I’m sure that everyone has been washing your hands more than normal over the course of the past 10 weeks or so. In fact this practice is so emphasized during our present time that they’ve come out with charts and commercials telling you how to properly perform this menial (and meaningful!) task. Part of the process involves making sure that you wash for at least 20 seconds. Since most people tend not to have a stopwatch at the sink, we have been told that you just sing the traditional “Happy Birthday Song” two times through and you’ll be close to the required time. Several days ago, to break up the redundancy, after our Sweet Son completed a verse of that grand old handwashing hymn, My Wonderful Wife chimed in with the follow-up lyric “How Old Are You Now?!” I exclaimed, “29 of course!” (*By the way, before going further in this article, please let me extend again my appreciation to those who texted and called to wish me a Happy “29th” Birthday a few weeks ago. May God Bless You Abundantly!*) Now, as controversial as it may be to question someone about their age or to give the answer “29” if someone asks you “how old are you now?”, the age of the Earth is much more contentious. It is this subject (the age of the Earth that is!) that will serve as our focus of discussion in this month’s newsletter.
Let me begin by saying, and very earnestly so, that there are genuine believers in Christ who have varied opinions on this subject. Being saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is the litmus test for salvation. It is possible for people who differ on the ages of the rocks to both be hidden in the Rock of Ages! That being said, whether the Earth is 4.5 billion or 6 thousand years old is not an unimportant matter. What we believe about this subject can expose presuppositions that we might not even be aware of and can lead (though it doesn’t necessarily have to lead) to potentially perilous views.
MY STORY…My own belief on the age of the Earth has developed over the years of my life. I’ve been in church since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper.” My “29” year old memory may be faulty, but I never recall a minister in the churches of my youth ever addressing the subject of whether the Earth was young or old. I attended public school throughout all of my pre-college years. The curriculum there of course taught me that the universe was millions and billions of years old (although exactly how many millions and billions has been a moving target even in secular science). Upon completing high school, I went to a well-known Christian University in the Midwest. While there I worked two years for a Science professor as a lab assistant. The prof was a very godly man, probably one of the meekest I have ever had the privilege to know. It was under his tutelage that I first learned there was any kind of controversy concerning the Age of the Earth. I had only been taught that the world was very old; I didn’t even know there was another way to think! That having been said, while the professor made me aware that there were those who believed in a Young Earth and of the fact that most orthodox believers held to the belief that the world was only roughly 6,000 years old because that’s the number tallied when you add up ages of people and years between biblical events and so forth in Scriptures, he came down solidly on the side that the Earth was very old. He had studied the science intensively and, in his mind, could not come to any other conclusion than that of a billions year old planet. Theologically, I came across a view known as the GAP Theory while at college. This teaching believes that between Genesis 1:1 (In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth) and Genesis 1:2 (the Earth was formless and void) there is a huge GAP of potentially several billion years. (*There are other theological perspectives (such as Day Age Theory) that interpret Scriptures in such a way as to support an Old Earth view as well*). So, scientifically believing what I had been taught in public school and reaffirmed by my respected and godly professor, and theologically adhering to the GAP Theory, I held to an Old Earth view for quite some time and really gave the debate over the age of the universe very little thought. Then, a few years ago I watched a video of a minister who held to a Young Earth belief. The case he made was very convincing. He pointed out that the Hebrew word for “day” could, depending upon context, mean a period of time instead of a literal 24-hour day. However, there is no place in Scripture where a day number is given (like the “day one”, “day two”, “day three”, etc. descriptions through “day seven” as in Genesis Chapter 1) where the word “day” means anything except for a standard 24-hour day. The minister also highlighted the fact that the first chapter of Genesis uses the very descriptive phrase “there was evening and there was morning” which clearly speaks to a standard 24-hour day. Finally, and most convincingly to me, he asked the viewer to simply read Genesis 1 and ask yourself what the plain reading of the text implies. In other words, would anyone who just sat down and read the first chapter of Scripture come away thinking anything other than one week of time is represented there? There are other things that I have studied since that day which support my current view that the Earth is only thousands of years old, but none more powerful than the truth that I don’t see anyone who simply reads Genesis 1 without any other supplementary input coming out with the idea that millions or billions of years or anything other than seven days of time had elapsed. Now before going further, let me point something out. I don’t feel more saved (and am no more saved) now that I hold a Young Earth view than I was when I held to an Old Earth view. Also, I don’t feel less educated (and am no less educated) now that I hold to a Young Earth view than I was when I held to an Old Earth view. As I said earlier, people with differing views on the ages of the rocks can both still be hidden in the Rock of Ages. However, now that I have given a synopsis of my development in this area of thought and hopefully been gracious to those who may disagree with me about this subject, I ask you to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider the remainder of this article and my contention that it is not an unimportant issue and is one that can lead to potential perils.
