Genesis and the Age of the Earth
However, if you add up all the genealogies in the Bible from Adam to Jesus and then add 2,000 years (for the time from Jesus until now), then the history recorded in the Bible is more like 6,000 years. If all the genealogies in the Old Testament are closed genealogies (without gaps), then this would be a significant issue, not least because humanity appears to have been around for at least 100,000 years. But the language that the Bible’s genealogies are given in, doesn’t permit such a rigid understanding of them.
The biblical phrase “Seth became the father of Enosh” (Genesis 5:6) can equally mean “Seth became the ancestor of Enosh” (see the footnote in Genesis 5:6 NIV). In fact, in Hebrew (the language that the Old Testament was written in), there’s no way to distinguish between the two, the word can take either meaning (father or ancestor), and sometimes it even takes both meanings in the same verse (Numbers 36:8; Joshua 24:2; 1 Kings 11:43; 15:24; 22:50; 2 Kings 15:38; 2 Chronicles 9:31; Malachi 2:10).
And so, if the genealogies in Genesis, Numbers, Chronicles etc, are open genealogies (with gaps), then the age of humanity is not a question that the Bible seeks to answer. It is not concerned with scientific questions of age, but rather with establishing a line of descent, and the precision required for this during the time in which Old Testament was written, didn’t require tracing an unbroken line through every single generation. Freeing the Bible from the burden of answering our scientific questions (which it was never written to answer) enables us to see that there is no contradiction between the scientific and the biblical accounts of humanity.
But what about a 4 million year old river formation? Or a 65 million year old dinosaur fossil? Or light from stars that has taken 13 billion years to reach us? There’s no way that humanity is that old. If it is insisted that the six days of Genesis 1 are periods of 24 hours, then a number of conflicts arise between science and the Bible. However, in the account of creation in Genesis 1, the use of the word ‘day’ is much more flexible than that. Its first occurrence reads: “God called the light ‘day’,” (Genesis 1:5) which is clearly not referring to a period of 24 hours.
At the end of the creation account, it reads: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when (lit. ‘in the day’) the Lord God made the earth and the heavens” (Genesis 2:4), using the singular ‘day’ to refer to the whole creation week. Moreover, unlike the first six days, the seventh day doesn’t come to an end, suggesting that we are still in God’s Sabbath day of rest, since God’s “works have been finished since the creation of the world” (Hebrews 4:3).
For these reasons, Christians, going right back to the early church fathers (e.g. Philo, Clement of Alexandria, Augustine), have taken Genesis 1, not as a scientific text book that answers the questions that we want to ask (how? and how long?), but as a narrative that outlines the orderliness of creation, answering the questions the author was intending to address (who? and why?). In the scope of 2,000 years church history, young earth creationism is a very recent phenomenon (less than 100 years old).
Genesis 1 and modern science both attest to the universe having a beginning, and beginning as a primordial ‘blob’, which is now formed and filled. While science describes an expansion and inflation of the universe, the Bible describes it as the Lord stretching out the heavens (Isaiah 45:12; Jeremiah 10:12; 51:15). Of course, this doesn’t prove that Genesis got it right, but it does demonstrate a consistency.
As an unbeliever, Dr. Andrew Parker wrote a scientific account of the Cambrian explosion called In the Blink of an Eye, only to discover what he calls “a whole series of parallels between Genesis 1 and the modern, scientific account of life’s history” (Parker, The Genesis Enigma, xii). Dr. Parker has subsequently written on the striking parallels between the account in Genesis 1 and the scientific history of the earth in The Genesis Enigma: Why the First Book of Bible is Scientifically Accurate.
This is precisely what we would expect if there is coherence between God’s general revelation (studied in science) and God’s special revelation (studied in theology). We can properly talk about a history of creation: the account of creation in Genesis 1 is a historical account in temporal sequence. And yet, it was not written as a scientific account, and so words like ‘day’ may be used more generally, as in ‘the day of the dinosaurs’. Indeed, when the order of Genesis 1 is compared to the scientific account of the beginning of the universe and of life on earth, we see so many parallels that a natural synthesis is almost hard to avoid: