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Biblical reasons to doubt Justin Taylor’s doubts about the creation days being 24-hour periods
4 minutes to read Justin Taylor questions the calendar-day interpretation. I question in turn.
Justin Taylor has written an article on the Gospel Coalition, Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods. It is interesting; but I think ultimately very weak.
For the record, I’m not committed to a young earth. I think the evidence is inconclusive (one might even say it is ambivalent). Neither am I committed to the calendar-day interpretation of Genesis 1. But I don’t think Justin’s article, at least, gives us good reasons to doubt that interpretation. I’ll work through his arguments using his headings:
1. Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary
2. The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day”
These are simply irrelevant to the length of yom. I myself am more inclined to read Gen 1:1 as, “When God created the heavens and the earth”—but this is perfectly consistent with taking 1:1 to describe the first thing God did. The problem is, if 1:1 is a merism and encompasses everything made, then it makes no sense for God to afterward say “let there be light” (v 3)—since light was already created in v 1, and indeed the sun was already present also.
This also makes Gen 1:14 and Gen 1:16 incomprehensible. Even assuming you translate v 14 as something like, “Let the lights in the expanse be to separate the day from the night”, rather than, “Let there be lights in the expanse to separate the day from the night”—which you will notice no translations do—you would have to translate v 16 in the pluperfect; ie, “God had made two great lights…” But it just isn’t in the pluperfect.
3. The Seventh “Day” Is Not 24 Hours Long
I think Justin is right about this; which does suggest that it may be permissible to treat yom as more than a calendar day.
The problem is, in the absence of any additional reasons to stretch the previous six days of creation, it is merely an interesting sidenote; not an argument. It doesn’t actually add to the positive case he wants to make.
4. The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long
True—but it is linguistically handicapped to argue that if a figurative expression like “in the day” doesn’t refer to a calendar day, then neither must a seemingly non-figurative, programmatic expression like “there was evening and morning, the fourth day”.
The comment about Hosea 6:2 is equally inept, since the whole point of the expression “in two days, in three days” is to use calendar days as idiomatic of a short time. But there is no such idiom in the creation account (quite the opposite); and even if there were, this would only suggest at most that yom should be interpreted as “a very short time” or “a little while” rather than a literal 24 hour day.
5. The Explanation of Genesis 2:5-7 Assumes More Than an Ordinary Calendar Day
It really doesn’t assume it. Rather, it is Justin who has to assume that eretz means “the earth”—as in the whole planet—and then posit ordinary providence as the reason for vegetation not having grown. The problem is, this drives a wedge between chapters 1 and 2. Genesis 2 has God forming the man, then planting the orchard in Eden, with the rain (according to Justin) presumably implied as coming later to cause germination over the rest of the earth. But Genesis 1 has vegetation created on day 3, and man created on day 6—well after the earth has brought forth trees and plants. Justin would have to take Gen 1:12 as something like, “The land produced seeds which would, when rained on, grow into plants and trees according to their kinds.” Which, again, is not what it says.
Moreover, presumably an ancient Israelite was perfectly aware that plants did not require rain specifically in order to grow; that they would, indeed, grow quite happily given “watered” ground (Gen 2:6)—especially if ed refers to springs rather than mist.
So Justin’s interpretation is awkward at best. It makes far more sense here to interpret eretz (Gen 2:5-6) as referring not to the whole earth, but to the land of Eden, in the same way that eretz yishra’el refers to the land of Israel. This fits better with chapter 2 as focusing on the preparation of the earth for Adam, and Adam’s own role in completing the work of God.
So What Does God Mean by “Days” in Genesis 1?
Justin’s final point about man being modeled on God, not vice versa, is a good one. I agree with him. In fact, it is not merely a good point, but a critical one, as I observed when I made it myself in my series on the nature of love. The trouble is, the mere fact of analogy doesn’t lead to the conclusion he wants. It’s true that, given analogy, God’s workdays need not necessarily be 24 hour days. But it is equally true that they need not necessarily be something else. You need an extra argument to plug in that will actually do the work of producing that conclusion. And I can’t see that Justin has done this.
Curious what you think of this. It’s more a summary of arguments than a really thorough presentation, but I’m interested in reactions to it.
Thanks for writing this. I don’t know that the idea of longer days for creation is a problem for me, but his reasons did not make sense to me. I wasn’t sure if I just didn’t understand them fully or if he wasn’t giving very good reasons.
