Genesis – Part 2

Now that I’ve let a rather long period of time lapse before returning to our study, let’s unfold the rest of the hexaemeron. To do so, we will also have to include verses 1 and 2 that we just studied. As we discovered, verse 1 initiates the first act of creation by God and is not simply a summary statement for the rest of the section. That means that it begins the clock and is tied directly to day 1 of creation.

The Scripture

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. And God made the two great lights–the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night–and the stars. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds–livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” (Gen 1:1-2:3, ESV)

Let’s Unpack This

The text in 1:1-2:3 is divided nicely into a chronological narrative. I mean that it moves from one verse to the next in a nice sequential story, giving a feel of chronological progress (also building from less complex to more complex). Chapter 1 covers the first six days while the seventh day is covered in 2:1-3. To break it down further, we can say that 1:1-5 covers day 1 while 1:6-8 encompass day 2. Verses 9-13 tackle day 3 and verses 14-19 give us day 4. 1:20-23 chronicle day 5 and day 6 is wrapped up in verses 24-31. From this we can see that more emphasis is placed on day 6 than any other day, but this can probably be attributed to the fact that mankind was created on day 6 and the author thought it an important point. It’s always good to see and note where the author spends more time writing about something in comparison to other things.

When you read this particular passage, what is the first thing that stirs in your mind? The first thing that jumped out at me is the use of the word day multiple times throughout the passage. Of course, the usage most weighing on my mind is what appears in verses 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31 where the text designates the end of each “day” of creation. The question that rolls in my head asks: Are these literal 24-hour days, or unspecified periods of time? (I like questions, questions are good. Bombarding Scripture with questions helps us to understand it – especially when we come across a prickly area that we don’t understand right away.) I do think there are enough clues in the text itself that will tell us the author’s intent if we take the time to recognize them.

The first clue that we can see is the ordinal designation of “first, second, third, etc.” In Hebrew, if the word yom is accompanied by an ordinal designation, it always refers to a 24-hour period. If we want to understand anything we read, we must keep in account the use of language by the author. If the author is using Hebrew to tell his story, then we must respect the Hebrew for what it plainly says and not add our own bias to it. If the use of yom with an ordinal designation in Hebrew means a 24-hour day, and that is what the original audience would have understood it to mean, we cannot then try to make it mean something else simply because our minds cannot reconcile a 24-hour day with the science of the universe’s origin we are told. That is something worth discussing, but it cannot cause us to interpret Scripture to mean something it plainly does not say.

A second clue to help us understand is the use of the phrase “there was evening and there was morning…” The Hebrew here is ‘ereb for evening and boqer for morning, and they both mean just as they are translated – literal evening, night, or sunset along with a literal morning, break of day, end of night, coming of daylight, coming of sunrise, etc. The phrase here gives a simple description of the passage of a normal cycle of time that passes on a normal day as we know it and observe every day.

A third clue comes in 2:1-3. The description of the seventh day is understood, and attested to by other Scripture (Exodus 20:11), to be a literal day. It is the reason for the Sabbath. If the seventh day is understood as a literal 24-hour day, then why would the other six days be understood differently? Where in the text does it demand a different interpretation of the days?

I think we make things more difficult than it needs to be when it comes to understanding Scripture. We should simply let the text speak for itself and not put our own bias upon it based upon our preconceived ideas. The text here plainly attests to a literal 6 day creation account, and it is up to us to either believe the Scripture for what it says or not believe it based upon the science that seems to say otherwise.

Of course, there are many views out there on the six days of Creation, and some of them quite convincing at first glance. One of them is the Framework Hypothesis. A basic summary of this hypothesis is that the whole of the Creation account should be seen as figurative and that the days actually parallel each other. It is seen as God building His kingdom and that the seventh day, the Sabbath, is God taking His throne over all of Creation. It’s an interesting hypothesis, and makes sense when one is first presented with it. However, there are some major problems with it.

The first problem, as we have seen, is that the Scripture here does not give itself grammatically to be taken figuratively. Other than the anthropomorphic view of the sun and moon “ruling” the day and night in verses 16 and 18, there isn’t any figurative language. Not even the use of “firmament” to describe the sky can really be seen as figurative as the author was only describing the separation of the waters as he understood it to be. The sky is an expanse, though we know it not to be the solid firm substance that Ancient Near Eastern cultures believed it to be during Moses’ time.

Wayne Grudem also presents some arguments against the hypothesis. First, the parallels of days as presented by proponents do not align quite as neatly as thought: Day 4 parallels day 2 as much as day 1. (Grudem, Wayne, Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids. Zondervan. 2006. Pg. 302) Second, traditionally, no conflict between Genesis 1 and 2 has been seen. Genesis 2 is a retelling of some details to expound on creation of man. 2:5 does not say no plant was on the earth – but only gives a point of recognition on creation of man. 2:8 says God had planted a garden in Eden, 2:19 states God had formed animals and birds, etc. 2:6 states there were streams and springs to water the earth. 2:7 does not say “Then God created man”, but just “And the Lord God formed man.”(Grudem, pg. 303) Third, Genesis 1 suggests a Chronological sequence, not just a literary framework. Moving from less complex to more complex and assignment of sequential days implicates a Chronological narrative.(Grudem, pg. 303) Finally, “appearance of age” does not necessarily lead to the idea of God “misleading” us – especially if He tells us He did it that way.(Grudem, pg. 305)

Now, rather than take each and every view of the Creation account and discuss its weaknesses and/or strengths, I think I’ll leave that to you. I believe that each of us is more than capable to take a text, read what it says, and then make judgments on the merits of different hypotheses. This even includes what I’ve written here. I laid it out, but now you can decide whether or not you believe that’s what the text actually says or not.

It looks like I’m going to have to bring this into a third part, because there is still much rich information we can glean from the text aside from whether or not these are literally six days. There are still so many questions to answer: Why did God create everything in the first place? Who is the “us” and “our” in verse 26? What does it mean to be made in God’s image? Can there have been light without the sun? So many questions, so much rich text to explore. It definitely needs to be put into a third part.