When does ‘day’ mean ‘day’?
A major American church debates the issue
If I said I was going on vacation for 14 days, I’m sure no one would ask me, ‘Now, did you mean you’ll be back in two weeks, or are you speaking metaphorically, and you’ll actually be returning 14 years from now?’ Yet many people continue to question our all-knowing God when He says He created in six normal-length days and rested on the seventh (Exodus 20:11), ‘Did you mean one week, or a few billion years?’
Last year, the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) accepted a motion that allowed for four acceptable interpretations of the Genesis account of creation: the ‘day-age’, ‘framework,’ ‘analogical days’, and straightforward views.
This year, the issue was once again hotly debated by PCA delegates, as those who accept the plain reading of Genesis as historical narrative proposed that the other three views be labeled ‘exceptions.’ Rev. Dale Smith rightly believes, ‘The integrity of the Holy Scriptures is at stake. Some people are wanting to reinterpret Scripture in order to conform with modern scientific theories.’
Interestingly, the July 2001 edition of Tabletalk (a magazine published by Ligonier Ministries) contains several articles by pastors of Presbyterian churches defending the straightforward use of the word ‘day’ in Genesis 1.
Rev. David Hall, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Oak Ridge, TN, states, ‘…there are only two major interpretive options (not three or four): conformist or non-conformist. The newer, conformist view needs to be reminded of what Romans 12:2 says: “Do not be conformed to this world.” The second, older view [that God created in six Earth-rotation days] needs to be emboldened and rise to tomorrow’s challenges. Moreover, it’s time that believers ceased being bullied by “experts”; our classical view of Creation is not a second-class view. It is the one that has been held by the orthodox for years — and for good reason!’ (p. 54).
Dr Joseph Pipa, president of Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, critiques the ‘framework’ hypothesis and concludes, ‘The framework hypothesis’ arguments fail to prove that Genesis 1 should be interpreted in a non-sequential manner. Furthermore, the clear reading of the text demands a chronological interpretation. … Exegetically, the framework hypothesis raises more problems than solutions. Nothing in the text demands a non-chronological, topical structure. Thus, evidence compels us to interpret Genesis 1 as sequential narrative.’ (p. 55). See also his more detailed critique of the Framework Hypothesis.
Dr Douglas Kelly, professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary and author of Creation and Change (see above for details), refutes the arguments of those who hold to the ‘day-age’ and ‘analogical-day’ theories. He points to the Ten Commandments, saying that, ‘…the seven days are given to humankind as a pattern for our lives on earth: six days of work and one day of rest, to the end of time. If the Sabbath day has not yet ended, how can humans fulfill the command to work for six days on a weekly basis during this vast, still-lasting Sabbath age?’ (p. 15). He states further, ‘Nearly always (unless the immediate context of the passage requires it) the Bible uses day to mean a 24-hour period. One has to engage in a sort of exegetical casuistry to make it mean otherwise in Genesis 1 and 2’ (p. 16).
Rev. Hall correctly points out, ‘Most tragic in this “reinventing Creation” process is the loss of confidence in Scripture’s clarity. For if the Genesis texts do not mean what they say, then numerous other texts are eventually doubted’ (p. 9).
As has been said many times before, if we can’t know from the words of Scripture how long it took God to create, then how can we know, based on the words of Scripture, that Jesus really rose from the dead? Why do we accept the Virginal Conception of Jesus, if not for the words of Scripture? If ‘day’ doesn’t mean ‘day’ in Genesis 1, how can we glean anything from God’s Word?
Although the PCA delegates voted to allow all four views, we trust that those within the PCA will continue to thoughtfully and carefully study this issue, and its ramifications.
- <www.pcanet.org/admin/2001generalassembly/overtures1.htm#OVERTURE 7>, June 18, 2001.
- Hogan, Susan, Conservative Presbyterian group to debate days of creation,
<www.dallasnews.com/religion/394630_pca_16rel.ART.html>, June 18, 2001.