As Christians who believe in the Bible, of course, we think the events of the Bible happened just as the Bible records them. But when did they happen? This article will examine this question.
The Least Common Denominator
Young-earth creationists say that the world is 6,000 years old, therefore they would say the events in Genesis happened less than 6,000 years ago. Unlike young-earth creationists, old-earth creationists simply don’t know exact dates (some YECs believe Adam was created at 9:00 A.M., on October 23, 4004 B.C.!) However, old earth theory requires these events to be older, because of the scientific evidence which must match the Bible’s story. We will start with the least common denominator, and work our way back to the Garden of Eden.
There is no way to know for certain what the proper age is for any of these events, but we can make certain speculations about the age. For instance, for many years, scientists thought that the first humans in North America ventured here via a land bridge between Russia and Alaska about 13,000 years ago.
Another site, the Meadowcroft site in Pennsylvania, contains artifacts dated to 16,000 years ago. Based on this and other discoveries, many scientists now believe that North Americans also arrived via boat, prior to the Bering Straight land bridge of 13,000 years ago.2 Thus, for archaeological evidence, the earliest date we have for North America is about 16,000 years ago.
The most recent event, which would be the least common denominator for all human races, is spoken of in Genesis 11. The Tower of Babel tells the story of how God confused the language of the people and spread them throughout the world. Thus, these early North Americans must have migrated at some point after the Tower of Babel. Therefore, the only thing we can say with any certainty is that the events of Genesis 11 happened sometime prior to 13,000 to 16,000 years ago. This is our starting point for understanding the dating of events within our old earth framework, and it is only a rough estimate of the real date for the Tower of Babel. We only know for certain that the Tower of Babel could not be younger than 13,000 years ago.
However, this assumes that the people spread from the Tower within a few years of God confusing their language. Did they come directly from the Tower to North America…or did they gradually spread in North America’s direction. This could greatly add to the time since the Tower of Babel.
The Flood of Noah
The next event prior to that would be the Flood of Noah. We do have a good estimate for the time from Noah’s Flood to the Tower of Babel, as you will see.
According to Genesis 9:28, we know that Noah lived 350 years after the flood. Genesis 10 then goes on to list the genealogies of the descendants of Noah’s Ark. It is apparent that the genealogies of Genesis 10 are not necessarily in chronological order with Genesis 11. In other words, the Tower of Babel in Chapter 11 occurred sometime in the middle of these genealogies in Chapter 10. I say this because Genesis 11:1 says “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech.” However, we read in Genesis 10:4, 20, that the clans each had their own language. In fact, Genesis 10:25 actually refers to the events of the Tower of Babel. Right in the middle of Shem’s descendants, it says “One was named Peleg because in his time the earth was divided” (NIV).
Concerning these genealogies, the NIV states that in the original Hebrew, Sons could also mean descendants, successors, or nations. While not significant for the genealogies between the Flood and the Tower, we will come back to this thought later.
The most definitive passage for dating back to Noah’s Flood is Genesis 11:10-19. This gives the descendants, from Noah’s son Shem to Peleg, who we previously learned was alive when the Tower of Babel incident occurred.
the Flood must have happened a minimum of 101 years prior to the Tower of Babel. If the split at the Tower was caused by God near the time of Peleg’s birth, this would lend support to his father, Eber, naming him after this event. However, we can’t be certain of this. The only thing we know with any degree of certainty is that it happened during Peleg’s lifetime. Thus we have a range for the Flood of 101 to 310 years prior to the Tower of Babel.
Adding this to our minimum age of 13,000 to 16,000 years, and we come up with a range of 13,101 to 16,310 years ago for Noah’s Flood. This is assuming the migrations to North America involve post-Adamic men…more on this later.
Next, we must consider mankind’s origins. The most favored theory now is the “Out of Africa” theory, which shows that a genetic “Eve” from which we are descended came from Africa about 150,000 years ago. This “genetic” evidence is based on mutation rates of mitochondrial DNA of 1 every 20,000 years. Some research suggests a ratio of 1 to 10,000, thus cutting 150,000 to 75,000 years.
Interestingly, the people from this genetic Eve are said to have migrated from Africa to the Middle East, and from there they spread out over the world. Although the African Eve is said to be 150,000 years ago, the migration to the Middle East is said to have occurred around 80,000 years ago. Thus, 80,000 years ago is the least common location for all mankind (using this model).
