“How Old Is The Earth?” Genesis: Answers To Life’s Crucial Questions
Redeemer Church Sunday SchoolGenesis: Finding Answers to Life’s Crucial QuestionsSemester One: Genesis 1-11 “Beginnings”
Scripture Reading- 2Peter 3:8
Introduction: Within conservative, biblical Christianity, there are a few doctrines that will always provoke an argument. Free will vs. Sovereign grace (that is, Calvinism vs. Arminianism), Lordship Salvation vs. Cheap Grace (oops, I guess I might have revealed my opinion a little bit too strongly there), Pre-mil vs. Post vs. Amil, perseverance of the saints vs. the get saved and lose it every time you sin and then save yourself by good works crowd (oops…I did it again). But one of the crucial questions I have been talking about since we started this class that is guaranteed to get a good fight going is: How Old Is the Earth? This question is wrapped up in how you interpret the first few chapters of Genesis, how you view science, and in some people’s views, how high you hold the Scriptures. This question interfaces with modern science more so than perhaps any other question in our world. How you approach this question can get you labeled an evolutionist or a fundamentalist. I have been called both.
Today I want to explore the various ways of interpreting Genesis 1-11. We will in all likelihood not settle the debate today, if we do, somebody should call the press and I should be awarded the Nobel prize for Sunday School. I am reasonably sure that we will have some differences of opinion. Let us seek to give grace to each other and disagree respectfully. Trying to cover this large of a topic in one Sunday School class session means that we will only hit the highlights. Rest assured that underneath the various views there are a lot of books written and a lot of exegesis has been done.
Here are some of my basic assumptions:
1) I believe the Scriptures are inerrant and infallible.
2) I believe in the basic historical nature of Gen. 1-11, that is, I believe in a real Adam and Eve in a real Garden of Eden, with a real temptation by a real talking serpent possessed by the devil, etc.
3) I believe that science is part of God’s calling upon man and is part of general revelation and that true science will not contradict Scripture, though individual scientists may, and specific scientific theories may contradict Scripture.
4) I believe that the early chapters of Genesis are about as mysterious and hard to understand as are the book of Revelation and the various theories of eschatology.
5) I believe in the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and that man is created in the image of God.
Now let us begin looking at the various ways to interpret Gen. 1-11 and the views of the age of the earth.
When you are reading through the Bible in a year and you come to the genealogies, the normal tendency is to revert to the Evelyn Wood Speed Reading Course (of course not many of you here are old enough to remember that, but we actually used that in my Jr. High School one year) and speed on through those boring and useless lists of names. But, God’s Word should not be boring and it is certainly not useless! I have preached a few sermons through some genealogies, there is some good stuff there for the patient and serious student as we saw with some of Dr. Lee’s Advent Sermons.
If you take all the genealogies and add up the years carefully in sequence as Bishop Ussher did (James Ussher (1581-1656), Archbishop of Armagh, Primate of All Ireland, and Vice-Chancellor of Trinity College in Dublin was highly regarded in his day as a churchman and as a scholar. Of his many works, his treatise on chronology has proved the most durable. Based on an intricate correlation of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean histories and Holy writ, it was incorporated into an authorized version of the Bible printed in 1701, and thus came to be regarded with almost as much unquestioning reverence as the Bible itself. Having established the first day of creation as Sunday 23 October 4004 BC, by the arguments set forth in the passage below, Ussher calculated the dates of other biblical events, concluding, for example, that Adam and Eve were driven from Paradise on Monday 10 November 4004 BC, and that the ark touched down on Mt Ararat on 5 May 2348 BC `on a Wednesday’. http://www.lhup.edu/~dsimanek/ussher.htm) you can reach a similar result. I did that rather meticulous arithmetical Bible Study about 25 years ago.
However, there are some things about genealogies that you need to know before you begin that kind of a study.
First, The Bibilical Genealogies, Though Accurate and True, Are Not Complete; They Do Have Gaps. Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology, Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1994, ch.15 “Creation” p.290) “But closer inspection of the parallel lists of names in Scripture will show that Scripture itself indicates the fact that the genealogies list only those names the biblical writers thought it important to record for their purposes. In fact, some genealogies include names that are left out by other genealogies in Scripture itself.”
