Did God Create Everything in Six 24-Hour Days?
(greeklatinaudio.com Austin TX February 2004)
There is no end to the reams of literature which have been produced over the centuries in defense of, and in opposition to, the notion implied by the title of this commentary. AND, dear reader, you have my sincerest apologies for adding yet a few more pages to it all (not quite a ream!)...
and expecting you to have to wade through it! Fortunately however, you will be pleasantly surprised to discover that the turbulence of the foul dialectic winds that constantly blow through this controversy can be cut down to far less than half-strength very quickly and very simply, with the result being the allowance of a perspective on this matter which makes comfortable sense!
To That End...
The following narrative will examine a few key nuances of understatement in the Genesis Creation Account which have caused most of the problems. (Note carefully, that grasping these nuances correctly is very similar to grasping a venomous snake correctly. (Not that any of us would want to do that! BUT, if we WERE to do it, then we would be advised to do it correctly...lest we have a very unpleasant day!))
Two things before we proceed...
Let's walk the fence-line of the Biblical account in question so that we can get an initial feel for what we're dealing with: The Genesis Creation Account consists of a mere 35 verses in the Bible. (i.e., Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:4) These verses are, in fact, the first verses in the Bible! As you might imagine, they can be read in the blink of an eye! At some point in this discussion, you would likely want to do that! n'est-ce pas?!
It would certainly be good (in the spirit of magnanimity) to keep the following in mind: The Genesis creation account is very arguably one of the oldest narrative accounts in human history. [Please see: The Oldest Language? A Biblical Perspective at this website, where the age of the Genesis creation account is discussed.] Therefore, we can certainly appreciate that, over the centuries, (indeed, over the millenia!) it has been unfairly "loaded" with much mistaken conceptual baggage, which baggage has consistently been generated by historically limited human perceptions, naively "terra-"centric in their time. (e.g., think 17th century, (Biblically, not so long ago!) when Galileo was called on the carpet by the inquisitores cathedrae for insisting that the Earth was NOT the center of the universe! ("What a ridiculous notion!" said the ubiquitous "they." And Galileo intoned, "e pur si muove!"))
Thus, it must be borne in mind that it has NEVER been the fault of the Genesis creation account that such perceptions occurred. Rather, it was (and still is!) the fault of the perusers of the account - and the perceptions which they themselves have conjured up when reading it. Perception, therefore, presents itself as a very critical influence in this rather volatile matter. This must especially be borne in mind in view of the fact that the Genesis creation account has NOT changed over the millenia - only our perception of it has! [Please see: Bible Translation and Interpretation. Do You Know the Difference? at this website, where the unassailable integrity of the Biblical texts is considered.]
That having been said...
It should NOT be surprising, that we who are living in this late era of the ongoing Biblical epic have a tremendous advantage not generally available to our historical predecessors: That of hard-earned and accumulated empirical insights from progressive science which we may use in formulating and/or analyzing current perception of this matter. And this we will do! HOWEVER, let's first concentrate on some issues of Genesis semantics...
Beware the Camouflaged and Venomous "Double Dichotomy." (YES! The redundancy is necessary!)
Speaking of grasping the serpent correctly, i.e., at the head!, we may begin our journey through the Genesis creation maze by looking carefully at the very question under consideration: "Did God create everything in six 24-hour days?" Historically, this sinuous question has proved to be very troublesome and misleading because it contains the first of two very significant (but hidden!) conceptual dichotomies which have consistently prevented Bible readers from getting successfully beyond the threshold of the Genesis creation account.
Let's expose this first troublesome dichotomy by parsing the question in question(!) in the following manner:
"Did God create everything in the six Genesis days?" AND...
"How long were the six Genesis days?"
(An appreciation for the subtle need to split this question as we have will become clear as we proceed.)
FIRST QUESTION: "Did God create everything in the six Genesis days?"
