The first time that I found myself in a discussion over how old the Earth is according to the Bible was when I was a teenager and a Protestant minister was giving a religious instruction class at the high school that I was attending.
I grew up a Catholic but never had read the Bible. My understanding of the Bible was limited to what I learned from Bible movies and from what I learned in primary school when one of my teachers would start the day with reading a chapter from a Children’s Bible. I had a healthy respect for the Bible’s history back to about Abraham but before then I felt that, while there were moral lessons that could be drawn from them, the stories before that were mythical.
My religious instruction teacher made a comment that the Bible says that the earth and universe was only 6000 years old. I had a keen interest in astronomy so I objected to this and said that the vast majority of stars are well over 6000 light years away and there’s no way we could see them if the universe was only 6000 years old because there wouldn’t have been enough time for their light to reach us.
My religious instruction teacher went on to say something about a time dilation theory as a workaround to this problem but, to me, it didn’t quite make sense that we were in a some sort of time bubble, outside of which, time was running millions of times faster for the rest of the entire universe. At this stage, I couldn’t honestly say that I had studied the Bible to see what it actually said about this subject.
Not long after this I started to read a magazine called the Plain Truth and was convicted by many of the doctrines that it addressed. When it started talking about Adam and Eve clearly as historical figures the credibility of the Bible came into question for me if the Bible said that the earth and universe was only 6000 years old.
I then went back over that first Plain Truth I picked up from a newsstand and found an article called “For Evolutionists Only…” which discussed what they felt was a common misinterpretation in the first chapter of Genesis by both creationists and evolutionists. In the article the author wrote:
Where most “creationists” err is that they assume the Bible places the creation of the universe at a point in time about six or so thousand years ago. The Bible, however, says nothing about such an idea. Genesis 1:1 states, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Those words describe a complete episode in the prehistory of the universe. There follows a time lapse of indefinite length between this verse and the verse that follows…
As verse two of Genesis 1 opens, we are confronted with a totally different scene. We now see an earth that had come to be in ruins, in darkness and covered with water. Some great disaster had befallen the earth.
The English word was in this verse is better translated “became” or “came to be.” “Now the earth became without form, and void; and darkness came to be upon the face of the deep.” (See the New International Version rendering and footnote)…
From verse two the Genesis account goes on to describe a re-creation, how God reshaped and refashioned, nearly 6,000 years ago, the already existing, but now desolate earth (Plain Truth, Nov-Dec 1983, Clayton Steep, p.19).
I read that and thought, “Hey, that makes a whole lot of sense!” It seemed to reconcile what the Bible says and what astronomy and geology says about how old the Earth is. It also raises the question of what caused this destruction between verses 1 and 2. There would be further challenges regarding this subject as I learned about a couple of other verses which seemed to say the opposite.
As I began to study the Bible it was very clear, without any shadow of doubt, from the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 10 and the genealogies of Jesus Christ in the gospels that the Bible says that Adam and Eve were created around 6000 years ago. Scientists say that mankind is a million or so years old using inexact dating methods which allows for the possibility of error. Recorded verifiable history, though, is no older than what the Bible says.
Jesus Christ quoted the Garden of Eden story in Matthew 19:4-5 when He spoke about marriage and two becoming one flesh. He acknowledged the real existence of Adam’s first son, Abel, who was murdered (Matthew 23:35). Adam is included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Luke 3:38) and the apostle Paul spoke of Adam as a real person (1 Corinthians 15:45).
How could I believe Christ was my Saviour if He was lying about Adam and his son Abel being real people?
For the remainder of part one of this blog I’d like to explore the pros and cons of the three main verses that are used in the debate between those who believe in a young earth and universe and those who believe in the “gap theory” or gap viewpoint as put forth in the magazine I quoted from earlier. In part two we will look at the pros and cons of several other verses in the Bible that relate to this question of how old the Bible says the earth and universe are.
Genesis 1:2 in most translations says “And the earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep”. Arthur Custance in his book “Without Form and Void” says the following:
In the Masoretic Text in which the Jewish scholars tried to incorporate enough ‘indicators’ to guide the reader as to correct punctuation there is one small mark which is technically known as Rebhia, …In short, this mark indicates a “break” in the text. Such a mark appears at the end of Genesis 1.1….It is one indication among others, that the initial waw which introduces verse 2 should be rendered “but” rather than “and”, a dis-junctive rather than a con-junctive (p.5).
According to Custance, verse two should read “But the earth became without form and void”. If “but” is the way it should begin then clearly something happened in opposition to God’s original design in verse one.
