I was told recently that my insistence on reading the creation account in Genesis as “literal history” was the result of naively importing modern questions into an ancient text. I decided to do some research into that. Did any of the early Church Fathers write about the age of the earth and the length of creation days? Or are these just modern questions? Here are some quotes that I found:
So let no one think that there is anything allegorical in the works of the six days. No one can rightly say that the things pertaining to these days were symbolic, nor can one say that they were meaningless names or that other things were symbolized for us by their names. Rather, let us know in just what manner heaven and earth were created in the beginning. They were truly heaven and earth. There was no other thing signified by the names “heaven” and “earth.” The rest of the works and things made that followed were not meaningless significations either, for the substances of their natures correspond to what their names signify. Ephrem the Syrian (AD 306-373)
Plato and many others of the philosophers, since they were ignorant of the origins of all things, and of the primal period at which the world was made, said that many thousands of ages had passed since this beautiful arrangement of the world was completed … . Therefore let the philosophers, who enumerate thousands of ages from the beginning of the world, know that the six thousandth year is not yet completed … . Lactantius (AD 250-325)
And the evening and the morning were one day. Why does Scripture say ‘one day the first day’? … it is from a wish to determine the measure of day and night, and to combine the time that they contain. Now twenty-four hours fill up the space of one day … . It is as though it said: twenty-four hours measure the space of a day. Basil (AD 329-379)
All quotes taken from Coming to Grips with Genesis.