Justin Taylor, “Day” in Genesis 1-2, and Pre-Evolution Interpretation

In a recent post at The Gospel Coalition (also see this older post), Justin Taylor discusses “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.”

I’ve written about the creation debates before. And if you’ve talked to me in person about these matters, you’ve probably heard make something like the following comment:

One of the reasons (it would seem to be the main reason) interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 and the nature of God’s creative work have become so stinking controversial is the arrival of evolutionary theories. Since Darwin, proposing anything besides a 24-hour-day-view of the “days” in Genesis 1 immediately became way more controversial than it was prior to Darwin. This is due to the fact that anti-macroevolution Christians view Genesis 1-2 as a battle ground. If you walk there now, you’re going to step on a land mine even if you were not the originally intended target.

The unfortunate thing about this phenomenon is that it seems to disregard the fact that many non- and anti-macroevolution adhering Christians, past and present, have held to non-24-hour interpretations of Genesis 1-2 or not-necessarily-young-earth-creationism views. In other words, this tendency to controversy over these views seems to neglect the fact that interpreting Genesis 1-2 in a non-24-hour-period manner or in way that doesn’t necessitate young earth creationism does not necessitate adherence to evolution, nor does it imply that one’s views have been influenced by evolutionary thought. Case and point are all the theologically conservative Christians who held to such views pre-Darwin (see below).

Here’s my plea: If evolutionary theory is the view that’s controversial, let adherence to evolution be the controversial position. Don’t unrightly wrap up non-24-day interpreters and non-young-earth-creationist adherents with the controversy over evolution.

Therefore, whatever you think about Justin’s arguments surround Genesis’ use of “day,” listen what he shares about the history of interpretation on these matters:

“Contrary to what is often implied or claimed by young-earth creationists, the Bible nowhere directly teaches the age of the earth.

Rather, it is a deduction from a combination of beliefs, such as (1) Genesis 1:1 is not the actual act of creation but rather a summary of or title over Genesis 1:2-2:3; (2) the creation week ofGenesis 1:2-2:3 is referring to the act of creation itself; (3) each ‘day’ (Heb. yom) of the creation week is referring to an 24-hour period of time (reinforced by the statement in Exodus 20:11); (4) an old-earth geology would necessarily entail macroevolution, hominids, and animal death before the Fall—each of which contradicts what Scripture tells us; and (5) the approximate age of the earth can be reconstructed backward from the genealogical time-markers in Genesis.

These five points may all be true, but I think it’s helpful to understand that the question “how old is the earth?” is not something directly answered in Scripture but rather deduced from these and other points.

It is commonly suggested that this is such a ‘plain reading’ of Scripture—so obviously clear and true—that the only people who doubt it are those who have been influenced by Charles Darwin and his neo-Darwinian successors. The claim is often made that no one doubted this reading until after Darwin. (This just isn’t true—from ancient rabbis to Augustine to B. B. Warfield—but that’s another post for another time.)

So it may come as a surprise to some contemporary conservatives that some of the great stalwarts of the faith were not convinced of this interpretation.

  • Augustine, writing in the early fifth century, noted, ‘What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible, to determine’ (City of God 11.7).
  • J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), author of the 20th century’s best critique of theological liberalism, wrote, ‘It is certainly not necessary to think that the six days spoken of in that first chapter of the Bible are intended to be six days of twenty four hours each.’
  • Old Testament scholar Edward J. Young (1907-1968), an eloquent defender of inerrancy, said that regarding  the length of the creation days, ‘That is a question which is difficult to answer. Indications are not lacking that they may have been longer than the days we now know, but the Scripture itself does not speak as clearly as one might like.’
  • Theologian Carl F. H. Henry (1913-2003), one of the most important theologians in the second half of the twentieth century and a defender of Scriptural clarity and authority, argued that ‘Faith in an inerrant Bible does not rest on the recency or antiquity of the earth. . . . The Bible does not require belief in six literal 24-hour creation days on the basis of Genesis 1-2. . . . it is gratuitous to insist that twenty-four hour days are involved or intended.’
  • Old Testament scholar and Hebrew linguist Gleason Archer (1916-2004), a strong advocate for inerrancy, wrote ‘On the basis of internal evidence, it is this writer’s conviction that yôm in Genesis could not have been intended by the Hebrew author to mean a literal twenty-four hour day.’[1]

Later he states,

“This is what the great Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) believed: ‘The creation days are the workdays of God. By a labor, resumed and renewed six times, he prepared the whole earth.’

This is also what the Presbyterian theologian W.G.T. Shedd (1820-1894) advocated:

‘The seven days of the human week are copies of the seven days of the divine week. The ‘sun-divided days’ are images of the ‘God-divided days. …’

Augustine (the most influential theologian in the Western Church) believed something similar, as did Franz Delitzsch (perhaps the great Christian Hebraist). It was the most common view among the late 19th century and early 20th century conservative Dutch theologians.”[2]

And in a previous article he lists some of the following points:

“(1) Before the Westminster Assembly there were a variety of interpretations of Genesis 1 and its days. If the text of Genesis is so clear-cut why did the church down the centuries not see it that way? Does that not say something not only about the interpreters but also the text? Claims that a literal reading of the days of Genesis 1 is obvious fall down when the history of interpretation is taken into consideration.

(2) We will be wise to heed the warnings Augustine and Calvin give on the difficulty of interpreting this chapter, and so beware of dogmatic claims they themselves did not advance. Jerome pointed to the Jewish rabbis’ refusal to let anyone under thirty interpret it. …

(4) The Reformed tradition of the sixteenth century interpreted creation theologically. … The question of the days of creation was not even a matter of discussion. It does not appear in theses for debate by students. Its absence is striking. It was never a matter of confessional significance.”

Notes

[1] http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2015/01/28/biblical-reasons-to-doubt-the-creation-days-were-24-hour-periods/

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2011/02/14/how-did-the-church-interpret-the-days-of-creation-before-darwin/

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