Some Miscellaneous Thoughts
on the Age of the Earth
Some Biblical Data
by Fred G. Zaspel, 1990
We have for several weeks now looked into the creation- evolution issue. This study gave rise to a broader subject of the age of the earth, for which at least some scientific evidence from both sides of the issue has been presented. There are many "evidences" which are in my mind not at all conclusive--which, of course, may be due to my bias or to my generally low IQ. On the whole, however, I do feel inclined to think that the arguments for an older earth are more compelling -- although among creationists, this has over the past couple decades become a minority view.
Several have asked me to now address the Biblical data related to the debate. This is a quick and haphazard attempt to comply with those requests. As the title implies, I am just going to take up the Biblical arguments as they come to mind. It saves me work that way. I want to mention a few of the major Biblical arguments which we have considered together in recent discussions -- if only in a cursory manner. For the ones I forget, I am sure you will remind me, and then I can add another page or two to this . . . whatever it is.
The Biblical arguments seem to gather around the following issues: the Biblical genealogies (especially those in Gen. 5 & 11), the Hebrew word translated "day," the question of death, and the question of restoration.
Concerning Biblical chronology and genealogies I should not need to go into any detail; details are available on the tapes. In brief, we have to recognize that there are provable gaps in the genealogies. A comparison of Gen. 11:10-12 with Luke 3:36 shows that at least one generation was skipped in the Genesis record. Other such examples can be gleaned very easily from a careful analysis of the relevant data. The point is this: if we can show even one gap in the genealogical records, then the idea that we can simply add up the ages (at death) of the men mentioned in Gen. 5 & 11 in order to come up with Adam's "creation-day" (or year) is destroyed. The explanation for these gaps is simply that the terms "begat," "father," etc., simply mean something like "become the ancestor of" or "ancestor" etc. The arrangement of the genealogies into exactly 10 names each (Gen. 5 & 11) seems to reflect an attempt to simplify the memorization of family history by only highlighting the "big shots" in the family tree. At any rate, this method of counting the years cannot yield a creation date. It would be nice if it were that simple, but that's the way it goes.
The Hebrew word "day" ( yom), as in Greek and English and virtually every language, can obviously have a broad range of meanings; Biblical Hebrew is no different. It can obviously specify a particular 24-hour period, or the period of time from sunrise to sunset ("daylight"), or an extended period of time (an age). The famous "day of the Lord" and "day of trouble" passages in the prophets all consistently use the word yom to specify an extended period of some length--regardless of your eschatological persuasion. The mere use of yom really does nothing to support either side of the debate; other factors (context, theology, science?) must determine its specific meaning.
I have in the past parroted the argument promoted by young earth creationists that the use of the numerical adjective ("first," "second," etc.) with yom demands a literal period of 24 hours. Upon "more mature reflection," however, I can't see the force of the argument. There is certainly nothing in the Hebrew language or grammar to necessitate that position. It is a theological proposition, not a textual or linguistic one. Furthermore, it is a bit gratuitous to argue in this way, for it would be difficult to imagine any time in Scripture when an "age" ( 'olam or yom) would need the numerical adjective to distinguish it from another. But a close parallel is seen in the "70 weeks" of Daniel 9. Virtually all agree these are weeks of years--even though they have the numerical adjective. The point is this: yom (like the Greek hemera or the English "day") by itself or with a numerical adjective simply cannot demand either a 24 hour period or an extended period of time. Other factors must determine its use in a given context.
So far as the meaning of "day" in Genesis 1 is concerned, both sides have problems. If you believe they are literal 24-hour days you must explain not only a day-night cycle without a sun for the first 3 days, but also how in 24 hours (day 6), 1) God created animals; 2) God created man; 3) Adam sensed his aloneness (if not loneliness); 4) Adam named all the animals (presumably by characteristics, according to ancient custom; and how many thousand species?); 5) Adam took a nap; 6) Eve was created; 7) Eve was brought to Adam so as to satisfy his felt aloneness. This is an awfully lot to squeeze into 24 hours! There is also the problem of the 7th day which was never closed--are we still in it? And is this one implication of the Sabbath references in Hebrews? Then there is Adam's statement, "This is now bone of my bone..." (2:23). The sense seems to be, "AH! At last!," and indeed, this seems to be the force of the word "now" ( hapa'am). Finally there is the statement of Is. 66:8. It could be argued here that yom echad ("one day"--same Hebrew as Genesis) is in fact a reference to an age (with the numerical adjective, by the way). I don't think it is a reference to an "age"; rather it seems to be a hypothetical reference to the earth being made green in one literal day. But if that is true then is Isaiah saying, in fact, that the earth was not "made green" in a literal day?