Next, we need to find out whether the Hebrew word “hayah” in verse 2 should be translated as “was” or “became”. If it should read “the earth was without form and void” neither case for a young earth nor old earth is affected. If, however, it should be translated “the earth became without form and void” this greatly hurts the case for a young earth.
On this point the evidence is divided. According to the KJV Old Testament Lexicon “hayah” means “was, come to pass, came, has been, happened, become, pertained, better for thee”. This word is translated “became” in Genesis 2:7 [and man became a living soul] , Genesis 9:15 [the waters shall never become a flood to destroy all flesh] and Genesis 19:26 [she became a pillar of salt]. There are also other instances where it is better translated “was” such as Genesis 3:1 [Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field]. This same word “hayah” is also used in God’s famous reply to Moses as to what His name is when He said “I AM [Heb: hayah] that I AM [Heb: hayah]”.
Genesis 1:16 is one of two pivotal verses used to support the young earth and universe viewpoint. On day four of Creation week it says: “And God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day and the smaller light to rule the night, and the stars also.”
Young earth creationists say on day four God created our sun, the moon and all the stars in the universe. Before we look at the Hebrew word translated “made” there are a couple of other things to question that viewpoint. While God is all-powerful and can do it, doesn’t it seem a little unbalanced that God would fashion the earth on 5 of the 6 days of creation but do the infinitely greater universe in just one day? Another point is, if God didn’t create our sun until day four then what was the light He used on day one when He said “Let there be light”? The KJV Commentary offers the following possible answer to the dilemma:
“This light is not the sun, which was created on the fourth day according to verse 16, it must have been some fixed light source outside the earth [The one referred to by God’s words “Let there be light.”] In reference to that light, the rotating earth passed through a day-night cycle.”
Now let’s look at the Hebrew word translated “made” in Genesis 1:16. The Hebrew “bara” is used for create in Genesis 1:1. A different Hebrew word, “asah”, is used in Genesis 1:16. While it can be correctly translated as “made” in the present tense, it can also be correctly translated as “had made” in the past tense. In Genesis 1:31 we read “And God saw everything that He had made [Heb: asah], and behold, it was very good.” Strong’s Concordance also notes that one possible meaning for “asah” is “appoint” or “appointed”. This meaning would fit well in Genesis 1:16.
This same Hebrew word “asah” (not “bara” for create) is used for made in the next proof text used by young earth creationists.
In Exodus 20:11 where God gives the Ten Commandments and spells out the fourth commandment, the sabbath, we read “For in six days the Lord made [Heb: asah] the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.”
According to the Blue Letter Bible Lexicon this is how the Hebrew “asah” is translated in the King James Version:
“The KJV translates Strong’s H6213 in the following manner: do (1,333x), make (653x), wrought (52x), deal (52x), commit (49x), offer (49x), execute (48x), keep (48x), shew (43x), prepare (37x), work (29x), do so (21x), perform (18x), get (14x), dress (13x), maker (13x), maintain (7x), misc (154x).”
Some other synonyms that it can be translated into according to Strong’s Concordance include “bring forth”, “fashion”, “furnish” and “prepare”. The Hebrew “bara” used in Genesis 1:1 is used for create as in creating something from scratch. The Hebrew “asah” translated as “made” has a much more broader meaning.
If I say that I have “made my bed” does it mean that I have built it from scratch? We can “fashion” or “prepare” our house for a guest arriving but that does not mean we have just created or built it from scratch. Our English word “made” doesn’t always mean create from scratch just as “asah” doesn’t always mean create from scratch either.
The Hebrew “shameh” is translated as “heaven” (NKJV) in Exodus 20:11. While it is translated more often as heaven it also translated as sky or air in Genesis 1:20, 1.26, 1:28 and 1:30 in reference to the birds in the sky. If we paraphrase Exodus 20:11 with what we have learned about the Hebrew words it can just as easily be translated the following way:
“For in six days the LORD prepared (or fashioned) the sky and the earth, the sea and all things in it.”
We’ve looked at the three key scriptures used in this discussion over the age of the earth and the universe. If we are truly honest with those scriptures we can find support for either a young earth or old earth position in each of those. By and of themselves, if we are really honest, there is not enough evidence to nail the case one way or the other. We need to look carefully at more scriptures to shed further light on this question of how old the earth is according the Bible. In part two of this blog, we’ll look at several more scriptures used by supporters of both positions and see if we can come to a definitive answer.