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).
At some point every believer must answer the question of authority. Who or what will be the reigning authority in my life? The choice is stark and simple. Either the God of creation or the frauds of provably false “science.” Make your choice - it’s not that hard.
Very nice defense of Scripture. I would point out that other theories of Genesis 1 aren't necessarily in response to post-Enlightenment 'Science', for example Augustine's Framework Hypothesis and if I recall the Day-Age theory or something like it is find in Tertullian. There are moreover several reasons in the text itself to doubt that the periods were 24 hours, or perhaps even roughly comparable to our terrestrial day.
The first and most significant is that the sun didn't exist until the 4th day. I am comfortable saying that there was an Earth spinning on its axis for the first 3 days and that there was one side of it exposed to a greater amount of light and the other a lesser.(BTW we so often miss how wildly different this period was from our own as an example rather than a 'dark space' sky the sky from Earth at this point was almost certainly luminous even without the sun. The idea that simple physical observations made in the last few hundred years can reduce all of these differences to a matter of arithmetic and calculus to be ciphered and take the measure of the Lord and His Creation is impossibly naive) But to suppose that the Creation of Sun and Moon and their being set into current relationships with Earth did not affect rotational period is nowhere implied in the text that I can find. To put such a system together without changing the motion of the Earth would be a truly impressive display of the Glory of God, but is unmentioned by Moses. The creation of the moon and its entry into orbit would probably affect the Earth's motion less than that of the sun but of course we would just be spitballing if we pretended to know either the signs or the magnitudes of these supposed changes.
The second significant affect on the rotational speed of the Earth comes a bit later in Genesis 7. When the 'fountains of the deep' were broken up a large volume of, probably liquid, water moved from below the Earth's surface to the surface and some inestimable fraction eventually became clouds. That clouds were previously unknown is implied by the novelty of the Rainbow. If Angular Momentum is conserved, and we would expect it to be since the Earth isn't much in contact with any other objects, then redistributing this fraction of the Earth's mass further from the center would be expected to slow the rotation. The release of the floodwaters probably also began the expansion of Earth's surface through plate tectonics that we know today, this release of considerable tension and energy from within the Earth very probably affected rotation, by changes to the liquid magnetic cores motion and density but again sign and magnitude of the change would be difficult to predict.
So, while I am comfortable saying that the 7 days of Genesis represent 7 rotations of the Earth, there simply isn't any data to suggest the period of these rotations, and good Scriptural reasons to suspect that that period has changed, although nothing conclusive as Scripture very rarely deals in measures of time other than natural days and years.