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Published: 25 January 2018 (GMT+10)

BioLogos misreads Jesus on the age of the earth

by 

creation-chart

In a recent column on the BioLogos website (an organization founded to promote theistic evolution), regular contributor Ted Davis makes a vain attempt to evade Jesus’ teaching on the age of the earth.1 He takes issue with an argument CMI has used repeatedly—that Jesus and several New Testament authors made statements clearly indicating their belief in a young world (see Jesus on the age of the earth and ‘From the beginning of creation’—what did Jesus mean?).

To give one example, Jesus said that Adam and Eve were around “from the beginning of creation” (Mark 10:6). Old-earth timescales are inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching since, according to these views, humans only arrived billions of years after the beginning (see chart).

But Davis accuses creationists of reading their own perspective into Jesus’ words. His argument is two-fold. First, he attempts to exegete Mark 10:6, claiming that creationists have misunderstood it and taken it out of context. Second, he accuses creationists of a double standard—claiming we interpret Jesus literally in some passages but not others. Below we will examine Davis’ claims one at a time, and demonstrate that it is actually Davis who is misreading Jesus.

Merely about marriage?

Regarding Mark 10:6, Davis says the context is merely about marriage, and therefore has no relevance to chronology. “The Pharisee’s question had nothing to do with the age of the earth, and neither did Jesus’ answer,” he insists.2 However, just because Jesus was not focused on the age of the earth does not mean His words have no bearing on the subject. His main point was not to affirm biblical authority either, but his response assumes biblical authority, since He quoted from Genesis 1 and 2 and expected His hearers to accept these passages as the Word of God.

Now, just as we can draw implications about biblical authority from Jesus’ words, we can draw implications about chronology from Jesus’ words. This is because the truthfulness of Jesus’ statement depends on whether or not humans were, in fact, around “from the beginning of creation,” as He claimed. One must wonder if Davis thinks that we can only ever draw one lesson from any given statement in Scripture, when this is obviously not the case.

Interpretation in isolation

Another problem with Davis’ reasoning is that he ignores the many other New Testament passages that use language similar to Mark 10:6, and which help to shed light on its meaning. Perhaps he could have been prevented from misunderstanding Jesus’ words in Mark had he compared them to Matthew 19:4, 8; 24:21; Luke 11:50–51; Hebrews 9:25–26; and Romans 1:20. Creationists have published more extensive analyses of these passages and explained how they reinforce our conclusions about Mark 10:6, but Davis does not bother to interact with this material.3

Creation conflation

Davis also commits the error we have pointed out previously—misunderstanding the meaning of the term “creation” in Mark 10:6. Davis says, “if Jesus was indeed commenting on the timeline of creation, it would be problematic for the young-earth view, since the creation of mankind happens at the end of the creation week, not the beginning.”4 But what Jesus meant by “creation” was an object—the entire created realm, not an act—God’s work of creating during the first week. Jesus was saying that Adam and Eve were here from the time the world began, not from the beginning of God’s week-long creative activity. Thus, Davis’ challenge rebounds on himself! He has exposed a problem with his own mistaken interpretation, not ours.

But there’s more. Although the reasoning by which he reaches his conclusion is highly confused and relies on numerous debatable assertions,5 Davis is correct when he says that Jesus’ use of the term “beginning” included all of creation week. In fact, it likely included an even longer stretch of time, because when language similar to Mark 10:6 is used elsewhere in the New Testament, even things after the Fall (like sin and the shedding of Abel’s blood) are said to be present “from the foundation of the world” (Heb. 9:25–26; Luke 11:50–51), a phrase essentially synonymous with “from the beginning of creation”.

So, then, if the “beginning” in Jesus’ usage in Mark 10:6 does refer to the whole of creation week and more, this reinforces our point that those seven days, plus the Fall and the death of Abel, all took place in a short amount of time, very early in the world’s history, and was not stretched out over billions of years. In Davis’ view, creation ‘week’ (whatever that means) must encompass virtually all of history, from the big bang 13.7 billion years ago down nearly to the present, when he asserts that mankind sprang from the apes. But Jesus’ words make no sense from Davis’ evolutionary perspective. In an ancient universe, one cannot reasonably say that all of history represents “the beginning” and that even latecomers like human beings were here “from the beginning”. Despite Davis’ attempts to deny it, Jesus’ words stand in direct contradiction to the stance taken by BioLogos.

Mistaken about mustard?

