Does the bible suggest an age for the earth?

| June 25, 2012

I do not expect scripture to describe science, such as Gods’ means of creation or the age of the earth, nor do I expect it to provide proof of how creation was done. Those are, by definition, extra-biblical concerns and the Bible is clear that we are given the book of Gods’ works (creation) to further enlighten us. The purposes of the Bible are to describe mans relationship and need for God and the path of redemption.

However, there are a number of verses that indicate an ancient, or at least older than 6 – 10, 000 years age for creation. I’ll intersperse my commentary with the verses. I’ll use the King James Version, as some folks come from churches that teach that the KJV is the divinely approved English language translation.

– “Yes, in your eyes a thousand years are like yesterday that quickly passes, or like one of the divisions of the nighttime.”
Psalm 90:4

Please keep in mind that I, along with most traditional Christians do not believe that one can or should attempt to calculate the age of the earth or the “end of ages” from the Bible. That is unwise and the Bible recommends against it. (Acts 1:7 – And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power) It would be adding meaning, adding “jots and tittles” to the Bible to try to divide the night time in this verse from Psalms and calculate Gods time card.

This passage simply tells us that Gods time and ours are not the same and provides a strong warning against Usshers’ attempted chronology and the much more recent attempts to read the Bible as a given (and particularly short) timeline. It also indicates that the course of history and the Bible record is likely to be very long.

-“But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”
2 Peter 3:8

This too is rather strong indication that the history of the earth and Gods time cannot be calculated from the Bible.

-“He stood, and measured the earth: he beheld, and drove asunder the nations; and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills did bow: his ways are everlasting.” – Habbakuk 3:6

Apparently the mountains are rather old. In fact, some translations render everlasting as “eternal.” It also seems apparent that the Bible uses illustrations and metaphor as even the strictest YE person is unlikely to claim that the mountains are indeed eternal.

-“with the choicest gifts of the ancient mountains and the fruitfulness of the everlasting hills …” –Deuteronomy 33:15

-“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God.”
-Psalms 90:2

Just in case you thought the last one was an oddball scripture. There are more of these.

-“For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water”
2 Peter 3:5

I think this one is self explanatory .

-“Remember His covenant forever, The word which He commanded to a thousand generations” – 1 Chronicles 16:15

-Yep. A thousand is a big number, kind of like forever. You wont find numbers like a billion in the Bible. These were not numbers in use or likely to be in a Bible writers vocabulary, but the Bible has many ways to describe an unimaginably (in the minds of ancient peoples) long time, like everlasting and a thousand years.

-“The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” – Genesis 49:26

As we now know that everlasting and thousands are interchangeable in the Bible, it is safe to conclude that the hills were at least thousands of years old, by the time of Joseph. This is of course, much older than a YE timeline allows. Compare this with some of the other descriptions of the earth as very, very old. A quick check of any concordance and Bible will find many more.

– “Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” (Deuteronomy 7:9 )

Biblical numbers are usually given as metaphor or spiritual symbols. However, if you do try to “do the math” in a modern, western sense, as is used by anti-evolutionary proponents, you’d find that a thousand generations at a minimum of 20 years per generation would suggest minimally 20,000 years. That’s a bit longer than the YE age of the earth. If you start noting that some biblical generations were a lot longer, the problem for young-earthism, based on their own calculation types gets pretty insurmountable.

What should be taken from this passage (outside of God’s enduring faithfulness) and the many similar passages is that biblical numbers are often metaphor.

– “Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands” Psalm 102:25

Many translations use ancient, everlasting and synonyms here, because it’s, well, “of old” and translation is difficult, especially when you realize that our culture, like others, interprets stuff with our very own meanings.

– “And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly”
2 Peter 2:5

Again the old world can be rendered ancient, everlasting or thousands of years old, before Noah.

Ecclesiastes 1:4, “A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever.”

By no means would I suggest that the writer of Ecclesiastes meant that the earth was forever. It appears that he intended to compare the enduring earth with our own brief lives. But, he did make it clear that he did not think the earth was a new creation.

I don’t believe that we can date our planet or the rest of creation using the Bible, but given that the evidence provided by God in the “book if his works”, that is creation, it is reassuring to know that the Bible doesn’t require a young earth or a strictly mathematical interpretation.

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Category: God's Word and the Natural World, Science and the Church, The Big Questions, Theistic Evolution

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