3. What does Bible-information say about age?

    Is an old-earth view of Genesis 1 satisfactory? 
    Does the gospel require "no death before sin"? 
    Is young-earth belief necessary for a Christian? 
    Is it wise to link The Gospel with a young earth? 

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.

A condensed version of this page is in my Overview-FAQ.
I recommend reading it first because it's shorter so you can get quick overview of the ideas, and because after initially writing both pages I've been more diligent in revising/supplementing the Overview-FAQ (especially in Sections 3-7) so it currently includes some ideas that are not in this page, but some other ideas are only in this page.



    While writing this page I'm imagining that you, or someone you know, is in a situation similar to this:
      In a sermon your pastor declares, with total confidence, that "because the Bible teaches a young earth, I believe it and so should you."  But your teacher for Sunday School, who is a good friend and an expert geologist, explains why the scientific support for an old earth is strong, and how several interpretations of Genesis (day-age, framework,...) are compatible with this science.  You're not a scientist and neither is your pastor, but when you ask him about this he loans you a book written by young-earth scientists, where you see arguments that seem to make sense.  Your pastor wonders if he should let your friend teach in his church, and you have questions.  {from the homepage for Origins Questions}


3A. Is an old-earth interpretation of Genesis 1 satisfactory?

      Is young-earth theology taught in Genesis 1?  Or when we examine the text, are other interpretations possible or preferable?
      Does Genesis 1 describe history in chronological sequence?  In a young-earth 144-hour interpretation, each "yom" is a 24-hour day, and the entire creation process occurred in six consecutive days.  In a day-age view, each "yom" (usually translated into English as "day") has one of its other meanings, "a period of time with an unspecified length."   Or creation might have occurred in six nonconsecutive 24-hour days, with long periods between each day.  Or maybe in six "days of proclamation" God described what would occur during the process of creation.  In a gap view, there was an initial creation (in Genesis 1:1), a catastrophe (in 1:2), and a re-creation on the earth (beginning in 1:3).
      In a framework view, the six days form a logical framework for describing actual historical events, but with events arranged topically instead of chronologically.  Genesis 1:2 describes the earth as "formless and empty," so there are two problems.  The two solutions are to produce form, and to fill.  The first 3 days produce form (by separations, in time or space, that produce day and night, sky and sea, and land with plants) and the second 3 days fill these forms (with sun for day and moon for night, birds for sky and fish for sea, and land animals that eat plants):

    separate to make form       create to fill each form 
 1   separating day and night     4    sun for day, moon for night  
2 separating sky and sea   5 sky animals, sea animals
3  separating land and sea, 
land plants are created
  6 land animals and humans,
plants are used for food

The "form and fill" structure describes two related aspects of creation in Days 1 and 4 (for light), 2 and 5 (for sea and sky), 3 and 6 (for land), in a logical framework for the history of creation.   { comment:  I think the framework is clearly in the text, and this interpretation — which is neutral regarding age of the earth — correctly defines the intended meaning of the six days;  if we look only at the text, the days could be logical and chronological, but nonchronological days produce a better match between what we see in the Bible and in nature. }
      Many scholars think Genesis 1 was written specifically for its original readers, and the purpose was only theological, not scientific.  In this view, Genesis 1 uses theories about physical reality from surrounding cultures (it uses their ancient near-east cosmology) for the purpose of more effectively challenging their theories about spiritual reality (their polytheistic "nature religions").

      All interpretations should emphasize the essential creation-theology in Genesis 1:  Everything we see in nature was created by God, and is subordinate to God.  There are no polytheistic "nature gods" so we should worship only the one true God who created everything.  God's creation is good but is not divine, so nature is placed in proper perspective.  God declared His creation to be very good, so we can reject the idea that physical things are intrinsically bad;  our problem is sin, not physicality.  And humans are special because God created us in His own image.


3B. Does the gospel (and salvation) require "no death before sin"? 

