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Does the age of the earth really matter?
The historicity, not to mention the scientificity, of Genesis 1—3 is of no small consequence.
The three opening chapters of the Bible constitute, perhaps, some of the most contested Scriptures in the entire biblical canon, not the least of which because they are composed of such significant and sundry theological tenets, assertions, and themes. Indeed, one should understand Genesis 1—3 not only as introductory to but as formative for the rest of the biblical narrative. Without an understanding of God’s purposes as revealed in the beginning trilogy of chapters, much of the rest of God’s inspired Word loses its meaning and impact. For example, if the account of the Fall in chapter 3 is merely a parable or poem of the folly of human action, as some have contended, the apostle’s argument (in Rom. 5) for the fulfillment, succession, and redemption of such folly in the person of Christ is, likewise, parabolic. Pinning the substructure of the Christian faith on a parabolic chassis is tenuous, at best.
Accordingly, the historicity, not to mention the scientificity, of Genesis 1—3 is of no small consequence. A careful reading of the Genesis 1 suggests that Jehovah God (properly, Elohim) created the universe, and all that is in it, in a literal six-day week, comprised of six 24-hour intervals. Other explanations to get around this understanding of the text not only undermine the Hebrew word for “day” (yôm) used throughout, but also weaken the straightforward, definitive declaration of God’s creative power and authority. On eleven occasions in just the first chapter alone, the author of Genesis refers to the occurrence of a “day”, each of which bears witness to God’s creative action (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13–14, 16, 18–19, 23, 31). Additionally, each of these instances is accompanied by the phrase, “And there was evening and there was morning” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), clarifying that these intervals were spans of twenty-four hours.
Such literal renderings of the creation of the universe have, of late, been scrutinized, mostly as a result of the development of the geological sciences. In his work on Christian Theology, Millard J. Erickson makes the curious assertion that the discipline of theology “does not tell us how the universe came into being, but why God made it” (349). This is only curious if one’s espoused theology of creation is equally as enamored with modern scientific discovery. Geological specialists have endeavored to pinpoint the earth’s age through various geological studies which have given credence to the hypothesis that the earth is much older than previous estimations, even by a tabulation of billions of years.
Accounting for such a gap of time between the biblical record and geological “data” has been the task of many theologians throughout the ages, resulting in a wide range of proposed theories. The gap theory suggests that Jehovah God’s initial creation of the world was forestalled by a sudden catastrophe, which some have suggested was Lucifer’s fall and subsequent banishment from heaven. According to gap theorists, this catastrophic event left the world in ruin for upwards of several billion years, at which point God took it upon himself to re-create the world in a period of six literal days. The “gap,” then, would be positioned between verses 1–2 and verse 3 of Genesis 1.
The age-day theory posits that the Hebrew word for “day” in Genesis 1 does not correspond to literal days but to lengthy epochs through which God undertook the task of creation. The pictorial-day theory suggests that the accounting of the days of creation in Genesis 1 is merely a matter of logical structure, as opposed to chronological order. Furthermore, the revelatory-day theory advances the idea that each of the days of creation were, indeed, literally 24-hour days, but they were not successive. These “creative days,” then, were interspersed throughout long periods, as Elohim’s creative resolve was revealed as certain times and instances. The flood theory proposes that due to the cataclysmic flood (Gen. 6—8), what modern geologists have theorized would take billions of years was accomplished in a very condensed period. And, lastly, the ideal-time theory says that God created all things in six literal days, but did so as if each element of creation were already “of age.”
If a student of theology is hoping to ascertain a strictly biblical construct of creation out of the aforementioned theories, either the flood theory and ideal-time theory accord with Scripture with the least amount of extra-biblical explanation. What remains tenuous, however, is the necessity to embark on such a quest to re-interpret or redefine the creation narrative merely on the basis of human scientific discovery, which is often flawed and finite. The Christian faith itself necessarily instills in one a belief in what God has revealed about himself, and his creation, in his Word over and above seemingly contradictory evidences. While the Scriptures do not portend to be scientific, God the Creator manifests his will through the sciences and the senses, so as to be gleaned, at least in part, by human comprehension. Be that as it may, Jehovah God is at liberty to “bend the heavens” (Ps. 18:9; 144:5; cf. 2 Sam. 22:10) according to his will, to fulfill his purposes. What can the clay say to impugn the determinate counsel of the Sculptor? (Isa. 45:9). Who is man to argue with what the Lord has established?
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2013).