How Old Is the Earth?
Bible Study: Getting to Know the Old Testament Calendar
From a strictly human standpoint, the claim that the earth is young is just so much double-talk.
But the question of whether the earth is billions of years old, or just a couple of thousands of years old, occupies a central place in the creation / evolution debate. For some, it is the question of whether there was time for the impossible to happen - life to arise from non-life. In the mind of the Biblical Christian, however, it is not a question of defeating evolution but of what is true, what does the Bible say?
Bishop Ussher calculated the date of creation from the Scriptures to be in 4004 B.C. The modern world laughs at his results. Of course, he also stated the month, the day, and the hour of creation - which is more than we can possibly determine from the Bible. But does the Bible give us a reliable picture of the age of the earth? Can we date the earth within a couple of centuries, or maybe decades, or even years? This study will look at the age of the earth and of the universe from a biblical perspective. Is the earth impossibly old or possibly young?
The world does have a beginning. Everybody knows that. We celebrate it on January 1st of each year. The Jews celebrate it on Jewish New Year. The Chinese celebrate it on Chinese New Year, etc. What we have long forgotten is which "birthday" we are celebrating. We each have our own numbering systems. The only record we have which purports to give us an historical accounting of the world from its beginning, is the Bible. So let us turn to Scripture.
Genesis begins with the flat statement that,
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". Then it tells us that all that is was created in just six days, with God taking the seventh day off. Thus, at this point in Scripture, the world is one week old. The next time the Bible gives us an age it tells us that Adam, who was created when the world was in its sixth day, was 130 years old when his son, Seth, was born. Seth wasn't Adam's first child, but that doesn't matter as long as we know that Adam was 130 years old when Seth was born.
You can trace this discussion in Genesis 5. Looking at verse 6, we see that Seth was 105 years old when his son Enosh was born. Was Enosh his firstborn? The Scriptures do not say. Does it matter if Enosh was firstborn? On the birthday of Enosh the world was 235 years old.
Enosh was 90 when his wife delivered a bouncing baby boy they named Kenan. The world was then 325 years old. This Kenan is also the Cainan around which such debate over the accuracy of the Scriptures has arisen. Luke lists two Cainans, and Moses just this one. We will not enter that debate here. We cannot account for the difference with certainty, we can only make guesses and rational explanations. The danger in doing so is that it often casts doubt or downright accuses the Bible of inaccuracy either here or in Luke. The solution will likely never be certain before the Lord Himself tells us what happened...
But God has told us that His Word is true, and cannot err. So as scholars, believing and unbelieving, have their fun and nit-pick one anther's imaginations, we shall simply believe that there is a solution, and trust in God's Word.
So we know, with the certainty of Spirit-wrought faith, that the world was 325 years old at the birth of Kenan. And it was 395 years old when Mahalaleel was born in Kenan's seventieth year. And Mahalaleel lived 65 years (v.15) and became the father of Jared. The world welcomed Jared in its 460th year. Jared took his time (actually, God's time) before he produced a biblically notable progeny.
He was 162 years old when he became the father of Enoch. The world was then 622 years of age, accounting from the Scripture.
Generally, Enoch makes the unbeliever stumble. 162 years old and then Jared becomes a father? Even some scholars who claim they believe say that this must indicate the birth of the next notable in the family, perhaps a grandson or great grandson. Among men who die at 60, 70, or 90 the idea has some charm and rational appeal. But Scripture gives us no warrant, no slight reason to believe such a rationalisation. After all, Jared lived 962 years. If you compare that to our modern life span, Jared died at 96 and was a teenage father!
(Even if Enoch was Jared's grandson, Jared was still 162 years old when Enoch was born. Such a rationalisation does not change the facts of chronology.)
Then Enoch lived 65 years and became the father of Methuselah. The world was 687 years old. And Enoch walked with God - he was a very righteous and faithful man it seems. God didn't allow him to die but
"took him" and
"he was not" (v.24). Apparently, Enoch was lifted directly out of this world into the presence of God - into heaven.
His son, Methuselah, lived 187 years and fathered Lamech. The world was 874 years at the time of Lamech's birth. Methuselah lived until the year of the flood. And Lamech lived 182 years and gave birth to a son called Noah. The world was 1056 years old then.
GENESIS 7:11 tells us that six hundred years later God sent the flood upon the earth. The world had survived 1656 years. Wickedness had grown so prevalent and so awful that God chose only the best and wiped the earth clean of everyone else.
Two years after the flood, Shem, Noah's son, had a son he named Arpachshad. If this birth is dated from the beginning of the flood, then the world is 1658 years old. If it is dated from the end of the flood, we have to add a year. Arpachshad fathered Shelah at age 35. The world is 1694, give or take a year. Shelah lived 30 years and gave birth to Eber. The world is 1724. Add 34 years to Peleg, add 30 years to the birth of Reu, add thirty-two years to the birth of Serug, add thirty years to the birth of Nahor, and add twenty-nine years to the birth of Terah. The question of the second Cainan enters in here, but we will deal with the facts reported, and not the wild speculations others have suggested to solve these questions. The world is calculated to be 155 years older at the birth of Terah or 1879 years old.
At 70 years of age Terah became the father of Abram, Nahor and Haran. Does that mean all three were born by the seventieth year, or that Abram was born at seventy and the others followed quickly or that they were all born in the same year? Scripture doesn't say. It makes sense that all three had been born by the seventieth year of Terah. So we cannot pinpoint the number of years with certainty to the birth of Abram, but we will use the seventy-year figure for a rough estimate. The world is then 1949 years old.
GENESIS 21:5 tells us that Isaac was born when Abram was 100 years old. So we know the earth was very nearly 2049 years old at the birth of Isaac. GENESIS 25:26 tells us that Isaac was 60 years old when Jacob was born. The world was then 2109 years old (or maybe slightly more) when Jacob was born. GENESIS 47:9 quotes Jacob as telling the pharaoh that he was 130 years old when the Children of Israel moved into Egypt. The world was at least 2179 years old at the time.
EXODUS 12:40 tells us that the Children of Israel sojourned in Egypt for 430 years. The world was roughly 2609 years old when the Exodus occurred. We can also fix the date of the Exodus fairly well in history at approximately 1446 B.C. If all of the information we have is correctly calculated, the world was created on or around the year 4055 B.C. (2609 + 1446 years B.C. = 4055 years BC.).
One could continue to calculate the reigns of the judges, and the Kings, and the captivities of the people reported in Scripture until we come to the most well-established dates of history, such as the Babylonian captivity of Judah. The results would be pretty much the same. The Temple was originally started in the fourth year of the reign of Solomon, which historians have set in 966 B.C. 1 KINGS 6:1 tells us that this occurred in the 480th year after the Exodus. We can identify dates fairly reliably from here on by B.C. dates and so we have a fairly good estimate, although not precise to the year or month and day, of the age of the world as reported in Scripture.
What we see in the Bible is a world that began in 4000+ B.C. If the student accepts the Scriptures as they present themselves, the world is not so very much older than Bishop Ussher once calculated, using pretty much the same information. This calculation is not infallible either. People will often see reasons to add a year here, or take some away there. Their reasons may even be valid, now and then. But with all the corrections applied, Scripture still gives us the picture of a world created in 4000+ B.C., within decades of the numbers calculated above, not off by centuries, let alone millennia or millions and billions of years. Our world is roughly six thousand years old!
Source: ‘Bible Science Newsletter', February, 1987.