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‘From the beginning of creation’—what did Jesus mean?

There’s no getting around Jesus’ teaching on the age of the earth

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Published: 25 November 2014 (GMT+10)
freeimages.com digitalemu the-world

Not everyone welcomes this news, but some of Jesus’ statements imply, of necessity, that the world is young. This is something I regularly point out when I speak in churches about creation, and it is a theme on which we have written previously, in articles such as Jesus on the age of the earth and in chapter 9 of Refuting Compromise. To reiterate the argument briefly, Jesus claimed that human history began at approximately the same time as all of creation came into existence, not billions of years later. This is evident from Jesus’ statements like: “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6). The obvious implication from these words is that Adam and Eve were on the scene shortly after the heavens and earth were created; they were not latecomers to a cosmos that had already endured for billions of years, as old-earth proponents insist. Thus, for those who take Jesus’ words seriously, there is no way to fit billions of years into Genesis 1 prior to Adam and Eve. See the comparison of biblical and secular timelines in figure 1.

figure-one
Figure 1.

Evasive maneuvers

Following such presentations, people have often shared that they rejoiced to learn of this biblical teaching, and some individuals have even been persuaded to change their minds about the age of the earth based on Jesus’ words. But, sadly, many Christians are so strongly committed to their belief in an old earth that they will go to desperate lengths to avoid the clear meaning of the text. Almost invariably, when someone voices an objection to the argument, it goes like this: “Actually, it’s not clear that Jesus was referring to the creation of all things. He might have meant simply the creation of humanity.” This answer is not only given in casual conversations; the same response also appears in the writings of thoughtful scholars like C. John Collins, who argues: “The most obvious ‘beginning of creation’ for this verse is the beginning of the creation of the first pair of humans”.1 Frankly, however, this interpretation cannot be sustained when the text is examined carefully. The idea that Jesus was referring to the creation of humanity overlooks four important exegetical considerations which reinforce the plain meaning of Jesus’ words and thereby confirm that the earth is young.

Broadly speaking

First, Jesus could have worded His statement differently if He had wanted to indicate that He was speaking strictly of the origin of mankind, rather than the beginning of all things—yet He chose not to. For example, Jesus could easily have said “from the beginning of man” or “from the time of their creation” or something similar if that’s what He had wanted to convey. But He did not qualify His statement in this way. He did not modify the word “creation” with any other terms that would restrict its focus, but instead spoke of “creation” broadly the way He would if He had wanted to talk about the created world in general.

Parallel passages

Second, the intuitive meaning of Jesus’ words is supported by several parallel passages. In parallel passages we have separate authors telling the same story in their own words, as often happens in the Gospels, and the slight differences in wording can help to clarify a text’s meaning. For example, Matthew 19:4 is parallel to Mark 10:6, so Matthew’s phrase “from the beginning” (used again in v. 8) must be equivalent to Mark’s “from the beginning of creation”. Now, since Matthew’s phraseology is even more generic than Mark’s, he certainly does not give us any indication that this “beginning” is limited to the origin of humanity. But since Matthew has the word “beginning” immediately followed by Jesus’ quotation of Genesis 1:26, he is likely alluding to the introductory words of the creation account as well, which starts, “In the beginning”. If so, there is no possibility of ambiguity in Jesus’ meaning, because the “beginning” in Genesis 1:1 is not referring merely to the start of human beings, but to the origin of “the heavens and the earth.”

Even more tellingly, the words of Jesus that appear in Mark 10:6—“from the beginning of creation”—are used again by Jesus in Mark 13:19.2 Now, both passages are from the same book of the Bible. They both involve the same person (Jesus) using similar language to make a similar point, so we have every reason to conclude that the phrases have the same meaning. But the meaning of Mark 13:19 is also illuminated by a parallel passage. Compare:

  • Mark: “from the beginning of the creation” (Mark 13:19)
  • Matthew: “from the beginning of the world” (Matt. 24:21)

According to the parallel, “the creation” must have the same meaning as “the world”. In other contexts, the term “world” (kosmos, κόσμος) can refer to mankind (e.g., Rom 3:19), but there is no justification for that rendering here. Given the parallel, the contextual meaning of these terms must be found in their semantic overlap, and therefore it isn’t just humanity that is in view, but all of creation.

