The Great Debate on Science and the Bible – Program 1

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Ken Ham, Dr. Jason Lisle, Dr. Hugh Ross, Dr. Walter Kaiser, Jr.; ©2005
What are the different ways the word “day” is used in the Genesis creation accounts? How can you determine which meaning applies in each case?

Program 1: The Great Debate on Science and the Bible – How Long is a Day?


Today on The John Ankerberg Show, the Great Debate on Science and the Bible. My guests are Ken Ham and astrophysicist Dr. Jason Lisle of Answers in Genesis, debating astrophysicist Dr. Hugh Ross of Reasons to Believe, and Dr. Walter Kaiser, distinguished professor of Old Testament and President of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

Today, has science proven through astronomy, modern physics, and geology, that the universe and the earth are billions of years old? If this is true, are Christians who teach that the universe is only 6,000 years old erecting a hindrance to those looking for a factual Christian faith? Or is the opposite true, that Christians who teach the days of Genesis are six long periods of time are really the one’s not interpreting the Bible literally?

These four men model how Christians who strongly disagree can discuss their different views with love and respect.

Join us for this important debate and hear both sides present their case.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. Our guests are all here, and gentlemen, I want to say thank you for coming. And we’ve got a lot to cover, probably more than we can even get into this half hour, so let’s begin. And Dr. Walter Kaiser, I’m going to begin with you. What is the meaning of the word day in Genesis 1 and 2? Is the Bible literally teaching a day is 24 hours long, or is it literally teaching that a day is a long period of time? Now, you were one of the translators on the NIV Bible, and you’ve taught Hebrew and you know seven different languages, at least, the last time I was counting. And so help us out, but put the cookies on the lower shelf so my mother can understand. What is the Bible literally teaching about the word day?
Dr. Walter Kaiser: Well, John, it’s a delight to be with you and also to talk to your mother, too. But it is a delight to revise your question a little bit. I think it should be, “What are the meanings of the word day?” I’m the one that generally argues there’s only one meaning to a word – as an author uses it. But in this particular context, of course, in Genesis, he dares to use the word in at least three, maybe four, different ways. The word day, yom in the Hebrew, appears over 500 times in the King James Bible. And according to the Englishman’s Hebrew Concordance, there are over 58 different ways that it’s handled. That doesn’t mean it’s arbitrary. It means context is king, and therefore I think that needs to be taken into account.
So day in verse 5 is “daylight.” A day in the fourth day is when God creates 24-hour days. In Genesis 2:4, there it uses it in a prepositional clause “in the day that the Lord God created,” and sums up the whole creative activity, which would be like our way of saying “in the day of so-and-so’s presidency,” or “in the day of Abraham Lincoln.” So the answer is, you must hold carefully to the context.
Ankerberg: Okay, so why do you think that God is saying, then, or teaching us, that it’s a long period of time? You’ve got three options there.
Kaiser: Yes, I think that each one of them has to be taken very carefully. The early Church Fathers and the medieval Fathers were very, very careful on this point and observed… Augustine was one the first ones who made it, and because of the impact of St. Augustine, there was a tradition in the church, all the way up until the advent of geology with [Sir Charles] Lyell and others, in which it was regarded as a longer period of time. But always for different reasons. There was in Augustine’s way of saying it, he said we had a Day 1, a Day 2 and a Day 3 before we had any 24-hour days created. And therefore you need to be very carefully that there were no people here, so it’s not a human perspective at that point, it’s a divine perspective. After all, we have astronauts going round and round the globe, and from their perspective, they see a number of sunrises and sunsets, evening and morning, evening and morning, evening and morning, evening and morning. Now, God is a little bit further out, I would suspect, than our solar system, therefore, that needs to be taken into account, too.
It seems that that wasn’t the point on which the biblical text was anxious to make its real point. Where the biblical text wanted to come down was, it was God who created the whole thing: “In the beginning…” BOOM! God! He made the whole thing. So the argument that really needs to be joined with modern society is, “Is there an absolute beginning, or is it relative?” And this biblical text says, “Look, it’s absolute. There was nothing except God, and He made, He created.” So that’s how I would handle it.