      The two main arguments for young-earth theology (above and below) claim that Genesis 1 describes a 144-hour creation, and "death before sin" is theologically unacceptable.
      Ken Ham says: "The Bible is adamant that death, disease, and suffering came into the world as a result of sin. ... As soon as Christians allow for death, suffering, and disease before sin, then the whole foundations of the message of the Cross and the Atonement have been destroyed. ... The whole message of the Gospel falls apart if one allows millions of years for the creation of the world. (source from Answers in Genesis)Another prominent creationist, John Morris, agrees: "If the earth is old, if fossils date from before man's sin, then Christianity is wrong!  These ideas destroy the foundation for the Gospel and negate the work of Christ on the cross. (source from Institute for Creation Research)"   {but there are three histories of death (not just two)}

      Animal Death and Human Sin
      In a process of old-earth creation, many animals would live and die.  Advocates of young-earth theology claim that "animal death before human sin" violates the central Biblical doctrine (firmly established in Genesis 3, Romans 5,...) that death is the result of sin.
      Initially this argument seems impressive.  But when we look more closely, we see very little in the Bible about human sin and animal death.  Instead, the focus is on people, with sin and death being enemies of humans, to be overcome by the sinless life and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Animal death before human sin is not a theological problem if God's gift of eternal life through the supernatural "tree of life" was available for humans in Eden, but not for animals before Eden.
      Compared with a claim that "all death is due to human sin," it is more justifiable to claim that "human death is due to human sin."  Human sin-and-death is the problem, and God's solution is a wonderful plan — for changing sin and death into salvation and life — that works whether the earth is young or old.  This plan is explained below, beginning with the results of sin.

      Three Results of Human Sin
      In Genesis 2:17, God says "you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil."  In Genesis 3:6, tempted by a creature who already had fallen into sin and rebellion, Eve (and then Adam) ate from this tree of knowledge, choosing to make moral decisions for themselves, independent from God, instead of trusting and obeying God.
      Their sinful disobedience had three results:  The immediate intrinsic result was a loss of their innocence and their intimate relationship with God, in Genesis 3:7-13.  Then two judicial penalties were decreed by God, in Gen 3:14-24:  first, a decrease in quality of life for humans (Gen 3:14-19,23);  second, death for humans (Gen 3:22,24) because "the man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil.  He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever."
      The "tree of life" seems to symbolize the supernatural total protective power that continually was provided by God.  When this total protection was removed by God due to their sin, Adam and Eve immediately began to perish, with natural processes temporarily allowing life while gradually (during the "yom" of Genesis 2:17 that usually is translated as "day" but, as in Genesis 1, can also indicate a longer period of time) leading to their eventual death.

      A Brief History of Sin and Salvation
      Let's look at our problem (sin and death) and God's solution (for converting sin and death into salvation and life).
      Sin and Death:  The fall into sin produced three results:  a decrease in relationship with God, a decrease in quality of life, and a loss of everlasting life.  Through God's grace and power, the initial gift of life (with relationship, quality, and immortality) was offered to Adam, but was lost by his sinful disobedience.
      Salvation and Life:  We had sinned and thus earned death.  We needed a savior, and God is merciful, so the gift of life (with relationship, quality, and immortality) was won back for us by our savior.  Jesus Christ accepted the penalty of death that each of us earns by our sinful disobedience, and (by living in sinless obedience to the Father) Jesus earned the right to make His own Eternal Life available, as a gift of grace, to all humans who will accept: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)" (I Corinthians 15:12-57)   The "tree of [everlasting] life" was (and will be) a supernatural gift from God;  the gift of everlasting life that in Genesis was temporarily taken from us (because of sin) will be permanently given back to us (because of Jesus) in Revelation: "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." (Revelation 2:7 & 22:1-2,14)   In heaven there will be no sin and no death, and God's goals for us will be permanently actualized.   Amen.

