Were the Creation Days Literal Days?

PMT 2013-017b by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Below is an article arguing for the literal nature of the creation days.

I am a six-day creationist. I hold to six-day creation because I have a high view of the integrity of Scripture. Yet many Christians deny that Scripture actually teaches that the creation days were literal, twenty-four hour days.

Nevertheless, I believe that any attempt to deny a process of creation involving a series of successive divine fiats stretching out over a period limited to six literal days is manifestly contrary to the plain, historical sense of Scripture. This may be demonstrated from a variety of angles. The Hebrew word yom (“day”) in the Genesis 1 account of creation should be understood in a normal sense of a 24- hour period, for the following reasons:

(1) Argument from primary meaning.

The preponderate usage of the word yom (“day”) in the Old Testament is of a normal day as experienced regularly by man (though it may be limited to the hours of light, as per common understanding). The word occurs 1704 times in the Old Testament, the overwhelming majority of which have to do with the normal cycle of daily earth time. Preponderate usage of a term should be maintained in exegetical analysis unless contextual forces compel otherwise. This is particularly so in historical narrative.

R. L. Dabney points out that: “The narrative seems historical, and not symbolical; and hence the strong initial presumption is, that all its parts are to be taken in their obvious sense…. It is freely admitted that the word day is often used in the Greek Scriptures aswell as the Hebrew (as in our common speech) for an epoch, a season, a time. But yet, this use is confessedly derivative. The natural day is its literal and primary meaning. Now, it is apprehended that in construing any document, while we are ready to adopt, at the demand of the context, the derived or tropical meaning, we revert to the primary one, when no such demand exists in the context.” (Lectures in Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1878, rep. 1972, 254-5).

For a handy booklet summarizing these arguments, see my website:
“Six Day Creation”

(2) Argument from explicit qualification

. Moses carefully qualifies each of the six creative days with the phraseology: “evening and morning.” The qualification is a deliberate defining of the concept of day. Outside of Genesis 1 the words “evening” and “morning” occur together in thirty-seven verses. In each instance it speaks of a normal day.

Examples from Moses include:

  • Exodus 18:13: And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening.
  • Exodus 27:21: In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD.

R. L. Dabney argues that this evidence alone should compel adoption of a literal day view: “The sacred writer seems to shut us up to the literal interpretation, by describing the day as composed of its  natural parts, ‘morning and evening.’… It is hard to see what a writer can mean, by naming evening and morning as making a first, or a second ‘day’; except that he meant us to understand that time which includes just one of each of these successive epochs: — one beginning of night, and one beginning of day. These gentlemen cannot construe the expression at all. The plain reader has no trouble with it. When we have had one evening and one morning, we know we have just one civic day; for the intervening hours have made just that time” (Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 255).

(3) Argument from ordinal prefix

In the 119 cases in Moses’s writings where the Hebrew word yom stands in conjunction with a numerical adjective (first, second, third, etc.), it never means anything other than a literal day. The same is true of the 357 instances outsideof the Pentateuch, where numerical adjectives occur.

Examples include:

  • Leviticus 12:3: And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
  • Exodus 12:15: Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.

Exodus 24:16: Now the glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.

The Genesis 1 account of creation consistently applies the ordinal prefix to the day descriptions, along with “evening and morning” qualifiers (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).

(4) Argument from coherent usage

The word yom is used of the creative days of four, five, and six, which occur after the creation of the sun, which was expressly designated to “rule” the day/night pattern (Gen. 1:14). The identical word (yom) and phraseology (“evening and morning,” numerical adjectives) associated with days four through six are employed of days one through three, which compel us to understand those days as normal earth days.

I will continue this study in my next blog article. In just two literal days. That is quicker than God’s creating the universe!

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5 thoughts on “Were the Creation Days Literal Days?

  1. Dominic October 23, 2013 at 9:39 am

    I wonder if you might consider Alexander Pruss, a Christian philosopher, rather interesting attempt to have both his cake and eat it, that is, through the use of a Just-So Story, he argues that we can both believe that Genesis 1-3 can be taken as literally as might please any six day creationist and still believe that mankind and the universe in its present state was evolved from animals and emerged from the big bang respectively.

    The essence of his “Just-So Story” postulates that evolution and the big bang occurred “postlapsarian”. To quote a segment of his original article,

    The story is simple. First, everything happens exactly as it is described in Genesis 1-3 interpreted literalistically. Everything, including a light-studded dome (“firmament”), with waters above and below, creation in six days, vegetation without any sun or moon. Eve is literally taken from Adam\’s side, and so on. (If we’re going literalistic, let’s go all out!) Then Adam and Eve sin, exactly as described in Genesis 3. All this happens in a universe–Paradise–where all of this is possible by the laws of nature.

    God then kicks them out of Paradise. In the process, he destroys their bodies (i.e., he stops sustaining their existence) and puts their souls in stasis. But in Paradise, there was a law of nature that when the forbidden fruit is eaten, a Big Bang will occur (this could also be a miracle), initiating a 14 billion year process leading to some pretty clever apes in a universe better suited to sinners like Adam and Eve. God then takes the matter of two of these clever apes (if animals have souls, he de-souls them first, or perhaps he simply miraculously ensures that these two never get souls) and instills Adam and Eve’s souls in this matter.

    And so all the science as to what has happened in the material universe since the Big Bang is right. (Of course, science doesn’t talk about souls.)”

    You can read the rest here.

    In a sense, this maybe sort of cheating, but I thought it was an intriguing possibility.

    I have made some attempts here to clean up Pruss\’s account, tighten the tale a little, add more detail to it, and place it within a broader theological context here by interpreting the postlapasarian big bang and evolution of mankind the processes and means by which God radically alters the universe and curses mankind and creation into its “fallen” corrupt state, I do hope that you might consider it.

  2. Kenneth Gentry October 23, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Actually I see this as the ultimate no-no. Genesis 1-2 make it extremely clear that man did not evolve from lower life forms but was directly and immediately created by God. Pruss’ interpretive approach preserves the six day process, but for the wrong reasons. I would rather allow that creation occurred in the space of six days ago, several million years ago than to hold Pruss’ approach. Though I do not, for I hold to a recent creation.

  3. Dominic October 25, 2013 at 1:55 am

    I don’t actually see how Pruss’ account denies that man was created directly and immediately by God. Pruss does affirm the creation account literally from Genesis 1-3. He merely postulates that man, in some sense, dies after the Fall in Genesis 3, and their souls were implanted into an fallen evolved mankind which no doubts would resemble the prelapsarian mankind in significant ways, but yet still diverge in ways more situated to their postlapsarian state.

  4. Kenneth Gentry October 25, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    “Merely postulates”? He does so without any exegetical warrant. And in the process he undermines the historical meaning of the Genesis account as tracing the origins of man — by adding something that is not there and is never mentioned in Scripture.

  5. Elma Lahr February 28, 2014 at 3:44 pm

    My brother recommended that I might like this blog. He is totally right. Your articles really made my day. Thank you! And keep up the good work!

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