How long are the days of Genesis 1? (Official thread for January theme)


(Brad Kramer) #1

We just published a new Common Question page! https://biologos.org/common-questions/biblical-interpretation/how-long-are-the-days-of-genesis-1

Last month, @T_aquaticus made a good recommendation that we should have official comment threads for new CQ pages (and monthly themes in general). So feedback and discussion is welcomed on our new page, as well as any discussion on the topic of the Genesis days that doesn’t fit in other threads.

We’re really proud of this new resource, it took a ton of work. I hope you enjoy (and share) it.


(Brad Kramer) #2

#3

I entirely agree. The very first thing I ever accepted was evolution, and then I transitioned to YEC because of Kent Hovind. Then, after seeing Hugh Ross destroy Kent Hovind in a debate, I realized that the age of the Earth must be great but I adopted Hugh Ross’s views – no evolution yet. Ross’s views entailed the day and age interpretation of Genesis, where each day represents some unknown period of time. Here is the debate where Ross curbs Hovind on the age of the Earth, I’ve watched it many times.

Anyways, the evidence piled against me and I finally understood the days represent clear, 24-hour days, not some unsolicited period of time. The word yom in Genesis almost always means a regular day, only in a few examples does it ever mean something else, usually in a grammatical context diverging from Genesis 1. Secondly, each day in Genesis ends with the phrase “and there was evening and there was morning”. Isn’t that interesting? And then of course there’s the clear and obvious relationship between the 6 day work - 1 day rest of God and the Sabbath system, which is again, 6 days work and 1 day rest. And to top it all off, Exodus 20:8-11 says:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.

That settles it. The clear interpretation to me, it seems, is that the days of Genesis are 24-hour days, but the Genesis narrative is a literary, allegorical account written in its ancient near eastern context. And evolution is true. I’ve held to virtually every possible view in great detail in the last few years as my studies have moved and moved, and this finally all makes sense. It’s an enormous satisfaction once you can finally, perfectly account for everything.


(Christy Hemphill) #4

Or at least satisfactorily account. I don’t think any “team” in the origins discussion has cornered the market on perfect accounting.


#5

I don’t see any problems with the allegorical description of Genesis in lights of its ancient near eastern background. YEC and Ross’s progressive creationism is irreconcilably in conflict with evolutionary science.


(Peaceful Science) #6

Perhaps, but one does not need to see Genesis allegorically to reconcile it with evolution. We can take it literally if we like.


(Brad Kramer) #7

The problem with both of those words (“allegorical” and “literal”) is that, in my experience, they are used in so many different ways as to render them practically useless in many discussions. (More on this subject in some upcoming BioLogos materials.)

I would actually label the BioLogos position on Genesis 1 as “literal”, not “allegorical”, because we are trying to read the chapter according to how the original audience would have literally understood it. We are not reading the days as “allegorically” referring to larger spiritual concepts. The difference between our reading and a young-earther is not as much about the meaning of the word “day”, but whether the “days” are revealing modern scientific information.

I am curious how you are using the word “literal” here. Do you think that one can reconcile Genesis 1 with evolution if one reads it “literally” as describing six 24-hour days several thousand years ago? That seems hard to do, in my mind, unless you adopt a pretty elaborate form of the Omphalos idea, where God creates the world with a coherent evolutionary history that can be studied by scientists, but calls on believers to reject that history by faith.


(Peaceful Science) #8

I certainly agree that these words mean a multiude of things, and are applied in manifold ways.

This still sounds more like a “literary” vs. a “literal” view.

Regardless, I agree that the BioLogos “allegorical” position is only selectively allegorical; and I mean that in a good way. The same is true the other way. AIG, ultimately, is only selectively literal too. It’s really a continuum, because it is impossible to take everything 100% literally, and meaningless to take it 100% allegorical.

Another nuance here, which is important, is that the “literal” approach is not actually the academic self-label that these academics apply to themselves. They say instead they are taking a “historico-grammatical” approach. They have a set of rules they use for hermeneutics, which are guided by a plausible theological starting point. When we talk about “literal,” the academic version of this is historico-grammatical.

Very good question. I was using it pretty broadly, but specifically, its true wheter we take it “literally” in the colloquial sense or the technical “historico-grammatical” sense. To the extent there is interest, I can explain how one can take either position and still find no conflict with evolutionary science.

About days, I used to think that too, till BioLogos introduced me to @JohnWalton. Its not just him though, Ken Keathley also introduced me to Greg Beale (https://www.amazon.com/Erosion-Inerrancy-Evangelicalism-Responding-Challenges/dp/1433502038) and @Jon_Garvey introduced me to Seth Postel (http://mydigitalseminary.com/adam-as-israel/).

Though @JohnWalton is the most explicit in mapping this out, so he is the right place to start. He argues that the 6 days are literal 24-hour days, period, and does not think the day-age view is a plausible reading of the text. He just points out (as I recall) that the “creation” of plants and animals (for example) are the land and seas bringing already created things to the Garden inauguration.

So there is an “in plain sight” way to hold day = 24hrs. I’m sure you’ve read Walton’s work. I suppose I’m mainly confused on how, after reading Walton, a question like this arises. Can you help me understand that?


(Phil) #9

I’ve been reading The “Four Views on Creation, Evolution and Intelligent Design” book, and this question is pretty much the source of a hard line in the sand for Ham, with of course differing views for Ross with RTB(old earth creationism with concordance) and Haarsma with EC. Meyer with ID is careful not to offend anyone, but seems to line up somewhat personally with Haarsma on this topic.
In any case, I would like to commend you guys on the page, as it seems to hit all the right points and is fair and informative. Well done!


(Christy Hemphill) #10

I’m confused too. But that doesn’t stop the word yom from generating thousands of posts on this forum. It comes up at least every couple months, and plenty of ECs are not getting with the “of course yom means a regular day” program. Lots of them borrow heavily from OEC arguments.

Any time anyone talks about “literal” meaning, it is colloquial and not technical. In the two MA programs in linguistics I did, “literal meaning” never came up as a thing we studied. There’s “primary sense” and “secondary sense” (which applies to this case, because there’s no good reason to posit a secondary sense of the word ‘day’) but the meaning of a text is never as simple as summing up the senses of individual words. Meaning is calculated with reference to a shared context and we all go through fairly complicated mental processing to determine what a speaker intended for us to infer from what they said. That’s why computers have such a hard time with natural human language.

The fact that ‘day’ is used in its primary sense (normal day), does not tell you diddly squat about whether the entire passage is meant to be understood symbolically, metaphorically, allegorically, historically, factually, or otherwise.

For example, in these lines from the poem “Mother to Son” by Langston Hughes, almost all the words are used in their primary senses, but the reader can easily calculate that they are contributing to the extended image of “life is like a stairway” and the real subject is life, not a physical stairway that existed somewhere in history.

Well, Son, I tell you
life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
and splinters,
And boards torn up, and places with no carpet on the floor–
bare.

It would be silly to tell your lit teacher that in this poem, Hughes intended a special meaning of “tack” that means painful experience not sharp metal object. Or that in this poem carpet doesn’t “literally” mean carpet. Yes, it does. Carpet is part of the image. Normal carpet, not some special “metaphorical use only” carpet. The fact that places in stairs are worn out, dangerous, and lacking luxury allows you to calculate what Hughes is intending to say about the hardships of life, but you don’t need a special meaning for the word ‘carpet’ to get to that meaning.


(Peaceful Science) #11

True, but in this context, the academics developing this view would emphasize also that when they say “literal” they mean historico-gramatical.

Which is why this is not convincing…

Nor is this…

They just do not believe that Genesis is a poem. Period.

There is a specific set of rules they are using in their hermeneutics. One has to follow those rules to convince them of a different interpretation.

Yeah, I know, usually with people arguing “for” there personal view of things. My taxonomy of the positions are:

  1. Day-age is a legitimate or required interpretation (e.g. Ross)
  2. Day-age is not legitimate interpretation, which demonstrates its all figurative because the earth is old (Lamoureux).
  3. Day-age is not legitimate interpretation, which demonstrates the earth is young (AIG, Bob Jones, etc.).
  4. Day-age is not legitimate interpretation, but this tells us nothing about the age of the earth (Walton).

I’d just point out that the differences between 2, 3 and 4 are important. In my observation, #2 is not appreciated by anyone except figurativists, as this seems to render a caricature of #1 and #3, and be willfully ignorant of #4. Certainly some EC / TE take #1, but I think #4 is an important middle ground that everyone could acknowledge to reduce tensions.

For all the emphasis on Waltons explication of ANE, its more interesting contributions (IMHO) come from his “historico-gramatical” roots. His claim that Genesis 1 and 2 are sequential are made on exclusively textual grounds (without reference to ANE), and his take on days also is based on a textual argument. I think that is important, because even if ANE literature is an anathema, these two points still stand.

So, one can affirm evolutionary science and an old earth, regardless of whether the Genesis days as are 24hrs or ages or figurative. In some important sense, Walton’s interpretation of day is a “literal” interpretation, and that is a good thing because it expands the tent.


(Brad Kramer) #12

The question arises because, as I said, there’s so many meanings of the word “literal.” I like John’s view, too, although I’m not totally sold on it.

Thanks for clarifying.


(Christy Hemphill) #13

But that’s irrelevant. Poems are not the only place you find figurative language or imagery. The speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. are full of imagery. Apocalyptic literature is full of imagery. Historical narratives can certainly use imagery. This whole idea of “only poetry uses figurative language” is flat out silly.

Historical-grammatical hermeneutics is an approach developed by conservative biblical exegetes in somewhat of an isolated echo chamber. It sometimes assumes things about how language works that are simply wrong. Much of meaning is not confined to or carried by the words, structures, relationships between words, and literary forms. It seems to me that Walton has had some dialogue with linguists or cognitive psychologists because he uses terminology that is straight out of relevance theory. On the other hand, many conservative Bible scholars are relying on ideas of how language and communication work that are outdated and disproven. I know this is the case because I have read articles written by translation consultants on English translations who have to work with old PhDs in Biblical languages who have been Christians their whole life and refuse to acknowledge that some of their interpretive and translation decisions are based on bad linguistics and bad translation theory. Some of the things that got into the ESV would never have gotten past a translation consultant if they were presented in a minority language. I’m not that interested in following “their rules” for interpreting human communication if those rules are based on wrong ideas about how human languages actually work. To me that is just as ludicrous as saying we should follow YEC rules for dating the earth via genealogy if we are to have a convincing conversation with them. A lot of times, if people are going to become convinced of a totally different interpretation, they also need to be convinced to change their paradigm.

Plus, the end goal of historical-grammatical hermeneutics is modern application, not understanding what the original audience heard and understood and the original context of the text that might lead to different inferences than we get out of it now. They think the meaning is actually in the words and structures and just needs to be unpacked or mined or decoded. Unpacking or mining or decoding words are all lousy metaphors for the communicative process.


#14

I argue that the original audience would have seen it as an allegorical account. It’s well known in scholarly circles that the primeval history used and transform prior mesopotamian accounts (flood, confusion of the languages, genealogies, etc) into a polemic against pagan religion and in order to represent the archetypes of God, man, and sin.

In Genesis 2, God takes Adam’s “side” to make Eve. Did Adam only have half an abdomen after God used his side to make Eve? Of course not, it’s an allegorical account and no ancient Israelite would have thought that God was doing radical surgery in Genesis 2.


(Juan Romero) #15

Hugh Ross could do what William Lane Craig couldn’t do: going one on one against Victor Stenger himself (this was back in 2008) and being at his level during the whole debate. Personally, I loved that debate, and both of them used really good arguments.

How could Dr. Dino be a challenge? If Hovind tried to debate Stenger (if he was still alive), he would be destroyed in a couple of minutes.


(Brad Kramer) #16

How do you define “allegorical”?


(Phil) #17

One thing I wonder as we look at Genesis is how other current religions see their creation stories. For example, the Navajo have a fairly complex creation story, and there appear to be active practitioners of that religion. Anyone with any experience with other cultures with intact creation stories, and how they deal with these issues of interpretation to compare and contrast with what we see in Christianity?


#18

First off, thanks for the mention in the opening post. I know I am the big bad atheist in these forums (tongue in cheek), but it is nice to see that suggestions are being taken from all corners of the discussion.

As to the topic, I could be completely wrong about what I am going to write, so feel free to tear it apart if necessary. These are just a few observations of someone looking in from the outside who also used to be on the inside.

What is wrong with a bit of mystery and perhaps a continually unraveling revelation? In the face of doubting atheist like myself and an ever increasing amounts of knowledge I can understand the reflexive need to appear confident in one’s interpretation of the Bible, but is it really necessary? It would seem to me that all you really need is the starting point of a God inspired text. Complete knowledge of exactly what the authors meant doesn’t seem necessary.

I also don’t see the need for a strict adherence to a completely internal exegesis of Genesis, or the Bible as a whole. Surely the creation itself has some role in the overall revelation of God and Christian theology. We could even contend that the author/s of Genesis really meant it to describe a literal 7 24-hour day creation week with separately created species, but the knowledge we have gained of the creation has as much influence on the revelation of God as the Bible does. The authors of Genesis were surely as fallible as any of us, and with that I don’t see what is wrong with finding those flaws and deeper understandings as time moves forward. The infallibility of the Bible seems more like a human tradition than anything else, and it may not be necessary.

Is the approach I have described too “dangerous” or heretical? Perhaps, but I will leave that up to you guys.


(George Brooks) #19

@BradKramer,

While you work with @Korvexius on the question of Allegorical, what is the best way of defining this kind of interpretation:

Reader sees references to a firmament in Genesis 1 (and scattered here and there throughout the Bible).
The reader concludes two things:
o The Earth lacks a firmament;
o The reader concludes that God was not worried about the author thinking there was a literal firmament. So
references to the Firmament were left intact.

What kind of interpretation is this? This is not a trick question. I really don’t have an idea of the best way
to term this kind of interpretation.

George


(GJDS) #20

An allegory is a written form that seeks to provide a hidden meaning. The meaning of Gen 1 is clear and obvious – in the beginning God created ……

The question of the days of creation has been a subject of much conjecture. If we accept that a day as we know it cannot have been possible before the earth spun about its axis, and the sun and moon were present to obtain a morning and evening, than we need to ask why Genesis uses days when it is obvious that our day could not have occurred during the initial portions of the creation account. Since we cannot seek a hidden meaning, we need to interpret why Gen uses these terms. My preference is to look at other verses that draw parallels with our working day and week, with the end of our labours at day 6 and the Sabbath as the 7th day. This means that God equates our days of labour with His “days” of creation, to emphasise the importance of entering into God’s rest (eg Exodus – as God created in 6 days, so you work for 6 days, and as God rested on the 7th, so you too ……)

We may argue on many points – to me, the most contentious could be to argue that God needed to rest. Since I do not think God gets tired, than I would seek additional teaching from the bible on the Sabbath rest, and how the six days of labour and creation, and the Sabbath, teach us regarding our salvation in Christ.