To many atheists and theistic evolutionists, James Ussher is a figure of derision. He was Archbishop of Armagh for 16 years during the 17th century, and therefore nominally in charge of the Anglican Church of Ireland. But he is most famous for providing a date for creation—6:00 o’clock p.m. the evening before October 23rd, 4004 B.C. For some reason, his definite date provides many people with what they perceive as reasons to mock Ussher. For example, a poster on one atheist website refers to “Bishop Ussher’s 4004 BCE nonsense.” Questions about Ussher and his date have been asked on General Knowledge TV quizzes, and have always been the source of much derogatory laughter.
A Well-Educated Intellectual, NOT a Jester
When one starts to look at James Ussher’s life, we do not find this early Christian an ignoramus of popular mythology. Instead, we find a man of great culture and learning. Just look at these key events in Ussher’s life:
- He was born in Dublin on January 4th, 1581, into a land recently torn apart by the religious persecutions under Queen Mary I—rightly known as “Bloody Mary”—for the number of Christians she had burned at the stake.
- Ussher’s phenomenal education began at Dublin Free School, then he became one of the very first students at Dublin’s “new” university, Trinity College, in 1593, at the tender age of 12. At age 10, he had read Augustine’s Confessions. And in 1595, aged 14, he had begun his monumental life’s work—The Annals of the World (eventually published in 1654 when Ussher was 73, two years before his death). Ussher had drafted his Chronicle of the Bible by the age of 15, and was thus awarded his Master’s.
- His distinguished career began as Professor of Divinity when he was 26, and Vice Chancellor of Trinity College at the age of 34. His scholarly works make it clear that he researched original documents in original languages, and that he was well acquainted with others who had worked in the fields of ancient history and chronology. He was a man of immense intellect, knowledgeable about science as well as history. His calculations of the age of the earth were in the same ballpark as the calculations of others, notably that of Isaac Newton.
Sound Reasons Behind His Rationale
Ussher’s purpose was to make a reasoned calculation, not to be dogmatic about the date. He was writing before England and the rest of the British Isles had adopted the Gregorian calendar. Therefore, his calculations showed that calendars were 32 days adrift by the time of the introduction of the Julian calendar. So October 23rd was the equivalent of September 21st, the Autumnal Equinox. Ussher was merely rightly noting that most ancient civilizations began their year with the Autumnal Equinox, rather than our modern, contrived New Year’s Day. And the 6 p.m. of the evening before? Hebrew doctrine states that days start at sunset, not at midnight.
No Laughing Matter—Ussher’s Date Agrees with the Bible!
Ussher’s calculation is, therefore, precisely the sort of answer that one should get if one starts by believing the Bible to be true, which is the logical position for any Christian. It is a shame that too many churches have moved away from this straightforward method of Biblical interpretation.