How can the earth or the universe fit into a 6,000-year history? How does a “new earth” or “young earth” teaching deal with prehistoric fossils of dinosaurs, mammoths, and fauna? If God has a “7,000-year Plan” with the first 6,000 years allotted to mankind before Christ’s return, then how do we explain the age of the universe, not to mention the age of the earth itself?
While most atheists and agnostics accept that the universe is billions of years old, they reject the truth that creation demands a Creator. However, some “fundamentalist Christians” also err, misunderstanding Scripture and ignoring overwhelming scientific evidence as they try to force all of creation into a 6,000-year history. They ignore results from measuring cosmic microwave background radiation, which suggest that the universe, galaxies, and stars themselves are billions of years old. Even if the models and methodologies used to accomplish this dating is off by a modest percentage, the cosmos would still be far older than 6,000 years.
Similarly, some try to force the earth into a 6,000 year history, ignoring that techniques such as “relative dating” (studying fossil and sedimentary layers) and radiometric dating, paleomagnetic stratigraphy (examining how magnetic materials in the earth’s crust have been affected by periodic changes in the global magnetic field), potassium-argon dating, other chemical analysis, and even Arctic and Antarctic ice core samples indicate an age for our planet far beyond six millennia.
God’s Church teaches that God has a “7,000-year plan,” but what exactly does that mean? Is there a contradiction between the Bible and science? Does God have a 7,000-year plan?
It is vital to understand that many of the claims that Scripture and science are in disagreement are completely false. While atheists and agnostics err by falling into one “ditch,” denying that creation demands a Creator and that “His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20), these “young-earth Christians” err and fall into the other “ditch,” as they try to cram what truly seems to be billions of years of history into 6,000 years. Both theories are wrong. As will be explained, there is absolutely no contradiction between the possibility that the universe and the stars and galaxies contained therein may be billions of years old—or that dinosaurs or other animals were alive millions of years ago on this earth—and the fact that God created humanity (Adam and Eve) roughly 6,000 years ago.
God Created All Things through Christ
A fundamental fact supporting this entire discussion is that God created all things through Christ. As Colossians 1:16 explains, “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” “All things” means everything, whether in the physical realm or the spiritual.
However, the Bible simply does not teach that all things were necessarily created about 6,000 years ago. There is a 6,000-year time for mankind, and Scripture plainly teaches a 1,000 year-reign of Christ (Revelation 20:6). This is the overall plan that God’s Church continues to accurately teach. And that teaching is not recently invented—in his article in the September-October 2012 issue of the Living Church News, “The ‘7,000 Years’ Doctrine,” Mr. Dexter Wakefield noted, “The ‘7,000 years’ teaching has an ancient history that is well known to scholars.”
Around AD 200, Eusebius writes that Papias of Hierapolis (in Asia Minor) is understood to have said that “there will be a period of some thousand years after the [first] resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth” (Ecclesiastical History, book 3, chapter 39). According to chapters 80–81 of Dialogue with Trypho, Justin Martyr taught the same thing, saying that after the 1,000-year reign of Christ on the earth a general resurrection and judgment of all people would take place. And, Irenaeus, the bishop of Lyons, France who lived AD 130–202, wrote, “For in as many days as this world was made, in so many thousand years shall it be concluded.” And continuing, “This is an account [Genesis 2: 1–2] of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years… and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.” And finally, “These [rewards] are [to take place] in the times of the kingdom, that is, upon the seventh day, which has been sanctified, in which God rested from all the works which He created, which is the true Sabbath of the righteous” (Against Heresies, book 5, chapters 28, 33). Furthermore, Tertullian in Against Marcion (book 3, chapter 25) acknowledged the possibility of a promised Millennium on the earth.
