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Originally published in Creation 21, no 3 (June 1999): 44-45.
According to this passage [Hebrews 4:4–11], the seventh day of the creation week carries on through the centuries … the seventh day of Genesis 1 and 2 represents a minimum of several thousand years and a maximum that is open ended (but finite). It seems reasonable to conclude then, given the parallelism of the Genesis creation account, that the first six days may also have been long time periods.”1
This might seem reasonable to some, especially those like the author of the above statement who want to fit billions of years of death into the creation week. But it does not agree with the scriptural evidence, for several reasons:
Let’s see what Hebrews 4:3–4 really says:
For we who have believed do enter into the rest, as He said, “I have sworn in My wrath that they should not enter into My rest;” although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.
For He spoke in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: ‘And God rested the seventh day from all His works.
Hebrews 4:1–11 teaches that the seventh day of Creation Week was a parallel to the spiritual rest found through Christ alone. Only those who have believed in Christ enter this rest. If the Bible was speaking of an actual continuation of the seventh day of rest, then all would already be in this rest. The rest referred to is obviously a spiritual rest.
Verse 3 teaches that God has been resting since the creation of the world.2 But the parallel would make no sense unless the seventh day was an ordinary day. Hebrews never says that the seventh day of Creation Week is continuing to the present (in fact it says the opposite; see point 3 below), it merely says that God’s rest is continuing.
Could God not have rested on a real 24-hour day in the past and then continued to rest up until the present? If someone says on Monday that he rested on Saturday and is still resting, it in no way implies that Saturday lasted until Monday.
An important point here is that the Hebrew word shabat (rest, or cease—God never tires, of course) in Genesis 2:3 is in the perfect form meaning action finished in the past. Certainly God is still “resting” from the work of creation, because this has finished (see above). But Scripture never says that God is “resting on the seventh day.” Rather, Scripture teaches that God’s seventh-day rest is completed. This is contrary to what we would expect if the seventh day were still continuing.
Therefore, the seventh day can only be understood as a normal [earth-rotation] day in history on which God ceased His creative work.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. You shall not do any work. . . .
For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day.
The six days of creation and day of rest are exactly the same as those of the command to work six ordinary days and rest on the seventh. The passage is certainly not teaching an eternal weekend.
An interpretation of Scripture which contradicts other statements of Scripture must be wrong. The rest of Scripture points clearly to a six-day creation, for example:
The biggest problem for long ages is their millions of years of death, disease and pain before man’s Fall.
Death is called “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26), so it could not have been a part of God’s “very good” (Genesis 1:31) creation. The death brought in by Adam’s sin (Romans 5:12) is clearly physical as well as spiritual—see Genesis 3:19, as well as 1 Corinthians 15:21–22.
No wonder that James Barr, then Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University, wrote:
. . . probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that . . . creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience.5
Barr does not believe the Genesis account to be true history, but does not seek to evade what the Hebrew words so clearly teach.
[See also Kulikovsky, A.S., “God’s Rest in Hebrews 4:1–11”, Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal 13(2):61–62, 1999]