‘From the beginning of creation’—what did Jesus mean?
There’s no getting around Jesus’ teaching on the age of the earth
Published: 25 November 2014 (GMT+10)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
References and notes
- Collins, C. John, Science and Faith: Friends or Foes? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), p. 107. Return to text.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.