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How Old Is the Earth?
In our world, science and the Bible seem constantly pitted against each other, and it is true that there certainly are outstanding questions to be resolved. But many such "conflicts" are illusions, arising either from misunderstanding the scientific data or from failing to understand the truth of God’s word.
One example is the age of the earth. Must Christians put themselves at odds with the current theories of reputable geologists in order to accept the claims of the Bible? Just how old is the earth?
We can see very clearly in Scripture that the creation of the plants, animals, and mankind, itself—Adam and Eve—took place around 6,000 years ago. The Bible gives us enough information concerning the ages of the patriarchs and their descendants to make this conclusion hard to dispute. On the origins of mankind in the Garden of Eden—nearly six millennia ago— God’s word is clear.
Just as clearly, nearly all reputable geologists looking at evidence of our planet’s age conclude that the earth has been in existence for a long time! "Ask any geologist how old the Earth is," writes American geologist G. Brent Dalrymple, "and the odds are very good that he or she will provide an answer very close to 4.54 [billion years]" (The Age of the Earth, p. 305). And, while future discoveries may overturn this conclusion, 4.5 billion years is very consistent with other evidence of the earth’s age, such as that taken from meteorites and lunar material.
An age of 6,000 years is certainly a far cry from 4,540,000,000!
Still, those who have put the Bible to the test in their lives have learned to trust it as the very word of God. So, what does the Bible truly say about the age of the earth? Surprisingly, it says both much more and much less than many understand!
Six Literal Days—But When?
It is wonderfully and literally true that "in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed" (Exodus 31:17) and that this "creation week" took place nearly 6,000 years ago, just as indicated in Scripture. But, what many miss is that the planet Earth and the heavens around Earth were already in existence at the beginning of that week!
We read in the very first verse of the Bible, before the events of that week, that: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1). As we will see, that initial "beginning" of the earth and the heavens—before Adam and Eve, and before the animals and plants with which we are familiar—may have occurred long, long ago!
But notice carefully the second verse of Genesis, which many read right over, missing its clear implications, because of its usual translation: "The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep" (Genesis 1:2). A simple statement—but it contains much more than meets the eye! The English words "without form, and void" are translated from the Hebrew words tohu and bohu. These two words, used together in Scripture just three times, indicate an uninhabitable wasteland—a condition of desolation or destruction. Significantly, the other two passages where tohu and bohu are used together—Isaiah 34:11 and Jeremiah 4:23—indicate that such desolate states of ruin and devastation were brought about by sin.
Furthermore, scholars point out that the Hebrew hayah—translated "was" in Genesis 1:2—elsewhere can convey the idea of "became."
Later in Genesis, in the passage describing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, we read that Lot’s wife "became [hayah] a pillar of salt" (Genesis 19:26). Certainly Lot had not married a pillar of salt; she had not always been so! Similarly, Genesis 1:2 could more appropriately be translated literally that "the earth became" a desolate waste—the Hebrew does not imply that it was created in that condition!
Created in Beauty, Not Chaos
Putting these facts together, we can understand that God would surely have created the heavens and the earth with great order and beauty, yet that through some sinful circumstance they became desolate and devastated— ruined and uninhabitable—in need of renewal (cf. Psalm 104:30) before the creation of mankind! Indeed, Genesis 1:1–2 can accurately be translated: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. But the earth had become a desolation and a chaotic ruin, and darkness was on the face of the deep."
So, does the Bible describe any sin or rebellion against God, before Adam’s creation, that could have brought such chaos and ruin? Yes, it does! Scripture tells us what Satan had done before he met Eve in the Garden of Eden, seeking to lure her into sinning against God (Genesis 3:1–5). God’s word makes it plain that angels were present before the earth existed, and they shouted for joy when they saw its foundation laid (Job 38:6–7)! Lucifer—who became Satan the devil—existed at this time. Scripture describes this corrupted, sinful creature leading a prideful angelic rebellion (Ezekiel 28:12–16; Isaiah 14:12–14)—a rebellion that Scripture indicates included a third of the angels ( R e v e l a t i o n 12:4). Isaiah 14:14 describes this prideful being’s desire to "ascend above the clouds" to take God’s very throne for himself— which implies that his assigned responsibilities were below the clouds, and therefore on the earth! Lucifer had the free will either to obey or to disobey God, and by refusing to carry out God’s will he became Satan—an adversary to God.
As sin always does, Satan’s rebellion brought destruction and ruin—in this case devastating the earth that had been his charge to prepare for God’s purposes. It is this chaotic and ruinous devastation, tohu and bohu, that we see reflected in the words of Genesis 1:2, and it is the miraculous six-day restoration of this planet—to a state of beauty and wonder fit for God’s creation of mankind—that we see in the rest of Genesis chapter 1!
So, as we can see, there is ample room in the words of Scripture to recognize the very ancient age of planet Earth. The Bible’s clear description of the creation of mankind, nearly 6,000 years ago, is not in conflict with its description of angelic activity occurring long before the Genesis 1:2 event— activity long ago when the world had been entrusted to Lucifer and his angels for God’s purposes before the creation of mankind.
But exactly how long ago did this occur? How long did Satan’s rebellion last? Did the dinosaurs exist at this time? Was it billions of years ago—close to the scientists’ estimate of a 4.5 billion-year-old Earth? Or was it earlier or later? On these details, the Bible is silent. But there is no conflict between the words of Scripture and the general scientific observation of a very ancient planet Earth.
Truly, science reveals many mysteries yet to be solved. But we should never let the changing findings of science—which are sometimes overturned entirely with the next discovery—cause us to doubt what the unchanging God says in His word! The evidence of history and science, properly understood, will always agree with the word of God. As Jesus Christ declares: "Your word is truth" (John 17:17)!
—Wallace G. Smith
Put out by Tomorrows World Magazine