Throughout history, one of the most common and serious mistakes made by Bible readers of the Genesis creation account is that they have perceived it as conveniently wrapped-up within the context of "six days." However, this perception is patently wrong - for the following reason...
No sooner do we embark on a reading of the mere prologue (the "head" (yes, dear reader, we are not yet beyond the head...)) of the Genesis creation account, when we encounter the second of our subtle conceptual "dichotomies," which dichotomy generates an unmistakable border over which Bible readers constantly pass without even realizing it - much the same way as a coyote may pass over the state line while chasing a rabbit. It's very easy to do! Le monsieur coyote and the poor rabbit, (BOTH intensely occupied by the pesky details of the moment) cross over the unseen border without even sensing that they are... (bear with me here.) NOT in Kansas anymore!
And of course, this unperceived border, by its very nature, effectively divides the creation account into two equally unperceived portions. The important thing to bear in mind here is that, this border exists!, and depending upon which side of this border you are on, different rules of perception apply and must be adhered to if an appreciation for the subtleties involved in this matter is to be acquired.
So, what is this unseen "border" that we're talking about?!
It may effectively be regarded as the period (".") at the end of the following Biblical passage:
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
(This verse is Genesis 1:1 - the first sentence in the Bible.)
Thus, dear reader...
When you admirably undertake the reading of the Genesis creation account, the above verse is the first thing you encounter! - and (very unintuitively!) in the split second that it takes you to read this verse, (and pass beyond the "period") you have already passed over our "border!" And, as a result of this... you are NOT in Kansas anymore!
Let's examine WHY this is so, and HOW a proper "grasp" of the beast will contribute significantly to your far more pleasant day!
Regarding the Important "Dichotomy" of the Genesis Creation Account...
We recall from the immediately preceding, that our "border" splits the creation account into two generally unperceived portions. A high-level preview of the resulting narrative dichotomy may be presented as follows:
1st portion: [comprised ONLY of the 1st verse: Genesis 1:1]
Theme: The creation of the Universe (including our modest planet, Earth!)...
2nd portion: [comprised of the REMAINING 34 verses: Genesis 1:2 through Genesis 2:4])
Theme: Earth Focus and the subsequent preparation of planet Earth for habitation by life-forms, AND its initial habitation by such life-forms, most notably, mankind...
Again!, this narrative split is not at all commonly grasped by Bible readers - even the most seasoned... It's so utterly disproportionate - and therefore, unintuitive! HOWEVER, as our discussion proceeds, we will be quite surprised to discover that the split we're talking about is INFINITELY more disproportionate than we could possibly have imagined! - AND (to boot!) its disproportion is TOTALLY (and even MORE unintuitively) reversed! Thus, if the reader of the Genesis creation account is NOT aware of this "split" (caused by our unseen "border") then he simply passes over it into narrative oblivion...
Let's look at the "1st portion" of the creation account again. (Genesis 1:1) This verse is presented below in Hebrew, followed by the English translation given earlier in this discussion: [Note: The Hebrew text of this verse is provided here because, as the reader becomes more aware (hopefully, by means of this discussion) of the incredible immensity of the implications packed into this statement, he may appreciate seeing it in the original language. (see also, the image file at: Ancient Hebrew where the top two lines of "Text Unit 1" displayed at the "Ancient Hebrew" link, represent Genesis 1:1 in ancient Hebrew characters.)]
"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth."
As mentioned above, this verse is the first portion of the underlying narrative dichotomy of the Genesis creation account. (The unseen "border" follows it immediately!) WHY does this simple sentence cause the "split" which we have been discussing. WHY does it generate the unseen "border," and all of the resulting confusion?
This is because...
Unbeknownst to the majority of Bible readers, this statement (completely unintuitively!) presents the most yawning temporal gap in the history of language. In fact, this verse may easily be regarded as the most expansive statement (or, more appropriately, "understatement") that has ever been uttered in ANY language... for this verse actually says, with staggering simplicity, that at some point in the indefinite and interminable past, God created the heavens and the earth, i.e., the entire universe!
