LENGTH OF DAYS IN GENESIS - Rev. Dr. Rowland S. Ward

Last Updated: February 11, 2013


On 22 February 2001 I was advised of the questioning in the Can/Ref and URC churches surrounding the Framework Interpretation, and in particular, its compatibility with the Three Forms of Unity. I was requested to “kindly provide such a paper demonstrating that Dr. Meredith Kline's teaching re. the Framework Interpretation clearly does not take one outside of the boundaries set by our Reformed Confessions, so that I may also include it in Spindleworks.com.”  My attention was drawn to the existing articles from Frank Walker (2), Mark Zylstra and Dr. C. VanDam on the SpindleWorks site. I’m glad to do my best in responding to this request.

Let me introduce myself. After 10 years in the general insurance business I trained for the ministry at the Free Church of Scotland College in Edinburgh graduating in 1975. I hold BA and BTh (Hons) degrees from the University of South Africa. My ThD from the Australian College of Theology in 1994 is on Australian Presbyterianism 1822-1901 with special references to the church’s attitude to its creed. I have published modern English texts of the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and a commentary on the Confession. An address on the Confession in 1993 at the ICRC is at <http://spindleworks.com/library/wcf/ward.htm> I’ve thought about the issues in Genesis for 30 years or more and offered my comments when I published Foundations In Genesis: Genesis 1-11 Today (New Melbourne Press, 1999, 208pp). [By the way, it’s US $15 airmailed from myself at 358 Mountain Hwy., Wantirna 3152 Victoria, Australia.]

I would like to stress that my interests are biblical, historical and theological. I’m quite prepared to live with unpopular viewpoints - I do serve as an ordinary pastor, in a strict subscription, acapella psalmody denomination to which I switched as a young man from a mainline Presbyterian body. If the Bible clearly teaches 6/24 then I’ll gladly accept it.  But does it? And if it doesn’t, is there anything in the Framework Interpretation that takes us beyond our Reformed Confessions?

I have made my paper relatively non-technical and have divided it into two parts. The first is largely historical and the second biblical and theological. I hope it will help in understanding the issues and resolving any needless misunderstandings or division.


1.1 Scripture & Nature - an historical survey

The point to remember here is that we are always in danger of being reactive. Polarized positions arising from controversy can become an interpretative grid through which we read Scripture, rather than listening carefully to it. And all of us have biases and often unconscious presuppositions which affect our reading of Scripture.

1.2 What is the literal meaning of a text?

I think Frank Walker’s two papers and that of Mark Zylstra show too much of a tendency to appeal to Calvin and other orthodox writers for an alleged “natural” “obvious” or “literal” reading without realizing that these terms do not refer to an objective principle that resolves all difficulties.

1.3 The  creation days in history

Here I provide an outline with emphasis on the last 450 years. I aim to show that a simplistic approach as if the ordinary day view is uniform is not warranted. And I note the basic features of the most prominent alternative views.

1.4 Concluding comment



2.1 Intent

In which I provide some orientation to the setting of the creation narrative. It is part of a prologue to God’s covenant dealings with Israel. It was not designed to necessarily answer the questions we think are important.

2.2 What kind of writing?

In which I offer some basic thoughts on the kind of writing we find in Genesis.

2.3 The creation days and time and sequence

In which I highlight from the text ten points about the days, emphasize that God created in six days, but suggest that the 6/24 view is not tenable.

2.4 The Framework Interpretation

Here I point out that the FI does not depend on a special exegesis of Genesis 2:4ff, and I offer some responses to criticism of FI.

2.5 Genesis 2:4ff and what it means

In which I try and explain in simple terms what Genesis 2 is about, and why what seems perhaps an unbalanced emphasis on some things (like the river system of Eden) is very much to the point in the original context.

2.6 Conclusion

A brief conclusion including references to the Reformed Confessions and a suggestion that further attention to the relation of creation and providence could be helpful.



Return1.1 Scripture and Nature - an historical survey

In early Christian thought Jerusalem had nothing to do with Athens. By this was meant that the knowledge philosophers gained by their own thinking was not to be compared with the understanding given in the Christian revelation. To Christians the world of nature was created by God but was designed to serve spiritual interests.

