The Controversy Regarding the Creation Days


Background

There has been agitation on this subject in our church (and
other churches, of course) for some years. In some PCA
presbyteries, there is hardly ever a licensure or ordination
examination that does not become, in one way or another, an
occasion for the presbyters themselves to vent their disagreement
on this issue. It has not been, until very recently, an issue in
our own presbytery, but it is now an issue.

And there are a variety of views that are held by men in the
ministry and eldership of our church: 1) the days are twenty-four
hour, normal days; 2) ages or eras of time; 3) analogical or
God’s days; 4) a literary framework without necessary
chronological significance. This variety of interpretations of
Genesis 1-2 has been found in the conservative Presbyterian world
for a long time. In earlier times most Presbyterians, but not
all, would have held to six-24-hour day creation without much
thought or reflection. But, as time went on, and as the
understanding of the world began to change, other views came to
be held, and held by Presbyterian leaders. In the 19th
century Charles Hodge held to the day-age view, so did Benjamin
Warfield. The great Dutch theologians Kuyper and Bavinck did not
hold to six-24-day creation. Alongside these men, however, were
men who held to the six-24-day view. Presbyterian churches all
through this time did not sanction men who held these various
views and, by and large, it did not seem to be a matter of
substantial controversy.

It is today an issue for different men for two quite different
reasons.

  1. The biblical teaching and loyalty to the Bible in the race
    of the discredit of the world. There are a good many men in the
    evangelical church (e.g. the Creation Research Institute men)
    and in our church who really do feel that holding to
    six-24-hour creation is a test of orthodoxy. We have some men
    in our presbytery who seem near to saying that if one
    doesn’t hold to six-24-day creation he has sold out to
    the unbelieving worldview. Many of the folk in the so-called
    Christian Reconstruction circles have taken that view and the
    Moscow, Idaho men have argued that way.

    (But, many of the men in the PCA who themselves hold to
    the view that the earth is much younger than is believed to
    be the case in the scientific world and that the creation
    days were, in fact, each 24 hours in length, recognize that
    other views of the biblical text have legitimacy and can be
    argued in faithfulness to the Bible itself.)

  2. The teaching of the Westminster Confession (“in the space
    of six days”). Most men who believe that the Bible teaches
    six-24-day creation also believe that that is the plain meaning
    of the words used by the Confession of Faith (“authorial
    intent”). Indeed many men who don’t think the Bible
    teaches creation in six-24-hour days admit that that is what
    the Confession meant by the words it used. For these men the
    issue is one of confessional subscription. If the doctrinal
    standard we are sworn to uphold takes this view, then men must
    either believe that view or say that they do not and take an
    exception to the Westminster Standards on that point (an
    exception: What? Granted by whom?). Most PCA presbyteries would
    grant the exception but some would not and have said they will
    not permit anyone to be licensed, ordained, or transferred into
    their presbytery who does not hold to six-24-day creation. I
    could not presently serve as a pastor in some presbyteries of
    our denomination.

    Others, however, argue that if the Westminster divines
    intended to say that the creation was accomplished in
    six-24-days they needed to say so. We are not obliged to
    believe what they may have believed. We are obliged to believe
    what they said. Fact is, most all of them may have thought that
    was what they were saying, but what they said was what the
    Bible says. The question of what the Bible means by those six
    days they did not address. So, if we want the Confession to say
    six-24-days, then we should change the Confession and make it
    say that. It would be odd, they argue, to make a man take an
    exception to a statement he is in perfect agreement with.
    Everyone in our church thinks that the world was created in six
    days, because the Bible says it was. The question is what does
    the Bible mean by those days.

The alternatives

Six-twenty-four-hour days

According to this view, which may be fairly described as the
majority position of historic Christianity, the creation took
place over a period of six days like our days, 24 hours in
length. As Adam and Eve were created full-grown, so the rest of
creation came forth full grown from its maker. The Garden
included full grown plants and animals that Adam named. It
admits that the word “day” is used in various ways in Genesis 1
and 2 (e.g. 1:5 has two uses of the word; 2:4 another). But, in
each case, it is obvious what use is being made of the word.
The first three days were not technically solar days, as the
sun and moon had not been created, but the Bible indicates that
their duration was the same as the later days of the creation
week by saying that there was evening and morning for those
first three days also and by using the same word “day” for the
first three as for the last three days of the creation
week.

