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Biblical Reliability

What’s the Christian Debate Over the Age of the Earth?

What’s the Christian Debate Over the Age of the Earth
Image Credit: Anna Shvets from Pexels

The creation period described in the Book of Genesis is of great interest to many Christians. As a result, much discussion occurs within Christianity related to the nature of the creation account and the length of time over which God acted to create our world. Many Christians in America hold to a creation period wherein the universe was formed over the course of six 24-hours periods; other Christians believe the period of creation to be much longer, perhaps even millions of years.

One of the central questions related to this issue comes down to the use of the Hebrew word “yom” in the opening lines of Genesis. Translations of this word into English use the word “day” in place of “yom,” so that the biblical passages indicate acts of creation on six consecutive days (as in, exact 24-hours periods). This plain reading of the word is simple and concise, likely one of the reasons a large number (likely the majority) of Christians today hold to a 24-hour interpretation.

A 24-hour period would seem the most reasonable interpretation absent some good reason to read a different meaning. The 24-hour interpretation allows the Christian to read the language of Genesis and interpret the language in its most basic terms. To hold a 24-hour view does not require the “wrestling” with scripture which other Christians may have to engage in, thus, a Christian holding this view can have a sense of defending the authority of scripture in maintaining their plain interpretation.

Christians who hold to a longer creation period interpret “yom” in a different way. These Christians point to the use of “yom” to mean a period of time other than 24-hours. The Bible does use “yom” in several other ways throughout its text, such as to mean “day” (as in daytime rather than nighttime) in Numbers 9:21, an unspecified period (“day of the Lord”) in Amos 5:18, and as a general time frame in Deuteronomy 16:3.

While the 24-hour position is often considered the default or traditional view in the eyes of those who hold it, the discussion surrounding interpretation of the creation account is longstanding; some ancient Christians held to an “old-earth” view which allowed for a longer creation period, such as Augustine, Origen, and St. Thomas Aquinas. These ancient Christians did not have modern science to influence their perspective but rather held their views on the basis of the text of scripture alone.

Scientific discoveries, as they are interpreted today, have resulted in some Christians holding to a longer creation period. Modern scientists largely believe the universe is billions of years old and Christians who are persuaded by their discoveries believe that millions of years transpired between the events of the “first day” in Genesis and the time in which humanity was created on the “sixth day.”

The length of the creation periods is an “in-house” debate. Christians on both sides of this discussion are just that: Christians. A robust creation theology regarding every minor detail of the timeline is not an essential element to the Christian faith (even while belief in a creator is a central tenet). The length of creation is not a universally held position in the church, it is not explicitly required by the text of scripture (due to the various interpretations of “yom” described above), it was not universally agreed upon by early Christians, and appears in no Christian creed.

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The length of the creation periods is an “in-house” debate. Christians on both sides of this discussion are just that: Christians. Click To Tweet

This is an issue for brothers and sisters to enjoy debating, but not an issue we ought to divide over.

Although of interest to the believer, the question of time with regards to creation may not carry the same weight to a skeptic or non-believer. While either position may be acceptable for the Christian, that does not mean each view is equally practical when talking to a specific skeptic. In an encounter with a skeptic who holds firmly an alternative view it may not be a wise tactical decision to attempt to rid them of their beliefs (even if it conflicts with the Christian’s personal understanding of creation).

As an apologetic method, spending time arguing with a skeptic over the length of creation may not be fruitful. A factually accurate view of the length of creation is not necessary for the skeptic’s salvation, but a correct view of Jesus Christ is. Conceding a skeptic or non-believer’s point about the length of creation does not disqualify them from finding God, but it may remove one more distraction on their road to finding the Lord.

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Written By

Jimmy Wallace (J. Warner's son) holds a BA in Psychology (from UCLA) and is currently completing his MA in Theology - Applied Apologetics (from Colorado Christian University).

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Howard Davis

    April 13, 2021 at 3:06 pm

    This is half a view of the issue but well presented.
    The other view is the Gap theory.I know Hebrew and l translate : In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth[ it was spoken into existence in a moment of time by the Word [ Christ the Word Jn. 1:1 nothing here indicates a progressive creation ] ; but the earth became a waste and desolation and blackness [ bereft of all light]was on the surface of the titanic raging waters [ the “deep” Eng. in heb. tehome or wildly clashing monstrous violent winds and waves].
    God is perfect only a perfect creation would come from His mind and manifest as from His Word! “God is not the author of Confusion”or is not from God says Paul.

    The Hebrew in verse 2 presents a massive catastrophe a “confused” creation but here focused on our earth. In Hebrew Shalom means whole, complete or at peace. “Heavens and earth” is shalom whole, complete, perfect thus in a peaceful state!
    The sudden creation was an astounding miracle! All miracles come from God and are instantaneous perfect like His healing or turning instantly ordinary water into well aged [ gk.] wine. His miracles are not progressive. But Gods creation like man was subject to harm and devastation!