There are some good points here, but I’d like to especially underline the last one. I see a lot, in this debate, of evangelicals arguing something like “OK… here’s some meaning we’ve extracted from the text… therefore the historical assertions in the text are no longer necessary, since we’ve got the important stuff out of it now”.
Nobody quite says it like that, of course, but it appears to function as a hidden assumption, rarely explained. It seems to me a very non-Hebraic, non-Biblical mindset – what “really” matters is the metaphysical truth… the historical stuff is just a vehicle to deliver it through, and you can ditch it afterwards.
Dominic Bnonn Tennant
Hey Anna, very briefly:
This is a stock appeal, but I’ve never seen any good evidence that the language of Genesis 1 or 2 is primarily poetical. Indeed, it is written as historical narrative, just like most of Genesis. Why should we interpret historical narrative as “a sort of poetry” rather than what it appears to be?
That just seems question-begging. What if, as a matter of historical fact, evolution did not occur, and what if Genesis records that historical fact?
Sure, you could say that. But Genesis doesn’t. Genesis says that God fashioned man from the soil. It’s hard to understand what that would mean in an evolutionary framework. Did God direct evolution until there were some basically human-like hominids, and then create the first human himself? Why bother with evolution then?
Even if this was the same pattern, the mere observation of similarity is not terribly persuasive. But it’s not the same pattern. There is no diversification in any of your other examples. (You could try to argue that something like planetary or solar formation is a form of diversification, but that would beg the question against a straightforward reading of Genesis 1:14-18.) Indeed, one of the most obvious patterns in the Bible is like producing like. Animals reproducing after their kind. That’s the antithesis of the evolutionary pattern.
Something like, say, the book of Kings or the beginning of Luke have clear historical reference points: the story didn’t just happen, it happened in such-and-such a place at such-a-such time involving so-and-so. Contrast that with, say, Job—the closest it comes to a reference point is “in the land of Uz”; the thrust of the book is directed at the significance of the story, not a historical statement.
Genesis 1’s only reference point is “in the beginning”, which is the kind of vague statement that we find in stories whose purpose is primarily aimed at truths that are eternal, rather than truths that are specific to a time and place. You could argue that Genesis 1 is as specific as it is possible to be, given that the events involve the beginning of time and space itself, but I would argue that it would have been quite possible for the authors to specify something like “x thousand years before Abraham” or “starting with the land of X”. None of that is included in the first Creation account itself.
Not only does Gen 1 lack those specific referents, but it also has several features that are distinctly poetical. It has a rhythmic repetition: “evening came, and morning followed – the nth day”, “And God saw that it was good… And God saw that it was good.” [Quoth the Raven, Nevermore.] There is also an internal parallel structure:
Day 1……………………………Day 4
Day 2……………………………Day 5
water/air…………………….. sea creatures and birds of the air
Day 3…………………………..Day 6
dry land ……………………… land animals
Repetition, parallelism, order and structure are the kinds of elements we find in poetry and similar works. (Real history rarely presents the chance to tell things in such a patterned way without re-arranging or leaving out details.)
Yes, the opening paragraphs about Biblical interpretation were not a positive argument, but just an attempt to get that objection out of the way. The unstated (sort of implied) other half of the argument is that examining the natural world is a legitimate way of coming to know truth (at least natural truths, although I think science provides some pretty rich metaphors for the spiritual life)… and that the evidence as we have it from such examination supports evolution. I left it unstated partly because I was trying to focus on theological aspects rather than scientific ones, but mostly because I think that creationists never or almost never come to their position out of scientific arguments (although those may bolster their belief); I think it's always rooted in a plain/literal reading of the creation account.
It's frankly hard to understand what that would mean in a non-evolutionary framework, too. Does God have hands/appendages with which He fashioned man from the soil? Of the theologies I'm familiar with, none would say that God has any sort of physical form. If God created man simply by willing him into existence, how is that fashioning him from soil? I think rather that the author used the imagery of God as a person shaping dirt primarily in order to convey a) the intimacy with which God intends our being, and b) the physical nature of our being: we are not spirits imprisoned in evil flesh, as the Gnostics envisioned, but the breath of God breathed into the same material as the soil around us. That we are made of the "same stuff" as soil is most clear when our decaying bodies turn into that same soil.
In an evolutionary framework, I frankly envision the entire billion-year history of evolution as being, itself, the process of God fashioning humans out of soil. He fashioned other things as He went along, but He also used evolution to fashion us. There's no physical/biological discontinuity in which our creation is separated from the process of evolution. (There is, however, a spiritual discontinuity at some point when God gave the first human an eternal soul.)
