Foliage in fast forward
Why rapid plant growth during creation week poses no threat to the biblical timeframe
One excuse that some Christians have used for disbelieving in 24-hour creation days has to do with the way God created plants on Day 3. They point out that God didn’t simply cause plant life to pop into being out of nothing, fully formed. Rather, in Genesis 1, God’s command was: “Let the earth sprout vegetation” (v. 11). Thus, “The earth brought forth vegetation” (v. 12). It is true that these lines indicate a process of growth—and, by the end of that process, the trees were mature enough to bear fruit (v. 12). In today’s world, this would ordinarily take years. So, does the fact that the plants grew from the ground up to maturity prove that this activity could not have been accomplished in an ordinary day?
One critic of 24-hour creation days has argued, “if the author were thinking here of 24-hour periods of time, what he would have to be imagining would be something like time lapse photography where the little seed bursts out of the ground and then erupts into this tree, grows up and pops out blossoms all over and then bam! bam! bam! all the apples pop out on the tree. I just can’t persuade myself that this is what the author was thinking of—that he imagined this looking like a film being run on fast forward.”1
No ordinary week
However, we must remember that the Creation Week involved supernatural events. Genesis 1 describes the miraculous origin of the entire universe, so why think that God was limited to ordinary rates of plant growth?
Plus, Genesis 1:24 says the earth brought forth the animals as well—but animals don’t normally spring out of the ground, so the fact that the plants came from the ground need not indicate that they developed by ordinary biological means.
The creation days of Genesis 1 clearly must be the 24-hour kind, since the context constrains the meaning—each day consists of an ‘evening’ and a ‘morning’, for example, and the days are listed in a numbered sequence.2 So the plants made on Day 3 must have developed within a single day’s timeframe—they did indeed blossom and bloom with supernatural speed.
More examples of speedy sprouting
There is nothing far-fetched about this understanding of the passage, especially given the fact that numerous miracles in Scripture involve the rapid accomplishment of what natural processes today only achieve slowly. In fact, the Bible contains several examples of accelerated plant growth in particular and accelerated withering to boot. For example, God transformed Aaron’s staff overnight so that it “sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds” (Numbers 17:8). Jesus cursed a fig tree and, in short order, it withered down “to its roots” (Mark 11:20, cf. Matthew 21:19). God rapidly produced a source of shade for Jonah, but in the morning made it shrivel just as fast—the plant “came into being in a night and perished in a night” (Jonah 4:10). So, if God supernaturally hastened the advance and retreat of botanical objects on all these occasions, He certainly could have done the same during Creation Week, when “He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:9).
How the early church read Genesis
Many of the Church Fathers also recognized that, when God created the plants on Day 3, He caused them to spring up essentially instantaneously—even though these men lived long before time lapse photography and never saw a video in fast forward. Ephraim the Syrian (306–373), for example, commented that, “Although the grasses were only a moment old at their creation, they appeared as if they were months old. Likewise, the trees, although only a day old when they sprouted forth, were nevertheless … fully grown and fruits were already budding on their branches.”3,4 In addition, Basil the Great (329–379) remarked, “In a moment earth began by germination to obey the laws of the Creator, completed every stage of growth, and brought germs to perfection. … This short command was in a moment a vast nature, an elaborate system. Swifter than thought it produced the countless qualities of plants.”5 Furthermore, John Chrysostom (349–407) proclaimed, “everything heard the command, and at once sprang from the earth into view … In an instant you could see the earth, which just before had been shapeless and unkempt, take on such beauty as almost to defy comparison with heaven.”6
God meant what He said
We are in good company, then, when we take Genesis at face value. We serve a supernatural God who isn’t limited by the laws He established to regularly govern nature today. He can speed up the rate at which plants grow, and that is what the Bible indicates He did on Day 3. In the beginning—the Bible says—God made every green thing, and it was all in a day’s work.
References and notes
- Craig, W.L., Creation and Evolution (Part 3), Transcript of Defenders 2 class, 2013; reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s9-03, cf. creation.com/craig. Return to text.
- Batten, D., Ed., The Creation Answers Book, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, chapter 2, 2006. Return to text.
- The caveat should be added that God creates things with maturity, but not with a deceptive appearance of age. Return to text.
- Ephraim the Syrian, Commentary on Genesis and Exodus (Gen 1.22). Return to text.
- Basil the Great, Hexaemeron (5.5,10). Return to text.
- John Chrysostom, Homilies on Genesis (5.12–13). Return to text.