D&C 77 and the Age of the Earth

In response to my article on Science and (LDS) Religion where I advocate the idea that LDS religion is compatible with science and with the concept of an old earth, I have received an inquiry about Doctrine and Covenants 77 and the age of the earth. At first glance, D&C 77 seems to say that the earth is 7,000 years old. But this is not the case. A good discussion of this verse can be found in a book I just picked up and highly recommend, Can Science Be Faith-Promoting? (Salt Lake City: Blue Ribbon Books, 2001, 252 pages) by Dr. Sterling B. Talmage, son of the late Apostle and scientist, James E. Talmage. In his discussion (pp. 174-176), he examines the words uses in D&C 77:6:

What are we to understand by the book which John saw, which was sealed on the back with seven seals?

A. 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.

The time covered by the seven seals refers to things of God’s “economy” during this period of “continuance.” He finds “economy” is not used elsewhere in the scriptures, but does have a theological definition in the dictionary (Practical Standard Dictionary, p. 369):

6. Theol. A method of divine management of human affairs, or a system of laws and regulations, rites, and ceremonies; the holy scheme of creation and redemption; specif., and particular method of divine government, as the Mosaic economy.

Talmage then suggests that “economy” may refer to God’s dealings with men on earth rather than with the earth itself, and the hidden things in this regard refer to things that have been revealed or yet to be revealed (it would seem that “mysteries” would fit well here).

He then considers the word “continuance” and notes that its usage in the scriptures (Ps. 139:16, Is. 64:5, and Rom. 2:7) does not indicate totality of duration, but progress in advance of an earlier stage. The first volume of a magazine is not a continuance, for example, but later volumes can be. His examination of the dictionary leads to the conclusion that “continuance” refers to the current time period with an unspecified time period preceding it.

The final term he considers is “temporal.” The dictionary allows “temporal” to have the same connotation as “temporary” or “current,” but he finds no evidence that it should be synonymous with “physical” or “material.” He finds its most usual or appropriate meaning to be “pertaining to affairs of the present life.”

The three terms that Talmage analyzes harmonize with each other and all point to the conclusions that D&C 77 refers to God’s dealing with man under the present time period (the collection of dispensations of the past several thousand years), and does not say anything about the time of the Creation or age of the earth, or even the antiquity of other humans or humanoids.


Author: Jeff Lindsay

16 thoughts on “D&C 77 and the Age of the Earth

  1. There's this to explain away. Then there's the Book of Abraham to explain. Then the Kinderhook plates. Then DNA and the Book of Mormon. Then Africans and the Priesthood. Then Jospeh Smith's 5 under-age wives (2 were 14).

    So many reasons, so many excuses. One would think that the "only true church" wouldn't be so hard to defend.

  2. Milo,
    You are attacking Joseph Smith with presentist bias.
    Beyond that, having a wife and having sexual relations are not synonymous in either way.
    I would advise you to read Thomas G. Alexander's biography of Wilford Woodruff.
    There is no evidence that Joseph Smith provided a translation of the Kinderhook Plates.
    The Book of Abraham is based on parts of the papyrus that have been lost.

  3. John PL, if there's any presentism going on, it's the Mormon church and their army of apologists who love to engage in a related practice, historical revisionism.

    Are you familiar with the term "preponderance of evidence"? That's what your faith is up against. It may also explain the cooling trend in your convert baptisms since the rise of the internet.

    I am glad I got out when I did.

  4. The common factor that I have seen among all members of the "Mormon" church wherever I meet them is that they generally possess a higher level of certain favorable attributes (ie charity, hope, faith, diligence, patience, etc.) when compared to other people in their communities.

    Simply put, the purpose of the Church is to help purify the children of God so that they are able to be cleansed by the Atonement of Christ.

    Though you may claim that there are inconsistencies in act or doctrine, your claims and defamations become simply irrelevant when you consider the simple fact:

    That the Church does what it is meant to do and in so doing makes the world a better place.

    No need to apologize for that is there?

  5. @Matthew:

    That's about the silliest argument I've heard lately.
    Essentially, you're saying that because you, a Mormon, believe that members of your faith are better than other people ("possess a higher level or certain favorable attributes"), then that (biased) opinion of yours renders all criticism of your faith invalid?
    Really? C'mon, certainly you can do better than that.

