IBRI Paper (2002)


Perry G. Phillips
Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute


Copyright © 2002 by Perry G. Phillips. All rights reserved.


In a former article I pointed out how the "Timothy test," proposed by D. Russell Humphreys in his book Starlight and Time: Solving the Puzzle of Distant Starlight in a Young Universe, fails to provide an adequate basis for biblical interpretation. Further, I illustrated by examples how application of the Timothy test leads to erroneous conclusions about the Bible's teaching, thereby undermining the inerrancy of scripture that Humphreys attempts to uphold. As such, I concluded that one must use the Timothy test with great care for biblical interpretation. Hence, without further study, one should not accept Humphreys's cosmology just because it is based on the Timothy test.

Subsequently, Humphreys and Jonathan D. Sarfati have responded to my original article. In this rejoinder I point out the fallacies of their apologia.

Rejoinder to Sarfati and Humphreys's responses
Perry G. Phillips

Sarfati and Humphreys have come forward questioning my underlying beliefs that led to writing my article on the "Timothy test."1 Both imply that I have abandoned the principle of Sola Scriptura for the principle of Scriptura sub Scientia, that I have capitulated to evolutionary science, and, in Humphreys's words, that I would be more honest "to throw out the Bible completely and concoct [my] own religious texts."2

Contrary to Sarfati's and Humphreys's gratuitous assertions, however, I take the Bible very seriously and believe it to be the only rule of faith and practice. Thus, I concur with Sarfati's summary of the evidences for the sufficiency of Scripture.3 I also believe that God has revealed himself in creation. (Romans 1.18-20; Acts 14.14-17; 17.24-31) As such, a proper understanding of God and his works will involve diligent study of the "book of God's works" as well as the "book of God's words." Thus, accepting relevant extra-biblical material to understand the Bible better, especially from nature, is not an abdication of Sola Scriptura. On the contrary, the more evidence we bring to bear on a scriptural passage in order to increase our understanding of it, the more we uphold the principle of Sola Scriptura.

Is it Science versus Scripture?

Both Sarfati and Humphreys take me to task for — in the words of Sarfati — accepting the "fashionable theories by fallible scientists, many of whom are non-Christians."4 They persistently argue in terms of the dichotomy between science and scientists — who are fallible and errant — and Scripture — which is infallible and inerrant. Why, they reason, would one even dream of accepting the fallible over the infallible, the corrupt over the incorruptible, unless that person has capitulated to the teachings of evolutionary scientists.

Their comparison between science and Scripture, however, is a canard. Science is a method of finding and interpreting the "facts" of God's creation, whereas the Scripture contains the "facts" of God's word. As such, the correct comparisons should be between science and theology, and between nature and Scripture. In the words of Hodge, Scripture contains the facts of theology just as nature contains the facts of science.5 Thus, both nature and Scripture require interpretive tools in order to gather and to assess the facts they contain and then to tie the facts together into a coherent, understandable picture. In this sense, science and theology are similar enterprises that employ similar tools.6 Hence, the conclusions of "young-earth" theology — including those of Sarfati and Humphreys — are just as fallible as those of scientists and must be held with the same tentativeness.

Consequently, Sarfati's and Humphreys's arguments of the form "Scripture says this" but "Phillips (or science) says that" are misguided. It is not a question of my conclusions versus Scripture, but "my" theology/science versus "their" theology/science.

In short, the argument comes down to is this: Sarfati, Humphreys, and their colleagues are morally certain that they have interpreted the Genesis account correctly and, based on this certainty, dogmatically believe that much of modern science must be rejected and the data reconstructed to bring them into accord with their understanding of the Bible. I, on the other hand, am far less confident of the certainty of present young-earth biblical interpretations and totally disagree with their scientific reconstructions. Thus, I am more willing to examine extra-biblical evidence as a help to understanding the Bible. This is not the easiest approach, but as I pointed out in my original article, it is more dependable.

