THE LENGTH OF A CREATION DAY

From the classroom notes of the late Walter A. Maier,

Ph.D., Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO. [died 1950]

 

I. What Some Think

Erroneous opinions have been held as to the nature and length of the creation days. We note in particular these two general tendencies:

A. The reduction of this period to a moment. This was the tendency of Augustine (Civitate Dei-12,6) who contended that it was impossible to comprehend just what Godís day was. Other church fathers held directly that Godís omnipotence did not require a day and that the Hebrew word "Yom" was here used as equivalent to a moment. Against this tendency and against a similar effort to explain these days in an allegorical manner, Luther says: "Hilary and Augustine, two greatest lights of the church, are of the opinion that the world was created suddenly and all at once, not during six consecutive days. And Augustine engages in a strange play with these six days. He considers them to be mystical days of knowledge in the angels and does not let them remain six natural days. . . (But) since Moses wants to tell us, not of allegorical creatures or an allegorical world but of actual creatures and a visible world, which one may see, feel and touch, he calls a spade a spade, as the proverb puts it, (using) day and night, as we are wont to do, without any allegories whatsoever." St. Louis - ed. I, 6. Translation by Prof E. MPlass.


B. The Prolongation of this period to an age of epochs of many years. This is the interpretation which is held by many Christian interpreters today, who believe that this lengthening of the term "Yom" is necessary in order to bring about a harmony of Scriptures with the alleged requirements of science. Geology, it is urged, has demonstrated that vast epochs of many millions of years were required to bring the world into its present condition. In order to make the Biblical record compatible with this, refuge is taken to the interpretation of the creation day as a creation period. In substantiation of this interpretation the following reasons have been advanced:

    1. The Scriptures themselves use the term "Yom" in a wider sense, in which the term is clearly not applied to a solar day. So, for example, in Genesis 2:4, the statement "In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens," refers to the entire period of the creation. So, also, in many prophetic passages which speak of "the day of the Lord" where this day sometimes refers to the period when Godís justice is to be executed. To this we answer: We admit that the term "Yom" is used in a larger and figurative sense in the Old Testament, but it is a hermeneutical principle that we adhere to the original and literal meaning of a word, unless there are evident and manifest reasons for adopting a figurative or derived interpretation. Such reasons are absent in the case of Genesis 1.

    2. It is urged that such passages as Ps. 90, 4 ("For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday, when it is passed."); 2 Pet. 3, 8 ("One day is with the Lord as a thousand years") show that the term "Yom" is directly used for a period of a thousand years or more. Such contentions, however, are simply based on a misunderstanding of The important purpose of these passages. They simply show the timelessness of God and emphasize that fact that God is not limited by the restrictions of time that are imposed upon men. In addition, it is obviously unfair to quote from 2 Pet. 3,8 only the words: "One day is with the Lord as a thousand years" because this passage adds explicitly, "And a thousand years as one day."
    3. It is claimed: "Such enormous haste as the hypothesis of days of 24 hours would necessitate, is not in harmony with Godís methods" (Bible Difficulties, Rovt. Steward MacArthur, p. 32). This, as other similar objections (for example, the contention that the earth would only be 144 hours older than man after Adam had been created) is simply a restriction of Godís omnipotence and raises difficulties which are entirely unnecessary.
    4. It is claimed "as the sun is said not to have appeared to rule the day until the fourth day of Creation, the three preceding days could not have been solar days but indefinite period." - But there is no logic in this claim.
    5. Likewise it is stated: "The seventh day upon which God is said to have "rested" was conceived as extending thru all succeeding time. As this day is an immense period, and as the first three days are not solar days but of indefinite duration, we may reasonably conclude that the other three days were also intended to describe indefinite period." But this is a tangential, circle argument.

    6. "The cosmologies of other peoples are confirmatory of the creation days being periods and not natural days." But the cosmologies are wrong in this respect as in a hundred others.

 

II. What Scripture Says

Contrary to these theories which either shorten or lengthen the creative day, we must interpret the term "yom" as a cosmic day of 24 hours, more or less. This interpretation is made inevitable by the following considerations:


1. This is the natural interpretation and, as stated above, we always adhere to the literal interpretation of a term, unless the text itself shows that the term is to be interpreted figuratively. If it were not for the alleged requirements of "science," no one would dream of interpreting "yom" otherwise than an ordinary day.


2. This is the interpretation which the text requires. When after every group of creative acts, the creative day is mentioned, it is specifically stated that this day was made up of morning and evening. No twisting of terms is able to obviate the force of this simple statement. Ages, eras, epochs, do not consist of morning and evening.


3. This is the interpretation which other portions of Scripture demand. In Exodus 20,11, for example, the Sabbath is instituted and it is stated that because God rested on the seventh day, He therefore blessed and hallowed the Sabbath day. If God rested for a seventh era or epoch, He would have instituted not a Sabbath day but a Sabbath era or epoch. In other words, if we interpret the Sabbath as a day, we must interpret the seventh day in the same manner.


4. The theory which explains "yom" as an epoch fails to bring about the supposed harmony between the Bible and science for which this theory is advanced. Geology does not teach the completion of the world in six geologic epochs. In addition, this theory causes additional difficulties, in the text. The vegetable world was created on the third day, while the solar system was called into being on the fourth day. Is it possible to hold that the vegetable world existed throughout a long geologic age without the sun?


5. In the creative commands of God we have evidence of immediate instant action which obviates the necessity of long creative labor. In the very first verse we are told: "God said, Let there be light, and there was light;" how can we interpose the idea of the creation of light being protracted through, say, a million years?


6. In the Old Testament, when the term "yom" is associated with a definite number, it is otherwise used to designate a solar day. We have no scriptural parallel for Age I, the Second Epoch, the Third, etc.


7. The theory that "yom" is an epoch involves difficulties. For example, it is stated that man was created in the sixth geological era; if the seventh day is another era, then Adam lived through several eras, an assumption which is absurd in itself.