What does the Bible tell us about the age of the earth?

One of the more harmful misconceptions that some people have is that the Christian faith and the evolution theory contradict each other. There are both Christians and atheists that state that one cannot have both: the Christian faith, and accepting the evolution theory. I think this statement is wrong, and I also think the statement is harmful - in particular, as it may prevent people to have a personal relation with their Creator and Saviour.

In other texts that I have put on my website, I have fired a few shots at the evolution theory. In this text, I'll aim from a different angle: looking at the first few verses of the Bible, I'll explain that the Bible does not necessarily say that the world is about 6000 years old. What some people claim is a Biblical truth is more their interpretation of the Bible.

The first two Bible verses

Let's look at the first two verses of the first chapter of the first book of the Bible: Genesis 1: 1-2. I'll quote from the King James translation:
In the beginning God created the heaven and earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
Other translations tell that the face of the earth was chaos, e.g., the Living Bible translation writes: the earth was a shapeless, chaotic mass.

After these verses, the Bible describes six days of creation, from light till animals, plants, and humans. Adam and Eve were created the sixth day of creation. There has been much dispute whether these days of creation should be interpreted as 'real' days, or more like periods of time; people in favor of the latter point, often use the text that states that for God, one day is like thousand years. The Bible describes a line of descendants of Adam and Eve, and if we add ages of these people, this can lead to an estimate of the age of the earth of somewhat more than six thousand years. Such an age is in strong contrast to what many scientists say about the age of the earth: a few billion years.

Does the Bible really say the earth is six thousand years old?

But, what does the Bible really say about the age of the earth? In any case, there is no explicit verse, that relates the time of creation of the earth with any event in later books of the Bible. But implicitly: if we believe that the Bible is true from cover till cover, can we be sure that the earth is less than 7000 years old? I think: no. This depends on how one would read and interpret verses from the Bible.

Let us go back to these first two verses of Genesis. The first verse already tells God created the heaven and the earth. Now, many people read this as a kind of summary of the remainder of Genesis 1. However, one can also read this as follows:

So, in this explanation, the seven days of creation are not the first creation: they are a later creation. I think that God does not create chaos: if He creates something, it is good. So, after the first creation of heaven and earth, something has happened that made that the earth was no longer as God meant it to be. This may - but that is only speculation - have been the downfall of the devil/Satan and the angels that were cast from heaven with him. Or it may have been the meteorite impact that scientist conjecture that has taken place. Or, it may have been both of these. Or something else. In any case: something has happened that turned Gods first good creation into something chaotic, but we are not told in the text what it exactly was. Then, Genesis tells that God made the chaos into the world of which God saw that it was good.

With this interpretation of Genesis 1: 1-2, one cannot tell from the Bible how old the earth is. This is not a problem, as the Bible is no science book, but a book of faith.

Different interpretations

The interpretation given above does not need to be the correct one. But: it may be. What I hope to have shown here is that it depends on the interpretation of the Bible on what it tells about the age of the earth. And hence, accepting the scientific theory that the earth is a few billion years old does not mean that you believe something that is in contradiction with the Bible.

Some conclusions

The Christian religion shows us that there is a God that created the world, and us. God can make something good from chaos - and that is true, both for the world and its creatures, but also, he can make something good from our life when it is in darkness and chaos.

What is important in the creation versus evolution debate is to fight the misconception that science shows that God does not exist: science does not show that, and also, what science can show, is not in contradiction with the Bible. The misconception is harmfull, as it may prevent people from finding God as their father, helper, and redeemer.

So the answer to the question: What does the Bible tell us about the age of the world? is: the Bible does not tell us much about this. Instead, the Bible tells us many other things - about the love of God for us, his plan for our lives, prayer, redemption, and much more. Instead of trying to convince people about one interpretation around some scientific fact that does not need to influence our lives, Christians should tell others about Biblical Truths like the salvation we can have through Jesus.

Hans Bodlaender, June 6, 2005
Index of texts on religion by Hans