Science in Christian Perspective
From: JASA 4 (March 1952):
*This Paper was transcribed from a recording of a talk given at the Sixth Annual Convention of the American Scientific Affiliation in New York, N. Y., August, 1951.
I wrote my paper years ago and many of you have copies of it so this afternoon I shall talk about my paper rather than read it. If any of you do not have copies of this little article on the length of the creation day, ask at my office. I think we have enough to go around.
While Dr. Young was giving his paper, I sat there saying, "Hallelujah." I say that not because he's my colleague but because I thoroughly agree with what he has said in regard to the interpretation of the Scripture and because I feel it so important and so necessary that we should realize the meaning of words. God in His infinite providence has chosen to reveal His Word to us in language, not in a meta-language, not in terms of mathematical logic, but in terms of the usage of words and phrases, grammar and syntax, which have historical context and whose context may change in the process of the generations.
My paper this afternoon is confined to the use of the word "day" or "days" in the Scripture, particularly with reference to the first chapter of Genesis and, as you may suppose, I believe that Moses uses the word "day" in the first chapter of Genesis in a figurative manner. When I say, "a figurative manner" immediately people say, "Well now, just how long were those days?" Well, how long is a figure of speech? What is the figurative use of the word "day?" When you say the day of Martin Luther or the day of George Washington, what are you talking about? Can you put any precise limits on the figurative use of the word "day?" Dr. Young and the Old Testament people study in 46 languages. I heard about an Old Testament man who could actually keep still in 50 languages. That was a great achievement! But any language that I ever heard about has the figurative use of words for periods of time, the figurative use of the word "day."
When you think of your Bible, the phrases "the day of the Lord" "that day" "the last days" "the last hour" come to mind. Christ said, "it is the last hour," when He was speaking to His people there in the days of His flesh. "It is the last hour"-and that hour has already been over 1900 years long. The figurative use of the words for T)arts of time, the word for "days" ought to be familiar, from the Scripture. We should not have any great difficulty with this concept.
A text that is frequently quoted in this connection comes from the 90th Psalm. "A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is passed or as a watch in the night." Some people forget about the "watch in the night" which, depending on whether you are using a Semitic watch or a Roman watch is three or four hours long, or the period of time in the night when anyone stands on watch. Some would say, "A day must mean a thousand years." Why, No! A day is a thousand years or a watch in the night, either one.
Peter says in the first chapter of the Second Epistle, "This one thing must not be forgotten . . . that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years is as one day." This isn't arithmetic at all, but it means that God has plenty of time. God has all the time that there is. Infinite time belongs to Him.
We suppose that Moses wrote the 90th Psalm. We have every reason to believe that the tradition is correct. The 90th Psalm refers to the great eternity of God. "Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations, before the mountains were brought forth. Or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting. Thou art God." The great eternity of God, "before . . . or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world."
Turning now to the first chapter of Genesis, we note what Augustine pointed out. Augustine could not be accused of interpreting the first chaDter of Genesis on any geological presuppositions. He was simply giving what he thought Moses meant. Augustine said these days could not possibly be 24-hour days because the sun, moon, and stars were not given into the firmament of Heaven for times and seasons and days and years until within the fourth day. The solar day system was not set up until within the fourth day. Augustine saw that long, long ago. It was within the first "day," the day-night series was set up. It was within the first "day" that God created day and night by dividing the light from the darkness. It was not until the fourth "day" that the sun began to govern periods of time.One of the most clear evidences of the figurative use of the word "day" in fhe first chapter of Genesis is in Genesis 2:4. "These are the generations (the word generation here means "stories about") the heavens and the earth, in their being created in the day of the making by Jehovah God heaven and earth." It's all one day. Now how long were the days when six days equal one day? If you're speaking figuratively then clearly six equals one, because you're simply
In the fifth chapter of Genesis, there is another reference. (I don't claim to be a Semitic authority. I studied Hebrew and I still study Hebrew to some extent. Dr. Young is our authority here.) But here you have it in Genesis 5, where God created Adam . . . . "And he called their names Adam." The plural pronoun ending is given here. "He called their name Adam in the day of their being created." There in the fifth chapter of Genesis also you have the creation record referred to as one day. Actually this one verse might refer only to the sixth day more probable that it is a whole creative record.
