The primary reason why getting it right about geological time is important is that it reflects on credibility of the Bible in the minds of educated people.
People will think that if the Bible is wrong about when life began, the Bible is probably wrong about other matters, too. If the Bible isn't trustworthy regarding our origin, it is not trustworthy regarding our destiny either.
There are two ways that God reveals truth to us: Nature (general revelation) and the Bible (special revelation).
What God reveals in nature cannot contradict what He reveals in Scripture, and vice versa, because God does not contradict Himself.
Now we encounter the word 'day' (of creation), which for many people causes a major contradiction between science and the Bible. Either (a) science is wrong or (b) the Bible is wrong, or (c) our interpretation of the Bible is wrong.
Which is it? Finding the answer is the purpose of this Bible study.
God's first creation was light, the primary requirement for life. Light is so amazing that it cannot be defined by anything other than itself. See list here showing 14 attributes of light, both physically and spiritually.
About nine billion years passed between Genesis 1:2 and Genesis 1:3.
The Biblical account of creation is seen from the perspective of earth. The universe is about fourteen billion years old, but the sun is only about five billion years, and the earth is about four and a half billion.
Because earth's intense heat and dense cloud cover, the earth has been in darkness for most of its existence.
The enormous cloud of cooling gasses and dust collapsed over the first nine billion years to form a crust on planet earth.
Violent collisions with comets and asteroids and condensing steam brought water, eventually covering the crust. God created an atmosphere ('expanse') of life-sustaining air between ocean and cloud.
The atmosphere makes earth habitable by absorbing ultraviolet radiation from the sun to warm the earth's surface, bringing rain for vegetation and air for breathing.
As temperature changed on the earth's surface, the thickening crust (floating on molten rock) began cracking, shifting and buckling. Parts of the crust were thrust above water to form dry land.
At first, there was total darkness on earth, but eventually light began to glow through the dense cloud cover and support simple organic life.
Starting with single cell organisms fed by photosynthesis and water, the food chain began in the sea and land about four billion years ago.
The Biblical account of creation is seen from the human perspective of land on earth. First life on earth was tiny organisms like bacteria. Then vegetation started at the edges of water and land, spreading and expanding in water and on land. Ancient people would not have understood micro organisms and biological processes, so the Bible skips directly to vegetation they knew.
All celestial bodies were created from the Big Bang, starting as formless spinning gasses, too hot for light to penetrate. It took billions of years for them to merge, cool, solidify and achieve stable orbits.
Eventually there were breaks in the thinning clouds so that the sun, moon and stars became visible from human vantage point. Light existed before Day 4, but the sun had been obscured by dense cloud cover and unable to provide the direct sunlight needed for rapid growth of plants and trees, growing seasons, bird migrations and ultimately for human navigation and schedules.
For centuries the Bible's creation order was used by critics as irrefutable proof that the Bible is not trustworthy. They said it is impossible to have light (Day 1) and organic growth (Day 3) before sun (Day 4). But now that we understand the Big Bang – that most of earth's life has been clouded by vaporized gasses – the creation order shows that the Bible is trustworthy. No writer three thousand years ago could have possibly known this modern science without some direct knowledge from the designer/creator.
With direct sunlight, vegetation proliferated, especially in water, and became an abundant food source for new categories of life – fish and birds – which God created about 500 million years ago.
The above verses in Genesis do not preclude the likelihood that there were already some very simple forms of marine and avian life (as plankton and flying insects). The main point here seems to be that God created an enormous number of new creatures – large complex creatures – all with capacity to move about freely, unlike the stationary life of prior life forms, and God caused them to proliferate rapidly.
This is what scientists call the Cambrian explosion, the quick appearance of a massive amount of new life forms about 500 million years ago. Darwin said that the Cambrian explosion is his own biggest problem with his own theory of evolution. He was perplexed to acknowledge that so many new species of life could appear almost at once.
About 250 million years ago, a new kind of creature appeared, the dinosaurs. We know from archaeology that there were more than 700 species of dinosaurs of all sizes and types – from five pounds to fifty tons – some walked, some swam, some flew – and they dominated the earth for 175 million years.
Scientists now believe that modern birds are descendants of small avian dinosaurs that escaped the mass extinction 66 million years ago. All non-flying dinosaurs and three-fourths of all other species of life on earth were killed in that extinction, caused by an enormous meteorite about six miles wide crashing into the ocean near the Yucatan Peninsula, resulting in scorching fires, radioactivity, volcanic eruptions and sun hidden by dust.
Dinosaurs were the dominant part of God's creation in Day 5, but the Bible never mentions them, probably because they went extinct and no one in Bible times could comprehend the time scale or believe that these creatures actually existed.