Discussing the same doctrine, Dr. Douglas Winnail wrote in the November-December 2001 Living Church News:
Over the years, the Church of God has explained that God has a 7,000-year plan. While this is not specifically stated in Scripture, it is understood through history and scriptural analogy. In the first two chapters of Genesis, we read that during the “creation week” God [made] the earth and all things in six days—and that He rested on the seventh day. The Apostle Peter, citing Psalm 90:4, drew the analogy that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8). The Apostle Paul drew a spiritual analogy comparing God’s rest on the seventh day of the creation week, our rest on the Sabbath and the ultimate rest for Christians in the Millennium (Hebrews 4:1–11). During the millennial rest, the saints will rule with Christ for 1,000 years when the kingdom of God is set up on this earth (Revelation 20:4–6). The implication of this analogy is that God’s plan has allotted 6,000 years for man to attempt to rule this earth, followed by the 1,000-year reign of Christ and the saints.
The idea that the Bible teaches a 7,000-year plan is hardly the exclusive property of the Church of God. Historian Edward Gibbon writes: “The ancient and popular doctrine of the Millennium was intimately connected with the second coming of Christ. As the works of creation had been fashioned in six days, their duration in their present state, according to a tradition which was attributed to the prophet Elijah was fixed at six thousand years. By the same analogy it was inferred that this long period of labour and contention [our present age], which was now almost elapsed, would be succeeded by a joyful Sabbath of a thousand years; and that Christ, with the triumphant band of the saints and the elect who had escaped death, or who had been miraculously revived, would reign upon the earth till the time appointed for the last and general resurrection” (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 15).
Yet some have taken the doctrine of God’s 7,000-year plan and tried to fit the entire history of the universe into the last 6,000 years. This is simply not what the Bible actually says or what the Church of God teaches. So what does the Bible teach about the beginnings of the universe?
1. In the Beginning was God the Father and the Word, Who Became Christ
There was a beginning before Genesis 1:1. In John 1:1–2 we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” This is “forever” in the past. And we see again, in verse 3, that all things were made by the Word, who became Christ: “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made” (v. 3). John 1:1–2 is referencing a reality before the creation. The Word that was with God and that was God existed before time or space were created.
Modern theories of cosmology (the study of the origin of the physical universe) theorize that space and even time, itself, are part of the physical universe. Experiments validating Albert Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity suggest that there is a link between the physical universe and time and that space and time may not be valid concepts by themselves. So, even according to modern physics, it is possible that before God created space there was no time, and that God and the Word truly did exist “before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
2. “Later,” God Created the Spirit World
So, while the Bible reveals that God and the Word existed forever, at some point They created something—but what? Scripture provides the answer. We see in Job 38:4–7 that when God was planning the creation of the physical universe—when He “determined its measurements” and when He “laid the foundations of the earth”—the angels were already in existence, and they “shouted for joy” at the marvelous creation God was doing. Therefore, the angels were already created beings, before the physical world was created.
3. Then, Sometime “Later,” God Created the Heavens and the Earth Through Christ
After the angelic world was created came Genesis 1:1. Here we read, “In the beginning God [the uniplural elohim indicating God and the Word in tandem] created the heavens and the earth.” This first creation of the physical universe is discussed elsewhere, as well. But, as we will see, this was long before God created Adam and Eve. And you may be surprised to see that there are verses in the Bible, recorded thousands of years ago, that are very consistent with current theories about the origin and condition of the physical universe that were not understood until modern times.
Hundreds of years ago, people were tried by the Roman Catholic Church for publicly claiming that our solar system was anything but a fixed model where everything revolved around the earth. But thousands of years ago, God described Himself as “stretching out the heavens,” in passages such as Psalm 104:2, Isaiah 42:5, and Jeremiah 51:15. The Hebrew word in these verses for “stretching out”—natah—is indicative of motion and expansion. This is very consistent with the current conclusions of modern astronomers that the universe is not “fixed,” and that the galaxies are moving outward—stretching outward, still!