Jelly-like eggs diversify into wings, feathers, bones, muscle, beak, claws. Hard nuts diversify into trunk, roots, leaves, xylem. Seeds diversify into stems, petals, stamen, chloroplasts. Your argument against the universe diversifying depends on a particular reading of the relevant verses; the matter of interpretation I talk about above, but it is certainly the case that current science argues for diversification of the universe. A single point became (a photon plasma) which became (photons + empty space) which became (photons + empty space + the three lightest kinds of atoms) which became (all that + the diverse elements of the periodic table)… and so on.
And the human race diversified from Adam and Eve to billions of pale, dark-skinned, red-haired, blue and yellow and gray and brown and hazel eyed, tall and short human beings, speaking diverse languages, having diverse personalities and abilities, forming diverse cultures. So yes, I think my examples show diversification.
Dominic Bnonn Tennant
So in your opinion, the thrust of the books of Kings, or the gospels, is a “historical statement” and not the story? That’s an obvious false dichotomy. Trying to split historical narratives into such artificial categories isn’t making your position look more plausible. The fact that Job makes only brief mention of its setting doesn’t even suggest that it did not, in fact, occur precisely as recorded. Only that the author didn’t consider its time and exact location to be noteworthy features of the narrative. Which is actually what you’d expect given that ancient peoples didn’t even have a conception of journalistic reporting (which makes documents like Kings and Chronicles and the gospels exceedingly unusual).
Of course, if Moses wanted to pick out the very first moments of creation, he did so with clear and accurate language.
Another false dichotomy. You’re driving a totally ad hoc wedge between the purpose of a record, and the accuracy of its reporting. Genesis 1 is obviously etiological. But that doesn’t even suggest that it is not historical.
Pure speculation bred from imputing Western assumptions to the text. And even if this weren’t a misguided argument from silence, it would only be persuasive if you conveniently ignore Genesis 2:10-14 and the whole of Genesis 5.
False dichotomy. We also find these features in spades in Exodus, and for that matter in the gospels. So by your logic, the plague accounts and the Sermon on the Mount are “a sort of poetry” and shouldn’t be considered historical.
Needless to say, the Hebrews didn’t consider themselves constrained to your journalistic understanding of how history should be told, and actually felt quite free to arrange material topically, and omit details, for the sake of creating parallelisms, chiasms, or particular theological points.
I agree. But I consider the evidence for evolution to be positively laughable, and the evidence for an ancient earth to be ambivalent at best. There is some evidence that seems to point to an ancient earth. And there is plenty of other evidence that seems to point to a very young earth.
Does God need hands or appendages to divide the waters from the waters? What a bizarre question. You think it is “hard to understand” what it would mean for an omnipotent being to create a man from soil? Really?
That said, I think this is actually the first theophany. I think Jesus literally fashioned Adam from dirt with his hands, yes.
That would be a lot less whimsical and a lot more plausible if there was any evidence that the Hebrews suffered from gnostic heresies back in the 1400s BC.
So there were human beings without eternal souls? What is the difference between a human being with an eternal soul, and a human being without one? How does that cash out?
Btw, you can use the <blockquote> tag to quote.
Good thoughts. I am an analogical day guy myself, so I take the position that the text doesn’t address the issue. The days could be 24 hrs or long periods of time. I only lean old earth because of how I understand the science. That said, I’d like to offer a few thoughts on your post:
Point 1 & 2: I agree that it is irrelevant to the length of “yom” specifically, but it is not irrelevant to YEC in general. If God created the universe at some unspecified time before the first “day” (verse 3), then it is hard to be dogmatic on the age of the earth (either direction).
Point 3: Agreed. However, Justin’s article was “reasons to doubt” not “reasons that completely overturn.” So if the 7th day is ongoing, it does give one reason to pause and wonder about the other days.
Point 4: Agreed
Point 5: I don’t see that he references eretz in point 5. I agree with you that it is restricted to a local area, but if I am not mistaken, that is also how Futato takes it. The point is that the reason the text gives for why there were no plants in this region (eretz) is that God had not sent rain. And given the tight structure that Futato demonstrates, the expectation is that God solves this problem by sending rain. Ordinary providence seems to be in view here. I actually find Futato’s analysis quite compelling. While I personally think that clouds (mist) is the best understanding of ed, it matters little since it would take more than 24 hrs for plants to grow no matter how they are watered.