Using more of Greek thought than they realized, the Christian thinkers of the second and third centuries argued that nature’s real value was to point beyond itself to spiritual realities. They saw the world as ‘a school for souls.’ Just as they tended to interpret Scripture in a way that moved beyond the sense intended by the author’s words to mystical and allegorical meanings, so the interpretation of nature moved beyond the literal level to be preoccupied with the spiritual. If difficult Scripture texts could be spiritualized into useful meanings in this way, so could the existence of living things that seemed of no worth, such as mosquitoes or bedbugs. Nature too was to serve redemption. This kind of approach was typical of Christian thought in Western Europe for many centuries. [1]

But as life improved with the revival of trade, the growth of towns, and the rebirth of learning, including the founding of the first universities in the 11th century, there was a new appreciation of the physical world, and of the importance of the incarnation. Physicality was now in vogue. The idea that the real meaning of the physical was as an allegory of the spiritual, that wild beasts provide allegories of human passions and such like, began to be given up. It is no coincidence that the dogma of transubstantiation was decreed in AD 1215.

The rediscovery of nature that is associated with what we call the Renaissance (the rebirth of learning) was at first largely a matter of appeal to Scripture and to approved authorities who represented the pre-Christian learning. These included the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC), who had based his work on human reason.  Such authorities were extremely powerful and it was Galileo’s tactless criticism of Aristotle as much as his apparent conflict with Scripture that caused him trouble with the Roman Church in 1616.

The questioning of traditional texts led to the provision of more accurate editions and then to experimental work in anatomy, botany and chemistry right through to zoology. Voyages of discovery enlarged understanding of geography. New plants and animals were classified.

Christianity itself experienced a mighty reformation as the original meaning and intent of Scripture was rediscovered and allegorical methods rejected except where the evident intention. Scripture and not churchly tradition took the place of honour again, and the Scriptures were translated into the common language from the ancient Hebrew and Greek texts.

Rome had real problems because of the way she had taken on board Aristotelian ideas. Jerusalem had come to have a great deal to do with Athens. The synthesis of Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) is a still influential example. Protestants, with a renewed sense of history, had no such blind faith in human authorities. Their interest in the intended meaning of the Biblical text went hand in hand with a renewed interest in the world of nature on its own terms, and stimulated the advance of scientific thought in the various disciplines.

This does not mean that the sins of science must be laid at the Protestant door, any more than Calvinism is to be blamed for capitalism. However, the big shift in approach to nature coincided with and was related to a shift in the attitude to the text of Scripture.

Consistent Calvinism did not accept the autonomy of human thought (Aristotle) nor a nature-grace dualism (Aquinas). Rather, its aim was to integrate all knowledge for the glory of God. Intention is one thing, execution another. Christianity and the sciences were friends, yet many great scientists, including the greatest (Isaac Newton), were tainted by rationalism, with defective views on the Trinity and other subjects. However, it is with the Principia of Newton, published 1687, that the modern age may be said to begin. It is an age in which the competing claims of reason and revelation have sought to find a stable place in right relationship.

Thomas Sprat wrote in his History of the Royal Society (London 1667):

 ‘….the Church of England will not only be safe amidst the consequences of a Rational Age, but amidst all the improvements of Knowledge, and the subversion of old Opinions about Nature, and introduction of new ways of Reasoning thereon. This will be evident, when we behold the agreement that is between the present design of the Royal Society, and that of our Church in its beginning. They both may lay equal claim to the word Reformation, the one having compassed it in Religion, the other having purposed it in Philosophy. They both have taken a like course to bring this about; each of them passing by the corrupt Copies, and referring themselves to the perfect Originals for their instruction; the one to the Scripture, the other to the large volume of the Creatures.’

In fact life has not been so easy as Sprat might have led men to expect. First there were the practical problems of agreement between Scripture and the observations of nature. Then there was the problem of the pre-suppositional framework of those involved.