Compare Matt.1:8-9 with 1Chronicles 3:10-12. There are some gaps in Matthew’s list. Why? Matthew was forming his list of names around a couple of themes: he wanted to show Jesus to be in the kingly Davidic line, he wanted to show Jesus as the blessing that came from Abraham to all the world, and he wanted to use the number 7 or 14, to make his point. From Abraham to David are 14 names, then he uses David’s name again but there are 14 generations after David to the exile. Then he uses Jechoniah a second time to achieve the 14 names til Jesus was born.
What this tells us besides the fact that Jews would arrange genealogies to fit patterns and give theological lessons, is that the word for begat does not necessarily mean directly fathered, it frequently means was the ancestor of, or so-and-so was the descendent of. This means that there are gaps in the genealogical record that are not accidents, thus preserving the truthfulness and inerrancy of Scripture. In short, all the work of Bishop Ussher, as reported in the Scofield Reference Bible, is an interesting but relatively futile study.
Again let me quote Grudem, (p.291) “It seems only fair to conclude that the genealogies of Scripture have some gaps in them, and that God only caused to be recorded those names that were important for his purposes. How many gaps there are and how many generations are missing from the Genesis narratives, we do not know. The life of Abraham may be placed at approximately 2000 BC, because the kings and places listed in the stories of Abraham’s life (Gen.12ff) can be correlated with archeological data that can be dated quite reliably, but prior to Abraham the setting of dates is very uncertain.”
Now this is an important thing. Nothing in the Bible has ever been disproved by the science of archeology. But here is something even more important: biblical scholars do rely on the SCIENCE of archeology quite a bit. Remember our discussion of science previously, I have stated that science was a calling by God upon Adam in the garden as he tended the garden and named the animals, and I have stated that science is a part of GENERAL REVELATION. More on this later.
What about the ages of people listed in the genealogies? In Gen. 5 we see pretty fantastic ages listed: Adam 930 years, Methuselah 969 years. How accurate are these ages? I tend to take these ages literally myself, but we know that again, the Jews did do some funny things with numbers as we have already seen. So it is possible that the ages are not intended to be literal. In the footnotes of The Reformation Study Bible to Gen. 5 on p.17, edited by RC Sproul, “…the ages of some antediluvians may be symbolic, and are perhaps related to astronomical periods know to the ancient near eastern peoples.” And within ch. 5 is a pattern of 7s and 10s that has theological significance but we will deal with that later. It is also very interesting to note that the ancient Sumerian antediluvian kings list also had very long ages for the kings, going into many thousands of years for many.
I do not think it is a significant problem to believe in the ages as being real because given the doctrine of special creation of man in God’s image, and man being the only creature into whom God breathed the breath of life, it makes sense to me that the first several generations would have a very pure gene pool and could live longer. Also, given that in the mythologies of many ancient peoples there are stories of their ancients who lived very long lifespans, I tend to look at these pagan myths as substantiating the biblical witness. The Bible gives the true version so to speak. I am a firm beliver that ancient myths and legends are very often rooted in something that is true. That is where I come down on the issue, but if someone wants to say the ages are merely symbolic, I am not going to argue the point much, nor would I think that cause to doubt that person’s high view of Scripture.
II. Science and the Age of the Earth and Man
Modern science dates the universe as being anywhere from 14-20 billion years old, based primarily on astronomical data that shows the great distances of the furthest galaxies, computing their speed and acceleration, and then going back to the Big Bang. The Earth is more recent, looking at around 4.5 billion years. Scientists say that man came out of Africa as homo habilis 2-3.5 million years ago using some stone tools; homo erectus again originating in Africa about 1.5 million years ago using a variety of stone tools and fire, hunting large animals; homo sapiens comes out of Africa about 150,000 years ago, this would be the Neanderthal man; and finally, homo sapiens sapiens is seen by 90,000 years ago and is genetically the same as us.