THE AUTHORITY ISSUE…By far the majority of people in the world (and certainly in what is considered to be the developed world) believe that the Earth is billions of years old. If you ask them why, the majority of that majority can’t really tell you much more than that’s what science teaches. They may have read something in a textbook in school, they may have seen some exhibit in a museum someplace, they may have watched a few episodes of some show on Discovery Channel or PBS, but they really couldn’t give you a reason as to why they think the Earth is billions of years old that amounts to much more than “that’s what they believe because that’s what they’ve been told.” However, if you say that as a Bible based Christian you believe that the Earth is only thousands of years old and cite Genesis 1 and other Scriptures to support your views, most people will discount you and your beliefs saying that “that’s what you believe because that’s what you’ve been told.” Notice that both types of people believe what they do because “that’s what they’ve been told.” In other words, their views are based upon an authority that they see as above them, that they may not understand fully, but that they trust as being correct. People may say that Christians who adhere to a Young Earth view must be wrong because an overwhelming number of present-day scientists believe in an Old Earth. These folks are showing that they are putting scientists as their authority. However, let me point out here that the overwhelming number of present-day scientists also don’t believe that a virgin could have a baby or that a man could rise from the dead! Christians are to be people of the book. We are to believe what we do not because it seems right in our own minds, or because a majority of the people or society at large support a certain view, or because someone who seems really smart tells us something. In the words of the old song, Christians are to believe what we believe because “the Bible tells me so!” So, whatever a Christian believes about the age of the world or any other issue of importance to which they strongly adhere should have a biblical reason, not just a “worldly” reason behind it.
THE SCIENCE ISSUE…Now, there are certainly scientists who have studied their field intensely and can give and explain to you many academic and evidence-based reasons why they believe that the universe is billions of years old. However, though they don’t get much air-play and though they are definitely in the minority in today’s scientific community, there are scientists with just as many degrees as their counterparts who can give you many evidence-based reasons to believe that Creation is only thousands of years old. So, why have these two equally educated groups looked at similar evidences and come to two very disparate conclusions? While there may be many reasons, most (if not all) of them boil down to presuppositions (what they assume in advance). What do I mean by that? Well, the overwhelming majority (though not all) of the “Old Earth” scientists start with the presuppositions that everything came from nothing, that planets and the universe began when a piece of matter smaller than a period on this printed page exploded in what’s known as the Big Bang, and that life as we know it began when cells developed and evolved eventually into humanity and the other life forms we know today. These kind of processes necessitate long, and I mean lllllllooooooonnnnnnnggggggg periods of time to produce the outcome that is the universe. Bible believing “Young Earth” scientists start with the presupposition that the Bible is correct about all that it teaches. Their view of Scripture leads them to believe that everything came from Someone (God), that the universe came about because God said “let there be and there was” and that human life as we know it began when the Almighty formed man from the dust of the Earth and breathed the breath of life into him. This worldview does not require billions of years to produce the outcome that is the universe. So, it’s not surprising that the two groups of scientists look at the same evidences from geology and come to different conclusions. They arrive at different endpoints because their starting points were different. They arrive at variant conclusions because their presuppositions were at variance. Let me provide an illustration that, though imperfect, may be helpful before moving along here. If you know me and love me and trust me and you get a phone message from me saying