One of the most disturbing things initially about the thought of an old earth was that the Bible could be so unclear and my views wrong for so many years. This brings up the important theological question of the truthfulness of God. Is the Bible frank and truthful in its presentation of the creation of the world? Or, was God being deceptive in presenting what at first blush appears to be a young earth in the Bible? How could serious and godly students of the Bible be wrong for millennia about this topic? The following points help explain how believers could be wrong for so long and yet God not be dishonest.
1. The original Hebrew language of Moses' time is not always easily understood.
The Bible was written roughly 3,500 years ago. Though God preserves His Word faithfully, determining the original meaning that Moses intended should not be assumed to be easy. Languages often change significantly over hundreds of years, not to mention thousands. My guess—and it is only a guess—is that the Hebrew readers of Moses’ day would have had no difficulty in discerning that the Days of Genesis 1 were unspecified periods of time—maybe 24-hours but maybe much longer periods.
The Bible has been preserved, and we can determine its original meaning, but we should not assume that the Bible is always obvious in its meaning. We should not assume that what appears obvious in an English translation was just as obvious in the ancient Hebrew. Anyone who might argue for the perspicuity of the Scriptures in regard to non-essential doctrines has a very difficult case to make. Traditionally, it has been believed that the Bible is clear in matters of salvation and other essential doctrines, but not concerning peripheral doctrines. The age of the universe is not—or definitely should not be—a core doctrine.
2. A right understanding of the “two books” of God answers the truthfulness of God.
It has been believed by many through the ages that there are two revelations of God: the revelation of Nature and the special revelation of Scripture . This is the correct view, as indicated in Romans 1-2 and Psalms 8 and 19. Both are sent to us from God’s fingers. The revelation of Nature needs to be treated as God’s honest message about Himself and the history of the whole cosmos and earth. We should not marginalize this revelation when interpreting the special revelation of Scripture. In regard to matters that Nature speaks to, such as the history of the universe, the Bible needs to be interpreted in light of weighty evidence of Nature. Such has been done in relation to heliocentricity.
Some have tried to argue that to do such a thing puts the Bible at risk of being twisted to mean anything we want it to mean. Some have argued that this belittles the supreme revelation of the Bible. However, the Bible speaks more clearly to spiritual issues, the history of Man, godly living, God’s divine nature, and prophecy, whereas Nature is relatively unhelpful in those areas. As a result, the Bible is supreme in its revelation pertaining to such truth, and Nature cannot be legitimately used to twist the essential doctrines of the Bible. Yet, Nature speaks loudly about itself. We should not think that the Bible is the only information that we have about the world and its history. The starlight from distant galaxies, for instance, lets us directly observe the history of the universe.
If God expects us to investigate Nature’s revelation to uncover secrets of the past, and to compare that revelation with the Bible, then He is not dishonest to give only a simplified and unclear account of history of the universe in the Bible. The Bible was never intended to be a scientific textbook. It was never intended to tell us everything about Nature when Nature is readily able to speak for itself. The Bible, then, should not be expected to be obvious, precise, or detailed in its teaching about the workings and history of the universe—especially since the Bible’s focus is on God and man’s relationship with Him.
3. The precise history of the universe and animal life is a minor issue.
Though some groups (e.g., ICR and AiG) have attempted to artificially exult the importance of the Genesis 1 Creation account, the Bible teaches that the world’s history is relatively unimportant. Time is relative to God, and man did not exist while the world was being created, making the precise length of the days in Genesis 1 trivial by comparison to the doctrine of Redemption. If God wanted to call long ages of time “days” (as translated into English), we should not be disturbed by that or concerned about His honesty. Those who persistently stress the importance of the “days” being literal 24-hour days ultimately distract from the greater importance of the Gospel of Jesus.
The age of the world is not directly related to the issue of man’s sin and death, as some would like to suggest. One can believe in the literal Fall of Man and the entrance of human death from sin without believing in a young earth. If those teachings are upheld, then the doctrines of sin and salvation are preserved and untouched. Whether one believes in a young or old earth makes no difference, theologically.
4. Proper interpretation of Scripture answers the truthfulness of God.
The most surprising thing for me was that Genesis 1 is, at best, only half of the Creation story of the Bible. Most people are unaware that there are a good number of other verses outside of Genesis that speak about the history of the heavens and earth. When these verses are interpreted together, the fact that Genesis 1 is a simplification of the Creation history becomes clear, and the possibility of “days” longer than 24-hours becomes more evident. Those who argue for a young earth do violence, in my opinion, to these other passages pertaining to Creation and passages that inform us about how words were used by ancient Hebrews.