      Other Questions
      The main theological principles for explaining "animal death before human sin" are outlined above, in a plan for salvation that does not depend on the earth's age.  But young-earth critics also challenge old-earth theology with related questions, about time, nature, and death:
      a) Isn't a long process of creation a waste of time?  Why use billions of years, instead of 144 hours?
      b) Were the "laws of nature" different in Eden, since the good aspects of natural process (allowing life and pleasure) were not balanced by its bad aspects (allowing death and suffering)?
      c) How could a natural creation that includes death be compatible with the character of God?  In Genesis 1:31, does "very good" mean "no death"?
      A brief FAQ-4 Appendix looks at these questions, and here are quick responses:  a) God has plenty of time and patience.   b) God — who is not governed by his own "laws of nature" — decides how much protection (natural-appearing and/or miraculous-appearing) to provide for humans in Eden, in the present, and in heaven.   c) Theologically, "very good" means "very good for achieving God's goals for His creation, especially for humans."

      The two main arguments for young-earth theology, which you've seen in the first two sections, are Genesis 1 and "no death before sin."  But we can also look at other questions:
      What was the historical context of Adam and Eve?  When and where did they live?  Are the lists of their descendants complete, and what about the long lifespans?
      Did the flood of Noah cover the entire world or only a local region?  In Genesis 6-9, does the Hebrew word "erets" mean "land" or "planet"?   Which type of flood, global or local, is more consistent with evidence from scripture and nature?

Arguments for and against each interpretation of Genesis 1 (in Section 3A) and the questions above (about death,...) are examined in AGE OF THE EARTH: THEOLOGY.


3C. Is young-earth belief necessary for a Christian?

      When we carefully study the Bible, should we conclude that the earth is young, or old, or that neither view is taught?
      Some creationists are certain that their young-earth interpretation of Genesis is correct.  Even though they don't think young-earth belief is necessary for salvation, they do claim this belief is an essential doctrine, and is necessary to provide a solid theological foundation for Christianity.  They claim that "if the Bible is true, then the earth is young."  Is this claim justified, and is it wise?
      St. Augustine said, "In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, diversity."  This is good advice, but how can we decide if a doctrine is essential?  One way is to use our estimates of the doctrine's certainty and importance by asking, "Is it taught with certainty in the Bible, and is it theologically important?"

      For example, consider the claim that Jesus died and was brought back to life.
      Is it taught with certainty, beyond any reasonable doubt?  Yes.  For example, it was clearly stated in the first Christian sermon, by Peter in Acts 2:14-36.
      Is it important for Christian theology?  Yes.  This is emphasized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."  If the resurrection of Jesus is false, our hope for a future resurrection is a false hope.
      The resurrection of Jesus is both certainly taught and theologically important.  It is an essential doctrine, and a person who doesn't believe it is missing an essential core-belief of Christianity.

      Is a young earth essential?  Is it both certain and important?

      Is it certain?
      After carefully studying the language of Genesis 1 and the Bible as a whole, along with theological analysis by comparing scripture with scripture, most evangelical Christian scholars have decided that an old-earth view of creation is satisfactory.  They think an old-earth view is theologically justifiable, maybe even preferable, or they adopt an age-neutral "framework" interpretation of Genesis 1, so believing in the truth of the Bible does not require believing a young earth.
      Most evangelical scholars have concluded that neither view (young or old) is clearly taught, so humility is appropriate.  For example, in 1982 the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy decided (by agreement of all members except Henry Morris) to not include a 144-hour creation as an essential component of a fundamentalist belief in inerrancy.  They recommended using information from nature (interpreted by science) to help us interpret the Bible, when they affirmed that "in some cases extrabiblical data have value for clarifying what Scripture teaches, and for prompting correction of faulty interpretations."
      For age of the earth, this first question — is it certain? — is closely related to the second question, as you'll see below.