Can the Timothy test mislead?

Sarfati accuses me of holding to a position analogous to the Catholic view that the correct meaning of Scripture is that taught by the Church Magisterium.7 His statement may gain debating points, but it is a red herring. The fact is that even professional Protestant biblical interpreters, employing Timothy test methods, have failed for centuries to understand some passages of the Bible. One cannot point to infallible interpreters in the Protestant tradition any more than in the Catholic. Sarfati's position seems to be that the Timothy test makes any knowledgeable, careful interpreter infallible, but this is not the case, as illustrated by the examples I presented in my article.

It is interesting that Sarfati does not directly answer his own question as to whether the "Timothy test" can mislead. He does not state, for example, that "No, the 'Timothy test' cannot mislead." Rather, he attempts to show that I have not demonstrated that it can. I, on the other hand, have shown persuasively (in my opinion, at least) that the test has misled historically and, therefore, that it can mislead. Thus, use of the test in and of itself is no guarantee that one's interpretation of scripture is correct.

In fact, Humphreys's invocation of the "Timothy test" to justify his novel interpretation of Genesis proves that the test can and does mislead. For if Humphreys's new interpretation is incorrect, then his "Timothy test" has misled him. On the other hand, if Humphreys's new interpretation is correct, then the entire past history of sincere Christian interpretation of Genesis is incorrect in those areas in which that interpretation differs from Humphreys's. Hence, those interpreters, many of whom employed "Timothy test" hermeneutics, were misled. In either case, the "Timothy test" is not an infallible guide to the meaning of a text. Thus, Humphreys does not stand on more sanctified ground for his theory just because he has enshrouded it in the name of a great biblical character.

Joshua's long day

Both Humphreys and Sarfati show that the passage describing Joshua's long day (Joshua 10.12, 23) does not teach geocentrism. (I concur with their conclusion but not necessarily with their arguments.) Humphreys seems especially exercised over my use of the term "phenomenological" in connection with the Joshua passage. By appealing to the concept of reference frames, he attempts to show why the language in Joshua is "straightforward and accurate" [as opposed to phenomenological] and why the " 'Timothy test' leads to a scientifically correct conclusion."8 Fine; if Humphreys is more comfortable with the term "relative" as opposed to "phenomenological," so be it.9

Humphreys's argument, however, is contrived. When he invokes modern scientific concepts — reference frames, relative motion, and Einstein's's general theory of relativity — that would have been unknown to Timothy, then he himself is abandoning his "Timothy test" and tacitly admitting that it fails to provide a sensible understanding of this passage without knowledge gained outside of Scripture.

Finally — and perhaps more importantly — but both Humphreys and Sarfati dance around the historical fact that Christians — even Protestant Christians — have believed that geocentrism has compelling biblical support. Today, of course, most of us recognize that interpreters have erred in using the Bible to support geocentrism.10 It is impossible, however, to discover this error solely by examining the biblical texts. The modern "heliocentrization" of geocentric-sounding passages is predicated on extra-biblical evidence that comes through God's general revelation in nature — not from a Sola Scriptura, "Timothy test" interpretation. This was the point I made in my original article.

The chronology of the Kings

Concerning the chronology of the Hebrew kings, Sarfati writes:

Phillips again uses the 'Timothy test' as a scapegoat for the problems people have seen in the historical Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles. But again he misses the point that 'Timothy' has a good knowledge of Scripture. Such a person would recognize that there must be quite a complex way of reckoning reign lengths of kings so the numbers can be reconciled. Also, 'Timothy' has a good knowledge of Hebrew. There is nothing in the test criterion which says he cannot use archaeological insights to augment his knowledge of the way language was used in Biblical times.11

Basically, Sarfati claims that any 'Timothy' could have arrived at Thiele's conclusion on the chronology of the Hebrew kings.

