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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

More about the days of creation in Genesis 1

I did a Google search, on the words (not phrase) theories on Genesis 1 days. I don't have time, or inclination, to go through the roughly 3,000,000 web pages that Google says it can find for me. However, I was interested in the first few that came up. (I'm not giving the URLs. One reason is that I'm not sure these pages are authoritative exponents of a particular position. If you want to see these pages, you can do a Google search yourself!)

I found that there was a diversity of views on the meaning of the word "day" in Genesis 1, just among the first ten hits.

Here are some such views:
1) The six, or seven, days of creation were literal days, approximately 24 hours in length.
2) The days refer to long periods of time (ages).
3) There was a gap in God's creative activity, between day 1 and day 2.
4) The days were days of revelation. God revealed different truths on different days.

All of these views have problems, as do any other views of the time frame of Genesis 1.

I indicated some of the problems with the first view in a previous post. Some of my readers were kind enough to comment. I may be missing something, but I remain convinced that Genesis 2:5 seems to be scriptural evidence against taking Genesis 1 as speaking of literal days. There are other scriptural reasons for questioning this view. (See this post, and the comments)

Although belief in literal days does not require belief in a young earth, at most thousands of years old, I'm not aware of anyone who believes that these days took place, say, several million years ago. The scientific evidence, what we can learn about nature from observation, is part of God's revelation, according to Psalm 19, Romans 1, and Colossians 2. Although there have been questions about the evidence, the vast majority of scientists believe that the earth is much older than thousands of years.

The second view may be correct, but it is not possible to merely say that the days were long consecutive periods of time, and that making them so yields a scheme consistent with paleontological evidence. Birds appear before reptiles, in the Genesis account, and most paleontologists are convinced that birds descended from reptiles. Water animals, apparently including seals and whales and their relatives, appear before land animals, in Genesis 1. They are believed to have descended from land animals.

As to the third and fourth options, there is little scriptural evidence for them. One of them may be correct, and they both have some appeal.

I received a comment on the previous post, indicating that the commenter, a serious theologian, intends to post more about Genesis 2:5. He hasn't yet, but I await his contribution with interest.

Thanks for reading.


James F. McGrath said...

There is good reason to take the days in Genesis 1 as "literal" days, since they consist of "evening and morning". Indeed, we can be more specific - these are days using traditional Jewish reckoning, beginning at sundown (evening) rather than sunrise (morning). But we should not miss that these 'literal' days are part of the extended metaphor of a "divine work-week", in which the days are lined up in poetic parallelism.

And, as you note, even some translations of the Bible smooth over the problems with literalistic approaches by leaving the word 'day' out of 2:5. That's presumably the same reason for not using 'dome'. Translators don't want to upset the readers who think one should always take the Bible literally. However, in doing so, they end up perpetuating that literalism and adding to its plausibility.

Rob Rumfelt said...

While I still find this subject fascinating, I no longer get as worked up over it as I once did. The main thing for me is that we are here because of God. That is the message of Genesis for me. The "how" and the "when" are interesting but ultimately distracting.

I recommend reading "Genesis and the Big Bang." I'd give you the author's name, too, but I've forgotten it. This getting old stuff is for the birds!

All the Best!

Martin LaBar said...

The problem, for a literal day interpretation of Genesis 1, posed by Genesis 2:5, is more serious than that the use of "day" in that verse. See here for a simple discussion of the difficulty.

Yes, getting old has its drawbacks. I think I've read that book, but I don't remember the author, either.

Thanks, gentlemen.

Amy said...

I would say that it's pretty clear the text in Gen 1 is referring to 7 literal days of creation, but it has to be read in the proper context, and not necessarily as strictly literal as it is sometimes taken. Moses was the secondary author (God being the primary author) of the first 5 books of the Bible. He wrote them while the children of Israel were in the desert for 40 years after leaving Egypt. While they were in Egypt, they worshiped the Egyptian gods and adopted Egyptian practices. Moses was re-teaching them who the true God is, and what He revealed.

He was showing them that God created out of nothing, and He created in an orderly fashion. The sun, moon, and stars were created on the 4th day, not the first, and didn't exist before creation. The Egyptians worshiped them as gods (eg. Ra was the Sun god), and Moses was teaching them that these objects are useful for keeping track of seasons and measuring time - they were created objects, not gods. Also, they're not the true source of light, God is the light of the world.

Moses wasn't writing to refute Darwin's theory, since he lived approx 3,000 years before Darwin was born. He wasn't trying to prove or disprove evolution, he was showing that the same God who passed judgment on the Egyptian gods was the same one who created everything, and had already prepared the way for them to enter the land that he promised them.

Personally, I don't have a problem with evolution so long as people don't try to use it to "prove" that God doesn't exist. That's like using algebra to prove that a sentence is grammatically correct - neither makes sense because the subjects are dealing with different natures in their studies.

Science observes and studies the material world, theology studies God's revelation. The two don't contradict each other, since the God who reveals Himself to us is the same God who created everything.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks for your long and thoughtful comment, Amy. I don't think I have any serious disagreement with anything you said.