Ankerberg: Alright, that’s a good start. Let’s come to you, Ken. We’re friends, and sometimes friends can disagree, and you have a different point of view. Let’s stick, because we’re going to have the scientists talk about that beginning point in another program, but right now, we’re talking about the biblical evidence. Why do you believe that the word day, yom, is 24 hours and not a long period of time?
Ken Ham: Well, first of all, I’ve got here a copy of what’s considered one of the most up to date and respected Hebrew and Aramaic lexicons of the Old Testament, by Koehler and Baumgartner, which I’m sure Dr. Kaiser is familiar with.
Kaiser: Yes.
Ham: And when I look up the word day in there, it actually has down there “day of 24 hours.” It actually has that as a heading. The first example that’s given is Genesis 1:5; in other words, the first day right down there at creation. So, and these guys are Hebraists, and I think they do very well at defining terms properly. Also, if you look in Brown-Driver-Briggs, which is also a well-respected lexicon, I have the photocopies here of that, too. The example of the days being ordinary days as defined by evening and morning, and so on, they list all the days of creation in there in Genesis 1. And so if I go by the respected lexicons of people who really understand the Hebrew here, and these are lexicons used in colleges all across this nation, then the days of creation in Genesis are ordinary days. And I would say there’s a number of reasons for that.
And by the way, if I can just comment on Dr. Kaiser’s comment there about the Church Fathers. We’ve done a lot of research on the Church Fathers. Actually the major view of the Church Fathers, of those who commented on Genesis, is six ordinary days. And in fact, even Augustine talked about “in an instant,” creation in an instant rather than over a period of time. And even he talked about from looking at the creation of humans, that the universe, the earth, humans were only here for about 6,000 years. In fact, it’s only those of the Alexandrian school that you find really were allegorizing Genesis. Most of the others who commented on it specifically were talking about six days. And I’ve got all those quotes here if you want to see them. You know, we could be talking about all sorts of people here, for instance….
Ankerberg: That’s good. Let’s throw it back to Kaiser here, and let’s talk about Brown-Driver-Briggs and some of these folks. What do you say to that?
Kaiser: My answer is that God had not yet created a 24-hour day, so too bad for Brown-Driver-Briggs, and too bad for Koehler and Baumgartner. Because it specifically says…. I mean if we’re going to stick with the Bible, God created “days” on the fourth day. So we’ve got three of these yoms which are not of the 24-hour. Augustine had four different views with regard to the day, and he ended up by saying, “Look, I really don’t know.” He said, “I think an instantaneous is what I prefer, but nevertheless….” He goes back and forth specifically because of the biblical data which I think has a Day 1, 2, and 3, where it’s using “evening and morning” of course, but that needs to be interpreted according to the context.
Ham: Actually, if I can comment there, you know Augustine wrote a book called Retractions at the end of his life, and talking about the fact that he’s fallible and doesn’t know everything. And one of the books he commented on that he wasn’t sure what he believed about was Genesis. But you know, I don’t believe we should use Augustine there as an authority. But if we look at 18 centuries of biblical scholarship, and if you start talking about Calvin and Luther, as well, and Wesley, I mean these guys all believed in six literal days, and the universe and the earth in fact was only thousand of years old. In fact, they talk about 5,000 or 6,000 years old. And one of the things, you know, that I think we should look at here, we should look at, you know, what the context says, that’s what Dr. Kaiser said earlier, it’s got to be driven by context. …
Ankerberg: Alright, let me bring up the second one, let’s get to that context. “There was evening and there was morning,” Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, alright? Some folks claim that when you have “there was evening and there was morning” you’ve got a formula attached to the word day that means it’s got to be 24 hours. So, Kaiser, what do you say to that?
