Six Day Creation
Written by: Gunn, Grover Posted on: 05/04/2006
Category: Creation vs. Evolution
The Position of the Westminster Standards
The Westminster Standards teach that the world was created in "the space of six days" (Latin: sex dierum spatium).1 Just on the face of it, this language appears to refer to a chronological sequence of six contiguous days of normal length. This instinctive interpretation is strengthened when one considers a previous usage of this identical phrase in a significant passage by John Calvin on the doctrine of creation. In his commentary on Genesis 1:5, Calvin used this very phrase in refuting instantaneous creation and advocating six day creation:
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 [Latin: sex dierum spatium; French: l'espace de sex jours], for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men. 2
In these comments, Calvin argues that the six days of creation are not merely a literary device designed only to instruct about an event which actually occurred in an instant; the six days refer to a literal space of time, a chronological interval.
Many today have never heard of the theory of instantaneous creation. According to this view, the six days of creation are not a chronological sequence but a literary framework to describe an event that occurred instantly, in the twinkling of an eye. This was the position of St. Augustine of Hippo:
Ernan McMullin confirms that Augustine concurred with the Alexandrine fathers who believed that creation was in a single moment; he clearly did not believe that creation "days" were indefinitely long periods of time: "In fact, he insisted that the creative action whereby all things came to be was instantaneous; the six 'days' refer (he suggests) to stages in the angelic knowledge of creation. In properly temporal terms the 'days' reduce to an indivisible instant, so that all the kinds of things mentioned in Genesis were really made simultaneously."3
According to C. John Collins, Augustine
wanted to harmonise his interpretation of Genesis with Sirach 18:1, which he understood to say, 'he who lives forever created everything at once' (based on the Greek, which seems to be an improper rendering of the Hebrew ...).4
Augustine regarded the Book of Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus, as canonical, and so he must have thought that he was using Scripture to interpret Scripture. Calvin in his commentary on Genesis 1:5 comments on the mistranslation of Ecclesiasticus 18:1.
The burden is on those who want "the space of six days" to refer to long ages, to show examples of such usage at the time of the writing of the Westminster Standards. The only example ever given to my knowledge is one sentence in the writings of William Ames (1576-1633), one of the mentors of the Westminster divines. Some have argued that Ames believed that there were long ages between the six 24 hour days of creation. This whole contention is based on one sentence in paragraph I.viii.28 in William Ames' book The Marrow of Theology. John Macpherson in his nineteenth century commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith references this paragraph and mentions Ames as an example of those who "suggest that the active creative periods were six natural days, with indefinite intervals between them."5 C. John Collins gives the following as the relevant sentence found in the 1634 Latin edition of Ames' work:
creatio autem harum partium mundi non fuit, simul & uno momento, sed peragebatur per partes, sibi invicem sex dierum interstitiis succendentes.
He then offers the following as a possible translation:
But the creation of these parts of the world was not done at the same time and at one moment, but was carried out in stages, each in its turn succeeding, during six days with intervening spaces.6
Let's begin by assuming that this is a good translation of the Latin. If so, there is nothing here to tell us if the intervening spaces between the days are long ages or the temporal equivalent of the spaces between teeth.7 "Six days with intervening spaces" could be another way of saying six distinct days. The creation was not merely done over a 144 hour period; it was done through distinct acts of creation during each of the six days. Therefore, even accepting Dr. Collins' translation, there is nothing here to prove that Ames believed in indefinite intervals between the days of creation.
We need to inquire further and ask whether Dr. Collins' translation is indeed a good rendering of the Latin. Dr. Collins' translation should be compared with the published translation by John D. Eusden, which Dr. Collins quotes:
The creation of these parts of the world did not occur at one and the same moment, but was accomplished part by part in the space of six days."8
The major difference between the translations by Dr. Collins and Mr. Eusden is the translation of the Latin sex dierum interstitiis . Where Dr. Collins has "during six days with intervening spaces," Mr. Eusden has "in the space of six days." Interestingly, "in the space of six days" is the language of the Westminster Standards, even though the associated Latin is not identical.
Latinist Wes Baker has evaluated the Eusden translation as "a good, accurate, and not too paraphrastic translation" of the Latin text quoted by Dr. Collins.9 In his translation, Mr. Eusden appears to interpret interstitiis as an ablative of time within which. Even though interstitiis is plural, he appears to view it in a collective sense and thus translates it as singular: "in the space of six days." Mr. Baker offers the following as a literal translation: "within the intervals [consisting] of the six days." He comments that the literal English translation with its plural translation of interstitiis is "more awkward in English than it is in Latin. The sentence, all in all, is pretty clear, simple and straightforward."10 In Mr. Eusden's translation, there are no intervening spaces, and thus his translation in no way suggests that William Ames held to the intermittent days theory.
