Please note that this is a thoroughly updated essay of an earlier essay which I posted just after this site was started. Nevertheless, this essay is sufficiently different to warrant reposting.
The Reconquista Initiative
Harmonizing Genesis, Literally
For many years, Christians in the West have argued over the days of creation as found in the Genesis text. In opposition to the scientific claim that the world is vastly old, with an existence numbering into the billions of years, so-called Young Earth Creationists generally hold to the idea that the Earth was actually created in six literal days and is only a few thousand years old; not only do they hold to this view, but they argue against other Christians who do not. Indeed, vast quantities of time and effort have been expended in pursuit of this issue. And to many Christians, this issue is vitally important, which is why it deserves our attention. But given the friction that this matter has caused among different Christian groups, it is an issue which not only deserves our attention, but it also deserves a solution which can be reasonably accepted by all the different parties in this dispute. And that is precisely what this work aims to do. Indeed, this brief essay endeavors to take on a herculean task: in essence, it seeks to show, in a way that is both scripturally faithful and plausible, that a ‘six-day’ view of the creation in Genesis can be completely, directly, and literally harmonized with a creation that also took billions of human years to occur. In doing this, this article hopes to lay to rest the constant debate over the creation-days in Genesis.
Now, in order to understand the solution to this problem, the first critical thing to note is that in Genesis 1:1, scripture makes it clear that the Spirit of God came down to the Earth and was hovering or moving over the waters of the Earth. Furthermore, note as well that this Earth-bound but Godly perspective is introduced to the reader of Genesis before any of the creation days are even mentioned. Thus, it is quite reasonable to accept that the perspective of the Genesis text from the start is not only God’s perspective, but specifically the perspective of God very close to the waters of the Earth and hovering right over them. Additionally, in the text itself, there is no other individual mentioned there except for God, thereby providing yet another reason to believe that the Genesis text is looking at creation from the perspective of God who is hovering over the waters of the Earth. And also note that this ‘God’ perspective carries on throughout the rest of the Genesis 1 text. So this is the first point to realize.
Second, it is vital to understand that in the Genesis text specifically, the days of creation are not counted by hours or minutes or by any other human time calculation; rather, a literal and direct reading of the Genesis text shows that a day is only counted as a completed day by the fact that there was the day, then the evening, and then the morning. Thus, in the Genesis text, when read literally, the days are only “days” once there has been a cycle of day, evening, and then morning; the days are not counted by some human time calculation of 24-hours, but rather they are counted by the cyclical occurrence of day, then night, then day again. This cannot be stressed enough: the text of Genesis 1, when read literally, shows that the days of Genesis are counted through the physical transition of day-to-night-to-morning, not through human time references.
So, with all this in mind, the way to harmonize the idea of six literal days of creation, as the Genesis text describes it, with the scientific evidence that the Earth is billions of years old, is both simple and clear. Remembering that the Genesis narrative, when it locates God, locates Him specifically as moving over the Earth and therefore in direct and close proximity to it, and also remembering that the Genesis narrative is from God’s perspective, then the solution to the Genesis problem becomes the following: during creation, God simply remained moving in what was essentially “daytime” even while millions of human years passed by, and God only allowed Himself to complete the day-to-night transition cycle when He wished to do so. In this way, there would be only one literal Genesis day occurring to God, even though, in human time, millions or billions of years might have actually passed. Indeed, the fact that God, as He moved over the Earthly waters, could remain in the daylight phase for as long as He desired to do so is obvious, for He is God, and thus there is no difficulty in accepting that this is a logical possibly; furthermore, this idea is also reasonable from a scriptural perspective given that, as stated, scripture itself describes God as hovering or moving over the very surface of the Earth right at the very start of the creation account. And this is precisely the type of verse that would be needed to make the aforementioned solution both scripturally sensible and faithful, so it is very interesting that this is indeed exactly the type of verse that is found in the Genesis creation account.