123rf.commustard-seed-3

In his second line of attack, Davis claims that creationists pick and choose when they take Jesus literally. He points specifically to the parable of the mustard seed. Davis says that creationists allow science to override the most natural meaning of that passage, and he believes we must. After all, Jesus described the mustard seed as “the smallest of all seeds” (Matthew 13:32) yet, Davis says, for Bible-believers this “creates a conundrum, since several other seeds are actually smaller.”6

However, interpreting the text ‘naturally’ must include taking into account the historical and grammatical context. This is not the same as treating a passage with wooden hyper-literalism. And, when we treat Jesus’ words fairly, there’s no reason to accuse him of scientific error.

In particular, the term “all” (Greek: pas) is not always used in a universal manner; it may be limited to every member within a specific group. Note 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” The “all” who die includes every human being,7 but the “all” who live is limited to those who are “in Christ”.

Davis does concede that, in Matthew’s account, it “might perhaps work” to understand that Jesus’ intent was to compare the mustard seed only to the other local “garden plants” which Matthew specifically mentions, not to every plant in the world. But, he says, Mark’s account “seems to rule out this possibility.”8

It does nothing of the sort. Both passages speak of the mustard seed as something that a person (a first-century Jewish farmer) sows “in his field” / “on the ground”. And both passages specifically contrast the mustard plant with other “garden plants”, which need only refer to garden plants native to Israel. Mark says the mustard seed “is the smallest of all the seeds on earth” (emphasis added), but the term “earth” (Greek: ) also has a broad semantic range, and here may refer to the local ground, soil, or land rather than the entire planet.

Should science affect our understanding of Scripture? That depends.

Davis sees his mustard seed example as analogous to the way people interpreted various Scripture passages differently after science demonstrated that the earth moves around the sun. He says that scientific knowledge caused people to reinterpret both sets of texts, and that creationists have already accepted this hermeneutic as legitimate. Davis’ implication, therefore, is that science should be allowed to determine the meaning of Mark 10:6 as well.

However, while we can agree that the cases of seed size and the earth’s motion are analogous, this is not because both are instances of science being used as a trump card to overthrow the Bible’s plain meaning. Rather, in both cases, we can show apart from scientific considerations that the text is equivocal—sufficiently ambiguous to allow for more than one interpretation. Therefore, with these passages, science may come alongside in a ministerial, not magisterial, way, to help us determine which possible understanding of Scripture is correct.

But the New Testament passages that speak to the age of the earth are not equivocal in the same way; they are clear. As shown, Davis’ attempts to circumvent Jesus’ teaching are bankrupt. So, faithful Christians should not do what BioLogos does—allow their flawed perception of ‘science’ to override the Bible’s clear meaning.

Does Davis believe Jesus anyway?

Sadly, there is a deeper problem with Davis’ approach to the Bible. He not only fails to interpret Scripture properly, but he actually thinks that the text—the God-breathed text (2 Timothy 3:16)—contains errors.

Like many of his colleagues at BioLogos, he tries to justify this by compartmentalizing the Bible’s truth-claims into sacred and secular spheres. In this way of thinking, the Bible tells the truth when it comes to spiritual matters—but science? Not so much. Davis says, for example, that “Moses wasn’t concerned about scientific accuracy”, which is another way of saying that Genesis makes scientific blunders.9

From reading his article, one gets the impression that Davis thinks the same is true of Jesus. In reference to the passage on the mustard seed, Davis claims to “take Jesus literally”, yet also says that Jesus “was just using a popular expression whose literal sense is not scientifically accurate” (emphasis in original).10 Is Davis saying that Jesus said something here that is untrue? If so, this is disastrous. If Jesus is using popular expressions that are not completely true, what other parts of Scripture might fall into this category? As Jesus himself said: “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12).

Forging a dangerous path

To be clear, the approach BioLogos takes to Scripture is subversive of biblical authority, and thus ultimately of the Gospel itself. Although the organization gives lip service to the Bible, in practice God’s revelation is not the final authority for these theistic evolutionists. As part of their core commitments, they claim to “embrace the historical Christian faith, upholding the authority and inspiration of the Bible” (emphasis in original).11 Yet, their low view of Scripture is exposed when they reject its clear teachings, either redefining them beyond recognition (as many of them do with Adam and Eve), or dismissing them as erroneous “accommodations” to pre-scientific cultures.