Dr. Collins translates sex dierum as "during six days." This translation is questionable at best because sex dierum is in the genitive case. Duration of time is expressed by the accusative case, time within which is expressed by the ablative case, but there are no such uses of the genitive case. The Latin sex dierum interstitiis literally says "within intervals of six days," not "during six days with intervening spaces."11
Allow me to suggest yet another translation which follows Dr. Collins in understanding interstitiis as referring to a plurality of temporal intervals but which properly interprets sex dierum as a genitive and interstitiis as an ablative of time within which:
The creation however of these parts of the world did not occur at one and the same moment, but was accomplished in parts, each one following the other within intervals which belong to the six days.
I wish to show by this translation that even if interstitiis is interpreted here to mean temporal spaces between certain temporal markers, that does not mean that the intervals are between the days of creation. Translated this way, the intervals are the periods of active creation within the six days of Genesis one. This understanding is consistent with Ames' context of arguing against instantaneous creation. Even though God could have created everything in an instant, God chose to take six days. That does not mean that God was engaged in constant acts of creation for the entire 144 hours. For example, God may have used only a brief interval of time to create light on day one, a brief interval of time to create the firmament on day two, and so on. God took six days not because He needed that much time but because He wanted to establish a pattern of work and rest for humanity.
Even when using Dr. Collins' translation, this sentence does not state that there are indefinite intervals or long ages between the days of creation. When using Mr. Eusden's translation, this sentence does not have any references to temporal spaces between certain events. And even if one translates interstitiis as referring to such intervals, that does not mean that the intervals are between the days of the creation week. Furthermore, these interpretations which are compatible with traditional six day creation are more consistent with what Ames later says in paragraphs I.viii.51-56. There he expands upon the days of creation and speaks of each day's work as a complete accomplishment with no hint of intervals between the days. For example, he says, "On the fourth day were made luminaries of heaven to give light to the earth." These translations are also more consistent with the opinions of Ames' own day. If any respected Bible scholar during this period had argued for creation over long ages in any form, it would be a startling historical anomaly.
However one interprets interstitiis in this sentence, I believe it is obvious that this one sentence does not prove that William Ames held to the intermittent days theory, one of the views which allows Genesis one to last for long ages. There is therefore no evidence of any of the long age views of the six days of creation during the general period of the writing of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms.
David Longacre and Gary Englestad researched the libraries of Princeton Theological Seminary and Westminster Theological Seminary in an effort to learn how the phrase "the space of six days" in the Westminster Standards has been understood in the past. They found that some of the older commentaries on the Longer and Shorter Catechisms contain polemics against instantaneous creation but no mention of day ages or gap theories or intermittent days. The first work they found with explanations of the day age and gap theories was An Exposition of the Confession of Faith by Robert Shaw, published in 1845. The work Lectures on the Shorter Catechism by Ashbel Green, published in 1841, has the following in a footnote:
Some recent attempts have been made to show that the days of creation, mentioned in the first chapter of Genesis, should be considered not as days which consist of a single revolution of the earth, but as periods comprehending several centuries. But all such ideas, however learned or ingeniously advocated, I cannot but regard as fanciful in the extreme; and what is worse, as introducing such a method of treating the plain language of Scripture, as is calculated to destroy all confidence in the volume of inspiration.12
Some have argued that the interpretation of the six days in Genesis one as 24 hour days is a naive creation of modern fundamentalists. That appears to be nothing but wishful thinking. The truth is that interpretive schemes which allow for creation over long ages are the modern innovation. These arose with the rise of modern geology and its arguments for an ancient earth.13 Robert Dabney said,
The advocates of the symbolic days ... attach much importance to their claim that theirs is not an afterthought, suggested by geologic difficulties, but that the exposition was advanced by many of the 'Fathers'. After listening to their citations, we are constrained to reply that the vague suggestions of the different Fathers do not yield them any support, because they do not adopt their theory of explanation.14
There is no reason to believe that "the space of six days," the language found in the Westminster Standards, means anything but the obvious and normal meaning of the words. There are two issues here to consider. First, the interpretation of the days of creation as being long ages or normal days separated by long ages is a position which arose long after the drafting of the Westminster Confession. To allow men who hold such views today to say that they are in full agreement with the Westminster Standards is to stretch the language of the confession beyond the intent of its authors. As if to remove any doubt as to their understanding of the days of creation, the Westminster Larger Catechism Q. 120 states that one of the reason we are to work six days every week but not the seventh is "the example of God, who in six days made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day."