In Day 5, there was extensive evolution and proliferation of fish and birds throughout the earth, expanding the food chain, getting ready for animals and humans in the next stage of life.
In each successive day, new life forms become more complex: In Day 3, life from seeds ... in Day 5, life from eggs ... in Day 6, live births.
Shortly after the great extinction 66 million years ago, God created a new kind of creature – animals – adapted to the new environment.
Then, about four million years ago – very recent in geological time – God created a very unique kind of intelligent bipedal creatures known as hominids and hominins, with physical form very similar to today's apes and humans, all having 95-97% identical DNA.
The last known hominin population (Neanderthals) was in Europe and vanished suddenly about 30,000 years ago.
The Bible never mentions hominins, probably because they went extinct and because few people in Bible times could comprehend a time span of millions of years or believe that soulless creatures looking somewhat like humans actually existed. The Bible account goes direct from animals to humans.
Archaeological digs reveal the first evidence of humans about 40,000 years ago. Hominins and humans may have coexisted at one time, and apparently there was some interbreeding because today Europeans and Asians have approximately 2% Neanderthal DNA, but other groups have little or none. This low percentage is further evidence that humans did not evolve from hominins.
God said: 'Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move upon the ground.'
The concluding act of the six days (ages) of creation was creation of humans, made in the likeness of God, not evolved, created with capacity to have a relationship with God and to rule the earth – the crowning jewel of God's creation!
A concluding statement is used to end each of the six days of creation – 'And there was evening, and there was morning – the [number] day' – but not used for the seventh day of rest, meaning that this day has not yet ended. We are still in the seventh day (age).
God is not making new creations during this pause, but procreation and evolution within categories continues. God has equipped humans with a unique body, mind and soul to rule the earth and do creative work to further fashion life on earth.
Other portions of the Bible tell us that in a future day (age), God will take back rule of the earth from humans and will resume new creative work here ... a new heaven and a new earth ... (see 3.4).
The Bible gives the order of first appearance of earth's life forms but does not give actual times or time spans.
The essential order is summarized in the table above and is confirmed by cosmologists, geologists, biologists, and archaeologists.
It is doubtful that the ancient writer of Genesis could have known this method and sequence more than three thousand years ago without special knowledge direct from God.
Now modern science is filling in the time blanks, and a re-reading of the creation story opens our eyes to a new understanding of God's unfolding master plan.
In Genesis 1, each stage of creation is called a 'day.' In the Hebrew language in which the original biblical account was written, the word translated 'day' is 'yom' (pronounced like home). Just as in English, Hebrew 'yom' usually means a 24-hour period but can also mean an indefinite time period, depending upon context.
In 2 Peter 3:8, the Apostle acknowledges that day can be used as a time variable: 'But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.'
The young-earth concept – that the earth is less than 10,000 years old – is totally out of synch with modern science due to misunderstanding of the single Hebrew word yō·wm, which is translated 'day' in English translations of the Bible.
See Bible study here for 10 reasons why yō·wm means a long time. That study shows, right from the Bible itself, directly from the Genesis 1 creation account, that the word yō·wm should be understood to mean a long indefinite period of time.
In most instances in the Bible, yō·wm means a 24-hour period simply because that is the most common subject of conversation. But yō·wm is a flexible word so that, when the conversation is about a long indefinite period of time, the word is understood to refer to a long time.
Yō·wm is used in the Hebrew language the same way as we use 'day' in the English language.
'Day' to us usually means 24 hours, but sometimes we say things like, 'In the day of sailing ships ...' or 'In his day ...' or 'This is the day of social media ...' The reader knows from the context what we mean.
As a Hebrew example, this is how yō·wm is used in Micah 7:11: 'The day of building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries. In that day people will come to you from Assyria and the cities of Egypt ...' Obviously, 'day' (yō·wm) means more than 24 hours.
The Bible is its own best interpreter. To read the Bible objectively – to distinguish what the Bible actually says from what a particular tradition says – it is important to read related passages together from several different translations of the original Hebrew or Greek text.
Fortunately, today's Internet gives everyone instant access to a vast library of Bible documents without registration or cost. For depth of study, you can read the Bible from interlinear versions from Hebrew-to-English or Greek-to-English, and for breadth of study, you can read the Bible in parallel from dozens of English side-by-side versions.
This makes it possible for people today to read and understand the Bible themselves rather than just accept what others say about it.
Centuries ago, the young-earth concept became a part of church creeds. For example, the Westminister Confession (written 1647 but still extensively used) states that the earth was created 'in the space of six days.'