But, without a trustworthy revelation, no solid foundation remains on which we can have full confidence in the Bible’s spiritual truths. Consistency dictates that the sacred and secular truths hang together. Thus, the path taken by Davis and colleagues is one that has often led to apostasy, as even seems to be the case with a former Vice President of BioLogos. It’s not hard to see why. Theistic evolution does not and cannot take Scripture seriously. It is a form of unbelief.

Related Articles

Further Reading

References and notes

  1. Davis, T., Does Modern Science Make Jesus a Liar? BioLogos.org, 21 Nov. 2017, biologos.org/blogs/ted-davis-reading-the-book-of-nature/does-modern-science-make-jesus-a-liar. Return to text.
  2. Ref. 1. Return to text
  3. See chapters 11 and 12 in Mortenson, T., and Ury, T.H., eds., Coming to Grips with Genesis, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2008. Return to text.
  4. Ref. 1. Return to text
  5. Specifically, the conflation of the distinct phrases “in the beginning” (Gen. 1:1) and “from the beginning of creation” (Mark 10:6), that Genesis 1:1 is a summary of creation week rather than the first created act, and that this is supported by “broad scholarly agreement”. Return to text.
  6. Ref. 1. Return to text
  7. Some might argue that even here there are exceptions, like Enoch and Elijah. Return to text.
  8. Ref. 1. Return to text
  9. Hemphill, C., Davidson, G., and Davis, T., From the Mailbag: Why would God allow scientific errors in the Bible? BioLogos.org, 15 Sept. 2016, biologos.org/blogs/archive/from-the-mailbag-why-would-god-allow-scientific-errors-in-the-bible. Return to text.
  10. Ref. 1. Return to text
  11. biologos.org/about-us Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Mike F., United States, 5 February 2018

Mustard Seed

What always intrigues me about the anti-bible criticism of the "smallest seed" parable told by Jesus is just the ignorance of the critics.

Please present a "mustard seed" that will grow into a large huge tree as Jesus describes. I suspect that there are 2 aspects to Jesus parable. 1. the general point is that a small seed becomes a large tree contradicting the expectations of typical perceptions. 2. The nature of the size of the tree is such that many creatures much larger and obviously more complex can live in the tree again contrary to our perception of a small simple seed.

Finally, I would suggest that Jesus describes a type of mustard plant that does not exist today.

In conclusion, the critics rush to judgement based on ignorance and premature biased dismissal of the details of the plant and rhetorical nature of the parable. They don't have a clue.

Mark J., United States, 3 February 2018

The idea that the Bible is not authoritative or inspired when it speaks about science and history is at best a cop-out by people who are unwilling to put their faith to the test. They say the Bible is true when it talks about things that we have no way to verify, like the supernatural and moral issues. But when it talks about things we could actually test, like science and history, than it is fallible. That way, they think, if anyone finds an error, it doesn't invalidate their faith in God. But ... if the Bible is wrong about things that we can test, why should we trust it on things we can't? If I caught a salesman or a politician in a dozen lies, I can't imagine that I would say "But in this case I have no way of knowing if he's telling the truth or not, so I'll just trust that now he is being honest." I am a Christian because I am convinced that the Bible is inspired and infallible (with due allowance for translation and copying errors). As Christians we should take on all comers. If someone could convince me that the Bible is wrong, I'd like to know that so I don't waste the rest of my life believing in a false religion. But as atheists arguments tend to be somewhere between subtly flawed and completely lame, I don't expect that to happen any time soon.

Dean R., Australia, 2 February 2018

Modern science says people don't walk on water or people don't calm storms so perhaps there are hidden parables in those historical accounts also (obviously not). Our God is very much an instant Creator & ruler of all.

People fudge figures and Scripture also so that they may get their own way.The same is true of science. So many things are undermined including knowledge.

To permit evolutionary dogma and obscure dating methods to over rule Jesus and Moses & Scripture doesn't seem like faith in God to me, but rather faith in modernism. Jesus said build on the rock, not the rocks.

Even when modern science is confronted with data that challenges evolution it still applies it's faith in naturalism and the current establishment.

You cant serve two masters...maybe a scientific study says you can but Jesus plainly & consistently (OT & NT) says you cant, no matter who you are.