An ADDITIONAL refinement of understanding regarding the nature of nuance inherent in this verse applies: It has to do with the fact (also, little known!) that, in the original Hebrew language, this verse is NOT suggesting that this incredible event happened in "THE [absolute] Beginning" as is popularly understood by most readers. RATHER, it says literally that this event happened "in [a] beginning." (Hebrew: בראשׁית) Thus, we understand that, at some point in the indefinite and interminable past, God began-AND-finished creating the universe! (...before which "beginning," he could easily have done countless multitudes of other things!... EACH of which had its OWN beginning, and EACH of which could have taken countless eons of time LONGER than it took to create our Universe! (Obviously, the sheer magnitude of possible temporal extension here is without boundaries! and utterly beyond comprehension!) )
NOTE therefore, that this statement (Genesis 1:1) places NO limiting constraints upon the amount of time it took God to do this! ...or even when in the stream of time he did it! Therefore, there is absolutely NOTHING here which contradicts the obvious and abundant empirical evidence that the Universe (which includes our modest planet...) is FAR older than we can possibly comprehend! (Estimates of the age of the universe range, in some cases, into the tens-of-billions of years! (depending upon who's shouting the loudest...) FURTHERMORE, please notice that this verse very efficiently places NO limits on going even INFINITELY BEYOND such estimates!)
As you may have noticed, at this point in our discussion, we have answered the first of our parsed questions above. And, to our relief from tenuous credulity, we have discovered that the notion of God "creating everything (i.e., the universe) in six 24-hour days" is a mere dialectic chimera; AND, that, in fact, God created everything (at his infinite leisure!) long BEFORE the "six Genesis days even began!"
Before moving on to the second of our "parsed" questions above, however, there are still a few subtle details relating to our perception of the Genesis "border crossing" which we must attend to...
At the Threshold of the Six Days... (i.e., NOT There Yet!)
At this point, imagine that you, dear reader, (now hoary with incomprehensible age!) have been observing (patiently!!) as God created the heavens and the earth, (i.e., the Universe) which is ALL now present and accounted for! (AND as we continue in our narrative, please REMEMBER that we are STILL only at the conclusion of verse 1!)
dropping out of "universal hyper-space drive" (!) we immediately encounter verse 2. Let's consider the interesting ramifications of this verse which confirm that we have indeed "crossed the border:"
"And the earth was "tohu vavohu" and darkness was upon the face of the abyss.
And God's spirit was moving about over the face of the waters."
You will notice three things regarding this verse:
1.) The Genesis narrative "optic" has now definitely been re-calibrated from universal to terrestrial. (due to our having crossed the "border.") AND, because we are now AWARE of the "border" (having crossed it with enlightenment!) we are able to "sense" the need to "re-calibrate" our perception of things. i.e., We must now slow down and proceed with EARTH-FOCUS...
2.) In our new finite [terrestrial] venue, we suddenly find ourselves looking at a "relatively new," and "in-the-rough" planet Earth - which is eagerly awaiting much needed further development before it can be inhabited by living things... More on this immediately following...
3.) This verse has an uncommon (yet very important) phrase in the middle of it!
This "uncommon" phrase ("tohu vavohu") is a transliteration of the underlying original Hebrew phrase תהו ובהו which is used in this verse to describe Earth's condition at this point in the creation narrative. Of course, in most Bibles it is normally going to be translated by some arcane ("stab-in-the-dark") combination of adjectives which translators have attempted to use to capture the "flavor" of the primeval terrestrial moment which "tohu vavohu" is describing. [And it would certainly benefit the reader, at some point, to take some time to see how various translators did this by checking in a number of different Bible translations.]
At any rate, it may easily be surmised that this phrase is shrouded in ancient obscurity, and although it has some limited traffic in current Hebrew, (only by virtue of the fact that it is present in the extant Hebrew text) its ancient meaning as incorporated in this text certainly cannot be precisely understood. After all, it is an expression inspired by God to describe an Earth such as mankind has never seen, never known nor could ever inhabit, as is!
