Are the Genesis Creation Days 24 Hours or Long Periods of Time? – Program 1

By: Dr. Walter Kaiser Jr., Dr. Hugh Ross; ©2005
What are the different viewpoints about the age of the earth and when it was created? What does “created” mean? Was it a one-time event, or a series of events over long periods of time?

What Information Has God Given about When He Created?


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, does the Bible teach that the Genesis creation days are six literal 24 hour days or six long periods of time? Inside the Christian Church this debate is raging. Some say that unless a Christian believes God created in six literal 24-hour days, they will not allow that person to be a member of their Church or assume a leadership position.

Outside of the Church, many non-Christians are certain that all Christians believe God created everything 6,000 years ago, including the universe, the Earth, plants and animals and Adam and Eve. They are shocked to find out that is not true today, nor has it been the case down through Church history.

Christians who read the first two chapters of Genesis and believe that Moses used the word day – yom – to mean a long period of time, are they distorting the biblical text, denying the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, and affirming some kind of evolution? What does the biblical text actually say?

My guests today are: Dr. Walter Kaiser, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is thought by many to be one of the world’s most knowledgeable and esteemed evangelical authorities on the Old Testament and Hebrew language. My second guest is astrophysicist and astronomer Dr. Hugh Ross. He received his Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Toronto and did post-doctoral research at Caltech on quasars.