This is an artful dodge. As I pointed out in my original article, extra biblical evidence has been crucial in helping to interpret certain passages of the Bible that were not understandable based solely on internal biblical evidence. For this, I was criticized earlier for violating the principle of Sola Scriptura and of being a hermeneutical elitist. Now, however, Sarfati backtracks and states that, after all, it is OK to use archeological insights "to augment [Timothy's] knowledge of the way language was used in Biblical times." This is a roundabout way of conceding my point that it is legitimate to employ extra biblical evidence to help determine the meaning of a biblical text, and that this is not a violation of Sola Scriptura. After all, the historical fact remains that for 2000 years the chronology of the Hebrew Kings was a mystery until Thiele, an inerrantist, showed how they correlate. And he did this by relying on extra biblical evidence. Thus, Thiele's work still remains a case study of the monumental failure of the "Timothy test" and of Sarfati's conception of Sola Scriptura hermeneutics!

The genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11

Sarfati claims that finding gaps in the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 falls within the criteria of the "Timothy test." Sarfati again avoids the fact that historically these genealogies were taken by others who also used "Timothy test" principles to add up the non-overlapping years of fathers and sons to determine the length of time from Adam to Abraham. In addition, in Sarfati's haste to divine "unproven assumptions," he accuses me of denying the historicity of the genealogies and of the recorded life spans. In fact, I totally accept the literalness of the patriarchal ages. What I do not accept is the exoneration of the "Timothy test" as though it has no bearing on making these errors, especially when those making the errors would insist that they were using "Timothy test" exegesis to come to their conclusion.12

Israel's border cities listed in Joshua 14 — 19

In my original article I mentioned that the border cities listed in Joshua 14 — 19 were anachronistic because archeological surveys and excavations have uncovered only a fraction of these cities.13 I gave reasons why I believed that the city lists in Joshua are later additions that were incorporated into the text so that successive generations of Israelites would know their tribal boundaries more accurately. I suggested that this is no more an error than saying that Washington crossed the Delaware River just south of New Hope, Pennsylvania, when New Hope was not a city at the time of Washington's crossing. Even though the mention of New Hope is an anachronism, its use does not degrade the truth of the answer.
Sarfati's answer to my suggestion is twofold. First, he states that my example "shows that a straightforward 'Timothy test' reading can allow for cities as location markers for events which preceded them. So this example doesn't support Phillips' case."14 In effect, Sarfati is saying, "Yes, I know there may be a problem with the fact that archeological evidence does not support the existence of cities in the time of Joshua, and yes, a 'Timothy test' reading of Joshua would imply that the cities ought to have existed in the time of Joshua, but it doesn't really matter because the 'Timothy test' allows for this after all. Hence, Phillips is wrong." Nice logic!

Second, Sarfati argues that "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," and he is correct — all things being equal. In this case, however, all things are not equal. Kochavi's survey of Judea, Samaria and the Golan discovered evidence of habitation that brackets the time of the cities that were to have existed in Joshua's day.15 At several sites (i.e., Kohavi's Judah sites 13, 15, Benjamin and Ephraim sites 26, 32 36, 42) archeological remains were found from the Early Bronze period and then from the Iron Age periods and later. Missing is Late Bronze material, which is the period of Joshua's conquest, regardless of whether one chooses the early or the late date for the Exodus.16 The point is this: If one consistently finds material remains at a site that predates Joshua, and then also finds remains that postdates Joshua, then it is safe to conclude that the material from Joshua's time is missing, unless, of course, one believes in "selective erosion" that happens to have an affinity for Late Bronze material at the expense of the rest.

The situation is this. An ancient site (called a tel) is like a layered cake with the oldest material at the bottom and the youngest at the top. Erosion has brought to the surface the bottom and the top layers. In the process, one expects to see the middle layers as well. These middle layers, however, are missing. The logical conclusion is that they did not exist.