I should like to add just this to what Dr. Young said. He may not agree with me in detail. We have academic freedom here, you know. We don't have to agree on every detail, but the creation of Adam is referred to in the plural. They are the Adamses. There is the theory, you know, that some of these names may be names of dynasties or names of households. We know that that is the Hebrew usage. It sometimes is difficult to know whether you are talking about one individual man as we would speak of an individual man in the practice of our western language or whether you are talking about a household. In the prophecies of Ezekiel, it seems very clear that the dwelling of Israel under David, their king, does not refer to David as an individual but to the house of David and to Christ as the son of David. So here the creation of Adam is referred to in the plural and there are, I think, other suggestions that possibly many of these names in the fifth chapter of Genesis may be names of households.
Furthermore, as Dr. Young so ably brought out there obviously are gaps in the story. The farthert thing from Moses' intention was to allow us to figure out a connected chronology. The scriptural attitude toward chronology as Melvin Grove Kyle shows, (see his Moses and the Monuments) is to present great events, great epochs, great concurrent or great successive events, and then to emphasize spiritual principles. Compare the genealogy of Christ in the first chapter of Matthew, observe the obvious and intentional gaps. This illustrates the Jewish usage in such matters. The Old Testament simply does not give us any data whatsoever with which to figure the antiquity of man upon this earth.
Summarizing then the evidence for the figurative use of the word "day", Moses, in the context, at least once in the second chapter and I think again in the fifth chapter, refers to the entire period as one day. In the 90th Psalm he refers to God's time by way of contrast with our limited measures of time. In the New Testament the word "day" is frequently used figuratively and the chronology is obviously and intentionally discontinuous.
I submit therefore that in fairness to the Scripture,
not in riding a hobby or trying to work out some presupposed idea of our own but in fairness to the
Scripture, we should take the usage of the word "day"
as figurative in the reference to the "days" of creation.
Obviously Moses points out certain great facts,-God
created the Universe. He created the light and the
darkness. He brought the dry land up above the
waters. He brought the vegetation. He brought the
various orders of life, and he created man in His own
image. These great days of creation overlap, obviously.
There is no measuring of them. Moses is using the
word figuratively and it makes perfect sense to read
it in this light.
Dr. I. A. Cowperthwaite: This paper by Dr. Buswell is now open for discussion.
Dr. H. H. Hartzler: With reference to the argument that the word "day" may be a longer period of time as evidenced by the fact that the sun was not created until the third day, I would like to submit that surely if we are going to have vegetation on this earth that the sun and the present order of day and night existed before day 3. How could you envisage several million years existing, during which we had all these things, vegetation, plants growing with no sun? Certainly in the fourth day when the sun is said to be set for these funtcions it means that the sun is then visible.
Who, in this audience, would be aware that the sun exists if clouds hung over the sky all the time? You would still be aware of day and night. You would not be aware that the sun exists, nor the stars, nor the moon. It certainly seems, in all fairness to the Scriptures, that we should suggest, as has been suggested before, that this just means their appearance.
I would also like to add a point on the usage in (hapters 2 and 5 of the "days" as being an extensive period of time, It does not say in my Bible, as I read it, that the word "day" in chapter 2, verse 4 refers to the total creation. It says, "the creation of the heaven and the earth," not necessarily the appearing of dry land or of plant life, cattle, and man. Likewise, in verse 5, certainly that refers to only one of the specific days.
Dr. G. D. Young: For a long while there was a psychological block in my mind, in understanding biology . . . I had some in college! I was a biology major and our school was entirely devoted to the theory of evolution. There was a psychological block in my mind in the matter of understanding that record and the record of the Bible. I was a little surprised to see that in our own Symposium (Modern Science and Christian Faith) that that which caused that block still exists. We have a chart there . . . Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4. 1 have been trained since I was very small to see those as necessarily chronological and quite likely of the same approximate duration. I think that when that volume is re-edited that that which caused this psychological block could be removed. It should be pointed out that these days are not necessarily successive.
