How Should We View the Six Days of Creation in Genesis 1?
This Sunday we are beginning a new series called Beginnings. The series will take us to Advent, and it will cover Genesis 1-11. These are some of the most important, foundational Biblical chapters for Christianity. I am excited to study it together!
In Genesis 1, we read about God creating the universe out of nothing. The creation of the world is said to take place over a span of six creative “days.” For centuries, there has been discussion and debate about how to interpret the “days” of Genesis 1. This discussion has only intensified in the past 200 years as modern scientists, especially in the areas of physics and geology, almost unanimously affirm that the universe, and the planet Earth, are extremely old (14 billion years or so for the universe and 9 billion years or so for planet Earth). What are we to make of these discussions?
One thing we affirm whole heartedly at Christ Church is the full authority of Scripture. The Bible is our final authority in faith and practice. It is inerrant; that is, without error in any part. And it is inspired; that is, given to us by God himself (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:19-21). Given the presupposition of Scripture’s inspiration, authority and inerrancy, I want to briefly describe three acceptable views on the “days” of Genesis 1. These views are all acceptable for Pastors in the PCA to adhere to, and there is a good bit of diversity on this particular subject among our Session and in our Presbytery. All three views can make a biblical case for their position and all three affirm the full authority and inspiration of the Bible. All three views have their relative strengths and weaknesses, as well (which is why this is such a debated topic!).
The first view, and the most familiar one, is the Literal 24-Hour Day view. This position views the creation days of Genesis 1 as both literal and chronological. That is, the “days” are literal 24-hour solar days, and they follow one another chronologically (Day 2 follows Day 1 and precedes Day 3, etc.). The strengths of this view are as follows: First, the word “Day” in Hebrew (Yom) almost always refers to a literal 24-hour solar day when used in the OT. Secondly, if Genesis 1 is designed in part to help humans imitate God’s pattern of six days of work and a seventh day of rest (and it is! - see Ex. 20:11), then it makes sense that the days be literal days. Third, this is the position of the majority of theologians in church history, especially from the time of the Reformation. However, the Literal 24-Hour view has significant weaknesses as well. First, if Genesis 1 is to be read literally and chronologically, how does this view make sense of the fact that light is created on Day 1 (1:3) but the sun is not created until Day 4 (1:14-18)? Second, this view flies in the face of much of God’s “general revelation” in the realm of science (that is, a literal reading would typically deny a very old earth). Third, this view tends to misread the intent of the author of Genesis 1 as being interested in the how of creation, rather than the who and why of creation.
The second view is called the Day Age view. This position views the creation days of Genesis 1 as non-literal but chronological. So, a “day” in Genesis 1 represents figuratively a very, very long period of actual time (a geological era, for example). Further, the days follow one another chronologically but they also overlap. The Day-Age interpretation claims that the narrative of Genesis 1 is from the point of view of the earth as being prepared for the habitation of man. The strengths of the Day Age view are as follows: First, this view readily accommodates the preponderance of inference from present day scientific interpretation from general revelation, in particular with data from astrophysics, geology and the fossil record. Second, the Day Age view preserves the general chronological sequence of a natural, first-reading of the text. The main weaknesses of the Day Age view are: First, the word “Day” (Yom) almost always refers to a 24-Hour day in the OT, not to a long geological era. Second, it has the same problem as the Literal 24-Hour view with regard to Days 1 and 4. Third, it is (with good reason) argued that this view is not based on textual exegesis but only exists as a response to Darwinism. Fourth, it is hard to square the Day Age view with the expression in Genesis 1: “There was morning and there was evening, the X day.”
The third view is called the Framework view. This position views the creation days of Genesis 1 as non-literal and non-chronological. It holds that the composition of Genesis 1 is structured to form a literary “framework” intended to show that God is the King of the universe, and that all of creation is under his authority. So, this reading sees the first “frame” as Days 1-3, in which God creates the sky, the seas, and the land. The second “frame” is seen in Days 4-6, in which God creates the inhabitants and rulers of the sky, sea, and land (birds, fish, and animals/humans). This position holds that God did create the world from nothing, but the how of creation is not really addressed in Genesis 1 at all beyond that. The strengths of the Framework view are: First, it solves the problem of harmonizing Day 1 and Day 4 because it argues that the days are not a literal, chronological sequence. Second, it harmonizes Genesis 1 and 2 contextually, arguing that in Genesis 1 God works through “ordinary providence” just as he explicitly does in Genesis 2 by sending rain to water the earth and grow plant life (2:5-6). Third, it is theologically rich and highlights the why of creation and the truth that God is the Lord of all. Fourth, it allows science to operate within certain biblical restraints and is not threatened by recent discoveries in geology and physics that would threaten a more literal, chronological reading. The weaknesses of the Framework view are: First, it is not the normal, “common-sense” reading of the text. One may fairly ask, “Is it reasonable to read a foundational chapter like Genesis 1 in such a complex fashion when it could be read much more simply (that is, literally and chronologically)?” Second, it shares with the Day Age view the weakness of how it interprets the word “Day” in Genesis 1. Third, some opponents of the Framework view state that the view opens one up to the charge that Genesis 1 is not historical. It is difficult to affirm historicity and yet deny chronological sequence in a given narrative.
As you can see, many issues both in the interpretation of the text itself and in reconciling scientific processes (general revelation) with the Bible (special revelation) quickly arise when discussing this topic. The purpose of this blog is to provide you with a brief summary of all of these acceptable views! If you would like to study this topic further, I am happy to recommend further reading.