      Is it important?
      The previous section examines a central young-earth claim — that if the earth is old, with animal death before human sin, "the whole message of the Gospel falls apart" because "these ideas destroy the foundation for the Gospel and negate the work of Christ on the cross" — and explains God's wonderful plan (for overcoming the problem of human death due to human sin, for changing sin and death into salvation and life) that works whether the earth is young or old.  Other essential Christian doctrines also seem to be age-independent, and the full gospel of Jesus — including His deity, virgin birth, teaching and miracles, sinless obedience to the Father in life, substitutionary atonement in death, victorious resurrection, ascension into heaven, and second coming — is fully compatible with a young earth or old earth.

      Of course, basic facts of nature — like whether the earth's age is thousands of years or billions of years, and whether the number of teeth in the mouth of a horse is 30, 40, or 50 — have no intrinsic theological importance.  And advocates for a young earth agree.  A prominent creationist, Ken Ham, explains why a young earth is not the issue because "our emphasis is on Biblical authority.  Believing in a relatively ‘young Earth’... is a consequence of accepting the authority of the Word of God as an infallible revelation from our omniscient Creator."
      Ham claims that, to preserve Biblical authority, "We must interpret Scripture with Scripture, not impose ideas from the outside!"  He thinks it is wrong to "start outside the Bible to (re)interpret the Words of Scripture" because "once you have told people to accept man's [scientific] dating methods, and thus should not take the first chapters of Genesis as they are written, you have effectively undermined the Bible's authority!"
      But if Ham thinks we should reject "ideas from the outside," why doesn't he also insist that the Bible teaches a stationary earth?  The Bible clearly states that "the world is firmly established; it cannot be moved" with a mobile sun orbiting around it: "the sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises." (Psalm 93:1, Ecclesiastes 1:5)  Why does he reject these clear statements?  I think he will agree that if we refuse to "impose ideas from the outside," we will certainly conclude that the Bible teaches a stationary earth.  But he rejects this claim about nature, because he accepts the evidence from nature (logically interpreted in science) and uses it as a "motivation to reconsider" his interpretation of scripture.  And when he reconsiders, he finds valid reasons to think a moving-earth interpretation of scripture is credible, to think the Bible authors are simply describing what they see.  In fact, you speak in the same way, without intending to claim anything about science, when you step off a storm-tossed boat and say "it feels good to be on solid ground that isn't constantly moving," or you say "what a beautiful sunset" as you watch the sun move down past the horizon.
      Here is young-and-old analogy plus old-earth analysis:
      analogy:  Ham thinks the overwhelming scientific evidence for a moving earth provides a motivation to reconsider, and then he discovers that a moving-earth interpretation of scripture is justified.  Similarly, many Christians think the overwhelming scientific evidence for an old earth provides a motivation to reconsider, and then we discover that an old-earth interpretation of scripture is justified.
      analysis:  A young-earth view of the Bible is reasonable, but this makes it necessary to accept science that is unreasonable, with an illogical "adjusting of scientific logic" that produces conflict between young-earth theology and logical science.  By contrast, there is harmony between theology and science with an old-earth view of the Bible (which is reasonable) and conventional old-earth science (it's also reasonable).

      Ham explains one reason why he thinks old-earth historical science is unreliable: "Why would any Christian want to take man's fallible dating methods and use them to impose an idea on the infallible Word of God? ... Can fallible, sinful man be in authority over the Word of God?"  Is Ham claiming that an old-earth interpretation of nature is hindered by sin, but his own young-earth interpretation of scripture is not hindered by sin, so his interpretation of the Bible (not just the Bible itself) is infallible?  And his claim about "authority" ignores the logical principle (outlined in FAQ-2, The Two Books of Nature) that we cannot compare the Bible with science, so we are not deciding that science is more important and therefore has "authority over the Word of God."  Instead, we are comparing fallible human interpretations of the Bible (in theology) with fallible human interpretations of nature (in science) while trying to search for truth. 
      In The Slippery Slope to Unbelief, Ham says, "If we re-interpret God’s Word in Genesis to fit man’s fallible opinion, then ultimately, it would only be consistent to apply this same hermeneutic (method of interpretation) elsewhere — even to Christ's Resurrection."  He claims that if we reject his scientific interpretation of Genesis 1, we will also reject truly essential doctrines in the Bible.  But do all claims that "the Bible teaches this" have equal amounts of support?  No.  We can avoid a "slippery slope" and rationally decide that a 144-hour creation is not true, but The Resurrection is true and is an essential doctrine because (compared with a young earth) it is much more certainly taught and is much more important.

