The Creation Days in Genesis: Interpretations of Creation Days
by Dr. George Benthien
In this section I will summarize the four major interpretations of the Genesis creation days as well as two of the lesser known interpretations. A more complete discussion can be found in the Report of the Creation Study Committee to the 28th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), 6 July 2000 1.
- The Calendar-Day Interpretation — often called the literal view, the traditional view, or the twenty-four-hour view, the Calendar-Day perspective may be described very simply. It accepts the first chapter of Genesis as historical and chronological in character and takes the creation week as consisting of six twenty-four-hour days, followed by a twenty-four-hour Sabbath. Since Adam and Eve were created as mature adults, so the rest of creation came forth from its Maker. The Garden included full-grown trees and animals, which Adam named. Those holding this view believe this is the normal understanding of the creation account and that this has been the most commonly held understanding of this account both in Jewish and Christian history. They believe that the only reason many reject this view is a desire to conform to the current view of science.
- The Day-Age Interpretation — the six days of the Day-Age view are understood in the same sense as “in that day” of Isaiah 11:10–11 — in other words, as periods of indefinite length and not of 24 hours duration. The six days are taken as sequential but as overlapping and perhaps merging into one another. According to this view, the Genesis 1 creation week describes events from the point of view of the earth, which is being prepared as the habitation for man. In this context, the explanation of day four is that the sun only became visible on that day, as atmospheric conditions allowed the previous alternation of light and darkness to be perceived as coming from the previously created sun and other heavenly bodies. The Day-Age construct preserves the general sequence of events as portrayed in the text and is not merely a response to Charles Darwin and evolutionary science. From ancient times there was recognition among Bible scholars that the word “day” could mean an extended period of time.
- The Framework Interpretation — the distinctive feature of the Framework view is its understanding of the week (not the days as such) as a metaphor. According to this interpretation, Moses used the metaphor of the week to narrate God’s acts of creation. Thus, God’s supernatural creative words or fiats are real and historical but the exact timing is left unspecified. The purpose of the metaphor is to call Adam to imitate God in work, with the promise of entering His Sabbath rest. Creation events are grouped in two triads of days: Days 1–3 (creations kingdoms) are paralleled by Days 4–6 (creation’s kings). Adam is king of the earth; God is the King of Creation. Also Days 1–3 can be looked upon as days of forming and Days 4–6 can be looked upon as days of filling.
- The Analogical Days Interpretation — According to the Analogical view, the “days” of Genesis 1 are God’s workdays, analogous (but not necessarily identical) to human workdays. They set a pattern for our rhythm of work and rest. The six days represent periods of God’s historical supernatural activity in preparing and populating the earth as a place for humans to live, love, work, and worship. These days are broadly consecutive. That is, they are successive periods of unspecified length. They may overlap in part, or they may reflect logical rather than chronological criteria for grouping certain events on certain days. The major aspect of this interpretation is that the days of creation are viewed from God’s perspective.
- The Intermittent Day Interpretation — In this view the days are ordinary 24-hour days separated by periods of unspecified length. Thus, the days are “normal” and consecutive, but not contiguous. The main thrust of this interpretation is to harmonize the account in Genesis with the long time periods believed in by most scientists.
- The Days of Divine Fiat Interpretation — This is a view proposed by the English physicist Alan Hayward in his book Creation and Evolution 10. Here the days are six consecutive 24-hour days in which God said his instructions, while the fulfillment of those instructions took place over unspecified and possibly overlapping periods of time.
- The Functional Interpretation of Days — A fairly recent interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1 was given by John H. Walton, Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College 15. He asserts that while the creation account in Genesis was written for us, it was not written to us. He contends that we can only understand this account when we attempt to see how the original recipients would have viewed it. One of his main points is that the ancients tended to view existence and creation in functional terms rather than in material terms. An analogy he gives is the creation of a company. When does a company begin to exist? He says that the construction of a building or the hiring of employees does not create a company. The company begins to exist once it is organized around a purpose and begins to carry on business in pursuit of that purpose. Today we tend to view creation in strictly material terms, i.e. in terms of physical properties and processes. Walton affirms that God certainly created the material world, but he contends that this was not the subject of the opening chapters of Genesis. Walton claims that the first day establishes the function of time; the second day the function of weather; the third day the function of food production; the fourth day the function of the luminaries in establishing days, years and seasons; the fifth day the functions of swimming, flight, and reproduction of birds and sea creatures. On the sixth day the animals and man are given the role of dwelling on the land and reproducing according to their own kind. The sixth day is special in that humans are created in the image of God and are given the role of rulers within God’s creation. The seventh day is seen as the climax where God assumes his throne in His Holy temple (the whole cosmos) as the ruler and sustainer of all creation. Rest is seen not as a cessation of activity, but as the establishment of normality and stability with God in control.
There are many other interpretations, but these should give you an idea of the principal interpretations. In part six we’ll look at the principal arguments for and against the four major views described above.
This series is courtesy of Dr. George Benthienand can also be found at his website.
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