that I just placed a $100 bill in your mailbox (this is a hypothetical illustration of course!); you come out of your house immediately, rejoicing in your heart before you even get to the end of your drive because you know the money is there. You can see the Benjamin Franklin in your mind and dream about what you may spend it on before you even lay your eyes on the C-Note and feel it in your hot little (and of course freshly washed) hand! However, if you don’t know me or trust me or know if “Ben Strunk” even exists but you get a phone message from me telling you that I just placed a $100 bill in your mailbox; you might delete the voicemail before even listening to it all the way through. You probably don’t go outside your house to see if the $100 is there thinking that the phone message was at best a scam or gag and at worst a ploy by some nefarious individual to get you to come out of your home, hit you over the head, and rob you (of all your prized possessions, especially hand sanitizer and toilet paper!). In both cases, the phone message was the same, but the recipients ended up assuming (and doing) two different things. Why? Because they started out with different presuppositions. (*Now, as mentioned earlier, that was just a hypothetical illustration. I have sent this Gracelet to your mailbox, but I have not sent a $100! But I do love you bunches and bunches!)
THE PERSPICUITY ISSUE…”Perspicuity” may be a word you’ve never heard before. However, its basic meaning as it pertains to Scripture is simply that the Bible is “a plain book.” This is not to say that the Bible is always and in every place an easy book to understand. Indeed, someone can study the pages of holy writ for a lifetime and barely scratch the surface of its length, depth, width, and height. That being said, the doctrine of the Perspicuity of Scripture does mean that the main teachings of the Bible can be understood by a common man giving it a plain reading. While I don’t think that everyone who believes in an Old Earth that’s been around for billions of years is a heretic or a disingenuous Christian (as I’ve tried to say with grace many times, let me say it again, we can differ about the ages of the rocks and still both be hidden in the Rock of Ages), it is hard for me to see anyone giving Genesis 1 a plain reading and coming up with billions of years instead of 7 days. Some may then argue that Genesis 1 is not meant to be taken literally and point out that there are passages throughout Scripture that are to be taken as poetic and figurative. I agree that there are many portions of the Bible that are meant to be taken figuratively. For instance, the passage where Jesus says that He longed to gather Jerusalem together as a hen would gather her chicks under her wings is clearly not implying that Jesus is a feminine bird with literal feathers. However, there is nothing suggesting that Genesis 1 is figurative in any way and its account is presented as entirely historical and in a matter of fact manner.
THE COMPARTMENTALIZATION ISSUE…There are some who will say that they believe the Bible is authoritative when it comes to matters of faith, morality, salvation, and the like; but that they don’t believe its authoritative when it comes to Science; after all the Bible is not a Science textbook. Now, while I would agree that Scriptures are not intended to be a scientific textbook teaching us subjects such as Chemistry and Physics and the like, I contend that the Bible is true in all that it affirms because the Scripture contends that it is true in all that it affirms. Again, there may be those who think the Bible teaches that the Earth is billions of years old (to which I respectfully disagree), but those who compartmentalize the teachings of Scripture saying that its true when it speaks to certain subjects but not reliable when it speaks to others are in danger of very serious error. Once we began segregating out the “true” verses and the “nontrue” verses, we will almost without fail end up shipwrecked. We then become the judge of the Bible instead of realizing that the Bible judges us. We become vulnerable to ideas such as “what the Bible says about murder is correct but what it says about homosexuality is wrong” or “I can believe in Jesus for salvation but then curse, lie, cheat, steal, and commit adultery with reckless abandon and everything is still okay between me and God with no need to repent.” We dare not compartmentalize the Scriptures in this way for it’s a path that leads to destruction.
