‘But the New Testament does not make a big deal out of the Age of the Earth …’
Published: 26 March 2009 (GMT+10)
Circumcision is a peripheral issue. Paul repeatedly says (Gal 6:15, 1 Cor 7:19) that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. He was not against circumcision, though he certainly spoke publicly against those who said it was a requirement (Galatians 2:11–16). Yet he had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3) because circumcision could be helpful for mission by reducing cultural distance.
Since circumcision is a peripheral issue, is it not something Christians shouldn’t argue over? Shouldn’t we allow people to “do what works for them” on this issue? Shouldn’t our guide be that saying often attributed to Augustine: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity”?
Even though Paul knows that circumcision doesn’t matter, he gets upset about it, arguing vehemently, insisting that it is one of the essentials (Gal 5:2). A peripheral issue became a non-negotiable issue for Paul, who went on to dismiss his opponents as fear-driven people, afraid of persecution (Gal 6:12).
The reason is that once circumcision becomes a requirement, you distort the gospel message. It implies a diminished understanding of the cross. Christ’s work becomes only the start and not the whole way. The people Paul opposed, the circumcision party, were probably sincere well-meaning Christians, but their views meant that while Christ might still be their Alpha, He could no longer be their Omega as well.
The issue of the age of the earth parallels circumcision. In my experience, the first response from Christians who do not accept the age of the earth that the Scriptures indicate, is to say something like “The New Testament does not make a big deal out of the age of the earth” or “It is not the purpose of the Bible to give the age of the earth”. Their point is that (1) the issue of the age of the earth is a non-essential, and (2) therefore not something we should argue about. They believe we are free to hold whatever view our conscience permits. They are right in the first part. In and of itself, the age of the earth is not a central focus of Scripture. But the distortions a long-age view brings to the Gospel message make them wrong on the second part. These distortions mean that like circumcision, a peripheral issue becomes non-negotiable.
The trouble with adding long ages to the earth is that it (1) mis-places and (2) mis-attributes and (3) isolates the problem of natural evil as its own separate problem. Natural evil is physical disease, decay and death; things like viruses, cancer and carnivory. Scripture indicates that the way nature worked was different before the fall compared with after the fall. For instance, people didn’t die before the fall, and there was no carnivory prior to the fall. So historically, the church has understood that natural evil was a result of the fall, that there was none in the Garden of Eden. Hence Calvin says there was not even inclement weather in the Garden of Eden.1
The message of the Bible is often summed up in four words: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. Long ages is so alien to the Bible that it ruins each part.
Accepting long ages moves the problem of natural evil from the fall to the creative process itself. You now have a carnivorous creation red in tooth and claw that God keeps calling good. Cancer is found in the fossil record. Using long age chronology, this is before the advent of man, so cancer has been declared by God as good … in fact, “very good”!2
With the fall, the long-age chronology now inserts death before sin, contrary to what Paul says in Romans.
With the consummation, there is a recurring biblical theme that describes the coming consummation as a restoration. But a restoration makes no sense if it is a restoration to a world of disease, decay and death, especially when there are other “progression” elements that describe the consummation.
These distortions all flow from misplacing the problem of natural evil by making it part of the creative process. But the worst effect comes from attributing it to the wrong cause, mis-attributing it. Putting natural evil in the creative process means it is no longer caused by creatures, let alone sin.3 It is certainly not humanity’s fault. You don’t need a God-man (Jesus) to fix that sort of problem. Dying on a cross doesn’t help fix it either. Long ages puts the problem of natural evil beyond the reach of the cross. Jesus died to save us from our sins, but with a long age chronology, natural evil does not have anything to do with sin2, so how can the cross have anything to do with it? Chapter after chapter of the New Testament epistles explain how the cross deals with the sin problem, but none explain how the cross deals with the (now separate) problem of natural evil. Natural evil is a dominating fact in every person’s experience. All our loved ones (and ourselves) suffer disease and die. Most people experience it as a far more pressing problem than a guilty conscience. If Christ has not dealt with the problem of natural evil, then He can still be my Alpha, but how can he also be my Omega?
Christians who believe in God’s direct healing today4 must believe that the problem of natural evil has been dealt with by the cross because healing is the reversal of natural evil. They point passages such as I Peter 2:24 which says “by His stripes we are healed”5 referring to the cross.
But if the problem of natural evil has nothing to do with sin, then this verse is describing a second separate work of Christ on the cross. It is not another facet of the same diamond, but a different diamond.6 But this sits very oddly with the rest of the New Testament. Why does it get so little attention in the New Testament? Why does the New Testament deal so much with the antidote to a guilty conscience but so little with the antidote to the pressing problems of natural evil? Why is healing practiced but not explained?
You end up with far more biblical coherence if you run the argument backwards. The fact that God heals today tells us the earth is young. God’s healing today through His work on the cross is repealing the effects of sin. It is Christ’s victory working itself out in the here and now. If that is the case, then the problem of natural evil comes with the fall, and the earth can’t have been built on millions of years of disease and bloodshed. Healing demonstrates a young earth.
There are other reasons why the age of the earth is not a secondary issue. When the Lutherans settled their disputes about the compromises they could make with the Catholics, they all acknowledged that things that are normally secondary (adiaphora) can become primary issues because of the cultural circumstances. Given the role long-age chronology plays in the Western world’s rejection of God’s claims, mission considerations alone make the age of the earth a primary issue.
But in all my searching, I have been unable to find any exegetically coherent explanation of how the cross can deal with the problem of natural evil once you accept a long age. Without such an explanation, then how can we avoid the conclusion that long-age scenarios dishonour Christ and His work on the cross?
In these circumstances, young-earth Christians cannot accept that the age of the earth is a secondary issue, and our long-age friends do not even want us to.
- In Calvin’s commentary on Genesis 3:19 he says. “The inclemency of the air, frost, thunders, unseasonable rains, drought, hail, and whatever is disorderly in the world are the fruits of sin. Nor is there any other primary cause of diseases”. In his comment on Genesis 2:2 he says: “We must come to this conclusion respecting the existence of fleas, caterpillars, and other noxious insects. In all these, I say, there is some deformity of the world, which ought by no means to be regarded as in the order of nature, since it proceeds rather from the sin of man than from the hand of God.” In his introduction to his commentary he also takes to task those “who cavil against Moses, for relating that so short a space of time had elapsed since the Creation of the World.” Calvin is clearly and unambiguously a young-earth creationist. Return to text.
- See Genesis 1:31 Return to text.
- You cannot argue for a link between natural evil and sin from the fact that sin often brings the natural consequences of disease, decay and death in our experience today. It brings these effects only because of the large overlap between stupidity and sin. But it is stupidity that brings the natural consequences of disease, decay and death, and not sin. For instance, take the example of a boy crossing a road. By itself, it is not a moral act. If the road is thick with traffic, it would also be stupid to cross the road, and the boy is likely to encounter the problem of natural evil if he tries. But if the road is permanently blocked off, and not used by traffic, then it is not stupid to cross the road. In this case, the boy will not encounter the problem of natural evil But if a boy is told not to cross the road by his parents, it is sin for him to cross the road, in both scenarios. Return to text.
- CMI has no opinion on the matter, but many of our supporters accept it, so explore the links. Return to text.
- The New Testament uses the same word for saved as for healed, so this verse may be translated by his stripes, we are saved. Return to text.
- The cross brings the beginning of the end, the beginning of the consummation because it not only overcomes the Fall but brings a new creation. But healing does not belong to the new creation because the healing is not permanent. For instance, people raised from the dead go on to die again. Return to text.