We invite you to join us.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome. We’ve got a great program for you today; two spectacular guests. I’m really glad you’ve joined us.
Today our topic is the biblical account of creation: What information has God given us about how and when He created? That’s something you want to know, right? My guests are Dr. Walter Kaiser, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, MA. Also we’ve got Dr. Hugh Ross. He’s an astrophysicist and astronomer. He has also recently been a part of a written debate, The Genesis Debate, between the Twenty-Four-Hour View, the Day-Age View, and the Framework View. We’ll be talking about that as we go along.
But Dr. Kaiser, we’ve asked our audience to give us questions, and I have a pastor who has written a question for you right off the bat. And he says, “When the Bible says, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,’ [Gen. 1:1] does this, then, allow for billions of years? Or does the word ‘created’ imply a once-for-all activity when it comes to the physical universe?
Dr. Walter Kaiser: Thanks, John. It really does talk about an absolute beginning, and the text says, “In the beginning.” It’s very, very crucial that all who believe in the inerrancy of Scripture understand this is where it all started. And the rest of the phrase, “heavens and earth,” really is the biblical word for “universe.” It’s what we call hen dia dis: hen – one; dia – through; dis – two. So we have one idea through two words; “universe” expressed by “heaven and earth.” So, the whole shebang was from “in the beginning.” And who did it? God. God created. The word bara is used forty-five times exclusively with God as the subject. No other. There are other words for “make” or “form” or things like that. But never does a human use the word bara, and never does it have any material used as agency along with it.
So I think our commitment ought to be to an absolute beginning, and that it was initiated by God, and that it covers the whole universe. And then it’s going to go on in verse 2 to talk about the earth. But like Genesis does, always takes the big subject first – the universe. Now, meanwhile, back down on earth. And now we’re going to focus on the topic of earth.
So, no matter how far you go back, it’s “in the beginning,” and there’s where Christians ought to put their foot down and say, “Yep! In the beginning.” And that’s the biblical date.
Ankerberg: All right, before we go on, Hugh, from science, does that make sense that there was a beginning point?
Dr. Hugh Ross: Yes, it does. And I think there’s a second biblical point you can make out of that: bara – “to create something brand new that didn’t exist before.” This is a transcendent creation act. It’s where God, by His creative, miraculous intervention, brings into existence, for the first time, matter, energy, and the space-time dimensions that are associated with matter and energy. Which leaves room for God to manipulate or manufacture or reshape through other miracles that matter, energy, space and time to prepare a wonderful place for us to live. And isn’t that the context of Genesis 1?
Kaiser: Yes. Now that’s an important point, then, the whole idea that it is de nova, just sort of “brand new,”…
Ross: Right. Right.
Kaiser: …and God originating everything right from the very start.
Ross: That’s also distinctive to the Christian faith. I mean, you go into other religions, that is, you know, God or gods creating within space and time that always exists.
Kaiser: Yeah.
Ross: The Bible stands alone in saying there really is an actual beginning to space and time, God is responsible for it. And the wonderful thing about the advance of astrophysics, since 1970 we’ve been able to prove that through Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Ankerberg: Let’s stop right there because I remember back in the 70’s that Ted Koppel had some of the scientists on. They actually quoted Genesis 1. And the scientists quoted verse 1, and Ted Koppel went on and did verse 2. And I’m saying that that was pretty astounding. Now, they said it was the discovery of the century for the scientists. Why so? Because it does go back to Einstein. He had postulated that something ought to happen out of his mathematics; he didn’t even want to accept it himself. But they proved it via the sciences. What did they find?