Obviously the fourth day in which the sun, moon, and stars were made to appear is quite a different sort of a day from one of the other days such as, for example, the third or the fifth. Yet when it's put in the way it is in this chart we can not very well expect our boys and girls in high school to receive it in any other sense than that of successive periods of equal length. We are perpetuating that psychological block. Those days could, and doubtless did, over lap. If we are interested in harmonizing the Bible -record and geology, we know that some of the things that were made on the fifth day existed also on the third day. That is, the geologic strata where the third day items appear predominantly also contain the fifth day animals. To sandwich the fourth day of equal duration in between and split up days 3 and 5 makes a psychological barrier that need not exist. I think we should be very careful in how we set up such charts in the next issue of the Symposium. That is why I was glad that Dr. Buswell got to the point before he stopped his message.
Dr. J. 0. Buswell: With reference to Genesis 2:4, 1 think the key is not merely in the word "day" but in the pronoun with which the phrase is introduced. In English . . . "These are the generations of" . . . the antecedent of the pronoun has a clear and obvious literary meaning if we take it as referring to all that goes before. You have a structure in orderly style, an introduction . . . "In the beginning when God created the Heavens and the earth . . . (so and so)." And then you have a conclusion, "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth in their created." So it is the pronoun which must be studied.
What does he say was done in one day? It seems to be a summary of what goes before and I think I made it clear that I do not hold that the sun was created in the fourth day but it began to function for days and years. That is an explicit statement. The word is nathan "and he gave them into the firmament of Heaven for times and for seasons and for days and years." That is to say that when the sun was invisible behind the bank of clouds, you couldn't exactly have a calendar or at least it would be complicated and difficult, but on the fourth day he gave them into the expanse of Heaven to function for times and for season and for days and for years.
Dr. D. Block: It seems obvous that our discussion of Genesis 1 is to arrive at an acceptable way of harmonizing so-called geological time, be it long or short, with the Biblical chronology. Is that not so?
Dr. J. 0. Buswell: No! It is to bring out what Moses said and what Moses means and then afterwards to study geology. But our only question here is whether or not these days were, in Moses mind, 24 hours or periods of time of undesignated length.
Dr. D. Block: Allowing that these days are of varying lengths of time, man was created then during the sixth period of time. However, God saw fit to bring that about. Apparently He was in the process of creation and came to completion at the end of the sixth day or period. Then we read that on the seventh day God rested from all the work that He had made and then further on that Adam lived so many years into supposedly recorded time. In all told the years of Adam were 937 years and he died. Now, I am just naive enough to feel that Adam was brought to completion within the sixth period of time. He had to live within the seventh period in which God rested and into another length of time. With this answer I know you will think that we are still in that seventh period of time and God is resting and that, for me, is impossible, because that means God provided his redemption in the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary during the time when he was said to be resting. He was, if that be true then more busy or working harder in creation that in providing redemption and to me that doesn't mean to be the burden of the Scripture. Now you see the problem I'm facing. How old was Adam when he finally died 937 years or 937 plus one more eon? Thank you.
Dr. J. 0. Buswell: I think that question is adequately answered in the pamphlet. The Scripture says in Hebrews 4 that we are now offered the privilege of entering into the "rest" which is referred to in Genesis 2. Quoting Genesis 2, "God rested." The invitation is given to us to enter into the precise "rest" so that according to the author of the Epistle of the Hebrews God is now resting in a sense which is specified in Genesis 2. What is the sense in which God rested? He rested from His work of creation, "from all His work which He had created and made." Between the ending of the creation and the ending of the millennium, (Some of you may not think that there's going to be a millennium but you'll be surprised! It'll be a happy surprise too. You'll be there.) God is not creating. He will then create a new universe. He is not creating now though the work of redemption and providence goes on. The seventh "day" of Genesis I and 2 is the age between creation and the new heavens and the new earth. The seventh "day" is a figurative day but Adam's years are evidently literal years.
Dr. Roy Allen: The Scriptures very definitely say that God created the light and then it says that he called the darkness night and the light day, so, if that were a solar day, the period of darkness involved from Genesis 1:1 until God said, "Let there be light" must have been only of 12 hours duration. It seems rather that that was an indefinite time; the darkness at least, so that if the night were longer than 12 hours then the solar day must be longer than that. So putting' these all together, I think that the position that Dr. Buswell has taken is pre-eminently scriptural and I heartily agree with him.
