Creation Essentials, Creation Non-Essentials

Part 3: Exegetical Concerns


This section is not a complete analysis of the exegetical issues surrounding Genesis 1, nor a summary of all the interpretations available. The goal is to show that there are reasonable alternatives to the literalistic interpretation. We will also discuss several significant concerns or objections which have been raised with the 24-hour literalistic interpretation, even though its proponents often position it as a flawless interpretation.

Perhaps the most well-known alternative is the so-called “Day-age” theory which proposes that the days of Genesis are ages or epochs. Thus, a common “battleground” in this debate is on the meaning of “day”, and we will now turn our attention to this, briefly. 

The meaning of ‘yom’ (day)

The Hebrew word most often translated as “day” is yom.  It is generally acknowledged that yom can refer to the (roughly) 12-hour period of light during a normal day, to a 24-hour normal day , or to an unspecified period of time. There is a lot of literature on this subject, so we will only touch on it briefly.

A common SYEC argument is that yom combined with an ordinal always refers to a 24-hour day. This is false: Zechariah 14:7 contains the word yom combined with an ordinal (the number one, echad). (The NIV translates yom echad as “unique day” in Zechariah, but translates the same Hebrew phrase as “first day” in Gen. 1:5) The context of Zechariah 14:7 seems to indicate that the yom echad will be a period of time at least spanning one summer and one winter (14:8).

Hosea 6:2 is another exception to the rule: “After two days he will revive us, on the third day he will restore us…” While Israel expected God’s restoration quickly, to argue that these verses indicate “after 48 hours he will revive us” would be a strange interpretation. Similarly the “third day” on which the restoration will take place does not demand a literal 24-hour day interpretation, referring rather to an unspecified point in time, or time period, in the future.

Another issue in the meaning of ‘yom’ in Genesis 1 is the phrase “and there was evening, and there was morning – the ‘nth’ day”. The actual number of words in the Hebrew is much fewer than the English translations. The actual phrase is “evening and morning ‘n’ day”. This phrase is unique in the Old Testament, occurring only here in Genesis 1, so making firm conclusions on its meaning is tenuous. Daniel 8:14 has the closest grammatical parallel: “It will take 2300 evenings and mornings…”. According the NIV study bible notes, this refers to 1150 days, the time from the desecration of the Lord’s altar and the rebuilding of it. In this prophetic passage, “evenings and mornings” does not refer to literal 24-hour days (otherwise in the historical fulfillment, the 1150 days would have actually been 2300 days).  So nothing can be gleaned from Daniel to support a 24-hour literal interpretation of Genesis. What can be said definitively about “evening and morning ‘n’ day” is that it appears to serve as a marker, upon the transition from one yom to the next yom.  Nothing in the text precludes other evenings and mornings from occurring between these markers. (This actually introduces another, less well known interpretation called the Approbation View which will be discussed briefly below).

The Long Seventh Day?

It is noted by some that ‘yom’ seven does not end with the refrain “evening and morning”, and that it seems to imply that this day is still going on. Hebrews 4:3-11 refers back to this original Sabbath rest, implying in verse 10 that God’s rest is still going on (i.e., he is still resting from the work of creation which was all completed prior to yom seven.). Thus, it is argued, the “seventh day” of Gen. 2:2 does not refer to a literal 24-hour day, but an indefinite time period which is still going on today. This would call into question, therefore, the actual length of the other yom in the Genesis account.

The Fourth Commandment

Appeal is often made to the 4th commandment “Remember the Sabbath day”, because it states in Ex. 20:11 “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth…, but he rested on the seventh day.” What is important from these verses (i.e. what were they intended to convey to the original hearers) was that we should mimic God in having a pattern of 6 work days followed by one rest day. He set a pattern for us in creation, with 6 yom followed by a seventh yom. To read into these verses that God is making statements about the actual length of the creation yom is more than what the text supports. There is an analogy being drawn for us, not a statement about the methods or modes of creation.