Whenever a concept becomes embedded in the formal doctrine of church denominations and seminaries, it becomes heresy within that group to even question it, even in light of new knowledge, and the doctrine is defended based on tradition rather than what the Bible actually says.
See information here about how we can understand the Bible better today than at any other time in history because we now have a massive amount of scholarly information from manuscripts, linguistics, archaeology, and science not available to early church fathers.
Some Christians say that the earth is not actually old but just looks old, that it was created less than 10,000 years ago but with built-in apparent age.
They say that God created mature mountains and trees and created Adam as a full-grown man, everything at various stages of its life cycle, and therefore scientific dating methods mean nothing.
See discussion here about fatal flaws in 'apparent age' theory. The theory is incompatible with God's character. God is not deceptive.
'And there was evening and there was morning – the [number] day' is the concluding phrase for each of the Genesis six days of creation.
If that phrase is interpreted in its most strict and literal sense, it often doesn't make sense when applied in context. For example:
Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day' (Genesis 1:11-13).
A strict literal reading of evening-and-morning into that passage would lead us to believe that between evening and morning of one particular day, the seeds from all the different kinds of plants and trees produced abundant vegetation. Obviously, this is not a sensible interpretation because we know that seeds do not germinate, grow and produce vegetation that fast, especially at night.
In the modern world, a full 24-hour day is thought to be from sunrise to sunrise, but in ancient Israel it was from sunset to sunset. We say morning to evening, they said evening to morning.
The repeated phrase 'And there was evening' was their way of saying that something new was started. Used together with the phrase 'and there was morning' was their way of saying that it was started and it was completed. The full phrase marked their time from the beginning of something to the end of something, which may or may not have been 24-hours, depending on the subject context.
Furthermore, 24-hour time as we know it did not even exist until Day 4 when celestial orbits were stabilized and earth's dense cloud cover was dissipated, opening up clear sky. 'And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to make seasons and days and years ... And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day' (Genesis 1:14).
Therefore, the phrase 'and there was morning and there was evening' – used in all six days of creation – does not compel a 24-hour interpretation for the Hebrew word yō·wm.
'Evolution' is an emotionally charged word for some Christians. It frequently implies a universe that happened by itself from nothing without God, with man being an evolved animal as illustrated above, and as taught universally in public schools and universities.
Actually, 'evolution' in its generic sense is just a word that means the process of gradual change that takes place over vast numbers of generations – within God's creation – during which species of plants and animals slowly arise, change physical characteristics and eventually die out, all within walled categories and all according to God's dynamic design plan.
The term becomes emotionally charged and offensive when people expand the meaning to include 'godless.' Therefore, the word's use requires a good definition.
Summary of a recent national Gallup poll on this subject:
'Forty percent of U.S. adults ascribe to a strictly creationist view of human origins, believing that God created them in their present form within roughly the past 10,000 years. However, an increasing majority of Americans believe that humans evolved over millions of years – either with God's guidance (33%) or, increasingly, without God's involvement at all (22%).'
Basically, there are two principal ways to categorize evolution:
And, there are two views within theistic evolution:
This site finds strong evidence for theistic evolution within categories.
Certainly, God is powerful enough to create all of life from a single cell OR from creations within categories. The issue is not what God is able to do, but rather what God actually did, as best we can understand it.
More than 99% of all species that have ever lived on earth are estimated to have died out. This is clearly evident from archaeological finds and modern knowledge of biology, and we observe hundreds of species dying out every year.
Evolution is a fact of life. Even the staunchest traditional Christians acknowledge that at least some degree of evolution is at work in nature around us, regarded at least as 'micro evolution,' which operates within sub-classifications of plants and animals.
Some degree of evolution is indisputable, but how much?
From common-sense observation alone, we see that evolution occurs within various categories of life ... but a life form in one category never evolves into a life form in another category.
Genesis 1 shows where the evolution lines are drawn, corresponding to the 'days,' as diagrammed here.
Each category is more profound than the one that precedes it ... at first, no life; then life ... reproduction from seeds, then eggs, then live birth ... and ultimately humans, with spiritual life in addition to physical life. Each category is necessary in the food chain for support of the next category.
Common observation confirms that a stone never turns into a bush ... a bush never turns into a fish ... a fish never turns into a bird ... a bird never turns into an animal ... an animal never turns into a human.
The categories are walled. There is evolution within categories, but not between categories.
Humans are becoming larger, stronger, and smarter but are not evolving into another life form. The Bible says that the six 'days' (stages) of creation have ended. Humans are God's final crowning earthly creation.
