I do want to say something before I make this post. In no way does this shake my faith in the infallibility of Scripture or in my church's ability to interpret Scripture. This is just me doing a little backtracking and research and trying to relieve some of the backlash Josh has been under for quite a while for not believing Genesis 1 and 2 must be taken literally. Some of what I am about to say is out of the mouth of one of the most confessional men I know, and some of it comes from my own research. I was preparing to jump into the fray with an earlier post, but, as usual, I was sidetracked.
If you go back to the early church and read much of the work of the ECFs (Early Church Fathers), you will see case after case where Genesis 1 and 2 were not interpreted in its most literal sense. From the little reading I have done on the subject, it seems the ECFs took a more allegorical approach to these passages. This is a very consistent pattern. Josh is not standing on shaky ground, but on one of the few consistent interpretations of the ECFs. As a matter of fact, their allegorical interpretations continue all the way into Genesis 7.
The question then becomes, if the LCMS inherited the faith from Luther who inherited it from Catholicism, where did this literal interpretation of Genesis come from? Mark Noll in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind has an answer.
Modern creationists arose ... from the efforts of earnest Seventh-day Adventists who wanted to show that the sacred writings of the Adventist-founder Ellen G. White (who made much of a recent earth and the Noachian deluge) could provide a framework for studying the history of the earth. Especially important for this purpose was the Adventist theorist George McCready Price (1870-1963). who published a string of creationist works culminating in 1923 with The New Geology. That book argued that a "simple" or "literal" reading of early Genesis showed that God had created the world six to eight thousand years ago and had used the Flood to construct the planet's geological past. Price, an armchair geologist with little formal training and almost no field experience, demonstrated how a person of such belief could reconstruct natural history in order to question traditional understanding of the geological column and apparent indications for an ancient earth. Price's ideas were never taken seriously by practicing geologists, and they had little impact outside Adventist circles. The one exception was the [LCMS], where a few energized critics of the modern world found Price's biblical literalism convincing, despite the fact that on almost every other religious question the [LCMS] was about as far removed from Seventh-day Adventism [SDA] as it was possible to be.--p. 189-190.
I read this and went, "What?" The LCMS inheriting anything from SDA is enough to make even the most stern and confessional Lutheran to rethink what he believes. I need SDA theology like the third world needs cholera. I would rather take communion from Rick Warren than accept SDA doctrine unchallenged.
So now we are left with the "How old is the earth?" question to which I can answer, "I don't know." The age dates say ~4.5 billion years, but that is from dating meteorites and not earth rocks. The earliest date for an earth rock is ~ 4 billion years. You can debate the veracity of these dates all you want (I would). What does Genesis say? Mot much. It lists a genealogy, so you figure you could just calculate the times given and, abra cadabra, tell how old the earth is. Well, there are other genealogies in the Bible as well. They are found in Matthew and Luke, and we know both genealogies are incomplete. If those genealogies are incomplete, there is no reason to believe that the genealogy in Genesis is complete as well. There goes our calculator.
Calvin said something useful in his commentary on Genesis I think even Josh would agree with. "Genesis is not a scientific text." Amen.