Some Concerns with the 24-hour Literalistic Interpretation

Sprouting vegetation

On yom 3, the earth sprouted vegetation, the plants yielded seeds, the trees bore fruit. The text seems to imply normal processes of growth, because the normal word for special creation, bara, is not used. Instead the text contains words such as yatsa (produce), dasha (sprout), zara (yield, seed), and asah (used of the trees in bearing or producing seeds). Trying to fit the events of yom 3 into a 24-hour period seriously strains the meanings of all of these words, and the text itself.

A very busy yom 6

According to the text, the following occurred on yom 6:

§         God planted the garden of Eden (Gen 2:8)

§         The garden sprouted and grew, the text implying natural processes from the use of the Hebrew word tsamach, and not bara.

§         Adam had major surgery

§         Adam had to name thousands of animals (conservatively estimated at 14,000 species) – 10 species/minute assuming he took the entire 24 hours. If we assume he took only 12 hours, then he had to name 1 species every 3 seconds for 12 hours straight.



The Approbation View

This view, also called the Inspection Day view, does not hinge on the meaning of the word ‘yom’, and is in fact compatible with a literal 24-hour yom. The essence of this view is that each phase of creation is introduced by a declaration (“Let there be light…”), followed by an act of creation (“and there was light”), a preliminary observation (“God saw the light and it was good”), a modification (“God separated the light from darkness”), a final declaration (“he called the light day…”), and finally a day marker (“evening and morning ‘n’ day”). This day marker indicates the completion of this phase of creation, and sets the stage for the next.  This view’s primary observation is that each step in each creative phase is not required, based on the text, to all occur on the same literal 24-hour day.  This is a very brief review of this view. See for a fuller treatment.)

Appearance of Age and Starlight

Although the following concern is not exegetical, recalling our discussion from part 2 in which we discussed the role of science in hermeneutics, the issue of starlight may have value in tempering our interpretation of Genesis 1. This is particularly important because we have shown above that there are exegetically plausible alternatives to the 24-hour literalistic interpretation which do not conflict with the problem of starlight.

            The “problem of starlight” may be stated simply: almost all scientists, including SYEC proponents, acknowledge that there are bodies in space which are millions of light-years away. How could the light from these distant bodies have already reached us if the universe is 6000 years old? An initial SYEC argument is that God created the light “in transit” so that they were immediately visible at the time of creation. This position has serious flaws, however. If all of the starlight we received was static, then the in-transit position would be plausible. However, the streams of light from distant objects are actually dynamic. For example, in 1987 a supernova eruption was observed which was hundreds of thousands of light-years away. If God created the light in-transit, then what was observed in 1987, in real time, never really happened! God just made it look like it happened by placing the right light waves into space (about 6000 years ago) so that they got here in 1987. This raises serious theological problems regarding the nature of God, seeming to put Him in a position where he is trying to deceive us regarding the age of the universe, even creating artificial events using light waves to complete the illusion.  Because of this serious issue, the in-transit argument has been rejected by many SYECs, including Ken Ham (see  Ken refers to a theory developed by Russell Humpreys which attempts to explain distant starlight and still maintain a young universe. I won’t get into the science here (it is very complex), but Dr. Humprey’s theory has serious flaws which have been raised by a number of mathematicians and astronomers. Ken Ham concludes his discussion on this problem by retreating to a familiar stance that we’ve already covered and shown wanting: that even if we never understand the problem of distant starlight, we shouldn’t let science compromise the authority of the Bible. What he fails to see is that you can be committed to the absolute authority of the Bible, and still try to account for distant starlight. Doing so does not subordinate Scripture to science, but it does point to alternative Biblical interpretations that are exegetically plausible.

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Young Earth Creationism. Old Earth Creationism. Was there Death before the Fall? What is the relation between Science and the Bible? Do they ever conflict? Can science help us interpret the Bible? What was the original intended meaning of Genesis 1?