Dr. Norvell Peterson: You know, like Michael Angelo said, the fundamental unity and nonessential charity, and I observe that we have both, are here. So on such a culture I would like to submit another view which I won't be at all arbitrary or dogmatic about, but it sounds very nice. I think that God is, if anything, orderly, and I think God, through the Holy Spirit, recorded something here, and what we are trying to do is to get at what it is. Now I suspect that these days were a thousand years, as Peter said, all of them, and I'll tell you why. I mean it just sounds reasonable.
In the first place God worked for six days and on the seventh day He rested. Now he (Adam) lived almost a thousand years, but with the death of Adam, with the translation of Enoch, we start another day. Then we come on down another thousand years and what happens? Abraham is born and we start another day. We come another thousand years and what happens? The dynasty of Israel was established; David becomes king. We come down another thousand years and what happens? There's Calvary. Another thousand years and we come into the time just before the Crusade which brought about the Reformation along with other things beginning the consummation of the corruption of the sixth day. God has been working very hard for the prior 6,000 years to take care of us. Then He's going to rest. But when is He going to rest? In a thousand years we'll have another day. That will be God's day of rest. And that's the way I like to think of it.
Mr. Karl Turekian: This is all very nice but where do you get any basis for two weeks . . . it's 14 days which are going on now. The first seven we can argue about because it's written down in the Book. With the consideration of the last seven you've become more than a mystic and are not on scriptural grounds. I don't think you have any right to assume that it is a thousand years for a day. I think we would have to discount the whole thing that you said as far as any scientific basis goes.
That's about all I can say because it's truly philosophical and has no place in a scientific discussion of "days" at all.
Dr. J. 0. Buswell: I skip the question, "Why couldn't God do it faster?" And all I need to say is that no one has said what God could do. The question is, "What did Moses say . . . what did Moses mean?" God could make it all realistic and make it look like a thousand years or a million years but God probably didn't do that.
Mr. W. Pass: It hadn't quite crystallized in my mind but it seems from the standpoint of geology we have been forced to make some investigation as to what Moses actually said and the historical point of view on the point of time which has been stretched into an indefinite period of time. Is that correct?
Dr. J. 0. Buswell: I don't think so. I don't think that's the process of thought at all.Mr. W. Pass: What I had in mind we've seen in the geological problems that arise that we are forced to a more indefinite time for the days. If I am misrepresenting your position I'd like to be clarified on that because I feel at the other end when we come to the day which man was created, we seem to lean to a point period. That is, if it were a long period of time when man was created then we are playing into the paleontological evidence of the anthropologist or paleontologist himself who also is interested in the indefinite period of time for the creation of man.
Dr. J. 0. Buswell: I think we must clear ourselves from ascribing eis6getical motives to us Biblical exegetes. I very diligently avoided anything from geology. The first hundred years in the millennium, I'm going to look up Larry Kulp and I'm going to get him to teach me some geology. I'm going on a trip tomorrow all day and I'm going to learn some gealogy, but I don't know any geology. I do know a little bit about how to read the Scriptures. This problem as to the meaning of those days did not originate with modern geology. I pointed out the opinion of Augustine, who certainly antedates any of our modern geological data so far as scientific correlation is concerned. Augustine brought up the problem.
The early church fathers had a tendency to run
into weeks. The number 7 in semitic usage is a
round number and it suggests perfection or wellroundedness. You'll find in Hypolitus and Ireneus and
a dozen or so of the church fathers that the history
of man is going to be 7,000 years long. Because John
refers to a thousand years of blessedness, well, click,
that refers to a sabbath. So you've got to have 6,000
years before. Many of the fathers, however, got in
5,000 years before Christ for some reason or other
and then in the year 1,000, you will remember from
your church history, there was a great stir through
Christendom. They said, "This is the end of the week,
this is Saturday night and the Lord's return is going
to come." In the year of 1, 000 people all over Europe
sold their property. They did just the same thing the
Millerites did in about 1830, you will remember. They
figured out the date the Lord was going to come . . .
the millennium was right here. That tendency to put
things in sevens is a very common tendency. It goes
clear back to the Greeks in the fourth century, B.C.