Kaiser: Well, again, I think it’s context. You can’t argue for an evening and a morning of a 24-hour day until you get a 24-hour day. The question is, do we trust God? Do we trust the Bible? Did He really make it on the fourth day? Or are we going to try to jump the gun and say, “No, no. He really used the word day here; and day as we use it commonly must always mean the same thing.” No one is a literalist completely in the sense that everything is literal. After all, Jesus said, or God said, “I’m a rock; I’m a fortress; I’m a high tower.” [Psa. 18:2] Jesus said, “I’m the door.” [John 10:7] He, at the Eucharist, with the communion, He said, “This is my body,” [1 Cor. 11:24] as He offered the bread to the individuals. I don’t know of a Christian who says, “Yes, that’s literally that.” And good for them, because it’s context that defines it. Same way “evening and morning” and “day.”
Ankerberg: What does “evening and morning” mean, then?
Kaiser: I think the completion of the first creative act of God and the inception of the next creative act of God. He is sort of lining them up so that one after the other are the works of God. It is by the word of God that He creates this: wayyomer elohim – “And God said;” “And God said;” “And God said.” Psalm 33:6, 9 – “By the word of the Lord.” So He spoke the word. And God doesn’t need 24 hours, doesn’t need 24 seconds, for Pete’s sake. He could do it in just a snap, like that.
Ankerberg: Ken?
Ham: Could I comment? You know, God reveals to us in the Scriptures His word. And there are certain rules of grammar and language in regard to Hebrew or Greek or whatever it is that we have to take. And if you apply those same rules as you do to Days 4, 5 and 6 to Day 1, 2 and 3, you have the word day for the days of creation qualified by “evening”, qualified by “morning”, qualified by number. And, you know, I’d like Dr. Kaiser to tell me where else in the Old Testament “evening and morning” doesn’t mean an ordinary day. I mean, if you take the rules of grammar, and you apply it to Genesis 1 as Brown-Driver-Briggs did, which is a respected lexicon, by the way, and Koehler and Baumgartner as well, they’re the examples of ordinary days. If you just take it as written, letting it speak to you, it’s very … I mean, what we should be looking at is this is God revealing to us what He did. He defines the word day on Day 1. That’s why it uses a cardinal number there – one day.
Ankerberg: Alright. Hugh and Jason, you haven’t gotten into the conversation. Hugh, you wanted to talk about this “evening and morning”?
Dr. Hugh Ross: Sure. Namely, that Genesis 1 is the only place in the Bible where you see “evening and morning” associated with the word yom, the word translated day. In fact, there’s only one other place in the Bible where you see “evening and morning” even together, and that’s Psalm 55:17, where King David says, “I will pray in the evening and the morning and noontime.” Again, the word day doesn’t show up there, so we have to look at the context in Genesis 1 to see how we’re going to interpret that evening and morning. There’s no basis for saying that there’s a rule of grammar that it must be 24 hours.
Ankerberg: Jason?
Dr. Jason Lisle: Well, you know, I would say that when you have “evening and morning” with day, you’ve got what’s called a syntagmatic relationship, which means if I said, “The house is large,” “house” and “large” are in a syntagmatic relationship. Each qualifies the other and helps us to understand the meaning of the passage. And so “evening and morning,” being ordinary words, ordinary markers of time, qualifies day to be an ordinary marker of time as well.
Ankerberg: Jason, why do you think that “evening and morning” is not used on the seventh day?
Lisle: Well, you know, it could be because the seventh day, I mean, is special. It’s God’s special day of rest. I mean, it was sort of a unique day. It was the Sabbath day, and God blessed it. It was a particularly holy day. So that could be one reason why the formula is a little different there.
Ankerberg: Walter, I love it. You’re the Hebrew teacher, and I can remember in class you saying, “You’ve got to stick with the text.” So he’s saying you’re not sticking with the text! So talk back to him here a little bit.
Kaiser: No, I have really loved that fourth day, and actually, I think that if we’re going to press the biblical text, we’ve got Day 4, Day 5, Day 6 that are possible candidates for 24-hours. But four out of the seven do not seem to have that qualification, because Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 are ahead of God’s creation, and Day [7]…
Ham: Can I interrupt you?