But take the first point. How did Scripture relate to the world of nature? Of course a measure of accommodation of Scripture language to human capacity was always recognized by the best interpreters from Augustine through Aquinas to Calvin. The Reformation emphasis on Scripture as being for the common person reinforced this belief. Still, in the 16th and 17th centuries the tendency was to regard the surface meaning of Scripture references to the world of nature as the intended meaning. In short, observational descriptions of nature in what we would call a pre-scientific context were generally taken as strict descriptions of reality.

The Genevan Calvinist Lambert Daneau, wrote a book in which he attempted to establish natural science solely from Scripture (The Wonderful Workmanship of the World, London 1578).  But the more general view was that Scripture and nature could help each other. Both were books of God.

But what about those points, other than the supernatural, at which Scripture seemed to contradict the book of nature? When a friendly Cardinal Baronius stated to Galileo that the Bible was intended ‘to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go’, he spoke truth. Still, the Church, both Roman and Protestant, took a long time to accept that the earth moved around the sun. Nor has she always had an easy time in other areas of natural science.

Take the Flood. [By the way, in my view the issues involved in a geographically universal flood some 4,500 years ago are far more significant that the questions raised about the days of Genesis - but that’s another story. Here I’m trying to show changing viewpoints, and how a person’s knowledge of physical reality, or lack of it, influences his understanding.] Different opinions on the Flood’s extent existed from early times. Josephus [2] (c AD 60) seems to suppose it was not universal even as to all humans (Antiquities of the Jews 1:4:1), and there is other opinion of Jewish sages to the same effect. However, the mainstream opinion among Christians seems to have been that it was geographically universal. They regarded the surface meaning as the intended meaning. There was no significant physical reason to doubt it given the lack of knowledge of the working of the world.

The role of fossils in the discussion was not central since not everyone regarded them as the remains of once-living things. The great Aristotle had the theory that they were formed by some kind of precipitation from mineral formation. Avicenna, the influential 11th century Islamic scholar, supposed a mysterious action, including by the heavenly bodies, on seeds of plants and other creatures trapped in cracks in rocks so that the growth imitated living things.

Of course the discovery of the New World raised questions about the Flood’s extent. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) held that it could not have been universal because there would be nowhere for the water to go. In any case, said he, the fossils were no proof since why were they buried in the rocks instead of lying on the surface? Calvinist thinkers like Conrad Gesner (1516-65) and Bernard Palissy (1510-90) also doubted, or in Palissy’s case, rejected the Flood origin of fossils. On the other hand, Sir Walter Raleigh’s modestly titled The History of the World in Five Books (London 1614) argued for a global but calm Flood.

Thomas Burnet (1635-1715) issued a book in 1681 with the rather less modest title, The Theory of the Earth Containing an Account of the Original of the Earth, and all the General Changes Which it Hath Already Undergone, or Is to Undergo Till the Consummation of All Things. It propounded a theory of ‘flood geology’ that stimulated debate and on-site research that ultimately undermined Burnet’s speculative theorizing.

There was no way the fossils could have been laid down by a global Flood about 2,400 BC in the ordered way we find them, researchers claimed. Instead of a churned up mass of all kinds of creatures higgledy piggledy, throughout the world we find layers with single celled creatures in some, invertebrates in another, with fish, dinosaurs and large mammals in others. This rather neat sorting could hardly be explained by a year-long global flood. Moreover, modern kinds are found together and there are few human fossils, suggesting that humans appeared last on the scene after a lengthy period had elapsed.

How then did this conclusion relate to Scripture? Only if the days of Genesis were taken as ordinary days in which creation was accomplished was there any conflict, was the response. The Flood itself may have been total as regards humans; or it may have been extensive but local to provide an illustration of sin’s ultimate judgment, and of God’s salvation through a righteous man, Noah. Presbyterians of the 19th century saw no great problem of adjustment. [Macro-evolution was a different and distinct question.]

