Good interpretation and explanation of any passage of scripture begin with the text itself, in the way ordinary people read the passage in their own favored translation of the Bible.
A deeper study moves into the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to see how ordinary people understood a particular word, expression, and/or concept at the time and place of writing.
But the text itself can take us only so far. Then we need to move outside of the Bible to study the setting into which the passage is set.
The Bible tells the essentials we need to know, but it's a compact book for all times and generations and doesn't tell the entire story. For a deeper understanding, we need to fill in some blanks, and sharpen our interpretations, by gathering relevant information from other sources.
We do this kind of outside research routinely in Bible study generally, but Christians seem to have an unusual fear of investigating the setting for Genesis 1, probably because so many pastors over the centuries have threatened God's wrath upon anyone questioning traditional interpretations of that most ancient of all Bible texts.
We need to study not only God's Word (Bible) but also God's World (science) to get a better understanding of God's method and timing in creation. Outside information must not change the biblical account, but new knowledge about God's World can help us interpret God's Word with more precision for our time and place.
In extra-biblical study, not only do we find objects that are extremely old by every human observation and measurement, but we also find a consistent aging pattern:
Dinosaurs, for example, are found buried in lower strata than humans.
Cities have multiple layers of rubble built up from different settlements over the centuries. Archaeological sites are called 'tells' because even before modern imaging methods, it was possible to tell from the huge mound of earth that it was once an ancient city. Findings in each layer explain much about the city's history and can be compared with the findings from corresponding layers in other tells.
Glaciers leave tracks and moraines on the earth from their movement, and computer simulations of ice melts of various types and sizes produce time estimates.
Stars follow known paths at known speeds so that supercomputers can predict with perfect accuracy exactly where the stars will be in future dates – as with eclipses – and where they have been in past dates.
God has loaded the universe with strong evidence of very old age, much older than 10,000 years, probably millions or billions of years.
Why would God load the universe with all this evidence and then expect us to stop short of drawing some conclusions from it?
Understanding the age of the earth is much more than just dating objects we find. It's putting all our knowledge together to see an amazing aging pattern.
With a proper understanding of this setting for Genesis 1 – filling in with details from science – there is no need to invent the critical age theory to limit God's marvelous creation. We can believe that the earth exists just the way we find it.
We can understand why the Bible tells so little about God's timing and method of creation. If the Bible gave details, it would have been ridiculed throughout the centuries.
For example, suppose the Bible said that God created the earth through a colossal explosion which left only vaporized gasses that took billions of years to cool into solids ... the earth is just a relatively small rotating ball of molten rock with a thin crust ... it circles the sun once a year at an incredible speed ... and we are held in place by a mysterious force called gravity.
If that's what the Bible said, it would have been dismissed as a book of utter nonsense in earlier times.
So the Bible keeps it simple: God designed and created the universe. It didn't just happen by itself at random from nothing. God shaped it into its present form and brought life to earth in an orderly process, according to pre-established laws which He allows us gradually to discover and use. The key point is that the universe is the result of the intelligence and power of ONE sovereign creator/designer God.
If this is all we need to know from Genesis 1, why is age of the earth an issue at all? Why is it even mentioned here? Because, as discussed in Insight 1, what many Christians ascribe to the Bible about God's method and timing of creation is destroying the Bible's credibility in the minds and hearts of doubters and unbelievers and is repelling them from the gospel message.