Kaiser: …is one that doesn’t seem to end.
Ham: I still don’t understand what Dr. Kaiser is trying to say here. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 before God’s creation? I mean, the word day, used in Genesis 1 for the first day, second day, third day, is used exactly the same way for the fourth day, fifth day, sixth day, with “evening and morning” and a number. You’ve got night added into Day 1. But, explain to me… You know, the formula is the same for the six days. Why… I’m not sure what you’re saying.
Ankerberg: Good question. What is it?
Kaiser: Let me come back to Ken and explain to you there are 508 references of yom, translated day, in the King James – I’m going to use the Authorized Version – and out of that, 58 different ways in which it is rendered. Not always “day.”
Ham: Well… That’s true.
Kaiser: So in the King James Bible it has all of these others, which means there has to be a choice made when we come to each individual text.
Ham: But context always drives that choice. I mean, the preponderant usage…
Kaiser: That’s what I’m saying: context.
Ham: The preponderant usage of day, though, is ordinary day, right? Its main meaning is day. Its primary meaning is ordinary day.
Kaiser: Our primary meaning. But you’ve got to take God’s primary meaning…
Ham: Well…
Kaiser: … and Moses, who wrote the biblical text…
Ham: Yes, and I mean, if you look at any Hebrew lexicon, will show you an ordinary day, or daylight portion of a day, and so on, is the preponderant usage of day.
Kaiser: No, I don’t think it does show that.
Ross: But there are different…
Kaiser: That’s the issue, that it doesn’t show. It doesn’t show that in every case it must be 24-hours.
Ham: No, I’m not saying, I’m certainly not saying in every case. I mean, the word day is used a number of different ways. For instance, in Genesis 2:4, as it is in 2:17, as it is in 1 Kings 2, it’s talking about “when,” as you know…
Kaiser: Exactly.
Ham: … because of be yom, it’s got that preposition there.
Kaiser: Yes. Right on.
Ham: But that qualifies it, right? And, I mean, you wrote about that in the Hard Sayings book…
Kaiser: Yes.
Ham: …concerning Genesis 2:17. But in Genesis 1, the day doesn’t have the preposition, for the first day, so it’s not be yom, as it is there in 2:4, but it has the same formula for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3. What do you mean the creation starts on Day 4? I don’t understand what you’re saying?
Kaiser: God took the greater light and the lesser light and made them in order to set aside years and seasons and times and days. “Day” starts on the fourth day. So you’ve got three of these whatchamacallits before you have one of the 24-hour ones.
Ham: Now let me ask you a question: I thought, when we start from Scripture, we should start from the text. Not a problem we’ve got with the sun or the moon or the stars, we start from the text. If you just take the day as written for Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, it’s the same as for Day 4. And you’ve got light on Day 1, you’re just not told where it came from. What is the problem?
Kaiser: The problem is that you’re starting with presupposition: I have a 24-hour day in mind; now I’m going to start with, since it uses the word day on 1, day on 2, day on 3, that all those are 24-hours. Ken, you can’t do that.
Ham: That’s not…. Do you know what my presupposition is? My presupposition is I’m going to go to the best Hebraists that I know of, like Dr. Steven Boyd from Masters College, who I talked to just this week, actually, out there in California. He says the word day, the word yom, and I mean, he’s a respected Hebrew scholar, the word day for each of the six days when it’s used with evening, morning and number like that, he said, of course, it means an ordinary day, and he said, “I agree with Kohler and Baumgartner. I agree with Brown-Driver-Briggs.”
Kaiser: Well, that’s all good and well, but when I went to university, we got scripts that had not yet been translated, and had not yet been deciphered. And we wrote the grammars, and we wrote lexicons, and dictionaries for them. And the rule always was, “Context decides meaning.”
Ham: Absolutely.
Kaiser: You have to have enough examples of context. And you don’t go backwards and say, “What does the lexicon mean?”, and then assign that. That’s using a kind of academic pope. Rather, what you do is you go to the text and you say, “Where does Scripture say that God made days, the kind we’re really interested in?” And we’re all agreeing that it was on the fourth day.