Second, the language of the confession is a phrase used by John Calvin to oppose Augustine's teaching of instantaneous creation. The Westminster divines were learned men who were no doubt aware of Calvin's usage of the phrase when they chose to use it themselves. In Augustine's position, the six days of creation are a literary device with no literal chronological significance. If the phrase "the space of six days" means anything, it means that the days of creation refer to a literal space of time as opposed to being a non-chronological literary framework. Men who today hold to a literary framework view of Genesis one usually believe in creation over long ages and not in instantaneous creation. Still they agree with Augustine that the days of creation are a non-literal teaching device and not six days in an historical narrative. In this sense, men who today hold to a literary framework view of Genesis one hold to the same general position which Calvin argued against using the very words "the space of six days." To allow literary framework men to say that they are in full agreement with the confession is to go beyond stretching our confessional language. It is to allow the language of the confession to encompass a form of the very position which that language, as previously used by Calvin, was meant to exclude. If we allow this, then how can we say with any consistency that our doctrinal standards actually define our doctrine? We must not become post-modernists for whom language and standards have no fixed meaning.
The Day Age Theory
My experience has been that when one begins discussing this issue, most of the evidence presented against six day creation is scientific evidence, not Biblical evidence. I believe the Biblical evidence should be the foremost concern because Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith and practice.
One argument for the day age theory is based on a comparison of day six in Genesis chapter one and the creation of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter two. Genesis 1:26-28 involves the creation of man male and female. At the end of day six, God proclaimed His creation very good; chapter two makes clear that the situation was not totally good until Eve was created: "It is not good that man should be alone." Before God created Eve from the rib of Adam, Adam gave names "to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field." The argument is that all this could not be done in a 24 hour period. The problem with this argument is that one can envision the described activity in different ways to fit different understandings of the length of the sixth day. If one envisions the large variety of animals we see today and if one assumes that Adam had to spend a good bit of time with each animal to discern the name which best fit its characteristics, then this activity could have taken years. One can also assume that a much more limited number of animals was involved. For example, Adam did not have to deal with every type of dog which we know today but only with the original dog from which all the current canine diversity developed. Also, Adam was not by himself when he accomplished this task. God brought the animals to him. It is possible that Adam was able to accomplish this task rather quickly with God's help. Leupold argues that Adam named only the limited number of animals who inhabited the garden.15
Some also argue that the activity of the third day when the dry land appeared and brought forth vegetation including fruit trees, could not have all occurred in 24 hours. This argument forgets that the entire work of creation was a miracle. God could have accomplished the whole work in an instant if He had so chosen. The fact that God chose to take six days does not mean that He limited Himself to the slower processes which we today observe in God's more routine providence. As it says in Psalm 148:5, "He commanded, and they were created."
A second argument for the day age theory relates to the seventh day. Genesis one ends the discussion of each of the first six days with a statement about evening and morning. There is, however, no mention of evening and morning related to the seventh day. On the seventh day, God ceased from His special work of creation, and He has rested from that work ever since. So, it is argued, the seventh day is a long age which still continues. Therefore the first six days must also be long ages. I do not find this argument convincing. The repeated clause which mentions evening and morning and then states each day's number, is used as a literary device to conclude each paragraph about the work completed on each of the first six days. The seventh day is different in that no work is done on that day. The paragraph about the seventh day ends thus with a different clause:
Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
God's rest from His work of original creation began on the original seventh day. That divine rest also continues because that work has been completed once and for all. Yet God's rest which took place during the original seventh day is something in the past, not because God's rest has ceased, but because the original seventh day is history. The passage states that God rested (past tense) on the seventh day, not that He is resting (present tense) on the seventh day. The original seventh day is not an ongoing age but the original 24 hour day of rest which is remembered in the Fourth Commandment (Exodus 20:8-11). Israel is commanded to hallow the weekly Sabbath and to do no work each seventh day because God rested on the original seventh day and hallowed the original Sabbath.
Notice the following from Cassuto's commentary:
It may be asked: In what way is the seventh day different from the succeeding days, since on them, too, God did no additional work? In answer to the question it may be said: (1) that the difference consists in the novel character of the seventh day; after a series of six days on each of which some work of creation was wrought, came a day on which God did not work or add anything to his creation; hence the remembrance of this abstinence from labour remained linked with the day on which this situation arose; (2) that ... seven days are considered a period [unit of time]; consequently, the seventh day, following on the six days of creation, completed the first period, and in every subsequent period the first day calls to mind the creation of light, the second the creation of the heavens, and so forth, and the seventh reminds us of the day on which God did no work at all.16
Joey Pipa makes the following comments regarding the seventh day as a type of eternal rest:
In Gen. 2:1-3, the eternal rest is the reality and the Sabbath day is a type and offer of that rest. We must not confuse the reality with the type otherwise the type loses its significance. In order for the day to serve as a type, Moses leaves the record of the end of the day open-ended.
