Every couple of months someone identified with conservative evangelicalism feels it is their duty to exercise their theological machismo by deliberately contradicting the plain reading for Genesis 1. Today, it has been the turn of Justin Taylor, of The Gospel Coalition. In an article entitled “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods”1, he claims that the text does not actually describe the creation days as literal 24-hour days.
Justin Taylor is determined directly to contradict what people like me say about Genesis 1.
Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.
Now, I have explained before why I am not a fan of the term “young-earth creationist”, because I can only be described as a young-earther by contrasting my views with an unbiblical deep-time worldview2. I consider the term “young-earther” to belong to an incorrect presupposition. Therefore, you would expect me, as a biblical presuppositionalist, to take the position that the Bible does indeed directly teach that the creation days were literal 24-hour days. The issue is actually one of hermeneutics – and, in particular, not interpreting one passage of Scripture so that it would contradict another. My book, The Six Days of Genesis3, contains more information on this subject, but, in brief, we should look at how the Hebrew word for day – yom – is used. In fact, yom is very similar in use to the English word, and it can mean a 24-hour period, or the hours of daylight, or a period of time. The context of the word tells us clearly what it means in each place. And of the 2,301 occasions in which the word yom appears in the Old Testament, it is only in Genesis 1 that people have any problem with what it actually means. So, it is worth looking at how the word yom is used elsewhere in the Old Testament.
For example, have you read Numbers 7 recently? It is one of those boring sections that you would rather skip over in your Bible reading plan, forgetting what 2 Timothy 3:16 says! Well, in Numbers 7, the tribes of Israel bring their gifts for the Tabernacle to Moses. In Numbers 7:12, we read that the tribe of Judah brought their offering on the first day. On the second day, the tribe of Issachar came (Numbers 7:18. Zebulun brought their offering on the third day (Numbers 7:24). Since a day with the Lord is as a thousand years (2 Peter 3:8), was poor old Moses sat there for 12,000 years, waiting for these offerings? Of course not! These were 12 literal 24-hour days. And the grammar of Numbers 7 is identical to that of Genesis 1. In fact, outside of Genesis 1, there is not a single example of the word yom being used with a number, where it does not mean a 24 hour day4. So, there is no reason to interpret Genesis 1 in any other way than to state that it refers to 24-hour days.
In his article, Justin Taylor claims five reasons for saying that the Genesis text does not require actual 24-hour days. I will now use his headings, and answer each point.
- Genesis 1:1 describes the actual act of creation out of nothing and is not a title or a summary
The reason for this distinction is so that he can claim that the creation of the universe out of nothing was not part of the biblical six days of creation. Justin Taylor rightly points out that the phrase “heaven and earth” is a merism – i.e. a figure of speech, referencing totality, and in this case referring to the universe as a whole. (English examples of merisms include “I searched high and low”, which, if you lived in a house with three floors, would not imply that you didn't search the middle floor). However, the fact that “heaven and earth” refers merismically to the universe does not help his case. He brushes off the fact that Exodus 20:11 makes clear that God's creation of the heavens and earth took place within the six days of creation. Moreover, he attempts to use Joel 3:15-16 to claim that the heavens “encompasses the sun, the moon, and the stars”. On the contrary – it is the merism “heavens and earth” which includes the sun, moon and stars, but this does not imply that those bodies existed in Genesis 1:1, because that chapter is about incomplete creation. God made the universe in stages, so that He could set the weekly pattern for us to use.
Justin Taylor uses a table to illustrate the well-used formula that there is a parallel in the six days of creation, showing that these cannot be real days. He links day 1 with day 4, day 2 with day 5 and day 3 with day 6. However, this linkage is not perfect. For example, God made the firmament of space, and stretched it out, between the waters above and below, on day 2, so this should be a parallel to day 4, cutting across this neat hypothesis.
- The Earth, darkness, and water are created before “the First Day”
This is a corollary of the first point. So, if the first point does not apply, then neither does this. We have seen, above, that the creation of the heavens and the earth must have occurred within the six days of the creation week.
Justin Taylor wants to make much of the two Hebrew words bara (create – implying ex nihilo creation) and asah (make – implying something being formed out of pre-existing materials). But this is a false dichotomy. For example, there are several verses in the Bible which use asah, yet clearly refer to God's creation of the Universe ex nihilo (out of nothing). See Exodus 31:17, 2 Kings 19:15, 2 Chronicles 2:12, and Isaiah 37:16.