SOME SERIOUS THEOLOGICAL ISSUES THAT MAY ARISE AND OFTEN DO…Before going into this subject, let me encourage you to reread the heading of this section and emphasize the word “MAY” (which also implies “may not”; in other words, just because a person believes in an Old Earth does not necessarily mean that they will succumb to the theological pitfalls described here); but let me also emphasize the word “OFTEN” (which implies something doesn’t happen all the time, but does happen with great frequency, certainly more often than not; in other words the number of those who believe in an Old Earth who do get trapped into the theological errors described here is not insignificant). Many who believe in an Old Earth also believe in evolution. That would mean that there is no original Adam and Eve. If there is no original Adam and Eve in a garden, then the concept of original sin makes no sense. Who, if not Adam, ate the forbidden fruit in disobedience to God and brought upon themselves and indeed all of Creation the condition of a fallen world where things obviously are not the way they were intended to be? Not believing in a literal Adam and Eve also leads to having a view of man whereby man is essentially good. This is directly contrary to Scriptural anthropology (view of man). Also, if there is no literal first Adam and no original sin, then the story of the Second Adam (Jesus, as described in Romans) and the forgiveness He purchased for sinners on the cross becomes nonsensical.
FINALLY, ANSWERING THE QUESTION, WHY DOES THE EARTH (at least in some ways) APPEAR SO OLD?…Early on in this article I spoke of the college professor I worked for whom I admire, have no doubt to the best of my ability to know about another person that he was a genuine Christian, and who was one of the most humble men I have ever met, believing that the Earth was very old. His scientific arguments went much along the lines of secular geologists, however his theological reasoning was that God does not lie nor mislead, and if the Earth was actually Young (thousands instead of billions of years old), then why is there so much evidence (in his view at least) pointing to the Earth being Old? This is a question that deserves an answer. I will give a two-fold answer here that I owe in part to the work of Dr. Al Mohler. FIRST, When God created Man, and indeed all of Creation, He created us whole. Adam was a full-blown adult when Created, not a baby. If you were to somehow get a picture of Adam from Week 2 of history and were asked how old you think he is, you might say 29 (or some other “inferior” number), but you would never say that he was only a few days of age. Yet, the Bible is not being deceptive in any way here. Scripture clearly tells us that Adam was an adult when Created. So too with all of Creation. The Earth, the Universe, everything that is, was created from nothing by God Who has always been. And when He spoke things into existence, they were whole, they were “adult”, they weren’t infants. So, why does certain “evidence” make the Earth appear to be very Old? It could be in part that those looking at the evidence are assuming Creation started as “an infant” instead of starting as “an adult.” A SECOND biblical reason why the Earth may appear to be so old is because sin is devastating. I was just a young teenager when a woman my family used to bowl with asked me how old I thought she was. I don’t recall exactly how the topic came up, but I do remember telling her “39” thinking that I would be giving her a compliment. (Truth be told, I thought she was about 60!). She replied by telling me she was actually only in her early 30’s! I was shocked. She had lots of wrinkles and gray hair and a gruff voice and I was sure she must be older. Why did she appear so much more advanced in years than she was? Because she had been very hard on her body, abusing substances she shouldn’t have over and over again. You’ve no doubt seen this same type of “phenomenon” in people you’ve known before. Look at pictures of Presidents of the United States throughout the years. It seems that they age by double or more during the time that they’re in office due to the pressures they face. There have been various medical tests showing that a person with similar results might be many years older than what the person actually is because of various maladies they’ve experienced or mal-behaviors they’ve engaged in. Sin and stress can take a great toll on a body. Scriptures clearly teach that Adam and Eve, the crown of Creation, sinned in the Garden of Eden and that as a result all of the Created order was affected and is still held in a bondage in which it groans and waits for the revealing of the sons and daughters of God. We should expect that sin is paying, sometimes gradually and sometimes with great fervor, its wage of death. This world, this Creation, has been through a lot, a lot of sin and its consequences. So no wonder it would have some evidences that would seem to say it’s very old. God is not deceptive nor misleading, His Word gives clear reasons why the Earth could appear so old when in fact it is very young, (though still a little North of 29!).