By Bob Davis
How old is the earth? How, exactly, did creation happen? Christian answers differ.
You’ve likely heard of the old earth versus young earth debate among Christians. Key within this controversy is the six-day period of creation spoken of in the book of Genesis.
Let’s look at three common interpretations of the Genesis creation story, evaluate how significant the issue is to the Christian faith, and examine how a similar controversy several hundred years ago was resolved in a way that fulfills the commands of both Christ and the Apostle Paul in regard to Christian unity.1
The three basic interpretations are young earth creationism (YEC), old earth creationism (OEC), and allegorical approaches.
Young Earth Creationism (YEC)
The historical interpretation of Genesis is that the seven days of creation are seven 24-hour periods—like our current days.2 When combined with the simple addition of the years provided in the Bible genealogies, the math results in a 6,000-year-old universe with the human race—starting with Adam and Eve—appearing on day 6.3
While some YEC advocates attempt to develop scientific evidence for a recent creation (known as creation science), others view the entire scientific enterprise with skepticism.4 Those who reject science either view scientific assertions of a 4.5-billion-year-old earth as a theory meant to cause Christians to doubt the Bible or as an impossible pursuit because of the flawed thinking of fallen humans.5
YECs assert that a natural reading of the Bible indicates that God intended that readers interpret the days of creation as ordinary 24-hour periods. With that said, it should be noted that some YECs would agree that the earth appears to be very old. However, they would argue that God created the earth with simply the appearance of age, just as he probably created Adam as a mature man, not an infant.
Old Earth Creationism (OEC)
OECs6 advocate a literal Genesis account, but they interpret the word “day” to be an era or some other kind of longer period of time.7 Another term used for this position is “Day Age.” That is, each day signifies an epoch of time, much as English speakers might refer to the “Day of the Pioneers” or the “Day of the Dinosaurs.”
Most OECs believe God supernaturally created the universe out of nothing and that Big Bang cosmology provides powerful scientific support for this. These OECs are “progressive creationists” in the sense that they believe God supernaturally intervened over the course of the six long periods of time to create the various plant and animal life-forms (the “kinds” mentioned in Genesis).
OECs oppose Darwinian evolution but not necessarily microevolution (minor changes within a species).8 Like YECs, OECs place a high value on biblical inerrancy. Most OEC advocates will admit that a natural reading of the English versions of Genesis lead to a YEC position, but they also point to Scripture that is supportive of an old-earth interpretation…
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