Are the Genesis Creation Days 24 Hours or Long Periods of Time? – Program 3

By: Dr. Walter Kaiser Jr., Dr. Hugh Ross; ©2005
In Genesis 2, the seventh day does not have the “formula,” “and there was evening and there was morning,….” Does that mean the seventh day never ended? Is God’s rest still ongoing?

What Is Different about the Seventh Day?


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

Ankerberg: 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.
Kaiser: “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: day is daylight as opposed to nighttime, so it’s twelve hours; day is twenty-four hours at verse 5 for “daytime”; verse 14, 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: “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: 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. And then they quote the NIV 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 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.”
Ankerberg: 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 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 that is, 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 book-ended 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 an argument for a twenty-four-hour day to be weak.
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’s 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: Alright, another key question: In Genesis 1 you have, at the end of the days, “And there was evening and there was morning” – I’ve got the fifth day. You get down, “And there was evening and there was morning” – the sixth day. Now listen to what he says about the seventh. See if you hear those words: “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing. So on the seventh day He rested from all His work; and God blessed the seventh day and made it holy; because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” [Gen. 2:2-3]. 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?
Kaiser: Hebrews 4 tells us that our Lord is still resting, and therefore we, too, should enter into that same spiritual rest. But, John, there also is the interesting thing; Leviticus 23 with regard to each of the Feast and Festival days there. Not only was the seventh day a Sabbath day in which they rested, the eighth day, the first day of the week, in anticipation of our Lord’s resurrection and of Pentecost, of the coming of the Holy Spirit. In three of the seven festival days there, there is not only the seventh day, but the eighth day specified as a continuation. I think he deliberately left off that evening and morning because the Sabbath moves over to the first day of the week.
Ankerberg: Hugh, some people say that the Sabbath…. Walter, let me give it to you, because, give me the language on this one, okay? They’re saying, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t say the Sabbath is continuing to this day. It says God’s rest is continuing to this day.”
Kaiser: Not quite, because it really does use the word Sabbath in Hebrews 4. It is hidden because we don’t all read the Greek there, but it does use the word sabbatismos, the Sabbath of the Lord. And yes, it is the continuing of His rest, but He does call it the Sabbath. He does call it the rest day of the Lord. He does call it… The word Sabbath, of course, means “to stop.” And it does use the same word katapausis, which means the cessation of all work in order to move into the rest of God. So the invitation of the writer of Hebrews is, “Let us all enter into the rest of God.”
Ross: And you don’t have to be a scientist to recognize that God really is resting from His creation work. I mean, even in the days of Moses, they could look out and say, “Where are the new species?” It’s not there. God is clearly resting and is continuing to rest to this day.
Ankerberg: Alright, but draw a conclusion, both of you, in terms of, Walter, start us off here in the sense that, if that Sabbath day is still continuing, it certainly is not twenty-four hours.
Kaiser: Precisely. And all the more reason, then, to be very, very, very careful in assigning it as the twenty-four hours. We can get so wrapped up in the temporal question we miss the main point. The main point was, listen, God has called us to work and He has put a rhythm into the entirety of our lives. God has also called us for periods of rest, too, on a weekly basis. And I think that call is the one that goes by the boards because we’re all so excited about, well, “What about the time? What time is it?” That’s an American, Western, question: “What time is it?” We’re always going after the time.
Ankerberg: Okay. Jump to one more. Mark 10:6 says, “But from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.” And some folks who are advocating that the day must be a twenty-four-hour, literal twenty-four-hour day, say, “God created humankind at the beginning of creation. Then they were not created at the end of millions of years, as the Day-Age View holds.” What do you say to those folks?
Ross: Context is everything. I mean, what’s the text about? It’s about marriage. So the beginning of creation: my question when I read that, “Creation of what?” And I think the context makes it clear: it’s the creation of a relationship between a man and a woman. So the point of beginning goes back to that time when Adam and Eve were joined together, not the origin of the universe.
Ankerberg: Well, no matter which view you hold, it was on the sixth day that they were created and married. Okay? So, is the sixth day the beginning? Whatever the days’ lengths are, it’s at the sixth day.
Ross: It’s at the end of the sixth day, not the beginning of the sixth day.
Ankerberg: But I mean there’s a period of time from day one down to day six, and you can’t say day six is the beginning of that week whatever your length of time is. Would you agree?
Ross: Right.
Kaiser: I think to press for the word “from the beginning” to mean day one would be a… I wouldn’t call that literalism; I would call that letterism, in which letters now become so important that we almost get into a kind of “evangelical Midrash” now in which we’re trying to line the letters up with all values. His whole point is, “Listen, God established the institution of marriage between one man and one woman right from the get-go.” And this is the “get-go.” And I don’t think we should say, “Oh, then that means that’s day one.” To press that, I think, has become involved in letterism rather than taking the text literally.
Ankerberg: So wrap this up in terms of, what do we have here? What does it open the door to, in terms of our investigating, first Scripture, then also taking a solid look at the record of nature?
Kaiser: The literary genre is going to give us a clue as to how we read it. When we read a newspaper, we go from one literary type to another. I don’t read the Funnies the same way I read the Want Ads, as I read the Editorials, as I read the first page. Every one of them calls for a different literary genre. I make that switch because I know newspapers. When I’m reading the Bible and I’m getting historical narrative, I take that text as sober, straightforward, natural meanings, and I go with it in the stream of history. So, therefore, just as I read a newspaper and pay attention to the shifts, I ought to be able to do that: when I read Psalm 104, I’m not reading it the same way as I read Genesis 1. Genesis 1 is an historical narrative. Psalm 104 is put in terms of worship so that I can put it in poetry and in song and anthem to the living God. It calls for all these gifts that God has given to us in the gift of language.
Ankerberg: Okay, Mr. Language Expert, talk to the atheist-skeptic-scientist like Hugh was, okay, who says, “I am seeing some things out here in science that are starting to make me think that maybe there is a God that created this whole ball game. So give me some hope when I’m coming to this Bible of yours, what should I expect to find?”
Kaiser: You ought to expect harmony. You ought to expect that it has the imprint of the same Maker, same Architect. The same Person that gave the written Word is the same One who has put His handiwork in the skies, put His handiwork in the universe. The blueprint is all over it. And the more I penetrate, the deeper I go into that universe, the more questions I’m going to have unless I also level it out and say, “It must have been the same One Who gave the Word Who gave this universe, too, as well.”
Ankerberg: Yes. Next week we’re going to move on and we’re going to look at the creation of man, of Adam and Eve, and what happened in the Garden. And what about the time sequence that’s involved there? Is that sixth day, can we jam all those events into one twenty-four-hour day? We’ll talk about it. And it’s fascinating. They’ve got a lot to tell us, so I hope that you’ll join us.

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