Ham: But haven’t the Hebraists done that, who wrote the lexicons? Isn’t that what I did? Look at the contextual usage and so on and come up with that? And by the way, why is it, you know, it’s interesting. When you even look at Gleason Archer, and you look at the late Dr. James Montgomery Boice, and you look at Pattle Pun from Wheaton College, even look at Bruce Waltke, all of those agree, and I’ve got the quotes here, that if you just take it, they say, you know, as written, straightforward way, or Gleason Archer says, you know he uses the word “superficial”, whatever, you just read it, it seems to say, in Hebrew, 24-hour days. But they all go on to say, “But, no,” because of billions of years. It’s interesting to say that I found out ever since the 18th century, what you find is a change in the commentaries where they started reinterpreting the days because of billions of years. So there’s something outside of Scripture here that’s really driving their interpretation.
Ross: That’s not really true, Ken.
Ham: Oh, yes, it is.
Ross: Here I’ve got, this is a review paper by Jack Lewis, a noted historian. And he makes a comment, “Our survey shows that Bible reader have never been of one mind concerning the nature and the length of the days of Genesis.”
Ham: Well, I’m just going to have to totally disagree and say, hey, come up with the documentation. I’ve got some documentation here.
Ross: Well, how about Isaac Newton? That’s 16th, 17th century…
Ham: Yes, but…
Ross: … and he clearly believed in long periods of time.
Ham: You know what,… Here’s the thing. You can’t just quote a little section. You’ve got to quote the whole thing. You’ve got to read it all through.
Ross: Well…
Ham: And it is musings. You know, it’s not authoritative. It is musings.
Ross: Yes, but it is a clear-cut example of someone in the 17th century who did interpret these days as long periods of time.
Ham: You know what, what about Calvin? What about Luther? What about Wesley? What about Leupold? What about Keil and Delitzsch? I mean, all the classic people that you think of, all 24-hour days. And the majority of the majority of the Church Fathers, in fact, most of them believed in thousands of years.
Ross: Well, we disagree on that, that’s why I quoted Jack Lewis. He’s a neutral party. He’s done the study. He’s a historian. And he says that they were never of one mind.
Ham: Well, there’s many a … Hey, all I can tell you is, we can look through the documentation. It’s one thing to say these things. You’ve got to have the documentation.
Ankerberg: Walter, I’ve one final question, and that is this. People like my mother out there that are listening are saying, okay, you quote a bunch of authorities over here that line up and say we vote for yom to be this. We have another group of authorities over here that line up and say yom is this. I really want to know what the Bible says. How are we going to figure this out?
Kaiser: Well, I would suggest that your mother take a statistical count, and say, “Look, I don’t know about Luther, Calvin. Many of them may be in heaven and changed their mind, so I’m not sure. But I know the Bible and I trust the Bible. And the evidence you’re trying to tell me, I at least get this one point: that the fourth day is when God made days.” We’re not going to back down from that. Everyone’s going to say that. Secondly, they’re going to say that there was no evening and morning on the seventh day. And that one sort of leaves that open, especially with Psalm 95, especially with Hebrews 4, arguing that that rest can’t be talking about the rest in the land of Joshua’s conquering the land, because if that had been, why would he talk about another day of rest, argues the writer of Hebrews. So, it seems to me it’s 4 to 3; 4 to 3 at best: 4 saying that we just can’t say what the length of that time is, but it doesn’t seem to be limited to 24 hours until God put His stamp on creation and said, “Let there be… and there was” for the first time, for the very first time. I can’t get that across enough to the biblical audience, that it was the first time that God made a day.
Ham: “Let there be light” was right there on Day 1. Let there be light.
Ankerberg: Alright. We’ve got to hold on to that one. We’re going to pick it up there next week, and we’re going to talk about this thing of the Sabbath, and why evening and morning doesn’t show up there, and also we’re going to talk about Exodus 20, where we have a comparison with a six-day work week. And we’re going to look at that, so please join us next week.

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