Multiple witnesses

Third, there are several other New Testament passages which, although they are not connected to Mark 10:6 by parallels, contain the same implications about the age of the earth. Like the passages already mentioned, these texts take it for granted that all the events of creation week happened in the very beginning, including the creation of mankind on Day 6. So, in addition to the above passages (Mark 10:6; 13:19; Matthew 19:4, 8; 24:21), we add the following:

  • Luke 11:50–51 — Prophets’ blood was “shed from the foundation of the world” (note: not from the foundation of mankind).
  • Hebrews 9:25–26 — People have been sinning and in need of atonement “since the foundation of the world”.
  • Romans 1:20 — People have been able to recognize God’s attributes “since the creation of the world”.3

Not only do these texts reinforce the face-value meaning of Mark 10:6, but they also provide independent scriptural testimony to a young earth. After all, it would be preposterous to apply the old-earth interpretive ‘escape hatch’ to every one of these passages. Consider, for example, the passage in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus spoke about “the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world”; there is no basis at all for suggesting that He was really only talking about the world of humanity or the world of prophets. Rather, each of these texts is self-evidently speaking about the beginning of the whole world, and therefore each indicates that the earth is not significantly older than mankind.

Mixed-up meanings

Fourth and finally, the argument that Jesus was referring to the creation of humanity in Mark 10:6 actually misrepresents what Jesus meant by “creation”. In both English and Greek, the word “creation” can refer to either an object (a created thing) or an act (the process of creating). The statement, “this artwork is my own creation”, refers to an object. But “the creation of this artwork took many hours” describes an act.

Notice that when the critics take Jesus’ reference to “creation” and tack on the words, “of humanity”, they are assuming that the term “creation” refers to an act—God’s making of mankind. Certainly, the Bible does use the term in this way in Romans 1:20, which speaks of “the creation of the world,” meaning God’s act of making of the world.

However, it makes little sense to impose this definition on Mark 10:6. Jesus could not have meant that God made people male and female from the beginning of the act of creation, because even old-earth creationists would agree that Adam and Eve were made on Day 6, toward the end (not the beginning) of God’s creative activity.4 Rather, what Jesus meant by “creation” is not the act, but the object that resulted from God’s creative activity. Jesus was talking about something that God made. This becomes even more obvious by looking again at Mark 13:19, in which Jesus used additional wording to help clarify which type of “creation” He was speaking about. His extended phrase reads (note the emphasized words): “from the beginning of the creation that God created until now”. It makes absolutely no sense to speak of God creating the act of creation. Unquestionably, then, the creation here and in Mark 10:6 is not an act, but an object.

Even so, if the critics were to admit their mistake of confusing creative acts with created objects, they might still try to maintain that the created object refers to mankind rather than the entire created realm. But this amounts to saying that the word “creation” here just means “mankind”, and there is no scriptural precedent for this at all. While the Greek word for “creation” (ktisis, κτίσις) can mean “creature” (as in 2 Cor. 5:17), the Bible never uses the singular form to refer to humanity collectively.

Thus, those Christians who try to limit Jesus’ statements to human origins are caught in a dilemma. If they claim “creation” means the act of making mankind, they import a meaning completely foreign to the context. But if they maintain that “creation” refers to (created) humanity, they adopt a meaning completely foreign to New Testament word usage. Better to abandon all the hermeneutical contrivances, and accept the obvious truth that Jesus believed in a young earth.5

Taking our cues from Scripture

As Christians, we ought to take the words of Jesus, and indeed all the words of Scripture, as authoritative (John 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim. 3:16–17). Yet Jesus’ testimony about the age of the earth is clear even if uncomfortable for some. So I would challenge those Christians who cling to an old-earth perspective to ask themselves if they are honestly submitting to the Word of God on this point, or just finding ways to rationalize their lack of faith. The Bible clearly teaches that mankind is about as old as the rest of creation, so let us humble ourselves before God’s Word as the Thessalonians once did:

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thess. 2:13)

May that same Word continue to be at work in us.

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Further Reading

References and notes

  1. Collins, C. John, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), p. 107. Return to text.
  2. The underlying Greek does not differ in any significant way except that Mark 13:19 appends the expression with the words “that God created”, a qualification which I discuss below. For a comparison of the Greek, see Sarfati, Jonathan, Refuting Compromise: Updated and Expanded (Powder Springs, GA: Creation Book Publishers, 2011), p. 293–295. Return to text.
  3. The ESV here properly interprets this phrase in a temporal sense. For a defense, see Minton, Ron, “Apostolic Witness to Genesis Creation and the Flood”, in Mortenson, Terry and Thane H. Ury, eds., Coming to Grips with Genesis (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2008), p. 351–354. Return to text.
  4. Or, if the critic argues that the act of creation refers not to the entire six-day process, but merely to the making of Adam and Eve, it would also be bizarre to think Jesus meant that God made them male and female from the beginning of the creative act that brought them about. Wouldn’t they only be male and female at the end of that process, once God had finished creating them? Return to text.
  5. There is a less common long-age approach which concedes that this was Jesus’ teaching, but claims that He was mistaken. For a discussion of how this was used by a prominent theistic evolutionist, see Jesus on the age of the earth. Return to text.

