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Why believe God took as long as six days to create?
The church was essentially unanimous in affirming a world only thousands of years old rather than billions until the rise of ‘deep time’ geology led to a proliferation of compromise ‘interpretations’. However, it was not quite as unanimous in affirming the ‘historical week’ interpretation of Genesis 1. The ‘historical week’ view was always the clear majority view, and other views died out over time, but there was another minority view—that God created everything over a considerably shorter time than six days, such as one day, or instantaneously. And yet it has practically no defenders today, even in ‘young earth creationist’ circles. D.M. from the United States raises the issue of why:
Greatly appreciated your Creation Magazine Live 3–11 on ‘What did the Church Fathers believe about Genesis’ (highlighting Hugh Ross’ faux claims). I’m not sure if it was just a couple of the Reformers who took a slightly different position (but agreed in a young earth) but since you did not address it I wanted to make sure you were aware of it:
Given that a symbol (figure of speech, etc.) is weaker than the reality it represents, (also quoted by R.C. Sproul from a Church Father &/or Reformer) some of them believed that everything was created in an instant. The seven-day week is very important throughout Scripture (for our health as well—with one day of rest), which would support the Genesis account. Creation in an instant is definitely stronger than the symbol of a seven-day week, but evolution is much weaker than it (and also contradicts Scripture, as in death being the result of sin …). Of course, we can never define how God did it (“God said [spoke] … and there was …”).
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
In terms of chronology, the instantaneous creation view works with the same basic historical framework as we do. Nevertheless, it is for exegetical reasons that the instantaneous creation view finds practically no defenders today in young-age creationist circles. Moreover, while some Church Fathers held to it, few (if any) Reformers did. Martin Luther, the ‘Father of the Reformation’, is representative of the Reformers when he says of Genesis 2:19–20:
We may note further that Moses here describes the work of the sixth day, of which he briefly spoke in 1:26–27. Now he enlarges on this report, devoting a whole chapter to man’s creation. We should therefore hold firmly that God created the world in six days (and maintain this) against the delusion of Augustine and Hilary that everything was made in a moment.1
Probably the second-most important Reformer, John Calvin, commented on Genesis 1:
Here the error of those is manifestly refuted, who maintain that the world was made in a moment. For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.
The question here is whether God accommodated his words or his works to the understanding of men. Without clear contextual reasons to conclude the former, and positive reasons to conclude the latter (see below), it’s better for us to say with Moses that God took six days for our benefit.
Moreover, the instantaneous creation view found in the early church fathers was based on three problematic grounds: (1) a faulty interpretation of Genesis 2:4, (2) a mediocre interpretation of a faulty Latin translation of Sirach 18:1 (a book in the Apocrypha), and (3) intuitions on what it should look like for God to exercise His omnipotence. For example, Augustine was a neo-Platonist before he was saved, and after his salvation, he still explained Christian doctrines in terms of this philosophy of his day.
The first problem comes from taking “in the day of” in Genesis 2:4 in a woodenly literal manner without paying attention to the previous uses of the word in Genesis 1. The term “in the day of” is idiomatic for “when”; it communicates nothing about any specific length of time. For more, please see Does Genesis 2:4 refute literal creation days? and “ … when Yahweh God made the earth and the heavens”, a proposal for the right translation of בְּיוֹם[bəyôm] in Genesis 2:4.
Regarding the second problem, patristics expert Dr Benno Zuiddam explains it well in Augustine: young earth creationist:
He [church father Augustine of Hippo] used an old Latin version when he quoted from Jesus Sirach 18:1 (‘He who lives eternally has made omnia simul’). Augustine interpreted the Latin words omnia simul as ‘everything at the same time’. He consequently thought that God would have created everything instantaneously. That is why he came up with the theory that Creation should have been shorter than six earth days.
The third problem is found in thinking that instantaneous creation is the best possible expression of omnipotence. And it is an elegant idea. However, omnipotence means that God can do any logically possible thing. He is hardly restricted to creating everything instantly! Besides, if God has other purposes in creation than just displaying his power (as Exodus 20:8–11, 31:16–17 and Mark 2:27 indicate), then He may indeed take time to do it. I once said to another commenter in ‘Natural Law’ in the Creation Week?:
Why take a full six days? Remember that He also took a day to savour the finished creation (Genesis 2:1–3). Exodus 20:8–11 clearly makes Creation Week the historical precedent for the Israelite work week. Exodus 31:16–17 points out that the Sabbath was a sign of the Mosaic covenant because it acts as a reminder of exactly which God Israel entered into covenant with. Jesus also said that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). Now, clearly God would have had foreknowledge of these events (the Sinai covenant and Jesus’ words) during Creation Week. Thus they reveal a dual planned purpose for the Creation Week: it set a healthy pattern for human work and rest, and it provided a sign for the Sinai covenant. God was not just trying to show how powerful He is in creation—He had other purposes.
Further, as pointed out in our book Refuting Compromise, required reading for anyone wanting to refute long-age compromise in general and Hugh Ross in particular:
Because of Augustine’s lack of Hebrew knowledge, he may not have been aware that there was a perfectly good word available for ‘moment’ or ‘instant’ (רָ֫גַע, rega‘), if that’s what God had intended to communicate, and it could have been combined with ‘time’ or ‘day’. It is used of God’s activity four times in the Old Testament: Exodus 33:5, Numbers 16:21, 16:45 and Ezra 9:8.
Not only was Augustine’s error the opposite to Ross’s, he also explicitly taught what would now be called a ‘young’ Earth. In his most famous work, City of God, he has a whole chapter, Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past, where he says:
Let us, then, omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race. … They are deceived, too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though, reckoning by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed.2
Since he believed creation was in an instant, then in Augustine’s thinking, the time from Adam to the present was also the time from the beginning of creation to the present, which was less than 6000 years. Furthermore, contrary to Ross’s assertion, Augustine wrote against a backdrop of evolutionary thinking in his time.3
Nevertheless, the intuition of the instantaneous creation view is right about something—for God’s creation activities to demonstrate extreme power they cannot look anything like natural processes. This is one reason why deep time doesn’t reveal a powerful Creator. However, the historical week interpretation provides a ‘comfortable compromise’. Nobody would think that creating the whole universe in less than a week would be something that just anyone could do, much less something that could happen naturally. And yet, the time element of the Creation Week speaks to our work habits, of which the Creation Week is the archetype. God not only demonstrated his power in the Creation Week, but also His care for us. As such, while we can’t define how God did it, God can, and He has in Genesis 1, Exodus 20, and Exodus 31.
References and notes
- Luther, M., Genesis, tr. Mueller, J.T., p. 60, 1958. Return to text
- Augustine, De Civitate Dei (The City of God), 12(10). Return to text
- The early–20th-century evolutionist director of the American Museum of Natural History, Henry Fairfield Osborn, showed in his book, From the Greeks to Darwin (NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929) that all the essential ideas of Darwin’s theory can be found in the writings of the ancient Greeks long before Augustine or even Christ. Return to text
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