- The Seventh “Day” is not 24 hours long
Justin Taylor uses the familiar claim that God is still in his “Sabbath-rest”. This is not the case. He argues that, for us to “enter into His rest”, then His rest must still be continuing (Psalm 95:11). However, that is not what Psalm 95 is implying, and it requires a considerable eisegesis to force the Scripture to say this. A normal reading of Genesis would suggest that God was setting the pattern for the regular weekly cycle, in Genesis 1, and that there must surely have been a Day 8, Day 9 and so on. Indeed, James Ussher showed that, if the events of Genesis 3 occurred on Day 10, then this would correspond to Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement!
- The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 cannot be 24-hours long
Justin Taylor is correct on this point. But the day of Genesis 2:4 clearly refers to a period of time, by context, because it does not have a number with it.
It is at this point that Justin Taylor suggests Hosea 6:2 as an example of a numbered day that was not literal. Let's quote this verse, so that we can examine it.
After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, That we may live in His sight.
Justin Taylor has already acknowledged one Hebrew idiom – the merism. He now needs to notice another; the X / X + 1 construction frequently used as an indicator of inexactitude. Thus, in Hosea 6:2, the phase as a whole refers to a vague number of days, but only makes sense, because we know the exact 24-hour meaning of the word day, in the context of a number. Although this idiom may be unfamiliar to us, I would suggest that we use a remarkably similar construction in English. For example, if I am going on a short vacation, I might say “I will be gone for 2 or 3 days”. You would not necessarily call me a liar, if I actually stayed away for 5 days. The phrase “2 or 3 days” is vague, whereas neither “2 days” nor “3 days” are vague expressions. This construction does not just apply to days. I have 6 or 7 pens in my laptop case! How many pens do I have? If you opened up my case and found 9 pens, would you say that I had lied? The Bible uses similar formulae to Hosea 6:2 in other places. See, for example, Job 5:19, Proverbs 6:16, Proverbs 30:15, and Amos 1:3.
- The explanation of Genesis 2:5-7 assumes more than an ordinary calendar day
It is not necessary to spend much time refuting this, as we have already seen that Genesis 2:4 does not have to refer to an ordinary day. Justin Taylor's problem is that he assumes that the passage refers to a continuous sequence of events; i.e. there is no wild vegetation, because there is no rain, therefore God sent rain clouds. It is not necessary to read this sequence into the passage. He should concede that it makes at least equally good sense to assume that the passage is simply referring to the totality of God's creation. The other refutations of his ideas that we have given should stand alongside our interpretation of this passage. Even if we were to concede that his reading is a possible interpretation of Genesis 2:5-7 in isolation, it cannot stand alongside a plain reading of Genesis 1.
Justin Taylor began his article, and also finished it, with comments stating that great theologians of the past, did not hold to literal 24-hour days. This line of reasoning is, of course, fallacious, as it constitutes an argument from authority. Even if I accepted as true every other word that these scholars wrote, that does not mean that I have to acquiesce to their views on the days of creation, especially if the Bible clearly means something different from what the theologians say. In this matter, as in all matters, our most important plumbline is the word of God, and it is against that, and not against the words of theologians, however eminent, that we weigh our case.
When Exodus 20:11 reminds us that God made the heavens and the earth in six days, it is in the context of God giving a reason for His Commandments – the Law. It is only by the Law, says the apostle Paul, that we can understand sin, and that we are sinners. Therefore, it is only by the death and resurrection of the One who came to fulfill the Law that we can be saved. It is not an exaggeration to say that Exodus 20 shows that, if the six days were not literal days, then the Commandments cannot be literal either, for why would God expect literal adherence to the Law, if it is based on a non-literal timescale. So, if the Commandments are non-literal then they are not Commandments – they are merely Ten Suggestions. And if they are Suggestions, then it cannot matter if we re-interpret them to suit ourselves. So the breaking of these Suggestions cannot be classed as sin, so we are not sinners, and we do not need a Savior. And you thought this was just a minor argument about 24-hour days. It isn't. It is about the Gospel. A writer for The Gospel Coalition ought to know that.
1 Taylor, J. (2015), Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods, < http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/01/28/biblical-reasons-to-doubt-the-creation-days-were-24-hour-periods/ >, accessed 1/28/2015
2 Taylor, P.F. (2014), Not a Young-Earther, < http://justsixdays.com/j6db3/2014/02/not-a-young-earther/ >
3 Taylor, P.F. (2007), The Six Days of Genesis, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books)
4 Justin Taylor claims he has an example in his article, from Hosea. We will examine this shortly.