4. The Gap between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2
So after the spirit world was created, and apparently long after the stars and galaxies were created, Genesis 1:2 reveals that the earth became tohu (a Hebrew word meaning without form, or chaotic and wasted) and bohu (meaning void, empty, and wasted). But God did not create it that way. As we’ll see in a moment, there is a “gap” between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2, and that gap could easily have been many millions of years. This understanding is referred to by some as the “Gap Theory.” It is consistent with the Bible, it is consistent with science, and it is what the Church of God teaches. But how can we be sure?
The Hebrew word hayah in Genesis 1:2 that is translated “was” in most Bibles could and should be translated “became” in that particular passage. This Hebrew word can mean both “became” and “was,” based on its context. For instance, Genesis 19:26 says that Lot’s wife “became” (hayah) a pillar of salt. But there is a far more compelling reason we can know that the earth “became” tohu and bohu.
God did not create the earth tohu and bohu, meaning broken, formless, and confused. God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Isaiah 45:18 makes this very clear: “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain [tohu], who formed it to be inhabited….” Other passages show a connection between tohu and bohu and punishment due to sin (Jeremiah 4:23; Isaiah 34:11). Clearly, something happened between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2. God did not create the heavens and the earth in “chaos.”
It is Satan who corrupts things (cf. Ezekiel 28:15). When God makes things, He makes them good (cf. Genesis 1:31). It was Lucifer who willingly chose to rebel and become Satan—who destroys, harms, and murders (John 8:44). There is no way that God created things broken or in chaos. This is a violation of Scripture and is contrary to God’s nature. To assert otherwise—that God would create things in a destroyed state—is, at best, to fail to understand that nature.
It makes sense that Satan’s sinful rebellion caused the confusion we find in Genesis 1:2. As Jesus Christ said, He saw “Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Ezekiel 28:11–15 and Isaiah 14:12–15 tell the story. Satan was the ruler over the earth prior to his rebellion (and he is still the ruler over the earth; see John 14:30, 2 Corinthians 4:4, and Ephesians 6:12). He attacked God’s throne, and then he was cast back down to the earth. Christ is obviously immeasurably more powerful than Satan, but Christ will not replace Satan as acting ruler over this world until His Second Coming (cf. Revelation 11:15).
It was Satan’s rebellion that caused the destruction of the earth before Adam. God did not create it that way. Satan’s sinful act left the earth and heavens in the ruined, chaotic, wasted state we read about in Genesis 1:2.
5. After Genesis 1:2, God Recreated (Repaired) the Heavens and the Earth
Psalm 104:30 says, “You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth.” This passage is symbolic of the promise that God does uphold His creation, but this may also be a literal reference to the work of God’s recreation beginning in Genesis 1:2. And a type of this refreshing and renewing that God performed about 6,000 years ago will again be performed in the future! Scripture indicates that God will again renew and refresh the earth at Christ’s Second Coming, after the terrible destruction Earth will suffer during the Great Tribulation and Day of the Lord (cf. Jeremiah 30:7; Matthew 24:29–31; Acts 3:19–21; Romans 8:21–22).
In Genesis 1:3, God begins His recreation, repairing the destruction found in Genesis 1:2. First, He separated the light from the darkness. As the account unfolds, we notice that whatever God repairs or creates, He makes good. God’s nature is to create good—not to create things in a state of chaos, emptiness, and destruction (i.e., tohu and bohu). But the stars and galaxies were already in place at this time. So He made the light shine forth, and it was “good” (v. 4). Everything that God made or set in its place, He made or repaired to be good—whether the creation of the grass and the trees (v. 12), or the creation of animals (v. 25), or the creation of man and woman (v. 27). “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good” (v. 31).
6. God Then Made Man
This is where the roughly 7,000-year plan—and human history, 6,000 years ago—finally begins.
There is no biblical reason to doubt fossil records showing that dinosaurs and some other sorts of animals existed before man was created, but none of these creatures were human. Adam and Eve were the first humans. God created these creatures, like everything else, through Christ (John 1:3; Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11). As we’ve already established, there was a creation before Genesis 1:2, which Satan corrupted and destroyed, rendering it tohu and bohu. Neither science nor the Bible contradict this.