  6. The argument is far more valid than any argument you have posed.

    I will admit that the entire argument hinges on whether or not the members of the Church indeed do "possess a higher level of certain favorable attributes". To attest to that I have offered my own personal opinion.

    If you disagree, the simple proof for you or anybody would be to meet the members of the church and perform a comparison based on your own criteria…

    Since you seem intent on "misunderstanding" what I'm saying, I will explain the argument in simple terms:

    Premise 1:
    That an organization is good if it's actions produce a desirable outcome.

    Premise 2:
    That the Church's actions produce a desirable outcome. (See my "biased" opinion and related proof)

    The Church is good.

    Your argument, in comparison, is rather silly. My understanding of it is something like this:

    Premise 1:
    That an organization is bad if at any point any of its actions have produced undesirable outcomes.

    Premise 2:
    The Church's actions have at some point produced undesirable outcomes.

    The Church is bad.

    To show how silly this is let me replace a few terms:

    Premise 1:
    That a person is bad if at any point any of their actions have produced undesirable outcomes.

    Premise 2:
    That John Doe's actions have at some point produced undesirable outcomes.

    John Doe is a bad person.

    Now, if you were to reject a utilitarian definition of "good" and "bad" you would also have to reject your own original arguments and we could start over with some other definition.

    But I promise you that no matter what standard we use, what you're saying just won't make sense.

  7. How silly! I haven't made any comments that are even CLOSE to the "premises" you spent so much time to write. Looks like the only thing you're good at is putting words into other people's mouths.

    Good luck with that.

    I'm unsubscribing from any future comments, as yours are a waste of time.

  8. You obviously weren't so kind as to break down your accusations into premises and conclusions so that they could be easily analyzed.

    I did that for you.

    Your first comment on this post gave a list of what you appear to be claiming are bad actions, situations or events in the Church's past. I simplified this into what I listed as premise 2.

    The overall tone of both your comments seems to give the impression that you think that the Church is bad. I simplified this into into what I listed as your conclusion.

    Now, being it the case that you lack any other premises (though you did mention something about revising history, it seemed a rebuttal rather than your original point), I could have simply left your argument as-is and stated that it is not valid. Rather, I added a premise that seemed to be implied and thus completed what otherwise would be random unconnected opinions. This I listed as Premise 1 for organizational purposes.

    Now, I would much appreciate it if you would take the time to explain in detail exactly what it is that you're trying to get at. I even took the time to try to interpret a random jumble of incoherent comments into at least a valid, if unsound argument.

    Unfortunately, it would appear that you are only interested in posting random trash, and when somebody calls you on it, you promptly end the conversation.

  9. I think Matthew the question to be discussed is not whether the church is good or bad, but whether the claims it makes about itself are true. There are many ways to be a good person, but only "one true church", if "one true church" exists. Why choose mormonism above, say, just being a "really top bloke"?

    I think the answer to that question depends upon the error margin you allow the leaders of the church. Can they make errors at the pulpit? Can they be tricked by con-men? Shouldn't an angel or the Spirit prompt them? Can their own racism be accepted as part of their imperfect mortality, or should they be measured against a higher standard?

    Was Jesus ever fooled? Were old testament prophets fooled? I do recall some made mistakes.

    For myself the evidence in favour of the church is not sufficient to cause me to make the sacrifices it would ask, which are substantial and in my opinion not substantiated.

  10. I think that Church leaders do make mistakes. It's been like that since Adam. God lets people participate to help them grow, and makes up for their mistakes through the grace of Christ.

    Being a top bloke isn't easy. People have selfish tendencies and short-term perspectives. It's generally hard to take the high road.

    That's why God gives us the Church. I think part of the purpose of the Church is to help people to be good people, and it does a good job of that.

    I don't think you'll ever be the best person that you could be without the Church. It's like you're making a cake and God has given you a divine recipe. You can still make a pretty good cake if you cut a few ingredients from the recipe here and there, but it'll never be as good as if you had followed the recipe that He gave you.

  11. Nice twisting, have you ever heard of Occam's Razor? The simplest explanation for a given proposition is usually the correct explanation. I doubt that JS was doing anything but supporting the traditional 19th century view of the earth's age when he recorded that as 7000 years
    in the D&C.

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