Flood geology lost dominance by the 1760s and died a natural death by the 1850s, except among Seventh-day Adventists. In 1961 it was revived in the conservative religious community by the publication of Whitcomb and Morris’s book The Genesis Flood. In its distinctive feature (recent creation in six 24 hour days) it is not quite a simple reversion to the views of a pre-scientific age.  As ‘creation science’ its exposition of Scripture seems to owe more to the scientific age than many realize. [3]

Rome came to insist that the surface meaning of ‘this is my body’ was the necessary meaning which preserved Christ’s intention, but Protestants denied this for good reason. In ‘scientific creationism’ do we perhaps have a genuine concern to safeguard the dogma of creation by an overreaction against secularism that makes a doubtful/wrong interpretation part of the dogma? Can the surface and intended meanings of ‘day’ be equated? That’s the question.

Return1.2 What is the literal meaning of a text?

The literal meaning is commonly taken today as the surface meaning: the ordinary sense of the words is to be understood unless an obvious contradiction or absurdity results. But we Reformed have always insisted that the nature of God’s covenant administration must be considered. The prophets promise not a literal restoration of Israel but a restoration that transcends the old kingdom and brings about the conditions that deal with the inadequacies in the old. The old was after all only a foreshadowing of that to come. The premillennialist argues otherwise, pleading the plain meaning of the words. We are not rattled but resist such an approach to interpretation. The broad principles of Scripture disclose a different intention than the premillennialist claims.

In the 16th century the complex multi-layered meaning given Scripture by the medieval church was rejected for the literal sense. Approaches varied a bit. Luther is far more given to a literalistic exegesis than Calvin. For example, in his 1535 Lectures on Genesis Luther follows many in teaching that the serpent in the Garden was once a most beautiful creature that walked erect (at 3:14). The more careful Calvin thought that God merely assigned the snake its original condition from which Satan has sought to raise it. Does this difference really matter enough for us to divide the church? Neither man was motivated by other than an endeavour to be loyal to the intent of Scripture. As a first generation Reformer. Luther was probably more reactive to the mystical and allegorical exegesis that had made Scripture like ‘a nose of wax’, and wrote accordingly. But no one got uptight over it.

After the magisterial reformers the main theological interest was systematic theology rather than a truly biblical theology with emphasis on the historical unfolding of redemption. In the 18th century things were hardly dynamic but often reflected the tendencies in the wider world of thought - and they exalted human reason. So you have a kind of analytical approach that could lead to rationalism, as in liberalism, or to a developed literalistic exegesis as in the early 19th century Brethren movement.

Take the godly Dutch Reformed minister Wilhelm à Brakel (1635-1711). In 1700 he writes, “Whatever God declares, also concerning things in the realm of nature, is true. God says that the world is motionless and stationery, being circled by the sun, and thus it is a certain and incontrovertible truth” [The Christian’s Reasonable Service (Soli Deo Gloria 1992) I:65]. But à Brakel was wrong because he mistook simple observational language for a description of physical reality - and this a long time after Galileo.

As liberalism became more dominant in the mainline church, with rapid change in the direction of secularism, what did lovers of the Bible do? Very often they had an inadequate grasp of Biblical principles of interpretation. In a world of constant movement they reacted against liberalism into the literalism which in North America is so often associated with a simplistic approach to Scripture and premillennialism in any of its various forms.

Interestingly, because of the ‘gap’ or ‘day-age’ theories, the ‘fundamentalists’ were generally not young earthers. That is something reserved usually for those who today are under 50 and so have been exposed to an endeavour to push back those wretched evolutionists by an unanswerable scientific defence of creation based on a literalistic hermeneutic. A noble aim perhaps, but misguided!

I would contend that scientific creationism in its most usual forms is not a consistent development from a truly Reformed understanding of Scripture. I admit 6/24 was the position of the 16th century Reformers, indeed of most Christians of all persuasions in that period. But anyone who compares Calvin’s exegesis of Genesis and that of say Henry M. Morris in The Genesis Record (1976) will spot the difference.

The point to remember is that we are always in danger of being reactive. Polarized positions arising from controversy can become an interpretative grid through which we read Scripture, rather than listening carefully to it. And all of us have a biases and often unconscious presuppositions which affect our reading of Scripture.

