To answer these questions, let’s look at the documents of the day, both Biblical and extra-biblical.
Outside the Bible, Josephus is the most famous and respected source of historical reports from the era when Jesus lived. The works of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus are a renowned first-century source.
At the beginning of each of the first 15 books of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus gives a span of years that cover the subject matter of each book, from Creation to Herod’s completion of the Temple around the time of Jesus. According to the historian Josephus, the Jews of Jesus’ time understood they were only thousands of years removed from Creation — not millions or billions of years.
The men Jesus trained — and authorized to speak and teach with His authority — interpreted the Old Testament literally. Every New Testament author referred to people and/or events of Genesis 1-11 as unquestioned historical fact. Many New Testament examples could be cited; here are some from each NT author.
Matthew and Luke approach Genesis as literal history. They use the genealogical records of Genesis to detail Jesus’ ancestry (Matthew 1:1-16; Luke 3:23-38).
Mark views Genesis as a reliable historical report. He records that Jesus based His doctrine of marriage on the Genesis record — on the creation of male and female at the Beginning and on Adam and Eve’s marriage (Mark 10:6-9).
Luke treats Genesis as straight history. He explicitly identifies Adam’s son Abel as the first prophet who was murdered (Luke 11:49-51), referring to Genesis 4:8 in which Adam’s son Cain murders his brother Abel.
John begins his gospel by identifying Jesus as God, placing Him present at the Beginning, and identifying Him as the Creator (John 1:1-3). John also quotes Jesus as saying, “Before Abraham was born, I AM” when the Jews disputed with Jesus over His identity (John 8:52-59). Jesus is referring to the patriarch who is listed by his original name Abram in the second Genesis genealogy (Genesis 11:26-32).
Paul grounded key doctrines on Genesis. He taught that men are without excuse because since the creation of the world man has clearly seen God’s eternal power and divine character through what has been made (Romans 1:19-20). Paul’s understanding of Genesis as literal historical fact was the basis for his placement of man at the beginning of the world. Moreover, Paul explicitly said Adam was the first man (1 Corinthians 15:45).
The author of Hebrews is of the same persuasion as the other NT writers regarding the literal interpretation of Genesis 1-11. The author of Hebrews says that in these last days God has spoken in His Son “through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:2) referring to the record of the creation of the world in Genesis 1 & 2. Hebrews 1:10 says, “You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the works of Your hands,” speaking of the Son’s work of Creation in Genesis. Speaking of man, Hebrews 2:7-8 says, “You have crowned him with glory and honor, and have appointed him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.” This comes from Genesis 1:26-28 where Yahweh gave man dominion over all the earth.
James uses Abraham (a real person listed in the Genesis 11:26-32 genealogy) as an example of faith-shown-by-works producing justification (James 2:21-24). James hinges a character issue on “men who have been made in the likeness of God” (James 3:9) referring to Genesis 1:26. James refers to God as “Lord of the Sabbath” (James 5:4), knowing that Yahweh began the Sabbath practice when He rested after His six days of creation work (Genesis 2:1-3).
Jude 1:14-15 says that “Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied.” Jude is interpreting literally the Genesis 5 genealogy which lists Enoch as the seventh patriarch from Adam (Genesis 5:18-24).
These examples show that each of the authors of the New Testament, most of whom Jesus trained, interpreted people or events from Genesis 1-11 literally. It is certain that they would also have interpreted the chronogenealogies from Genesis 5 and Genesis 11 literally to help calculate the age of the earth.
What Would Jesus Do?
Jesus would have interpreted the genealogical and chronological texts literally and historically, just as He did with other Scriptures, and just as His contemporaries did, and just as His disciples did.
Therefore Jesus would have answered the question, “How old is the earth?” with “Have you not read Moses and the Prophets? It’s about 4,000 years old.” I imagine His disciples, less gracious than their Master, might have rolled their eyes and punctuated Jesus’ reply with “Duh!”
Jesus knew the earth was only thousands of years old — not millions or billions. It is incumbent upon those who follow Jesus as Lord to accept His view as their view and to reject fanciful interpretations which violate the literal sense of Scripture.
Soli Deo Gloria.
This is the seventh in a series of blog posts on the Age of the Earth.
Read the prequels:
1. How Old Is the Earth?
2. Why Is the Age of the Earth Important?
3. Earth: Young or Old?
4. Age of the Earth—Jesus’ View
5. Age of the Earth—Jesus Interpreted OT Literally
6. Age of the Earth—What Did Jesus Say?
Read the sequel:
8. Age of the Earth—Genealogies
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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”
“for the defense of the gospel”
(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:5; Phil 1:16)
Sunday June 22, 2008 A.D.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD. Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. (Psalm 33:6-9)