“It is profitable to discuss the Bible with Christian brothers. I read and admire the writings of great Bible scholars of the past and the present, some of whom held or hold views on the days of creation that I cannot agree with. The issue of the earth’s age is a significant one, and serious discussion of these important issues is a sign of spiritual health.”
I do believe the Bible gives ample justification for calculating the age of the earth at around 6,000 years and for seeing six normal 24-hour days in the week of creation. I also believe that this position most appropriately meets the confines of the textual boundaries and best upholds the doctrine of Biblical perspicuity.
How Old Is the Earth?
To suggest that the Bible does not directly teach the age of the earth is to suggest that we need an explicit statement of age. The lack of an explicit statement, however, does not mean that something is an unimportant or undecipherable teaching. Notably, the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly stated in Scripture, but with careful synthesis it is clearly understood from what the Bible directly states. Using Biblical data—such as the genealogies in the Old Testament—we can, with insignificant variance, approximate the amount of time between Jesus and Adam.
Then there is the discussion of the six days of creation. Those who believe the earth is billions of years old base their understanding on the varied ways the word “day” is used.
We do not need a catalogue of quotations to serve as an appeal to authority for either side in this conversation. As with many other doctrines in Scripture, we could list innumerable respected orthodox Christian scholars of the past and present and note their varying views. In many of these instances we can also identify influences that led them to those views. Significantly, since the early nineteenth century there has been an escalating proportion of Christian scholars holding old-earth positions. No matter how much we try to rise above them, we all have to battle with the outside influences of our day when we come to the text. Regarding the days of Genesis and the age of the earth, the scholarly struggle most visible has been with uniformitarianism. Uniformitarianism became prominent in geology in the nineteenth century and holds that present processes dictate the way we understand the past. The quotations that follow (Augustine excepted) are presented to show that uniformitarianism has had an impact on the way many very respected godly Christian scholars and leaders have interpreted the days of Genesis 1. Consider the following:
- Augustine did not hold to 24-hour periods in Genesis 1 and he could not have been impacted by uniformitarianism. But he did not hold to an old earth. He noted, “Creation, therefore, did not take place slowly in order that a slow development might be implanted in those things that are slow by nature; nor were the ages established at the plodding pace at which they now pass.” Augustine talks of creation as more of an instantaneous event and held to the genealogies of Scripture to arrive at no more than 6,000 years for the age of the earth.
- Edward J. Young, writing after the popularization of uniformitarianism, wrestled with views of the scientific establishment of his day: “For one thing it is difficult to escape the impression that some of those who espouse a non-chronological view of the days of Genesis are moved by a desire to escape the difficulties which exist between Genesis and the so-called ‘findings’ of science. That such difficulties do exist cannot be denied, and their presence is a concern to every devout and thoughtful student of the Bible.”
- Gleason Archer’s words reflect a similar struggle (although unlike Young, Archer did advocate a particular old-earth day-age position): From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression would seem to be that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four-hour days. If this was the true intent of the Hebrew author (a questionable deduction, as will be presently shown), this seems to run counter to modern scientific research, which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago.”
- R. C. Sproul, Sr. summarizes the difficulty that arises from the apparent discrepancy between the scientific consensus that the earth is old and his impression from the Bible that it is young:“When people ask me how old the earth is I tell them ‘I don’t know,’ because I don’t. And I’ll tell you why I don’t. In the first place, the Bible does not give us a date of creation. Now it gives us hints and inclinations that would indicate in many cases a young earth. And at the same time you get all this expanding universe and all this astronomical dating, and triangulation and all that stuff coming from outside the church that makes me wonder.”
We are all situated within a historical-cultural context, and we all come to the Bible with assumptions and ways of thinking that seem obvious because they are taken for granted in our culture. To some degree we all have an “outside influence log” in our own eye. We must be aware of outside influences and test everything by the Scriptures allowing the Bible magisterial authority from start to finish.
The Genesis Week
The week of creation unfolds sequentially, day by day, as God prepares the earth, creates plants, speaks the heavenly bodies into existence, creates animal life, and makes mankind in His image. There is stylistic beauty to Genesis 1, but such does not require that Genesis 1 fall outside the genre of historical narrative where some who also question a normal week of sequential days have placed it. One can see the difference between poetry and narrative simply by reading Judges 4 and 5, which contain a narrative account followed by a poetic song—both speaking of the same event. Genesis is a masterful literary work, structured in such a way to communicate rich theological truth. It is a text that is both historically accurate and theologically profound. Furthermore, Genesis 1 and 2 was a suitable historical reference point for Jesus’ argument about marriage (Matthew 19:4–6, Mark 10:6–9).
Exodus 20:11 and 31:17, which state God’s commandment for the Sabbath, are best understood in light of a literal creation week correlating to the normal week of an Israelite’s experience. McCabe notes, “He created the universe in six, sequentially arranged, normal days. Both passages use an adverbial accusative of time (‘in six days’). This grammatical construction indicates the duration of God’s creative activity by stating how long it occurred, ‘during six days.’ This construction, as Benjamin Shaw has correctly noted, ‘implies both that the days were normal days, and that the days were contiguous. Thus, the “dayness” of the six days, as well as the seventh, is essential to the meaning of the Sabbath commandment.’”