Now, as an analogy to this proposed solution, note that the explanation in question mirrors the way in which even a human person can exist in just one “day” even though weeks might pass him by. After all, consider the following example: if a person lived in certain extreme northern places on the planet where the sun never rises or sets for weeks at a time, then even though weeks might pass in actual measured human time, it would still be true to say that that person only experienced one “day” if a day was being counted as a day-to-night transition rather than as a period of hours. And indeed, certain people do live in a situation where the day-to-night transition does not happen for a few weeks, and so to these people, one of their day-to-night cycles lasts weeks rather than just lasting 24 hours. So even we human beings, in our own lives, can see how one day, if defined as a day-to-night cycle, could remain as just one day even though much more than 24 hours might pass by in just that one “day”. And to extend the analogy even further, note that if a person, say, wrote a book during the weeks-long time when the sun never set, then it would be coherent and logical to say that the person created a novel in just one day, if a day was being counted as a day-to-night transition, while at the same time saying that it took that person weeks in measured human time to write his novel. Indeed, there would be no contradiction in taking both of these claims to be true.
Furthermore, and in addition to the above analogy, also note that a thought-experiment can help make it clear how the proposed solution to the Genesis day issue would work. So, for example, consider that if a person was in a hyper-fast plane that was as fast as the rotation of the Earth, and if, for the sake of argument, that plane was self-sustaining in terms of its fuel and food, then a person inside the plane could literally stay on the day-time side of the Earth for his entire life, thus living eighty-to-ninety years of human time in just one “day”, so long as that day was defined as a day-to-night transition. In fact, it can even be imagined that if the person had life-enhancing technology, and if the person could live to be a million years old, then such a person could literally have a million years of human time pass-by in just one day. At the same time, whatever the person had created in the plane over the course of a million years—perhaps beautiful paintings and music—could also be considered to have been created in just one day, so long as, once again, a “day” in that case was being measured as a day-to-night transition. And so, just as it is in this thought-experiment, so to could God have created things in just one “day” even though billions of years might have passed at the same time as the one “day” did.
Additionally, and as further support for the above solution, note that 2 Peter 3:8 advises that to God, a day is as a thousand years and, more importantly, a thousand years is also as one day. And while a number of meanings could be drawn from this scriptural passage, it is clear that the ‘thousand years’ is meant more to give the impression of a long period of time than an exact thousand years, and so the point is that this verse lends support to the aforementioned solution to the Genesis problem, for this verse shows that a day to God could be a seen as a very long time to us, and that a very long time to us could be but one day to God, which is precisely what the solution above is claiming.
Another benefit to this particular solution is that it can help resolve some other scriptural difficulties that arise in the creation account. For instance, in Genesis 2:2-3, scripture alludes to the fact that God rested on the seventh day of creation, and yet since there is no day-to-night transition listed for the seventh day, the most literal interpretation of this passage is that the seventh day is still with us and that God is still in the seventh day, for the change to night and then a new day is not mentioned there like it is for the first six days of creation. But if a day is a 24-hour period of time, then this would not be possible, as even the most ardent Young-Earth Creationist admits that centuries have passed since this last day of creation. Yet with the solution proposed in this work, no problem arises, for reconciling that passage of scripture is as simple as understanding that the Spirit of God from Genesis 1:2 is still in the “day” phase of the seventh day, but the rest of his creation—like human beings, who obviously cannot remain in the day phase indefinitely like God can—has experienced the passage of thousands of days since that time. Consequently, it can be seen that the acceptance of the aforementioned solution to the Genesis days problem also helps deal with the issue of the current day-phase of the seventh day of creation. Next, note that certain tensions between Genesis 2:4, which alludes to the fact that creation was completed in just one day, and Genesis 1 can also be resolved through the use of this proposed solution and an understanding of the Trinity. After all, given the Trinity, and given the solution presented, it would be possible for one person of the Trinity, namely the Holy Spirit, to do His work of creation in six Genesis days, whereas another person of the Trinity could complete His work of creation in one Genesis day. Indeed, since, as repeatedly stated, the Genesis days are measured by the observer’s experience of a day-to-night transition, then, both logically and scripturally, it would be possible for one person of the Trinity to create in what to Him is one day whereas the same creation process could take six days for another member of the Trinity. And so again, the proposed solution can not only plausibly and scripturally harmonize six Genesis days with billions of human years, but it can also resolve other tensions in the creation account.
