A gracEmail subscriber in the Northeast asks if we can discern the age of the earth from the Bible. He has heard someone teach that we can, and that Scripture puts approximately 6,000 candles on our planet’s birthday cake.
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It is easy to understand why some well-meaning Christians draw such conclusions, but it is equally clear that Scripture does not require us to do so. Even some Bibles, for example, list dates in the margins, with the Creation of humankind calculated at 4,004 B.C. Those figures are no part of the biblical text, but reflect the calculations of a Bishop Ussher of Ireland, who lived from 1581-1655 and who based his work on various genealogical lists contained in Scripture.
Ussher assumed that all the lists of generations were complete, something we now know not to be true. The genealogy found in Matthew 1:1-17 skips three generations to state that Joram “begat” Uzziah, his great-great grandson. A genealogical list in Ezra 7:3 omits six generations, as compared to the list found in First Chronicles 6:3-11. For the ancient Hebrews, “son” also meant “descendant,” and “bore” or “begat” meant somewhere down the line. The purpose of biblical genealogies was not to provide a precise time-line but to show descent, tribal origins or royal lineage.
The Bible does not answer all our questions, but it tells us everything we need to know to accomplish the purpose for which it is given. That purpose is to reveal God — ultimately and most clearly in Jesus of Nazareth — and to show us our place in the universe, in relation to God, to the rest of creation, and to each other. It shows us that sin is our fault, not God’s, and that salvation from all sin’s effects is God’s initiative and not ours. Scripture points us to a relationship with the Rock of Ages. It does not tell us the ages of the rocks.