Hebrew professor: Genesis teaches six solar days!
Jonathan Sarfati interviews Dr Andrew Steinmann of Concordia University
Dr Andrew Steinmann holds a B.S.Ch.E. (chemical engineering) from the University of Cincinnati, OH; an M. Div. from Concordia Theological Seminary (Ft. Wayne, IN); and a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Michigan. He has served as pastor to both a church and a retirement home. Dr Steinmann is now Distinguished Professor of Theology and Hebrew, and University Marshal of Concordia University Chicago, a conservative Lutheran liberal arts university. He is the author of about a dozen books, including several commentaries on Old Testament books, and many theological papers, and is a member of the National Association of Professors of Hebrew. Dr Steinmann is married to Rebecca, a registered nurse at a children’s hospital, and co-editor of the latest edition of the widely used Sheehy’s Emergency Nursing; their son is the principal of a Lutheran high school and their daughter is an accountant.
For most of Church history, Jewish and Christian scholars have understood Genesis 1 to teach literal creation days. And it’s not just ancient Hebraists who understood it this way; most modern Hebraists also understand that the author of Genesis intended to teach literal days. For example, James Barr (1924–2006), Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University, said:
“[P]robably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience; the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story; Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”1
Dr Barr was quite liberal theologically, so did not believe Genesis, but he understood what Genesis taught. One Hebrew scholar who understands Genesis in the same way—and also believes it—is Dr Andrew Steinmann of Concordia University.
Context and author’s intention
Some will argue that the word for ‘day’ in Hebrew, (יום) yôm, is not so clear in Genesis 1, because it can have several different meanings. Similarly, in English, the expression ‘in my father’s day’ does not mean a literal day.2 Dr Steinmann responds that in both English and Hebrew, “context and the author’s or speaker’s intention determine meaning.” Indeed, the phrase ‘in my father’s day’, contains contextual clues as to the meaning of the word day. “One clue is the use of the preposition in which implies a time during which something happened (i.e. an era) in contrast to another preposition such as on which implies a point in time, a particular day (i.e. on the first day of the week). Another clue is the use of a person who lived in a past time (father’s), again implying a past era. These clues are often obvious to native speakers of a language, but not so obvious to those for whom the language is not native. So, for Genesis, we must be very careful to look for the contextual clues, since no one today is a native speaker of ancient Hebrew.”
Days of Creation
But then, what is the context of Genesis 1? It’s very different from ‘in my father’s day’. When it comes to the six creation days followed by the day of rest, all the creation days close with the phrase, “There was an evening, and there was a morning.” Could this allow for creation days millions of years long, as ‘Day-Age’ theorists teach? Dr Steinmann adamantly replies, “Absolutely not!” and continues, “Clearly this phrase used in this context notes the day-night cycle, a cycle begun on the first day with the creation of light. Moreover, this phrase is repeated five more times to emphasize that there is a succession of six solar3 days during which God created the world (Gen 1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31).”
In technical papers, Dr Steinmann argued that this phrase is a merism meaning the whole 24-hour day.4 A merism is a figure of speech where two opposites are used to refer to a whole, e.g. ‘open day and night’ meaning open for the whole time, including dawn and dusk; ‘searched high and low’ means ‘searched everywhere’.
“‘There was an evening, and there was a morning, one day’ essentially says ‘evening + morning = one day.’ In this context day is clearly defined as being a regular (normal-length) day. This is not day in the sense of a period of daylight, nor is it day in the sense of era. The noting of the passing of time with the coming of evening and then morning is a vital contextual clue as to the meaning of the word day as consisting of the passage of time as measured by the coming and going of light.”
Before there are any other days in history, one can’t talk about ‘a first day’, i.e. with an ordinal number (first, second, third, …). Instead, the expression Day One is used, i.e. a cardinal number is used (one, two three …). However, after Day One has occurred, it’s reasonable to use ordinal numbers:
“After establishing the first day as ‘one (solar) day’ the subsequent days are counted. So, Genesis says ‘ a second day … a third day … a fourth day … a fifth day.’”
However, this pattern changes slightly for the last two days of Creation Week, because the text has the Hebrew article ha (“the”). Dr Steinmann explains why:
“The sixth and seventh days are highlighted as special days. On the sixth day God created humans to rule over the earth, and God consecrated the seventh day as the day he ceased his work of creating. Even the numbering of these days in the Hebrew text is somewhat unusual. The normal Hebrew constructions for ‘the sixth day’ and ‘the seventh day’ are not used. Instead, the text says ‘day, the sixth one’ and ‘day, the seventh one’ to highlight these two important days of the first week.”
Was Genesis history?
A recent excuse for evading the plain meaning of Genesis is the ‘Framework Hypothesis’, invented by Arie Noordtzij in 1924. This admits that Genesis 1 teaches literal creation days, but asserts that these are not days of history but a literary framework. Dr Steinmann of course is well aware of this, summarizing that the framework is “two sets of three days: Day 1: light created, Day 2: waters and sky, Day 3: land // Day 4: lights in the sky, Day 5: water and sky creatures, Day 6: land animals and humans.”
But he points out the basic logical fallacy: “It is not proper to make this an either/or proposition.” Rather, it could logically be both literary and historical, as he explains further:
“Even if we concede that there is some type of framework here, it is important to note that this observed framework comes from outside the text of Genesis 1, and is only a general observation—not true in all the particulars7—and that it attempts to help us see how the author (Moses) shaped the historically accurate narrative to communicate truths about God. However, this does not rule out the days being real historical days. That God is an orderly creator who created in a way that leads to a literary framework is obvious in Genesis 1. But what ought also to be obvious is that God is a God of history, so he created time and used six days to create the world.”