Dominic Bnonn Tennant
Hey Nabrett, fair points, but let me push back on a couple:
Firstly, with regard to the day 7 issue, now that I’ve looked into it more, it strikes me that something is fishy here.
Why think day 7 continues? Why think we are still in day 7?
Why not rather think that day 7 was a day of rest, and then God got back to work administering his creation on day 8, 9, 10 etc? After all, that would make far more sense of the workweek analogy.
It seems to me that whichever way you push the analogy, eventually you’ll push it too far. Eg, does God rest every seven days still? What would that even mean for a timeless deity? But on the other hand, if God rests in perpetuity and the seventh day continues, how is that remotely analagous to our workweek? So there are issues on either side I would say.
Secondly, with regard to Genesis 2, it’s certainly true that plants would take more than 24 hours to grow. But again, we need to look at Genesis 1:11-12. Does that not plainly show vegetation appearing rapidly on the earth? I’m not suggesting it’s meant to be a scientific account, but if we take it seriously it certainly looks like vegetation was at least significantly formed on the earth in that one day. That seems to pose a serious difficulty to your view, since it gives you three more “days” before Adam is formed; yet in Genesis 2 the plants only come after Adam. The problem is exacerbated if you think the days are actually longer periods of time.
Moreover, do you think that in Genesis 2 God formed Adam, and then went and planted an orchard and waited for it to grow? What was Adam doing in the meantime? Just hanging around watching, waiting for something to eat to finally appear after several months? Presumably not; it seems clear there is some amount of simultaneity here—the orchard grew rapidly.
In fairness, it could be there’s some topical rearrangement going on. Man is the focus of Genesis 2, so he is mentioned first (v 5). But the author expects his audience to understand, in light of Genesis 1, that in fact Adam was formed some time after the plants, and so the garden was planted on day 3 (v 8). But that still doesn’t seem to resolve the larger issue for you in terms of driving a wedge between Genesis 2 and Genesis 1:11-12.
“Why think day 7 continues? Why think we are still in day 7?”
Well, given that the refrain (morning & evening) occurs on every day except the 7th day is curious. This narrative has been so tightly ordered that the absence of the last refrain is telling. Add to this the teaching of Jn 5:17; Heb 4:3-11 (Gen 2:2; Ps 95:11) and you have a good case that the 7th day did not end. Consider:
But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” (John 5:17, ESV)
God worked for six days and then he rested on the 7th day. But God has continued to work up to this day. Jesus’ point only has traction if we assume he means something like this, “My Father is working on His Sabbath just as I am working on my Sabbath.” God did not cease from all work on the Sabbath, and it is ok for Jesus to heal on the Sabbath.
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.4 For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” 5 And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” 6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:3-11, ESV)
This passage in Hebrews also indicates that God’s sabbath has not ended. If that is the case, then the 7th day is not yet finished. But if the seventh day could last from the creation of man until at least the 21st century, then can the other days also be long?
“how is that remotely analagous to our workweek?”
Analogy by definition is not identity. I could also ask, “God creates the entire universe as his work, how is that even remotely analogous to our work?” It’s a big difference, I’ll grant that, but the analogy can still hold without much trouble. The trouble only comes, as you rightly point out, when we try to push the analogy toward identity.
“So there are issues on either side I would say.”
“Does [Genesis 1:11-12] not plainly show vegetation appearing rapidly on the earth?”
I guess that depends on your view of the days. I’d say that there is nothing in the verbiage that requires it “And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so.  The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:11-12 ESV).
“That seems to pose a serious difficulty to your view, since it gives you three more “days” before Adam is formed; yet in Genesis 2 the plants only come after Adam.”
I’m not clear what you’re driving at. If we assume the same contexts between chapter 1 and 2, then it seems we have a problem – were plants created first or was man? But I have no intent to drive a wedge between the two accounts. As you point out, and I agree, a more localized scope (eretz) is in view in chapter 2. There were plants in the rest of the world, but God was now preparing a special place in Eden for Adam.
Since you brought up the third day, I also find it really strange that the whole world was underwater at the beginning of day 3, but by day 6 the land is too dry to support plant life.
“the orchard grew rapidly.”
That is possible, because God can do anything, but that is not the normal sense of tsamach. So it seems to me that either side has to take something in a non-normative way.
Thanks for the interaction. It is always nice when it can be done charitably.
