Creation and Evolution (Part 3)

May 06, 2013     Time: 00:18:14

We have been thinking about the Literal Interpretation of Genesis chapter 1 and I suggested last time that the arguments on behalf of the Literal Interpretation of Genesis 1 are not compelling. We saw that, although the narrative does talk about historical persons – principally God himself as well as Adam and Eve, – nevertheless this is a highly literary masterpiece; a carefully crafted literary structure and not just a sort of chronicle of what happened. Therefore, most evangelical exegetes would say that while it has a historical basis, nevertheless, it is described in figurative or poetic language that should not be pressed for literality. We saw, in particular, that it would be unwarranted to think that the word “yom” or “day” has to refer to a literal day. For example, in Genesis 2:4 you have the word yom used in a clearly metaphorical way. In Genesis 2:4 (NASB), it says, “this is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.” Now, in this passage, it refers to the entire creation week as “the day” in which the Lord made the heavens and the earth. So even in the very creation account itself we have the word yom used in a metaphorical sense to describe the entire creation week and not just a 24-hour period of time.

In any case, showing that the word yom means a 24-hour day really doesn’t even begin to address the question of whether or not a 24-hour day might be used as a metaphor for something else. And we looked at the example of the world “arm.” Even if in every Hebrew passage you can find in the Old Testament the word “arm” refers to a limb or an appendage rather than to a weapon that doesn’t mean that when the Scripture says “the arm of the Lord was with the people of Israel” that it means that God has literal appendages or has literal limbs. Rather, the word “arm” isn’t being used in the sense of a weapon; it is being used in the sense of a limb. It means limb, but the limb is used as a metaphor for God’s power and strength and might that accompanies Israel. So even if it were true that the word yom means 24-hour period of time, that doesn’t even begin to address the literary question of whether or not a 24-hour day might not be used as a literary metaphor for something else.

So I don’t find the arguments on behalf of the Literal Interpretation compelling. Let’s now turn to a critique of the Literal Interpretation. Here I want to argue that there are indications in the text itself that six consecutive 24-hour days are not intended by the author. I want to emphasis – I am saying this not on the basis of modern science. I am not falling victim to concordism – reading modern science back into the text. Rather, I am saying that on the basis of an exegesis of the text itself; there are some hints that the author didn’t intend for us to take this as six consecutive 24-hour days. What are these? I have already mentioned one of them – the fact that the phrase “it was evening and it was morning” is not mentioned with respect to the seventh day. That suggests that the seventh day is still continuing. God is still in the day of his Sabbath rest. It never ends – he is no longer in the activity of creating new things. God is still resting from the work of creation. So if this seventh day can be understood more flexibly, why not the other days as well? Moreover, notice that throughout the first chapter of Genesis, the evening is mentioned before the morning – “it was evening and it was morning, a second day (a third day, and so forth).” This is rather odd.1 One of the problems that has bedeviled interpreters of Genesis 1 from the very earliest times is the fact that God doesn’t make the sun until the fourth day. It is on the fourth day that he made the sun and the moon. But if that is the case, then how can the days prior to that have been 24-hour periods of time, since there wasn’t any sun to create solar days? How can there be evening and morning if the earth wasn’t rotating around the sun? Even advocates of the Literal Interpretation usually begin to waffle at this point and start appealing to non-literal interpretations. For example, by saying that on the fourth day, this was the day in which the sun appeared in the sky from behind the thick cloud canopy that had covered it. But that is not what the text says. That is reading things into the text. By contrast, the way of reckoning days beginning in the evening and then ending in the morning reflects Israel’s later way of reckoning days. For the Jew, Sabbath and Passover would begin on the evening and then they would end before sunrise. So the days for Israel began in the evening and then they would end in the morning. That pattern is reflected in the narrative here in Genesis 1. So it seems to be, again, the pattern that is important which serves as the pattern for the work week in Israel and the day of Sabbath rest; not for the duration of each day.

Thirdly, I want you to notice something very peculiar when it comes to the third day. Take a look at Genesis 1:11-12. I think this is one of the most interesting features of this narrative. Genesis 1:11-12 says,

Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.2

Notice it doesn’t simply say here, “And God said, ‘Let there be fruit trees and vegetation.’ And it was so.” – a sort of miraculous creatio ex nihilo. No, what it says is “let the earth bring forth vegetation and fruit trees bearing seed after their kind and bearing fruit after their kind.” Then it says the earth brought these things forth. Now we all know how long it takes, for example, for an apple tree to grow up from a little shoot, become a sapling then grow into a big tree and blossom and put forth flowers and then put out apples finally. This, of course, was also known to the ancient people of Israel. They knew also about agriculture and how things grew. So if the author were thinking here of 24-hour periods of time, what he would have to be imagining would be something like time lapse photography where the little seed bursts out of the ground and then erupts into this tree, grows up and pops out blossoms all over and then bam! bam! bam! all the apples pop out on the tree. I just can’t persuade myself that this is what the author was thinking of – that he imagined this looking like a film being run on fast forward. So when he says that the earth brought forth vegetation bearing seed according to its kind and trees bearing fruit according to their kinds I think it is very plausible to think that the author didn’t imagine this happening in just 24 hours.

