The creation of the earth is a stumbling block for many Christians and non-Christians. 1 My mother has been a dedicated Christian for her entire life, but admits the creation of the earth has been a stumbling block for her in her faith because many of the things taught in Scripture seem to be contrary to what science teaches. Or perhaps a better way to look at it is to see science teaching something that is contrary to what the Bible teaches.
Photo Credit: Allegory of the Creation of the Cosmos by Domenicus van Wijnen (1661-1690)
Regardless of what point you start from (whether Scripture or science), it is clear that science teaches the world is extremely old (according to Google, the earth is 4.543 billion years old). 2 Meanwhile, a literal understanding of Genesis states that the earth is about 6,500 years old.
Views on Creation
I have already explained in another blog post about how God Is Creator and how Humans Are Created in God’s Image. With that said, in this blog post I want to look at the biblical creation account directly and then describe the two main views among orthodox Christianity about creation: old earth and young earth.
I. HOW THE BIBLE DESCRIBES CREATION
A. God Created the World
The bible-in both Old Testament and New Testament-clearly states that God created the world. The book of Genesis starts out describing the creation of the world.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. (Gen 1:1-2, NLT) 3
The Psalmist too wrote about God’s creation. In the following passage he talks about how God created.
The Lord merely spoke, and the heavens were created. He breathed the word, and all the stars were born. He assigned the sea its boundaries and locked the oceans in vast reservoirs. Let the whole world fear the Lord, and let everyone stand in awe of him. For when he spoke, the world began! It appeared at his command. (Pss 33:6-9)
The God of Christianity is Triune. In other words, God is one essence with three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus Christ participated with God the Father in the creation of the world.
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see— such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. (Col 1:15-16)
Based on modern scientific beliefs about the earth some people have questions and doubts about God’s creation of the earth. Yet the author of Hebrews tells us,
By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. (Heb 11:3)
B. A Period of Time was Used to Describe Creation
The biblical creation account describes God’s creation of the earth in seven “days.” The views on how long a day is are below. But it is important to note that the author of Genesis used the Hebrew word for “day” to describe the length of time it took God to create. Whether or not that Hebrew word for “day” is to be translated as a literal 24 hour period of time or a longer period of time is debatable. Also see Gen 1:3, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; 2:2-3.
C. Creation Gets More Complex as the “Days” Progress
In one of his commentaries on the book of Genesis, Allen Ross writes, “The climax of the six days of creation is the creation of animal and human life” (Ross, “Genesis” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 1, p. 39).
Some people say that what God creates on each day of creation gets more and more complex as each day progresses. I’m not sure if I see that in the text, but I do agree with Allen Ross that the first six days of creation end with the most complex and most magnificent creatures being created last: humans. Why are we the most magnificent among God’s creation? It is because we were made in God’s image! 4
D. Genesis Focuses on “Who” not “How”
When Moses wrote the book of Genesis he was primarily concerned with describing who created the earth, not how the earth was created. For example, if there is a literal understanding of the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), then the length of time corresponding to the number of chapters is this:
- 4199-2091 BC = 2108 years in 11 chapters
- 2091-1406 BC = 685 years in 166 chapters
With this breakdown, 75% of the time covered in the Pentateuch is covered in 11 chapters, which is only 6% of the Pentateuch (Genesis thru Deuteronomy). The focus of the author was without a doubt not telling his readers how the world was created or how long it took to create it. He wanted people to know who created the earth as well as tell the story of who God’s people were.
II. HOW PEOPLE INTERPRET THE BIBLE’S DESCRIPTION OF CREATION
There are many views on the creation of the earth. The views differ first on how long it took to create the earth. This concerns time. Second, the views differ on the method God used to create the earth. This concerns process. For the sake of this blog post, I have simplified the many different views into just two: Old Earth and Young Earth.
A. Old Earth
The “old earth” view takes the position that the earth was created billions of years ago. Therefore, the earth is “old.” Here’s some further detail on the old earth view.
1. Possible Understandings for “Day” in Genesis 1-2
- “Day” is a literal 24 hour period but there is a huge gap between the 24 hour periods, that is, day 1 and 2.
- “Day” is simply a literary framework used to describe a period of time. It does not literally mean “day”.
- The 24 hour creation days follow a time gap between Gen 1:1 and 1:3.
- “Day” is an “age” or extremely long period of time.
- The “days” in Genesis 1-2 are more allegorical or time-relative creation days, not necessarily describing periods of time.
2. Strengths and Support 5
- The events that occur on the sixth day seem need to take longer than a 24 hours (Gen 2:9, 19, 21-22, 23; cf. Gen 29:34-35; 30:20; 46:30; Judg 15:3).
- Seventh day continuation is not a “day” (Heb 4:4-11).
- Time according to God is different than time according to us (Pss 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8).
- God’s eternality compared to ours is unmeasurable (Pss 90:2-6; Prov 8:22-31; Ecc 1:3-11; Micah 6:2).