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Readers’ comments
Patrick T., United States, 5 December 2014

I am not refuting the argument but sustaining it. I don't believe in 7000 year old planet but younger, check a Jewish calendar. All that exist in the universe was spoken into existence. Jesus the clear image of God in flesh did exactly what the Father did. Out of nothing (nada) all thing came into existence. Look at the miracles He preformed. It is clear there are subatomic particles and these where what is referred to when the fraise without form -void. Where they preexisting no. It is not scripture to say these things but it is the Holy Spirit that enlightens our understanding concerning matters that are sometimes hard to reconcile. Jesus clearly demonstrates the Omnipotent power of the God head.

Keaton Halley responds

Okay, glad you do accept that the earth is just thousands of years old as Jesus made clear. But I think you are reading things into Scripture when you tie the phrase "without form and void" to subatomic particles. I don't think the ancient Hebrews would have understood this to be the meaning.

James K., Australia, 4 December 2014

Liked the article Keaton, just pointing out an interesting point on Mk 10:6 which seems overlooked or maybe relegated to second place. Beginning comes from ARCHE which at its primary meaning means of primary importance. Here Jesus is saying it is of primary importance that Male and female were in the beginning (referring to marriage), dispelling any possibility that gender could evolve. One other use of ARCHE confirms this in Rev 3:14. Here Jesus is stated as the beginning of the creation of God. There is sufficient Scripture to show that Jesus was not created. As one of the Godhead he is stated elsewhere as the Creator. Here we have a Jewish idiom where the beginning of the creation would read today as the Beginner of the creation. He is the ARCHE the originator or the source of creation. This would be the principle use also of Mk 10:6. God set this order in place (male, female and marriage). The use you give the text (an object) would be secondary to the use of an act. Both have their importance. The main focus in each case is the One and His principles who set this order in the universe in place. I think you will agree that the end result of either interpretation is the same. God set the order in Mk 10:6 we witness today. It was not a gradual process. It is of primary importance that we understand that for the plan of salvation to have true meaning. Blessings.

Keaton Halley responds

The Greek word "αρχη" can mean 'beginning', 'ruler', etc. depending on context, but it doesn't mean both at the same time. In Rev. 3:14 it means 'ruler' or something similar, but in Mark 10:6 it just means 'beginning', as the context demands.

Patrick T., United States, 2 December 2014

Scripture never implies anywhere that there was an existing earth that God made into a living planet. Instead science has taught us the order of creation. atoms -amino acids- molecules - proteins. When scripture says it was without form and void it is verifying what we know in the subatomic world there is no form it was void. God created the atoms and other subatomic particles out of absolutely nothing, nada. He next formed some atoms into the amino acids paired correctly for proteins to create water. From there it was game on. It is not hard to understand, It is exactly what Jesus did when he preformed the many miracles. Look at the raising of Lazarus scientifically.

Keaton Halley responds

You are not getting these ideas from Scripture because the Bible never mentions subatomic particles. Instead, Genesis 1:2 says: "The earth was without form and void". So the Bible says exactly what you claim it doesn't.

But how does any of this relate to my article? You've done nothing to refute the New Testament testimony that Jesus and the apostles believed in a relatively young universe.

Stephen L., Australia, 2 December 2014

Jesus didn't attempt to calculate the age of the earth in geological or scientific terms. You are putting words in his mouth.

Keaton Halley responds

I didn't say Jesus calculated the age of the earth. I said it is logically deducible from statements he did make that the world is not significantly older than human beings. If my argument is in error, please show where the error is instead of merely stating your opinion.

Russ M., Uruguay, 1 December 2014

I disagree with the article. Genesis 1:2 says that the earth was formless and desolate before God started to transform it (creating a living planet from a desolate piece of rock floating around in space). Thus God Started to create life on this planet. During the first six creative days (some say 1 creative day = 7,000 of mankind years) God started to rotate the planet to create days and nights, then the separation of water (above and below), separate water and land, vegetation bearing fruit, rotation around the sun, rotation of the moon, fish, animals, birds. Not until the end of the sixth creative day did God create man - we are still in the seventh creative day (Gen chapter 1). Then Jesus, our heavenly king will rule for the last 1000 years after defeating and binding Satan the Devil (Rev. Chapter 2,3)

Keaton Halley responds

What I've argued above would rule out this interpretation, and you haven't interacted with those points. Also, elsewhere we've given other reasons why both the gap theory and the day-age view are incorrect. See Creation Compromises.

Tony C., Australia, 1 December 2014

That conclusion might be a little controversial. The Greek word translated in English bible's as "the creation" is a general term, ktisis, which means original formation. It's more likely Jesus was referring to the formation of humans than anything else. But I agree with you that the English version suggests the translators were young earth creationists. I'm not inclined to take it further though and say Jesus is, given the point that Jesus was making at the time. But of course I could be wrong there.