Concerning the meaning of this obscure phrase, it is very interesting to note that, just prior to the beginning of the Christian era, the ancient Greek Septuagint (LXX) translators of the Hebrew text rendered this term (c. 2200 years ago) as: "aoratoV kai akataskeuastoV" ("aoratos kai akataskeuastos")" which, in full compliance with our understanding of Earth's "in-the-rough" status quo at the moment in question, may be broken down as follows:
meaning (among other things!) unseen, unseeable, undefined, without horizon, etc... (possibly (and possibly not!) due to the "darkness" mentioned in the same verse.)
Greek conjunction "and."
meaning (among other things!) not provisioned, not prepared, unfurnished, not finished, rustic,(!) empty, "under construction(!)," etc...
Clearly, with respect to planet Earth, some work STILL needs to be done before living things can occupy it! Reasonably then, at this critical juncture in Earth's finishing refinement, verse 2 further informs us that "God's spirit is moving about over the [very dark!] surface of the waters [of planet Earth.]"
Regarding this seemingly casual statement, we do NOT want to make the common mistaken assumption here that God's spirit (Hebrew: רוח אלהים ; LXX Greek: pneuma qeou) is wandering aimlessly about like a bored teenager at the mall! RATHER, we may confidently surmise that some [divine] preparatory activity is underway here. Something very significant is happening. Indeed(!) not only is the reader's focus now on planet Earth, but God's focus is as well!
[Interestingly, the verbal clause describing God's spirit moving about in this fashion over the waters (Hebrew: מרחפת על פני המים ; LXX Greek: epifereto epanw tou udatoV) suggests the kind of attention that a hovering hawk would be giving to a "warm" gopher hole, or a hummingbird to a flower of choice, i.e., targeted focus with imminent intent.]
The point here, again, is that...
- We have crossed the border...
- Our attention (and God's) is now at EARTH FOCUS...
- Something divinely significant is about to happen...
- We are now ready to enter into the narrative context of the "Genesis days."
It is during the following six Genesis days that Earth's hostile terrestrial conditions, as described thus far, will be refined for subsequent habitation by living things, most notably mankind. (Isaiah 45:18)
This now brings us to the second of our "parsed" questions...
How Long were The Six Genesis Days?
Unfortunately, (Are you ready for this, dear reader?) there is NOTHING in the context of the Genesis creation account (and this, in the immortal spirit of Biblical understatement!) which would tell us how long the Genesis days were! So, on the basis of Genesis context, arguing about this issue is a fool's errand.
HOWEVER!, we should now easily comprehend that, in view of the unimaginable expanses of time implied in verse 1 of Genesis alone, God is certainly NOT to be straight-jacketed by pathetically myopic human notions of time! In fact, with regard to "human notions of time," WE needn't be straight-jacketed either!...
Note the flexible semantics which WE HUMANS commonly attach to the concept of a "day," as well as the liberal variations in meaning which they imply: e.g., "In MY day, we walked to school uphill!, coming and going!, in the snow and blowing wind!, etc..." OR, how about, 2nd Peter 3:8, which states that, "[To God] A thousand years are as one day..." OR, how about, "The day of the dinosaur is over!"
As can be seen, these simple examples clothe the concept of a "day" with very wide-ranging periods of time, anywhere (respectively) from a decade, to a millenium, to an entire zoological epoch, which, according to our esteemed paleontologists, may encompass millions of years! And note particularly that we ALL manage to swallow these expressions of time without even blinking. So to suppose that we must "shut down" such conceptual liberality when it comes to Genesis "days" - by insisting that they were 24 hours long(!) - is a bit inconsistent, (and draconian) to say the least!