Ross: Well, from the 70’s right up to the present moment there has been these space-time theorems of general relativity. And what they basically state is that if the universe contains mass – and I would suggest that skeptics find a bathroom scale; but the second condition: “Do the equations of general relativity reliably describe the dynamics of the universe?” And the past five years, general relativity has vaulted to the most exhaustively-tested principle in physics; the best proven principle in physics. Both conditions are now beyond doubt. The conclusion of that theorem is that there must be this simultaneous beginning to matter, energy, space and time. More than that, there’s a corollary to the theorem: there must exist a causal agent that brings into existence space and time independent, beyond, or outside of space and time. You know, Stephen Hawking, one of the authors of the first space-time theorem of general relativity, boasted that we proved that time has a beginning. But the Bible said that thousands of years ago, that when God created, He created time. There is an actual beginning of time that coincides with the beginning of the universe.
Ankerberg: Not only that, but scientists have gone back and they’ve actually started putting numbers to when they think time started.
Ross: Right.
Ankerberg: What’s the accepted theory right now?
Ross: Well, you can use the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, the Two-Degree Deep Sky Survey, and the WMAP [Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe], which is the most accurate map of the radiation left over from the creation event. Those three methods give you a date at 13.7 billion years ago as to when the universe came into existence. That’s also the only moment in cosmic history when human beings can actually look back and photograph or image the beginning of the universe. It takes light time to reach us from the beginning: 13.7 billion years is the first moment in cosmic history when human observers can actually witness or photo-image that point of beginning.
Ankerberg: Which brings us to the second point, Dr. Kaiser, and all the folks say, “Okay, if the science tells us that, now we’ve got to get to the next part, after God created, and that is, What is the meaning, the literal meaning, of the word day in Genesis 1 and 2?” Because they’re saying, “Hey, we know what the word day means! I mean, that’s twenty-four hours.” So Hugh is talking here 13.7 billion! Can we reconcile these two? And we’re talking about a literal interpretation of the Bible. Okay?
Kaiser: Right.
Ankerberg: Can we do that?
Kaiser: Yes. I like what Hugh has said, but it’s also wonderful that God put the cookies on the bottom shelf, too, for everyone so that they could say, “Well, that must have been ‘in the beginning,’ what you’re talking about.” And it was. By the way, some of the Bibles will translate it, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void. Then God said,” verse 3. They put in a “when/then” construction, because in the Babylonian stories it’s supposed to be in a when/then construction.
But actually you can’t do that with the Hebrew grammar here. That’s a no-no, because it does not have a preposition in front of it; that is, a prepositional phrase of the sort that is wanted here for a when/then kind of construction. That does occur, say, like in Hosea 6:1, 2. That’s exactly what they want there, and a dozen places in the Bible, but not this place. This one is very clear and it is an absolute beginning. And that’s why when we come to look at the rest of the text, even like the word day, we’ve got to pay attention to the uses of the word in the text. We can’t put our definition on it.
“Literal” in the Bible is what the Bible meant, the person who stood in the counsel of God and heard God speak. So he has first rights to speak, then we can come along. And the word day there is used in three different ways: 1) day is daylight as opposed to nighttime, so it’s twelve hours; 2) day is twenty-four hours at verse 5 for “daytime”; verse 14 is God put the greater light and the lesser light – He didn’t say “sun” and “moon.” He didn’t want them to worship that – greater light and lesser light; for days and for seasons and years, that’s twenty-four hours. Then in 2:4 he summarizes the whole thing: 3) “In the day that the Lord God created the heaven and the earth.” That’s like “in the day of Abraham Lincoln,” “in the day of the phonograph,” in the day of whatever.
So, we ought to be warned, the text itself uses the word in three different ways. And one more, John, and that is, in a Psalm written by Moses, Psalm 90, the same writer that wrote this material. He says “a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.” Now, I’ve got to pay attention to that because when the same writer uses the word with that amount of what some would call “elasticity,” then I had better pay attention to his meaning, because that’s what the literal meaning is: the one who stood in the counsel of God and heard the word from on high.
Ankerberg: Alright we’re going to take a break and when we come back, we’re going to talk more about this and we’re going to take the questions of our audience where they say, “What about the use of ‘evening and morning’? I mean, how do you get that into a long period of time? I mean, isn’t that book-ending a day?” And we want to talk about what the language means. We’re going to come back and we’ll talk about it in a moment.