    So l affirm Gen. 1:3 on gives the progressive steps Yahweh or Christ took to restore the ruined earth where l believe the fossil record shows all the creatures that lived then minus man were destroyed.
    I this all is so then we do not know how old the earth is! God spoke the creation into immediate existence as a whole all at once so we don’t know when this creation in Gen. 1:1 was accomplished and how long this gap between Gen.1:1 and verse 2 lasted before He began to reconstruct it taking 7 full 24 hour time periods or 7 days.When yom or day is used with a number it’s 24 hours.
    I believe this gap of time lasted 40 days the number of trial and testing. I think Adam and like Jesus was tested for 40 days and unlike the Son of God they failed.
    Either way we don’t know how old the earth is.

  2. Keith Schultz

    April 13, 2021 at 4:03 pm

    you left out the qualifier for the “yom”. “and there was evening and there was morning the ___ day” since a Jewish day begins at sundown(evening) followed by morning. How could God have made it any clearer that He was referring to a literal 24hr day. God commanded also that work was to be done for six 24hr periods followed by one 24hr period of rest (just the same span of time He took for creation. Also, can you imagine how slow (taking millions of years) to speak “let light be”.
    The problem is much more than just a difference of opinion, it is heretical since it invalidates God’s Word and allows mans interpretation to supersede God’s Word. This heretical teaching is only a few hundred years old when billions of years was the only way those whose beliefs about design and a creator God were antithetical to the Biblical explanation, was the only way to validate the “Big Bang” and a strictly naturalistic approach to evolution.
    If God’s intended meaning of a literal six day creation could be invalid then that opens the door to “what else in the Bible could be invalid: resurrection, the virgin birth, Jesus’s miracles, salvation)?
    When “yom” is used with the specific qualifier in EVERY reference to “yom” in the Bible, it means a literal 24hr day.

    • Howard Davis

      April 13, 2021 at 8:31 pm

      Yes was at work had to terminate my message. My real focus was to show by this gap of time the original creation was instant and sudden. Then the creation was destroyed Gen.1: 2 by l believe Satan and his forces after his devastating fall. Heavens means uplifted waters. His now fallen angels used that water mass to destroy or ruin the earth.
      II Peter 3 (start from beginning to get a full context) affirms this flooding of the earth but amazingly extends the gigantic water mass to this world or cosmos “ being overflowed with water perished.”
      This explains large amounts at one time in the distant past of “flowing water” on Mars as well as under its crust at one time- which they say is a “mystery” – that NASA discovered. See the numerous news stories.
      Same for the moon as well as other planets even one of Saturns moons.
      This universe shows signs of cosmic disturbance far removed from what inspired Apostle Peter says was a cosmos (gk.) well ordered,absolute beautiful perfection.
      Note Peter says this or the end time scoffers are ignorant of when they say ‘all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.’Gen.1:1 but Peter says no then goes to verse 2!

      This chapter no where deals with Noah’s flood! This has nothing to do with that event. The earth has been flooded twice so we have a distorted geography with a myriad of controversies.

      In Greek Peter even informs us that our earth was immersed in this huge universal flooding as it was “held compacted together” gk. or an ice pack! No sun.
      The earth we know has gone through an lce Age. Then he tells us the earth travelled through (día gk) the water and out (ek gk.) of the water!
      Hard to conceive but so is the universe!
      Peter tells us towards the end of our chapter the universe will be “destroyed by fire” so also this is difficult to comprehend!

  3. Gary Rickard

    April 14, 2021 at 3:18 am

    Keith, your position is valid, but it unfortunately misses the point of the article, which is that the age of the earth is not a tenet of the faith, especially when talking with unbelievers. You may certainly disagree with the old earth position, but it is not “heretical” and (as the article points out) is not “only a few hundred years old”. It does not “invalidate God’s Word,” only one interpretation of it.

  4. Doug

    April 14, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    No the issue DOES NOT come down to the definition of yom. If you look carefully at the text there is evening and morning for each day and they are ordinal numbers 1st 2nd 3rd – in that context yom ALWAYS ALWAYS means a 24 hr. day. You shoot yourself in the foot – many many young people are giving up on the Bible and Christ over this issue of evolution. They understand that the Bible cannot be true if evolution is true. Study the evidence – I expect more out of you than this. While it is not a Salvation issue – far too many have turned from the faith over it when the OVERWHELMING EVIDENCE points to a recent creation. Jesus, disciples all believed in a literal Genesis. If there is no first Adam there is no need for a last Adam (Jesus). If there was no sin why would Jesus need to die. At what point do you decide to believe the Bible? Science says people don’t rise from the dead either – in that case your faith is useless. I expect more from you than this.

