Length of Days in the Creation Week: Genesis 1–2:3
Though there are a number of Christians who question a literal interpretation of the creation week, a closer look at Genesis 1:1–2:3 should challenge those who have abandoned or are uncertain about the traditional understanding of the creation days. I will give four reasons to embrace a literal interpretation of the days in the creation week.
First, the Hebrew noun yôm, “day,” is used in our passage 14 times, 13 times in the singular and once in the plural (v. 14). It is used in the singular in Genesis 1:5 (twice), 8, 13, 14 (twice), 16, 18, 19, 23, 31; 2:2 (twice) and 2:3. The reason why this is significant is that yôm always refers to a normal literal day when it is used as a singular noun and is not part of a compound grammatical construction (such as the noun yôm being used with a preposition immediately attached to it or yôm being a part of the multi-word construction known as the construct-genitive relationship). And these 13 uses of yôm demand a literal day.
Second, Genesis 1:5 defines a day as a period of light separated from darkness: “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day” (ESV). Clearly, this suggests we are dealing with normal literal days.
Third, each of the creation days has a numeric qualifier—“first day,” v. 5, “second day,” v. 8, etc. Excluding for the moment our passage (Gen 1:1–2:3), when yôm is used with a numerical qualifier in the Old Testament, it is not used in an extended, non-literal sense. The use of “day” with a number is clearly demonstrated in Numbers 7. In this context, leaders from each tribe of Israel brought various gifts to the Lord on twelve, sequential, literal days. A number qualifies each use of the word “day.” Numbers 7:12 illustrates this point, “He who offered his offering the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah” (for the remainder of the days along with their numerical qualifiers, see vv. 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, 60, 66, 72, 78). The sequential numbering of days is also found in Numbers 29:17–35. Thus, the use of “day” with a number is a clear reference to a literal day.
Fourth, because the word “day” in this context is qualified by “evening” and “morning,” each day is to be taken literally. The clauses in which these two nouns are found, “and there was evening and there was morning,” stand in juxtaposition with each enumerated day of the creation week (1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). Whenever “evening” and “morning” are used together in a context with “day” (19 times beyond the 6 uses in Genesis 1) or they appear together without “day” (38 times), they are used consistently in the Old Testament as a reference to literal days.
In conclusion, the use of “day” in the creation account unmistakably refers to normal 24-hour days. As John C. Whitcomb has observed: “It is difficult to imagine what more the Scriptures could say to convey the idea that the days of creation were literal days. ‘If it were not so, I would have told you’” (“The Science of Historical Geology in the Light of the Biblical Doctrine of a Mature Creation,” Westminster Theological Journal 36 [Fall 1973]: 68). For further information on this subject, see my journal article: “A Defense of Literal Days in the Creation Week.”
Good to see you blogging again Dr. Bob. Thanks for this article, especially in light of CT’s recent puff piece on the recent get together by the evangelical atheists over at Biologos. I would love to see you interact with John Walton’s reinvention of Genesis 1 and 2 being a recreation of the temple on earth and having nothing really to do with “creation” in the sense of origins.
It is great to hear from you, Fred. Because of some other obligations, my blogging efforts will focus on DBTS’s blog.
I am teaching a class on Biblical Creationism this fall and I will have the opportunity to give a more detailed look at Walton.
Thanks for posting this and making it available.
When Christian young people choose engineering and science as a career field, they are immediately confronted with irrefutable, proven data concerning geology, astronomy, cosmology, nuclear physics, electrodynamics, etc., etc. The data clearly demonstrates that there is a problem with the popular interpretation of the 24 hour days in Genesis and the age of the universe. Beginning with the presupposition that the Bible, as written, is totally inerrant, we are left with either of two conclusions; the popular interpretation of Genesis 1 is wrong, or God created everything with an appearance of age resulting in a great deception (ref. Num 23:19a, Tit 1:2, Heb 6:18). Does not the Bible clearly teach that Time is not the same for man as it is for God? (Psa 90:4, 2Pet 3:8) Should every passage of the Bible be interpreted literally, or should some passages be understood as metaphor and hyperbole?
Your response reflects old arguments that have been biblically answered by young-earth creationists. I would suggest that you take time to study: http://www.icr.org, http://www.answersingenesis.org, and http://www.creation.com.
But many people already HAVE studied those sites. What many of them in turn found was that it is just as Weedon said, the only differentia uniting all those sites is that on the horns of that dilemma, they all chose to accept the one conclusion that “God created everything with an appearance of age resulting in a great deception”. They try to deny that appearance with a lot of pseudo-science about the age of the earth (such as denying that dating by radioactive decay works), but the resort to pseudo-science only proves Weedon’s point: they are forced to choose between rejecting science or accepting a false appearance in God’s creation.
I wrote up an article a couple of years ago interacting with Thomas’s objections about the so-called “appearance of age” problem that is often thrown out. You can access it here:
It never occurs to these folks that there is a problem with the popular interpretation of the data. The problem is supposedly always with the Bible. The interpretation of the “data” is inerrant, but the Bible isn’t.
I remember reading your blog post last year. It is a helpful resource.
But your basic premise is not true. There ARE people who are aware of problems with “the popular interpretation of the data”. More important, there are people who have examined the same data and its scientific interpretation much more closely than that and found that yes, it is true that the Earth is at least 3 billion years old, the galaxy several billion years older than that, and the whole universe at least 18 billion years old. It has to be that old, for example, for the distribution we see on Earth of heavy elements (heavier than iron), since all such heavy elements were formed in the explosions of (mostly ancient) supernovas.