      Currently, the Association for Biblical Astronomy "assumes that whenever the two [Bible and conventional astronomy] are at variance, it is always astronomy — that is, our "reading" of the ‘Book of Nature,’ not our reading of the Holy Bible — that is wrong."  Does this sound familiar?  Ken Ham has decided that he, as a fallible sinful man, can avoid a "slippery slope" by rationally deciding that the Bible should be interpreted in a non-literal way for a stationary earth but not for a young earth, even though a stationary earth and young earth are much closer (in what the Bible says about them) than are a young earth and Christ's Resurrection.


3D. Is it wise to link The Gospel with a young earth?

      Is it wise?
      The previous section began by asking whether a claim that "young-earth belief is an essential doctrine" is justified and wise.
      When we ask "is it justified?", most Christian scholars think a young earth is not taught with certainty in the Bible, and is not theologically important, so it is not an essential doctrine.  In addition, almost all scientists (both Christian and non-Christian) think a young earth is almost certainly false, based on their logical evaluations of evidence from nature.
      Despite these reasons for caution, John Morris boldly declares that "If the earth is old... then Christianity is wrong!" and Ken Ham agrees that "the whole message of the Gospel falls apart."  Their confident assertions seem analogous to Paul saying, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."  Is this wise?  What are some results of young-earth claims?

      A Logical Dilemma
      A claim that "if the Bible is true, the earth is young" is logically equivalent to saying "if the earth is not young, the Bible is not true."  What happens when a person who thinks "the Bible requires a young earth" examines the scientific evidence and concludes "the universe and the earth are old"?  Another conclusion may be that "if the Bible is wrong about the earth's age, maybe it's also wrong about other things it teaches," so the spiritual authority of the Bible is weakened, and faith is weakened or abandoned.  Or a non-Christian who is an earnest seeker of spiritual truth — and who is persuaded by young-earth advocates that a young earth and Jesus are a "package deal" that includes both or neither — may reject the combination due to a conviction, based on their knowledge of science, that the earth is not young.
      Therefore, it seems wise for Christians to not encourage (and not accept) any implication — whether it is made by fellow Christians who want to strengthen the Gospel, or by non-Christians who want to discredit the Gospel — that "if the earth is not young, the Bible is not true."

      Why is it important?
      Does the age of the earth really matter?  No and yes.  No, because it isn't essential theology.  Yes, because people are important.
      Unfortunately often, a personal dilemma occurs when rigid young-earth belief is confronted with the clear logic of IF-IF-THEN reasoning:  IF the Bible declares that the earth is young, and IF in reality the earth is not young (as indicated by a logical evaluation of abundant evidence from nature), THEN the logical conclusion is that "the Bible is false."
      Ed, a former young-earth believer and current Christian, explains how to avoid a spiritual tragedy:  "If R [a friend who discarded his faith when faced with the if-if-then dilemma] had been offered an alternative [believing the Bible without believing a young earth] from the beginning, he would never have experienced the turmoil he went through.  When R could no longer deny that the universe was billions of years old, the only option left for him [because he continued to believe, as he had been vigorously taught, that believing the Bible requires believing a young earth] was to deny the Bible."
      Hill Roberts, head of the "Lord, I Believe" outreach ministry, says:  "Some of my well-meaning brethren wish we would just drop all aspects of time discussions from our presentations.  That would certainly be the easy way.  Todd [a former young-earth believer who, like "R", rejected the Bible and Jesus when he was confronted with the if-if-then dilemma] is why we cannot go that way."  He is explaining why, because we love people, we should help them avoid the dilemma by "offering an alternative from the beginning."  And we should help our brothers and sisters in Christ who are now struggling with the dilemma, so they can emerge from the experience with renewed faith in God and the Bible.
      A love for people is our motivation for evangelism, among our friends, colleagues, and neighbors, at school, work, and in our neighborhood, and in other parts of the world.  Joshua Zorn, a missionary involved in church planting, has survived the if-if-then struggle and retained his faith, as a former believer in young-earth teaching that "creates a nearly insurmountable barrier between the educated world and the church."  Because this teaching "has a virtual monopoly in overseas missions" he is worried, as a missionary evangelist, that "we are sowing the seeds of a major crisis which will make the job of world evangelism even harder than it is already."   {more about young-earth experiences plus ideas for young-earth Christians}