The only thing higher for us is eternal life in a new and better realm of existence, offered through Jesus, as explained throughout this site.
The qualities that most separate humans from animals are NOT evolutionary, such as laughter, music, art, mathematics, language, and worship. These qualities are unique to humans, created into us, not evolved into us, and not found in any other creatures.
Man (generic) is not an improved animal. Genesis 1:26 says that God made man in His own image, and we have God-like qualities.
Like God, man is a trinity: body (physical), soul (mind, will, and emotion), and spirit (connection with God), to be studied later in Topic 2.4.
Evolutionary theory is limited to the body and has no way of coping with soul and spirit ... no way of dealing with the total person.
Plate tectonics. Some things are so large that we don't think of them as evolving. The surface of the earth, for example, is slowly and constantly being reshaped by tectonic plates of solid rock crust 5-20 miles thick, floating on molten rock. The sheets collide, cause earthquakes, reshape continents and form mountains. The plates move over vast distances, but at a speed of only an inch or two per year.
Glaciers. There have been at least five major ice ages on earth. The last one began about 110,000 years ago and ended about 15,000 years ago. Even now, 10% of the world's land surface is still covered by glaciers.
Arctic glaciers slid down past the Great Lakes, scarring the landscape and leaving lakes, rivers and moraines after the melt.
There is so much evidence for the times and effects of plate tectonics and glaciers that no informed person doubts that they actually happened. Any claim that the universe is less than 10,000 years old, and that all this happened in one week's time, is ludicrous to well-educated people.
It makes God too small and blunts Christian witness when people try to shrink God's limitless time into puny calendar time just to defend a misleading translation of a single Hebrew word in the Bible.
Just as evolution works on huge things like tectonic plates and glaciers, so it works on small things like bacteria and coronavirus.
There are now about 10 million species of life on earth that can be seen with the naked eye, but when microorganisms are taken into account, researchers say that the earth might be home to a staggering one trillion species.
Bacteria. Bacteria are the smallest – and perhaps the oldest – creatures on earth. They are single cell, too small to see without a microscope. Bacteria are everywhere, including soil and air. There about 10 trillion bacteria in the human body, and they evolve (mutate) rapidly. Most bacteria are good for the body and essential for human survival, but some (we call them germs) are bad.
Viruses. Even more amazing are viruses, some good, some bad. Unlike bacteria, they do not reproduce by themselves, but quickly evolve into new forms so that, upon entering a host cell (as a human body), a bad virus can cause the cell to reproduce the intruder's DNA or RNA, resulting in serious infection and disease, and sometimes death, for the host.
Coronaviruses are a family of viruses – including MERS-CoV, SARS-Cov and COVID-19 – that evolve rapidly and can appear suddenly as new deadly species.
For most people, the most disastrous world-changing event in our lifetime thus far is COVID-19 ... the rapid evolution of a single microscopic virus. Pandemic is a current example of evolution.
Genesis 1:1-2 says that, at first, the earth was formless, empty and dark. Now it has form, content and light. Therefore we know from the Bible that the earth was NOT created instantly in its present form. Enormous changes have occurred over time in earth's structure and content.
The question here is: How much time? This is NOT a question about whether or not God was the Designer/Creator. This is question is about God's method and timing and is raised only to help reconcile God's word (Bible) with God's world (science).
The biblical account of the six 'days' of creation is short and simple, all in the first chapter of Genesis. It was written for and by ancient people who had no understanding of modern science.
The story speaks only about things that were known and observed by them at that time. For example, oceans, lakes, rivers and streams were teeming with plankton then as now, a primary essential ingredient in the marine food chain, but because most plankton can be seen only under a microscope, ancients had no idea of their existence, so the Bible makes no mention of plankton.
Likewise, the Bible makes no mention of dinosaurs. Ancient people would have had no comprehension of those creatures. They have been revealed to us only recently by archaeology and modern science.
The Bible story tells just enough to make the point that God created the earth in six distinct stages.
But even with access to today's vast scientific knowledge, a recent Gallup Poll shows that the majority of weekly church attenders still believe that each stage of creation was exactly 24-hours, everything happening in one particular week, less than 10,000 years ago.
These same people usually have no trouble believing that continents were formed by shifting tectonic plates (extremely long time!) and that much of the earth's surface was carved by glaciers (extremely long time!). How can they then say that all this happened in one week relatively recently? This kind of thinking is a conundrum for doubters and unbelievers.
Some Christians dodge the issue by saying that God just created things to look old, but see reasons here for flaws in 'apparent age' theory .
People who squeeze God's majestic creation into six calendar days create unnecessary contradictions and barriers to Christian faith.