Science in Christian Perspective




Sequence In The Days -Of, Genesis. One
24 Leonard Street, Paterson 2, New Jersey

From: JASA 11 (June 1959):6-8.

The occasion of this article is a thesis concerning the days of Genesis 1 presented by Dr. Meredith Kline in the May, 1958 issue of the Westminster journal. Negatively, this thesis is that Genesis 2:5  constitutes a decisive word against the traditional interpretation", namely that the order of narration in Genesis 1 "coincides with the actual sequence of creation history". This thesis, therefore, involves a rejection of the chronological sequence of the days of creation as narrated in Genesis 1. Positively, the thesis may be regarded as "the not so traditional interpretation which regards the chronological framework of Genesis 1 as a figurative representation of the time span of creation and judges that within that figurative framework the data ,of creation history have been arranged according to other than strictly chronological considerations." Thus the days are merely a literary framework or device of no more importance than the figurative elements of a parable.

The thesis of this present article is that while the "literary framework" hypothesis is a coherent interpretation of Genesis I and 2, it is nonetheless only one alternative and is not, therefore, compellingly cogent. I shall attempt to present another alternative which is consistent with modern scientific theories while at the same time preserving the sequential significance of the days.

Dr. Kline comes to his interpretation of Genesis 1 via an illuminating exegesis of Genesis 2: 5-7. In this latter passage he discerns a cause-and-effect relationship: there was no vegetation yet in the earth "for Jehovah God had not caused it to rain upon the earth: and there was not a man to till the ground." This cause-and-effect relationship, he very appropriately observes, indicates that natural law as we know it today was operative during the days of creation. Thus, even between the various creative acts of God, natural law was operative. Dr. Kline refers to this as the natural providence of God, as contrasted with a supernatural providence which would set aside what we today know as natural law. Finding Genesis 2 to teach natural law and natural providence, Dr. Kline finds it impossible to accept any traditional view of Genesis 1, and asserts that any variation of the traditional view necessarily requires a supernaturalistic setting aside of natural law between the creative acts of God. Thus in order to harmonize Genesis 1 with the natural providence of Genesis 2 he cancels out the traditional interpretation of a chronological sequence of the creative days. In this manner he secures consistency between the two accounts while, preserving the idea of natural providence.

Without going further into the reasoning of Dr. Kline, I should like now to challenge the thesis that natural providence and chronological sequence cannot be harmonized reasonably in Genesis 1. The argument will proceed by means of correlating the Biblical data with certain scientific theories.

A. Genesis 1:1-2. There are several possible interpretations of these verses, among which are the Restitution Theory and the Caption Theory. The traditional interpretation which regards verse one as stating the "ex nihilo" creation of the original materials of the universe, and verse two as describing the condition of those materials, appears to be a reasonable interpretation. Dr. E. J. Young writes that Genesis 1: 2 describes the condition which had existed "from the point of absolute creation until the first creative word was spoken" in verse 3. (1) These verses would then refer to the sum total of all matter in existence, so that none of God's creative acts during the subsequent Days involved the creation of new matter "ex nihilo", but rather that these creative acts modified and gave structure and system to the previously created "waste and Void" materials. The successive creative acts introduced new relationships and new natural laws into the materials created "in the beginning."

The eminent scientist Dr. George Gamow once wrote, "the present chemical constitution of our universe was decided in half an hour five billion years ago". (2) This statement can be interpreted as indicating that the universe had a sudden origin. If so, then this scientific position clearly coincides with the creation "ex nihilo" of Genesis 1 :1. The same scientist also wrote that "we assume that the universe started from a very dense state of matter". (3) The theory involved here is that of the expanding universe, in which this original dense body of matter gradually expanded according to regularly operative natural law, thus forming the cosmos of today. It would not take too great a stretch of the imagination to correlate this original dense state of matter with the situation described in Genesis 1:2, a state of unformed, unshaped, undeveloped, unexpanded matter.

B. The First Day of Creation. The Bible states that the first of the secondary type of creative acts of God was the creation of light. Dr. John DeVries writes, 'The Hebrew word for light includes the con cepts of . . . heat and electricity as well as light. . . .

These are the forces which are the prime movers of the machinery of nature." (4) Thus the word "Light" can be interpreted to mean "energy in the form of light". We may, accordingly, visualize God creatively injecting energy into the previously inert and static materials described in Genesis 1 : 1-2. Further, accepting the premise of natural providence operating from the very beginning of creation, we may visualize this energized matter beginning to operate according to natural law. And still further, if one wishes to accept the expansionist theory of the universe, the first day of creation may be viewed as the beginning of its expansion. Dr. Gramow writes, "In the early stages of its expansion, radiant energy was dominant over the mass of matter." (5) The parallel here between the scientific term "radiant energy" and the Biblical term "light" as explained by Dr. DeVries is striking.

C. The Second Day of Creation. "And God said, 'Let there be a firmament' . . . And God called the firmament Heaven". The firmament, being that which separates "the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament", is the air or atmosphere surrounding the planet earth. The Bible here for the first time directs our attention to that part of the universe which was to become the habitation of man; up to this point the attention has been directed to the universe as a whole, whereas from this point forwards the attention will be confined to the earth and its preparation for man. This observation indicates that in this day the planet earth had for the first time been differentiated from all the rest of the materials of the universe. It is reasonable to suppose that what the Bible is describing for the earth was also happening for the other planets and heavenly bodies, namely their respective separation from each other as individual entities. Dr. DeVries writes that on this day God made "the separation of our earth from the other stellar bodies". (6) Thus, implied in the creation of the firmament, or Heaven as God named it, is the separation of the earth and the other cosmical bodies from each other.

