We’ve demonstrated that even in the English translation of the Bible, “day” does not necessarily mean 24 hours and can refer to a longer period of time. “But,” the young-earth creationist argues, “the Genesis creation account keeps referring to evenings and mornings, so these obviously have to be normal 24 hour days.”
Well, if all we read is the English translation, he might have a point. But in the Hebrew, there’s a lot more going on.
Hebrew is More Flexible Than English
Most Hebrew nouns come from a root verb. Sometimes a small spelling change–the addition of a yod or vav in the body of the word, or a mem or tav prefixing it–indicates that the word is a noun, and even clarifies which noun is in question, but that’s not always the case.
“Evening” is ‘erev, which comes from and is spelled exactly the same as the root verb ‘arav. ‘Arav (or ‘arab) means to mix together or exchange something (for example, exchanging something for a pledge or “down payment”), and often has the connotation of death and sterility. In fact, its feminine form, arabah, is the Hebrew word for “desert.” The Arabs take their name from the same root, being the “mixed” people of the desert. The connecting thought to the word “evening” is that evening is when the shadows grow and the world seemingly becomes blurred together in the darkness.
What about “morning”? The Hebrew word used here is boqer, which comes from the verb baqar. To baqar is to plow a field, to conduct a search, to tend a herd. As a noun, it is used to refer to oxen and cattle, herd animals that are used in ploughing. The feminine form biqqoret refers to carrying out a judicial examination and (if merited) punishment. The overarching theme of the term is the idea of putting things into order.
In other words, the root ideas behind these words are pretty close to our concepts of chaos and order.
In each of God’s creative days, he begins with chaos, a mixture of elements, and goes on to put them into order. So for example, on the first day, we begin with absolute chaos and blackness over the primordial ocean. The perfect picture of ‘arav. God says, “Let there be light,” and the light first appears. But then God separates light from darkness and day from night. He puts them into a proper order. He performs baqar.
Therefore, we could understand the passage to mean, “And there was chaos, and there was a putting into order, the first period of time.” And this is why there is no “and there was evening and there was morning” in regards to the Sabbath. The world had been placed into its proper order, so there was no ‘arav. God had ceased from his work, so he is no longer performing baqar.
Emulating the Creator
Now let’s go back to my original premise. I believe that an old-earth interpretation of Genesis is a midrashic interpretation, a secondary interpretation that would only become apparent later. In the plain sense, I believe the purpose of Genesis is to correct pagan creation concepts and to give the people of the true Creator a way to emulate him in the seven-day week.
See, it’s not simply in resting on the Sabbath that the Jew emulates the God of Israel. Jewish days begin with sundown rather than at midnight or dawn precisely because of the repeated refrain in Genesis, “there was evening and there was morning.” Like the Creator, the Jew begins his day at ‘erev, when the world becomes ‘arav, mixed together in shadow and chaotic. He then arises in the boqer to perform baqar, to plough his fields, to tend his flocks, to seek out, to inquire, to administer justice. He follows this pattern for six days and rests on the seventh, just as his God did.
This same pattern holds true on a larger scale. Those in the Land follow this pattern for six periods (years): the “chaos” of the rainy winter months gives way to the spring, when Israel performs baqar in plowing, planting, and ultimately harvesting. Then they cease from baqar and let the Land rest on the seventh year.
The creation narrative is a masterpiece of composition. It addresses the primary concerns of its audience thousands of years ago in a way that is understandable and actionable. Had God attempted to give them a “scientific” explanation, they could neither have comprehended it nor acted on it. Every parent has to do the same thing when their young children ask, “Why?” However, by carefully selecting which words to inspire in the original human author–and even shaping the Hebrew language so that those words would have the correct range of meaning–the Spirit also gave us an account of Creation which, when we had grown in our understanding of the universe, we would realize is still accurate to such a degree that it could not possibly be mere guesswork on the part of a human being.
So Now What?
The main objection that I’ve seen in the comments of the previous post is that the ancient Jewish and Christians commentators took the creation narrative “at face value,” meaning in the plain sense of being six 24-hour days, so we should too. However, I’ve shown that in the case of the rabbis, that’s simply not true. When they compared Scripture-to-Scripture, not just in the Genesis account but across all of the many references to Creation found in the Tanakh, they found lots of oddities and incongruities that made them dig deeper into the text–and discover things like, for example, the fact that the sun, moon, and stars were indeed made before the fourth day.
On the other hand, yes, the early Church fathers did favor 24-hour days. However, unlike the rabbis and like modern young-earth creationists, they were working from a translation only, not from the original Hebrew. So I suppose that a KJV-Onlyist is locked into a young-earth paradigm–but a serious student of the Scriptures in their original languages is not.
And that’s the real point here. We’ve shown from the Scriptures themselves that:
- Yom does not necessarily mean a 24-hour day, but can refer to a longer period of time. This is illustrated very early on in Genesis 2:4, where “day” is used to refer to the entire creation week.
- Moses himself warned that God’s sense of time is not ours in Psalm 90:4. Peter later quoted this passage as well.
- Adam and Eve were both created in the sixth creation day, but Genesis 2 indicates that a significant period of time passed between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve.
- The seventh day, God’s cosmic Sabbath, has been ongoing for thousands of years, so there is no reason why the first six days of creation must be 24 hours in length.
- The Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20:11 does not require us to take the days of creation to be the same length as the days of our week.
- Because of the way Hebrew works, we can just as easily read that God had already made the sun, moon, and stars before the fourth day, and this was in fact how the ancient rabbis understood the passage.
- The fact that the Bible says that God “had made” instead of “had created” the sun, moon, and stars indicates that those we can see with our naked eyes are not the first stars and planets that God ever created. The rabbis themselves understood this to be the case and believed that God had created many worlds before this one.
- “Evening” and “morning” also fit with the Hebrew concept of “chaos” and “order.”
Taken altogether, we see that the Biblical text itself argues against the days of creation equaling just 144 hours plus the Sabbath.
If there were no evidence that the universe or the earth were older than a few thousand years, the above might simply be interesting artifacts in the text. However, we now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that both the universe and the earth itself are far older than that. This is not a problem that goes away just by arguing against “uniformism” or “naturalism.” It’s a problem that cuts to the very heart of who God is and whether he has deliberately set up the universe to lie to us. We’ll start tackling those issues in the next post.