In addition, Sarfati trivializes the problem when he compares this situation to the early denials of the existence of the Hittites, the war of the kings in Genesis 14, or the mention of Belshazzar's kingship in Daniel. Many of these conclusions were made by those who had an initial bias against the Bible and who made no effort to look for the evidence. Besides, the territories in which evidence existed in support of these events were not well searched. When better methods of archeology were developed and more written evidence was found, the truth of the matter became apparent. In the case of the missing cities, however, a great deal of investigation has been made with accurate, universally agreed upon criteria of archeological investigation, and the search has not revealed the presence of the cities in the time of Joshua.

As a final matter in this section, Sarfati states that "Timothy would not necessarily have a problem with editorial additions" to a text of scripture, but he objects to my interpretation about Dan's exile in Judges 18.30. Rather, he opts for an understanding that the exile mentioned in this text "refers to the exile of the Ark when it was captured from Shiloh by the Philistines in the 11th century BC." The problem with this interpretation is that the text explicitly mentions the exile of the land, which occurred at the time of the Assyrian invasion. But, in reality, the correct interpretation of this text this is a moot point, for Sarfati already agrees that later, explanatory comments exist in the Bible.17 Hence, one cannot logically object to my conclusion on Joshua's city lists.

The real problem

Both Sarfati and Humphreys have undertaken, albeit in vain, to counter my criticisms of the "Timothy test." Even so, they are compelled to attempt to invalidate my claims because they find that they strike at their core belief that the Bible demands that the cosmos be young and that it was created in six literal, twenty-four hour days. As such, I would be remiss if I were to finish my rejoinder without commenting on this matter. I ask, therefore, for a little more indulgence on the part of the reader while I address the age issue.18

First, the evidence advanced by Sarfati in favor of literal creation days repeats the errors one finds in the endless iterations of the purported proofs for young-earth creationism. To wit,

1. The Hebrew plural for the word "days" [yamim] always means literal days.

This is a gruesome error. A large number of the usages of yamim are figurative. For example, in Deuteronomy 32.7 we read, " Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past." Here the term "days" stands for "generations long past," and both expressions can be translated "remember the past." Clearly, both expressions are used figuratively for a period of unspecified length, which is a typical meaning for yamim.

In Judges 17.6 and 18.1 the expression "in those days" occurs, and in both cases it simply means "at that time." Again, yamim is figurative.
These examples can be multiplied, and the reader needs only to examine a concordance to see the large percentage of times the biblical writers used yamim for a period of time of unspecified length.

2. When the Hebrew words yom (day) or yamim appear with an ordinal number, they are always literal.

This argument fails on two counts. First, the premise is false. There are at least two instances where a number appears with a figurative use of "day." (Isaiah 9.14 [9.13 in Hebrew] and Hosea 6.2) In the Isaiah passage, the expression "one day" is exactly the same in Hebrew as the one often translated as "the first day" in Genesis 1.5. "One day" in this passage, as well as the numbered "days" in Hosea, are clearly figurative.

Second, in all cases purportedly illustrating the number/literal day correlation, it is already apparent from the context that a literal day is intended. The number is simply descriptive; it does not define "day."19 Hence, the proposed connection between the presence of a number and the meaning of "day" does not exist.

3. Finally, I am amazed that Sarfati used the argument that "all professors of Hebrew at world-class universities agree that the author of Genesis intended to teach a recent creation in six ordinary days and a global Flood."20 What strikes me as odd about this is that Sarfati takes me to task for accepting "fashionable theories by fallible scientists, many of whom are non-Christians,"21 and then he turns around and uses the arguments of liberal, Old Testament scholars who are no more Christian than the scientists whose theories I am accused of accepting.

But aside from Sarfati's disingenuousness in this matter, his argument amounts to naught when one realizes that many of these professors make their living denying most Scriptural truths. It is to their advantage, therefore, to make the Bible look as ridiculous as possible by accusing biblical writers of believing in a solid, heavenly dome; large caverns for Sheol in the center of the earth; pillars that hold up the land from an underlying ocean; and — might I say it — that the earth was created in six literal days a few thousand years ago.

