Hi Brandon -
Here is my response to your questions!
A “Day” in Genesis
How long are the days in Genesis 1? (What is the meaning of the Hebrew word “yom” in Genesis? I have heard and read Hebrew scholars on both sides of the question argue “it must mean a literal 24 hours” vs. “it does NOT have to mean a literalistic 24 hours.” Please keep in mind that my “expertise” is as a teacher who has studied this question and many other science-faith questions for over 50 years. I am not occupationally a theologian nor a scientist, though I have done a lot of theology and science. Therefore, my responsibility is to do my homework and organize the subject matter the best I can in a way that will help others think about these issues.
Here are some of my presuppositions:
Ultimately, what the Bible says about the Universe/Earth, and what Science says about the Universe/Earth, must agree because both revelations (Special and “General”) have the same author – the Triune God. Any contradiction or disagreement is due to faulty or incomplete understanding/interpretation by theologians, scientists, and the rest of us. We are all finite and fallen.
Jesus is the Word (John 1, Logos ). He is the one who spoke the Universe into existence (Colossians 1, Hebrews 1). Therefore, the Universe is rational because it reflects Him, and Man is rational because we are created imago Dei (Genesis 1:26-27) – in the image of a rational God. Consequently, God designed a Universe that is accessible to Man (we can do Science!), and that points to our Creator (Psalm 19). This Universe is the setting for our relationship with the Triune God. It is under His covenant promises, and is included in His redemption and future restoration.
Though the Bible is not primarily a science book, when it does address science-related things (or educational, sociological, economic, political, etc. for that matter) it speaks with authority. God’s Word lays the foundation (essential principles) for all disciplines. “All Truth is God’s Truth.” The Bible is God’s very word - inspired, inerrant in its original writings, and authoritative, in all times, in all places, and to all peoples.
In the case of Genesis 1, I believe it is BOTH an historical narrative AND incredible prose. It is BOTH a response to the false creation stories of ancient near eastern religions (some of which were already in print) that were often derivatives of the True story, AND beautiful literature, as only God could inspire it.
My personal position is that the Universe and the Earth are “old” – that I have no theological nor scientific reasons to question the present conclusion by many that the former is 3.75 billion years old, and the latter is 4.5 billion years old. Nor do I think there are any doctrines of Scripture that depend one way or the other on age of the Universe or the length of the days in Genesis 1.
Furthermore, I think the importance of the creation-days in Genesis is not how long they were. Well over a dozen times when the Bible talks about the creation-week, the significance is that this week is supposed to be the pattern for our week. We are to work and be creative for six days, and rest on the seventh day if we want to flourish in our relationships with God, with each other, and with Creation.
The Hebrew language does not have a lot of nouns, especially for lengths of time like English does (era, eon, epic…). I think there are 4 possible meanings of “yom” in the first two chapters of Genesis alone. Before the sun is even created (or becomes visible, depending on how you understand it) on creation-day 4, the day could be an indefinite length of time or it could be 24 hours since the solar cycle has not been established.
On creation-day 4, the greater light (sun) is made to rule the “day” and the lesser light (moon) to rule the night. Here, “yom” means the daylight hours only. In Genesis 2:4 “In the day that the Lord God made…” “yom” obviously means a period of time longer than 24 hours. Finally, since the 7th day contains no “and there was evening, and there was morning…” refrain, this “day” is still going on, at least according to the book of Hebrews – we are still in His rest.
I really think that Collin’s (see booklist below) approach – analogical days – is the most theologically consistent way to understand the days in Genesis, and the most helpful. Our week is supposed to be analogous to God’s week, but not identical, especially in length. For example, He can create out of nothing, we can’t. He didn’t need to rest on the 7th, we do (and should!). In addition, it seems to me that on creation-day 3, for example, it takes some time for the earth to sprout vegetation, fruit trees to bear fruit, and plants to reproduce after their kind.
Or, consider creation-day six, especially as it is amplified in Genesis 2:5-25. Animals have to reproduce after their own kind, and Adam (the first “scientist” – taxonomy!) has to study the animals (traits, characteristics, life cycles, etc.) in order to give them the appropriate names (like God modeled for him in Genesis 1). In the process, he discovers that he is alone so God creates Eve. This would be a lot to do if the day was an ordinary day.
On a side note, it seems to me that a “young Earth, ordinary day” approach requires God to create the Universe with the appearance of age (which, of course, He could). I have an equal problem with the materialist/atheist approach that posits merely the appearance of design. I think both the age and the design are real, and when we use God’s gift of Science to study the Universe, it will point at what is Real and what is True, and reflect the very character of the Creator Himself (Romans 1:20).
Two of the books that have shaped my understanding and that I would recommend are Science and Faith by C. John Collins, and Seven Days that Divide the World , by John Lennox.
Hope this helps!
August 4, 2018