The fact that he leaves out its conclusion does not imply it was not a regular day. Moses uses this same device in Genesis 14, when he introduces Melchizedek. According to Hebrews 5:6-10 and Hebrews 7:1-4, Melchizedek was a type of Christ, signifying how the Christ could serve as priest while not being of the house of Aaron. The writer of Hebrews uses the silence of Genesis 14 to say that Melchizedek had no genealogy, parents, or death, that he might be a type of the eternal priest who received office by God's appointment and not by lineage. Most commentators agree that Melchizedek was a real person, who had parents and did die. Moses omits these facts from the record so as to lay the foundation of the typology. This is how we are to take the record of the seventh day.17
In other words, there is a parallel between the silence of Genesis on the evening and morning of the seventh day and the silence of Genesis on the birth and death of Melchizedek. The author of Hebrews uses both silences to develop typological fulfillments. Someone who argues from Hebrews 4 that the seventh day of creation must be an ongoing, unending day should also, to be consistent, teach that Hebrews 7 implies that the king of Salem named Melchizedek literally had no parents and never died. Such interpretation improperly reads back into the prefiguring type a fullness of glory which properly belongs only to the antitype.
A third argument is that the word translated day can be a metaphor for an extended period of time or age. It is pointed out that the word is used that very way in the creation account in Genesis 2:4:
This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
The problem with this argument is that the Hebrew here translated "in the day" is an idiomatic expression which means "when" (cf. Genesis 2:17; 3:5).18 The usage of the word translated day in this idiom does not give evidence on its usage apart from the idiom elsewhere in the passage.
The plural of the Hebrew word translated day is the primary form for expressing an extended temporal sense "in which the focus of the meaning is not on the 'day' as such, but on a 'time' or situation characterized in a particular way."19 This metaphorical sense is obvious in phrases such as "days of mourning" (Genesis 27:41) or "days of old" (Amos 9:11), but not in a clause such as "in six days the LORD made heaven and earth." This extended sense can also be true of the singular, but again it is usually self-evident as in phrases such as "the day of the Lord" or "the day of harvest" (Proverbs 25:13). Genesis one defines its usage in terms of evening and morning and thus points to a more literal day. When evening and morning are used in a figurative context in Psalm 90:6, they represent not long ages but the brevity of life. Also, phraseology such as "second day" and "third day" is nowhere else used in Scripture to refer to an extended age. There is simply no evidence that the six days of Genesis one are metaphors for extended ages.
Some seem attracted to the day age theory because they want to accommodate Scripture to current scientific theory. In reality, the day age theory creates more problems than it solves in this regard. According to the day age theory, trees and vegetation appear upon the earth during day three, but the sun, moon and stars are not created until the next extended age (day four). Fruit trees (day three) are created before fish (day five). Fish and birds (day five) are created before reptiles and insects (creeping things of day six). All of these orders of events contradict modern scientific theory.
These orders of events also cause some simple pragmatic difficulties if the six days of creation were indeed extended ages. For example, there are symbiotic relationships between certain plants and animals. Much of the vegetation created on day three is dependent on creatures created on days five and six for pollination. How did these plants survive all those many years without birds, bats or insects? Also, the six days of creation were days each with one morning and one evening, a situation which would hardly apply to geological ages. How could any life survive a series of geological ages each consisting of one long period of light followed by one long period of darkness?20
There is also the question of when death entered the world. According to Romans 5, death entered the world at the time of Adam's sin. That is when the curse descended upon creation. The first death found in the Scriptural account of history is the death implied by God's use of an animal's skin to clothe the naked sinners Adam and Eve. Genesis implies that all creatures were vegetarians before the fall (Genesis 1:29-30; cf. 9:3). Isaiah 11 gives us a description of paradise restored: the wolf lies down with the lamb and the lion eats straw like an ox. Do those who believe in extended ages believe that the "law of the jungle" and carnivorous behavior did not begin until after the fall? Or do they believe it was present before the fall in the extended age called day 6 contrary to what the Bible reveals about life before the fall?
Some argue that the six days of creation are "anthropomorphic days" and thus are not six days of ordinary length. Jim Jordan gives the following response to this argument as presented by C. John Collins:
First, if these "days" are simply an exercise in anthropomorphism designed to point to something ineffable, then they need have no relationship to "time as we know it" at all. They are nothing more than a literary figure. I don't understand why Collins wants to retain the idea of a sequence of such "days" as eons or anything else.
