I know a lot of faithful Christians subscribe to some variation of the idea that Creation occurred in six literal twenty-four days, followed by God resting – a belief for which they’re ruthlessly mocked by a faithless culture. I wanted to break away from that trend, and make it clear that while I don’t subscribe to young-Earth Creationism myself, I have a lot of respect for those who do, because I know that it’s based upon a rock-solid faith in God and His written word. Certainly, Catholics may be young-Earth Creationists, and a number are. I’m not, however. Here are the reasons why I don’t subscribe to that view of Genesis 1-2 myself:
(1) Literal Isn’t Always Better
One of the mistakes which a number of people make, both young-Earth Creationists and (strangely enough) atheists is the belief that the more faithful you are, the more literal. Now, that’s certainly true in those parts of the Bible where the text is meant to be taken literally. But the more faithful interpretation is sometimes the less literal. The obvious example is John 2:18-22,
Then the Jews demanded of him, “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” The Jews replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the Scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
The crowd listening to Jesus takes Him too literally. And in fact, in Matthew 26:61, two men testify against Jesus by recalling a slightly warped version of this prophesy. Ironically, it’s on the basis of this overly-literal misunderstanding that they condemn Jesus to Death (since the witnesses claimed He threatened to destroy the Temple), which leads to His fulfilling the prophesy, of course. Of course, when Jesus was more explicit in the prophecy, His Disciples mistakenly took Him figuratively, showing that it’s a two-way street (Mark 9:31-32). The important thing isn’t that we understand the Bible literally, but that we understand It accurately.
(2) “Yom” Doesn’t Always Mean a 24-Hour Day in the Old Testament
The first thing to recognize is that the Hebrew word yom (“day”) has meanings besides a literal 24-hour day, just as in English. Just as we might say, “in my father’s day, things were a lot different,” while really meaning the period of time set aside for him, Hebrew works the same way. In Deu 20:19, for example, the phrase for “a long time” is literally “a long day,” but it clearly means days on end in the context (describing lengthy sieges). More directly relevant for our purposes is Genesis 2:17, which says in the KJV version, “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” If what is meant is physical death, that doesn’t occur for centuries after they eat of the fruit of the tree. So even within Genesis, there are times when the word in question is used, and doesn’t refer to a 24-hour day.
(3) A “God-Day” Isn’t the Same as a 24-Hour Day
Perhaps the most important thing to remember in all of this is 2 Peter 3:8, “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” So there’s no compelling reason to think that God binds Himself to work within a 24-hour framework.
(4) Young Earth Creationism Has Major Narrative Flaws
Both Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 5:2 note that Adam and Eve are created on the same day, the sixth day. But reading Genesis 3, there’s a long period of time between the creation of Adam and the creation of Eve, time which Adam spends naming all of the animals in the Garden, a task which almost certainly took more than a single 24-hour day. Trying to force Genesis 1-2 to mean 24-hour days thus exposes it the passage to an appearance of contradicting Genesis 3.
More importantly, look at Genesis 1:1-3,
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.
“Evening” and “morning” there cannot be literal, for many reasons. First, if we take Genesis 1:16 literally as well, the sun and moon aren’t created until the fourth day. What could it possibly mean to say that it’s “evening” or “morning” without a sun or moon? Is the Earth rotating around something? Second, Earth never experiences evening all at once: it’s always simultaneously morning, midday, evening, and night, depending on where on Earth you’re viewing it. Somewhere is always experiencing morning and evening, so it’s not as though there’s such a thing as a planetary-wide “evening” or “morning.” Even ancient Israelites understood that evening was when the sun went down, and could recognize that the sun isn’t neccesarily in this account of Creation yet, so it isn’t as though science is “disproving” Genesis. Heliocentrism just confirms the obvious: Genesis 1:1-5 only makes sense metaphorically. Third, remember that the Person recording the account of the First Day is God Himself, since no human author was there to observe it. Since God doesn’t use 24-hour days Himself, why would we assume He’s referring to a 24-hour day here? And finally, why would God do this in twenty-four hours? He could have made the universe instantaneously, yet He chose to do it over time (everyone recognizes this much, at least). His reason for doing so is that He may enjoy each stage of Creation individually, and He calls each “Good,” until the Sixth Day (which is “Very Good”). 24-hour days actually sort of defeat the purpose here, since He would be providing very little time for each stage of Creation to organically develop after He created them.
(5) The Point of Genesis 1-2 is Primarily Christological and Liturgical
The best way to understand the Genesis account is as establishing things about God, and our relationship to Him, not primarily about history. After all, it’s a religious book. What’s being established is that:
- Creation is formed by God out of nothing. This is the first time a religion had claimed this about their Deity: most of the others had the gods simply rearranging pre-existing things. We now know that it’s the only logical possibility for God (matter must originate from something other than matter, and the Abrahamic God is the only God who fits that bill). This lays the foundation for an immaterial and infinitely powerful God.
- Creation is made by God for man. Everything else is called “Good,” while man is called “Very Good” (Genesis 1:31). Genesis 1:29-30 describes the Earth as a gift from God to man.
- Creation was established in stages. The significance is the same as in Ecclesiastes 3:1. God provides each stage of His wonderful Creation a “day” in which to show its magnificence (since obviously, He could have made the Earth and cosmos instantaneously). This shows us something about God, and His love of His Creation. It’s also interesting, in that the modern theories on evolution support this concept: that God made things in stages to blossom over time.
- The Jewish Calendar is to begin at Sundown. This is vital, since it’s the reason that Christ is able to be sacrificed on both Preparation Day and Passover. It means that the Last Supper and Good Friday are one day on the Jewish calendar. I talked about that at length here.
- The Sabbath. God rests on the Seventh Day. This foreshadows Christ being in the Tomb on Holy Saturday, and serves as a constant reminder about the duties and obligations we have to God.
So God is establishing seven days on the calendar, days which begin in the evening, all of which is very liturgical; He’s also establishing the relationship between God, man, and creation. These are the sorts of messages which make more sense from Genesis.
Now, it’s possible that Genesis 1-2 is just a parable, but I don’t think that’s the case. I think it’s actually a historical account, just told in a style that is intentionally liturgical. While I intend to lay out, later this week, one possibility for how to understand the seven days historically (as seven ages of Creation), suffice it to say for now that the Genesis account seems to be describing cosmological and planetary history… just as explicitly as a literalist interpretation would have it.
It should be clear by now, I hope, that nothing in Genesis 1-2 requires it to be understood as six literal 24-hour days. It’s six of God’s days, defined however He sees fit. They could be twenty-four hours, but there’s no good reason to think that they were.
All of this should be kept distinct from the science questions. If you’ll notice from my earlier points, I’m not arguing, “current science says the universe is old, therefore Genesis 1-2 must be figurative.” I’m arguing instead that taking the internal Biblical evidence, this is the better conclusion. It’s possible that the Earth was created in something much longer than 24-hour days and that cosmological and/or human evolution is still wrong. There’s no reason an old Earth requires evolution (although it certainly makes it possible in a way a young Earth doesn’t).