Science in Christian Perspective
SIX DAYS, SIX AGES, OR ... ?
David F. Siemens, Jr., Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy Emeritus
Los Angeles Pierce College
Woodland Hills, CA 91371
From: PSCF 38 (June 1987): 128-130.
Two questions that are repeatedly asked clearly deserve to
be answered. 1) If the author of Genesis I did not intend to
teach the creation of the earth in six days, why did he write as
he did? 2) How else could he have said it so as not to seem to
teach a six-day creation? Not only are these questions
advanced seriously, but they would seem to force theistic
evolutionists either to convert to recent creationism or to
deny an inerrant Bible.
Considering the questions from a rigorously evangelical viewpoint requires that Genesis I not be taken in isolation. Genesis 2 is also part of the inspired record, which must be read as a whole. Genesis 5:1f, Exodus 20:11 and 31:17, Hebrews 11:3 and many other scriptures' also apply. However, for the most part they add no new information, although they may impose restrictions on the allowable interpretations of the first chapters of Genesis.
A careful look at the text of Genesis reveals some facts that surprise many people. First, few things are said to have been created: heaven and earth (1:1), fish and fowl (w. 20f), and man (v. 27; 5: If). The beasts of the earth and cattle were made (1:25), as were sun, moon and stars (v. 16), and the firmament (v. 7). Plant life was merely brought forth (w. I I f). So to talk about the creation of plants and animals is to go beyond the express statement of Scripture. Genesis 2:4 does not change this. Hence, if one speaks of the six days of creation, it should be deliberate, not merely habitual. And one must be aware of the consequences of this alteration.
Further, in Genesis 1:20-31, birds were created on the fifth day, then animals were made on the sixth day before man and woman were created. But in chapter 2, verses 7-21, man was formed of dust before the beast of the field and the fowl of the air were similarly formed in a vain attempt to find a helper suitable to the man, It cannot reasonably be objected, in order to meet this difficulty, 1) that Hebrew verb forms do not coincide with those of English; or 2) that Hebrew narrative form is different.
Specifically, it is noted that the verb translated "formed" may be "had formed," since Hebrew does not have distinctions corresponding to the past and past perfect tenses of English, let alone the more elaborate verb forms of other Indo-European languages. Second, the ancient pattern often completes one aspect before picking up another simultaneous track, or one even earlier. Thus, completing the statement about man's formation in 2:7 by placing him in the garden (v. 8) before describing the way the garden came to be, is typical. One cannot get a time line from this sequence. However, to have the formation of man before the growth of any plant is consistent with v. 5, which specifies two reasons for the absence of plants: the absence of rain and the absence of a farmer. How can this be if plants were produced before man in chapter I?2
The narrative is resumed in Genesis 2:15. Except for the repetition of Adam being placed in the garden (cf. v. 8), the narrative seems quite straightforward. He is given explicit orders about the trees in the garden, names the animals and birds (without finding a suitable helper among them), is put to sleep while God builds Eve,3 whom he welcomes with delight and prophecy. The simple narration continues in chapter 3. What is striking here is the lapse of time between Adam's formation and Eve's construction, in contrast to the joint creation and instruction of male and female in verses 1:26-30.
The simplicity of the Hebrew verb structure must be acknowledged. The form translated "formed" in 2:19 may legitimately be translated "had formed." However, if this be done, consistency demands that "brought" be "had
brought," for it is coordinated with the same grammatical subject in a single sentence. None of the attempts to get around this objection that I have found are based on a parallel construction.4
It is clear from the narrative that Adam named every living beast and bird (2:18-20) before he was put to sleep so that Eve could be built out of his rib (vv. 21 f). Further, there is no reason for Eve to be produced before all the cattle, beasts and fowl had been examined and found wanting as companions for Adam, "an help meet for him." Scripture is multiply emphatic that all were named by Adam. If we assume just the currently living species of birds and mammals and a dawn-to-dusk stint without meals or rest periods, Adam came up with a new name every three and a half seconds. If, as some recent creationists claim, the passage deals with the sole and total creation, the currently extinct species would also have paraded past him, increasing his task. Of course, one might argue that the four repetitions of kol ('all' or 'every') and the two implied distributives are not to be taken literally. But then the question arises, if God did not intend this to be taken literally, why is the statement so emphatic?
