You walk down the street and see a neighbor building something. “Howdy, neighbor! What are you building?”
“I am building a pole. I just fastened the base to it, and I am about to raise it up. You are welcome to watch.”
You find a shady spot and get comfortable. The pole is about 20-25 feet long. There is no hole in the ground that you see and the base that he just fastened is no more than a foot wide. Thinking you might have an opportunity for submitting something to Funniest Home Videos, you pull out your phone and discreetly begin recording.
Your neighbor heaves the pole upon the base and after a few moments of steadying it, he lets go. It stays upright a few moments, then a gentle breeze comes. The pole begins to tip. He quickly grabs a long board and steadies the pole and nails it up. The pole stays up but, now, it’s leaning a little against the board. Another gentle breeze comes and the pole begins to tilt in another direction. You neighbor jumps as he sees what is happening and grabs another board and in the nick of time props the pole up before it falls. This happens a few more times and a few more boards are added quickly to keep the pole from falling. When he steps back finally satisfied, the structure looks rickety and hodge-podge, certainly not something that will last.
As you stop recording, you are a little disappointed that nothing happened where you might win money. As you wave good-bye you feel compassion for your neighbor because it is very clear that he will have to begin again someday.
This story provides a helpful picture when we look at explanations for things. So, if the pole represents an explanation for something, it would not be a good explanation if you have to keep bringing in additional items to keep the first explanation from falling.
As Christian scholars have studied the first chapters of Genesis through the ages, different explanations have been offered to help us understand what we read.
For followers of Jesus, you may be wondering “Why do we need to go over this? I already know what the Bible says.”
Jesus in reference to the Pharisees: Matthew 23:4 “They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”
Here Jesus rebukes the Pharisees, who were experts in Scripture, for adding to people’s burdens. It is wise to deal with this question about Genesis 1 because we want to make sure that we are not placing burdens of belief on others that Scripture does not place.
If you are one of our neighbors, meaning you do not consider yourself a follower of Jesus, the question we are addressing may be one you have wondered about. How do Christians, if they believe that the universe is so young, handle the evidence for a much older universe? If someone is to consider following Jesus, do they have to believe in a young earth? This connection between Jesus and Genesis has caused doubt for some believers and a barrier for those who might be considering Jesus.
Two Prior Points
1. The Importance of this Question
Let me give you two statements and I want you to tell me which one fits better with the rest of Scripture:
a. The universe and all basic life forms including mankind came into existence in 6 24-hour periods with the appearance of age by completely naturalistic means thousands of years ago.
b. God created the universe and all life forms including mankind over billions of years.
The second one is the more important one. This tells us that there is a more important, foundational truth that is necessary for the rest of Scripture to make sense and that is God is the Creator. He is the explanation behind the existence of everything else.
We would not have any good news to share if God is not the Creator. The time question is not essential. Though, it does not mean that it is unimportant.
2. Understanding Theories
Theories are explanations that try to make sense of people’s experiences, evidence, or data.
Let’s say you come home one evening. As you walk up to the front door you see that it is open. You open the door and turn on the light and see the room is in disarray. Books and pictures, broken lamps and torn curtains all lay around like a war zone and then one of your most prized possessions is missing from the wall: your television.
Now with that data, you seek for an explanation of that data. You theorize what happened from what you see. What is the most likely option that comes to your mind? You were robbed.
There are other possible theories that could explain what you see. Your neighbor, who has a key to your place, his TV suddenly died, and he was in a hurry to watch his favorite TV show. The mess is from him looking for the remote and he forgot to shut the door when he left.
Another theory: government agents planted surveillance devices around your home and made it look like you were robbed to keep you from being suspicious.
The point is that you can have multiple theories to explain the same set of data or evidence.
With Genesis 1 there have been multiple theories, throughout church history. Here are three theories that are most popular today within Christian circles.
Young Earth: Genesis 1 is a narrative account of God creating in consecutive, distinct 24-hour periods of time.
Old Earth: Genesis 1 is a narrative account of God creating but there is a huge gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 and the “days” refer to distinct periods of time.
