How old is the earth? Some believe that God created the universe with a “Big Bang” followed by an evolutionary process over billions of years that eventually produced stars, planets and all life-forms—in the latter case, simpler organisms gradually giving rise to more complex ones. Others (like the United Church of God) believe that God created everything long ago, well before the time of man, but without using a macroevolutionary process in the development of life and its variety. People who believe either of these explanations are often lumped together as “old-earth creationists.”
Another group believes that God created the universe and all life in six days about 6,000 years ago. Proponents of this explanation are sometimes called “young-earth creationists.”
Young-earth creationists rightfully point out that if God could bring everything into existence in the blink of an eye, He didn't need an evolutionary process over billions of years to produce stars, planets and life. Yet as old-earth creationists point out, there are numerous scientific indications that the earth is older than 6,000 years, and a careful reading of the biblical account does not require us to fight against that evidence.
Evolutionists often ridicule the stance of young-earth creationists. They argue that you can either believe the scientific evidence or hold onto the illusion that God created everything 6,000 years ago.
Does the Bible give any indications about the amount of time that may have passed between God's creation of the universe and His creation of mankind?
Before the six days of creation
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×, emphasis added throughout). “Heavens” refers to the galaxies, planets and stars, including our sun. We aren't given a date when this occurred. This verse does not restrict the time frame to either 6,000 or billions of years ago.
Verse 2 then says, “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.” As with most of the Old Testament, this verse was originally written in Hebrew. And the Hebrew word translated “was” here can have the sense of became. The same word is used in Genesis 3:20 Genesis 3:20And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.
American King James Version×, where we read that Eve “became the mother of all the living” (New American Bible).
Next let's consider the phrase “without form . ” The Hebrew word for this phrase is tohu, which means formless, confusion, empty, wasteland, a place of chaos. The word “void” is the Hebrew word bohu, which means emptiness, void, waste or ruin.
Dr. Arthur Custance, in his book Without Form and Void: A Study of the Meaning of Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×, states, “I am persuaded that there is, on the basis of the evidence, far more reason to translate Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×as 'But the earth had become a ruin and a desolation, etc.' than there is for any of the conventional translations in our modern versions” (p. 7).
Since Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×can either mean that the earth was or that it became “without form, and void,” what do additional scriptures indicate?
Isaiah 45:18 Isaiah 45:18For thus said the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he has established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.
American King James Version×says of the earth that God “did not create it in vain [ tohu ],” but instead “formed it to be inhabited.” The Hebrew word for “vain” is the same word used in Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×. If God did not create the earth (originally) as a formless wasteland, then something happened that caused it to become that way, sometime after God created it. We'll address what likely caused this state of confusion in a moment.
Genesis 1:2 Genesis 1:2And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×continues, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” Psalm 104 also describes some of God's creative works. Verse 30 says, “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.” The word translated “renew” means to rebuild, renew or repair. This harmonizes with the understanding that the first two verses of Genesis show an initial creation of the heavens and the earth that was not in vain ( tohu ), followed by a catastrophic event that left the earth in ruins, followed by God renewing the earth by His Spirit.
Verse 3, then, actually begins the record of God's creative work of renewing the earth and preparing it for His new creative masterpiece—human beings!
Now, how long before this destruction and renewal was the earth itself created? A day before? A year before? A million years or more before? The account simply does not say when the earth itself was created. What it says is that during the six-day period described in the verses that follow, God brought the planet into an orderly arrangement that would support life as we know it.
Angels and the biblical record
The creation of angels and the record of their activity best harmonizes with a creation that existed prior to the seven days of re-creation or renewing the earth for human beings.
In Job 38:4-7 Job 38:4-7 4 Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if you have understanding.
5 Who has laid the measures thereof, if you know? or who has stretched the line on it?
6 Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof;
7 When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
American King James Version×God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth…when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
The terms “morning stars” and “sons of God” both refer to angels. They all shouted for joy when God first created the earth. All the angels—including Lucifer, who later became Satan—were in agreement with God and were ecstatic about what He had just made. When the earth was first created, Lucifer was not yet corrupted with iniquity. It certainly seems that considerable time must have passed between the creation of the earth, when Lucifer was in agreement with God, and his later appearance as the evil deceiver to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.
We find more details in Isaiah 14:12 Isaiah 14:12How are you fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how are you cut down to the ground, which did weaken the nations!
American King James Version×, where God says: “How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! How you are cut down to the ground.” Jesus Christ, who lived in glory with the Father from eternity past before becoming human, said that He saw Lucifer fall from heaven (Luke 10:18 Luke 10:18And he said to them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven.
American King James Version×).
Isaiah 14:13-14 Isaiah 14:13-14 13 For you have said in your heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also on the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
American King James Version×explains some of Satan's motivation: “For you have said in your heart: 'I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.'”
In Ezekiel 28:14-16 Ezekiel 28:14-16 14 You are the anointed cherub that covers; and I have set you so: you were on the holy mountain of God; you have walked up and down in the middle of the stones of fire.
15 You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, till iniquity was found in you.
16 By the multitude of your merchandise they have filled the middle of you with violence, and you have sinned: therefore I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy you, O covering cherub, from the middle of the stones of fire.
American King James Version×God sheds more light on the story: “You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; you were on the holy mountain of God; you walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones. You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity was found in you. By the abundance of your trading you became filled with violence within, and you sinned; therefore I cast you as a profane thing out of the mountain of God.”
Something caused the beautiful earth—which all the angels were thrilled to see—to become a wasteland, choked with debris and incapable of supporting life. It seems likely that the rebellion of Lucifer led to this devastation.
Notice also Jude 6: “And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day.” These angels abandoned the domain God gave them, the earth, either by leaving it (perhaps in the attempt to take over God's throne) or abandoning their responsibility to properly maintain it.
Summary of the scenario
So we don't know how long ago God originally created the heavens and the earth, but the biblical account reveals:
• God first created the angels at an unspecified time in the past.
• He then created the earth and material universe—including the sun and other stars. At this time all the angels were still righteous and rejoiced.
• The angels were given a domain, which included the earth.
• The angels may then have spent hundreds, thousands, millions or billions of years active in this domain, which likely included plant and animal life on the earth. There is nothing in the Bible to prohibit the existence of life-forms such as the dinosaurs in this pre-Adamic world.
• Lucifer eventually deviated from God's righteous way. He ultimately convinced one third of the angels to follow him in rebelling against God (Revelation 12:4 Revelation 12:4And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
American King James Version×).
• These angels became dissatisfied with their domain. Satan plotted to ascend into heaven and dethrone God.
• God cast Satan and the sinful angels down to the earth to await judgment. We find Satan already here to turn Adam and Eve against God soon after they were created.
• The result of Satan's rebellion likely resulted in the devastation (whether suddenly or over a long period of time) of the beautiful earth God originally created.
• God renewed the surface of the earth to support life and be suitable for His new creation—human beings!
The Bible actually shows an existing creation—earth and universe—preceding the six-day account of Genesis 1:3-31 Genesis 1:3-31 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the middle of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.
7 And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
8 And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together to one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.
10 And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
11 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth: and it was so.
12 And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
13 And the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light on the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
17 And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light on the earth,
18 And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
19 And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that has life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
21 And God created great whales, and every living creature that moves, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
22 And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
23 And the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24 And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
25 And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creeps on the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
29 And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.
30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creeps on the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.
31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
American King James Version×. Based on this record of angelic activity before the preparation of the earth for humankind, we conclude that the earth is much older than 6,000 years. For additional study, we recommend our free booklet Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe? VT