Particularly egregious is Sarfati's reliance on the words of James Barr, who was Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University. This same James Barr, in his book Fundamentalism,22 goes out of his way to deny the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible and to claim that the Bible writers themselves do not profess the inerrancy that conservative, evangelical scholars so dearly hold. Is Sarfati willing to acknowledge that Barr is correct in this matter, also?


Sarfati's and Humphreys's attempts to escape my criticisms of the "Timothy test" have not succeeded. To begin, their accusation that I have denied the concept of Sola Scriptura is true only if one accepts their artificially limited definition that one cannot use extra biblical material to understand Scripture better. We find, however, that they themselves cannot consistently live with this definition; thus, their accusation cannot be taken seriously.

Second, Sarfati and Humphreys set up a straw person when they argue that they are upholding the Bible's teachings, whereas I am capitulating to science. They persistently compare the Bible with science, but this is an improper comparison of disparate categories. One should compare science with theology or the Bible with nature. Hence, their "science-says-this- but-the-Bible-says-that" kind of argumentation evaporates upon closer inspection.

Third, we have seen that the "Timothy test" does not protect one from error. Honest biblical interpreters, employing Timothy-test methods, have failed for centuries to understand some passages of the Bible. Additionally, we reasoned above that Humphreys's invocation of the "Timothy test" to justify his novel interpretation of Genesis proves that the test can and does mislead.

Fourth, both Humphreys and Sarfati dance around the historical fact that Christians — even Protestant Christians — have believed that geocentrism has compelling biblical support. Humphreys's attempt to show that the language in Joshua is "straightforward and accurate" [as opposed to phenomenological] and that the " 'Timothy test' leads to a scientifically correct conclusion" fails.23

Fifth, close examination of Sarfati's claim that any 'Timothy' could have arrived at Thiele's conclusion on the chronology of the Hebrew kings fails. In fact, close inspection of his argument reveals an admission on his part that it is legitimate to employ extra biblical evidence to help determine the meaning of a biblical text, and that this is not a violation of Sola Scriptura.

Sixth, we explain why Sarfati's opposition to the archeological argument for the failure of the Timothy test" to account for the border cities listed in Joshua 14 - 19 falters.

Finally, Sarfati and Humphrey persistently associate my name with Hugh Ross. As such, they wish to disqualify my arguments from serious consideration merely by identifying me with Dr. Ross, who has been completely (and falsely!) vilified by young-earth creationists. This tactic may work for those who cannot reason through the evidence and who who are persuaded by the concept of "guilt by association." Personally, however, I consider it an honor to be associated with Dr. Ross.24

Notes and References

1 Phillips, P. G., 1997. "D. Russell Humphreys's Cosmology and the 'Timothy Test'." CEN Tech. J., 11 (2):189 - 194. Sarfati, J. D., "D. Russell Humphreys's Cosmology and the 'Timothy Test': A Reply." CEN Tech. J., 11 (2):195 - 198. Conner, S.R. and Page, D.N., 1998 Starlilght and time is the big bang. CEN Tech. J., 12(2):174-194. Connor's rebuttal can be purchased from Reasons to Believe: Reasons To Believe. Humphreys, D. R., "Timothy Tests Theistic Evolutionism." CEN Tech. J., 11 (2):199 - 201.  Humphreys has a list of articles that challenge his thesis at http://www.trueorigin.org/ca_rh_03.asp.

2 Sarfati and Humphreys have widened the circle of meaning for Sola Scriptura. In its classic form, Sola Scriptura refers to the concept that the Bible is the only rule of faith and practice. Basically, this deals with morality. Sarfati and Humphreys have expanded the meaning to include examination of any facts outside of the Bible as an aid to biblical understanding. As I show in the body of this paper, however, they themselves cannot live consistently with their own expanded meaning.