Furthermore, it’s clear from the context that Genesis was intended to teach actual historical events. Dr Steinmann is a published expert on Old Testament history and chronology,8 and points out:
“Not only do these chapters contain narratives about people and their acts, but they are also linked to persons through genealogical accounts (e.g. Genesis 5, 10, 11:10–32). These genealogies testify to the real, historical nature of the persons mentioned in the narratives.”
Furthermore, Genesis 1–11 blends seamlessly into Genesis 12–50, and the latter can’t be understood without the former history. Dr Steinmann elaborates:
“The Genesis narrative slows at Genesis 12 to give us more detailed accounts of the events in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but even these accounts are interspersed with genealogies (e.g. Ishmael’s descendants in Genesis 25:12–18). In fact, the events of the latter chapters of Genesis are so well documented in the text, that we can confidently date many of the events of the lives of Israel’s patriarchs.”
Importance of a literal Genesis to Christianity
Many in the church claim that the understanding the days of Genesis is a ‘side issue’. But Dr Steinmann, with extensive experience both as a pastor and teacher of pastors, emphatically disagrees:
“Genesis is vitally important because the very Gospel is at stake. Evolutionary theory holds that populations evolve, not individuals. But the Scriptures are clear that sin came into the world through one man, and the deliverance from sin through the one man Christ Jesus (Romans 5:12–159). If Adam was not literally the first human (Genesis 2:7) and the first sinner, then there is no reason for us to trust the work of Christ, ‘the last Adam’ and ‘the second man’ of the two, to deliver us from sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:21–22, 45–4710).”
But what about the ‘progressive creationist’ view that denies biological evolution, but accepts billions of years of cosmological and geological evolution? As Dr Steinmann says, there are also baneful consequences, because the allegedly old rock often contains fossils of animals and even humans. This would mean that creatures lived and died millions of years before Adam:
“The Scriptures are clear that sin and its consequence—death—came into the world through one man, Adam. If there were creatures that lived and died before Adam and Eve sinned—as old earth creationists hold—then the Scriptures are wrong, and Christ’s victory over death is not the reversal of Adam’s sin.”
But if it’s so clear, why do many theologians deny what Genesis clearly says? Dr Steinmann explains a likely reason: capitulation to the world’s false philosophy, contrary to Colossians 2:8:
“Because evolutionary theory—and long age dogma—has become so widespread among scientists and so accepted in today’s world, many conservative biblical commentators have felt the need to somehow produce an explanation of Genesis’ creation account that can be seen as being in harmony with what much of the educated world now accepts as established fact. Such explanations, which try to accommodate the billions of years that many scientists believe were needed for evolution, inevitably do violence to the teaching of Scripture. These explanations not only deny the plain meaning of Genesis, but they also inevitably lead to denial of basic Christian doctrine, such as the atoning work of Christ. Moreover, they often require ungrammatical and unreasonable readings of the text of Genesis.”
Finally, none of the above would matter to Dr Steinmann if he were not a Christian. Fortunately, his parents brought him to church from the time he was born, so even as a young child he heard the Gospel. He elaborates on the importance of parents teaching their children the truth of Christianity from a very young age:
“I cannot remember a time when I did not believe in Christ. In fact, I come from a long line of Lutheran Christians stretching back to at least 1695 in the Palatine area of northern Germany who came to faith in this way. In the older Lutheran tradition, parents are expected to teach the faith at home to their children as soon as they are able to learn basic Christian truths (often using Luther’s Small Catechism). Parents are also to bring their children to church where they learn from the Scriptures as they are used and applied in worship.”
Creation Ministries thoroughly supports teaching people from an early age. We are also thankful for experts like Dr Steinmann who defend the biblical foundation at the highest technical level.
References and notes
- Barr, J., letter to David C.C. Watson, 23 April 1984. Return to text.
- For another explanation of this, see Catchpoole, D., and Sarfati, J., ‘In my father’s day … ’: To determine whether ‘day’ means a long period of time, the hours of daylight, or a 24-hour period, you need to look at the context, creation.com/fathers-day, 26 March 2013. Return to text.
- A common meaning of ‘solar day’ is “a division of time equal to 24 hours and representing the average length of the period during which the earth makes one rotation on its axis,” thefreedictionary.com/solar+day. This is what is meant here; these were normal-length days. Before God created the sun, the 24-hour day-night cycle was provided by the rotating earth and the light God created on Day 1. See Sarfati, J., How could the days of Genesis 1 be literal if the Sun wasn’t created until the fourth day? creation.com/daysbeforesun, 13 May 1998. Return to text.
- Steinmann, A. Evening and Morning, The Bible Translator 62(3):145–150, 2011. Return to text.
- Steinmann, A., אחד as an ordinal number and the meaning of Genesis 1:5, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45(4):577–584, 2002. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J., The numbering pattern of Genesis: Does it mean the days are non-literal? J. Creation 17(2):60–61, 2003; creation.com/numbering, based on Steinmann, אחד as an ordinal number, Ref. 5. Return to text.
- For example, the luminaries (Day 4) were placed in the raqia‘ (expanse, firmament) created on Day 2; whales and fish (Day 5) in the seas (Day 3). Return to text.
- Steinmann, A., From Abraham to Paul: A Biblical Chronology, Concordia Publishing House, 2011. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Romans 5:12–21: Paul’s view of literal Adam, J. Creation 22(2):105–107, 2008; creation.com/romans5. Return to text.
- Cosner, L., Christ as the last Adam: Paul’s use of the Creation narrative in 1 Corinthians 15, J. Creation 23(3):70–75, 2009; creation.com/1-corinthians-15. Return to text.