That seems to be a straightforward interpretation of the
text. But, it is not without major problems, problems that have
been known and discussed for centuries. The six-24-day men
think they are not major problems, but, the fact is, they
can’t make them go away.

  1. The lack of the sun and moon before the fourth day
    certainly suggests that these were not “our” days in the
    ordinary sense of the term.
  2. There is no boundary or ending for the seventh “day” and NT
    texts seem to teach that it continues to the present, even
    though it too is a “day.”
  3. 2:8 the NIV’s “had planted” is possible, but not most
    likely a reading of the Hebrew verb. The Lord “planted” a
    garden. What is more the term “planted” by itself suggests a
    process of growth, not a full-grown garden all at once. At the
    very least, if the six-24-day men are taking “day” literally,
    as they say, they are not taking “planted” literally. The land
    began to produce vegetation on day 3, just 2 days, 48 hours
    before Adam!
  4. The problem of so much in 12 hours of daylight on the sixth
    day. The creation of Adam, putting him in the garden to work
    it, naming the animals, the nap, the creation of Eve, and then
    Adam’s “at last.” [The lexical authorities all say that
    the term implies the passage of time and so it is translated
    everywhere else in Genesis: “now, at last” or “at length”] If
    all of this happened in 12 hours of daylight, Genesis 2 becomes
    a pageant, not the real history it appears to be (Adam plays at
    working, plays at naming, plays at napping).

The Day-Age View

A number of our men recently have held this view: From Hodge
to Machen to Buswell to E.J. Young to Laird Harris to Schaeffer.
Recently the late Jim Boice took this view. Basically this view
relates the creation days to periods of indefinite time, such as
the meaning of “day” in Isaiah 11:10-11. [“In that day the Root
of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will
rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day
the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the
remnant that is left of his people, from Assyria, from lower
Egypt…”] The six days are taken as sequential, following
one upon the other, but overlapping, much like an expression such
as “the day of the Protestant Reformation.”

  1. There is no denying that this view became popular as a way
    of understanding the teaching of Genesis in a way that made
    sense of what was being learned of the geological history of
    the world. Those who scorn that modern view of the
    earth’s history, of course, have no time for the Day-Age
    view. But, to the extent that that view is correct, the Day-Age
    view can better account for the creation of the world. It also,
    obviously, avoids the problems mentioned above with the
    six-24-day view.
  2. It has problems, of course, as do all the views. It has
    given many people the impression that the Bible’s
    interpretation is subject to the so-called discoveries of
    science. We must change a natural reading of the Bible to suit
    the current scientific orthodoxy. To be sure, these day-age men
    I mentioned were not sympathetic to evolution at all. They were
    aggressively critical of evolution. But the principle has been
    given up, it is said, by reading the Bible in a way no one ever
    would who just was reading the Bible. [There are problems with
    that objection, of course. Literary studies have drastically
    changed many translations and interpretations of the Bible for
    the better. E.R. Thiele’s studies on the chronology of
    the Hebrew kings has changed the way everyone reads those
    numbers in the Bible. What is more there were other
    interpretations of the creation days centuries before Darwin.
    [Augustine, for example, believed in an instantaneous creation]
    There are other problems that require the idea of overlap to
    solve. E.g. green plants appear on day three before sunlight on
    day four.

The Framework View

This is quite new, resting on the work of Meredith Kline
who has taught at both Westminster seminaries. These men hold
that the six days of the creation week are a figure, a
metaphor and that the several pictures of the creation
history are placed within the six-day work frames not
chronologically but topically. The week of creation is to be
taken metaphorically, not literally. God’s creation is
a historical fact, but we are not told about its specific
timing and development except in a metaphor. God chose the
model of the week to establish for us the rhythm of work
followed by Sabbath rest. The week itself, you will see, is
organized in two triads of days (1-3; 4-6). The first triad
represents the separations of formless chaos into three
static spheres. The second triad fills us those three spheres
one by one: light and darkness filled up with the sun, moon,
etc.; the sea and sky filled up with fish and birds; the
earth with plants, animals, and man. Each triad begins with a
single act of creation and moves to a creative act in two
parts and then finishes on its last day with two separate
acts of creation. Each triad ends with the “earth bringing
forth…” The inhabitants of the second triad are said
to rule the spheres of the first triad. The account is that
of the transformation of an earth that is unlivable into a
beautiful home for man. Dr. Waltke claims that Genesis 1 is a
“literary-artistic representation of the creation.”

