William Henry Green
Evangelicals owe young earth creationists a debt of gratitude for their principled stand on the authority and primacy of Scripture. In that spirit, this paper is intended as a constructively critical exploration of the biblical foundations for a central concept in modern creationist theory.
Psalm 104: A Creationist Proof Text
Ever since the publication in 1961 of The Genesis Flood by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris, Psalm 104:8 has been an important creationist proof text. The Psalm in which the passage occurs was traditionally regarded as a creation hymn, with vv. 6-9 understood as a poetic retelling of day three of the Genesis creation week, but this reading is contested by creationists who view it as an important text relating to Noah’s flood. This interpretation reflects the fact that creationists are forced to confront a pair of difficult questions: since there is not nearly enough water on the planet to cover “all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens” (Genesis 7:19) where did it come from and, more importantly, where did it go after the flood ended? Whitcomb and Morris noticed half a century ago that Psalm 104 seems to provide at least a partial answer:
Very likely, in order to accommodate the great mass of waters and permit the land to appear again, great tectonic movements and isostatic adjustments would have to take place, forming the deep ocean basins and troughs and elevating the continents. This seems to be specifically implied in the poetic reflection of the Deluge in Psalm 104:5-9.
Whitcomb and Morris theorized that the pre-flood earth was relatively flat (thus requiring less water to cover the whole planet), and that the waters were pushed off the continents when the mountains and other land masses were thrust up to their present heights at the end of the flood. Their exegesis of Psalm 104, the only passage in the Bible that seems to reflect these events, met an obvious need in creationist apologetics, and as a consequence similar arguments have been made repeatedly across the last 50 years. The importance for modern creationism of this tectonic or geophysics-centered model of earth history cannot be over stressed.
Creationist Approaches to Psalm 104
Creationist interactions with Psalm 104 tend to fall into two broad categories. In the first place, critics often point out that since Psalm 104 refers in a remarkably untroubled way to animal death (v. 29) and predation (v. 21), then however distasteful such things may be they are not evil and may have existed before the sin of Adam. Creationists respond by saying that Psalm 104 is not a creation account per se, but an inspired reflection on the created world as it existed in the psalmist’s own day, long after the Fall. After all, the passage also talks about ships (v. 26) and sinners (v. 35), and neither of these things existed at the time of creation.
Secondly, creationists argue that a significant portion of Psalm 104 (verses 6-9) does not refer to creation at all, but to Noah’s flood. The clincher, in their minds, is the statement in v. 9 that “Thou didst set a boundary that they may not pass over, that they may not return to cover the earth.”
Contrary to what many old-earth proponents believe, Psalm 104:6-9 clearly refer to Noah’s Flood, not to the third day of Creation Week. This is seen in the allusion in v. 9 to the rainbow promise in Genesis 9:11….God made no such promise at the end of Day 3 of Creation Week. If he had made such a promise in Genesis 1, the global Flood of Noah’s day would have been a breaking of His promise.
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