They used allegorical numbers in interpreting Homer.
The tendency crops out all of the time in Christendom. People like these numbers, you know. They go on and
on with the analysis of numerics.
Sober exegesis has always been opposed to mere speculation. I think we should emphasize the fact that the argument as presented was not based upon any motive other than the historical, grammatical exegesis of what Moses did say.
Dr. G. D. Young: I think the block in our thinking here is our Indo-European usage in which we link time with the word "day." My specialty, if I have one, is semitic poetry. I see it in the poetry of Ugarit preeminently, in the Egyptian poetry, the Babylonian poetry, the Syrian poetry, and in the Biblical poetry. It's all through here. Everything that's worth happening, if you're going to tell it in poetic languages, has to happen in sevens.
Baal had no house. He sent for the deities and one day they brought bricks and straw, and on day 2 they brought bricks and straw and on day 3 they brought bricks and straw and on the seventh day it was there. On day 1 the bricks and the straw were consumed by fire, on day 2 they were consumed in fire, and on the seventh day, lo and behold, it comes out silver and gold. Moses is painting a great picture here-this is how the lights came on, and this is how the birds that fly, and this is how the things that swim in the water came on, and the things that creep and at the end of it all ' there is man. We ought to divorce in our thinking, I'm quite sure, the idea of minutes and seconds from the usage of the word "day" in the semitic context of this chapter.
Mr. J. Watson: I am persuaded in my mind that we should avoid the Greek concept of symmetry in our thinking and that is why I think of this -as a Hebrew problem. To answer Mr. Peterson, I would quote a theologian, Calvin by name, that it's poor exegesis to hang any doctrine of Scripture upon one point, and I would quote Dr. Buswell as saying that a day is a thousand years with the Lord and also as a watch in the night. Now, I think, you would only find one Scripture verse-that one in Peter-to support such a doctrine. On the basis of exegesis I think it is a very poor conclusion.
Dr. J. L. Kulp: If a geology student may be permitted to come onto the platform on biblical exegesis for a minute, it is very gratifying to me to hear this dissertation this afternoon purely from a Biblical, theological point of view. For I think that Dr. Buswell is intellectually honest when he states that this interpretation is what he thinks is the best Biblical interpretation independent of any physical evidence. Now it's very nice to be able to be comfortable in a particular view of interpreting Genesis and maybe a thousand years concept may be comfortable to some. Whether it's comfortable or not has relatively no meaning. What we should be interested in is whether it is true. Therefore, since this is a scientific gathering, we might as well add the P.S. that Dr. Buswell's is possibly the best Biblical interpretation, I think that anybody who has studied geology very carefully, will be ready to admit that it is the only possbile interpretation, broadly speaking, that can be harmonized with geological science.
Dr. Coleman: I just had one verse in connection with the point that was brought up about the sabbath which I think is worth contributing in John, chapter 5, verse 16 . . . "Therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus and sought to slay him because he had done these things on the Sabbath day. But Jesus answered them, "My father worketh hitherto and I work." I think the question was raised as to what happens to the seventh day that God rested if you consider them not as days but as periods. The verse in John would clearly seem to indicate that the Sabbath was broken, as Dr. Buswell suggested, at the time of the fall of man through sin and then the greater work of the redemption began, so that you have whatever definite period would exist there and then the work of both the Lord and His Father in the great work of redemption of man began.
Dr. A. Eckert: I would like to ask one question and that is-What did the Hebrew scholars think of the interpretation of these days? Do you have any record of their exegesis in this part of Genesis?
Dr. G. D. Young: I think we have the analogic type of thing when they refer to the history of the world by thousand year periods. They had that thousand year concept and so they divided the history of the world into thousand year periods. I do not know whether they applied this method of interpretation to the creative days or not. In one method of Jewish exegesis it would not be impossible to so take them.
Dr. I. A. Cowperthwaite: Did you have a final summary, Dr. Buswell?
