Are the Genesis Creation Days 24 Hours or Long Periods of Time? – Program 2

By: Dr. Walter Kaiser Jr., Dr. Hugh Ross; ©2005
What does “literal” mean? How long is a day? If the word is used in different ways, how can you tell which meaning should be applied?

What Is the Literal Meaning of the Word “Day” in Genesis 1 and 2?


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.

Previously on The John Ankerberg Show]:

      • [Clip from Journey Toward Creation]-

We are passengers on a controlled and purposeful explosion, as if we are microbes riding on a piece of shrapnel from an exploding grenade. All of the universe’s matter, energy, even space and time came into existence in a single moment. But far from a chaotic explosion, this initial blast seems to have been finely tuned, as if it has been designed to benefit us on a tiny planet. Today, our knowledge of the heavens and the earth, and the forces influencing them, is greater than that of all previous generations combined; and our sense of wonder grows with each new revelation.

We’ll travel outward in space and backward in time, we’ll marvel at the power and the intricate design around us, and we’ll gain a clear picture of our cosmic context. Our place in the physical universe and in the spiritual realm that encompasses it

Ankerberg: 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?”
Kaiser: 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,…
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 [2:4], 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: Welcome to our program. We’ve got a great program for you today. Two spectacular guests, and our topic is: “The biblical account of creation: What information has God given us about how and when He created?”
My guests are Dr. Walter Kaiser, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Also, we’ve got Dr. Hugh Ross, who is 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 Views, and the Framework View. We’ll be talking about that as we go along.
And Dr. Kaiser, I want to start with a question from a pastor, because we’re talking about the literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, and what does the word day mean? And in reading some of your books, Dr. Kaiser, he says, “I’m saddened that Dr. Kaiser has opted to follow the kind of line of reasoning that weakens the faith in the Scriptures. This reinterpretation and weakening of the Scripture – for what reason? Seemingly, to make the Bible and evolutionary science find some common ground. That is a shame.”
Now, how do you respond to these folks when you’ve said, over and over again, you’re trying to give a literal interpretation of the text, apart from science? Say it again and talk to this pastor’s heart.
Kaiser: Well, thank you, John, and thank you, pastor, for your concern for me, first of all. But I’ve got to tell you, the Bible made me do it! I am only trying to understand what the text says. I have no agenda. I only want to please my Lord, and I want to hear what He said through these individuals.
You have no idea how much energy I have put into the whole idea of the author’s intentionality, that that’s what is central. So, when he uses the word day, I must be very careful and say, “Alright, does the author give me some internal clues?” He has the first divvies on this. And so, “Yes, in [Genesis] 1:5, he said it means daylight as opposed to night.” Okay, I’ve got that one. In 1:14 he said “God put the greater light and the lesser light for seasons and for years and for days.” Oh, that must be the kind we have now – the twenty-four hour. Then he summarizes the whole thing and he says [in 2:4], “When He did all of this”, or “in the day that He did all of this,” which are six preceding ones, that God finally concluded and rested.
So, no reinterpretation. I think that’s anathema. I think that is a pity. And I wouldn’t want to reinterpret or even take my interpretation and say, “Well, a day is a day. I know what days are;” and say, “My idea of day must prevail.” No, no. It’s the writer’s view of the word day that must prevail.
Ankerberg: You said in another spot that Moses used the phrase “a day is as a thousand years” with the Lord.
Kaiser: Yeah.
Ankerberg: Okay. Some folks will say, “But he didn’t say ‘a day is a thousand years.’”
Kaiser: And that’s correct. It really doesn’t say it’s equivalent. But my point is that in the Psalter, in the book of Psalms, that the headings for half of the 150 Psalms is as early as the original text. It appears in the Greek translation, third century B.C. already. They couldn’t translate some of the words; we still can’t translate some of the words because they are so early. And Psalm 90 is the only Psalm attributed to Moses. And there, his use of the word day is, he says it’s, why, “it’s likened unto the same thing as a millennium.” He doesn’t say it is a millennium; as a matter of fact, it could be longer. But my only point is, well, listen up: this is the writer who stood in the counsel of God. Give him a fair shake.
So, no “reinterpretation,” dear pastor, I want to hang with the text and what it’s saying, for that’s my only clue as to what God said.
Ankerberg: Now, Hugh, you were involved in this written debate. It’s a book that recently came out, The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the “Days” of Creation. And you have the Twenty-Four-Hour View – two authors there; and you have the Day-Age View where you and Gleason Archer wrote; and then you had the Framework View – Lee Irons and Meredith Kline.