Judith H., Australia, 2 February 2018

I consider myself of average intelligence with much to learn but Jesus' position in history is clear, confirmed by secular & Biblical sources. Creation + the sum of age at parenthood as recorded in the Bible is clear. Genesis 5 lists 10 generations Adam to Noah, fathering age range 65 - 500, lifespans 365 -969 years. Genesis 11 lists 10 post flood generations following Shem's line to Abram, fathering age range 29 - 100, lifespans 148 - 600 years. In total, 1948 years of human history is easy to trace from creation, year 0, the beginning of time to Adam (created day 6) fathering Seth at age 130 & so on. That ages at parenthood & lifespans decreased post flood is also clear. Matthew 1 lists the 42 generations from Abraham to Christ. Applying an average age of 43 at parenthood, based on the 20 specific genealogies recorded, gives us another 1806 years or so, thus 62 consecutive generations are covered from Creation to Christ. Our calendar puts us in the year 2018, so dated because of Jesus' position in history. 1948+1806 +2018 = 5772. The Hebraic calendar puts us at 5777/5778 years from Creation. While learning differences between calendars eg solar, lunar, Julian & Gregorian, I wonder how Biologos can ignore basic chronology, which proves thousands of years human history, to promote theistic evolution or millions of years which has no possible way of verification.

Phillip M., Australia, 2 February 2018

Yes, I completely agree that it is nonsense in many cases to adopt a hyper-literal interpretation and particularly with regard to the size of the mustard seed. If the lesson of the parable was about the size of seeds it would be a fair call to question the validity of the interpretation. But it is not; it is about the size of the faith required to see God answer prayer.

Paul M., New Zealand, 2 February 2018

Arghh! Its is always disappointing to see someone work so hard to twist scripture - but to waste this on such an untenable house of cards as evolution? What a waste of energy; He could be reading the bible for enjoyment!

P. A., Australia, 30 January 2018

The apostle Paul says death came as a result of sin and the creation was cursed. But BioLogos has billions of years of evolution & death before Adam arrived. They argue death only applies to humans who had finished being evolved under the direction of God. But that implies many Adams and Eves. The fall of creation is also dismissed. In fact, you have to throw out Romans 8 and the connection of sin-death which also goes to the heart of Jesus mission.

Kevin R P., United States, 26 January 2018

Not only is your logic in this article useful but, it seems possible to me that, at the time Jesus spoke about the mustard seed, the variety that he was talking about may in fact have been the smallest herb seed. The secular Liddell and Scott lexicon, which I used at the Univ. of Michigan while learning Greek, has laxanon as: "garden herbs".

In this case it is obviously a parable. Genesis 1, and confirmations of Genesis 1 throughout the Bible, are hard to view as parables. Translating these passages requires more than taking one word out and using it "as we please".

Bob J., Canada, 25 January 2018

Thanks for your response - I totally agree that it is possible to be a Christian and yet have ones ideas regarding Genesis for example wrong. But this is not what I was referring to. What we are referring to here are mature Christians who are highly educated men, who are deliberately destroying God's word regarding creation. These men have to be well educated regarding the rules of interpretation and proper exegesis of the texts etc. We're not here speaking of young untaught and immature believers. For example I have statements of men like Hugh Ross, John Walton & William Craig. I have a hard time believing that these men are deliberately disregarding all rules of interpretation and some are dishonest regarding church history as well as other things and yet claim Christianity. I have in my library where Dr. Sarfati demolished Hugh Ross & Dawkins. My problem is not with your every day untaught genuine believer but in highly educated men who are deliberately exalting humanistic, atheistic false hypothesis above Scripture. And as the poll shows, 70% of youth from Christian homes are leaving the faith in university because of all of this. Do these men not have a conscience? One with this kind of education can't plead ignorance! I praise God for your ministry but one would think that these men would have enough intelligence to repent if they were genuine instead of insisting on deliberately destroying God's word! Are they not being devisive? Titus 3:10-11. In Christ - Bob J.

Keaton Halley responds

We aren't going to make a judgment on the hearts of these individuals, but I've published your comment so readers can hear your thoughts and make their own evaluations.

Bob J., Canada, 25 January 2018

So are you saying it's ok for some to destroy the truth of Genesis and teach "theistic evolution" but not others? What is the difference? Some are Christians and some are not? Aren't they both a demonstration of wolves in sheep's clothing? Don't they both speak contradictions from what they claim? Why would one be justified in doing this and not another?! Matthew 12:33 - Either make the tree good and it's fruit good, or else make the tree bad and it's fruit bad: for a tree is known by it's fruit. Thanks - Bob J.

