Biblical reasons to affirm the creation days were 24 hour periods
A response to Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition
Published: 3 February 2015 (GMT+10)
Justin Taylor, a blogger at The Gospel Coalition, published a blog titled “Biblical reasons to doubt the creation days were 24-hour periods”.1 Now, The Gospel Coalition has done a lot of great work, but when they publish a piece that casts such doubt on a foundational text of Scripture, we have to respond in Christian love, because we have seen over and over how harmful such doubts are when it comes to the Gospel and sharing one’s faith. We would actually encourage our readers to read the Gospel Coalition article first, and ask yourself “How many of these claims could I answer?”, then come back and read this rebuttal!
Taylor claims “Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.” We don’t claim that it is directly taught, but neither is the Trinity, as such—a doctrine both CMI and Taylor would agree on. Rather, the Bible actually does have multiple texts that lead us to see that creation occurred around 6,000 years ago—see How does the Bible teach 6,000 years?
Taylor argues that people who view the days as long periods of time are not influenced by Darwin, because there were people who took a non-literal view of the days of creation long before Darwin. But Darwin was not the first person to suggest a radically larger timescale than the Bible would allow; there were ancient long-age philosophies. The fact remains that the Bible itself gives no reason to interpret the days as anything other than days. So whether it’s ancient philosophy, inflated Egyptian chronologies, Lyell’s uniformitarian geology, or Darwin’s theory of evolution, some outside influence is required to introduce the idea of vast ages of time.
Taylor quotes Augustine: “What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to determine” in City of God11.7, yet he fails to report that soon after, Augustine states, “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 6,000 years have yet passed.” (12.10). Taylor also quotes several inerrantist scholars from the 20th century who allowed that the creation days might be long periods of time. Indeed, it is a sad phenomenon that some otherwise sound evangelical scholars falter at this point. But Taylor misstates the situation. Looking at church history, the 24-hour day view was clearly the predominant view up until the time of Lyell and Darwin (Refuting Compromise chapter 3 demonstrates this amply).
Genesis 1:1: A title or an act?
Justin’s first argument is that Genesis 1:1 “is not a title or summary of the narrative that follows. Rather, it is a background statement that describes how the universe came to be. In Genesis 1:1, ‘created’ is in the perfect tense, and when a perfect verb is used at the beginning of a unit in Hebrew narrative, it usually functions to describe an event that precedes the main storyline (see Gen. 16:1, 22:1, 24:1 for comparison).”
But many creationists would largely agree with this interpretation. However, they would put the events described at the very beginning of Day 1 of creation week, so this argument in no way allows millions of years. There is nothing in the text that suggests that Genesis 1:1 was separated in time from the creation week, quite the contrary (and Exodus 31:17 says, “for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth …”, ruling out any extended timeframe).
Note also the tacit admission that Genesis 1 is historical narrative (“Hebrew narrative”). One of the marks of this is that the first verb in a sequence of events is perfect (“created” in Genesis 1:1) and subsequent verbs are imperfect. The series of events are also connected thus: ‘and … and … and … etc.’, and there is much else. Genesis was written as history (recording real events in time).
Is the seventh day 24 hours long?
Taylor’s second argument is: “was God’s creation ‘rest’ limited to a 24-hour period? On the contrary, Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 teach that God’s Sabbath rest ‘remains’ and that we can enter into it or be prevented from entering it.”
But in Psalm 95, “my rest” clearly represents the Promised Land and all the blessings God would pour out on those who trust Him. This is a misapplication of Scripture as there is only a slight connection to Genesis in Psalm 95 itself. The author of Hebrews connects God’s seventh-day rest” to the blessings Christians receive in Christ:
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. … For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said:‘As I swore in my wrath,although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,
‘They shall not enter my rest,’”“They shall not enter my rest.”
…So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” (Hebrews 4:1, 3–5, 9–10).
Clearly, God’s rest is being used in a metaphorical way, but it assumes an actual seventh-day rest as clearly shown in Genesis 1. And it is actually better to understand “rest” as “ceasing”. God was not tired, and He did not start creating again on the first day of the next week. See Is the seventh day an eternal day?
