According to a comment by another user in this question Why do OEC discount the literal interpretation of the book of Genesis?, apparently there's Biblical evidence for an Old Earth. As a Young Earth/Literal Christian I have never been introduced to this theory before. Thus my question.

I have never come across any scripture that talks about the earth being old in a literal sense. Can you tell me what the literal evidence of Old Earth Creation is in the Bible?

  • Are old earth creationists would be those who take the 100% Bible literally, but interpret it as saying that the earth is billions of years old?
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 16, 2011 at 17:17
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    Is this intended to replace your other question? Because It's really covering the same ground. And some of the same answers will apply. Sep 16, 2011 at 17:38
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    @Peter Turner: I don't think anyone takes the Bible 100% literally. If they do, then I want that person to post a question asking for a drawing of Solomon's lover. "Your eyes are doves." " I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys." (Wait, is she a literal rose, or a literal lily? And where do dove-eyes fit anatomically on a flower?)
    – Flimzy
    Sep 16, 2011 at 22:15
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    @DJClayworth: I don't think saying "see [link]" is useful, when that very link was already mentioned in the question itself.
    – Flimzy
    Sep 16, 2011 at 22:16
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    I own a book with that very title "A Biblical Case for an Old Earth" by David Snoke.
    – Flimzy
    Sep 16, 2011 at 23:15

5 Answers 5


There is a idea, known as Gap Theory, that says that the first few verses of Genesis should be translated as the following:

Genesis 1:1

1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth [became]* without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

* Brackets denote what some believe is a more accurate translation of the word is.

This is due the the different translations for the Hebrew word "hayah". So, this understanding would indicate that there was an arbitrary amount of time between when God created the earth and when the rest of the creation story occurred.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert in Hebrew, so I cannot offer a more technical information this particular word. But here is Strong's Hebrew Lexicon definition:

1961 hayah haw-yaw a primitive root (Compare 1933); to exist, i.e. be or become, come to pass (always emphatic, and not a mere copula or auxiliary):--beacon, X altogether, be(-come), accomplished, committed, like), break, cause, come (to pass), do, faint, fall, + follow, happen, X have, last, pertain, quit (one-)self, require, X use.

Here is the beginning of the second verse in Hebrew:

וְהָאָ֗רֶץ - ve·ha·'a·retz - the earth

הָיְתָ֥ה - ha·ye·tahm - was (or become)

תֹ֙הוּ֙ - to·hu - (formless)

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    So there's no evidence beyond suggesting that genesis 1 COULD mean something else? Sep 16, 2011 at 18:59
  • @Jonathon Byrd I am not saying that is, or is not the case that there is no evidence beyond that. I am just throwing that out there as a possible interpretation of part of the passage (and not necessarily my own view). Also, if you take that view, and insert what ever you want in the 'gap' (billions of years, war in heaven and Satan is thrown out of heaven, etc). You still have the creation of the rest of the chapter. So it could account for an old geological and cosmological age (light traveling billions of years, etc) only. Sep 16, 2011 at 19:20
  • @Jonathon in other words, it certainly not an exhaustive answer. Sep 16, 2011 at 19:23

It takes some interpretation as well as synthesis from scientific sources but the biblical narrative roughly follows the evolutionary process.


Genesis 1:3-10 describe the initial stages of order coming into place. Day, night, water, land, atmosphere.

Vegetation appears next in vv. 11-13. Vegetation would have been the first macro-organism on the scene in the evolutionary process.

As the atmosphere stabilized (and perhaps the vegetation processed the CO2) the stars appeared.

Then, vv.20-23 describes the appearance of fish and birds which are the next phases in the macro-evolutionary cycle.

Vv. 24-26 are the land animals - also next in evolution.

Finally, vv. 26ff describe the creation of humanity which is the next stage in the evolutionary process.

edit: http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evosite/evo101/IIHistory.shtml http://www.clas.ufl.edu/users/pciesiel/gly3150/plant.html


One thing to keep in mind is that the precise definition is "day" is not a 24 hour period. The precise definition of "day" is the amount of time it takes for the Earth to complete one rotation; to the Jews, a day was the time from when the sun rose to the time it set.

It is interesting that, prior to creation, the bible says the "Earth was without form and void". Depending on translation, it does not say that the Universe was without form and void — just the Earth. Though some translations may argue this point, "Earth" vs "Universe" is definitely one possible interpretation. It's also interesting that prior to this there were no "days" — and given the precise definition, how could there be?

