How Old is the Earth? How Big was the Flood? How Much Does it Matter?
April 18, 2013 § 6 Comments
Here’s a look at two of the prevalent intra-Christian topics of debate (YEC/OEC and Global/Local Flood) and their relevance to Christian living.
HOW OLD IS THE EARTH?
In the debate between good-intentioned Christians over the age of the earth, most of the attention seems to be on the original Creation account in Genesis 1: the Hebrew term for day (yom) is held by young earth proponents as a literal 24 hour day, while old-earthers say it communicates a longer period In Genesis 1. Other disputes involve the meaning of “evening and morning” and the ramifications of death occurring before sin.
Personally, I ascribe to a Young Earth view, but the most compelling evidence I find is not in the Old Testament but in the New. There are a few statements in Scripture that seem to very clearly support a relatively young earth (6,000 – 10,000 years) that are widely overlooked, three spoken by Jesus and one by the apostle Paul.
First, this twice-recorded statement from Jesus:
“And [Jesus] answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female,’” (Matthew 19:4, NASB)
“But from the beginning of creation, God ‘made them male and female.'” (Mark 10:6, NASB)
Jesus uses “from the beginning of creation” to describe when Adam and Eve were created. If creation were a week-long event occurring several thousand years before, this statement makes sense. If, on the other hand, there were billions of years of earth history before Adam, then “from the beginning” (or “in the beginning/at the beginning” depending on the translation) would have absolutely no place in this first hand account from the Creator Himself.
These aren’t the only places we find Jesus placing man’s activities in close proximity to creation. While speaking of end times in Mark 13, Jesus references suffering initiated in Genesis 3 with the sin of Adam and Eve, presumed to be when? “The beginning of creation.”
“For those days will be a time of tribulation such as has not occurred since the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never.” (Mark 13:19, NASB)
In Luke’s Gospel, in His charge against the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus recounts their history of violence against God’s messengers, stretching all the way back to the murder of Adam’s son Abel. Human blood has been shed “since the foundation of the world,” which also refutes the possibility of a long earth history without man.
“For this reason also the wisdom of God said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’” (Luke 11:49-51, NASB)
Another young earth testimony is evident in Paul’s General Revelation statement in Romans chapter 1. We can’t ignore that Paul seems to take for granted that “since the creation of the world”, humans have been around to see the evidence of God’s work in nature.
“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, NASB)
[Related post: The Young Earth Positions of Jesus and Paul]
HOW BIG WAS THE FLOOD?
Two main views of the Genesis Flood exist contemporarily among Christians. One is that the flood waters were global in scale and covered all the earth, and the other is that the Bible actually describes a local deluge confined to the Mesopotamian plains that was home to Noah and all humans in his day.
Frequently the debate centers around language and diction that can be interpreted in ways that allow for a smaller, localized flood. As just one example, in Genesis 8:9: “waters were on the face of the whole earth”, the Hebrew word for earth—‘erets—can also mean a territory).
However, even if the language allows for a flood confined to the Mesopotamian plains, there are facts in the Genesis account and elsewhere in scripture that we can’t readily reinterpret based on word choice, and these facts cause problems for the local flood theory.
If the Genesis flood was not global, but local…
1. There would be no imaginable purpose for God to have Noah build an ark large enough to house two of every land animal and bird kind (Gen. 6:20) unless the flood were global. There would be no reason to carry animals since populations could later be replenished from animals outside the flood zone.
2. There would be no purpose for the 120 years of warning before the flood (Gen. 6:3) if all the local inhabitants had to do was travel south to higher ground or cross the mountains to the north to avoid the catastrophe.
3. The ark becomes an inadequate picture of the salvation of God, to which there is only one way, as a local flood would have allowed many routes to salvation. Options would then be available to either board the ark or move out of the area in numerous directions to escape judgment.
4. There would be no reason for the ark’s inhabitants to stay on board the ark for an entire year (Gen. 8:13-16). A local flood would have not lasted as long as a global flood and should have allowed them to land and vacate a lot sooner. A global flood justifies such a lengthy duration.
5. Receding waters certainly would have deposited the ark someplace lower than “on the mountains of Ararat.” (Gen. 8:4) The only way to land on a mountain is to first be afloat on waters that were above the mountains.
6. God seems to have broken a covenant. God “vowed that the waters of Noah’s flood would never again cover the earth” in Isaiah 54:9 (reiterating His promise from Gen. 8:21). If this was a promise not to allow the flooding of the Mesopotamia or some other isolated region, rather than the whole earth, then numerous local floods have contrarily occurred over the course of history and destroyed isolated populations.
HOW MUCH DOES IT MATTER?
The other facet in Creation and Flood debates is whether either really matters to the essential doctrines of Christianity. The most important thing in orthodox Christianity is that our salvation from sin’s penalty comes by grace through faith in Christ alone. If that’s all we know, we are saved, and we can love God and neighbor by preaching that Gospel. The good news of God’s salvation is for young and old, and available for anyone willing to repent and believe regardless of intellect.
Someone may ask: “What about the inerrancy of Scripture? If you don’t believe in that, how can you believe what the Bible says about the Gospel to be true?” With knowledge comes responsibility. The asker of this question has presumably dealt with the question. For him the question matters greatly. If and only if the one being challenged internalizes the question and begins to grapple with it in order to reconcile it with the Gospel he already knows, then it matters for him.
The same can be said about the age of the earth and the Flood, except these are a little further down the line in importance from inerrancy, since inerrancy is what establishes the rest of the Bible as authoritative and true. Once a person begins to think about the age of Creation or the scope of judgment of the Flood in terms of the implications on the Gospel, they begin to matter.
Many people don’t get that far, and they are no worse off in their standing before God for not looking into these matters because they have Christ and knowledge of their salvation. They may never grapple with deeper truths unless someone challenges them, and then they still may not.
A Christian is not at liberty to think however they like on the Gospel. On everything else, the liberties we take don’t keep us out of heaven. But could they keep us from effective in reaching the lost?
If an unbeliever is hung up on mode of Creation, scope of the Flood, Evolution, or any number of non-essentials, we should realize and point out that there are genuine Christians who hold differing views on these things. What Christians all must agree on is Christ. We can discuss the lesser issues later, but let’s figure out what to do with Jesus. He is the one who saves. What we don’t know shouldn’t be a stumbling block to the Gospel we do know.
Despite this commitment, you may end up having to tackle a skeptic’s hang ups on cosmology or some non-essential in order to get to the Main Thing. A case is more convincing when all the details fit. Apologetics and evangelism are where your ability (by God’s grace and the guidance of His Spirit) to reconcile all of God’s Word, details about Creation and Noah’s Flood included, can be a real benefit to His kingdom.
David Silverman, the President of the American Atheists, in his recent debate with Christian apologist Frank Turek, (watch it at RealityDebate.com) exploits what he sees as Christian compromise in Biblical teaching—adding allegory to Levitical commands in his example around 51:45—as evidence against the validity of Theism in general. Turek exposes the flaws in Silverman’s arguments, but the fact that many Christians have compromised on our views of the Bible creates a definite problem in apologetics.
When I say knowledge determines importance, I don’t advocate willful ignorance of everything outside of the Gospel. By and large what I gain from studying the broad landscape of Christian theology is appreciation and affirmation of the truth of the Gospel, not a reason to argue with other Christians. Thank God we only need to know a small amount of Biblical truth to be made right with God. But we shouldn’t go forward content with small knowledge (Eph. 4:15). Christ is enough, but the more we deepen our theology, the more confident and cohesive we can be in leading others to Him.