The ‘seventh day does not end’ argument is also illogical. Its basic form is: the seventh day is a rest; God still rests; therefore the seventh day still continues. This syllogism fails. I breathed on the first day of my life; I still breathe; it’s not still the first day of my life (contributed by David Anderson in the readers’ comments to Justin Taylor’s article).
The ‘day’ of Genesis 2:4 is not 24 hours long
Taylor points out that in Genesis 2:4 “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”, the ‘day’ is not 24 hours long. True, in Hebrew, the word for ‘day’ has a range of meanings, just like our word day. For instance
- ‘I drove all day to get to Grandma’s house’—‘day’ is roughly equivalent to the daylight hours.
- ‘I will go to Grandma’s house in three days’—‘day’ means a 24-hour period.
- ‘In Grandma’s day, the whole family would come to her house’—‘day’ refers to a nebulously-defined period of time in the past (note: not millions of years, though!).
- ‘One day, I will go to Grandma’s house’—‘day’ refers to a particular time in the future.
When you read those sentences in English, you don’t even think about which kind of ‘day’ I’m referring to; it’s obvious from the context. I can even put them together in one sentence, ‘In my grandma’s day, we would drive all day for three days to go to her house.’ and there is no problem understanding what I’m saying. In the same way, Moses can use “day” in Genesis 2:4 to refer to the period of time around God’s creation without contradicting his use of “day” in Genesis 1 to refer to normal-length days (which are demarcated by evening and morning and enumerated, all clearly indicating ‘ordinary’ days).
The Hebrew literally translated “in the day” (bayom) is idiomatic for ‘when’, and is translated thus in many modern English Bibles.
Does Genesis 2:5–7 assume more than an ordinary calendar day?
Taylor continues to argue that Genesis 2:5–7 requires more than a 24-hour day:
When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work on the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground—then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
However, a plain reading of the text simply tells the circumstances in which God created the man. For some reason, Taylor and the source he quotes takes the ‘mist’ to be rain clouds, and therefore assumes that time is required for the hydrological cycle to operate. However, this is simply not stated in the text.
Why should we take the days to be 24-hour days?
There are several reasons we should take the days to be 24-hour days.
- The grammar of Genesis 1 demands it. When the word “day” is combined with an ordinal number and “evening and morning”, it certainly means an ordinary-length day as measured by the night-day cycle.
- God uses Creation Week as a pattern for Sabbath-day rest. Exodus 20:11 says: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy.
- There are perfectly good words for ‘long period of time’, and God didn’t inspire Moses to use them. On the other hand, if God really wanted to say that He created over a period of 6 literal days, there isn’t a way He could make it much clearer than He already has.
- Those who argue for a non-literal meaning for ‘day’ often don’t stop there. While we cannot judge Justin Taylor’s motivation for his non-literal reading of the creation days, many use a figurative interpretation as an excuse to deny that Genesis says anything substantial about how and in what timeframe God actually created.
Martin Luther stated:
When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day. But if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go.2
Likewise, John Calvin says:
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 took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.3
John Wesley wrote:
We are not to think but that God could have made the world in an instant: but he did it in six days, that he might shew himself a free agent, doing his own work, both in his own way, and in his own time; that his wisdom, power and goodness, might appear to us, and be meditated upon by us, the more distinctly; and that he might set us an example of working six days, and resting the seventh.
Note that even though the tendency in their day was to shorten Creation Week to an instant, all three men insisted upon the literal nature of the days of Creation Week.
We have written elsewhere about the interpretive problems for the Gospel, the goodness of God, and eschatology of stretching Creation Week out over billions of years (see Did God create over billions of years? for example). There is simply no need to interpret the days of Creation Week as anything other than normal-length days. This agrees with the unanimous witness of Scripture, and with the predominant interpretation of Genesis throughout Church history. There is every reason to be encouraged, and not to doubt the clear teaching of the Bible.
References and notes
- Justin Taylor, thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/01/28/biblical-reasons-to-doubt-the-creation-days-were-24-hour-periods/ Return to text.
- What Luther Says: A Practical In-Home Anthology for the Active Christian, compiled by Ewald M. Plass, Concordia, 1959, p. 93. Return to text.
- Calvin, J., Institutes 2:925. Return to text.