Second, "time as we know it" is the only "time" there is, because God is eternal. Genesis 1 describes God's actions in time, and does so in the plainest language imaginable. Collins has provided no basis for thinking that some other kind of "time" is in view here.
. . .
Let us grant what Dr. Collins wishes: that there are lots of anthropomorphisms in Genesis 1. Indeed, let us grant that the entire passage is anthropomorphic, and that God is presented as working in the same way as a human being works. The question remains: So what?
The passage clearly presents God as working over the course of a week of seven days, days that have regular evenings and mornings. Either this is just a poem, a literary figure, or else it is a description of what God actually did. Collins seems to want to have it both ways, but his position is completely arbitrary. Either Genesis 1 is a merely literary accommodation, or it is a Divine accommodation. If it is the latter, then we need to take it at face value: God made the world in seven days, as a model for His images, human beings. Nothing hints that these days were anything other than days of ordinary length, and the attention called to evenings and mornings proves that they were of ordinary length.21
We must remember that the most important anthropomorphic accommodation of the divine to the human is the Incarnation. Jesus took "the form (morphe) of a bondservant, and [came] in the likeness of men (anthropos)" (Philippians 2:7). This anthropomorphism literally occurred in history. It was no mere literary device.
Let us also take an example from the Old Testament. In Genesis 18, Jehovah God visited Abraham and ate with him in the appearance of a man. Genesis 18:20-21 gives the purpose of the visit:
And the LORD said, "Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know."
The omniscient, omnipresent God visited earth to investigate an accusation. Truly this is an anthropomorphic accommodation, but that does not take away the literal historicity of the event. This is an historical event which literally happened and not a myth or legend or parable.
There are anthropomorphisms in Scripture that are literary devices. For example, Exodus 14 gives an historical account of God's intervention in history at the Red Sea crossing, and then the Song of Moses in Exodus 15 poetically describes the event using anthropomorphic literary devices such as "the blast of Your nostrils" (15:8). Another example is the 18th Psalm which describes God's divine intervention to deliver His people in terms which are not to be confused with literal historical descriptions: "Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth" (v. 8). These are not in the same category with the Incarnation or God's visit with Abraham or the Genesis one creation account. We must not confuse the anthropomorphisms in Scripture which are literary devices in poetry with those which are literal events in historical narratives.
The Framework Hypothesis
Some who deny six day creation nevertheless acknowledge that the days of Genesis one are normal 24 hour days. They argue that the entire passage is an extended metaphor. This is Hebrew poetry, and the details are not meant to teach anything about either science or history. This poem merely expresses God's creation of the world ex nihilo, and there is no literal significance to the particular order or chronology of events.
Although Genesis one may contain poetic elements, it is not Hebrew poetry. As E.J. Young expressed it,
Hebrew poetry had certain characteristics, and they are not found in the first chapter of Genesis. So the claim that Genesis one is poetry is no solution to the question. The man who says, "I believe that Genesis purports to be a historical account, but I do not believe that account", is a far better interpreter of the Bible than the man who says, "I believe that Genesis is profoundly true, but it is poetry." That latter has nothing to commend it at all. I disagree with the first man, but he is a better exegete, he is a better interpreter, because he is facing up to the facts.22
The parallel construction that is the most evident characteristic of Hebrew poetry is largely absent. The Old Testament does contain poetry about creation (cf. Job 38:4-15; Psalm 104; Isaiah 40:21-31), and its literary form is quite distinct from that in Genesis one. Genesis one is an historical narrative.
Regarding Genesis 1:1-2:3, Cassuto says, "The structure of our section is based on a system of numerical harmony."23 He then goes on to give a detailed discussion of the importance of the number seven in this passage. There is the creation period of seven consecutive days, the division into seven paragraphs and the occurrence of key terms in multiples of seven. Is this an adequate justification to proclaim the passage poetry and thus rid ourselves of the literal significance of the embarrassing details? If we quickly say yes, we will be embarrassed when we get to Cassuto's commentary on the second creation account (Genesis 2:4-3:24):
... a clear indication of the unity of the section (and at the same time of the connection between it and the preceding section) is to be seen in the numerical symmetry based on the number seven that we find in this section just as we encountered it in the story of creation. Here, too, the words that express the fundamental concepts of the passage recur a given number of times - seven times, or a multiple of seven."24
Once one has "de-mythologized" Genesis one, where and how does one stop? Must one also de-mythologize Genesis two and three? Did God literally mold Adam's body out of the earth and breath into his nostrils the breath of life? Did God literally take a rib from Adam's side and make it into Eve
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