If, on the other hand, you believe the days are ages, you must somehow contend with the wording of Gen. 1:14-19 which at least seems to place the creation of the sun on day 4--how did the previously-created vegetation (day 3) exist for ages without a sun? For that matter, how did the vegetation exist for ages without the insects (day 6)? Now both sides of the issue are arguing for a different light source for days one through three--just with different problems! So then, does Gen. 1:14-19 in fact demand the creation of the sun on day four? Does it say that? And then there is the "evening and the morning" statement which does seem to indicate a literal day. But then again why doesn't it say "morning and evening"? The honest point is simply that both sides have serious questions to answer on this one; there is Biblical data which must be considered honestly by both sides. About 5 years ago I heard a respected preacher say he just didn't know if the days of Genesis 1 were literal or not; I bristled. Looking back, I think he was simply being honest with the evidence--more so than I.
Next is an argument from theological reasoning/ deduction. It is argued by the young earth position that death could only have come as a result of sin; therefore, fossils dating prior to Genesis 1 are impossible. First, the statement from Rom. 5:12 has to do only with death entering humanity; to squeeze more out of it is simply an unfair treatment of the text. Similarly, to argue that "since God pronounced His work 'good' there could not have been death" is again a theological proposition which must be supported otherwise. We cannot just assume that pronounced "goodness" of a newly created world, ipso facto, precludes previous death--it must be shown. Further, it is obvious that there was death before sin--of vegetation (at least the vegetation eaten by Adam, Eve, and the animals!). And if this death be allowed within a framework of "goodness," then why not animal death? Could Adam have stepped on a grasshopper before there was sin? I don't see why not (for that matter, neither does young earth Dr. Whitcomb whom I heard say the same. An interesting admission, I thought). But if this much death be admitted, then there really is no argument left. More-over, it is likely that animals were herbivorous prior to the fall (possibly until after the flood, Gen. 9:2-3); this scenario would not need violent death before sin! So this argument really doesn't seem to demand much either; there are just too many assumptions.
Finally, the idea of restoration. If it could be shown that the restored world spoken of in the prophets (no violence, etc.) is the precise equivalent of the created world of Gen.1, then we could "argue backwards" and show that there was indeed no death at all before sin. But the fact is we cannot demonstrate exact parallel at all; in fact, it seems that in many ways the new earth will far exceed the glory of the original creation--as the details of Revelation indicate.
Related issues. The waw consecutive ("and") and the meaning of hayah ("was" or "became"?) in Gen. 1:2 generate some debate also. Both sides very properly claim grammatical support--the problem is that while either is allowable, grammatically, neither is demanded. So the issue must go to other considerations. The same is true of Is.45:18--the plain statement is that God did not create the earth tohu. It is certainly easiest to understand that at face value, and so to see Gen.1:2 as saying that the earth "became tohu." But if you want to make Isaiah's statement mean something like "to be uninhabited" that is grammatically warranted also. To contend that bara ("create") connotes creation ex nihilo ("out of nothing") is without lexical support; it is a theological proposition argued back from Hebrews 11:3--which may be valid, but it is not a simple matter of word definitions as many would lead you to think.
If you think by now something like, "You still haven't given me a clear answer," then you have my point exactly. The question is simply not addressed directly by the Biblical text (unless Isaiah 66:8?). I have read plausible explanations from both sides, and, as I said, I tend to think the Biblical indications are that the earth is older; the evidence (both Biblical and scientific), I think, is better, and the problems, I think, are fewer. But since it is not a matter of clearest Biblical teaching, it is not a matter of importance--and it should not be made such! We can demonstrate from the genealogies that the earth (man!) must be older than 6,000 years. If you want to believe 10,000, fine. If you want to believe it is umpteen zillion, help yourself. The Bible does not allow us to say that it is less than 6,000 or that it is eternal; the answer lies somewhere between. If science can help, that is good. If not, there is still no problem. On this issue both sides have questions; I am satisfied with my answers from an old earth perspective, but my point is to show that the Scriptures simply do not speak to the issue exactly, and so to look to the indications of honest science is not a problem. But then scientific data can be wrongly interpreted also. Frankly, I for one am not at all concerned to fight or lose a friend over what I think science indicates--it doesn't matter enough to me. If the Scriptures are not emphatic on the question, I certainly do not want to pretend they are. (To say the Scriptures do not plainly teach a young earth will lose friends in some circles!) But I do think that the indications are that the earth is older than young.
Which brings me to a point I have tried to emphasize all through this discussion of the past weeks: a young earth is not necessary to the doctrine of creation! (Remember we are speaking of the age of the earth not the age of man.) Evolution falls (Biblically and scientifically) with or without a young earth. Our very emphatic position is that God created from nothing all that is and that He created man in His own image. Fight for this till you meet your Maker, but please don't fight about the age of the earth (I Tim.1:4--a verse which, by the way, if it doesn't apply here, I don't know where it would!). Our loyalty is to the Scriptures--nothing less, but nothing more.