How to Argue Against the Obvious Meaning of "Day" in Genesis 1

by Richard Peachey

"I have no intention of explaining how the correspondence which I now offer to the public fell into my hands."
                                                      — C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Arrh, those annoying creationists! They have so successfully made their case that the "days" in Genesis 1 are normal-length days, that it has become a frustrating challenge for us to refute them. They point out that the Hebrew word yom clearly means a literal day in the vast majority of Old Testament texts, and that "day" is actually defined in Genesis 1:5, and that the various associated terms make it clear that a normal day is intended (i.e., evening, morning, night, seasons, years, greater light). Also, the numbering of the sequential days in Genesis 1 indicates literal days, and the Sabbath command in Exodus makes best sense if yom is taken as a 24-hour day.

All of which has made it a great difficulty for us to undermine our opponents' case. But I am pleased to report that our operatives have been working diligently on this issue and have succeeded in formulating six clever ruses to counter the creationist arguments. They are given below, along with the anticipated creationist responses, which unfortunately appear to be quite powerful. We will continue our efforts on this front.

(1) Use Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. These texts compare "a day" with "a thousand years," speaking of God's view of time ("in your sight"; "with the Lord"). Psalm 90:4, "For a thousand years in your sight are like a day"; 2 Peter 3:8, "With the Lord a day is like a thousand years".

Anticipated Creationist Response: The comparison is framed in terms of "like" (not "equals"). The contextual purpose of the comparison is to show that God is not limited by time as we are; these texts do not provide instruction on how to interpret Genesis 1. Psalm 90:4 actually says "like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night"; 2 Peter presents a two-way comparison ("a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day"). If a "day" is really a "long, indefinite period of time," then 2 Peter 3:8 would actually be saying "With the Lord a long, indefinite period of time is like a thousand years, and thousand years are like a long, indefinite period of time". So the comparison (in both texts) really only makes good sense if "a day" is understood to be a literal, 24-hour day.

(2) Make an issue of the creation of the Sun on "Day" Four. You can't have a day/night cycle without the Sun. Having the Earth exist before the Sun conflicts with modern science. The Sun must have really been created on Day 1 and then appeared on Day 4. Therefore the whole "days" framework is nothing but a literary device.

Anticipated Creationist Response: For a day/night cycle you need only (a) a rotating planet and (b) a strong directional light source. On Day 1 God created light and "separated the light from the darkness." This seems to indicate directional light. God is able to produce light on the Earth apart from the Sun (Exodus 10:23; 40:34; Acts 9:3; Revelation 21:23). Conversely, God can also make it dark despite the Sun's presence, as in Exodus 10:22; Matthew 27:45. The Bible does disagree with current secular cosmology, but there is no internal inconsistency in the Genesis cosmology. The creation of the Sun on Day 4 is indeed a serious problem for day/age advocates like Hugh Ross (because he wants to have the Sun in place prior to formation of the Earth) — but not for Biblical creationists. Genesis 1:16 says that on Day 4 God "made" the Sun, moon, and stars. This word cannot be translated as "appeared." The Hebrew language does have a word for "appear" — it was used in Genesis 1:9.

(3) Point to Genesis 2:4. This verse says "in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven" (NASB). The word "day" in that verse must refer to the whole creation period. Therefore "day" can signify a longer period of time than just 24 hours.

Anticipated Creationist Response: In Genesis 2:4, yom occurs as part of a specialized, idiomatic prepositional phrase — not as a stand-alone word (as seen in the creation days of Genesis 1). The phrase beyom is best translated as "when" (as in the NIV, and as generally supported by Hebrew lexicons). A notable parallel to the seven days of Genesis 1:1-2:3, followed by beyom in Genesis 2:4, is seen in Numbers 7. Numbers 7:10 and 7:84 — both using beyom — bookend the account of the offerings of the leaders of Israel, which undoubtedly took place during twelve literal days (Numbers 7:12-83). This pattern is remarkably similar to Genesis 2:4 — which likewise uses beyom — placed immediately after the seven days of the creation week in Genesis 1:1-2:3. From this we can conclude that the use of beyom in a summarizing statement provides no evidence that the numbered days in the sequence being summarized are anything other than ordinary (normal-length) days.

(4) Point to Genesis 2:5. This verse indicates that plants weren't growing due to lack of rain. Therefore, as "Framework Hypothesis" advocates argue, God was employing only "ordinary providence" during the creation "week." The creation therefore could not have been fully accomplished in six normal-length days.

Anticipated Creationist Response: The presence of "ordinary providence" does not rule out miraculous action by God. In fact, miracles typically take place within a context of ordinary providence. Lack of rain is not the only "deficiency" mentioned in Genesis 2:5. There was also "no man to work the ground" — and this deficiency was remedied supernaturally, not by "ordinary providence." Furthermore, the setting in Genesis 2:5 and the following verses appears to be local (Garden of Eden) rather than global.

(5) Claim that Day 7 has never ended. Days 1-6 are each marked by a concluding formula, "And there was evening and there was morning — the nth day." Since Day 7 has no such concluding formula, we can deduce (a) that it is unlike the other days and (b) that it has not ended. Now Day 7, if it has not ended, has gone on for much longer than 24 hours. But since Day 7 is part of a numbered sequence of "days," the other "days" in the sequence may likewise be longer than 24 hours.

Anticipated Creationist Response: As an argument from silence, this is weak. The concluding formula in Days 1-6 is used not only to close the day ("evening") but also to lead into the next day ("morning"). Such a formula is irrelevant for Day 7 because Day 8 has no place in the creation week. Furthermore, other patterns seen in Days 1-6 are also not present in Day 7 — e.g.: fiat ("And God said, 'Let there be ....'"), fulfilment ("And it was so."), and evaluation ("And God saw that it was good."). All of these omissions relate to the fact that Day 7 was not a day of creation.