A pair of related suggestions have been advanced to meet the problems just noted: that the section is organized topically and that the section has only a local reference. The latter, while it simplifies Adam's task, seems to me to do so at an unacceptable cost. If the "all" of Adam's naming (v. 20, cf. 19) is local then the "every" of God's forming (v. 19) should be local also. And one may interpret the narrative as suggesting that the local assemblage had no mate for Adam, but there might be one beyond the confines of the Garden of Eden, or just over the next hill. This would give opportunity for a new twist to the Lilith legend with a non-Adamic mate for Adam.
The former suggestion, that this is purely topical, does not seem to fare any better. The events of chapter two, however we order them, have to fit into the temporal sequence of chapter one. I do not see that a topical arrangement changes the amount of time involved. Indeed, the suggestions suggest eisegesis rather than exegesis.
As I see it, we are faced with a dilemma. Reading the first two chapters of Genesis as seven literal days requires that Adam and Eve be created simultaneously and with a lapse of time, that Adam be created both before and after the birds and beasts, that Adam be instructed about food before Eve was produced and that they be instructed together, and so forth. Reading them as involving day-ages would require plants to grow before the sun and moon come into existence, the earth to antedate the solar system, and birds to precede reptiles in the historical sequence-in addition to eliciting most of the problems with the literal-day interpretation. Unless an alternative interpretation is found, it appears that we must accept divinely inspired nonsense, unless we adopt a mythic or other nonliteral interpretation. Is there a way out?
That the ancient record cannot be read as a description of a six-day creative fiat was recognized by St. Augustine, whose orthodoxy cannot be questioned. At the start of the fifth century, in De Genesi ad litteram libri duodecim (Genesis literally: twelve books), he suggests that the days of creation are not periods of time, but are rather a didactic arrangement to describe what was created completely and instantly. He based this interpretation on the Old Latin text of the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 18:1: "He who lives forever created all things at one time." The Greek original may be rendered " all things without exception."5 While we may not wish to base our interpretation of creation on the Apocrypha, we may follow the ancient insight.
There is a literal reading of Genesis I that does not conflict with Genesis 2. The very language, repeated six times, strongly suggests it. The more baldly literal translation of the unique Hebrew phrase gives "and was evening and was morning day one (second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth)," Since ,evening' is used in other Old Testament passages to specify the time of retiring6 and 'morning' that for arising,7 it appears that we are being told that the period spent in bed is the relevant day. This is the time that Daniel 8:26 gives as the time when a vision was given. This certainly fits our expectations, for what God did must be revealed: there could have been no observer.
It cannot be objected that the evening-morning merely refers to the Jewish day, which runs from sundown to sundown. Apart from the six repetitions in Genesis 1, the joining of these two words-in phrases clearly different from those in Genesis 1-is found only in connection with specific time,8 with the possible exception of Daniel 8:14, where the sacrifices are in view, and Genesis 49:27, Job 4:20 and Psalms 30:5, where the use is figurative. The normal reference to a twenty-four hour period is the term for day (yom) used in Genesis I.9 Otherwise, the reference is commonly to night (layelah or layd) and day (either yom10 or yomam11). The word for morning (boger) is coupled to one of the words for night when emphasis is on the dawn, when night is completed.12
So it appears that what is recorded is a six-day series of revelations of God's acts, followed by a day of cessation or rest.13 This is followed by a different revelation specifically related to the human species.14 This removes the problem of when God created the universe and all its residents from the interpretation. The revelation had to be given after the creation of man. But the revelation may have been given to Adam in the Garden of Eden or to Moses somewhere in Sinai. I imagine that it was given earlier rather than later, that Adam had the information.15 But I cannot be dogmatic.
This interpretation eliminates the contradiction between the extreme age of the earliest life forms in the Precambrian Era and the record in Genesis 1. It also eliminates the problem of lining up what scientists know of the development of the solar system and the appearance of light three days before the sun was made. Finally, it eliminates the internal contradictions between the two revelations.
There is, however, one objection that, if it be sustained, makes this interpretation incompatible with a claim that Scripture is inerrant. Twice, in Exodus 20:11 and 3 1: 17, it is recorded that "in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth." If 'made' is the required translation, the interpretations given by Augustine and by Wiseman and me are untenable. However, the Hebrew verb, asah,16 is translated "showing" in Exodus 20:6 and "do" in verses 9 and following, Abraham did not make persons in Haran (Gen. 12:5). Nor did Mephibosheth make either feet or moustache (2 Sam. 19:24). It cannot be held that the laws (Es. 5:8) or the temple vessels (2 Chr. 24:7) were not made. And surely one cannot make to build (Josh. 22:6). In short, while the word may often be appropriately translated by 'make,' its use is far less definite. The Hebrew verb seems to be one of the least specific available. So the passages are equally compatible with the Lord producing, demonstrating, grooming, or acting in some other way. I am not suggesting that Exodus 20:11 be translated: " . . . in six days the Lord showed ... all ... and rested the seventh day ... This is no more plausible than the naive phrasing that seems to suggest that God was tired by the effort of creation and needed to relax.17 Perhaps the flavor of the verse can best be captured in English by " . . . in six days the Lord did the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that in them is, and ceased the seventh day."18 There is thus no Biblical objection to the view that the days are times of revelation. 19
It thus follows that the sequence God used to explain His activity cannot be used to determine the succession of His creative acts in nature. The first chapters of Genesis are equally compatible with the instantaneous appearance of everything in completed form or with the Creator's use of ages beyond human comprehension to bring the world to its present state. However, they are incompatible, on a careful reading, with the six-day fiat creationism advocated by many who have a high regard for Scripture. These chapters are equally incompatible with the commonly voiced alternatives, some sort of day-age interpretation. Indeed, close attention to the inspired text seems to turn the original question around: If God had intended to teach six-day creationism, why did He inspire the second chapter of Genesis? How else, short of inserting an explicit disclaimer, could He have made it clearer that Genesis I is not to be understood as the creative sequence?"NOTES
2. One attempt to bridge this gap requires an Aristotelian framework. Plants were produced in potency on the third day and actually later. But to tie an interpretation of Scripture to a philosophical technicality is unwarranted.
3. This is not the same verb, asah, translated 'make,' nor yatsar, Jorm,' of Genesis 2:7, 8 and 19. Banah is usually translated 'build.'
4. Josh McDowell, Answers to Tough Questions, pages 186f, gives four passages which supposedly indicate this Hebrew usage. However, not one of his claimed examples has the two verbs with the same subject in the same sentence. I must assume that he has collected the best evidences, yet they clearly fail. He first cites Exodus 4:19 as referring back to verse 12. But he assumes that God spoke to Moses only once, whereas it could have been twice. Second, he cites 19:2, with a reference back to 17:1. But this seems the same sort of recapitulation for clarification that one finds in English, Exodus 17:1 takes Israel from Sin, where God supplied manna, to Rephidim, where the people immediately began to complain about the lack of water. Exodus 18:5 seems to take place at Sinai, so 19:2 makes the several moves explicit.
Joshua 2:22 repeats the same verb of verse 21 ("werit" and "departed," respectively, in KJ). But its occurrence in verse 22 is not to be understood as "had departed," but as "went on." Yalak, the verb here, is the second verb in judges 19:14, with this latter sense, as clearly as it has the former in verses 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.
The final reference, I Kings 13:12, is the only one in which there is a single sentence in the Hebrew. But it has a change in subject between the two clauses. While this comes closest, it does Dot show that two verbs with the same subject in the same sentence can be interpreted in this strange way.
5. This work, a major product of Augustine's mature period (along with De Trinitate and De civitas dei), was first translated into English in 1982 by John Hammond Taylor as The Literal Meaning of Genesis (New York: Newman Press, 2 volumes). As a consequence, it is not commonly cited by those who work from English sources.
6. See Gen. 29:23; 2 Sam. 11;2, 13; Es. 2:14; Prov. 7:9; Zeph. 2:7. The Hebrew is ereb.
7. See Gen. 24:54; 29:25; 41:8; Num. 22:13, 21; Jud. 19:27; 20:19; Ruth 3:13f; I Sam. 3:15; 2 Sam. 24:11; 1 Kings 3:21. 'Day' in judges 16:2 is the same Hebrew word, boWr.
8. They refer to the two daily sacrifices in Lev. 6:20; 1 Chron. 16:40; 11 Chron. 2A 13:11; 31:3; Ezra 3:3. They refer to explicit time in Ex. 16:13; 18:13, 14; 27:2 1; Lev. 24:3; Num. 9:15, 21 (first pair only; cf. note 11); Deut, 16:4; 28:67; 1 Sam. 17:16; job 4:W; Psa. 55:17; 65:8; Exek. 12:7f; Dan. 8:26.
9. See, for example, Gen. 7:4, 1 If; U, 4, 14; Ex. 12:18f; etc. It also means the period of light in Gen. 1:5, 14, 18; 8:22; 18:1; etc. It approaches a more indefinite notion like our 'time,' as in Gen. 4:3; 19;37f; 30:33; 32:33; 47:29; etc.
10. Gen. 1:5. 14, 16, Is; 7:4, 12; 8:22; 31:39, 40; Ex. 10: 13; 24:18; 3418; Nurn. 9-15f ' 21; 11:32; Dent. 9:9, 11, 18, 25; 10:10; 1 Sam. 19:24; 28:20; 1 Kings 8:29; 19:8; Es. 4:16:job2:13; 17AZ; Psa. 74:16; Eccl, 8:16; Isa. 38:12,13;62:6.
11. Ev 112L 22, 4018; Lev. 8:35; Num. 9:21 (second pair only; see note 8); 14:15~Deut. 1:33:28:6;josh. 8:8; Judg. 6:27; 1 Sam. 25:16; 30:12; 11 Sam. 21:10; 1 Kings 8:59; 1 Chron. 9:33; 11 Chron. 6:20; Neh. 1:6; 4:9; 9:12, 19; Job 5:14; Psa. 1-21 32-41 4213; 55:10; 91:5; 121:6; 136:8f; Isa. 4:5; 28:19; 34:10; 60:11; Jer. 9:1; 14:17; 16-13: 31:35; 38:20, 25; Lam. 2:18.
12. Lev. 6:9; Nurn. 2.2:8 and 13, 19f and 21; Josh. 8:3, 9, 13 and 21; Judg. 19:25f; Ruth 3:13.
13. P. J. Wiseman, Creation Revealed in Six Days: The Evidence of Scripture Confirmed by Archeology (1948), comes to this same conclusion on different grounds. See the reprint in Donald J. Wiseman, ed,, Clues to Creation in Genesis (1917), p. 206. 1 thank Dr. C. Markham Berry for calling this to my attention following the presentation of the original version of this study at the 1982 arm" meeting.
14. P. J. Wisen~ New Discoveries in Babylonia About Genesis (1936), concludes this passage was written by Adam. See P. J. Wiseman, op. cit., pp. 59f.15. Wiseman gives evidence for this conclusion. Ibid., pp. 56-59.
16. It occurs according to Young's Concordance, 2629 times. Purists will note that, in the transliteration here and elsewhere, the quotation marks that indicate the unpronounced alepb and ayin have been ornitted.
In addition to the passages cited in the paragraph, one may also note other usages in KJ:"do": Gen. 3:13; 6:22; 7:5; 9:24; 16:6; 18:29; etc.
17. There is, however, a problem with Ex. 31:17, as usually translated. It does not seem to match Psa. 121:3, 4 and Isa. 27:3, nor does it seem compatible with orthodox theology. I suspect that there is a problem with the translation, although there may be an error in the transmission of the text.
18. The shift of words in the several passages is interesting. God "kept sabbatb" (shabath) in Gen. 2:2, 3, as did the people in Ex. 16:30 and the land in Lev. 26:34, 35. The resting (nuach) of God (Ex. 20:11) is that of ark (Gen. 8:4), animal (Ex. 23:12) and slave (Deut. 5:14).
19. Dallas E.Cain, in the interest section be conducted at the 1982 annual meeting, noted that this was one of a few interpretations of Gen. I (out of some 20 found in the literature) compatible with a high view of Scripture. In his evaluation, it bad no marks against it. It had his "top consumer rating."20. One may ask, if the basis of the common interpretations is so weak, how did they come to dominate fundamentalist and evangelical views? I think they grew out of a reaction against the claims of the higher critics and their followers. These latter claimed that Genesis was a pastiche of contradictory stories which must be read mythically or figuratively. in reaction, the conservatives contradicted these critics without realizing that they were getting into the fallacy of many questions. That is, they were misled by the form of the problem as it was given, by its external associations. As a consequence, they did not face the problem precisely. They were correct in insisting that God does not contradict Himself, either in His Word or in His works. But they did not consider the very important differences between Gen. 1:1-2:4 and 2:5-25. They were correct in insisting on a non-figurative reading. But, in their zeal for a literal reading, they failed to note that they erroneously assumed that the sole faithful rendering required that the passages be a description of the sequence of God's creative acts. They produced strained eisegetic interpretations to patch up the parallel between light and lights. They passed over the clear parallels between the firmament and its population, and between the earth and its population. Yet it is clear that the first triad of days is paralleled by the second triad. That this is a didactic or literary device should have been obvious. Yet over a dozen theories propounded by conservative students seem to do everything possible to avoid the evident. And now a strained interpretation has become the shibboleth of a large part of the American church: one who does not believe in divinely inspired nonsense is read out of the body of faith. As Paul would say, me genoito.