Creation Pt. 8: The Weaknesses of the Twenty-Four-Hour Day Theory

I. Preliminary Remarks About Critiquing The Twenty-Four-Hour Day Theory

I want to state from the outset that when I decided to do a study on the doctrine of creation and the interpretation of Genesis 1, I did not want my interpretation and study to be influenced by science. I feel like this needs to be said because many young earth creationists take the attitude that rejection of the 24 hour interpretation is done so purely because science has led the individual to reject the message of the Bible. What I want to know is whether or not the Young Earth view is the meaning that was intended by the original author, or if there are any clues in the text that might suggest a non-literal interpretation is intended.

II. Responding to the Claims Made in Favor A Literal 24 Hour Day Interpretation

1. Uses of the word Day – I stated in my previous post that the argumentation for a young earth view from the use of the word day has fallen out of favor recently. The reason for that is simple. As Rolland McCune states (himself a young earth creationist), “It is true that the word day (yom) is used in a three-fold sense in Genesis 1-2: (1) It refers at times to a 12-hour period of daylight (1.5, 14, 16, 18), (2) generically to the entire creation week (2.4), and (3) to a normal 24-hour day.” [1] McCune here touches on the idea that the word day is just as flexible in the Hebrew language as it is in English. Like when we say “the day of someone’s birth” to refer to a literal 24-hour day, or “in the day of President Roosevelt” to refer to a more general span of time. In the Old Testament we see non-24-hour uses of the word like when we see references to events such as “the Day of the Lord.”

I also mentioned in the last post that more emphasis in recent years has been placed on the use of the word day as it is preceded by an ordinal. By way of reminder, ordinal numbers are numerical adjectives that convey order and in this context are used as the second day, third day, etc. As Ryrie says, the word day “is used in several senses, but with the numeral or ordinal it only means a solar day (Gen. 1.5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).[2] This has always seemed to me to be one of the strongest arguments for interpreting Genesis 1 in a literal fashion, but as I was listening to a theological podcast by Dr. William Lane Craig, I was surprised to hear this: “Sometimes those who defend the Literal Interpretation of six consecutive 24-hour days will point out that when an ordinal number is used with the word yom as in “second day,” “third day,” and “forth day” then it always refers to a literal 24-hour day… the claim is simply false.”[3]

Craig offers up three reasons for rejecting this claim by young earth creationists. The first is that there is no grammatical rule in the Hebrew language that demands this type of interpretation. He even goes on to say that even if it was true that all ancient Hebrew literature we have today followed this example of day being preceded by an ordinal refers to a literal day, it would just be an accident of history. It would, in other words, just be a coincidence.[4]

Secondly, according to Craig, is that “the claim is simply false.” There are in fact uses of the word day preceded by an ordinal in the Old Testament that are used to refer to a non-literal day. Hosea 6.2 says, “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up.” It seems that the best way to understand this verse is that Hosea is speaking in a somewhat idiomatic way of a relatively short period of time, and that he is not thinking of a literal 24-hour day. Ryrie anticipated the use of this verse in his work on day used with an ordinal and says “The only possible exception to this might be 2 Chronicles 21.19 [I’m pretty sure this reference is a typo as this verse has neither an ordinal nor the word day] and Hosea 6.2, though both passages may well be interpreted as understanding solar days.”[5] Even though Ryrie tried to deflect this possible flaw to his interpretation of Genesis 1, he said elsewhere of the Hosea passage that it is “a short period of time.” [6] He then went on to cite 2 Peter 3.8 (“With the Lord one day is as a thousand years”) to further illustrate the non-literal meaning.

The third point Craig makes, is that arguing over whether or not a literal day is meant by the word day, misses the point entirely. Even if literal days are being used by the author of Genesis, this doesn’t address the question of whether or not literal days are being used in a metaphorical way. To illustrate what he means by this, Craig describes the use of the word “arm.” We know that “arm” is a reference to a limb or an appendage, but whenever we read in the Old Testament that the lord is “stretching out His arms” or any other reference to the “arm” of the Lord, nobody understands these passages to mean that God has physical limbs that He is stretching out. This means then that a word referencing a literal object or concept is being used in a metaphorical way, and Craig argues that perhaps the word day is being used the same way here.

2. The phrase “evening and morning.” – Something that is rarely brought up about the seventh day of the creative week, is that it is missing much of the formula used in the first six days. This includes the phrase “evening and morning.” It would seem to suggest that the seventh day is not intended to be a literal day. In fact, it would even seem that we are still in the seventh day! For God never ended His rest from creating. He never began to create again. If the seventh has this amount of flexibility, why not the other days?

3. The Sabbath command in Exodus 20. – It is certainly possible that that the command to honor the Sabbath is not based on the measurement of time from Genesis 1, but rather the pattern that is presented. Those who deny a literal interpretation of the creation account will say that what God draws from for the Sabbath command is the pattern of God working in six periods of creation.