I have visited these sites that you recommended before. I have attended some of their seminars, and I have read some of their books (some copies are in my library) but I have problems with their attempts to disprove physical data that they assume contradicts the Bible. Again let me state that I (we) must begin all reasoning from a high view of scripture. God did not make any mistakes, but man has repeatedly misinterpreted portions of scripture throughout history. That does not make the Bible wrong. In addition, when one see’s an old earth (and universe) based on the proven physical data, this does not mean that the individual believes in human or animal evolution. From my understanding of the Scriptures and proven physical data, the concept of biological evolution is totally incorrect and not appropriate for discussion.
However, when I set in a lecture given by one of the so called experts from “Answers in Genesis” and hear him violate common sense, distort proven Electromagnetic Wave facts, and radiology tables and data, just to force his interpretation of Scripture on me and his audience, then I get angry.
You know that Scripture has been misinterpreted many times in the past. Why did the Church insist on a Flat Earth interpretation? Why did the Church jail Galileo? Why did the Church insist on a Geocentric universe? Why? because their interpretations of Scripture were wrong.
Your insistence that the days in Genesis are exactly 24 hours, as we measure them today, needs to be reconsidered, and the inerrancy of Scripture is not in question.
Let me cut to the heart of where I disagree with you.
First, you stated that the “irrefutable” evidence from geology, astronomy, etc. demonstrate “that there is a problem with the popular interpretation of the 24 hour days in Genesis and the age of the universe. Beginning with the presupposition that the Bible, as written, is totally inerrant…” At this point, you have two levels of authority: so-called science and the Bible. In reality, your presupposition about the evidence from “science” being “irrefutable” has a primary level of authority over Scripture.
In contrast to your presupposition, the consistent view of the church until the rise of modern geology was that the days of the creation account were 24-hour days (see the first three chapters in Coming to Grips with Genesis). For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith stated the issues like this: “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good” (chapter 4, paragraph 1). Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, your presupposition is the “authority of your interpretation of science.”
Second, you raise this question: “Should every passage of the Bible be interpreted literally, or should some passages be understood as metaphor and hyperbole?” The point of your question is that, rather than taking the creation account literally, we should take it either as a metaphor or hyperbole. However, if hermeneutics means anything, you have not provided a biblical reason to take the creation account as anything other than a literal account.
A marker of literal, historical narrative is the waw-consecutive. Hebrew grammars consistently point that waw-consecutive is a marker of historical narrative. This narrative marker is used 2,107 times in Genesis with an average distribution of approximately 42 uses per chapter. In Genesis 2:4–25 the waw consecutive is used 21 times in 22 verses; and in 3:1–24 it is used 34 times. Do you want to take Genesis 2 & 3 metaphorically or hyperbolically? Are Adam and Eve metaphors? My point is that the waw consecutive is used 55 times in Genesis 1:1–2:3. Why would anyone desire to take the creation account in any other way than literally? There is only one reason “modern science is irrefutable. If the author of Genesis, Moses, wanted to preserve past tense, sequential, literal material, we would expect his literary style to include a consistent use of the waw consecutive.
Further, there is no biblical reason to take the sequentially numbered days of the creation account as metaphors or hyperbole. There are two other accounts of sequentially numbered days in the Pentateuch: Numbers 7 and 29:12–35. For example, in Numbers 7 the leaders from each tribe of Israel brought various gifts to the Lord on 12, sequential, literal days. Each use of the word “day” is qualified by a numerical qualifier. Numbers 7:12 illustrates this point, “Now the one who presented his offering on the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab, of the tribe of Judah” (for the remainder of the days along with their numerical qualifiers, see vv. 18, 24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, 60, 66, 72, 78).
In reality, your insistence that the days in the creation account cannot refer to 24 hours in Genesis 1:1–2:3 is biblically short sighted. The non-literal interpretations of the creation account pose more exegetical and theological difficulties than they solve and the traditional, literal reading provides the most consistent interpretation of the exegetical details associated with the context of the early chapters of Genesis and the overall theological message of Scripture that has a bearing on Genesis 1–2.
Your Hebrew exegesis is excellent (as expected) and is not in question, however would you ask yourself why God directed Moses to write Genesis One as he did? Perhaps it was never intended to be a treatise on the science of creation, but instead a refutation of the pagan (i.e. Egyptian) view on the first cause of the world as they saw it.
God saw no need to instruct Moses that the earth was round like a ball, that the earth orbited around the Sun, that the Sun was 93 million miles away from us, and that the Sun was exactly like the billions of stars that Moses saw when he looked up on a clear night. [Actually, Moses could only see a few thousand stars, but that misses the point]
Further, God saw no need to explain all those strange images of extinct creatures that he may have found in the rocks though out his wanderings. There are billions of things God saw no need to reveal to Moses; but God’s plan was to refute the pagan creation doctrines in a literary form that could be understood by the average Hebrew that recently came from Egyptian culture and religion. I wish to suggest that the form of Genesis One was to fulfill that need as God saw it; to enlighten an ancient people to the false teachings of popular pagan cosmology.
Last year, following a month long trip to the mountains of the western U.S. where I studied geology and visited fossil dig sites and laboratories, I brought home a small box of fossil collections. I had an opportunity to show a Christian friend some of the fossils of the Trilobites I had collected, but my friend turned his face away and with an abrupt push with his hand moved the fossil so that he would not be able to see it. It was like he was saying, “Out of sight, out of mind”.
Now I ask you, how will our Christian high school graduates be treated in the work force or in the realm of higher education when they behave in like manner? In time, many will come to the conclusion that your interpretation of Genesis One needs some reconsideration.
P.S. Scientifically, biological evolution is resting on a very weak precipice, and Scripture is very clear concerning its impossibility.
Thomas Weedon, BSEE, MDiv.
I am driven by Scripture’s clarity on the subject of creation. And, you have not responded to the biblical arguments I raised. So, there is no need to continue on this subject. At this point, this subject is closed.