If you’ve been following along, you know that I recently had a civil-but-slightly-frustrating exchange on Facebook with a young-earth creationist (YEC). (Well, there were more involved in the larger “discussion”, but I’m focusing on the interchange between the two of us.) He was making rather confident — even dogmatic — assertions about what he thought a “plain reading” of Scripture taught about creation, and I took it upon myself to pipe up and cast doubt on some of his assumptions. (Nice of me, eh?)
Specifically, in Part 1 my interlocutor — whom I am calling “Jay” — claimed that the Bible is the only valid, authoritative source for information about the origins & history of the universe/Earth/life/humanity. (I suspect this is at least partly because, like most YECs, he is highly suspicious of the motives & conclusions — at least as presented to the public — of mainstream science.) We didn’t get into this in depth, but I did question the strength of his assertion. He also claimed that “All of the Bible writers, all of the earliest Church fathers (pre Catholism) [sic], all of the reformation fathers until this present day have understood that it was 6 literal days (am I mistaken on that?).” I used historical fact to point out that he clearly was mistaken on that.
Rather than engage or attempt to counter what I had presented, though, he essentially ignored it and proceeded to state what seem to be his two, primary scriptural supports for the 24-hour day view:
Jay: “Christopher, thanks for the research. As exodus 20 when speaking of the sabbath command points back to apparent 6 day creation, and as the creation account gives evening and morning as the dividing point between days, so to me (and not throwing stones) to me I would be doing violence to what is written. I don’t see any warrant to consider another interpretation.”
I respect Jay’s desire to stick to what he believes the Bible is teaching. As do I and any serious follower of Christ. But, my first thoughts in response were: “Doing ‘violence’?!” No warrant to consider…? I took this as an implied (but not hostile) challenge.
The Exodus passage Jay referred to was, of course, Ex 20:9-11, which is part of the first presentation of the Ten Commandments and says,
“9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.” (NASB)
This is a favorite prooftext for YECs to support their view that the “day”/<yom> in Genesis 1 was of the 24-hour variety. But, as I tried to explain, this “proof” is not so clear, and a good case can and has been made that God’s purpose in this passage was to establish a model or pattern for work & rest and says nothing about the actual length of the creation days. After some research, I responded to Jay with the following:
“I understand, Jay. Except,…
The Exodus 20 passage does indeed point back to the 6 <yom> creation, but it is not definitive re the length of those <yom>. There are actually five passages in the Pentateuch that address the 4th commandment. Three of them (Ex 35:2; Lev 23:3; Deut 5:12-15) make no connection between God’s workweek and Man’s. For the other two (Ex 20:9-11; Ex 31:14-17), the YEC argument would only work if the words for “day” and “Sabbath” were never used with a non-24-hour period. (Both have more than one usage.)
In all five places, the Sabbath rest for humanity is referred to as “a Sabbath”, indicating there may be more than one kind. In fact, sometimes the Sabbath is a full year (Lev 25:4). Sabbaths for God’s physical creation appear to be related to the biological limits of His creatures — one 24-hr rest period to every six for humans; one 12-month rest period to every six for the crops. God can, of course, work and “rest” for as long as He wants, since He has no “natural” limitations. So, the reference to a Sabbath seems to be for a 6:1 (or, one out of seven) pattern. The exact duration is not at issue, but the model for work & rest, put in a way we can understand, and for our benefit.”
This, incidentally, is a main point in the “Analogical Days” approach, as championed by such theological worthies as Herman Bavinck, C. John “Jack” Collins, and (I think) Vern Poythress. Greg Koukl seems sympathetic to it, as am I.
The next part of Jay’s comment was in reference to several passages (Gen 1:5,8,13,19,23,31), where, after describing the events of a “day”/<yom>, God/Moses closes with something like, “There was evening and there was morning, a/the Nth day.” (Actually, the first day has it worded a little differently, and the seventh day… well, I’ll get to that in a minute.) As you can tell from Jay’s confident remark, YECs take the presence of this repeated pair to indicate that the days of creation must have been 24-hours each (and consecutive). But,…
“As for the evening-and-morning pair, I realize that some people see this as evidence that <yom> refers to a 24-hour period. However, other valid options exist. The Hebrew word <‘ereb>, translated “evening,” also means “sunset,” “night,” “in the evening,” “at evening,” “at the turn of evening,” or “between two evenings.” And the word <boqer>, translated “morning”, also means “the dawn,” “end of darkness,” “the coming of dawn,” “beginning of day,” “all day,” “in the morning”, “bright joy after night of distress” (for example, “dawn of prosperity”), “morrow,” or “next day,” with possible metaphoric uses as well. In other words, “evening” and “morning” refer to the beginning and ending of a day, whatever definition of “day” [or, <yom>, really] applies. Then, of course, there is the fact that God/Moses does not mention an evening/morning anywhere in the Bible for Day 7. I think that this, along with other passages (e.g., Heb 4:1-11; John 5:16-18), indicates we are still in the seventh <yom> (i.e., God’s rest), and it will continue until God starts creating again with the New Heaven and New Earth (Rev 21,22).
So, it would seem that there *are* alternate interpretations for both that are completely valid and orthodox. NO violence required!”
As before, I was keen on seeing how Jay would respond. Would he hit back with some exegetical counterpoint? Would he acknowledge that, maybe, I make a good point or two? No, as before, he barely acknowledged what I presented:
Jay: “This is but one issue for OEC, another is in regards to death. How can you have death before the curse? Death is tied to the curse and as a result of sin. Therefore how could death occur before it?”
That’s right. Just like earlier, he basically ignored my arguments and went right into his next YEC talking point. Something tells me that this guy wasn’t interested in a real give-n-take, nor was he about to give an inch when his opponent presented valid, thoroughly orthodox, scriptural/exegetical arguments to counter his YEC indoctrination. (He probably isn’t quite as informed on the issues as he thinks he is. Not that I have all the answers, mind you….)
As for his next challenge, that whole death-before-the-Fall issue is critical to the YEC/OEC debate and, if I answered him, I wanted to do a fairly thorough job. But, I wasn’t sure when I’d have the time to put it all together. (In fact, there are several points of Scripture, theology, & philosophy involved in it, so I probably would not have been able to do a thorough job in a FB discussion.) Fortunately, one of the other OECs on the thread interjected with a link to an article at the “God and Science” blog that gave a pretty good synopsis. So, I begged off from writing something myself. But, in another thread a day or two later, another YEC (with whom I’d had good discussions before) asked for my take on a subset of the Fall/Curse issue — specifically, “diseases like cancer in God’s ‘very good’ creation for millions of years.” For my reply to that, however, you’ll just have to wait until next month…. ;>
P.S. Again, I am indebted to the work of Dr. Hugh Ross, in particular his book A Matter of Days, for the research on the ancient Hebrew words discussed in this post.