Keaton Halley responds

I'm not sure what is meant by "original formation." I see that phrase is used by Strong's concordance, but it's a bit vague. The Greek word is used to refer to a created thing, or the whole created realm, but it's not used as a synonym for humanity, as argued above (see my reply to David M.).

david H., United States, 1 December 2014

Very well written article, clear, and direct. Loved it. Thank you for sharing it.

A. T., United Kingdom, 28 November 2014

until I read S.Baker's booklet "a bone of contention" I was quite happy to go along with the idea that "a day is like a million years in the eyes of the lord" but on reading her booklet I realised that evolution is impossible, and hold the bible correct

stephen M., United States, 27 November 2014

I am impressed with the intelligent approach to putting scripture together. However, I am at unease with comments like "words or statements meaning essentially the same thing." For example, in Isaiah 45:18 Jehovah refers to Himself as "the Creator of" the heavens and "the Former of" and "the Maker of" the earth. (Also, "He created it [the earth] not in vain [tohu], He FORMED it to be inhabited"). If then God presents these individual characteristics ("abilities") of Himself, we would do well to understand the subtle (or not so subtle) meanings conveyed. Another, example is the confusion of swapping "creature" and "creation". The whole of creation includes the host of heaven. The resurrected Christ witnessed to the imprisoned spirits. We, too, are a witness to the host of heaven. 1Peter 1:12 "... which things the angels desire to look into." Hebrews 13:2 "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unaware." "What is loosed on earth, is loosed in heaven." So care (and context) should be applied in clear understanding of what is conveyed when God speaks of His creation. 2Tim 1:9 & Titus 1:2 speak of God's promise of eternal life and His own purpose and grace BEFORE the "ages of time" (or before the world began). God is omniscient: "sees" the past, present, and future all at the same "time". There is no difference in His "view". Thus, before time, or before the world began, God"s "plan" was in place. It seems he knew Satan would rebel, He knew man would "fall". "Why would God interrupt eternity knowing these things would happen?" You say: "We don't know." But, we do know. For brevity, simply read: Romans 9:22-23 and Ephesians 2:7-10. Thank you for this website. It is quite informative. As you, seeking truth. Selah. Love in Christ.

David M., Australia, 26 November 2014

Thanks for this helpful study. While agreeing with most of what you wrote I wonder about your statement “While the Greek word for “creation” (ktisis, κτίσις) can mean “creature” (as in 2 Cor. 5:17), the Bible never uses the singular form to refer to humanity collectively.” In another creation article “Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s fall: an exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a” it says “Colossians 1:23 refers to humanity, while the context of Hebrews 4:13 limits the definition to believers.” And neither discuss and explain how Mark 16:15 seems to imply that the whole creation are those that are capable of hearing the gospel. I wondered if it is because this verse is in the longer ending to Mark which some do not accept as canonical.

I also wonder whether the phrase “pro chronos aionios” “before the world began” as used in 2Tim 1:9 and Tit 1:2 might have a similar meaning to that which you discussed in the article or perhaps something slightly different.

Keaton Halley responds

David, I appreciate your thoughtful interaction. However, I do not see these other uses of ktisis as counterexamples. Let’s take them one by one.

Col. 1:23 can be translated “in all creation” or “to every creature”. If the former, it means “everywhere”. If the latter, the word “creature” in and of itself refers to an individual created being (and, arguably, the context limits this to a human being). If instead ktisis by itself meant “humanity”, then the text would be talking about “every humanity”, which makes no sense since there are not multiple humanities.

Heb. 4:13 says that “no creature is hidden”. Again, the context may indicate that only humanity is in view here, but the word ktisis still refers to an individual creature. That is, it could mean “no man is hidden”, but not “no mankind is hidden”.

Mark 16:15 can be translated “to every creature”, in which case it refers to each individual belonging to the set, as above. And, again, it may be limited to humans since they are the intended recipients of Gospel proclamation. Or, another possible translation is “to all creation”. If this is the better translation, I still see no reason to think that ktisis is a synonym for “mankind”. Obviously, we do not literally preach the Gospel to rocks and raccoons, but this verse may be personifying nature in order to emphasize how widespread our preaching must be, similar to what’s going on in Deut. 32:1. In other words, we preach everywhere as if even the sub-human realm could hear.

Although the exegetical details are disputable, on some level, Mark 16:15 certainly is telling us to preach to all people. But my point is that it does not do so with a simple equation between “creation” and “mankind” which might allow us to simply insert that substitution into Mark 10:6.

As for the phrases in 2 Tim. 1:9 and Titus 1:2, I do think they are close in meaning to the phrases on which I based my argument. However, those passages contain no statements relevant to the age of the earth, so there was no need to address them.

William M., United States, 25 November 2014

How could the Spirit have made this more obvious? In light of these scriptures, it becomes apparent that Christians who hold to the old earth travesty are being willfully ignorant.

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