One of the primary issues within the reputed contention between science and the Bible is the age of the earth. Do we believe what the Bible says (6,000 years as some have suggested) or what the overwhelming majority of science says (4.54 billion years)? As noted in my last post, these issues don’t really matter. What one believes in regard to the age of the earth has no bearing on that person’s salvation, nor does it give ground to divide believers, for what binds us together is our common faith objectively and our union with Christ subjectively.
Despite all of this, I do plan on explaining how I see this issue, not to further cause division, but rather to broaden the views of some who may have found it impossible to reconcile science and the Bible, as well as to comfort those whose faith seems to shake at the pronouncements of scientific discovery and false application of such by aggressive atheists. I ask all readers to keep an open mind and a poor spirit(1 Cor. 3:18; Matt. 5:3).
I don’t plan on commenting long concerning the young-earth creationist viewpoint. I offer a warning to all who fall in this category (and I have counted myself among your camp for half of my Christian life): don’t fall into the trap of taking tradition over the scriptures. If your pastor says something to you as a matter of fact, scriptural proof should follow before you begin preaching it and condemning others who disagree.
The Bible never gives a date for the earth. The way that people have come up with “6,000 years” is by tracing back the genealogies and historical events in the Bible from Adam to Christ ( plus an additional 2000ish years to the present), supposing that the number found represents the age of Earth. However, that dating process only traces back to Genesis 2.
Purpose of the Genesis Account
Genesis 1 and 2 were not given to man as a science textbook. It by no means tries to convey the entirety of the process God used in creating everything. Rather, it conveys God as the creator and man as His unique creature, in His very image and likeness.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The first verse of the Bible gives an account of creation, specifically of creation from nothing, ex nihilo. There is no reason to believe that Genesis 1:2-2:3 are a retelling of that same event (I will expand on this point later). The heavens and the earth were created here.
My question is: did they (the heavens and the earth) come into existence at the same time? Is that what this verse is trying to tell us? Science ardently answers “no” to the former question. But the second question, I believe, would be answered “no” by most Christians. And if you want to know if there was a time in-between “heavens” and “the earth” in this verse, we can look to the Bible (without referencing science) in other mentions of the same event:
Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Who set its measurements — if you know? Or who stretched the measuring line over it? Onto what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
These verses clearly show that the angels, who were created with the heavens, were around, conscious, and active before and during the earth’s creation. That doesn’t really fit into the fundamentalist, young-earth view that says both were made at the same time. But they are fighting for an unsupported traditional interpretation, while I am referencing the Bible to explain the Bible (this point doesn’t add to age of the earth question, but it does tell us that the universe, represented by the “heavens,” is an unspecified age scripturally; science tells us the universe is 13.82B years old).
But the earth became waste and emptiness, and darkness was on the surface of the deep
The transition of “but” (or “and” in some translations) proves that Genesis 1:2 is a continuation in a sequence of events, rather than a retelling or expanding upon the first verse. If Moses wanted to expand verse one, he would have used a transition similar to Genesis 5:1:
This is the book of the generations of Adam. When God created Adam, He made him in the likeness of God.
This is a clear expansion on the first statement. Genesis 1:2, in contrast, transitions to a new event in a sequence with the word “but.”
So what happened after God created the heavens and the earth? The earth became waste and emptiness. Some translators have chosen to use the word “was” in place of the word “became” due to their traditional understanding of the creation account, but that liberality with the text not only violates the natural translation of the original Hebrew, it also violates the pure and clear Word of God as interpreted by itself in other places.
First, in reference to the original Hebrew, I am no scholar, but I can look at the Hebrew word used in this verse (“hâyâh”) and cross reference to find where else the Hebrew word occurs. Turns out, it occurs 37 verses later in 2:7 where man “became” a living soul. It wasn’t that man “was” a living soul. He became a living soul. The same Hebrew word is also used in chapter 19 where Lot’s wife “became” a pillar of salt. “Became” is the best rendering of the word “hâyâh”.
Bible Interpreting Itself
Secondly, the Bible explicitly tells us that God did not form the earth waste as it is in Genesis 1:2:
For thus says Jehovah, who created the heavens — He is the God who formed the earth and made it; He established it; He did not create it waste, but He formed it to be inhabited: I am Jehovah and there is no one else
If you say that God created the earth as it was in Genesis 1:2, you have to call Isaiah 45:18 a contradicting verse. However, the Bible explicitly states that the earth “became” waste and emptiness, and the Bible remains inherent.
How did the earth become this way? The obvious implication is that Satan fell in between verses 1 and 2. Satan is in the garden in Genesis 3:1 as the deceiving serpent, and no where in the first two chapters is the fall of Lucifer explicitly mentioned (as in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28). There was peace and joy in verse 1 (as revealed by Job 38), but chaos in verse 2.
The water upon the earth is obviously a sign of judgement, as seen in Genesis 6-9 concerning the flood. Satan must have fallen and God judged the original earth, with all its life forms as mentioned in Isaiah 45:18 and confirmed by the fossil record. (For further proof on the language in Genesis 1:2 denoting judgment, cross-reference Jer. 4:23; Isa. 24:1; 34:11; Ex. 10:21-22; Rev. 16:10)
How Can This be if None of it is Explicitly Mentioned?
God is not trying to give us a detailed explanation of the creation, fall, and restoration of the universe. God gave man Genesis 1-2 in order to show man that He desires a relationship with him as His special creature (with His image and likeness), specifically as the creature that will subdue the earth that is in rebellion to God under the usurping rule of the serpent (c.f. Gen. 1:26 – special reference to the “creeping things” and v. 28). God only tells us as much as we need to know (c.f. Acts 1:7; 1 Cor. 13:12)
Does Any of This Matter?
Honestly, I can probably write several blog posts concerning this topic with many more proof verses. I don’t do so as a curtesy to my young-earther brothers in the Lord whom I desire to continue with in fellowship in our common faith and common salvation (Tit. 1:4; Jd. 3).
This interpretation has nothing to do with science, but everything to do with a proper interpretation of scripture and the maintenance of fellowship with believers, regardless of beliefs on secondary issues. If science tells us that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, I have no problem with that, for I see a clear gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 in the Scriptures. If you don’t, by all means, reject the scientific data. As a conclusion, I offer this quote from Augustine:
In matters that are so obscure and far beyond our vision, we find in the Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejedice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it.
-Augustine, De Genesi ad litteram