Return1.3 The creation days in history

a. It is a common place that Augustine (354-430) considered everything was created instantaneously with the six days given symbolic interpretation according to the notion of science and theology in those days. Interesting too that he always professes to aim to give a literal explanation but always ends with something other than that.

b. Basil (329-79), reacting to Origin’s allegorical view, is more in the line of ordinary days. With the return to the intended meaning of the text and in a pre-scientific context the days were commonly regarded in the 16th and 17th centuries as ordinary days like our days. There were some variations within this basic approach.

c. For example, the learned John Lightfoot (1602-75), a Westminster Divine, regarded the first day as of 36 hours in length [A Few and New Observations Upon the booke of Genesis. The most of them certaine, the rest probable, all harmlesse, strange and rarely heard of before (London 1642) p.2]. The language in the Westminster Confession (1646) “in the space of six days” (4:1) certainly reflects the language of a non-allegorical approach, but any intention to exclude say the views of Lightfoot would have to be proved. The fact that the Divines were all of a calendar day view is not of course determinative of what they intended, since we know that sometimes they deliberately used language that left options of interpretation open.

d. Another variation is set out in the great Turretin (1623-87) in his famous Institutes (Latin 1679; English P & R, 1992) I.445. He held that the eight works of the six day were instantaneous, but successive days were employed to put some space so that we could consider the different works more distinctly, and also to provide an example for our labour. The learned Baptist, John Gill has the same opinion (1770).

e. It is well known that the gap theory is commonly attributed to Thomas Chalmers, the first Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in 1843. He proposed this idea as early as 1814. On his view one could have long geological ages before the six (re-creative) days.

f. Continued scientific development showed the gap theory did not meet the requirements of the geological evidence while it was difficult if not impossible to justify grammatically from the Hebrew text. An alternative with earlier antecedents became popular, particularly through the work of Hugh Miller (1802-1856), an amateur but capable geologist and also a strong advocate of the Christian faith as understood by the Free Church of Scotland. This is the day age-viewpoint. It bears too much for my liking the marks of an endeavour to harmonize in an inappropriate way with scientific theories. Nevertheless, it was the most popular viewpoint among Christians in English-speaking countries in the period 1870 to 1970.

g. The American Presbyterian theologian W.G.T.Shedd (1820-1894) argued in 1888 in his Systematic Theology (Vol 1:474ff) for God-divided days, language also used on occasion by Augustine and others. The position of the great Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck (1854-1921) in his Gereformeerde Dogmatiek is to the same effect [see the section translated as In the Beginning (Baker, 1999) pp. 120-126] On this view God’s days are God’s days and our days are related to them but not precisely the same.

h. Finally, the Framework Interpretation should be considered. Mark Zylstra mentions the two essential elements: (1) the days are not normal days but function as a literary framework (2) there is an element of topical rather than sequential arrangement.

Return1.4 Concluding comment

It will be seen that the last two views (g) and (h) have some aspects in common. My own position draws on both. I hope this introductory historical part will give a helpful context for understanding the days of Genesis and evaluating the Framework Interpretation. In my experience, without a proper context we are prone to many mistakes and unlikely to progress in understanding.



Return2.1 Intent

If one works through Genesis to Deuteronomy (which form the single book of Moses), it is clear that there is a master literary craftsman at work. The way material is arranged highlights important themes that make the book memorable and well suited for a largely oral society. The content also shows concern to address questions relevant to the people of Israel as they leave Egypt and journey toward the Promised Land. I believe we should approach Genesis 1 out of the conviction that it is a kind of prologue which, together with the early history and the stories of the patriarchs, leads on to the Exodus and the covenant at Sinai. That in turn means that Christ is in Genesis, for all is part of the history of redemption.

Israel came to understand the significance of God’s redemptive name, Yahweh [LORD] in the Exodus (Ex 6:3-7). Israel had heard his words and seen his deeds as their Redeemer and Saviour. Who, then, is this God who brought his people out of slavery? What is his relationship to men and nations and to the gods these people worshipped? What right did he have to punish the Egyptians and to dispossess the Canaanites of their land? What are his purposes with the world and in history? What was the truth about their ancestors? These are the kinds of questions that loomed large for Israel. And they’re the relevant ones for us too.

Return2.2 What kind of writing?