Keaton Halley responds

No, of course not. Did you read the articles? I wasn't excusing the error, or claiming it isn't a serious error. But, as the articles explain, it is possible to be a Christian and inconsistent on some relatively important things.

Bob J., Canada, 25 January 2018

Amen - Matthew 12:34-37 tells us that the words we speak come from our heart, and they will either justify us or condemn us. BioLogos in my estimation is what our Lord calls "wolves in sheep's clothing!" Matthew 7:15. Also He tells us in Matthew 7:21-23 that not everyone who calls Him Lord will enter heaven but those who do God's will. Also we will know them by their fruits. The fruits brought forth by BioLogos betrays them and proves them to be a contradiction of their claim to be followers of Christ! How can one claim to be a follower of the Living Word, while at the same time destroying the written word? This is a contradiction! Paul warns about these people as well in Acts 20:28-31. It seems today that all one has to do is "say" he's a Christian and then go on and destroy God's word and we are supposed to give them room to proclaim their false teaching! BioLogos should give heed to James 3:1 teachers will receive a stricter judgment! This article was a good refutation of their false teachings and double talk! Thanks - God Bless You - In Christ - Bob J.

Keaton Halley responds

I largely agree with this sentiment but do want to be careful not to tar all theistic evolutionists with the same brush. See what we've written before about whether it's possible to believe in evolution and yet be a genuine born-again Christian.

Do I have to believe in a literal creation to be a Christian?

Can Christians believe evolution?

Do I have to believe in a historical Genesis to be saved?

Lester V., United States, 25 January 2018

Re. Martyn F's comment, the article did not say that the earth was 13.7 billion years old, but that the universe was. At the same time, Martyn is correct in saying there is "evolutionist inconsistency." in 1770, the earth was said to be 70,000 years old. In 1905, the official age of the earth was 2 billion years old. In 1969, after the moon landing, the earth and moon were said to be 3.5 billion years old. Today, students are taught it is 4.6 billion years old. That means that the earth has been getting older at the rate of 21 million years per year for the last 220 years - or 40 years per minute! Really? And we are told to trust these "experts"!

S. H., United Kingdom, 25 January 2018

One of the biggest issues that I believe is key is that theistic evolution (like those who re-interpret the Bible around the issue of homosexuality) apply a very different type of exegesis and understanding to specific passages that they do not apply to the rest of the Bible. So when interpreting the Bible around the issue of evolution (or for others, homosexuality) they change the way they see the Bible. But they only do so with these issues or related ones. They do not apply this understanding when interpreting other parts of the Bible. I personally feel that many times people have to re-interpret the Bible in order to make their points. However, the Bible should always be interpreted rightly, within the context it is in and in relation to other Bible passages. We do this across the Bible on all issues. Then we can understand the Bible the way God intended it to be, not how we want it to be. Ultimately it doesn't matter what I say or think (or anyone else). It's what God thinks and says that matters. I want to line up my life with this alone.

Eddie C., United States, 25 January 2018

Biologos's main goal seems to be to reinterpret the Bible to make sense in the light of scientific discovery. Biologos is obviously a rather new organization, but its fun to imagine if they had been around for centuries. Would they have interpreted the scriptures to mean that creatures sprang forth via spontaneous generation? Would they have argued for geocentric models until they didn't? And then have changed their arguments to support heliocentric models. God says he never changes and that all scripture is not only given by inspiration but is profitable. God says he cannot lie. Either the scripture is true, or is made up by man. If the scripture is true, then reality cannot disagree with them and if science says it disagrees with scripture, it has to be science that is incorrect.

My take is that Biologos does not believe 1 Corinthians 3:18-20.

James J., Canada, 25 January 2018

Why does the team at BioLogos spend so much time and effort trying to be Christ followers while at the same time seeking ways to disbelieve His Word?

Wouldn't it be much easier to just become atheists and move on with their lives?

Paul S., Australia, 25 January 2018

"Theistic evolution does not and cannot take Scripture seriously. It is a form of unbelief."

Which is why I regard YEC as a pivotal core issue. Any Christian who has been around 2 years or more has made the decision of whether they believe the Bible or not, and I would not want to be in the shoes of those who do not really believe Gen 1.

Martyn F., New Zealand, 24 January 2018

In the above article you refer to the evolutionist claim of the earth being 13.7 billion years old.

When I was a high school (1970s), this "age" was only 2.3 billion years.

This appears to be another example of evolutionist inconsistency!

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