Once again the parallel accounts of science are noteworthy. Dr. Gamow theorizes that after 250 million years "the gas broke up into giant gas clouds, slowly drifting apart as the universe continued to expand .

. . These primordial balls of gas would have had just about the mass that the galaxies of stars possess today." (7) This may be interpreted as corresponding to, the work of the second day of creation as the second major step in the formation of the universe.

D. The Third Day of Creation. "And God said, 'Let the dry land appear . . . Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit' ". After God separated the earth as a distinct planet from the other heavenly bodies, he began to prepare the surface of it for the eventual habitation of man.

This verse provides the most obvious difficulty in maintaining the natural providence of the Days of creation. The difficulty arises from the natural law operative today that vegetation needs sunlight in order to flourish, and since the sun was not created until the fourth day - i.e., after the vegetation was created on the third day - it is apparent that natural law as we know it today could not have been operative if the third and fourth days are interpreted as sequential. ,

There is, nevertheless, a possible explanation of this difficulty which is neither artificial nor forced, and which retains both the concept of sequence and the concept of natural law. Natural law requires that vegetation be dependent upon light. But God had already created light on the first day. This energy in the form of light was apparently diffused throughout the universe without being concentrated in one source. This may perhaps mean that the earth at that time was continually surrounded by what we today would call twilight-a very dim light, but nonetheless light. Dr. John DeVries comments, "Where this light originated we are not told, but we do know that there are many possibilities for its origin in addition to the sun." (8) The vegetation which God created the third day could very well have existed in such light.

To this interpretation it may be objected that this vegetation produced "plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit." How could this weak cosmic light produce full-grown trees bearing their fruit? In reply to this objection, however, there is no need to consider these trees to be full-growth by present standards. They may well have been fully mature, bearing fruit and producing seeds, but being dwarfed or stunted by comparison with the present.

This interpretation does not do violence to the requirement of natural law. On the contrary, it is precisely what one would expect, given the natural laws which had been brought into existence up to that point. Present natural law, in which vegetation depends directly upon the sun, simply had not yet been brought into operation by God. When, on the fourth day, the sun was created, the earth's vegetation became dependent upon its concentrated energy, and could develop into the large specimens current today. But before God created that natural force, the forces which had been operative previous to the fourth day could have sustained vegetation on a miniature scale.

E. The Fourth Day of Creation. "And God said, 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night'."

Tf one accepts the expansionist theory of the universe, one, must consider that the natural process of expansion had been continuing unabated through what Genesis refers to as the third day. When in God's judgment the process of natural development had reached the proper point, he creatively injected a new force or law into the universe. This was the concentration of light in the body of matter we now call the sun. We would have to consider-in order to retain the idea of natural providence-that this body of matter was already in existence as a separate body, but without light. The original creation produced all existent matter, so that during the subsequent Days of creation no new matter was created. The creative acts of the Days were all supernatural modifications of or addditions to the natural laws governing matter. Thus the creation of the sun was not the creation of new matter out of nothing, but the injection into it by the supernatural creative fiat of God of a new natural law. God said, "Let there be lights", not, "Let there be additional bodies of matter".

The emphasis in all the Days is the preparation of earth as man's habitation. The dry land provided a place to live; the vegetation provided food; sunlight provided such things as day and night, measurement of time, and regulation of seasons. Further, the more powerful light of the sun, by causing more rapid growth of vegetation, provided a more abundant source of food for a large population.

F. The Fifth Day of Creation. "And God said, 'Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens'."

Birds and fish, besides providing additional sources of food supply for man, are cold-blooded and the biologically simpler forms of animal life. This is also in harmony with natural law, which affirms that the biologically simpler forms of life appeared before the biologically complex forms. Thus the sequence of Genesis 1 is in broad harmony with the sequence of science.

G. The Sixth Day of Creation.

Biological science places man at the end of the series of the appearances of new forms of life, after the more complex animals and mammals. This order is identical with that of Genesis 1, "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle, and creeping things, and beasts of the earth ... Then God said, Let us make man in our image.

H. The Seventh Day of Creation. "And He rested on the seventh day from all his work which He had done."

After the creation of man, "the heavens and the earth were finished", and God rested from his creative labors. For natural science this would mean that since the appearance of man on the planet earth no essentially new forms of life, or new natural laws have appeared. I am not aware of any difficulties regarding this point.

There are two concluding observations. First, that this article has ' discussed the problem of sequence in Genesis 1, not the problem of duration, i.e., the length of the days. I have simply assumed that the days were of variable and indefinitely long duration. Second, there are probably a good, many unresolved questions left by this article, both from the side of science and from the side of theology. My major thesis has been, however, that it does appear to be possible to satisfactorily correlate natural providence with chronological sequence in the Days of Genesis 1. Thus the conclusion: the-- so-called "framework hypothesis", while coherent, is not compelling.


1. E. J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testantent, p. 53.
2. George Garnow, in Scientific American, Sept, 1956, p. 154.
3. Ibid, p. 150.
4. John DeVries, Beyond the Atont, p. 98.
5. George Garnow, op. cit., p. 150.
6. John DeVries, op. cit., p. 99.
7. George Garnow, op. cit., p. 152.
John DeVries, op. cit., p. 99.