According to Dr. Terry Mortenson, Jesus believed that Adam and Eve were created at about the same time the world was created. This creates a problem, however, if the world has been around for billions of years. If the world has existed for billions of years, prior to the evolutionary advent of man, Jesus is either mistaken or a liar.
Dr. Mortenson is a writer for Answers in Genesis, a Christian apologetics ministry that defends young-earth creationism. Dr. Mortenson holds an MDiv and a PhD in the history of geology. He has lectured in over 25 countries and formerly served for 26 years with Campus Crusade for Christ in the United States and in Eastern Europe.
In his article, “Jesus, Evangelical Scholars, and the Age of the Earth,” Dr. Mortenson uses three Gospel texts to argue that Jesus believed in a young earth: Mark 10:6, Mark 13:19, and Luke 11:50. Let’s look at each of these (emphasis added is mine):
Mark 10:6: “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.”
Mark 13:19: “For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.”
Luke 11:50: “so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary.” Mortenson writes:
“When analyzed carefully, ‘from the beginning of creation’ in Mark 10:6 refers to the beginning of the whole creation, not just the creation of the first marriage on day 6 of Genesis 1:27-30. In Mark 13:19, “since the beginning of creation which God created” refers not to the beginning of the human race but to the beginning of the whole creation, starting in Gen 1:1. Luke 11:50-51 focuses on “since the foundation of the world” and refers to the whole creation week of Genesis 1, not just a portion of it.”
Before I go further, let me be clear about the goal of this article. I am not going to argue that young-earth creationism is wrong; my goal is to simply rebut Dr. Mortenson’s arguments.
To begin, Mortenson misunderstands context. In each of the above passages, Jesus is not addressing the age of the earth. In Mark 10:6, Jesus is speaking about marriage and divorce. In Mark 13:19, Jesus is speaking prophetically about the events after the destruction of the Jewish Temple. In Luke 11:50, Jesus is rebuking the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. In all these verses, Jesus is not addressing the age of the earth.
But to be fair, this does not necessarily mean that Mortenson is wrong to see implications in these verses about how Jesus’ understood the age of the earth. Let’s think the best of Mortenson and make a distinction between explicit teaching and implicit teachings. While Jesus may not explicitly speak of his views concerning the age of the earth, perhaps Jesus is implicitly presenting his views on the age of the earth.
Suppose Jesus is being implicit. If it is true that Jesus’ made implicit claims about the age of the earth, then it is difficult to see how this helps Mortenson’s case. In Mark 10:6, Jesus said that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’” If the phrase “from the beginning of creation,” really refers to (to quote Mortenson) “the beginning of the whole creation,” then Jesus is claiming that Adam and Eve were created on the first day of creation.
In Mark 13:19, Jesus teaches that there have been no comparable tribulations since “the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.” If this is the case, then Jesus is making the ridiculous claim that the events that followed the destruction of the temple in 70 AD were greater than the destruction of Noah’s flood. But, you may ask, isn’t the destruction at the end of the world going to be greater than the Noah’s flood? For my readers who think that Jesus is speaking about the end of time (the eschaton) in Mark 13:19, I beg of you to look at the context closely. Mark 13 begins with Jesus speaking about the Temple, and then predicts its destruction. In 13:3-4, Jesus’s disciples ask, “when will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” the following discourse is about the events that follow the destruction of the temple. Only at 13:24 does Jesus speak about the end of times: “But in those days, after that tribulation…” In Mark 13:19, Jesus is speaking about the events after the destruction of the temple: “in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be.” If the events after 70 AD were greater than Noah’s flood, than Jesus is guilty of gross exaggeration.
In Luke 11:50, Jesus says speaks about “the foundation of the world.” According to Mortenson, this phrase refers “to the whole creation week of Genesis 1, not just a portion of it.” But in Luke 11:50 Jesus speaks of the time “from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah.” How can this refer to the whole creation week? Taken literally, Jesus said that Abel was created in the first week of creation.
Now of course, the Young-Earth creationist might suggest that Jesus is only speaking approximately. When Jesus spoke of the beginning of creation, or the foundation of the world, Jesus did not imply that Adam, Eve, and Abel were created at the first moment of God’s creation; these were just figures of speech. But if the Young-Earth Creationist says this, she contradicts Mortenson’s argument, as well as undermines the very foundation of his literal hermeneutic.
And here lies the fundamental problem of Mortenson’s arguments: he assumes a hermeneutic of biblical literalism.
What is a hermeneutic? Hermeneutics is the science of interpretation, and it has to do with the way we understand and interpret Scripture. When we read Scripture, we naturally assume a particular hermeneutic. We intuitively know when Scripture says that God is a rock it doesn’t mean that God is a lifeless boulder. In Exodus 34:6, there is a Hebrew expression that refers to God having a “long nose.” Any competent translator knows that this cannot be translated literally; it means God is “slow to anger,” or “patient.” When studying the Bible, most competent readers assume a reasonable hermeneutic that takes into account genre (poetry, prose, apocalyptic, etc.), figures of speech, and literary conventions (idiom, metaphor, hyperbole, symbolism, etc.) when reading the Bible.
But Mortenson assumes that Jesus’s words “from the beginning of creation,” and “from the foundation of the world,” imply that Jesus believed the earth is young because Mortenson assumes a literal hermeneutic. Not only does this hermeneutic make Jesus to claim some ridiculous things (as I demonstrated above), but this hermeneutic cannot be applied consistently. Does Mortenson really think that a mustard seed is the smallest seed on the earth (Matt. 13:31)? When Jesus said that he was a door, does Mortenson think that Jesus is a wooden thing that swings on hinges (John 10:7)? Of course he doesn’t. So then why does Mortenson apply a literal hermeneutic to Mark 6:10, 13:19, and Luke 11:50, and not to passages like Matthew 13:31 and John 10:7)? Mortenson needs to explain this inconsistency.
One final point. From the very beginning of his article, Mortenson claims that Jesus took Genesis 1-11 as “straightforward reliable history.” Here Mortenson’s biblical literalism is most evident. It appears that Mortenson is importing a philosophical understanding of history that is informed more by the modern enlightenment than it is by biblical history. Biblical history is not as “straightforward” as Mortenson claims, and I hope to show in a future post how this is so. The act of recording history is not that straightforward, and scholars influenced by modernism are oftentimes unaware of ancient forms of historiography, like the forms of historiography found in the book of Genesis.
In conclusion, one does not need to adopt a hermeneutic of biblical literalism. There is a way of reading Scripture according to its literary sense; a hermeneutic that takes into account genre, and literary tools. There is a way of preserving the truth of God’s word by honoring it’s socio-linguistic forms of speech without adopting biblical literalism.
Again, let me be clear. I have not argued that Mortenson is wrong about the age of the earth. I have simply shown that his arguments are extremely weak, and that he argues on the basis of a faulty hermeneutic. Mortenson needs to go much further than this to show that Jesus was a young-earth creationist.