In our last blog we concluded that the days of Genesis 1:3-2:3 are not literal 24-hour days, but are analogical of God’s days. We ended with this quote from John Collins which I use again to remind us of where we have come,
…the best explanation [of the days] is the one that takes these days as not the ordinary kind; they are instead “God’ workdays.” Our workdays are not identical to them, but analogous. The purpose of the analogy is to set a pattern for the human rhythm of work and rest. The length of these days is not relevant to this purpose, but we have to conclude from Genesis 2:5-7 that some of them (at least) were longer than our ordinary days. How much longer we can’t say…
As we discussed earlier, this position is one that often brings great disdain and sometimes even persecution from fellow Christians who believe the Bible teaches a young earth (6,000-10,00 years of age) and that any other belief is anti-biblical and threatens the foundations of the faith in numerous ways. I have experienced both of these as I have taught my Faith and Science course and preached on the book of Genesis. It truly saddens me.
Let’s get after some of the objections that are levelled against the analogical days interpretation of Genesis 1:3-2:3 by those who believe that the Bible teaches that the days of Genesis are literal 24-hour days as we know them which results in belief in a young earth. I follow the overall discussion of Collins in Science and Faith: Friends or Foes? for this overview.
Objection #1 – Young earth creationism has been the belief of the church over its history.
Two issues with this objection.
- The first is the assumption that the vast majority is right. I am a great believer in studying church history and for defaulting to the orthodox beliefs of the church as guidance for us in the present. BUT, as a Protestant, tradition must always submit to Scripture. So when we look back in the past we must ask the question – was this belief a biblical one? Did these people get it biblically correct?
- The second, is the issue of anachronism. Reading our present post-Darwin understanding of ‘young-earth’ back into the past when Darwinism did not exist. Nobody before the 20th century thought about young-earth the way people do now, and we should not put words into the mouths of theologians and biblical interpreters of the past nor claim them as allies if they truly are not. We need to bear true witness to their words. We need to do more in depth historical study of past theologians to decipher exactly what they believed and why the believed it before we claim them as allies. We must let them define their terms and read them according to their time and place.
Objection #2 – Any reading but the young-earth reading is not a literal reading of the text and therefore in error.
Literal. This word is thrown around as though it decides an argument outright. It’s often played like a trump card with the assumption that the only other interpretive option is to see the text as poetic, mythical or figurative. But this is a false dichotomy for it assumes that there is no other option. There is another way, a better way to read any text, and it is what we have argued for earlier – we need to read according to genre. This means we need to pay attention to what the author was trying to do with his words. The genre an author uses is the covenant he is making with the interpreter; an agreement that the text will be read in the way in which the author intended for it to be read. The only thing that should carry any weight for us as we seek to interpret any text – from a comic, to a poem, to a news article, to a play – is the sense the author intended and the genre he used to communicate. We need to pay more attention to genre and authorial intent than to be concerned with reading a text ‘literally’.
Objection #3 – The word “day” with a number in the Old Testament ALWAYS refers to an ordinary 24-hour day.
This sounds like a good objection, a devastating one even, but it really doesn’t carry the weight that it may seem. Here is the issue – the objection is presented a though it is Hebrew grammatical rule (such as the Granville-Sharp rule in Koine Greek), but no such grammatical rule exists in Hebrew, nor can one be made. Here’s why. There is no other place in the Old Testament were we find anything comparable to the Genesis days. This means that we are simply not able to compare like with like and thereby create a grammatical rule or even a grammatical cross-reference. Genesis 1:3-2:3 is so unique in the Old Testament that we have nothing in later Scripture to which to compare it and from which to glean conclusions regarding the Genesis days. Thus as interpreters we cannot be so bold in creating a grammatical rule based upon a single text; we do not have sufficient information to do so.
In addition, as I have argued previously, the days of Genesis are analogical days. (Remember this does not mean figurative) This means that the author is indeed referring to ordinary 24-hour days in his description of creation, but they are an analogy of God’s days. Thus Genesis does not speak to the age of the earth or to the length of the actual days of creation as God created, since the description of God’s days in this chapter is analogical.
Objection #4 – The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture, and ultimately the very gospel message, is at stake.
The argument goes something like this – to read the opening chapters of Genesis in any other way than literally is to deny the clarity of Scripture since a literal reading is to favour the simple, straightforward reading of the text. Further, the assumption is made, if we read Genesis differently than this, where will we stop? Anything but a ‘literal’ reading of the text creates potential issues for how we approach the New Testament and ultimately the gospel message itself.
I will let John Collins speak to this as he quotes the Westminster Confession of Faith,
I know of no responsible statement of this doctrine [the clarity of Scripture] that claims that all parts of the Bible are equally easy to understand, or that we should prefer a “simple” reading no matter what… WCF – “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” (Italics mine)
The latter argument suffers from the slippery slope logical fallacy which, when built on the previous errors, becomes even more troublesome. Just because a figurative or analogical reading may be the way people read Genesis 1-2, does not necessarily mean that this will be the way they will read the rest of Scripture. This is simply a scare tactic and nothing more. Again, if we focus on genre, this will never be an issue.
Objection #5 – Christians changed their interpretation of the days of Genesis in order to make peace with Darwinism.
The reality of things is in stark contrast to this bold statement. Most of the interpretive options regarding the Genesis days existed before Darwin’s ideas became popular. In fact it was the geology of the 1700’s that began to question a young earth. What is interesting about these scientists was that most of them were committed Christians who were the furthest thing from being naturalistic. What we need to avoid is the thinking that belief in an old earth is somehow a sub-Christian, anti-biblical capitulation to secular naturalism. It simply is not. This does not make old-earth true but we need to “lower the rhetorical temperature when we talk about it.” (Collins) Wise words.
So here is, I think, where we are left. Christians need to see the Scripture according to its genre and place in the overall narrative of Scripture. We need to hear other texts regarding Scripture that speak about creation, none of which address or even mention the days of creation. For example,
Job 38-41 – God’s rhetorical question to Job regarding his place in the created order.
Psalm 33:, 6, 9 (cf. Psalm 90:2) – “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth… For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth.”
John 1:3 (cf. Acts 17:24; Hebrews 11:3) – “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made”
Colossians 1:6 (cf. Acts 14:15; 17:24-25) – “For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”
Hebrews 11:3 (cf. Romans 4:17) – “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”
Revelation 4:11 – “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
These texts affirm a great deal about creation, yet are not concerned about age of the earth, length of the days, or the first week, or anything like that. This means that we must allow the Bible to speak according to its authors intended purpose in the context within which we find the text. We also must allow for God’s general revelation to speak truth as well. We will turn our attention to this reality in our next blog – science can and often does speak the truth about the world around us in such a way as does NOT contradict Scripture and in fact DOES affirm it.