- Statements about the earth’s age seem to imply it is very very old (Hab 3:6; 2 Peter 3:5).
- There is an exception to “yom” as “24hr” period of time (Hosea 6:2).
- The Sabbath gets implemented as “years” in the Law (Exod 20:10-11; Lev 25:4).
- The “evening” and “morning” statements don’t make sense until the sun was created (Gen 1:5, 8, 13; cf. 14-19)
3. Other Names for the “Old Earth” View
- Theistic Evolution
- Intelligent Design
- Historico-Literary Genre
B. Young Earth
The “Young Earth” view takes the position that the earth is several thousand years old. Therefore it is “young” in comparison to the Old Earth view. Here’s some detail on the young earth view.
1. The earth was created in seven literal 24 hour days with the appearance of age.
The Young Earth view believes that God created the earth in seven literal periods of time. And when God created things he created them with the appearance of age. What does it mean that God created things with the “appearance of age?” In Genesis 1:26-30 God created human beings. The text describes the humans being created as adults who could “reign” (Gen 1:26, 28), “be fruitful, multiply, and govern the earth” (Gen 1:28). God did not create sperm and an egg that became a fetus, which became a baby, which became a child, which became a teenager, which became adults. No, God created adults who had the “appearance of age.” God created adults who appeared to have gone through the process which we now understand humans beings go through to become adults. But Adam and Eve did not have to go through that process.
Charles Ryrie describes creation with the appearance of age this way,
Any act of creation will of necessity carry with it the appearance of history. Even if God originally created only the simplest forms they would have necessarily had the appearance of some history. The first light source, the waters, the first vegetation (even if only the seeds), the sun and the moon, the creatures, and Adam and Eve all had the appearance of history when they first appeared (Ryrie, Basic Theology, 213).
2. Strengths and Support 6
- The Hebrew word “yom” is literal when used with periods of time.
- The phrases “evening” and “morning” in Genesis 1-2 make no sense unless there are literal days being described.
- The “seventh” day as a Sabbath seems to imply literal days.
- The non-gapped genealogies in Genesis match the young earth view.
- There was no death before the Fall in Gen 3; therefore time and creation operated very differently.
- Noah’s Flood radically changed the earth; therefore time and aging of the earth were very different than now.
- Statements of Jesus, the Apostles, and Isaiah indicated that Adam and Eve were created at the beginning of creation, not billions of years after (Pss 19:1; 97:6; Job 12:7-10; Mark 10:6; 13:19; Luke 11:50-51; Rom 1:20)
3. Other Names for the Young Earth View
- Immediate Creation
- Recent Creation
III. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. Moses’s focus in the creation account (Gen 1-2) was to describe who created everything, not how everything was created.
As I’ve shared above, Moses’s primary goal was to describe who created the earth, not how he created the earth. I hope that I made that clear in my description of the percentage of information that is shared between the first five books of the Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).
B. The creation account in Genesis is a stumbling block for people who are not Christians that want to be, and for current Christians that work in the “science” areas of life.
It’s good to remind ourselves that we don’t have all the answers when it comes to the creation of the earth. We aren’t given all the details about how it happened. The creation of the earth can be a difficult thing for people to understand and accept. This is true for both Christians and non-Christians. But, what is important is that we know about the God who did create the earth.
- “Every thoughtful person is contronted with the question as to the origin of the human race. As he looks back into history, he observes that the men now existing seem to have sprung from other men by the process of natural generation for thousands of years. In analyzing the origin of man, the biblicist is confronted with the basic issue: Did God create man immediately or mediately, was man formed directly by the hand of God or did he evolved through natural processes? The Christian must acknowledge God’s involvement, but was it direct or indirect? (Henry Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 151 ↩
- A part of me has always struggled with science placing such specific dates when it comes to “millions of years” and “billions of years.” For example, often scientists will say, “These mountains in this region of California were formed 468 million years ago.” For me personally, I am supposed to log our baby’s sleep/awake/eating patterns. I can barely keep track of how long ago he woke up, how much he ate, and when he went to sleep. If I can barely track those things that happen hour to hour, how are we supposed to have exact dates placed for events that happened hundreds of millions and billions of years ago. I don’t mean to be super negative or knock on scientists. I am just sharing my personal struggle with the exact dates placed by scientists in the same way that they struggle with accepting the biblical creation account. ↩
- Unless otherwise noted, all translations are taken from the New Living Translation. ↩
- “This conception of the origin of man taken literally from Scripture gives man a dignity of being and a position of responsibility that no other theory does, and lays the foundations for a sane system of ethics and redemption” (Henry Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 153). ↩
- Adapted from Hugh Ross, “Old Earth (Progressive” Creationism” in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, p. 74 ↩
- Adapted from Ken Ham, “Young Earth Creationism” in Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design, pp. 19-31. ↩