Dominic Bnonn Tennant
Very interesting Brett, thank you :)
I was not at all trying to draw a sharp dichotomy between historical narratives and poetry or story. Of course ancient peoples mixed the two together. But that is partly the point; the more they rearranged or adapted the story for the sake of deeper meaning or poetical structure, the less reliable the historical or scientific details are (because the less relevant those details are to the point the author is making). Looking at historical reference points and indicators of poetry or story can give us an idea of how much the author meant to tell historical facts and how much they meant to make other points. I wouldn’t say Genesis 1 has zero historical relevance, by the way; it does rule out the possibility of a universe that has always existed, for example. And it clearly puts God as the Creator and director of all things, which is relevant to history, even if I don’t think that rules out evolution. (Since God is obviously capable of directing evolution as He pleases.)
Jesus had literal hands before he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary? That seems to me to make little of the Incarnation, if the Incarnation did not truly give Jesus a human body for the first time in history.
Have you looked into it, from a scientific view, and really examined their arguments? (For example, read The Evidence for Evolution by Alan Rogers?)
No, not human beings without eternal souls. Hominid-like creatures, who at some point God made into human beings by giving them eternal souls.
I don’t think it takes a full-blown gnostic heresy to see that it’s worth pointing out that humans are physical beings, and to use the image of the breath of God blown into that, to show that he is more than *just* physical. As poetry goes, it’s a way more elegant capturing of the duality and unity of our human nature than the more abstract or technical descriptions that have been written since.
Dominic Bnonn Tennant
That’s just obviously false; even if the order of events is changed in the telling, the events themselves are still veridical. But I don’t think there’s any evidence that the order of events has been changed in Genesis 1 or 2. Indeed, there appears to be a pointed emphasis on their order.
Jesus doesn’t seem to share your gloss, given the number of times he appears in physical form in the Old Testament. Cf Genesis 11:5; 18:1, 8; 19:3; Exodus 33:11; Numbers 12:6-8; Joshua 5:13-15; Judges 6:11, 20-22; 13:3, 15-18, 21-22; 1 Samuel 3:1, 10, 21; 1 Chronicles 21:15; 1 Kings 19:5-7, 9.
You and I clearly see different things in those passages.
Why does he have to be incarnate for the first time? That sounds like posturing more than any sort of argument. The virgin, Mary, was required so that Jesus could be both divine and human. Prior to that physical manifestations of God(theophanies) were recorded on many occasions. Most who encountered GOd in this way didn’t even recognise Him as a divine entity, or only realised after He performend something maircaulous(eg Gideon in judges 6). So there was a physical person talking to him, who wasn’t glowing or anything supernatural and apparent , yet he was there. What member of the Trinity is most accurately depicted as a physical entity if not Jesus?
If he were not born of a woman, he would be a “separate Adam” rather than a “Second Adam”. He had to join the human race, not replicate or be like it, in order to transmute redemption and to have lived as someone who shared our own temptation and struggles. However, that’s not to say he was dependent on Mary to be physically incarnate at all. What a ridiculous idea; an eternal God, who walked with Adam and Eve needed a human woman to give him substance. That’s not the point Mary’s conception whatsoever. It was a matter of inclusion into the human race in the fullest sense, not merely a means to an end.
In regards to the whole ‘eternal 7th day’ thing that seems to have come up a few times; that doesn’t make any sense. Well done to Justin for finding another bizarre way to undermine Scripture aside from placing death before the fall.
God’s rest is a ceasing from work; not a rejuvenation, which he doesn’t need. If you assert the 7th day continued through the Old Testament then who was working all the miracles there-in? It can’t have been God; he was still resting.
The reason it doesn’t have the same phrasing is simply because it’s the last day of the first week; there’s no 8th day to segue to. Just as it doesn’t suggest there being an 8th, additional day, it also doesn’t suggest that God kept resting indefinitely, or it wouldn’t function as even an analogical amount of time.
Hebrew’s 4 actually speaks of the ongoing relevance of the Sabbath; nowhere does it say God is in an ongoing Sabbath rest. It only speaks of rest that is available from God; something He’s in possession of and still gives, not undergoing.
@ Zac: well said.
Will someone please enlighten me how poetic structure undermines literal meaning, as if these were somehow mutually exclusive? Also, what was church consensus on Gen 1 and 2 prior to Lyell and Darwin? ISTM since these two the drive for anything other than YEC has been somewhat motivated by an accommodationist spirit cum response to the ego-blow of being ejected from Academia.