Is the Seventh Day 24-Hours Long?

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There are many objections to the days of creation in Genesis 1 being 24-hour days, but perhaps one that many old-earth creationists believe to be their “silver bullet” argument concerns the seventh day of creation. Old Testament scholar and old-earth creationist C. John Collins argues that the lack of the refrain “evening and morning” on the seventh day is a reason not to understand it as an ordinary day and therefore “makes us question whether the other days are supposed to be ordinary in their length.”1 Collins who holds to the “analogical day position” (i.e. the days of creation are God’s workdays) does have other reasons for rejecting the days as normal twenty-four-hour days2 but believes that the absence of “evening and morning” from “the seventh day is so striking that an adequate reading must account for it.”3 Like Collins, Christian apologist and old-earth creationist John Lennox raises the same objections to day seven being a 24-hour day:

There is no mention here of “evening and morning,” as there has been for each of the first six days. The omission is striking and calls for an explanation. . . . Thus the seventh day is arguably different from the first six, which are days of creative activity.4

Does the fact that day seven lacks “evening and morning” mean it is not an ordinary, 24-hour day, and can we give an adequate account for its absence?

Day Seven

It is important to keep in mind that God finished creating on day six. The definite article is used here for the first time (the sixth day) to indicate the completion of the work of creation upon that day.5 Day seven is a summary remark of the completion of the heavens and earth:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:1–3)

It is important to keep in mind that God finished creating on day six.

It should be noted that God is not still working on the seventh day and that he had finished working the prior day.6 The seventh day was not a day of creation but a day of rest (Genesis 2:3). Thus God had finished (kala’) all his work, referring to everything in heaven and earth being completed. The words of Genesis 2:1 introduce the completion of God’s creation. The verbs “finished,” “rested,” and “blessed” indicate the uniqueness of this day. The fact that day seven, like the other days, is numbered is further evidence that it is a day of 24 hours (Genesis 2:2–3).

The interpretation that day seven is not a 24-hour day because it lacks “evening and morning” misunderstands the use of this phrase throughout the creation week. Notice that in each of the first six days there is a structure, which is not mentioned on the seventh day, to shape each of the days:7

  1. “God said . . .”
  2. “Let there be . . .”
  3. “There was . . . ”
  4. “God saw that it was good.”8
  5. “There was evening and morning . . .”

Because day seven is not a day of creation but a day of rest, it is not necessary to use the “evening and morning” formula used in day one through day six since it has a “rhetorical function that marks the transition from a concluding day to the following day.”9 Yet it is not only evening and morning that is absent from day seven, but the other parts of the formula are also absent. The formula is used to describe God’s work of creation. The formula is not used on the seventh day because God had already finished creating (Genesis 2:1–3). Furthermore, no terminator phrase is needed for the seventh day, like the others, since the terminator to this day is the toledot (Genesis 2:4) as the next section of the narrative is about to begin.

The text of Genesis 1, together with Exodus 20:8–11 and Exodus 31:17, gives a clear indication that the days are 24 hours long. Even those theologians who disagree with the young-earth position acknowledge this.10 Exodus 20:8–11 has a number of connections with the creation week: a six-plus-one pattern, the “heavens and the earth,” “rested the seventh day,” “blessed,” and “made it holy.” All of this suggests that one of God’s purposes in creating the heavens and the earth within six 24-hour days, followed by a literal day of rest, was to set up a pattern for his people to follow. Exodus 20:11 also teaches that God made everything in six days using an adverbial accusative of time (“in six days”), which indicates the duration of God’s creative activity.11

Are We in the Sabbath Rest?

C.J. Collins argues that because day seven is not a 24-hour day, it is therefore unending, implying that we are still in God’s Sabbath rest. He cites John 5:17 and Hebrews 4:3–11 to support this claim.12 If the seventh day is unending, then this surely raises a serious theological problem: how could God curse the creation (Genesis 3) while at the same time blessing and sanctifying the seventh day?13 The idea of being blessed and cursed at the same time would have been foreign to an Israelite audience, for they understood that if they obeyed God’s commands, they would be blessed, and if they disobeyed them they would be cursed (Deuteronomy 28).