As proof, for example, it is argued that Genesis 2:5-6 is
very difficult to square with the sequence of Genesis 1 as it
is ordinarily understood. These verses suggest that
vegetation, which appeared on day three, could not exist
because, according to 2:5, it was too dry. Surely that is how
an early reader would have read 2:5-6. However, the land was
inundated with water on day two, only one day before the
plants were formed on day three. How could it have been too
dry in 2:5? This suggests a topical, not a chronological
arrangement.

People object to the Framework view on the grounds that it
seems to impugn the historicity of Genesis 1, but that is not
what is being claimed. They believe it history, but they
think the form in which it is told to us is metaphorical or
figurative. The basic facts conveyed are historical. They
rest a great deal on Genesis 2:5-6 and the argument that this
proves that God uses natural means in the process of creation
and not supernatural means (rain for plants, not full-grown
plants and supernaturally dried out land). On the other hand,
those are assumptions that the six-24-day men must make and
the Bible doesn’t say that God did those things
supernaturally.

Analogical Days

Jack Collins has recently popularized this view again and
become controversial in our church as a result! The basic
claim of this view is that the days in question are
God’s work days, not ours. And like so much else in the
revelation of God, there is an analogy between God and man, a
relationship, but it is not at all identical. Jack cites
Herman Bavinck as holding this view. Many of the arguments
for this view are those that have been cited before as either
support for or arguments against the other views.

But Jack points out that the entire account is full of
anthropomorphisms in which God is described as acting in ways
we associate with human action. In Genesis 1-2 he is pictured
as a craftsman, even a potter, as the word in 2:7 suggests,
where we read that God “formed” man. Then, God, who has no
body, is said to have “breathed” into the man.
[Interestingly, in Exodus 31:17, reflecting on the Sabbath
rest of God in Genesis 2:2, we read that “on the seventh day
[God] abstained from work and was refreshed.” The same
is perhaps suggested in the recurring refrain “there was
evening and there was morning” each day. What happens between
the evening and the morning? The worker rests after his work
is done. But, of course, the whole idea of God “working” in
this way is anthropomorphic. However God “works,” he does not
work as we do and so his days of working are not as ours
are.

Conclusion

  • The Age of the Earth. I do not think that flood geology or
    young earth creationism is easy to reconcile with the Bible.
    The problem is posed by the description of the location of Eden
    in Genesis 2:10-14. But this world is obviously a world
    familiar to Moses’ readers, not a different world. There
    are five miles of sedimentary rock below the Tigris and
    Euphrates rivers. If all of that was deposited by the flood
    (along with its weathering between the seams – apparently
    put there by God to give it the appearance of age), then it is
    very hard to imagine that Eden could be described in Genesis 2
    as located where it was, by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
    The age of the earth is not specified in the Bible and is a
    question more interesting than important in my view.
  • The interpretative problems in Genesis 1-2 are real, of
    longstanding, and, perhaps in the present state of affairs,
    insoluble. I think any of the four views may be true, but none
    of the four views is without problems. I am drawn to
    Jack’s “anthropomorphic days” view more than to any
    others, but I am hardly at the point where I could preach it as
    the meaning of the text.
  • The day-age view seems a contrivance to me, designed to
    harmonize a literalist reading of Genesis 1 with modern
    geology. The Framework view seems to me to be weakened by an
    over-reliance on Genesis 2:5-6, which can be read in other
    ways, and asks a great deal in asking us to ignore the
    impression of sequence in Genesis 1. The problems with the
    six-24-day view I have summarized already and they are
    sufficient for me not to think it the likeliest way of reading
    the text.
  • We have lived happily enough with a variety of
    interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2 and should continue to do
    so. As with eschatology, we are nowhere near a consensus on
    this point.
  • This issue should be discussed as a question of
    interpretation, proper exegesis, not of fidelity to the Bible.
    Everyone in our circles believes in the historicity of Genesis
    1-2, of a real creation ex nihilo, of a distinct
    creation for man, etc.
  • The interesting feature of the PCA debate is that it has
    been conducted largely on the right side of the church where
    such questions are considered important and interesting. It has
    not been a TR vs. seeker friendly debate at all.