (Heb 5:9; 12:2) for us.

To put it another way, Christ is our Sabbath—we can rest in Him instead of working to create our own salvation.

Colossians 2:16 - Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of … a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.
It is God's rest we must enter, because our own works forever fall short, and could never be adequate to save us (Heb 10:11-12; Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 64:6). While we are trusting our works to save us, there can never be a Sabbath commemorating the completion of our work. In contrast, Christ's work of redemption was "finished" (John 19:30) when He died on the cross, just as His work of creation was "finished" (Gen 2:1) on the seventh day. If we are to enjoy a Sabbath-rest, we must enter into Christ's Sabbath-rest. He finished on our behalf the work we were not able to do.


Kline introduces his article by saying "To rebut the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation week propounded by the young-earth theorists is a central concern of this article."[11]  This suggests an agenda behind the "Framework Hypothesis"— is Kline simply exegeting the text, or is he more interested in rebutting the young-earth interpretation of the text by means of fanciful arguments? This could explain why his arguments are typically inconsistent with details of the text, why they draw upon hypothetical "frameworks" and "registers" that are not identified as such in the text, and why he is so quick to claim that a topical structure disqualifies a historical, sequential interpretation of the text.

I suspect Kline's prejudice against a young-earth interpretation keeps him from seriously considering it as a viable alternative. His arguments are characterized by novelty and special pleading, and the end result is that he invents an unorthodox hermeneutic which he applies only to the opening chapters of Genesis.  This gives him the freedom to silence the clear meaning of "days" in Genesis 1, while allowing the rest of scripture to speak plainly.

This double standard is arbitrary and indefensible. If he were to apply his "framework" approach to the rest of scripture, it would strip it of any authority, allowing him to impose his own ideas on the text, making it mean whatever he wants it to say.

Genesis forms the foundation for all that the Bible teaches—and especially for its essential doctrines. If we misunderstand the foundations, it will have ramifications for all the rest of Christian theology. Most of Genesis, including its earliest chapters, is written in the style of sequential, historic narrative. If this is not its intended meaning, then God was using misleading language at the very outset of His word, which sets the stage for all that follows.

This has profound implications regarding the truthfulness of God and the perspicuity of scripture. If the church did not discover the correct hermeneutic for 2000 years, this has profound implications for the authority of scripture and of God's providential care for His church and its doctrine.

We should never permit ourselves to be so intimidated or enthralled by the confident claims of the secularists that we are unwilling to scrutinize their assumptions, methods and conclusions. We need to realize that secular theories are based on secular assumptions, which originate in fallible human conjecture and speculation. In contrast, the Bible is God's authoritative Word.

Kline has given us no compelling Biblical reason to reject the traditional understanding of six literal days, nor to capitulate to secular interpretations of earth history.  We should instead trust what God has plainly said, and allow the days to be what scripture clearly intends for them to be—normal solar days.


[1] M. G. Kline, "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony", Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48 (1996), (visited 2 March 2011).

[2]  See the Wikipedia articles on "plasma", 28 Feb 2011, (visited 2 March 2011)  and "interstellar medium", 22 Feb 2011, (visited 2 March 2011).

[3] "… Gen 1 is presented in a normal narrative, not poetic, form. It is presented in a sequential manner. … Gen 1 has 5 times more narrative sequential markers than a comparable poetic section. … The genre is clearly narrative, not poetry.", Todd Beall, "Christians in the Public Square", 15 Nov 2006, (visited 2 March 2011).

[4] Don DeYoung, Thousands… Not Billions (Green Forest, AR: Master Books), 2005, pp. 157-170.

[5] See Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, plug-in to e Sword software, (visited 2 March 2011), on Genesis 2:5.

[6] See, for example, the NET Bible, the NIV, the Septuagint and the NASB footnote at Genesis 2:6.

[7] The NET Bible has a translator's note at Genesis 2:6 …

"The Hebrew word ’ed was traditionally translated “mist” because of its use in Job 36:27. However, an Akkadian cognate edu in Babylonian texts refers to subterranean springs or waterways. Such a spring would fit the description in this context, since this water “goes up” and waters the ground." (visited 2 March 2011).
[8] In addition to the two created heavens, Paul speaks of a "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2) to which he was caught up, and by which he evidently means the throne room of God where God is manifestly visible (1 Kings 22:19), where the seraphim worship Him incessantly (Isaiah 6:1-4) and where peace and righteousness reign inviolate (Matthew 6:10).

[9] Kline, op. cit.

[10] Kline, op. cit.

[11] Kline, op. cit.

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