If the seventh day is unending, then this surely raises a serious theological problem.

The use of John 5:17 and Hebrews 4 to show that the Sabbath day continues to the present day proves no such thing. John 5:17 says, “But Jesus answered them, ‘My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.’” In context, Jesus is referring to God’s providential and redemptive work, not his creative work. The verse says nothing about the seventh day continuing. Hebrews 4:3 is referring to the spiritual rest that all believers enter into through faith in Christ. Hebrews 4 quotes Genesis 2:2 and Psalm 95:7–11, and these are used by the author as an argument to warn of the danger of unbelief. Again, the text does not say that the seventh day continues but rather that God’s rest (from his creation work) continues.

Sadly, the denial over the length of the days of creation in Genesis 1 as being six 24-hour days is rife amongst evangelical scholars. What is more disappointing, however, is that many of their reasons given for not believing in six 24-hour days simply do not hold up to a careful examination of the text of Genesis 1.

Footnotes

  1. C. John Collins, Genesis 1–4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2006), 125.
  2. Collin’s other reasons for rejecting the first six as twenty-four hours are: (1)The first day starts in Genesis 1:3, and thus our author has not necessarily presented the six days as the first six days of the universe: the author presents the origin of everything, Genesis 1:1 as taking place an unspecified amount of time before the work week; (2) The fourth day does not describe the creation of the heavenly lights; and (3) The Creation account makes no claim as to how old the universe is or about how old the earth itself is, since the author does not specify how long God waited between verses 1 and 2. (Collins 2006, 124–126.)
  3. Collins 2006, 42.
  4. John Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), 50.
  5. See C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 1: The Pentateuch. Trans. J. Martin (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing, 1980), 50.
  6. John Currid notes: “The verb for ‘completed’ is the same one used in the previous verse. In verse 1, however, the verb is in the Pual stem, which is passive—it does not reflect who or what acted on the completion. Here in verse 2 the verb is in the Piel form, which is active. It is God who has done the work and it is he who has brought creation to completion.” John D. Currid, Genesis 1:1–25:18, vol 1., An EP Study Commentary (New York, NY: Evangelical Press, 2003), 92.
  7. See Robert V. McCabe, “A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Week,” in Coming To Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth, eds. T. Mortenson and T. H. Ury, (Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2008), 225–227, 242.
  8. The phrase “God saw that it was good” is absent on day two. Old Testament scholar Victor Hamilton explains the reason for this: “The omission of the phrase in v.8 may indicate that the author viewed the creation of the vault [expanse] as only a preliminary stage to the emergence of dry land in v.10, and thus he reserved the phrase until its most appropriate time.” Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis Chapters 1–17: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (W.B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1900), 124.
  9. McCabe, “A Critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Week,” 242.
  10. John Walton states, “I am unpersuaded by the argument that the interpretation of yom in Gen. 1 can refer to long periods of time. It is true that yom has a variety of diverse uses, but diversity in the semantic range does not give the interpreter the freedom to choose whichever use suits his or her purposes. Our attempt must always be to identify the meaning that can be supported as the one the author intended. I consider it likely, given the kind of use manifested in Gen. 1, that the author had a twenty-four-hour period in mind.” John Walton, “Reading Genesis 1 as Ancient Cosmology,” in Reading Genesis 1–2: An Evangelical Conversation, ed. J. Daryl Charles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2013), 163.
  11. Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, Indiana: Eisenbrauns, 1990), 171.
  12. Collins 2006, 125.
  13. See John C. Whitcomb Jr., “The Science of Historical Geology in the Light of the Biblical Doctrine of a Mature Creation,” Westminster Theological Journal 36 (1973): 68.

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