Now, Walter, I’ve got a question off this, because lay people read the introductions of each of these three views and all three of them say, “Now, neighbor, this is a literal interpretation of the words of Genesis 1 and 2.” So, my mother writes in and says, “Can you have three different literal interpretations of Genesis 1 and 2?” And Hugh will say, “There are probably four.” Okay? Right?
Ross: Right.
Ankerberg: So, the fact is, what’s going on? How can that be possible and it be a literal interpretation of Genesis?
Kaiser: Well, John, I hate to say it but not all four can be correct. We’re all going to have to stand before the Lord in the Final Day. There’s that wonderful text, 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all” – did I say all? Yes! – “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ to give an account of the deeds done in the body.” And I’ve teasingly counseled some of the lay people, I say, “If you see a lot of writers and the presidents and pastors and TV emcees in the line on the Final Day, get in the other line. It’ll go faster.” Because everything we say has to be really responded to.
Yes, each, I guess with all of their heart, are trying to say, “This is what we believe and earnestly think that that text has said.” But in the end, the arbiter is not what each of us thinks, but it’s what the Word said, and what that writer who stood in the counsel of God, who received the words from the living Lord. So there’s only one correct answer and one truth. “Truth” is not plural; truth is absolute and it’s singular. So, the instincts of your mother were right.
Ankerberg: Let me put in here, Hugh, that there’s got to be a reason why you are writing for the “Day-Age View.” You feel that’s what Scripture is saying. But there are also ramifications for the Twenty-Four-Hour View, the Framework View, and some of these other views in terms of looking at the world.
Ross: Well, I think what’s good about that book is, we all realize it’s not enough to take the text literally; you have to take it literally and consistently. And fortunately, God gave us more than just one creation account in the Bible. I count twenty major creation accounts in the Old and New Testament and by trying to integrate the message of all twenty, you can sort out which of those literal interpretations is consistent with all twenty. You know, if one passage contradicts another passage, then you know that “literal” interpretation needs to be put aside because God can’t contradict Himself. So that gives us another tool for interpreting the texts.
Ankerberg: Yeah, the fact is that you came to the Bible, actually, via science, right? Just give us a rehash here.
Ross: Yes, I did. And you know, when the pastor made that comment about “if you take these days as long periods of time, that supports evolution,” well, whatever illusions the biologists had in the twentieth century, the astronomers knew all along, if you’re going to be able to sustain a naturalistic interpretation of biological evolution, billions of years is not adequate; trillions of years is not adequate. The universe must be infinitely old. And this is why astronomers in the early part of the twentieth century, coming from an atheistic perspective, fought the idea of a “big bang”; fought the idea of a “cosmic singularity” beginning to the universe. Finally, they were forced by the evidence to accept the fact that, yes, there really is a beginning in finite time. And from an astronomical perspective, that’s the death of biological evolution.
And my comment in The Genesis Debate is, if you take the view that there are six consecutive twenty-four-hour periods, you’re forced at two instances to introduce hyper efficient Darwinian evolution. You’re forced to introduce it at the Fall, because in their belief, there is no death of animals before the fall of Adam, therefore you have to rapidly evolve carnivores from herbivores.
And then the Young Earth model has built within it that the Flood is not only universal to humanity, but global in extent. And therefore they have to evolve all these species of land animals from the few thousands that are on board the Ark in rapid time.
Ankerberg: Let me ask both of you, the fact is, when you take the text, okay, and you take science, is it wrong to try to see that we have compatibility? Should we have compatibility? Walter?
Kaiser: Sure we should, because it’s the same Author. I mean, you look at a building that was done by an architect and another building by the same architect, you say, “It’s a Frank Lloyd Wright building.” You look at the universe. It was built by God. It’s got all over it, not “made in USA”, but “made by the living God.” And you look at the Scriptures; that, too, came from God. Now, the author is the same. Interpreters work on both. The interpreters may disagree, but not the evidence, not the raw data itself. The raw data itself comes from the same Lord. Otherwise, we throw away the doctrine of creation; otherwise, we throw away the inspiration, the full inerrant Word of God. We can’t throw away either. They both come from the living God.
Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break and when we come back, we’re going to talk about another objection to saying that the day, yom, is a period of time and not just a literal twenty-four hours. And that comes from the book that you were an advisor on for the NIV, the book of Exodus, and one of the Ten Commandments no less. Exodus 20:9: “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” It does not suggest those things, those days are anything other than twenty-four-hour days, and it compares it to the creation. So they’re saying, “Isn’t the creation, then, automatically six twenty-four-hour days?” And we’re going to hear what he has to say when we come right back.