This brings up an apparent problem. According to the Bible, Eve came from the Garden of Eden, which was located in the Middle East. How could our genetic common ancestor have come from Africa?
It is based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). mtDNA is passed down from mother to offspring. Unlike other DNA, mtDNA is passed down without change, without merging with the male mtDNA. It is subject to random mutations, thus over time, minor differences can be shown.
If I have a specific mutation, and someone else also has it, it confirms that sometime in the past we had a common maternal ancestor. This ancestor could be a few generations, or a hundred generations ago.
Using mtDNA extrapolations, and assuming a mutation rate of 1 per 20,000 years, and by examining mtDNA evidence of fossil hominids, they arrive at the conclusion that there was a genetic Eve from Africa 150,000 years ago. This may be true, but it doesn’t affect our conclusions…more on that later.
Now, on to the next piece of the puzzle. We must consider when migration from the Middle East occurred. Archeological and DNA evidence suggests human migration to Europe about 50,000 years ago and migration to Australia no later than 40,000 years ago. With the first migration from the Middle East around 50,000 years ago, where does this leave us? We now have a range of 50,000 to 16,000 years ago for the least common location for our ancestors…the Tower of Babel. This is assuming that we are all descended from these migration peoples. However, this may or may not be the case.
Will the Real Eve Please Stand Up!
How could there be a genetic Eve in Africa 150,000 years ago, and a Biblical Eve in the Middle East? At some point, Adam and Eve (the Biblical ones) were created. Before Adam and Eve, other non-soulish hominids were created by God. We share similarities in mtDNA with these pre-Adamic hominids. For instance, Neanderthal mtDNA differs from ours by 7 percent…enough to show similarities (93 percent), but far enough apart to prove that they did not contribute to our current gene pool. The hominids that existed 50,000 to 150,000 years ago also shared a significant portion of their mtDNA with us.
It gives the appearance of God using each successive pre-Adamic hominid to refine the model. Is this saying God could not create us perfectly in the first place? No, it merely is a record of what God did. We cannot infer anything from this about God’s power and abilities…after all, can you create a hominid? No, you can’t…you are not God!
Why He did it that way, we don’t know. We only know that at some point, He created a hominid in His image (with an eternal spirit), and ended the creative process. Therefore, these early hominids from mtDNA evidence, that are said to be our ancestors, may not be at all! They may have spread all over the world, and then when God created Adam and Eve, some 20-30,000 years ago (?), these others went extinct. We share most of our mtDNA with them because they were our “template.”
My Proposal for Adam and Eve’s Date of Creation
One thing is clear…we now have one hominid species, created in the image of God. Where in the past can we point to a place in time, when the last non-modern hominid went extinct? This would be a good basis for the maximum dating of the Biblical Eve. This would be the Neanderthal, which went extinct around 29,000 years ago.
Although not conclusive, it may be safe to assume that when God made Adam and Eve, his final creation, there were no previous hominids present. This would put the Garden of Eden no later than 29,000 years ago and would allow plenty of time for the migration to the Americas after the Tower of Babel, which occurred a minimum of 16,000 years ago. With this conclusion, prior dated hominids do not create a problem for us…they were merely non-soulish hominids, not in God’s image.
To tie up loose ends…remember our Tower of Babel date, which had to be at least 13,000 years ago…not so. I give 29,000 years as the oldest date for Eden, but it could have been younger. These 13,000-year-old migrators could have died when Adam and Eve were created. Thus, they could have been pre-Adamic, non-eternal hominids. So, we really have a range of 29,000 years, all the way down to 6,000 years, if you like.
Dates for the Garden, as given by some of the best Hebrew scholars, place it between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago, with some scholars placing it as young as 6,000, or as old as 60,000 years ago. This is within the range of 29,000 years ago or later which I propose as the oldest possible date for the Garden.
The bottom line is that we don’t know the exact dates for early Biblical events. All we can do is make an educated guess. Since the last non-modern hominid died out 29,000 years ago, it is safe to assume that Biblical history starts sometime within the last 29,000 years. Does it matter when it started? Praise the Lord that it does not. Our salvation does not depend upon the timing of God’s creation. Thus, you are free to debate these matters and come to your own conclusions. I hope that this article provides you with some food for thought to get you started.