It's therefore possible that the first couple "days" may have taken quite a lot longer than 24 hours, even holding to a very literal interpretation of scripture. This is especially interesting when you consider that for several days there wasn't even a sun by which to measure the day. It must have had some other meaning during that period, and if it meant something else during those days, why not the few days the followed?

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    It is an interesting interpretation, but you are using a modern definition for "day". That is not a definition that would have made sense to, or been familiar with, the people scribing Genesis. Jan 11, 2012 at 23:22
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    I don't know that it matters how the original scribes understood it in this case. This describes a time during which there were no people. Even in the best possible circumstance we're already relying on people to scribe something they could not possibly witness or understand. Jan 12, 2012 at 20:50
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    The definition of "day" (yom) is a hotly-contested debate between NEC and OEC communities. NEC like to point out that "day" is "always" a 24-hour cycle. However ... off the top of my head I think I remember Daniel using YOM in the sense of an indefinite time period - or at least not directly meaning an exact 24-hour timeframe (lunar calendar notwithstanding). "Day" is relevant to the creation conversation but only as additional information and not really a foundation upon which we can establish an entire argument.
    – swasheck
    Jan 12, 2012 at 23:25
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    @Joel it matters because they chose the word; in interpreting ancient text, it is not accurate to apply modern re-definitions. All I'm saying is: the modern definition is fairly meaningless in terms of interpreting scripture. Nothing more than that. Jan 12, 2012 at 23:35
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    This still fits the cultural definition. Jews defined a day as the time from when the sun rises until it sets. It's hard to have that kind of a day with no sun... in fact, I'll edit that into the answer. Jan 20, 2012 at 19:31

I have a detailed treatment of this subject on my website. The broad points made in that article are as follows.

First, scripture is is clear that the creation in and of itself is sufficient evidence of God's existence that mankind is held eternally accountable on the basis of creation alone:

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Romans 1:19-23 (ESV; emphasis mine)

Second, ancient Hebrew is a language much more limited in vocabulary than modern English, some 10,000 words to the latter's 150,000 words in common usage. This means that Hebrew words have multiple literal meanings, and discerning which of the multiple meanings was intended requires other evidence, from context, from the common knowledge and from sources completely separate to the text.

English boasts one of the richest vocabularies in the world. It gives those who speak and write the language an ability to make very fine distinctions. The Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines approximately 160,000 English words. Ancient Hebrew, by contrast, has a very small vocabulary. In fact, the entire OT was written using only 8,674 Hebrew (and Aramaic) words, and these words are formed from only 2,552 unique root words. Due to the disparity, Hebrew terms are typically far broader and less specific than their English counterparts. Each Hebrew word can, on average, be translated into several possible English words depending on context.

Reasons to Believe

The old-creation position takes Genesis quite literally and as an historic account; but words like Yom (Day) and the phrase "there was evening and there was morning" have much deeper meaning than that implied by the English translations.

The Hebrew word Yôm, as used in scripture, has three different literal definitions:

  1. Any part of the daylight hours,
  2. a twenty four hour period, and
  3. any finite period of time.

The same is true of the phrase, "And there was evening, and there was morning". Not only does this seem to be idiomatic Hebrew connoting an progression from something less ordered to something more ordered, but the underlying words for evening and morning connote "hiding" and "revealing", respectively. And have you ever wondered that the phrase actually does not include the daylight hours?

Hebrew scholar and physicist Gerald Schroeder, in his Book Genesis and the Big Bang, makes a compelling case that the Hebrew phrase has a deeper meaning than modern English speakers appreciate.

The Hebrew word for "evening" is erev. This is the literal meaning of the word, although the root of erev carries with it implications far beyond that of a setting Sun. What is the visual sensation for evening? Darkness begins. Objects become obscure, blurred. The root of erev means just that, "mixed up, stirred together, disorderly".

The Hebrew for "morning" is boker. Its meaning is quite the opposite of erev. Morning brings first light. Objects, visually mingled by the dark of night, become distinct entities and this is the root meaning of boker, "discernable, able to be distinguished, orderly".

Had the text said, "and there was morning and there was evening," our concept of a day might have been better satisfied. The sequence would have at least included the light of the day. But had the text followed this human logic, it would have forfeited its cosmic message. [...] We are being told, that within this parcel of space where mankind was to stake his first roots, there was a systematic flow from disorder -- chaos or "evening" -- to order or "morning".

