The Genesis Debate

Posted: April 1, 2012 by Ryan Vincent in Creation, Genesis, Scripture

Tonight we’ll be talking about 4 of the more popular views held within evangelical circles concerning the nature of “days” in Genesis 1: the Young Earth View, the Day-Age View, the Restoration View (or Gap Theory), and the Literary Framework View.

Created in the Recent Past (The Young Earth View)

This view holds that the “days” in Genesis 1 refer to literal successive twenty-four hour periods. According to this view, the creation is no more than ten thousand years old.

The Biblical Argument

The Bible begins by proclaiming that God created the entire cosmos in a mere six days (Gen 1:1-31). The ordinary meaning of “day” is a twenty-four hour period. There is no good reason to interpret this word in an extraordinary way. Five biblical arguments defend this view:

  1. In its singular noun form, such as is found in Genesis 1, the Hebrew word yom (“day”) always refers to a twenty-four hour period.
  2. It is crucial to note that whenever “day” (yom) is used with a specific number before it, such as in Genesis 1, it always refers to a normal twenty-four hour day (e.g., Gen 8:14; Num 29:1).
  3. The fact that the author uses “evening” and “morning” when describing each creation “day” is further evidence that he intended his audience to see these as normal days.
  4. In Genesis 1:14 we read, “And God say, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” No one questions that the “days” and “years” referred to in this passage are literal. It would be unnatural for the author to suddenly shift from speaking about ages to normal days while using the same word for each.
  5. God commanded Israel to imitate the pattern he set in Genesis 1 by working six days out of the week and resting on the seventh (Ex 20:8-11; cf. 31:12-17).

Supporting Arguments

  1. Revelation and modern science. Do we accept the plainest meaning of the Bible, or do we insist on a reinterpretation in light of the prevailing opinion of scientists? Christians are called to place God’s Word and the plainest reading of God’s Word above the authority of science.
  2. The pattern of supernatural work. Throughout Scripture God’s supernatural wok is typically sudden and instantaneous, not involving long drawn-out periods of time.
  3. Death came through Adam. The Bible teaches that death had its origin in the world through Adam’s disobedience. Death was not intended for either humans or animals (Gen 1:31; Isa 11:6-11; 65:25). How can one reconcile this teaching with the view, espoused by day-age theorists, that animals have been devouring other animals for millions of years?
  4. The precariousness of modern science. A good number of learned scientists believe that the entire old earth/evolutionary paradigm with which modern science works is based on weak evidence and supported by inconclusive arguments.
A Very Old Work of Art (The Day-Age View)

This view argues that the “Days” in Genesis 1 are best understood as indefinite periods of time. According to this view, creation is as old as contemporary science claims it is: billions of years.

The Biblical Argument

  1. While he word day in Hebrew can of course refer to a twenty-four hour period, it also often refers to an age. In Genesis 2:4, “day” (yom) refers to the entire period of time during which God created the cosmos.
  2. Interpreting the days of Genesis 1 as twenty-four hour periods creates difficulties with the Genesis account. The sun does not appear until to fourth day (morning and evening?), and at least two days include events that couldn’t have fit into twenty-four hour periods (bringing fourth vegetation on Day 3 and the naming of the animals on day 6).
  3. Several passages of Scripture expressly teach that God’s “days” are not measures like our “days” (Ps 90:4; 2 Pet 3:8; Heb 4:4-5, 9-11).
  4. A number of passages teach that the earth is very old (Hab 3:6; Mic 6:2; Prov 8:22-23).

Supporting Arguments

  1. The truthfulness of God. Scripture teaches that God is completely truthful (Num 23:19; John 14:6). It also teaches us that God’s revelation comes to us through both Scripture and creation (Ps 19:1-4; Rom 1:19-20). This is important to remember when we consider that the cosmos appears very old.
  2. The credibility of the church. We must learn from the past. The church lost a good deal of its credibility when it locked horns with Galileo in the sixteenth century. The church insisted on a literal reading of certain passages; one must be hesitant to interpret the Bible in ways that openly conflict with the general findings of science, for creation too is “God’s Word.”
  3. The scientific evidence. While it is true that science should not determine our exegesis, it is also true that we should not ignore science in our exegesis.
Restoring a Destroyed Creation (The Restoration View)

This view claims that a large gap of time occurred between the first and second verses of Genesis 1. Thus, while the original creation is very old, it is possible to correlate the re-creation phase with an understanding of the “days” of Genesis 1 as six literal twenty-four hour days.

The Biblical Argument

  1. The description of the world in Genesis 1:2 as a “formless void” in which “darkness covered the face of the deep” is a pejorative description. In Scripture, “formless” (tohu) and “void” (bohu) almost always refer to something that has been corrupted, wasted, and/or judged (e.g., Deut 32:10; Isa 24:10; 49:4). It seems reasonable to assume that eh state of affairs described in Genesis 1:2 refers to a state that was brought about by God’s judgment. In contrast to the first verse, the second verse of the chapter does not describe God’s original design.
  2. A number of OT scholars argue that “the deep” also has a negative connotation. In the ancient Mesopotamian world, “the deep” often signified something that opposed God, or in pagan literature, the gods.
  3. It is significant that with the exception of animals and humans (Gen 1:21, 26-27) Genesis 1 does not use the word “create” (bara) but “make” (asah). God fashions things out of preexisting material. This observation fits well with the view that Genesis 1 and 2 are talking about the restoration of the world, not its original creation from nothing.

Supporting Arguments

  1. The flexibility of the restoration theory. Most restoration theorists accept the young earth creation argument that the “days” of Genesis 1 are normal twenty-four hour periods while also accepting the day-age argument that the earth is very old.
  2. The problem of prehumanoid suffering. All the fossil evidence suggests that nature was “red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson) millions of years before humans arrived on the scene. The restoration view affirms both the young earth and the day-age views in part, agreeing that Scripture teaches that animals in this creation were originally vegetarian, and that animals have also been carnivorous for millions of years.
Literary Theme over Literal Chronology (The Literary Framework View)

This view suggests that adherents of each of the previous views, while well intentioned, are fundamentally off-base, because they fail to realize they are asking the wrong question of the text. The author of Genesis never intended to describe how God created the world, let alone how long it took. Rather, the purpose of this text is to proclaim monotheism in a polytheistic context.

The Biblical Argument

We can appreciate the thematic organization of this chapter best if we step back from the various issues related to particular terms and look at the structure of the chapter as a whole.

  1. The first verse (Gen 1:1) functions as an introductory statement.
  2. The second verse (v. 2) sets forth a problem that the rest of the chapter is going to solve. The problem is one with which the ancient Near Eastern people would have been familiar: The world is engulfed in a primordial chaos. More specifically, the earth is enveloped in “darkness,” covered by “the deep,” and in a state that is “formless” and “void” (tohu wabohu). The author’s goal was to show that Yahweh solved each of these problems and thus succeeded in bringing order out of chaos.
  3. The creation week is divided into two groups of three days (days 1-3 and 4-6) with the seventh day acting as a capstone. The creative acts in the second group mirror the creative acts in the first group. That is, day four mirror day one; day five mirror day two; and day six mirrors day three.
  4. The first set of three days address the problems of the darkness, the deep, and the formlessness of the earth as spelled out in verse 2. God addresses these problems by creating spaces within which things may exist.
  5. The second set of three days addresses the voidness problem of verse 2. God solves this problem by creating things to fill the spaces he created in the first three days.


    Solution: Stage 1

    Solution: Stage 2

    Formless void Forming place (days 1-3) Filling void (days 4-6)
    Darkness Day 1: light/separate darkness Day 4: lights
    The deep Day 2: heavens/separate waters Day 5: birds/fish
    Formless earth Day 3: earth/vegetation Day 6: animals/humans
  6. Genesis 1 is thematically and logically organized and expresses how the Creator solves the problems he needs to solve in order to bring creation out of chaos. Therefor, we have every reason to suppose that the succession of days was not meant to refer to a chronological succession but to a logical, thematic, and literary succession.
  7. In this respect, Genesis 1 is not exceptional. It is a well-known fact that some Gospel authors grouped Jesus’ saying and deeds by theme rather than by the order in which they occurred historically.

Supporting Arguments

  1. The ancient Near Eastern background.  Over the last century a number of ancient Near Eastern texts have been found that deal with creation and that to some degree parallel Genesis 1. There is often a “six plus one” literary structure to these texts, expressed as the seven “days” of creation. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Genesis author was following this cultural pattern to communicate his own view of creation.
  2. The theology of Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is a theological statement, not a scientific report, expressed in a rather typical ancient Near Eastern way. Its intended purpose is to tell us who the Creator is, not exactly how he created. Unlike the pagan ancient Near Eastern view that many gods were involved in creation, the Genesis author affirms that the world was created by one God alone.
  3. The weakness of alternative views. The literary framework view not only avoids the disagreements between the other views, but actually explains them. The order of the days is not meant to reflect the chronology of creation. It is rather meant to express thematically the problems of darkness, watery abyss, formlessness, and void expressed in Genesis 1:2.
  4. Genesis 1 and the scientific evidence. The literary framework interpretation can easily be reconciled with any contemporary scientific theory of origin one chooses to embrace. Yet at the same time, reconciliation is not necessary. Genesis 1 has no bearing on science, for it is strictly interested in theology, no science.

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