Framework: Genesis 1 outlines a framework for understanding how God has ordered His creation and mankind’s purpose.
Is the Young Earth theory the only possible explanation for Genesis 1?
Here are some of the strengths of the Young Earth position.
· As you read, God’s creative actions move rather quickly. This gives the impression of a short time frame.
· You also read statements in the text that we associate with a 24-hour period of time, “There was evening and there was morning…”
· The Hebrew word “yom” is translated “day” and yom most often refers to a 24-hr period in the Old Testament.
Summary: The days in Genesis 1 refer to 24-hr periods, and this would mean the earth and the universe are thousands of years old not millions.
Does this theory explain all that we read in Genesis or does it require extra explanations to prop it up in light of the evidence in the text?
· If days 1-6 are 24-hour periods as indicated by “there was evening and morning,” then why does the seventh day not have that? If “evening and morning” is the indicator of a 24-hour period, then the seventh day has not ended. To offer an explanation for why the seventh day is still a 24-hour period is to bring in a board to steady the pole. (See Hebrews 4:4-11)
· If days 1-6 show a sequence in time, light was created, then atmosphere, then land and plants, and so on, then why does Genesis 2 not follow the same sequence as 1?
Chapter 1: light & darkness (1st Day), atmosphere and oceans (2nd Day), land & plants (3rd Day), then Sun, Moon and stars (4th Day), then sea creatures and birds (5th Day), livestock, beasts and creeping things and finally mankind, male and female (6th Day).
Chapter 2: Adam (6th Day), then plants with Eden (3rd Day), then beasts (6th Day) & birds (5th Day), then Eve (6th Day).
Read Genesis 2:4
· What day did the Lord make the earth? The earth already exists before the first day. Does this mean we are missing a day? To offer an explanation is to add another board to keep the pole from falling.
· This last point looks at the age of the universe, which is what “heavens” refers to. The speed of light is independent of the theory of evolution. We can measure the distance of stars and galaxies that are millions of light years away. We also know that the universe is expanding. It seems then that the universe is much older than thousands of years, because of the time it would take the starlight to travel to earth, especially when things are moving away from each other. If the universe is young, then it should appear young. To offer an explanation for why the universe appears old, when it is actually young is another board added to keep the pole standing.
My point is to show that the Young Earth position, while it has strengths, it also has some things that it cannot account for without adding to it, three of which are directly from the text of Genesis. When you have to add additional explanations to the original one, like the boards to keep the pole standing, that tells you that you may not have the strongest explanation.
It does not mean it is the wrong explanation. I think that the Young Earth theory of Genesis 1 is a valid theory and should be given space to discuss and test. If it is true, then the evidence will show it is true. However, for the reasons stated and others, I can no longer think or say that it is the only way to understand Genesis 1.
Application Questions for followers of Jesus:
Does the Bible teach a young earth?
Answer: it might and it might not. There are some indications in the text that would support the position, but I have pointed out three instances in the text and one outside the text that shows the Young Earth position requires additional explanation and support.
If I agreed with the Young Earth position, do I need to change?
Maybe. Hopefully, the questions I have surfaced challenge you to know God’s Word more. I would suggest that you deepen your understanding of Genesis 1 & 2, if what we have looked at is new to you. We know more about the kind of literature Genesis 1 is and we know more of the historical context when God inspired Moses to write this account in contrast to Egypt and other surrounding nations both of which informs a proper interpretation of God’s Word. I have resources available.
Having a conversation with a neighbor
Don’t you have to believe that the earth is like thousands of years old to be a Christian?
Your (suggested) answer: No. There is room to have different positions on how long God chose to create within Christianity. What other beliefs have you heard Christians have to believe in?
How do Christians, if they believe that the universe is so young, handle the evidence for a much older universe?
Suggested response: Well, that position could be wrong, we’re just trying our best to understand what God is telling us in the Bible and thinking the universe is young is just one position a Christian can have. What evidence are you thinking of that shows the universe is very old?
Can you believe in evolution and still be a Christian?
We will answer that next week.