Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Thoughts on a Young Earth

How old is the earth? Is it 6011 years old as some postulate, or is it tens of millions of years old as others suggest? What we find in this discussion is two separate conversations. The first is between theists and evolutionists – one side holding to biblical evidence and the other holding to scientific theories. The second side of this conversation however, is being held between theists – both of whom are arguing their position from the bible. Today, I would like to address the conversation between theists, briefly describe the positions, and explain why I hold to a young earth position.

There are several reasons why theists would hold to an old earth position, though the most popular argument advanced today has to do with the meaning of the word day (Heb. Yom) in the creation account. In volume two of his systematic theology, Norman Geisler offers us arguments from several parties who argue for an old earth position.

The Revelatory-Day View
Some conservative scholars have suggested that the "days" of Genesis may be twenty-four-hour days of revelation, not days of Creation (see Wiseman, CRSD, all). That is, they propose that it took God a literal solar week (of 144 hours) to reveal to Adam (or Moses) what He had done in the long ages before humans were created. Even in the Exodus passage (20:11) that speaks of the heavens and earth being "made" (asah) in six days, the word can mean "revealed." Just as a prophet can get revelation from God looking forward to a future series of events (d. Dan. 2, 7, 9; Rev. 6-19), even so God can reveal a past series of events to one of His servants. Indeed, Moses was on Mount Sinai for forty days (Ex. 24:18), and God could have taken six of these days to reveal the past creation events to him. Or, after God created Adam, He could have taken six literal days to reveal to him what He had done before Adam was created. Some scholars believe this material could have been memorized and passed on as the first "account of the heavens and the earth" (Gen. 2:4), just as the other "histories" (or "genealogies") were apparently recorded and passed on (d. Gen. 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; etc.) .

The Alternate-Day-Age View
Other evangelical scholars have suggested that the "days" of Genesis are twenty-four-hour periods of time in which God created the things mentioned, but that they are separated by long periods of time in between. This would account for the indications in Genesis 1 that these are twenty-four-hour days (like numbered days and "evening and morning"), while at the same time leaving room for the geological ages demanded by modern science.

Gap Theories
C.I. Scofield (1843-1921) made popular the view that there could be a great gap of time between the first two verses of the Bible into which all of the geological ages fit. In this way, the "days" could be twenty-four hours each, and yet the world could still be many millions of years old or more.
Others believe that there may be a "gap" or, better, a lapse of time before the six twenty-four-hour days of Genesis begin. In this case, the first verse of the Bible would not necessarily indicate the original ex nihilo creation of God, but more recent acts of God forming a world He had previously created (see Waltke, CAG, all) .

The Ideal-Time View
There is also a position variously known as the prochronism, apparent-age, or ideal-time view. According to this perspective, the earth and all living things were created with the appearance of age, that is, they were created mature. For example, Adam may have looked twenty-one years old a minute after he was created, but he was really only a minute old. Likewise, it is argued that Adam may have had a naval like all his descendants do, even though he was never connected by an umbilical cord to a mother. Also, it is theorized that the first trees may have been created with rings in them rather than receiving them from annual growth. If this is so, then the world can be actually young and only apparently very old.

The Literary-Framework View
Still others, like Herman Ridderbos (b. 1900), have suggested that the use of "days" and "evening and morning" are merely ancient literary devices to frame certain periods of time in order to encapsulate them in literary form much like we use a "chapter" to do the same. It is reasoned that since evening and morning were natural ways to point to a period of time with a beginning and an end, this was an appropriate way for God to reveal to Adam (or Moses) what He had done in certain periods of time before humans arrived on the scene.

While all of these theories on the meaning of day are interesting and worth studying, I do not feel that they accurately represent the passage’s authorial intent.

First and foremost, the natural meaning of the word day is to mean a literal 24-hour period. Yes, the word yom can refer to longer, unspecified periods of time, but that is not its natural, primary meaning. The allusion to "morning and evening" occurring in each of these days indicates to me that the specific use of yom in this passage should be understood as a literal 24 hour day.

Why is it that people are now trying to stretch the meaning of yom to include thousands, if not millions of years? They do so to accommodate current scientific theories. You can only come to the conclusion that yom refers to a period of time and not a literal day if you come to the text with the presumption of an old earth. Accordingly, there was no biblical commentator who applied an old earth hermeneutic to this passage before the introduction of evolutionary theory.

Second, the assumption that there is a gap of time before the days of creation or between the days of creation is an argument form silence. No where does the bible mention or even allude to these gaps. Admittedly, there is no way to disprove that there are no gaps in the biblical record of creation. But equally, there is no way to prove that there are gaps either – which makes this position difficult to hold.

Since we’re on the subject of gaps, one thing I have always wondered about was how long was the period of time between creation and the fall? Could Adam and Eve have lived thousands of years in sinless perfection before the fall, only then initiating history as recorded in the bible?

The short answer is no. It is true that the bible does not tell us how much time elapsed between creation and fall, but the bible does tell us how much time elapsed between Adam’s creation and the birth of his third son, which occurred after the fall.

Genesis 5:3 3 When Adam had lived one hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth.

So, while we don’t know how much time elapsed between creation and the fall, it is safe to say that it was less than 129 years. Given that before Seth’s birth, Adam’s other children Cain and Abel were born and grew to adulthood, I would wager that the time between creation and fall was probably less than 100 years.

So how old is the earth? To be perfectly honest, no one really knows for sure. Bishop James Usher calculated the years of the bible’s early man through genealogies, combined that with known history, and concluded that Adam’s creation took place in 4004 BC. Given that there are demonstrable gaps in genealogies, and that they were primarily used to show relationship as opposed to kinship, the exactness of his findings are questionable, but his method does provide some help. From the biblical record, I believe that a reasonable age for the earth is somewhere in the neighborhood of 6,000 to 10,000 years. Which is why I hold to a young earth position.


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