How old? When archaeology conflicts with the Bible

Archaeology Dig

Claims of great antiquity

by Gavin Cox

“Archaeology team finds 9,000-year-old artefacts in NewBo [Cedar Rapids, Iowa, USA] neighbourhood” declares an article from a recent edition of The Gazette. As biblical creationists, we are used to seeing claims of ‘millions and billions of years’ for fossils and rocks. These supposedly tell of long epochs of time and evolution and we have become adept at putting such claims into biblical perspective. According to the Bible, there was no death or bloodshed of nephesh chayyāh life before Adam and Eve sinned. Hence, the fossils contained in rocks should be understood as post-Fall—mostly arising from the Genesis Flood—because fossils are preserved dead things.

But what of claims of civilisations that, according to the biblical timeline, would pre-date the Flood? Is it reasonable to accept that a wheel discovered in Slovenia is between 5,100 and 5,350 years old, or that agriculture flourished and building projects were undertaken 12,000 years ago? Are these dates still in the biblical ‘ball-park’? Where do we draw the line when archaeologists claim that the oldest pottery is 18,300 years old, or the remains of “Mungo Man”, (the first reported Australian human), are 62,000 years old? Are these more recent ‘dates’ derived by more reliable methods than the highly questionable radiometric dating techniques used to argue that rocks are millions of years old?

How young? How old is young?

Gets a bit confusing doesn’t it? But we’re young earth creationists right? Wrong. Scripture never uses the phrase ‘young’ to describe the earth, or humanity. Let me give a few examples to put things in biblical perspective. Peter the Apostle, in 2 Peter 2:5, uses the Greek word ἀρχαῖος(archaios) to describe the world that was destroyed by the Flood of Noah. In our English Bibles that word is translated ‘ancient’ (in 20 versions), or ‘old’ (in 6 versions).

When Moses, in Deuteronomy 33:15, blessed the twelve tribes of Israel with their possessions of land, he described the hills using the Hebrew word קֶ֫דֶם (qedem) which is translated ‘ancient’ (in 25 versions) and ‘old’ (in 1 version7). The Bible does not indicate ‘youth’ when referring to the earth, for example, the hills and mountains are described as being very old (e.g. Habakkuk 3:6; Ezekiel 36:2).

So according to the Bible, the earth close to the time of Noah’s Flood is described as being ‘ancient’ or ‘old’. The Hebrew Bible describes the nations which were considered to be old at the time of Israel’s exile—for instance Jeremiah 5:15 uses the Hebrew word עוֹלָם (olam), when referring to the antiquity of Babylon. 1 Chronicles 4:22 contains genealogical information relating to the Moabites which is described as being from ‘ancient records’ by the Hebrew word עַתִּיקִים (‘at-tî-qîm) which means ‘old’. So in conclusion, we can say that, according to the Bible, at 6,000 years old the earth and humanity are ancient, not young.

Earth history from the Bible

Genesis 5 gives chronogeneological information for human history from Adam to Noah, and the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 gives Noah’s three sons’ family history. Genesis 11 gives the account of the Tower of Babel along with Shem’s family line to Abraham. This has been extensively studied elsewhere, but it is useful to see the chronology of Adam to Abraham…

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image credit: Original artwork from photo by Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette