1 and serves as the editor of the journal Origins.is travelling secretary for the Biblical Creation Society in the United Kingdom. He holds a B.S. with honors in chemistry and an M.S. in chemistry from the University of Nottingham, and a Ph.D. in photochemistry from Wolverhampton Polytechnic. Dr. Peet, who is a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, has served in higher education for 22 years with 2 years service as international development manager for science education projects. He is the author of two textbooks and a number of research papers in chemistry and science education. He is also the author of the book In the Beginning God Created …
One subject creationists are often asked about is the nature of the days in Genesis 1. I am convinced both biblically and scientifically that the creation record in Genesis 1 is historical and should be treated as straightforward fact. It is often argued we “know” that the creation days were longer than the present 24-hour days. Such bold claims need justification and the purpose of this article is to explore them. I believe it can be demonstrated that this is an assumption which is invalidated by Scripture and unnecessary in science.
What does the Bible claim?
As a Christian who is concerned to be subject to the Bible, I naturally want to follow the Bible rather than any man-made ideas, however clever and interesting they may be. So, let’s go back to the Bible. We read in Genesis 1 of a series of days in which God created the heavens and the earth. In each case, the days are enumerated (first, second, third, etc.) and are delineated by “the evening and the morning.” Whenever the Hebrew word for day, yôm, is used in the Bible (359 times) with the ordinal (first, etc.), it clearly means a normal day. In addition, there is an alternative word in Hebrew, olam, used elsewhere in the Bible to indicate a long period of time.
Any unbiased reader would interpret the passage as meaning real, or natural, days.
I believe that any unbiased reader would interpret the passage as meaning real, or natural, days. We understand a day to be 24 hours. Though there may have been some variation in this period of time during history, that would not be significant in understanding this wording. The period of time called a day is the time of rotation of the earth about its axis. To my knowledge, most Hebrew scholars who have examined the subject admit that this is the clear intention of the writer; that is, to convey the idea of creation being completed in six periods of 24 hours.2 To avoid any misunderstanding, I am not saying that God took 24 hours to complete each stage of creation. The acts of creation may well have been instantaneous, but each group of activity described is limited to this discrete period of time. There is an interesting consequence of this. The terms day, month, and year have clear astronomical meanings, but where does the concept of the week come from?3 It is only derived from the Genesis account of creation and is defined by “six days of activity and one of rest.” This is reiterated in the Fourth Commandment (Exod. 20:11).
Our doctrine of Scripture is on trial. Do we believe in its perspicuity, that is, that the Scriptures are clear in what they say and understandable to the ordinary reader? What are our principles of interpretation? These must be established first and then applied to our reading of, in this case, the creation account. It does seem that for many we can hold traditional evangelical principles of interpretation lightly when we are embarrassed by the ideas of modern academics. We do not seem to be so concerned about the embarrassment of abandoning these ideas when they are out of fashion or by the embarrassment of querying God’s word.
What did God mean?
Many who would agree with my response to the first question would go on to say, “Ah, yes, but God … .” The gist of their comments would be that the passage cannot be interpreted in a literal sense. That is, this was a convenient way of communicating the idea, be it by parable, vision, or something else. But, does this approach hold water? Many claim that Genesis 1 (and through to chapter 11) is not written as a historical narrative, but in some other form. Varied claims have been made: poetry, metaphor, myth, parable, story, analogy,4 allegory, drama, and so on. With so many suggestions, it clearly does not conform to any one of these well-known Hebrew or Near Eastern literary forms. As Professor Gerhard F. Hasel put it, “The obvious consensus is that there is no consensus on the literary genre of Genesis 1.” So, it would seem that these are all cases of special pleading in order not to face the obvious fact that it is written as, and reads as, a straight historical narrative.
For whatever reason, the non-historical approach implies that God could not explain the real facts to man in a way that is intelligible to him. Surely this cannot be a serious suggestion! If I can describe the concept of creation over a long period of time to a child (and I could!), then God, the perfect communicator, would have no problem. So, why should God use this misleading imagery?
But the question goes deeper. It hits at the very heart of our belief in God’s integrity. It is more than us being mistaken about the meaning of Genesis 1. Turn over to Exodus 20:8–11, the command concerning the Sabbath. Why was the nation of Israel to keep the Sabbath? Because God arbitrarily chose one day in seven? Here is cause and effect. The Sabbath law is directly based on His creation activity. The Jews were to work six days and rest on the Sabbath because God used that pattern in His creation work. But, it goes deeper. God is stating that this is what He did. Is His testimony true or untrue? If it is not true, then He breaks His own commandment, “Do not lie.” Where, then, would be His integrity? He has broken His own moral law. (See also Exod. 31:17.) So, we conclude that the issue is concerned with our doctrine of God with respect to His integrity. Further, it affects our view of His omnipotence. At the end of the debate, we are left with the question of His ability to do the work of creation in a miraculous way. Genesis 1 and 2 are not about natural processes of science (biology, chemistry, physics, cosmology, etc.) but are about miracle. Further, the Bible tells us (Gen. 2:2–3) that His creation work is finished and completed. We cannot see God creating now. We are living within and under His providence.
Why do we want any other meaning?
I presume it is not because we think God cannot create the universe in six days. Then again, it is not because the biblical text requires some other meaning. The answer to this question usually involves some statement such as “Because modern science demands it.” Of course, science does not require anything. It is a body of observable facts and a process of research. From that, scientists develop interpretations and theories to explain the observations. A Geiger counter will give a reading, but it is the scientist who interprets it and explains what the reading implies.
The basic argument is that scientists have shown through the geological column that the earth is very old5 and so the great ages demonstrated through dating the rocks in the column must be equivalent to the days of Genesis 1. The geological column is the theoretical correlation of the different rock formations around the world. Though it does not occur anywhere in this complete form, geologists can relate different strata in the different regions to give what they interpret as the earth’s history. It incorporates many fossil remains and the strata are given ages of tens and hundreds of millions of years. So, it is argued, this timespan has to be found in Genesis.6 This is the fundamental error in the day/age theory. The geological column has nothing to do with Genesis 1. An alternative interpretation of the geological column can be found elsewhere, but for the purposes of this study it is sufficient to emphasize the non-equivalence of the creation account and the geological column. Once this perceived link is broken, there is no reason to distort Scripture and the apparent meaning of the days in Genesis 1.
This non-equivalence is demonstrated by comparing the two systems. Genesis 1 is about the creation of what is good, indeed very good (Gen. 1:31). It is about beauty and order. It is about that which gives our God pleasure (Rev. 4:11). It is about harmony. The rocks and their fossils speak of death, destruction, agony, and conflict.7 Whatever the geological column has to say about age, it has no relation to Genesis 1 and creation. If millions of years have to be found, they are not to be located within the Creation Week of Genesis 1 and so there is no need to make the days mean anything other than normal days.
If we want to turn to scientific evidence which supports the normal day timeframe, we can find it in such biological aspects as symbiosis, the mutual dependence of one species on another. One cannot survive without the other for extended periods of time. This observation is made throughout the biological world. You might propose their parallel evolution, but that is clearly not what Scripture describes. I believe that if you wish to accept the biblical revelation on special creation, you must accept the consequence of the need for a short timespan between the creative acts.
The concept of a six-day creation is obviously anti-evolutionary. Evolution requires a long time, though I would dispute whether any amount of time could be sufficient for such a scenario. Six-day creation also requires design. There is no time for chance processes. The fauna and flora had to be fit for the environment in which they were placed. Consequently, too, there had to be built into the living organisms the potential for future variation. This is consistent with the observations from genetics.
If we are to take the Bible account seriously, then we must recognize that the days of Genesis 1 are normal days, i.e., the period of the rotation of the earth about its axis, defined by “
the evening and the morning.” I believe there is no scriptural reason for believing otherwise. There is no relevant scientific need for reinterpreting God’s revelation. And, for the Christian, I believe the Scripture is definitive rather than the thoughts of scientists (or theologians).
The author acknowledges helpful comments made by members of the Biblical Creation Society committee in the preparation of this chapter.