So if these creatures before Adam were not human, what characteristics are unique to humans? What made Adam and Eve different from the animals that came before? Many things.
First, Genesis 3:20 reveals that Eve was the mother of all living humans. All humans come from Eve. Second, only “man” has the “spirit of man” (Job 32:8; Proverbs 20:27). The spirit of man makes us truly human and allows us to have understanding (1 Corinthians 2:11), and to think and reason at the higher human level instead of at the lower level of animals. Third, humans are created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Though they are created physical, while God is spirit (John 4:24), humans are created after God’s likeness—not only in our ability to think, reason, and create, but also in our shape and appearance. Humans do not look like fish, insects, or four-legged animals. Humans look like our Eternal Father. (See the January-February 2016 Living Church News article “In God’s Image.”)
Fourth, the Holy Spirit is only available to humans and to no other living thing. The Holy Spirit is made available to those whom God calls (John 6:44) and who repent, are baptized, and have hands laid on them by a true minister of God (Acts 2:38). Only humans can be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. Fifth, with the Holy Spirit in us, humans are able to obey God and keep His laws, showing our love for Him—as it says in 1 John 5:2–3 that the love of God is to keep His commandments. Sixth, when humans die, we are not conscious and our spirits are not immortal. But, unlike with animals, God does keep our spirit while we “sleep” in death, preserved for the judgment (Ecclesiastes 9:10; 12:6–7; Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10).
Seventh, humans were created to become part of God’s Family (Romans 8:14–17; 2 Peter 1:4). In this, man is unique, special, and very different from animals. As humans, with the spirit in man in us and able to receive the Holy Spirit, we can be born into the Family of God in the future. This is not available to animals. This is only available to humans.
Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong summarized this in a 1978 publication titled What Science Can’t Discover About the Human Mind.
This human spirit also adds to man a spiritual and moral faculty not possessed by animals. God had made the needed second spirit—the Holy Spirit—available to Adam. But on Adam's rebellion and taking the forbidden fruit, God had driven Adam out and closed all access to the tree of life—symbolic of His Holy Spirit.
Yet through Christ, a repentant humanity may yet receive God's gift of His Holy Spirit. To Nicodemus Christ said, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Of course Nicodemus could not quite understand that. Almost nobody today understands it. Jesus explained, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). Man came from the ground. He is flesh. Jesus was not talking about another physical birth or experience of conversion in this life—but about a spiritual birth—when man shall be Spirit, no longer composed of matter, but composed wholly of Spirit! Yes, literally! Then he shall have been born of God. God is Spirit (John 4:24, RSV).
Now to become human, each of us had to be begotten by his human father. Likewise, to be born again—of the Spirit which is of God the Father, one must first be begotten of the spiritual Father—of God.
7. The Kingdom of God Is the Family of God
Finally, after working with man for roughly 6,000 years, Christ will return and begin His 1,000-year rule. This is when Revelation 11:15 will be fulfilled—when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of Christ and He will reign forever. This is when God’s plan for mankind will come to fruition, when Elohim will grow into a huge family. Dr. Roderick C. Meredith powerfully summarized this in the booklet What Is the Meaning of Life?
In his final letter, Peter described how God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness… that through these [promises] you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:3–4).
Do all these scriptures mean what they say? Can we honestly “spiritualize away” the many, many inspired scriptures that tell us to be holy, to be like God, and to yield to Him so He can place within us His own divine nature? Consequently, it is logical to consider the idea that it has been God’s plan all along to reproduce Himself. This is what the God Family (Elohim) had in mind when they said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Genesis 1:26).
God does have a 7,000-year plan, but He has apparently been working on this plan for billions and billions of years. God is creating a divine family, and He wants you to be part of it! This is an amazing truth that the world does not understand, the eternal fullness of which even the true servants of God struggle to grasp (Psalm 145:3, cf. Isaiah 9:7)—that we are to become members of the God Family, the Elohim, and live in peace, harmony, love, perfection, and submission to God’s perfect law, forever.