A Young Earth is the Historic Christian Position
By Jacob Tanner
Is the earth 4.5 billion years old or less than 10,000 years old? Many scoff at the question, whether they answer in the affirmative to the former or latter, and clear division exists between Christians and secularists.
Tia Ghose reported for LiveScience.com in 2014 that just four out of ten Americans believe the earth is less than 10,000 years old. The country is divided, nearly split down the middle on the topic. Some Christians are left uncertain, scratching their heads about why it even matters, but Pastor John MacArthur helps us as Christians see the importance of how we answer the question of the age of the earth. He was interviewed by Tim Challies in 2011 and was asked whether or not someone could be legitimately saved and yet believe in theistic evolution, deny a literal six-day creation, and basically believe in an old earth. MacArthur’s response was that, “It’s a very serious error in my estimation, because it attacks the authority of Scripture at the Bible’s very starting point. It employs a special hermeneutic in order to make the Bible mean quite the opposite of what it plainly states. And once you open that door, absolutely nothing is safe from the assaults of rationalism, skepticism, and rank unbelief… Anyone who takes seriously the authority of Scripture must ultimately set the opinions of men aside and simply trust what Scripture says. The earlier we do that, the better. Frankly, I have never understood why someone who believes in the literal bodily resurrection of Christ would balk at believing all of Scripture, starting with Genesis 1:1.”
It is fascinating that so many Christians claim to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, as well as staking belief in His deity and Godhood, yet, as MacArthur stated, balk at the idea of a young earth created in six literal days. Nonetheless, there is no escaping the fact that the Bible begins in Genesis 1:1 with the famous words, “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth.” From this starting point, we are told that God created all things. No true Christian would deny this. The struggle seems to arise when one tries to set a date for the creation of the earth. Many secularists, prioritizing “science” (which is often little more than unproven theories), would laugh at anyone denying the theory of evolution, or the theory of an old earth. Many Christians, some incredibly popular pastors and theologians, have bought into the lie as well, though they typically relabel it as “theistic evolution.” In their estimation, the theory of evolution is still true, as is the theory of an old earth, but they still cling to God having created it. The problem is that in an attempt to avoid ridicule, they both deny the biblical witness and find that the secularist still flings vitriol across the table anyway. But what if I were to tell you that using biblical genealogies, we can actually trace back to the first man, Adam, and thus come relatively close to the age of the earth? To deny this would be to deny the Bible.
Though it has been debated in recent centuries, the Bible implicitly teaches that the earth is young, most Christians have believed it to be young, and to believe otherwise is to actually deny the biblical witness and evidence.
I personally have studied the biblical genealogies myself to determine that the earth is somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. This four-thousand-year period is frankly unnecessary, but it is allotting for the possibility of some gaps in the genealogical records. I have also studied countless books, from both a secular and Christian perspective, on both creationism and the age of the earth, to determine how old it truly is. Again, I have been thoroughly convinced in my research that the earth is young.
I aim to do three things, then, to show the validity of this belief, secular scoffing notwithstanding. First, I will tell you about the early church fathers, specifically Augustine, and how old they believed the earth to be. Second, I will move on to the reformers and will show you, from Luther and Calvin specifically, how old they believed the earth to be. After establishing a brief historical overview, thirdly, I will show you how to determine the age of the earth through the biblical record of genealogical accounts, tracing back from Jesus to Abraham and Abraham to Adam.
The early Church Fathers of the first few centuries took the Bible very seriously, and because they believed it to be complete and true, they also believed that it was correct in saying God created everything in the span of six days. Thus, they also believed in a young earth as well.
Genesis 1:1-5 informs us that God created the earth and everything else in six days. To deny this is to simply not believe the Word of God. Augustine, one of the most important of the Church Fathers, wrote a book called The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated by John Hammond Taylor in 1982, and in it, he states that, “He [God] spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created. Creation, therefore, did not take place slowly in order that a slow development might be implanted in those things that are slow by nature; nor were the ages established at plodding pace at which they now pass. Time brings about the development of these creatures according to the laws of their numbers, but there was no passage of time when they received these laws at creation.” He believed that God really did speak the world into existence. His point is that God also created and established time at the point when He created the earth. Since time effectively begins when God speaks His first words of creation in Genesis 1, he also believed the earth to be young.
Augustine would, admittedly, go back and forth on believing whether God created everything instantaneously or in six consecutive days. However, one thing he never wavered on was his rejection of an old earth. In his famous work, The City of God, Augustine would write, “I shall not dwell, then on the conjectures of men who “know not what they say” concerning the nature and origin of the human race. There are, for example, those who hold the opinion that men—like the universe—have always existed. . . . Suppose the following questions are put to these men: If the human race has always existed, how, then do you vindicate the truth of your own history which records the names of inventors and what they invented, the first founders of liberal education and of other arts, the first inhabitants of this or that region and of this or that island? They will answer that at certain intervals of time, most of the land was so devastated by floods and fire that the human race was greatly reduced in size and that from this small number the former population was again restored; and that, thus, at intervals, there was a new discovery and organization of all these things, or, rather a restoration of what had been damaged or destroyed by the great devastations; and that, in any case, men could simply not exist unless they were produced from man. Of course, all this is opinion, not science.”