Genesis and the Big Bang (Chapter 6)

Third, and this bears back on Romans 1:19-23, the old-creation position expects that observations of God's creation should reveal God; the Bible says that this is so. For the Bible to make such a claim and for the creation to then appear to be old while in fact being young would make God a cosmic deceiver and liar.

And it's not as simple as claiming that God created with the appearance of age; the best example of that is light from distant galaxies (and that these galaxies are far, far away is no longer contested). Such light, has either been travelling for billions of years, or it was created "in transit"; but if the latter there is a problem because the light carries information of past events and if the events never happened then the created light is a created deception (my article has a detailed explanation of this problem).

Fourth, there is no compelling biblical evidence that animals did not die before the fall and certainly no support for the idea that animal death is of any eternal significance at all. The scriptures usual used to argue that there was no death before the fall are usually quoted out of context and can all be clearly shown to be referring to human death, not animal death. For example:

12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned -- 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Romans 5:12-17 (ESV; emphasis mine)

Finally, the issue of this creation (a) being temporal and finite, destined to expire and (b) having fixed laws of physics, coupled with Revelations description of a new eternal creation with quite different laws of physics make it abundantly clear that this creation was always an interim step in God's plan, and was never the end-game:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away."

Revelation 21:1-4 (ESV)

And that it was always in the plan of God for this creation to pass away and for a the new heavens and new earth to replace this creation seems clear from Jesus himself when he said:

34 Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

Mathew 25:24 (ESV; emphasis mine)

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    +1 for a thoughtful and detailed analysis, but I think it's a bit presumptuous to say that "creation to then appear to be old while in fact being young would make God a cosmic deceiver and liar." Counter examples would include Adam and Eve, who were created with the appearance of age, and the fact that, for all intents and purposes, the earth does appear to be flat to its many inhabitants. There's a difference between creating man with a flawed and limited inductive ability and creating a deliberately deceptive construct.
    – Steven
    Jan 20, 2012 at 15:55
  • @Steven: Actually, I would counter your argument by stating that while Adam and Eve were likely created mature, that in fact there would be no physical evidence of age in them. That is, there would be no liver spots, their DNA would reflect no telemere loss, there would be no plaque build-up in their arteries, etc. They would only have a superficial appearance of age, whereas the universe has a deep and pervasive appearance of age such that it's only the (mis)interpretation of scripture that would give rise to the idea of a young creation.
    – user32
    Sep 1, 2014 at 20:46

not meaning to burst your bubble, but I don't think we're ever going to find out how old the earth is. Yes, there may be disputes about the age of the earth, but they're far from fruitful as no evidence will satisfy the evidence we need. Even IF carbon dating was accurate, we must look at the creation of the earth itself. When God created the earth, He created it to be in a state of full habitability; with a fully grown garden for man. It is proposed that planets similar to earth are made through an evolutionary process (I'm using this term in it's purest sense, not in reference to the actual theory of evolution) using starts over millions of years, and if God made even trees at a greater maturity, say around 2 years old so they could instantly bear fruit, doesn't it make sense that he would create the Earth at an age in which the ground would bear minerals, the soil bear fruit, etc? Even Adam was made in the physical build-up of a man; I speculate if you aged him, you would estimate his age to be 20-30 years old (even though he was a few seconds old). So it's plain to see that evidence may very accurately tell us that the earth is billions of years old, but in reality we have to choose faith over everything as Christians; lay it down because it's honestly not worth worrying about.

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    Welcome to the site. We are happy to have you participate. please see the faq and the tour page to learn how the site works. This is an interesting answer and you bring up some good logical points, however, the question asks for "Biblical evidence". The answer should be focused on using the Bible to determine if the Earth is old or young, and specifically, just the evidence and the arguments commonly made that the Earth is old and not young. You can edit this post to make it better, which I recommend. Please do come back; we have lots of questions that you can contribute to.
    – user3961
    May 14, 2013 at 4:13
  • What I mean to say in fewer words: quote the Bible and expand on your argument.
    – user3961
    May 14, 2013 at 4:14
  • I personally completely agree with the argument you make here, the trouble is the whole thing doesn't really fit inside the question scope.
    – Caleb
    May 14, 2013 at 13:08

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