The Bible does not specify the age of creation, as many Christians would argue. Thus, the Young Earth Creationst (YEC) belief that God created the world only 6000 years ago originates from a 17th century examination of the Genesis genealogies by James Ussher and theologian John Lightfoot. Based on the ages of the patriarchs Ussher and Lightfoot calculated that the universe, Earth, and life were created in 4004 B.C. Unfortunately, however, this 4004 BC date has since become well established in Christian thought and belief. This would constitute the grounds for the YEC’s belief that the Earth is just 6000 years old; a belief that sits on the genealogies in Genesis.
However, criticism arose when Professor William Green and theologian Benjamin Warfield, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, discovered that there were some notable omissions and gaps within the Genesis genealogies. If they were correct in their discovery then creation had to be older than the 6000 years that was proposed by Ussher and Lightfoot. Most biblical scholars today consider the genealogies to only give “highlights” and not a comprehensive record of every generation (1). R.A. Torrey, the first dean of the Moody Bible Institute, of the early 20th century would argue that Bishop Ussher’s chronology is “altogether doubtful. It is founded upon the supposition that the genealogies of Scripture are intended to be complete, but a careful study of these genealogies clearly shows they are not intended to be complete, that they oftentimes contain only some outstanding names” (2). In a similar vein Wayne Grudem writes that “closer inspection of the parallel lists of names in Scripture will show that Scripture itself indicates the fact that the genealogies list only those names the biblical writers thought it important to record for their purposes. In fact, some genealogies include names that are left out by other genealogies in Scripture itself” (3). Instead, explains Bruce Gordon, “As evidence the genealogies are telescoped (compressed or abbreviated), scholars point to examples such as the genealogy of Moses, which appears four separate times in Scripture (Exodus 6:16-20, Numbers 26:57-59, 1 Chronicles 6:1-3, 23:6-13). Moses’ genealogy is given as Levi to Kohath to Amran to Moses. As straightforward as this seems, related Bible passages suggest that several generations were likely skipped between Amram and Moses,” (4) an interpretation affirmed by leading scholars (5). It has also been suggested that the Mosaic genealogies are only 20 to 40 percent complete (6), whereas prior to Abraham there is little information on which to construct a solid chronology as did Ussher and Lightfoot, as Grudem comments, “prior to Abraham, the setting of dates is very uncertain” (7).
Moreover, on top of the noted gaps and omissions, several genealogical words such as “son,” “father,” and “begat” or “fathered” in Hebrew are quite pertinent to chronology. For instance, “Son” (ben) has several literal meanings such as son, grandson, great-grandson, great-great-grandson, or descendent. “Father” (ab) likewise could denote a literal father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather as well as ancestor. “Begat” or “fathered” (yalad) could refer to distant generations and not only an immediate generation, as Torrey realises, “The word translated ‘begat’ is sometimes used not of an immediate descendent, but of succeeding generations” (8). Furthermore, “son” may likewise be a literal son or a distant descendant. This is seen in Genesis 46:15 where the Jacob and Leah’s “sons” (ben) (“altogether his sons and his daughters numbered thirty-three”) are taken to mean multiple generations of sons, grandsons, and great-grandsons. Gordon explains that there are “serious questions whether the Genesis genealogies may be regarded as an absolute chronology pointing back to a 6000-year-old earth” (9).
Thus, in concluding, I do not think that there is biblical warrant to assume that creation is just 6000 years old, as Ussher calculated.
1. Grudem, W. 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. p. 290-291; Schaeffer, F. 1972. Genesis in Space and Time. p. 122-123. Ross, H. 2001. The Genesis Question: Scientific Advances and the Accuracy of Genesis. p. 108; Collins, J. 2006. Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, And Theological Commentary. p. 204-206; Boice, J. 1982. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, Vol. 1: Genesis 1-11. p. 88-89.
2. Torrey, R. Difficulties in the Bible: Alleged Errors and Contradictions. Chapter 5.
3. Grudem, W. 1994. Ibid. p. 290.
4. Gordon, B. 2014. “Scandal of the Evangelical Mind: A Biblical and Scientific Critique of Young-Earth Creationism” in Science, Religion and Culture, 1(3): 144-173.
5. Millam, J. 2003. The Genesis Genealogies. Available; Collins, J. 2006. Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, And Theological Commentary. p. 204-206.
6. Millam, J. 2003. Ibid.
7. Grudem, W. 1994. Ibid. p. 290-291.
8. Torrey, R. Ibid.
9. Gordon, B. 2014. Ibid.