Augustine’s points are just as true today. The Christian must be careful to not blindly accept opinions, though they may be flaunted as science. Only that which aligns with the Word of God can be true science.
We could look at countless other Church Fathers, but their testimony is in major agreement here. So, moving forward about a thousand years, let’s now turn our attention to the thoughts of the Reformers.
Martin Luther, perhaps the most famous spearhead of the Reformers, and a supremely gifted theologian, wrote countless commentaries on Scripture, held it in high regard, and wrote his own commentary on Genesis. Translated in 1958 by Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther wrote in his Lectures on Genesis, very bluntly in typical Luther fashion, that, “We know from Moses that the world was not in existence before 6,000 years ago.” Clearly, Luther is self-explanatory here because he believed the testimony of Scripture and refused to entertain vain philosophies.
The other Reformer that may take the title of most famous spearhead is John Calvin, and Calvin believed the same as Luther. In his famous Institutes, translated by Lewis Battles in 1960, he plainly stated that, “…the duration of the world… has not yet attained 6,000 years.” Though Calvin, like Luther, suffered various detractors in countless theological debates, one large area of agreement was that the earth is indeed young.
The Reformers held the Scriptures in such high regard and saw the Bible as an infallible witness of God’s truth. As such, they could hardly imagine not believing that the earth was young because, though not directly stated, it could be indirectly proven from various evidences set forth.
The evidences that led the early Church Fathers, the Reformers, and modern men like John MacArthur to accept that the earth is young, and certainly less than 4.5 billion years old, comes primarily from the testimony of God’s creation in Genesis and then the tracing of the genealogies. Again, the Bible never explicitly dates creation, but the implicit evidence that Scripture offers for a young earth is surmounting.
Modern Christians have recognized this evidence, and are well worth researching. Dr. Floyd Nolen Jones, a Young Earth Creationist, published his work The Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to Basics in 1993, in which he writes, “the date of the Creation is 586 + 3418 = 4004 BC.” Dr. Jones is greatly indebted to a man named Archbishop James Ussher, also worth researching, who wrote The Annals of the World, originally published in Latin in 1650 and recently translated in 2003 by Larry and Marion Pierce, in which he shows how to trace the biblical genealogies all the way back to 4004 BC.
A simple way to do the math, and my personal method, is to recognize that, according to both secular and biblical scholars today, Abraham lived around 2,000 BC. We know from Genesis that Adam was created on the sixth day. So, what we can do is add up the five days before Adam was created. Then, we add 2,000 years to that (which is the amount of time that passes from Adam to Abraham, according to the genealogies and length of time the Bible records those men living for). After this then, we can add 4,020 years to that number, which takes us from 2,000 BC, the days of Abraham, to our modern year of AD 2020. The result is that we come to the number 6,020 years and five days (the five days is a bit unnecessary to continue to include in the final count). Therefore, even allowing for the possibility of some gaps in the genealogies of some unrecorded people, the earth is shown, indirectly, through the witness of Scripture to be young, at about 6,020 years old.
My aim has been to concisely show you, first, how the early Church Fathers believed the earth to be young; second, how the Reformers high regard for Scripture led them to also determine the earth was less than six thousand years old in the 1500’s; and, finally, I have shown you how men like Floyd and Ussher show us how to use the biblical record and genealogies to trace the age of the earth to about 6,000 years old.
Many may try to debate or deny it or scoff at it, but the Bible implicitly teaches that the earth is young, and most Christians throughout history have accepted this to be true. To believe otherwise is to actually deny the biblical witness and evidence.
John MacArthur mentioned that to deny a young earth created by God is to basically deny the Bible from page one. Yet, the Bible makes it plain that the earth is young and less than ten thousand years old. Rather than allowing ourselves to be led astray by the ideas and theories of the secular world, let us instead be informed by the inspired and inerrant Word of God. To do anything else is to undermine the sufficiency of Scripture and the truthfulness of God Himself.
- Ghose, Tia. “4 in 10 Americans Believe God Created Earth 10,000 Years Ago.” Live Science. June 05, 2014. https://www.livescience.com/46123-many-americans-creationists.html
- Challies, Tim. “Five More Questions with John MacArthur.” Challies. February 10, 2011. https://www.challies.com/interviews/5-more-questions-with-john-macarthur/
- Augustine. The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor. New York: Newman Press, 1982.
- Augustine. The City of God, trans. Marcus Dods. Overland Park: Digireads Publishing, 2017.
- Luther, Martin. Lectures on Genesis, in Luther’s Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan. St. Louis, MO: Concordia, 1958.
- Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1960.
- Jones, Floyd Nolan. The Chronology of the Old Testament: A Return to the Basics. Green Forrest: Master Books, 2019.
- Ussher, James. The Annals of the World, trans. Larry and Marion Pierce. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003.