Thus, even though we cannot determine the length of the Genesis days, (nor can we make categorical pronouncements regarding this) we can at least be comforted in knowing that we need NOT feel compelled to ascribe to them a mere 24 hours apiece! In the light of empirical evidence provided by progressive science, we may reasonably (and comfortably!) presume that the events described within the context of these days took vast amounts of time. AND we should be able to appreciate, at this point, that the Bible does NOT (contrary to the bellowing of some!) contradict such a perspective!
Where does all of this leave us? Perhaps with a bit more respect for the dignity of profound Biblical understatement! In any case, we have answered the question posed as the title of this narrative - by parsing it - and the context of the Genesis Creation Account itself - into manageable portions which easily allow an understanding which fits sensibly into the modern Hubble-enhanced optic we are privileged to have: that of a vastly timeless and unimaginably expansive universe which we live in. And NO aspect of this optic is contradicted by the Bible...
Inimical critics of the Bible frequently end up mired in their own high-pH adversarial froth when they attempt to "decode" (with their mistaken optic) the understated references (and inferences) regarding "LIGHT" found in Genesis Days ONE, and FOUR.
The problem inherent in their mistaken optic regarding the events of these two days is that, like monsieur coyote and monsieur rabbit, they have failed to appreciate the presence of "The Border" which they have long-since crossed!
Not surprisingly, therefore!, (having crossed the border unawares) they have also failed to RECALIBRATE TO EARTH FOCUS! Thus, when they arrive at days ONE and FOUR, they have no choice but to end up insisting on the Bible's internal "contradiction" in having God (re-)create the sun, the moon and, by inference, everything else which was already created PRIOR to day ONE.
Note however, that there is absolutely nothing in the context of these two days which necessitates this mistaken optic. Keeping in mind that, by day ONE, the Sun is already there...just as the Earth, the moon and the stars, etc., are already there, we can get our heads around this matter very easily... We certainly are NOT in a postion to be making definitive statements about the supposed environmental conditions of primeval Earth at this time, (think: "tohu vavohu") but we may reasonably assume that it could very easily have been enveloped by some sort of impenetrable cosmic "cover," (a la planeta Venus...) such that, when God said "Let there be light!" he simply altered the status of this impenetrable "cover" so that it allowed limited light (from the already existing Sun) to diffuse to Earth's surface...enough so that, if one were [unfortunate enough to be] on Earth's surface at the time, one could then distinguish the light and dark periods of a terrestrial 24-hour day WITHOUT being able to see the source of light itself. (...an ancient application of "indirect" lighting... (surely, if we can do it, so can God!))
What has happened here is conceptually no different than a house holder coming home in the evening and declaring (with mock drama) "Let there be light!" as he flicks the switch on in his hallway. (you've probably done this yourself on several occasions!) The point being, the mechanisms to pull this off (on planet Earth and in our hallway) were already long-established and securely in place! There is nothing inscrutable going on here!
And regarding DAY FOUR in which, according to the Genesis creation account, the Sun and the Moon (the "luminaries") were "made," the Hebrew verb used for "made," (N.B., NOT the same verb used in verse 1) easily allows for the notion that God simply clarified the terrestrial atmosphere a bit more than was done on day ONE - i.e., sufficiently for "making" the Sun and the Moon visible entities now for an imaginary observer on Earth. This notion too, should NOT be difficult to grasp... The verbal concept of "making" is, in many languages, extremely utilitarian. Consider the mirrored German use of this verb: ("machen" i.e., "make") when a German house holder comes home at night "und macht das licht an" ("and turns (i.e., "makes") the light on") so that he can see! (Or maybe the light was already on and he had a black velvet bag over his head which he subsequently removed! (...It could happen!)) The point being, we humans can easily rationalize (and eagerly accept!) far more complex scenarios than this, (especially if we are paid!) and there is certainly no driving need to abandon such rational agility when confronted with Biblical notions which may open themselves up to unfriendly and unreasonable criticism. Again! ...the mechanisms for God to "make" the luminaries visible (whereas before they were not, except through indirect lighting) were already in place... There is really nothing inscrutable going on here!
- FINIS SIX24HOURDAYS -