    • Walter Swaim

      April 15, 2021 at 2:31 pm

      Excellent. Took the words right out of my mouth, well done. Thank you.

    • Michael P Graebner

      May 2, 2021 at 5:42 pm

      What about Genius 1:1-2. How long did that take. 13.6 billion years?

      I have also heard that it depends on the context how yom is understood.

  5. bill poulin

    April 14, 2021 at 6:32 pm

    have you heard of the book genesis and the big bang by gerald l schroeder, phd
    an israely professor ,a very interisting read.
    He maintains the 6 days and the 15 billion yrs ars the same.
    i would very much like your opinion.

    bill poulin

  6. Walter Swaim

    April 15, 2021 at 2:36 pm

    It would and could be just a theological hair-splitting thing except for the one major issue it affects: the Gospel. Death before sin is a problem (though they try to explain that away too, unsuccessfully) thus negating the need for a Savior (and frankly, apologetics as a whole too). Paul was clear about what to think and do with those who propose another Gospel, or the mishandling of it. It has surprised (and alarmed) me how many major and popular apologists today write this off or embrace Hugh Ross and his writings without giving the same attention to the Jason Lyle’s, Ken Ham’s and ICR scientists and theologians.

    • Matt

      May 8, 2021 at 2:53 pm

      Agree with Schultz, Doug, and Swaim above. The logic of Jesus being a substitutionary death for our sin ONLY works if death was a consequence for sin, as the Bible explicitly says throughout. It affects your apologetic to say it doesn’t matter and people I’ve talked with understand the inconsistency instantly. Yes, it means one has to research and understand every historical science and the implicit bias that all evidence is interpreted with, but there are many resources to help with this, particularly ICR and Answers in Genesis.
      It’s disheartening to see ministries I’ve respected, such as Jeff Meyers, president of Summit Ministries, and now apparently Wallace not see the importance of the issue. And especially here for Cold Case, where it’s emphasized that “belief” isn’t enough. One needs to have evidence, and the evidence for a young earth destroyed by a worldwide flood resulting in the ice age is exceedingly strong.

  7. myrealname

    April 19, 2021 at 12:59 pm

    This view just makes more sense to me. I feel that you have to disregard a few modern fields of science in order to make the world fit in a specific interpretation. Taking what we already know and figuring out the meaning of verses through that has always been the best method for biblical interpretation. And seeing as God chooses to work over time through his natural processes such as evolution. I don´t believe he would make such a drastic change in how he controls our universe from Genesis.

  8. Geoff

    May 25, 2021 at 4:46 pm

    Hi Jimmy,

    Great article and a nice summary of the two main viewpoints. I like that it sounded very fair, which is sadly rare in this very sensitive conversation.

    Can I offer one point of clarification.

    I really appreciate that you phrase the biblical creationist position as a ‘plain reading’ of the text, because that’s precisely what it is.

    The six literal 24 hours days, is a historical grammatical reading of the first chapter. Creationists argue that it is the best understanding of the passage, given all the relevant factors.

    However, in the next paragraph you state “The 24-hour interpretation allows the Christian to read the language of Genesis and interpret the language in its most basic terms. To hold a 24-hour view does not require the “wrestling” with scripture which other Christians may have to engage in” – which I think comes across as subtly derisive and condescending.

    I don’t think it fair to claim that the 24 hour view doesn’t require ‘wrestling’, and I think you’ll find no shortage of evidence to the contrary with some digging.

    The 24 hour interpretation has no shortage of very non-basic, thorough hermeneutics, to hold its position I believe, and besides some arguable examples provided in the article has unequivocally been the dominant view of theologians since the time of Christ.

    That being said, I really appreciate seeing the creationist view presented so fairly, and I agree completely that it is not an issue that should cause division.

    In Christ,

    Geoff

  9. Eric Hovind

    May 26, 2021 at 8:54 am

    The age of the earth is not essential to Salvation, but it is essential to the doctrine of Salvation.
    Did God create a world filled with death and disease to begin with? Is that what we have to look forward to when God makes a new heaven and new earth?
    The pre-adam view of an “old earth” believer is not the paradise God described. Paradise wasn’t just in the “garden of Eden” it was the whole world!

  10. Dianne Patti

    May 26, 2021 at 6:28 pm

    Jimmy, you would LOVE the new “book” by James Stroud. Amazon: “Creationism Revisited: 2020, A Defense of Recent Creation by an Agnostic.” I can send you a copy or the PDF right away. Complimentary!
    I call it a “book” because it is actually the rough draft published as a book, part of his greater practicum, looking for feedback of any kind. Feel free to message me on Facebook!

    • Nancy Freeman

      May 27, 2021 at 2:33 pm

      God does not have days! He does not experience time.

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