Ankerberg: Alright we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Walter Kaiser and Dr. Hugh Ross about the biblical account of creation: what information has God given us about how and when He created?
Walter, we were talking about Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. And some folks have criticized the use of Genesis 2:4 as being an exception to a literal twenty-four-hour day. They object to Moses, apparently, using that. But this is how they put it, okay? They say, “…this ignores the completely different grammatical contexts” that we have in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. So they’re saying Genesis 1, Genesis 2, the context is different: “…there is a singular, absolute noun ‘day’ in Genesis 1, but a singular, construct noun ‘day’ in Genesis 2:4. In Genesis 2:4… yom is prefixed by… be, thus, be yom – this is often an idiomatic… expression for ‘when.’” “The context of yom in Genesis 2:4 is totally different from Genesis 1, where there are no prepositions…”. And then they quote the NIV [New International Version], which they think correctly translates this passage, Genesis 2:4: “When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”
I don’t think they knew that you [Dr. Kaiser] were one of the folks that helped give information for the footnotes of the Study Bible for the NIV, and you were one of the experts mentioned in the index in the front as contributing concerning Exodus. So I assume that you can answer this question on the grammar for NIV. What’s going on? Do we have different contexts that outlaw the exception of yom being “a long period of time,” namely, the six created days? Genesis 1 is different from Genesis 2?
Kaiser: Well, John, I hope I don’t disappoint you, but with all that build up, I’m dying to hear what I have to say! I think, no doubt about it, the translation “in the day that” or “in the day” is equal to “when.” It can be translated either way. The point is, it’s still the same yom. We’ve got, from all of the text in Genesis 1, we have the same kind of word, Hebrew word, used. It’s the identical word here. Whether it has the preposition in front of it, and it’s in a construct or an absolute state, that only has to do with the syntax. But that doesn’t change the lexicography of the word itself. So the word stands.
And furthermore, it goes on to put within the account that follows – Genesis 2:4 – it has the Sabbath day; one of the seven days is already located within it.
So I think nice try, but it doesn’t pull away from the point. I think the point is still there; we’re still talking about the same “day” and we’re still trying to establish how did the writer use that word day? And does it have a single meaning, that is, it must be like our twenty-four-hour day in every case? And if that’s so, why, then, do you have in 1:5, it’s twelve hours; in 1:14, it’s twenty-four; and now here, he takes “when,” the whole time, and the when here refers to at least six of those days. That’s still the point that still has to be made here.
Ankerberg: Yeah, folks, when I asked Walter to come on the program, you need to recognize that, for his Ph.D. work, he was made to learn seven languages to compare with the Hebrew in the text so he could compare all the words backwards and forwards. I got to thinking about that. You know your Hebrew so well and you know these other languages so well, that if God wanted to, He could have whispered this revelation to you and you could have picked out the Hebrew words. Now, He didn’t, but the fact is, you have an idea why Moses…
Kaiser: You should be glad he didn’t, too!
Ankerberg: Yeah. You have an idea why Moses chose these words. And that’s what I want to get to; because here’s another objection to saying that it’s not just a straight twenty-four-hour day: the use of numbered series with the word yom in the Old Testament. They’ll say that when the numbers are used in a series – 1, 2, 3 – in connection with the word yom in the Old Testament, they say, it always refers to twenty-four hour days. Therefore, the absence of any exception to this in the Old Testament is evidence that Genesis 1, must, it must, it must, be referring to twenty-four-hour days.
Kaiser: Well, John, that’s a very common objection you hear frequently, but there is no rule in the Hebrew grammar. I mean, you have to invent that rule for just this situation. The other thing is, yes, there does occur a case in which you have yom used along with an ordinal or even a cardinal number: one. One, it’s the same word for both the cardinal and the ordinal. The difference between cardinal and ordinals is, between one, two, three, four, and first, second, third, fourth. So, Zechariah 14:7 has a yom echad. It’s “one day.” And there it’s talking, again, about the yom Yahweh, “the day of the Lord,” which is a future day covering all of the eschatological events. So I don’t think you can make that rule. I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but I don’t think it’ll work.
Ankerberg: Let’s jump to another one, guys, and a lot of folks will relate to this. They’ll say, you know, “Doesn’t the text say that these days happen and they’re bookended by the use of ‘evening and morning’?” Now, you find it interesting that he starts with “evening” and not “morning.” Tell us why.
But let me just show you one of the objections. People will say, “Whenever yom is used with ‘evening and morning,’ it can mean only an ordinary day, never a long period of time.” Now, what do you think?
Kaiser: Well, “evening and morning.” To start on the first one with “evening,” is sort of interesting. Where did that first “evening” come from? It must come from a day that wasn’t already. So there’s something wrong with it the way you start it. And then, “evening and morning” doesn’t make up a whole twenty-four hours. And anyway, we have three of these evening and mornings – day one, day two, day three – before, on the fourth day, God makes days. So, we’re in trouble here.
And then, the seventh day is lasting all the way to the present. Hebrews 4 says that God rested from His creative work and He calls it, in Hebrews 4, a sabbatismos, “a Sabbath.” That’s the Greek word. It’s our word Sabbath, when God stopped and He put a conclusion. Another Greek word there is katapausis. He said, “Stop.”
And there are three times in the biblical text God “stopped”: at creation, marking between creation and providence; God stopped on the cross and said, “It is finished. It is done”; and then in the book of Revelation one more time God says, “It is done” and it marks the end between His work in providence and His work in history and all of eternity. Three great “stop days” and this one is still going on: “So let us enter,” says Hebrews 4, “into this rest.” And the interesting thing is, there is no citation of “evening and morning” with the seventh day, also.
So on at least four or five grounds I find to say that this is really [as] an argument for a twenty-four-hour day to be weak.
Ross: Let me give you a fifth one. This is bad statistics. I hear in their books where they’ll say, “Well, 38 times we see ‘evening and morning’ used outside of Genesis 1 always in reference to a twenty-four-hour day.” But those sentences, when you look [them] up, the word day isn’t even in the text. It’ll mention “evening” or “morning,” but you will not find the word day. And there’s only one place in those 38 references where you see “evening” and “morning” together. It’s Psalm 55:17 where King David says, “I will pray to the Lord God in evening and morning and noontime.” So what we see here in Genesis 1 is unique. You don’t see “evening and morning” refer to a day except there in the Genesis chapter.
Ankerberg: Walter, we’ve got one minute left. Let’s put a wrapper on this thing, a conclusion for the people. What have we told them and what does this mean? And I’d like you to frame it with the fact of, we’re talking a literal interpretation of the words of Scripture. We’re not messing around. We haven’t pulled science in to get this. You got this out of the text of Scripture. You’re trying to grapple with it. When he [Dr. Ross], from science, came to the belief there was a God and then he started reading the Bible and he thought, “These words kind of bring me back to the God that I believe created the whole thing; these are special words.” Okay? Some people accuse him of bringing science in first. But you didn’t start that way. You started with the text and you’re saying, “From the text…,” what?
Kaiser: “I believe in God the Father, Maker of heaven and earth,” who started in an absolute beginning, “in the beginning,” created the whole shebang – the universe – and created it out of nothing – brand new – and brought it into existence. He is the Creator of all things. And this text is saying that’s what we celebrate. We celebrate that He is the Maker of heaven and earth.
Ankerberg: Alright, next week we’re going to continue with this discussion of “What does the word day mean?”, because we’re not done with some of the objections. One of the biggest ones is Exodus 20:9, where we find that in the Ten Commandments there, you’re supposed to work for these six days and rest on the seventh. And it doesn’t sound like we’re supposed to rest for a billion years or work for a billion years each. And you’ve got to help us out because that’s also the book that you were the advisor on for the NIV.
Kaiser: Can’t wait to get into it!
Ankerberg: So we’ve got to hear that. Okay, join us next week.

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