Sarfati, Ref. 1, pp. 195-6.

Sarfati, Ref. 1, p. 198.

5 Hodge, Charles, 1965. Systematic Theology, Eerdmanns, Vol. 1, p. 11, 12.

An excellent discussion on the similarity between scientific and theological model making is found in John Warwick Montgomery's "The Theologian's Craft: A discussion of Theory Formation and Theory Testing in Theology" in his The Suicide of Christian Theology, Bethany Fellowship, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1970, pp. 267 - 313.

Sarfati, Ref. 1, p. 196.

Humphreys, Ref. 1, p.200.

His appeal to reference frames, however, only solves the problem with the geocentric language of Joshua 10. The concept of reference frames does not resolve the problems associated with the geocentric-sounding verses in Psalms 93.1, 96.10, and 104.5, which very strongly indicate that the earth is on immovable foundations. ("He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved," etc.)

10  Even today some would argue that both Sarfati and Humphreys have capitulated to modern science by rejecting the clear teaching of the Bible that the earth really is the center of the universe. (Cf. Geerhardus Bouw, With Every Wind of doctrine: Biblical, Historical and Scientific Perspectives on Geocentricity. Cleveland: Tychonian Society, 1984. Merrill A. Cohen, "Heliocentrism vs. Geocentrism: Defiance or Defense of the Gospel?" Paper presented at the Eastern Regional meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, 2 April 1993.)

11  Sarfati, Ref. 1, p. 197.

12  I encourage interested readers to examine William Henry Green's carefully reasoned article "Primeval Chronology" in Bibliotheca Sacra, 47: 285 - 303, 1890. [Also reprinted in Robert C. Newman's and Herman J. Eckelmann, Jr.'s Genesis One and the Origin of the Earth. (Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, Box 423, Hatfield, PA 19440, 1989.) and in Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.'s Classical Evangelical Essays in Old Testament Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972.)] Green's article should lay to rest once and for all that any information can be obtained from these genealogies that can be applied to the question of the age of humanity or of the age of the earth.

13  Phillips, Ref. 1, p. 193.

14  Sarfati, Ref. 1, p. 198.

15  Kochavi, Moshe. "The Land of Judah," pp. 19-89 in Judaea, Samaria, and the Golan: Archaeological Survey 1967-1968, ed. M. Kochavi. Jerusalem: Carta, 1972 [Hebrew].

16  Assigning the exodus to the Middle Bronze period, as per the suggestion of some Evangelicals, does not help. This material is also missing.

17  See his comment that "The record of Moses' death in Deuteronomy 34 was probably added by Joshua." Ref. 1, p. 198.

18  A number of these issues are taken up in my Are the Days of Genesis Longer than 24 Hours? The Bible Says "Yes." (Research Report No. 40. Hatfield, PA: Interdisciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1991.  This RR is available at Genesis Days .) Here I argue that the terminology and the activities as recorded in Genesis chapter two strongly favor a duration of time for the sixth day that is much longer than 24 hours. One can also find this work on the World Wide Web at http://www.biblical.edu/40genday.htm.

19  The same argument can be made for the instances in which "day" appears with the words "evening" and/or "morning."

20  Sarfati, Ref. 1, p. 196.

21  Sarfati, Ref. 1, p. 198.

22  The Westminster Press, Philadelphia, 1977, 78, pp.

23  In this matter, Humphreys almost approaches the retorical virtuosity of Richard Dawkins, who can take any argument against evolutionism and through casuistic reasoning turn it into an argument in his favor. (Cf. Johnson, P. E., 1991. Darwin on Trial, Washington, DC, Regnery Gateway.)

24  Another one of their ad hominem arguments is to call me a "Theistic Evolutionist." I am not; I am a "Progressive Creationsist." Humphreys, however, lumps this name in with theistic evolution, therby associating me with another vilified group. (Ref. 1, p. 201, n. 3).


Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written. 

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