      Appropriate Humility
      Advocates of a young-earth position should be admired for their desire to determine what The Word of God teaches, and believe it.  But I wish they would humbly consider the possibility that their young-earth interpretation might be wrong, and would adopt a more loving attitude toward their brothers and sisters in Christ who don't include young-earth belief as part of their Christian faith.
      Instead, there is a "not in our church" attitude, as when John Morris says: "Old-earth thinking is incompatible with the work of Christ. ... [young-earth] creationism should be a requirement for Christian leadership!  No church should sanction a pastor, Sunday school teacher, deacon, elder, or Bible-study leader who knowledgeably and purposefully errs on this crucial doctrine. (source)"
      I agree with Morris that, for essential doctrines, we should not be "tolerant" (as defined in postmodern relativism) by accepting other interpretations.  We should say "this is what the Bible clearly teaches, and it is important."  But for nonessential doctrines that are less certain or less important, we should be more appropriately humble.  It seems wise, for personal faith and for evangelism, to focus our attention on doctrines that are most clearly taught and most important, and when all things are considered (including information from nature) seem most likely to be true.
      I encourage you to study scripture and nature, think about the arguments for and against each "age of the earth" view, and decide what you think is most likely to be true, and also the level of humility that is justified by the possibility that another view is actually true.  If you do this and you conclude that the earth and universe are young, that's fine.  But if you do, I hope you won't insist that young-earth belief is an essential part of The Gospel of Jesus, that either "both are true, or neither are true."  If instead you say "I think the earth is young, but I respect your old-earth position," it could help reduce the number of people who reject their faith (or who never come to faith) because they conclude that "the earth is not young, so the Bible is not true."

      Respect and Charity
      In the area of origins, emotions can rise due to disagreements among people who feel strongly about important issues, who are trying to find the truth and share it with others.  In the current climate of controversy, our personal interactions will be more enjoyable and productive if we recognize the rationality of other positions (by recognizing that others may also have good reasons for believing as they do) and adopt an attitude of respectful humility (honoring the dignity of individuals holding those positions) and remember that ideas and people are both important.
      Some words of wisdom, useful in all areas of life, come from St. Augustine:  "In essentials, unity.  In nonessentials, diversity.  And in all things, charity."  To follow this advice, we must wisely distinguish between what is essential and nonessential, and behave with charity, with respectful humility and a love that transcends our differences.  When we do this, as Jesus says, "everyone will recognize that you are my disciples, when they see the love you have for each other. (John 13:35)"


This page is one part of
responses to Frequently
Asked Questions about
Creation, Evolution, 
and Intelligent Design,

written by Craig Rusbult,
with an ASA-disclaimer.
Home-Page for FAQ 
Introductory FAQ 

8-Page Full FAQ: 
1. Views of Creation 
2. Scripture and Nature 
3. Age-of-Earth Theology 
4. Age–of–Earth Science 
5. Christians & Evolution   
6. Four Types of Design 
7. Evaluating Evolution 
8. Origins Education 


Homepage for Origins 




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