4. The historicity of Adam and Eve. – Let me make it clear that I absolutely believe in the historicity of Adam and Eve. But they’re historical reality does not necessarily rule out the possibility that they have at least a somewhat symbolic meaning. Adam means “man” and Eve means “mother of all living.” So in one sense, Genesis 1 can be read as “In the beginning, God created mankind.”

III. Evidences that a Literal Interpretation Was Not Intended By the Original Author.

1. The wording of the creative activity on the third and sixth day. – An important concept in the doctrine of creation is the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, which means “creation out of nothing.” Biblical scholars agree that Genesis teaches that God did not create the universe out of pre-existing material. Because of this doctrine’s importance and wide-spread teaching, certain aspects of the creation account have been overlooked or under-emphasized. For example, it may be easy for someone to think of creation as looking like an empty plain or expanse of water, and then an animal just appears on it. Although that may very well be the case, it still needs to be asked whether the text supports that interpretation.

When we look at the language of creation on the third and sixth day, what we see is God commanding the earth to produce that which is being created. “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation… And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation” (Gen. 1.11,12). It would seem that in order for this language to be understood in a literal fashion and occurring over a 24-hour time period, the author would have to be thinking of some sort of time-lapse photography event where plant life shoots forth from the ground in order to produce plants, trees, and other vegetation. It just seems highly unlikely that this what the author of Genesis had in mind when composing the creation account.

The same language is used in reference to the creation of animal life: “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures…’ and it was so” (1.24).

2.The amount of activity on the sixth day. – Sometimes old earth creationists object to a literal interpretation of Day 6 simply because there is too much activity taking place. After all, how could one man name every creature in one day? The response to this objection is typically that a newly created human that is untainted by the sin nature would be able to do these things in a timely fashion. Until recently, I’ve always accepted this answer.

I think the weight of this objection becomes much more serious when the amount of work that is needed to be done is stopped and considered. As a child I always imagined that God had the animals parade before Adam and he just named them as they walked by. However, I now think it is much more likely that Adam observed the animals in their normal habitats. The reason this is so is because he would need to learn the behaviors and functions of the animals in order to, one, give them an appropriate name, and two, find that none of the animals would make a suitable counterpart for  himself.

It is only after realizing that he was alone that Adam was put into a deep sleep by God. While asleep God created Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. Upon waking Adam was elated with joy and burst into song. This brings me to my next point.

3. The phrase “this at last.” – When he awoke from his sleep and saw Eve for the first time, Adam began to sing, saying; “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Gen. 2.23). The specific part of this song that I am interested in is the phrase “this at last.” This is a translation of the Hebrew word happaam and can be translated as “this at last,” “finally, at last,” and “this time.” [7] It occurs two other times in the book of Genesis.

The first of these uses can be found in chapter 29 during the story of Jacob working to marry Leah and Rachel. After he married both of the sisters, Jacob favored Rachel over Leah. Leah was blessed by God however, and she bore sons to Jacob. After being being married to Jacob for at least seven years, she uses this phrase twice when her sons are born to her: “Now this time my husband will be attached to me” (v. 34) and “This time I will praise the LORD” (v. 35).

The second time we see this phrase is Genesis 46.30, when after thinking his favorite son was dead for many years, Jacob finally sees Joseph alive in Egypt. “Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.'”

What we can draw from these uses of this word is that it carries the weight of waiting for a long period a time. So when looking at the creation of Adam, we can safely assume that Adam is rejoicing after searching for a mate for many years.

IV. Conclusions

I think it is reasonable, after looking at these evidences above, to assume that the young earth interpretation is not the only legitimate interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2. I have said before that one of goals with this series on creation, was to show that there are more live options available to the believer than just the literal interpretation. Hopefully I have done that.  Too many times I have seen those who hold to a literal interpretation raise their view to the level orthodoxy, and decry those who hold to different views as abandoning biblical inerrancy, the authority of Scripture, or any other number of views.

This should never be the case.


[1] Rolland McCune. A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity: Volume 1. 333-334.

[2] Charles Ryrie. Basic Theology. 211. I want to point out that the reason I included the scripture references in the quote here is that I think Ryrie committed the fallacy of circular reasoning, or begging the question here. The section this quote comes from is dealing with the question of whether or not the days of Genesis 1 are solar days or not. So, for Ryrie to make the claim that they are in fact solar days, and then cite the verses of Genesis 1 as proof of this claim, is the same as saying: “We know the days of Genesis 1 are literal days, because the days of Genesis 1 are literal days.”

[3] William Lane Craig. “Defenders Series 2: Creation and Evolution Part 2 Transcript.

[4] I personally have never studied the Hebrew language, so I am leaning entirely on Dr. Craig’s testimony here.

[5] Charles Ryrie. Basic Theology. 211.

[6] Charles Ryrie. Ryrie Study Bible: English Standard Version. 1047.

[7] William Lane Craig. “Defenders Series 2: Creation and Evolution Part 3 Transcript.” Pay special attention to footnotes 5 and 6.

 

 

 

 

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