Andy Doerksen posted a response to my last article which ties so nicely into what I was planning to write anyway that I’m going to use it as my jumping-off point for this post. In response to me pointing out that the ancients knew only the part of the universe that they could see with the naked eye, he responds:
Yes! – and that’s precisely why Genesis 1, and the later summary statement in Ex. 20:11, are to be taken at face value as referring to the entirety of the cosmos being created within 6 literal days. It’s true that there’s no differentiation (to the naked eye) between the atmosphere and outer space; everything is included in the Bible’s creationary statements.
Which, in turn, is why positing a “14 billion”-year-old universe is antibiblical. The billions-of-years claim is diametrically opposed to the biblical assertion of 6 days.
On the contrary, I would argue that to read the Bible in such a way that it contradicts the clear record of nature is itself antibiblical, undermining the witness of creation that Romans chapter 1 hinges on. Second, while God had the Bible written by human “scribes,” humans who had their own lingual and conceptual limitations that he had to work with, he made the universe directly, with no intermediary. Therefore, to pit one creation of God against another is itself antibiblical.
I will return to what we know (not just suspect, but actually know) about the universe from the record of nature in another post, and why it’s such a problem for young-earth creationism. For now, let me just point out the obvious: The origin and history of the universe, as now revealed by modern scientific instruments, provides an incredibly potent and positive set of arguments for the God of the Bible. When a fundamentalist insists that the only way to read the Bible is to believe that the universe is only about six thousand years old, he throws away all of that powerful evidence. Now, if in fact young-earth creationism was expressly taught by the Bible, we would have a serious problem. But in truth, it is not. The Bible itself contains numerous hints that the days of creation were not, in fact, 24-hour days.
What is a Day?
So let’s start strictly with the Biblical argument: Does the Bible really teach that the six days of creation were normal 24-hour days? Actually, no. We can establish this from the Bible itself, without appealing to any outside source.
First, Genesis 2:4 concludes the creation narrative by saying, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.” Even just reading the English translation and without reference to the Hebrew, we are told from the very beginning that the word “day” does not necessarily mean a 24 hour period, but can refer to a longer, but finite, period of time. Later, both Moses and Peter warn us that God’s sense of time is far different from ours: “But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2Pt. 3:8, alluding to Psa. 90:4). That being the case, why would we insist that “days” counted before the creation of man must be exactly 24-hours in length?
The argument is even stronger when one considers the original language of the Bible. The Hebrew word for “day” is yom, and per the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, “It can denote: 1. the period of light (as contrasted with the period of darknesss), 2. the period of twenty-four hours, 3. a general vague ‘time,’ 4. a point of time, 5. a year (in the plural; 1 Sam 27:7; Ex 13:10, etc.).” (p. 370) Even in English, the term has a certain flexibility. If I say, “Back in my day . . .” I’m not referring to a specific 24 hours, am I?
So are there other clues indicating that these days lasted more than 24 hours? Indeed there are.
Adam’s Really Long Day
In Genesis 1:26-27, we learn that God created man and woman on the sixth day, after creating the beasts of the field. Yet when we turn to chapter 2, we find that there was more of a process involved: God first created Adam, then created Eden, and then brought Adam to Eden from somewhere else (v. 15). Where was that somewhere else? How long did the journey take? We’re not told, but the very fact that the Bible saw fit to mention it suggests that there was some distance involved, and that Adam wasn’t created just outside of the garden.
God then brought Adam all of the animals that he had created for the man to name (v. 19-20). How long do you think it would take to have time to observe and give suitable names to every animal that lives in the Middle-east? How long would it take to relate to each and every one of them and realize that none was quite on his level?
So God “caused a deep sleep to fall on the man” (v. 21). That’s more than a 30 minute power-nap. The same term (tardeimah) is used in 1 Samuel 26:12 and Job 4:13 and 33:15 to describe a night’s rest. God then takes a “side” of Adam to fashion it into Eve, Adam awakes, has time to relate to Eve and realize that she was indeed a perfectly suitable helpmate, and becomes one with his wife.
That’s a heck of a lot to cram into the last few hours of the day! While one can try to contrive explanations for this (“Well, Adam was super-intelligent so maybe he didn’t need more than a few seconds per animal . . .”), these amount to excuse-making by way of giving Adam supernatural powers that the Bible itself doesn’t actually attribute to him. The text itself is written to presuppose an extended period of time between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve–and therefore a sixth yom that lasts far more than 24 hours.
God’s Cosmic Sabbath is Ongoing
In addition, we have a distinct break in the pattern of the creation narrative on the seventh day. Where every other day ends with “and there was evening and there was morning, the [x] day,” the seventh day has no such closure. Why not? Hebrews 4:3-4 says that it’s because God’s cosmic Sabbath, in which he is resting from the works of creation, is still ongoing:
For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest,'” although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.”
How long has God’s cosmic Sabbath lasted? For the entirety of human history, somewhere between six and a hundred thousand years. It will end only when he begins to create again, when he fashions a new heavens and a new earth after the Millennium. And if God’s “seventh day” has lasted that long, on what basis can we claim that the previous six were 24 hours each?
Six Days, or Six Periods of Time?
But what about Exodus 20:11? “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Doesn’t this prove that the days of creation must be 24 hours just like normal days?
In short, no. First, God did not only give Israel a Sabbath of days, but also a Sabbath of years (Exo. 23:10-11; Lev. 25:3-4; Deu. 15:9). The Sabbath of years, being not only a rest for the soil but a release from debts, was so important that Israel’s failure to keep it set the time of her first exile (Lev. 26:34-43; 2Ch. 36:21).
Second, the length of a commemoration does not have to equal the exact length of the event it commemorates. For example, Sukkot, the Feast of Booths, lasts for seven days, “that your generations may know that I made the people of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt” (Lev. 23:42-43). However, the length of time Israel dwelt in booths in the wilderness was forty years, not a week.
Finally, taking the above together with the flexibility of the Hebrew word yom, we could just as easily translate Exodus 20:11 as, “For in six periods of time the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh period. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath period and made it holy.” Again, Hebrews tells us that God’s rest is ongoing. The point is for the people of the Creator to have a practical way to emulate the Creator, not to fix the precise chronology of the creation to exactly 144 hours.
Of course, there’s a very obvious argument that I’ve not dealt with yet: Surely the refrain “there as evening and there was morning” means that these have to be 24-hour days, right? Actually, no, but since I’ll have to go into some reasonably advanced Hebrew, I’ll address this in its own post. In the next post, however, we will continue to establish from the text of the Bible not only that the days of creation could not be 24-hour days, but that the Bible itself teaches that the stars we see with our naked eyes were not the first stars that God created.