When all the passages are viewed together the Genesis account of Creation is shown to be an abbreviated account where much more is taking place than specified. Where Genesis 1 might be viewed as one quick supernatural creation after another, other passages reveal that God created through the use of other processes that typically would require more time than six 24-hour days. Unless God greatly accelerated the processes to fit 24-hour periods, these “days” of Genesis must have been longer periods. As a result many young earth creationists insist that these passages are referring to sometime other than the Creation Week.
It is generally believed that you interpret the less clear passages of the Bible in light of the clearer passages. However, I disagree with that idea. The Bible needs to be viewed as a whole, as much as possible. The clearer passages should be interpreted together with the less clear passages, where each passage informs the other passages. It’s true that the clearer passages help us understand the less clear passages better than the other way around, but the goal of interpretation should be harmonization of teaching. The interpretation that most fully and beautifully unifies all the related passages should be accepted, not the interpretation that is merely simplest. The Bible—since it is true—is self-consistent and harmonious and logical.
The book of Genesis needs to be viewed as the beginning or foundation of the Mosaic Law. It was the first book of Moses written to the Israelites, specifically. It is quite reasonable that Moses (or perhaps earlier godly men) under the guidance of God may have structured the Creation Account to help reinforce the keeping of the Sabbath as applied in Exodus 20.
5. God never promised it would be easy to find the Truth.
No, in fact, the Bible teaches us that God sometimes hides the truth from the lazy. He loves us to be seekers of the truth (e.g., Mt 7:7). To not reward laziness, apathy, and dependence upon tradition, He sometimes makes the truth obscure. Consider that the doctrine of God’s Redemption is infinitely more important than the doctrine of Six-Day Creation, yet God in the Old Testament gave little clear revelation about how He would accomplish Redemption. So unobvious was the truth of Substitution that the disciples had little to no understanding of it (e.g., Mk 8:31-32) and thought Jesus was going to reign on earth immediately.
Other examples of obscurity of God’s truth would be various prophecies and Jesus’ parables that were spoken specifically to conceal truth from apathetic listeners (Mk 4:11-12). The teachings in Daniel, for instance, were to be “sealed up” until the time of the end (Dan 12:4,9), indicating the purpose of God to prevent a clear understanding of it until the time was right.
God may have had various good reasons why He obscured the details of the history of the universe and earth and life. God certainly is not in the business of proving His Word to be true, since He delights in faith (Heb 11:6). If clearer details of Creation had been given then modern science would have proven the Bible to be true. But God never wanted to prove Himself to all humanity.
6. Genesis contains a small measure of poetic language.
Lastly, and least importantly, poetic flare exists in Genesis, such as the reference to the “windows of heaven” (Gen 7:11), Lamech’s speech (Gen 4:23), the structure of the Flood Account as a chiasm , the rhyming Hebrew words of “tohu” and “bohu” (Gen 1:2b) and the repetition in Genesis 1. A clear example of repetition being used poetically is Psalm 136. Genesis 1 uses the phrase, “Evening came and morning came,” over and over again, which could be a small poetic element. The only clear time indicators in Genesis 1 are these repeated phrases, along with the word “day,” which could show us that these phrases are poetic in nature and not to be taken literally.
By no means should Genesis 1 be considered primarily poetic! As in Lamech’s speech, poetic elements of a passage do not imply that the whole passage should be interpreted allegorically, spiritually, metaphorically, or otherwise non-literally. The argument is that Genesis 1 contains a small amount of poetic flare, but most of it should be taken literally.
The Bible indicates that Nature is a revelation from God not to be twisted to fit the Bible. Neither needs to be twisted. The Bible can be comfortably interpreted to fit well with the compelling evidence of Nature. They are in harmony.
God’s account of Creation is truthful since the Bible itself shows it to be a partial, summarized passage containing minor poetic elements, which allows the days to be viewed as long periods. Since God never said that His Truth in the Bible or Nature would be easy to discern, and the language of Moses’ day is not easily recovered, we can begin to understand how the Creation Account has been misinterpreted for thousands of years. Though we might like to believe the account is simple and easily understood, we see from the rest of the Bible that the events of creation are complex and not spoke in absolute language that belongs in a science textbook. The account is mostly literal but needs to be handled with care. When all these points are considered, we see that God never intended for Genesis 1 to be taken so absolutely without proper regard for Nature’s own testimony about itself. We see that God was not dishonest, but rather we (who strongly believed in a young earth) were presumptuous of His Word.