Now, in terms of objections against it, note that the proposed solution is quite robust. For example, this solution to the Genesis problem can easily absorb the fact that the Hebrew word for ‘day’, namely ‘yom’, often means a period of light and/or darkness, such as is experienced by us during one day. Indeed, since this solution agrees that each creation day was only one period of light and darkness—but one period of light and darkness from God’s perspective, which could have been billions of years to human beings—then this solution is easily able to accept the claim that ‘yom’, in the case of Genesis, is best defined as just one period of light and darkness. And so the word ‘yom’ can be accepted in its most conventional understanding, and yet this solution still works just fine even in that case. Furthermore, the section of scripture in Exodus 20:8-11, which speaks of the days of creation as being literal days, is also easily accommodated by the solution proposed here so long as the ‘day’ in those scriptural verses are properly understood: namely, as one day-to-night transition. Indeed, when understood in this way, Exodus 20:8-11 offers no problem to this solution, for observe how those passages adapt once the word “day” is understood as the aforementioned transition:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six [day-to-night-to-morning transitions] you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh [day-to-night-to-morning transition] is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. … For in six [day-to-night-to-morning transitions] the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh [day-to-night-to-morning transition]. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, ESV)
So, when understood in this way, Exodus 20:8-11 can be taken literally, and yet there is no tension between this passage and the days being a long period of time because both are still literally true. God did take six day-to-night transitions to complete creation, but those day-to-night transitions took billions of years to complete; however, since, in Exodus 20:8-11, God is speaking to a people who have no technological means of having one day-to-night transition last longer than a normal 24-hour period, and since these people do not live anywhere where the sun remains up for days or weeks at a time, then of course it would be the case that in such a situation, the six day-to-night transitions that God experienced would match six 24-hour days in actual human time for the human beings that Exodus 20:8-11 is being written for. Consequently, when understood in this way—which, as we have seen, is the proper way to understand a Genesis day—then the fact that the passage in Exodus seems to equate six human days with the six creation days used by God is not a problem at all for the old Earth view so long as the “day” is properly understood as a day-to-night-to-morning transition, which is how it literally appears in the Genesis text.
Thus we see that when the Genesis “days” are understood as they are literally described in the Genesis text, which means as the completion of an observer-relative day-to-evening-to-morning cycle, and when we understand that, in Genesis, the observer in question is a God who would not have to transition through a single one of those cycles for billions of human years if He did not wish to do so, then we can understand that it is actually easy and scripturally reasonable to harmonize six literal God-perspective Genesis creation days with billions of human years.
Finally, it is worth mentioning why God would use billions of years to create the universe and the Earth. Very briefly, Romans 1:20 tells us that God’s nature is seen and understood through His creation. But part of God’s nature is His eternality or His everlastingness. Now, a universe that was created billions of years ago—an age almost incomprehensible to us—points to an eternal or everlasting creator much more clearly, and much better, than a universe which was only created a few thousand years ago does. After all, consider that it is possible to conceive of some super alien-like entity being able to create a universe like ours that is only a few thousands of years old, but a universe that is billions of years old makes it much easier to picture only an eternal or everlasting God as being the sole possible creator of such a universe. Indeed, for given that human experience teaches us that material things only live a few hundred years at most, then if humans looked at a created cosmos which was billions of years in the making, with a creator who existed for those billions of years, then it becomes readily apparent that the only reasonable belief to have concerning that creator is that he is what all people call “God.” And so, the reason God would use billions of years to create is because doing so reflects His nature better, and it also helps to ensure that no one mistakes the true Creator for some merely advanced human-like creator, for only a thing which all people take to be God could have created the cosmos over the course of billions and billions of years.
And so, in the end, not only can we see that the Genesis text can be literally harmonized with billions of years of Earthly existence, but we can also see that there is a reason why God would use billions of years to achieve His ends. And while the solution presented here will obviously not suit everyone, and while this solution does not resolve every concern with the Genesis text, the fact is that this particular approach to the Genesis day problem is indeed a way to plausibly, faithfully, and reasonably reconcile the Genesis text with the scientific claims about the age of the Earth. And achieving even this is no small thing.
Author’s Note: Please be aware that the solution to the Genesis problem presented in this article is, to the best of the author’s knowledge, unique; but if it is not, then that is the author’s error and all credit goes to those who saw this solution first.
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Anno Domini 2017 02 16
Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam