The Days of Genesis
A Theological and Lexical Treatment
|RC||Oct 29, 2019|
The days of Genesis have become a controversy of recent times, and it is this controversy that we will attempt to take a look at within this article. The days of Genesis have varying views, some adding up to 9 different opinions. For most people, there are two categories of opinions on the day length issue: (1) Young Earth Creationism (2) Old Earth Creationism. There is exegetical reasoning to not necessitate a “24-Hour, Consecutive Day” reading. This, again, does not prove that the Universe is any certain age and it follows logically that the Bible does not attempt to date the universe.
So then, how did Moses’ hearers understand the days of creation as he read them the account? Certainly, they did not understand it as a myth! It was a polemic against the pagan mythologies of the surrounding nations. Each day of creation attacks one of the gods in the pagan pantheons of the day and declares that they are not gods at all. On day one the gods of light and darkness are dismissed. On day two, the gods of sky and sea. On day three, the earth gods and gods of vegetation. On day four, the sun, moon, and star gods. Days five and six dispense with the ideas of divinity within the animal kingdom. Finally, it is made clear that humans and humanity are not divine, while also teaching that all, from the greatest to the least, are made in the image of God. Thus Biblical reality replaced myth.
The notion that our papers carry is that Genesis is written in polemic form against Ancient Near Eastern creation stories and thus, carries with it a saga language or “exalted prose narrative.” Edward J. Young, the conservative Hebrew expert who reads the six-days of Genesis 1 as historical, admits that Genesis 1 is written in “exalted, semi-poetical language”.
That is to say the structure used is both unusual, as we will see, and narrative in form using the vav consecutive in Hebrew. However, there is no such rule to state that vav consecutive is strictly of the literal sense. For example, Nathan’s Fable in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 utilizes waw consecutive construction. Jotham’s Fable in Judges 9:8-15 does as well, but such texts are symbolic and illustrative rather than literal records of actual events.
Therefore, now the starting goal is to correctly translate the words "in the beginning" and accurately identify the literary usage surrounded Genesis 1. This has been done several times throughout history, but our goal here is to create an accessible article pointing to them.
Starting with "in the beginning" we see a few things;
Most of today’s translations of Genesis 1 do not accurately represent the Hebrew text when it comes down to the numbering of the days of creation. The fact is that the Hebrew text lacks the article “the” on days 1 through 5. It should read as the NASB translates it word for word: “And there was evening, and there was morning, one day” (v5) “And there was evening, and there was morning, a second day” (v8). It only appears when we get to the sixth day that the definite article arises. This detail of the Hebrew text is strange and significant because it is an unusually intentional way of writing. The normal way of indicating the "first" of anything is with the Hebrew word for "first" (ordinal) and not the Hebrew word for "one" (The exception is the date formulas in which the word for "one" is consistently used for days. This is NOT a date formula, however, even if it refers to days). The Hebrew phrase used here is almost always translated and understood to mean "one day" in its other uses in the Hebrew Bible. It is a matter of the fact that it only appears ten times and only one other time (Ezra 10:17) is it translated "the first day." In Ezra, it is part of a date formula that has unique usage of "eHad', the Hebrew word for "one."
The use in Genesis 1 is unique. “The indefinite noun plus has a definite sense in the opening chapter of Genesis: ‘the first day’ (Gen. 1:5); this pattern is found nowhere else—even the rest of the account uses indefinite nouns with ordinal numbers (Gen. 1:8, 13, etc.),” Waltke and O’Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 274. What is interesting to note, in this verse, is that God calls the light “day”; Therefore this reinforces the concept, which we have looked at and will more in depth, that “light” and “darkness” or “day and “night” are simply signifies the creation coming from chaos to order. While this sense may be understood to be definite because of the list it begins, the normal translation of this construction would be “one day” (for example, Gen. 27:45; 33:13) or it could be a specific indefinite, “a certain day” (ibid., 251, sec. 13.8.a). The point is that this is a very unusual way to enumerate a list and leaves several other options open to the Hebrew reader. If the author had intended this list to be a simple listing of days, it seems doubtful he would have done it this way.
In spite of hundreds of uses of the indefinite ordinal with an indefinite noun conveying an indefinite sense, the only clearly parallel usage that is translated with a definite sense is in Genesis 15:16 (“the fourth generation”). The only other possible exception is found in Nehemiah 6:5, which is generally translated as definite (see the ESV, NIV, NRSV, KJV, etc.) but commentators suggest that it need not be this way. It actually makes great sense as an indefinite; after trying to intimidate Nehemiah four times (v. 4), Sanballat and Tobiah tried “a fifth time” with an open letter.
There are plenty of people trying to advocate that it is written simply and in a straightforward way, but it is anything but that. It is purely and absolutely unusual. The sixth and seventh days do have the article (“the sixth day” and “the seventh day,” 1:31; 2:2–3), although day 7 does not use the summary formula, “There was evening, and there was morning, day x.” Clearly, the sixth and seventh days are set apart as distinct in the listing of the days. While two of these uses provide the article on the number and not the day (1:31, 2:3—contrary to normal attributive adjective use), the disagreement is not unusual for numbered phrases (Walkte and O’Connor, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, 260).
Here you can enter the response of "who cares, there are still seven days, it really doesn't matter." The point is that the unusual structure of this is worth investigating and trying to get into the Hebrew mindset at that time. Instead, it uses a very unique way of expressing the days and makes a significant change in the last two days. It is as if the writer is telling the reader to pay attention because this is not a typical week. There are varying reasons for this and among them is the possibility that the Sabbath observance would have already been in place at this point when Genesis 1 was written which would make Genesis non-prescriptive but rather in light of what is already known (Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus, OTL (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974), 416). Another factor is that in the second giving of the law (Deut. 5: 12– 15), the rationale given for keeping the Sabbath has a different point of reference. In Exodus, Sabbath observance is grounded in cosmological-theological language, made explicit by the inclusion of “sea,” rounding out the three-tiered cosmic structure (see “Cosmology” below). By contrast, the motive provided for Sabbath rest in Deuteronomy is God’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The fact that this version of Sabbath law does not depend on a seven-day creation week is further indication that the days of creation were not imperative to a robust creation theology in the Hebrew Bible. (Greenwood, Kyle R.. Since the Beginning: Interpreting Genesis 1 and 2 through the Ages. Baker Publishing Group).
Most of these suggest the same thing, in essence, the days are not linear chronological days. Instead, each plays a part of God taking chaos and creating something "good" from it. The issue was not when the figures have occurred but how they contribute to the overall arrangement and meaning of the unfolding event. They are carefully arranged for effect, with days 6 and 7 prominently positioned to highlight the goal of the creation of man and the fulfillment of the purpose of God. There is clearly an intended sequence. But the arrangement may be logical (or theological), not necessarily chronological (or scientific). And perhaps there is even more significance, or a different value, which we will examine below. The point here is the unique presentation, suggesting to the original reader something other than a standard or straightforward reading of a mere week.
Day 1-3 forms by separating the light and darkness (day one), the sky from the primordial waters below (day two), dry land from the sea (day three). The fulfillment days begin on day four where we see the luminaries are turned on (the literal Hebrew word is turning on a lamp). It is easy to notice the careful, purposeful order of days 1 through 3 in conjunction with days 4 through 6 (see explanation above). Verse 2 says that the earth was “without form” (tohu) and “void” (bohu)—desolate and empty. On days 1 through 3, God expresses the ability to produce or nurture life into that which was desolate or unproductive (tohu) through the separation of the elements. On days 4 through 6, he fills up or inhabits the empty void (bohu) so that the earth would overflow with meaningful life. Both days 3 and 6 are emphasized by two statements of God’s creative word and his approval. But none of this means that this is a scientific description of the order of creation itself. Instead, the structure makes the point that both order and substance in the world originate with the purpose and plan of God.
This is again the formula that we see consistent with Elohim attempting to showcase that He is control of the disorder to order. We must note here that the Jewish day is evening to evening, not evening to morning. The text displays the word “evening” first because in Hebrew it means “darkness” which is, as we’ve shown in other articles and here, known as “chaos” or “empty” in the ANE culture. It then says “morning” which represents the “light”, as we saw earlier in verse 5, and we know in the ANE Hebrew mind that means order.
Bible readers have long marked and commented on how having evening and morning before the creation of the sun generates a problem for a strictly linear chronology. Hugh Ross attempts to show that the sun was created on the first day and only shown through on the fourth day. This view holds up when reading plainly in Hebrew and it is one of a few valid opinions. A literalist would attempt to show that when God divided the light from darkness, he created a divine source of light to assist until the creation of the sun on the fourth day. That is, unfortunately, untenable according to the Hebrew language and must consist of leapfrogging to Revelation 21:23 which shows that there will be no sun and God will be the source of light. But neither is there darkness in the New Jerusalem, as there apparently was on the first day of creation. We still have to ask the question, however, what this would have meant to ancient Israelites (again, not us). What would they hear and understand the creation of light before the sun?
In our scientific and western mindset, the presence of darkness and light suggests that the earth was rotating on its axis. “Evening and morning” are ordinary terms that refer to the setting and rising of the sun from the perspective of the earth (this is key as some attempt to change the frame of reference ie., not from earth which is untenable with the data we have) , clearly a function of the earth’s rotation in relationship to the sun. The fact that Genesis 1 presents “evening and morning” three days before the sun suggests that Genesis 1 may not be about literal days and literal stages of creation. Instead, this is most likely referring again to a creation formula, that is a saga, to show God creating order from chaos or light from darkness. This view is highly supported from the varying Ancient Near Eastern texts of its time.
A third clue that the passage may intend a more symbolic approach is that there is no fixed end to the seventh day, God’s Sabbath. Day 7 does not include the “evening and morning” formula. It is envisioned as a perpetual day that has no end, which rules out most linguistic arguments that literalist attempt to make.
Isaiah 66:1 pictures him on his throne in heaven as the place of his rest, from where he governs the world. It is this concept of God’s constant rest that informs Jesus’ argument with some unfriendly Jews when he had miraculously healed on the Sabbath in violation of their custom. Jesus said, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17). The point is that while God’s Sabbath never ended, he still continued to sustain the world and especially to do good: if the Father worked on his Sabbath, the Son could work on the Sabbath. Hebrews 3 and 4 refer to that unending rest in its eschatological significance: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us, therefore, strive to enter that rest” (Heb. 4:9–11). The argument is that if the seventh day is not a literal 24 day, then the first 6 days probably are not literal days either. But a creation “week” was a necessary framework to either reflect or put forth the custom of Sabbath, in order for God to declare time to be holy, and so he could call people to the regular observance of rest and worship that make our lives meaningful.
What is said above about God’s rest as evidence to the figurative nature of Genesis 1 is supported by what Exodus 31:17 speaks about the refreshment of God. This passage is often cited as proof that the creation week was a literal seven-day week: “Therefore the people of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations, as a covenant forever. It is a sign forever between the people of Israel and me that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed” (Exod. 31:16–17). The thought is that the human week is to reflect God’s week. If it is a literal, seven-day week for people, it must have been a literal, seven-day week for God. This is again, often cited by "plain reader" advocates.
These everyday reader advocates have an issue, however. There is a problem with this reasoning. If all is to be taken literally and plainly, then it must be literally and plainly true that God became tired and was refreshed after his rest. If they object, they must pick and choose which they wish to be literal and not literal which is no way to approach a text of Scripture. The verb “refreshed” is used but three times in the Scriptures, including Exodus 23:12 (“Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; that your ox and your donkey may have rest, and the son of your servant woman, and the alien, may be refreshed”) and 2 Samuel 16:14 (“And the king, and all the people who were with him, arrived weary at the Jordan. And there he refreshed himself”). The recent verse makes it clear that it is weariness that requires refreshment. But was God literally weary? Had he become exhausted during the week of creation? No, but he was describing his figurative workweek in a way that corresponded with human experience so that mankind would also rest even as God had “rested.” God is drawing an analogy here rather than an equation. If we do not understand God’s “rest” and “refreshment” to be the same as man’s, should we expect God’s “days” to be the same? I would implore you to consider this.
Stepping into another piece of theological evidence we see a strong symmetry between the days correlating between what God was showing Israel was false about the Egyptian gods. The fact that Genesis was written as a polemic, for Israel, after Egyptian captivity, shows us that God was drawing strong parallels between what Israel believed to be true (the Egyptian accounts) and what God was declaring. Please see the beforementioned article on this topic that shows in fact, they worshiped the gods of Egypt (and Mesopotamia) and took them with them when they left Egypt for Canaan (Josh. 24:14). When Moses is singled out by Yahweh to lead the people out of Egypt, he’s prepared for the people to ask about this God’s identity: “What is his name?” (Exod. 3:13).
Therefore, comparing the means of creation, which was essential to the ANE readers and thinkers, is where we can start. In slight contrast to Egyptian gods like Atum (Ptah), Yahweh-Elohim creates by divine commands which are signified by "Let there be" [Let there be” is the short jussive form of the verb “to be”; the following expression “and there was” is the short preterite form of the same verb. As such, יְהִי (yéhi) and וַיְהִי (vayéhi) form a profound wordplay to express both the calling into existence and the complete fulfillment of the divine word.]
Next, we see that light is created before the sun being in its place which is the same as the Egyptian reading. As pointed out by Miller, Johnny V,
"From our perspective, there cannot be a Sun if there is no atmosphere in which the sun can exist (and in their view, there is nothing but water everywhere). Yet, the Pyramid Texts relate the birth of Re in the dark, watery mass before there was the sky. The Egyptian perception is clearly very different from our modern perspective. They actually seem to have perceived the god associated with the sun (and so light) without assuming the necessity of the sun itself. So, in fact, the Egyptians saw the separation of the waters as the first actual creative act, with the inception of light in the dark waters preceding that act, as the glow of the dawn before the actual rising of the sun. A consistent riddle for biblical exegetes for centuries has been how to explain the existence of light on day 1 (Gen. 1:3–4) before the appearance of the sun on day 4 (Gen. 1:16–18). When we understand the Egyptian concept of light appearing in the dark water before the creation and the rising of the sun itself—which Israel would have known and probably accepted—we realize that when Israel heard Genesis 1:1–3, they would have envisioned a very different picture than our concept of some source of light out in an empty universe. We generally imagine a light in the sky with an empty cosmos already in place. We envision the earth, covered by water, rotating on its axis. But neither the Egyptian nor common Israelite perception (nor that of the rest of the ancient world) included any of these things. Instead, they perceived a light glowing amid the dark waters that were still infinite and all-pervasive, not light in or beyond an atmosphere, and not a sun. God does not choose to dispute this perception or explain any other options. He merely states that this light is his simple creation, and, significantly, not a part of him. The separation of that light from the darkness would, additionally, accord well with their perception of the coming into being of “light” or, in Egyptian polytheism, the coming into existence of Re/Atum. The implications, however, are very significant. Light is not the creator but created."
So without going into any rehashed details from the Genesis 1 Polemic paper, we will proceed further in the days specifically. We've shown that the relationship between Genesis and the Egyptian creation accounts are so similar they cannot be ignored. God was doing this with utmost importance and specifically for a reason. The main focus is that Yahweh takes chaos and creates order, which is a reflected theology throughout Scripture.
The most significant piece of evidence we can see in Genesis is the poetic flow of "Let there be" and the summary of "a day." (see figures 1-2) These two bookends are where Genesis is written between, and it is by zero mistakes that these appear how they do. Creation is not reenacted each day, nor does each day represent a struggle between the gods to maintain order. Rather, the seven “days” of creation prepared Israel to experience and, in a tangible way, to celebrate the rule of God over creation by participating in his rest each week in the Sabbath observance (Exod. 20:8–11; 31:12–17). In Exodus 31, the Sabbath is a “sign” to Israel that reminded them of their relationship with God (via the covenant). Celebrating the Sabbath after six days of work demonstrated that Israel shared in God’s work and in his rest and that they had submitted to the creator of the universe.
There is another apparent exegetical detail that is clearly significant, but that has been difficult to pinpoint. With each day, except the seventh, the text repeats the refrain that “there was evening and there was morning,” and then it numbers the day. This refrain occurs at the end of the first six days as a transition to the next. While we have already suggested that the missing theme in day 7 suggests a nonliteral understanding of the week, there may also be another reason for stating it in each of the first six days beyond merely marking the time. Several issues may apply here.
In Egyptian thought, the night meant that two gods were battling over the realm of chaos. The sun god fights off Apophis or Apepi, rising the next day in victory. This reenacting creation every day was an assurance to the Egyptians that each day was new. The Genesis account is dramatically different. God does not maintain creation through an ongoing battle against chaos. Instead, God decisively reframed the desolation and darkness of creation into a good, life-sustaining environment. Each day in Genesis takes a chaotic form to an ordered structure of creation. Genesis merely mentions the crucial times of evening and morning rhythmically passing, while in Egypt, the passage of time foreboded warfare with chaos. By contrast, Israel’s God efficiently manages time, and any sense of danger vanishes en route to his great and ordered rest. Such a picture directly opposes the Egyptian concept of “the cycle of life and human destiny, determined by the daily drama of sunset and sunrise. (Genesis in Egypt, 7).
When we get to day 7 in Genesis, there is not even a mention of evening and morning, as if there is no longer a hint of darkness and chaos in God’s very good creation. In fact, Hebrews 4:1–4 indicates the theological significance of this by recognizing that day 7 was unending, just as God’s rest and our final rest with him are endless. Such an ongoing rest directly contrasts the prevailing Egyptian theology of the sun’s struggle for life, rule, and daily order. The significance of the lack of the article (“the”) on the first five days of creation may also be understood in this light. When Genesis 1:5 presents the first creative period as “one day” instead of “the first day,” it may be intentionally rejecting the Egyptian notion of seeing creation reenacted each day. The Egyptians viewed creation as “the first time,” and it was subsequently repeated every day.
The Hebrew text then takes pains to dispute the daily repetition of creation, instead of spreading it out over multiple days: “one day,” “a second day,” and so on. Each new day is independent of the power of the sun or the deities of Egypt. The significance of the week is not in its chronology of six successive twenty-four-hour days but in its distancing of Israel’s theology from that of the Egyptians. Unlike in Egyptian thought, Creation cannot be reenacted each day. It is only recognized (not repeated) in the workweek.
The biblical claims for God, as introduced by the creation narratives, are not that he is one supreme god over the other gods. Instead, Genesis argues for a unique and sole claimant to supremacy over all of creation. The biblical account does not admit to any other deities in the creation or above creation. As stated earlier,19 this theology of creation gives God the right to rule his creation at his sole discretion, including granting land to Israel (Gen. 14:19, 22 with 15:17–20; Jer. 27:5; Ps. 115:15–16; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32) and dealing with all other nations, including Egypt, as he chooses. He can, therefore, bring judgment against all the gods of Egypt (Exod. 12:12).
Tsumura aptly summarizes, “ … in the Old Testament theology, when Yahweh-Elohim is represented as the creator of heaven and earth (e.g., Gen. 1:1; 14:22), the author is saying not only that he is incomparable in relation to other gods but also that, as the actual creator, he is the only God who can truly be called a god; that is, he is God.”
This concept that God is fighting or arguing against Israel's preconceived worldview is a must if we are to continue reading Genesis in the correct light.
All Bible scholars agree that the Hebrew word day (yom) can mean something other than a twenty-four-hour period. For instance, it is used in Genesis 1:5 and 1:14 to refer only to the daylight hours. In Genesis 2:4 it relates to the whole “week” or period of creation: “This was the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven” (NASB, emphasis added).1 In Job 14:6 yom is used figuratively to refer to a man’s entire lifetime. And yom is used over and over in the prophetic books to refer to an indefinite period of judgment, “the day of the LORD” (e.g., Isa. 2:12; Zeph. 1:7; Zech. 14:1). However, some Young Earth Creationists argue that the grammar of Genesis 1 necessitates that the word day be taken literally in that context. This is one of the reasons that they are convinced they must believe in a recent creation; in their minds, the Bible demands it. There are two main arguments behind this interpretation of yom in Genesis.
Some Young Earth Creationists argue that every time the Scriptures use the word day with a specific number, it is intended to be understood as a literal twenty-four hours. Therefore, the days in Genesis 1 must also be twenty-four-hour days in a literal week. This reasoning is flawed, however, because the context is the most critical factor in determining the meaning of a given the word or expression [aside from the fact that Hebrew contains no such grammatical law]. Genesis 1 provides clues to its nonliteral interpretation, and its own context takes precedence overuses of the day with numbers elsewhere in Scripture. If Genesis 1 intends to use the structure of week for theological purposes, as we have demonstrated, there is only one way to describe a week: adding up seven days. Similarly, flawed reasoning is the argument against a figurative meaning of the word day if the word is not used figuratively elsewhere in Genesis. It is possible for a word to be used only once in a particular way in any given document or context. The lone instance does not require another meaning just because it is the only user with its specific purpose. For example, the Hebrew word 'alluph usually means “close friend” (used seven times this way). But it can also mean “cattle,” though it is used only one time this way in the Hebrew Bible (Ps. 144:14). No translator proposes that its use in Psalm 144:14 should mean “close friend” just because that is what it means in all of its other uses. Then the passage would read, in parallel with the previous line (v. 13), May our sheep bring forth thousands … May our close friend be heavy with young … So we reject the specious argument that because we don’t see the term day with a number used figuratively elsewhere in Scripture, then it cannot have been used that way in Genesis. If we assume that Genesis 1 intends regular days for the Hebrew term (and, in fact, we do assume that it refers to regular days), we would still not agree that Genesis 1 requires a six twenty-four-hour-day creation. The issue is not with the specific word yom (“day”) but with the overall presentation to Israel in their context. We are not arguing for a figurative day or even a long creation day as much as for a generally illustrative presentation of the entire week. We understand the whole week as a symbolic presentation. Genesis 1 does not intend to give a strict order of creation events; instead, it begins with how Israel already described creation, without comment, and teaches the reality of Yahweh’s place as ultimate creator. The use of a particular word does not require a specific interpretation in Genesis 1, but the whole account must be seen in its entire context.
The evening and morning formula throughout the first six days of Genesis seems to clinch the requirement for six literal twenty-four-hour days. Can any other kind of day have a sunrise and sunset? Why else would Genesis use this description so consistently? However, there are problems with this conclusion. First, Daniel uses “evening” and “morning” together to refer to days, but they are used figuratively, showing that the phrase does not require a literal interpretation (Dan. 8:14). Besides, the placement of the evening before the morning is unusual. Rather than summarizing the day, the order seems to lead us to the next day by summarizing the night. This unexpected turn of phrase may be a clue that there is more in the text than we initially perceive from our contemporary context. We suggested prior that the reference here may actually be aimed as a polemic against the Egyptian understanding of the nighttime battle of the sun god with chaos and his enemies. Genesis challenges this by presenting the night-to-day transition smoothly without conflict, disorder, or question. God is in control, and the progress of history goes unquestioningly toward his certain goal of a good creation.
But even if, for the sake of argument, we were to expand the days to equal millions of years (the “day/age” theory), the theory would still not support an evolutionary scheme—either naturalistic evolution or theistic evolution—because it is impossible to explain how plant life, created on the third day, could have developed and been sustained on the earth before the creation of the sun and moon on the fourth day. The day/age theory is an example of "concodism" that does not take into account the ancient Near Eastern worldview. If the ancient reader would have naturally thought of a twenty-four-hour day, then how can the passage mean anything other than a recent creation? Let’s start with an observation we have already discussed: there were three evenings and mornings before the creation of the sun and moon! While we may naturally think of typical days with evenings and mornings, we do not think of typical days without sun and moon. The progression of the week is a clue that it does not represent our typical kind of day or week (see chapter 4). It was a divine workweek, not a human work week. God went about his work of creating, taking the evening off (instead of fighting chaos and enemies) and starting again the next day where he left off. He was leading up to the climax, the creation of human life, and then to the completion of his week, his Sabbath rest. Exodus 31:17 points out that God was refreshed by his rest, and that his workweek set a pattern for mankind. God, however, is not literally bound by time. Nor does he get literally tired. He does not need the evening off to sleep, or a Sabbath to be refreshed. Darkness and light are similar to him (Ps. 139:12). Therefore, the “week” of creation was not for his sake but for mankind’s, as the Law later makes clear. Through Moses, he framed the creation account in story form so that it would make sense to Israel, especially with its comparisons and contrasts to creation stories from other nations. And he did so in the unique framework of a week so that we would have a pattern for our own rhythm of life—a rhythm that will continually remind us that we are God’s workmanship, that our times are in his hands, and that we are created to worship him. None of the other ancient Near Eastern creation stories is based on a week because they do not order time in this way. The clues within the text help us to understand that the days of Genesis are figurative days that complete a symbolic week, to give us a real pattern for work and for worship.
Furthering the case that these days are significant in purpose, we see that the Piel verb קִדֵּשׁ (qiddesh) means “to make something holy; to set something apart; to distinguish it.” Literally, the phrase means that God made this day different. However, within the context of the Law, it means that the day belonged to God; it was for rest from ordinary labor, worship, and spiritual service. The day belonged to God. Here we have a representation of God’s future command to rest on the seventh day of the week. He is continuing the analogy for the Hebrew readers here.
Lastly, among all of this, some have maintained that the days of Genesis 1 must be “literal” days because whenever the Hebrew word yom “day” has a number in the rest of the Old Testament, it is a “literal” day. The statistic cited may, in fact, be accurate, but statistics alone are not enough to establish an inductive argument (which is what this argument is). We would need, not just a statistic, but an explanation of why the statistic demonstrates a principle. For a lexical argument such as this one, this explanation would be in terms of the combinational rules of the Hebrew word yom “day” and the kinds of words with which it is being combined. For this argument to be good, then, we must propose a combinational rule for the Hebrew word yom when it is modified by a number. We would then have to show that the rule applies in every case; and to do that we would have to show that it was the rule, and not the context of the other usages, which secured the interpretation of yom. To do so we would have to compare like with like, i.e. we would need a context comparable to that of Genesis 1 where the proposed rule overrode any contextual factors which pointed away from a strictly “literal” understanding of yom (unfortunately I do not know of such a context in the Hebrew Bible).
Thus far we’ve encountered some objections and we believe we’ve answered them adequately. We’ve also set up the functional theology for the “in the beginning”, “days”, “let there be” and so forth. The following is a more direct look into a portion of Genesis 2 that is a clue that these days were not necessarily 24-hour consecutive days but rather something else as the prior paragraph argues. In verse 5 the first term, שִׂיחַ (siakh), most likely refers to the wild, uncultivated plants (see Gen 21:15; Job 30:4, 7); whereas the second, עֵשֶׂב (’esev), refers to cultivated grains. It is a way of saying: “back before anything was growing.” “for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.” This is highly significant to the purpose of understanding the order of creation. Here we see that God did not just form plants and trees and shrubs but rather allowed nature to cultivate it is own course (how it was designed) and grow when rain and water came. We see springs would eventually form in v6 causing the earth to produce water in order to help the plants grow. This text is critical - it proves that God allowed His specifically designed nature to work fully and accurately from the start of all creation. God once again uses ordinary providence, that is the natural producing the natural as we observe with our eyes today. For a more in depth commentary on some linguistic exegesis please refer to: http://appliedtruth.org/theology/2018/11/5/exegetical-and-literal-interpretation-of-genesis-1
The argument has been and must be made that Genesis does not attempt to date the universe in any way shape or form. Whether you adhere to YEC or OEC you must insert either (1) observed and tested models of science or (2) assuming Genesis presents material origins of the universe, therefor is science. This or a mixture of the two of these views is an incoherent way to approach a text. There may very well be scientific evidence that supports YEC or OEC and that is for the field of science to justify. However, observing something in science and coming back to the Bible to try and reconcile it is creating an argument that the Bible never intended to make.
We hope that this paper serves you well. This will be one of many papers to be released that showcases the issues with attempting to reconcile something in the Bible that never needed to be reconciled to start with.
Figures 1-2 for Structure Use