Finally, notice also the sixth day. This is the day that God creates Adam and Eve. Now when you read chapter 2 of Genesis, it makes it plausible that the author did not intend that sixth day to be just a 24-hour period of time because he goes on in chapter 2 to describe Adam’s activity on this day prior to Eve’s creation – naming all of the animals for example; hundreds and thousands of animals that must have been known to the ancient Israelites.3 In order to get acquainted with their habits, to realize that none of them are fit for him as a mate, realize that he is alone and unique in creation and then having him fall asleep and Eve finally being created seems to envision a longer period of time.4 When at last Eve is presented to Adam in Genesis 2:23, what does he say? “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The word there “at last” is a word that connotes a period of time or a period of waiting. For example, it is the same word that is used in the story of Jacob with Leah and Rachel where Jacob finally, at last, is able to leave Laban after 14 years of working to win Leah and Rachel as his wives.5 Also, when Jacob finally sees his son Joseph and is ready to depart this life and die, the same word is used “at last” he is ready.6 So this phrase “at last” is used in Genesis elsewhere to indicate a long time of waiting. That, again, I think suggests that the author did not see what he said in Genesis 1 as being a description of a 24-hour period.

So, for these and other various reasons, I think that one can legitimately approach Genesis 1-3 with greater flexibility than what the Literal Interpretation would imply. If this is right, that would mean that the creation account is not meant to be transpiring in six consecutive 24-hour days. That is not to deny that the literal interpretation of Genesis is one legitimate interpretation. I think that is a perfectly feasible way of construing Genesis 1. But it is to say that we need not, as Christians, put ourselves in a box and say that this is the only legitimate interpretation for a Bible believing Christian. Young Earth Creationists who regard anybody who takes a non-literal view of these passages as somehow an unbiblical compromiser or, in other ways, betraying biblical orthodoxy are simply mistaken here and are overly narrow in their exegetical alternatives. There are good indications in the text itself, wholly apart from modern science, that suggests this text isn’t meant to be taken literally.

Historically, it is interesting to note that many of the church fathers and the rabbis down through history did not take Genesis 1 to refer to literal 24-hour days. People like Augustine and Origen and Justin Martyr and others of the church fathers took these to be not 24-hour periods of time. There has always been, among the church fathers and among Jewish rabbis, a latitude of interpretation – a recognition of alternative interpretations. Some of the church fathers and rabbis did take this passage literally, but others took it figuratively. It has never been a touchstone of orthodoxy to ask whether or not you believe that the world was created in six literal 24-hour days. So although the literal interpretation is a possibility for Christians today, I do not think that it is the only one. There are other interpretations that are legitimate as well.

Question: I love yom. I have studied yom for eight years. (inaudible – he makes the comment that there are hundreds of citations of yom and they all refer to 24-hour days.)

Answer: Well, that is not right. I dealt with that in the class. My counter example was Hosea 6:2.

Followup: Yes, and those are literal 24-hour days.

Answer: Why do you say that?

Followup: They point to the Messiah.

Answer: But apart from the Messiah though, why would you take Hosea 6:2 to be referring to 24-hour time periods?7

Followup: Because it says in three days “you will be with the Lord.” It was three days between crucifixion and resurrection that Israel would be . . .

Answer: OK, you are interpreting it in light of the life of Christ.

Followup, Well, yeah!

Answer: But not in terms of Hosea and what that passage meant to the people to whom Hosea wrote. In the original context, Hosea was talking about the two days are of God’s judgment and wrath upon Israel and the third day is the day of deliverance and redemption. And those aren’t 24-hour days. Hosea 6:2 – I’ve done work myself on this – is not cited anywhere in the New Testament in reference to Christ. The only place you have the third day motif explicitly mentioned with regard to the Old Testament is the Jonah story as Jonas was in the belly of the whale for three days and three nights.

Followup: There are 38 “morning and evening” without yom that are all 24-hour days. There are 19 places with “morning and evening” with yom and are all 24-hour days. I think what you have to do is you have to look at not just the word yom but its context and the other words that are used around it.

Answer: That is a very good point. I want to absolutely affirm what you are saying. You cannot do simple dictionary word studies and exegete a passage. Context is everything. And I hope to have done that here; that is what I was trying to do.

Followup: The second point is what you really have to look at is – were there other words available in Hebrew that could have been used if God (who I believe is the author of this because Adam wasn’t around and Moses didn’t write Genesis) is the author? There are plenty of other words that could have been used to mean long periods of time or not ambiguous periods of time – there are plenty of words that could have been used but they weren’t used. yom was used with a number with morning and evening.

Answer: Let me, in interest of time, just respond quickly to that. That, I think, has to come to grips with the point that I was making. To show that yom means 24-hour day doesn’t even begin to address the literary question of whether or not a 24-hour day might be used metaphorically. Again, I’ll use my illustration of “arm” – “arm” in Hebrew means a limb. It doesn’t mean a weapon as it can in English. But that doesn’t mean that the arm of the Lord did this or that that God literally has appendages. A 24-hour period of time – yom – can be a literary metaphor.8


1 4:57

2 From New American Standard Bible

3 10:15

4 Genesis 2:19-22

5 The word is happaam and can be translated as “at last” (see Genesis 2:23 RSV) or “is now” (see Genesis 2:23 NASB) or “this time” (see Genesis 29:34, 35). The Scripture Dr. Craig mentions involving Jacob, Leah and Rachel is Genesis 29:19-35. The word happaam is used both in verse 34 and 35, but not in the context of Jacob “finally, at last” winning Leah and Rachel as wives. Rather, it is used by Leah both times. The first time Leah exhorts that finally, at last, Jacob will become attached to her for bearing him three sons (see verse 34, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me . . .”). The second usage here, in verse 35, is again by Leah when she says “This time I will praise the LORD . . .” in response to her bearing her fourth son, Judah.

6 This is referring to Genesis 46:30. The word happaam is typically translated “now” as in “Israel said to Joseph, ‘Now let me die, since I have seen your face and know that you are still alive.’” The context indicates that Joseph is saying something like “finally, at last, I can die now that I have seen my son Joseph and know that he is alive and well.”

7 15:04

8 Total Running Time: 18:14 (Copyright © 2013 William Lane Craig)