Now this is the evolutionary model of modern science and you and I might not like evolution, but here is where the going gets tough. This is one of the hard issues we Christians must face up to: we readily accept the science of archeology that supports our view of scripture down to the age of Abraham; but then we throw archeology overboard when it shows us things before Abraham that we don’t like. I have no answer to that dilemma yet, but I am searching. We will discuss some of those issues soon. Some would call me a heretic for even voicing the issue, but I am determined to never back down from an issue that challenges my faith.
Another issue that goes right along with this is one that your children may ask you soon: What about the dinosaurs? Current science says that the dinosaurs died off about 65 million years ago, but some in the creation science group, especially down at the museum at Glenrose, state that man and dinosaurs lived together and some even say that Noah took some on the ark with him. Others would say the flood destroyed all the dinosaurs.
Yet another issued related to all of this is Did Animals Die Before the Fall of Adam? In the young earth crowd there is no death of animals prior to Adam’s fall because the fall occurred very soon after creation. Romans 5:12 and 8:20-23 are used to support the case for there being no death at all prior to the Fall, as well as Gen.3:17-19. But once again, science shows us millions of fossils of animal life forms that died millions and millions of years ago. Again I refer you to Grudem, (p.292) “Might [the fossils] have come from animals who lived and died for long ages before Adam and Eve were created? Might God have created an animal kingdom that was subject to death from the moment of creation? This is quite possible. There was no doubt death in the plant world, if Adam and Eve were to eat plants; and if God had made an original creation in which animals would reproduce and also live forever, the earth would soon be overcrowded with no hope of relief. The warning to Adam in 2:17 was only that he would die if he ate of the forbidden fruit, not that animals would also begin to die. When Paul says, “Sin came into the world through one man and death through sin” (Rom.5:12), the following phrase makes clear that he is talking about death for human beings, not for plants and animals… From the information we have in Scripture, we cannot now know whether God created animals subject to aging and death from the beginning, but it remains a real possibility.”
I would add to that some might say that God created the animals, fish, birds and bugs to stay in a kind of equilibrium after reproducing for a while. This seems to me to be a deus ex machina kind of an answer and really seeks to avoid the question. For me personally, when I look at a lion or a shark I see meat-eater by design. I am going to tend to think that the death that entered the world when Adam sinned was the death of Adam who was designed by God to live forever and that only Adam had the breath of God in him, the animals God created by a different process.
Again, I was pretty much called a heretic for this point of view in my former church. The reason I am quoting Dr. Grudem’s text so much, I might add, is because I not only really like his text, but his text is used by some teachers at SWBTS and it is used here at Redeemer in the men’s study on Tuesday mornings.
III. Different Interpretations of Genesis 1-11 and the Age of the Earth.
For this discussion I will use Wayne Grudem’s text, pp.293-311.
1. I used to be a very dogmatic fundamentalist on this issue and came to SWBTS 23 years ago with a chip on my shoulder against the liberal professors. I believed in a 6000 yr old earth and a literal six days of creation.
2. In some witnessing encounters I came across many objections to believing in God that I could counter with the classical proofs for God, but the overwhelming scientific evidence for an old earth and universe and for evolution I was not prepared to counter.
3. Through much study I have reached the conclusion that there are many valid scientific and theological arguments against evolution, but that science appears to have an ironclad case on the age of the universe and Scripture is not clear on that question.
4. I therefore must ask the question: how can general revelation and Scripture be opposed to each other? If biblical scholars depend so much on the science of archeology to prove the validity of the Scriptures and if scientists and philosophers in the Intelligent Design movement are using science to very capably prove Design in the universe and in life itself, why does science suddenly get thrown out when dealing with things like the flood and the age of the earth?
5. I conclude that the questions of origins may be about as obscure as are the questions about end times. Godly men may just disagree on which theory is best.
6. Here is the bottom line on the issue: God created all that is and he did it ex nihilo; God has proclaimed his creation very good; man is created in the image of God but is now fallen; man is charged with tending the garden, naming the animals, exercising dominion over God’s creation, and being fruitful and multiplying; God’s Word is true and general revelation will not contradict God’s word ultimately.