THE DAYS OF CREATION
[Keeping Things Simple]
By Bob Myhan
It was once asked of C. S. Lewis whether he thought the serpent actually spoke to Eve in the Garden of Eden. “Yes, I believe the serpent spoke to her,” Lewis replied, “…in the story.” And now, otherwise conservative brethren are saying, “Yes, I believe God created everything in six days, in the story.” But the story, they say, is not a literal, but figurative account of the origin of the material realm.
At stake, here, is not just the power of God, but also the trustworthiness of His written revelation. For, if what it says concerning the creation could not be believed then nothing it says on any subject could be trusted. Does the word of God tell us exactly how long ago the heavens and earth were created? No. Does it say exactly how long it took God to complete each stage of the creation? No. What does it say? It says God’s creative activity extended over a period of six days. Could these have been days of approximately 24 hours length? Yes, because “There is nothing too hard” for God (Jer. 32:17).
William of Ockham (the most influential scholastic thinker of the 1300's) suggested that, if several possible explanations are all compatible with the evidence, the simplest should be considered the most probable. This has come to be known as “Ockham’s Razor.” It has been some time since William had the respect of unbelievers in the scientific community, and now he has also lost the respect of many who profess to believe the Bible. I want to suggest three simple reasons for believing that the days of creation week were roughly 24 hours long.
THE EVENING & THE MORNING
Moses states that each of the six “days” of the creation “week” consisted of two divisions: “evening and morning” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23 & 31). Can anyone legitimately demand that these terms not be interpreted literally? Not unless it can be demonstrated that what is said to have occurred on these days could not have occurred during periods of around 24 hours each.
Three things are said concerning the original condition of the earth: (1) it was “without form” (2) it was “void,” and (3) “darkness was upon the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). Thus, verse one is not a summary statement covering the entire week of creation, but a simple statement concerning the creation of the heaven and earth from nothing. The remainder of the chapter details the bringing of order out of chaos and filling heaven and earth with both living and nonliving things. With the divine command, “Let there be light” (Gen. 1:3), darkness was dispelled. When “God divided the light from the darkness” (Gen. 1:4), the latter reappeared. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Gen. 1:5).
How long did it take God to create the heaven and the earth? How long did it take Him to create light? How long did it take Him to divide the light from the darkness? How much time was taken up in His calling the light Day and the darkness Night? How long, exactly, was the first day? The text does not answer these questions, in terms of hours, minutes and seconds. Surely, no one can say, with absolute certainty, exactly (to the hour, minute and/or second) how long that first day was. But there is no reason for believing that it was necessarily of extraordinarily great length. God did not need it to be of extraordinarily great length; He could have accomplished these activities in 24 hours or less. As a matter of fact, He could have done them “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye,” because “There is nothing too hard” for Him.
God accomplished three things on day two, according to verses 6-8. He (1) “made the firmament,” (2) “divided the waters” and (3) “called the firmament Heaven.” Again, we are not told precisely how long it took Him to do each of these things, but He certainly could have accomplished them within the limits of a 24-hour day, because “There is nothing too hard” for God.
On the third day, God (1) caused the dry land to appear, (2) called the dry land earth, (3) called the waters under the firmament seas and (4) created vegetation of various kinds (grass, herbs and trees), each kind having the ability to reproduce after itself (Gen. 1:9-13). While man would be forever trying, but never accomplishing such a feat, it would not present a problem for God to accomplish these things in 24 hours, because “There is nothing too hard” for Him.
On day four, God appointed the sun, moon and stars as timekeepers. The changing juxtaposition of the earth to these various heavenly bodies results in the seasons, days and years. Though it would be centuries before man would discover such, God ordained, in the beginning, that the earth rotate on its axis and revolve around the sun. He also ordered the moon to orbit the earth (Gen. 1:14-19). It is folly to suggest that God could not have done all this before another 24 hours had passed, because “There is nothing too hard” for Him.
Fish and fowl were created on the fifth day (Gen. 1:20-23). How long did it take God to create these forms of life? Hours? Minutes? Seconds? No one knows, for God has not seen fit to tell us. But He did see fit to tell us that He did it on day five. Exactly how much time did it take? Again, no one knows. But to deny that He could have done it in 24 hours, is to implicitly deny the omnipotence and veracity of God, because He has said that “There is nothing too hard” for Him.
On day six, God created the land animals, including beasts, cattle and every creeping thing. He also created man in His own image, after His own likeness; “male and female created he them.” He gave to man authority “over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:24-31). Could God have done all this during the span of one 24-hour day? Yes, because “There is nothing too hard” for Him.
“But wait,” someone says. “Too much happened on that sixth day for it to have been merely 24 hours long. After all, Adam named all the animals prior to Eve’s creation. There is just no way he could have done that in less than 24 hours.” It is true that, according to Gen. 2:18-22, God wanted Adam to feel the need for a mate that would suit him physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. So, before creating woman, He brought to Adam all the other physical creatures He had made, “to see what he would call them.” Just how long did it take Adam to name all of those animals? We do not know. As a matter of fact, we don’t even know how many animals there were. There would only be a need for two of each kind--one male and one female. We need not think, for example, that God created every breed of dog that currently exists. For all we know, God created only kinds, and no breeds, at all. And, not knowing how many animals God created, we cannot possible know how much, or how little time would be involved in Adam’s naming them. As for Adam’s ability to name them, God certainly could have breathed a vocabulary into Adam’s mind, even as He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7), from which vocabulary Adam could have easily chosen words that would be descriptive of the various animals he saw. After all, “There is nothing too hard” for God.
THE SABBATH COMMAND
Moses said, “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made” (Gen. 2:2,3). Was this a day that came to an end after approximately 24 hours, or is it a day that has not yet ended? There are at least two reasons for concluding the former. (1) The past tense, “rested,” indicates the rest had both begun and ended prior to Moses’ making the statement. (2) It is implied in verse three that “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” after having rested in it. Therefore, the seventh day of that first “week” came to an end at some point prior to the statement of Moses, and does not continue, today.
God told Israel, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work…. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11). Just as the Israelites were to work for six 24-hour days and rest on the seventh 24-hour day, God created everything on six successive 24-hour days and rested on the seventh 24-hour day. This obviously is the simplest exegesis of verse eleven, which according to William of Ockham, “should be considered the most probable.”
THE UNIVERSAL SEVEN-DAY WEEK
Various time periods can be explained astronomically. The earth rotates on its axis once approximately every 24 hours. This period is everywhere considered a day. The earth revolves around the sun once every 365¼ days. Thus, three out of every four years contains 365 days, and every fourth year contains 366, giving February an extra day. The moon goes through its phases once approximately every 30 days, giving us the lunar month. Thus, the day, the year and the month are natural occurrences. But there is no astronomical basis for the length of the week. Yet the seven-day week is universal. Why? “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex. 20:11).
Surely, then, it is implied, if not stated in Scripture, that the six days of Genesis One were more or less twenty-four hours in length. And those who say, “It cannot be true,” must believe, contrary to Scripture, that there are some things that are just too hard for God.