Ankerberg: Welcome. We’re back and we’re talking with Dr. Walter Kaiser, who is President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Dr. Hugh Ross, who is an astrophysicist and an astronomer. We’re talking about the biblical account of creation: What information has God given us about how and when He created?
And Walter, we’re at a key spot here where folks who say, “If you’re going to say these days are not twenty-four hours, that they are periods of time that could be lengthy, we’ve got a problem with Exodus 20:9.” And they’re willing to put the whole house on this one, okay, bet the whole thing on this one. And it says, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work.” People say, “It does not suggest that those days are anything other than twenty-four-hour days. And, in fact, in your debate with Duncan and Hall on The Genesis Debate that you wrote about, they said, “The Commandment [one of the Ten Commandments] certainly does not require labor for six thousand years or six million years prior to Sabbath observance.” So they’re saying, “Therefore, if you admit that, in Exodus 20:9 the creation days that it’s referring back to have got to be literal twenty-four-hour days.” Now, Walter, what do you say?
Kaiser: Well, John, first of all, it’s a good argument. Let’s take our hats off. And then secondly, we argue, “But wait a minute. One is talking about the days of creation; the second one is talking about the days of a celebration.” Now Moses in 1400 B.C. – everybody thinks we’ve left a few thousand years at a minimum from when we were talking about the creation of the universe up to this particular point – so, I think he has taken the rhythm that is in the creative order and put that right over top of life and has said that “I really want a time of work that is separated from a time of rest, just like God’s time of work was separated from the time of rest.” And he uses the analogy of creation. He introduces it with a causal phrase, “for” or “because,” and, therefore, his main point is the command. The command about the six days is prior, then the causal reason follows.
Do we have this other places by God used in Scripture with other authors? Sure. In Daniel we have seventy weeks of seven days for 490 days, which become 490 years. The pattern is seen in a number of places. And, Hugh, I think you have done some things there, too. The argument of the Sabbath we have said in Hebrews is still lasting, but there was a requirement of Israel on the same creative thing to take a seventh year off; and then the 49th and 50th year was the Jubilee. How does that work?
Ross: Right. Yeah, it’s Leviticus 25:3-4 makes the point that with the agricultural land, as opposed to human beings, it is to be worked for six years and given a Sabbath rest. And that Sabbath rest is defined as a year. Scientifically we know why. That’s to starve the nematodes so that you keep the land productive, that God was telling them in that instruction.
And when you look at the Fourth Commandment, the commandment about the Sabbath that we humans are to obey, it’s repeated five times in the five books of Moses. In only two of those passages do you see that causal phrase “for,” you know, “in six days God worked and He rested on the seventh.” The other three, that causal phrase is missing. And therefore, I think you’ve got a powerful point: this must be an analogy, it can’t be an exact equation. And the fact that the agricultural land has a whole year of Sabbath rest establishes again this is an analogy and not an equation.
Ankerberg: Walter, slow that down a little bit more and bring the cookies down to even a lower shelf. What’s an analogy?
Kaiser: An analogy is where you have comparison that is an explicit or direct comparison. “A” is as, or like, “B.” You must use the word “as” or “like,” depending on whether it’s a noun or a verb. Whereas, a metaphor drops the word “as” or “like” out, and says, “A” is “B.” “She is as beautiful as a rose” – there is an analogy, a simile, based on a direct comparison. But “Go tell that fox,” was said about Herod [Luke 13:32], which is sort of interesting. Herod is not a fox with a bushy tail and kind of red fur, but actually both of them are slick. And there’s the comparison. The tail and the fur and the four legs are thrown in to give you a sort of humorous picture along the way.
Ankerberg: Alright, so you say it’s analogical in Exodus 20. What’s the analogy?
Kaiser: The analogy is between the rhythm of God working and resting, and man working and resting. And it is the same Lord who now says, “Six days” and He who has made days now asks that those days…. So it’s context again. But the problem is, if I take the context of Genesis 1 and lay it over top of the context of Exodus 20, I must have good reason for doing so, found within the context itself.
Ross: I think Moses here is making a biological point, too. We human beings have biological limitations which force us into a pattern of working six twenty-four-hour days and taking that seventh twenty-four-hour day to rest. It is all to do with our biology. The agricultural land has a different biology and therefore God decrees a different Sabbath pattern, you know, six years and a seventh year. Is God biologically limited? Not at all; and therefore He could take a completely different time period. But it’s a pattern: it’s six work periods followed by a seventh rest period. And it depends on the biology what that length will be.
Ankerberg: Okay, conclusion?
Kaiser: The conclusion is that Exodus 20:9 is another command of God in which He does say that, “I want you to take some time for rest and for fellowship and restoration of life because this is a gift that I have given to you. But six days are made for you to do all of the work that needs to be accomplished. My reason for saying that is, I Myself have given you a pattern from My own creative work.” And the point, then, is not the time that is brought across, but rather, the fact that God worked and then rested; man is to work and therefore rest. And the pattern is the analogy.
Ankerberg: Next week on The John Ankerberg Show, another key question: What happened to the formula that was attached to the other days “… there was evening and there was morning”? It doesn’t show up on the seventh day. Why, and what does that mean?

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