Question: How do we reconcile the actual age of the earth to the "seven thousand years of its continuance" mentioned in D&C 77:6?

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Question: How do we reconcile the actual age of the earth to the "seven thousand years of its continuance" mentioned in D&C 77:6?

The Doctrine and Covenants speaks of the earth's "seven thousand years of continuance, or its temporal existence"

Doctrine and Covenants 77:6–7 contains the only canonized statement specifically identifying the age of the earth:

6 Q[uestion]. What are we to understand by the book which John saw,[1] which was sealed on the back with seven seals?
A[nswer]. We are to understand that it contains the revealed will, mysteries, and the works of God; the hidden things of his economy concerning this earth during the seven thousand years of its continuance, or its temporal existence.
7 Q. What are we to understand by the seven seals with which it was sealed?
A. We are to understand that the first seal contains the things of the first thousand years, and the second also of the second thousand years, and so on until the seventh.

The phrase "temporal existence" of the earth does not include the creative and preparatory period

The Doctrine and Covenants Student Manual, (2002) chapter "Section 77 Questions and Answers on the Book of Revelation" states that the seven thousand years "do not include the period of our planet's creation and preparation as a dwelling place for man."

D&C 77:6–7. Why Was the Book Sealed That John Saw?

“‘The book which John saw’ represented the real history of the world—what the eye of God has seen, what the recording angel has written; and the seven thousand years, corresponding to the seven seals of the Apocalyptic volume, are as seven great days during which Mother Earth will fulfill her mortal mission, laboring six days and resting upon the seventh, her period of sanctification. These seven days do not include the period of our planet’s creation and preparation as a dwelling place for man. They are limited to Earth’s ‘temporal existence,’ that is, to Time, considered as distinct from Eternity.” (Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts, p. 11.)

The chronological extent of the earth's creative period is not detailed specifically in scripture.

It should be noted that these verses refer to the Book of Revelation, which is well-known for its dense numerical symbolism. It may, then, be premature to regard such numbers as literal and precise.

Scriptures are not intended to provide scientific information

The language in our scriptures from which such dating of the "age of the earth" is drawn is not intended to provide the kinds of scientific information that some people insist on having. Brigham Young stated that we have no revealed knowledge on the topic:

In these respects we differ from the Christian world, for our religion will not clash with or contradict the facts of science in any particular...whether the Lord found the earth empty and void, whether he made it out of nothing or out of the rude elements; or whether he made it in six days or in as many millions of years, is and will remain a matter of speculation in the minds of men unless he give revelation on the subject. If we understood the process of creation there would be no mystery about it, it would be all reasonable and plain, for there is no mystery except to the ignorant.
Brigham Young, (May 14, 1871) Journal of Discourses 14:116. (emphasis added)

The scriptures do not specify the age of the Earth

The placement of Adam at 4,000 BC has a rather long history. Perhaps the most famous attempt was made by the Irish Anglican Bishop of Ussher, who calculated the date as 4,004 (and even calculated it down to the month and day!). Such a dating, however, is not in our scriptures, even if a version of it has been included into our Bible Dictionary.

The Encyclopedia of Mormonism article "Earth," states unequivocally:

The scriptures do not say how old the earth is, and the Church has taken no official stand on this question. Nor does the Church consider it to be a central issue for salvation. [2]

There are varying opinions among Latter-day Saints on the age of the earth. Some believe in a "young earth." Many Saints accept an old earth in the billions of years. Many probably have no strong opinions or thoughts one way or the other.


The scripture may be taken either literally or figuratively

Like many passages in scripture, this one is open to some interpretation. A literal reading has led some to conclude that the Earth is 7,000 years old. But others take a more symbolic or figurative interpretation that the 1,000-year dispensations are figurative in the sense of "large spans of time." This follows the Hebrew use of "thousand" ('elef), which sometimes meant a literal one thousand, and other times was more generically used to indicate "a large amount."

Notes

  1. The passage is referring to the book seen in Revelation 5:1.
  2. Morris S. Petersen, "Earth," in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow, (New York, Macmillan Publishing, 1992), 2:431. off-site