Does the Bible teach that creation took place in seven literal days? Or could it be read as teaching seven long ages of creation? This has been a great debate among Bible believers for centuries, causing some to view the Bible as conflicting with the findings of modern science. As a result, many Bible teachers have felt the need to insist that the creation days aren’t literal 24 hour days, in order to make Genesis conform to scientific facts. But two questions need to be asked. First, does Genesis really teach literal days or can it be interpreted as teaching long ages? That will be the subject of this article. Second, what exactly are those scientific facts about earth’s age and creation, and is it possible to have more than one interpretation of the scientific evidence? We will address the second question in future articles in this series.
There have been three main attempts to interpret Genesis as teaching non-literal days: The Gap Theory, the Day-Age Theory, and the more recent Framework Hypothesis. Let’s look at each of these briefly to see if they stand up to sound biblical and scientific study.
The Gap Theory:
This is probably the least popular of the three today, although it was more widespread years ago. Proponents of this theory teach that a large time gap can be inserted between the first two verses of the creation account in Genesis. They teach that the earth had a great cataclysm and so “became” formless rather than “was ” formless when first created, and was therefore essentially “remade” in six literal days. So all the geological ages are inserted in between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.
One of the main problems with this idea is that such a cataclysm would have destroyed the very geological rock record that the Gap theorists are trying to accommodate. So the Gap Theory in essence destroys itself! Furthermore, the rock record speaks of a world much like our own today in terms of types of animals and environments fossilized, with the same types of suffering and death-neither conforming to a creation called “very good” in Genesis. It also conflicts with other Bible passages that teach that death started with man’s sin (Romans 5;12, 1 Corinthians 15:21), and that the whole creation took six days (Exodus 20:11).
The Hebrew words “tohu waw bohu” as in the earth “became formless and empty” as Gap theorists so translate, do not necessarily mean “became formless” but rather their meaning depends on their context in the chapter. In this case, the context (as well as the Hebrew grammar) does not warrant the translation the Gap theorists give it, but should be instead translated “The earth was formless and empty”, that is, just after creation. Obviously God did not intend that the earth remain that way forever! For more on the proper translation of the Hebrew in Genesis 1:2 and about the failure of the Gap Theory, see the preceding linked article from scientist and Bible scholar Dr. Jonathan Sarfati.
The Gap theory is unsound Biblical exegesis and a forced interpretation that largely has been abandoned by scholars today.
The Day-Age Theory: This approach attempts to interpret the six days of creation in Genesis as six long eras, or geological “ages”. I once loosely held that view myself as a theistic evolutionist. I say “loosely” because I don’t think I really had thought through the difficulties with it. At first, it seemed like there was a rough correlation between the days of creation and my understanding of the evolutionary scenario of the earth forming, then plants and lower animals, then higher animals and finally man. I even had a college professor who taught this as a way of reconciling the two. But although there is a superficial resemblance, there are several conflicts in the details of the sequences, such as plants before marine animals in Genesis, the reverse in the evolutionary story. But these problems aside, the more important question is, can the creation days of Genesis be properly interpreted as ages and not literal days?
There are good reasons to believe that a proper reading of the days of creation in Genesis makes them literal days, not long ages. Context is very important, because the word yom (day) in Hebrew can mean a solar day, daylight, or an indefinite time period. But in the majority of cases, this word is used to mean a literal day. Reasons to view the days in Genesis as literal include:
Given all of the above reasons, it seems the best way to read the creation days in Genesis is to take them as literal, 24 hour days. For a good summary article with input from an Old Testament scholar, see Genesis means what it says!
The Framework Hypothesis: This is a relatively new way of looking at Genesis One that does not take the narrative as literal history, but rather as a theological “framework”. So the days may be literal, but they are not meant to be actual history according to this view. But there are some sticky problems with this popular theory:
First, just because there may be a theological purpose in the arrangement of the Genesis text does not automatically mean that it isn’t real history. For example, Genesis contains the genealogies of real people, of whom the real nation of Israel descended.
There is much internal evidence that the creation account in Genesis is meant to be read as history, not poetry. For example, in the creation narrative we don’t see poetic parallelism, such as in Psalm 33:9: ” For he spake, and it was done, He commanded, and it stood fast.” These are basically two ways of saying the same thing, and is common in Hebrew poetry, but not present in the creation account. Also, there is a word call the waw connective that is used in historical Hebrew narrative to communicate time sequences in the past. This waw connective is used 55 times from Genesis 1:1-2:3. This shows that Genesis is not to be taken as poetry but as historical narrative, as I wrote about in a previous article entitled: Is the Creation Account in Genesis Historical?
For an extensive refutation of the Framework Hypothesis, see article: A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account
For an extensive scholarly discussion of the days of creation in Genesis, see Refuting Compromise by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati, pages 67-144. (1)
So does all this mean we should conclude that we can’t take the Book of Genesis at its straightforward meaning because it supposedly conflicts with science? Not so fast! In the next article in this series we will look at the supposed straightforward evidence of science!
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