(6) Note that Days 4-6 parallel Days 1-3.

Day 1 — Light -------------------> Day 4 — Luminaries

Day 2 — Sky and Sea -------------> Day 5 — Fish, Birds

Day 3 — Dry land, Vegetation ----> Day 6 — Land animals, Man

This symmetrical arrangement of "triads" indicates that the "days" of Genesis 1 constitute "an artistic literary representation of creation" (Bruce Waltke). Since the author of Genesis 1 injected such creativity and artistry into his work, it need not be taken as genuine history. The "days" only constitute a "literary framework" for presenting God's magnificent work of creation.

Anticipated Creationist Response: Why oppose "artistic" to "historical"? This is a false dichotomy, especially if the Bible's ultimate author is God. If there is to be a sequence of creation events, the Genesis 1 sequence makes logical sense: Water must exist (Day 1) before it can be separated (Day 2) and gathered (Day 3); habitats (Days 2-3) must exist before their inhabitants (Days 4-6); food (Day 3) must be in place for those that eat it (Days 5-6); subjects (Days 5-6) must exist for those commanded to rule over them (Day 6); and God's work of creation must take place prior to his cessation/rest (Day 7). Furthermore, the vaunted parallelism is imperfect: The luminaries created on Day 4 are placed in the expanse/sky made on Day 2 (not Day 1); the creatures made on Day 5 are linked with habitats formed on Day 3 (not Day 2); the vegetation (Day 3) is given as food to birds (made on Day 5), not just to animals created on Day 6.

This concludes our current message.

In our next communiqué we will attempt to demon-strate our new propaganda techniques for arguing that black is white and evil is good. 


For further reading:

"Nine Reasons Why the 'Days' in Genesis 1 Must Be Understood as Normal (24-Hour) Days" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=82>

"Is a 'Day' Really a Day in Genesis 1? Here's What the Hebrew Scholars Say!" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=105>

"Genesis 2:4 and the Meaning of 'Day' in Genesis 1" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=102>

"Bruce Waltke on the Genre of Genesis 1: A Critique" <http://www.creationbc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=136>

Don Batten, "Age of the earth: 101 evidences for a young age of the earth and the universe." <http://creation.com/age-of-the-earth>

Jonathan Sarfati, "How old is the earth?" <http://creation.com/how-old-is-the-earth>


Some relevant quotations:

(Related to point 2 above)

John Calvin on Genesis 1:3 — "It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light: And, according to our notions we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore the Lord, by the very order of creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon."

(Related to point 3 above)

Old Testament scholar Gerhard Hasel: "The extended, non-literal meanings of the term yom are always found in connection with prepositions, prepositional phrases with a verb, compound constructions, formulas, technical expressions, genitive combinations, construct phrases, and the like. In other words, extended, non-literal meanings of this Hebrew term have special linguistic and contextual connections which indicate clearly that a non-literal meaning is intended. If such special linguistic connections are absent, the term yom does not have an extended, non-literal meaning; it has its normal meaning of a literal day of 24-hours." ("The 'Days' of Creation in Genesis 1: Literal 'Days' or Figurative 'Periods/Epochs' of Time?" Origins 21(1):5-38, 1994 <http://ldolphin.org/haseldays.html>)


Recommended Web-available Critiques of the "Framework Hypothesis"

These are arranged in order of increasing length (number of pages). The longer ones tend to be more detailed and technical, but they are not necessarily out of reach for the keen layperson.

Michael J. Kruger, "An Understanding of Genesis 2:5" [5 pages; focuses on one specific text much used by framework advocates] <http://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j11_1/j11_1_106-110.pdf>

Don Batten, David Catchpoole, Jonathan Sarfati and Carl Wieland, "Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history? Critique of the Framework Hypothesis" [6 pages; a good place to start on this topic] <http://creation.com/is-genesis-poetry-figurative-a-theological-argument-polemic-and-thus-not-history>

Todd S. Beall, "Christians in the Public Square: How Far Should Evangelicals Go in the Creation-Evolution Debate?" [10 pages; the last 5 pages specifically critique the framework hypothesis] <http://www.biblearchaeology.org/file.axd?file=creation+evolution+debate+beall.pdf>

Andrew S. Kulikovsky, "A Critique of the Literary Framework View of the Days of Creation" [18 pages] <http://www.kulikovskyonline.net/hermeneutics/framework.pdf>

Joseph A. Pipa, Jr., "From Chaos to Cosmos: A Critique of the Framework Hypothesis" [32 pages] <http://www.westminsterreformedchurch.org/ScienceMTS/Science.Pipa.Framework.Critique.htm>

Edward J. Young, "The Days of Genesis [Part 1]" [34 pages] <http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/01-Genesis/Text/Articles-Books/Young_Days1a-WTJ.pdf>
Edward J. Young, "The Days of Genesis [Part 2]" [29 pages] <http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/Ted_Hildebrandt/OTeSources/01-Genesis/Text/Articles-Books/Young_Days2-WTJ.pdf>

Timothy R. Chaffey, "A Critical Evaluation of the Framework Hypothesis" [87 pages; the framework critique as such starts on page 30] <http://midwestapologetics.org/articles/theology/frameworkcritique.pdf>

Robert V. McCabe, "A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 1 of 2)" [49 pages] <http://www.dbts.edu/journals/2005/McCabe.pdf>
Robert V. McCabe, "A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 2 of 2)" [72 pages] <http://www.dbts.edu/journals/2006/McCabe.pdf>