Dr. J. 0. Buswell: Yes. I am sure Dr. Young was referring to the rabbinic tradition, not to anything in the Old Testament period, nor anything that comes to us with any New Testament authority. The rabbinists followed this kabalistic system of numerical interpretation, and you simply do not have scientific exegesis in the kabalistic literature anymore than you have in Philo, Alexandrinus, and the way in which he interpreted things, imposing a numerical philosophy upon the plain language of literature. The Bible-believing Jews in the time of Christ do not give us anything to indicate that these days were regarded by them as a thousand years.
But it is the Hebrew prophets to whom we look for a true exegesis of the books of Moses, and they are constantly pointing to the spiritual principle but there is nothing in Isaiah or any of the later prophets to indicate that they regarded these days as thousand year periods or that they regarded them as 24-hour day periods. As to "my father" working, Dr. Allen says he thinks that God rested because he had nothing more to do and then sin came in and he had to go to work again. Of course, I can appreciate that way of looking at it, but it doesn't fit my Calvinism at all. I cannot think of the Lord God almighty as idle. When we have the new heavens and the new earth, they that are holy will be holy yet more and those who are in the lake of fire will be filthy yet more. Its a progressive dynamic universe from start to finish and I would only re-emphasize the fact that the Scripture says not that he folded his hands and sat there and took a nap. No! God did not become idle. I'm not idle on the Lord's day. Any Christian is not idle on the Lord's day. God stopped his,. work of creating. That's all the work he stopped. The work of providence always went on. He took pains to go down and walk with Adam in the garden and talk with him and commune with him and reveal Himself to him. God's work of providence always went on and God's work of redemption began the very minute that sin came into this world. Christ, in John 5 is referring to the providential work of God which always goes on. The answer is equivalent to saying, "God works on the Sabbath day in His work of providence and in his work of redemption, and therefore, although the law of the Sabbath is clear and we need this day of rest, the work of redemption and God's work of providence has to go on."
When God gets through with this earth He will cast it aside and make another one, Then will begin a work of creation . . . "I make all things new." He will create a new heaven and a new earth. God rests from the work of creation, from the end of the creation in Genesis on until he creates a new heaven and a new earth. God never rests from all activities.
Dr. G. D. Young: (This discussion by Dr. Young was in connection with another paper not offered for publication. It is placed here because of its contribution to the subject discussed above.-Ed.)
I wouldn't bring this up except it has come into the discussion at two different levels and I have heard it also brought up in the Society of Biblical Literature where most of the folks do not accept our conclusions. It is the problem of the making of the sun on the fourth day. It was for a long time a problem to me, and apparently it still is a problem to some. It has already been pointed out that the world "made" in the statement that the sun was made on the fourth day is a word that is used a little over 2,000 times in the Hebrew Bible. Its meaning ought to be well known. 1500 of the occurences, or more, should be translated "do." It is, as a point of fact, in the standard Hebrew dictionary given with the word "do" 1500 plus times. And about 500 times it is rendered 'make." Among those occurences with the meaning "to make" there are several very interesting ones. One man came in from a long hunt and I think the king summoned him in or something like that and he hadn't had a shave for a long time so he "made" his beard. He prepared it. He trimmed it. He didn't make it "de novo."
On another occasion, a lady "made" her toe nails. She didn't make them at that moment. She prepared them in the prescribed manner for whatever social function she was about to engage in. That is the way the word rendered "to make" is used. We shall couple with this the fact, as Dr. Buswell pointed out, that it is associated with the word "natan" which means "to set" or "to put" for some purpose. On the fourth day the sun was prepared and set for a specific function. The Hebrew would not support the idea of the making of the sun on that particular day. That illustrates the simple answer to many of the alleged problems that we meet and the problems that are alleged from some points of view to exist in the creation story. I'd like to take this opportunity to put into the record something that's a very deep conviction in my heart. I know the geologists do not want me telling them anything about their science. Yet my hair stands on end as a theologian sometimes at some of the things I read in the A.S.A. Journal concerning the meaning of Hebrew words and Biblical concepts. I would like to suggest that our strength may lie in our united action. There's a very real danger that since we are among wolves if we do not hang together we will hang separately!