It is generally recognized that Genesis 1 is not poetic although it does have some special stylistic features that reflect its profound subject matter. These features do not mean that the narrative belongs to the level of myth, metaphor or imagination so that its content ceases to be factual.

In line with the ancient Jewish commentators, we should not look to Genesis for an account of the mechanics of creation - if it were it would certainly address certain issues with much greater clarity, and at greater length, than it does. However, this fact does not mean the account has no implications for scientific endeavour - it is the nature of those implications which is disputed. But all can insist that everything is demythologized by being reduced to the status of creatures. Sun, moon and stars, great sea creatures - these are not rival deities. The creation text provides a basis on which the scientific enterprise may proceed even if it is not itself a scientific account.

We should recognize that the narrative describes the world in simple observational ways common among ancient peoples without at all intending to teach that physical reality is a flat earth floating on water under a canopy of water. We would expect a genuine narrative from Moses’ time addressed to ordinary people would read in this way. [The same is true in the New Testament, e.g.. Phil 2:10.]  What the first readers actually thought about the structure of the physical world is quite immaterial to the teaching intended by Genesis.

Further, from the way certain matters are referred to with the definite article [e.g.: ‘the deep’ (1:2), the two trees, the cherubim, the flaming sword] we can infer that much of the content of the early Genesis narratives was already known in some form to the early Hebrews. Moses gives an inspired account of the past as it bears upon Israel’s present. There are some parallels to events in Genesis 1-11 in other ancient writings, but the chaste Biblical text supports a quite different theology from them; it is free of the elements which make them demonstrably mythological or otherwise corrupt versions of the original.

Finally, mere chronology, so important in much of our Western writing, is not such a big deal in the Hebrew literary tradition. Topical arrangement or rearrangement is not infrequently found: even the ten plagues are summarized as seven, and in a different order, in Psalm 78:42-51; Ps 105:24-37. The emphasis in the creation narrative (compare Gen 1:2) appears to be on form (days 1-3) followed by fullness (days 4-6) climaxed by day 7. There is a very logical order; whether it is also entirely chronological is disputed.

Return2.3 The creation days and time and sequence

In general the Hebrew word for ‘day’ has the same range of meanings as the English word. Therefore it can include meanings such as a period of light, daytime as distinct from night (Gen 1:5), a day regulated by the sun (Gen 1:14), and also a period of time longer than a solar day during which something is done (Gen 2:4). The context usually makes clear which meaning applies. But here lies the difficulty. There are significant differences about the meaning of the six creation days among godly interpreters of Scripture.

I believe this is not simply due to a desire on the part of some to make the passage fit modern scientific views of the world, for every age has shown differences. The description of the unique activity of the creation days has suggested that there is something special about the days themselves.

1) The first verse reminds us that God’s relation to time is different from ours: time and space are themselves part of the created order, as Augustine noted 1,600 years ago.

2) The series of days is viewed from God’s perspective beginning with day one, not from a human perspective. Hence Psalm 90:4, also written by Moses, is relevant. Creation is in six days but the temporal duration of those days is not the concern of Scripture.

3) The first day is more correctly translated ‘day one;’ the next four days lack a definite article, contrary to many translations, and thus should read, ‘a second day’ etc.), whereas days 6 and 7 have the definite article. Such features are not found in a series of ordinary days (e.g.. Numbers 29:17ff).

4) Time during the first three days moves from evening to morning even in the absence of the sun. As far as creation is concerned a day is defined by the end of darkness through the onset of light, not by the rotation of the earth around the sun, and not by morning followed by evening as might seem more appropriate for us.

5) On day 7 all is reviewed. The formless and empty original condition with the deep shrouded in darkness has been replaced by a formed (days 1-3) and filled (days 4-6) world. But day 7 is not closed for the goal of creation is still to be realized - and we know that there will be no night there but only the radiance of the light of the glory of God. (Rev 21:22ff)

6) Day 4 (the middle day of 7) has structural and theological significance in the narrative. (a) It gives a further perspective on the related work of day 1 and puts the heavenly bodies worshipped by the ancients in their true place. (b) It anticipates day 7 and marks the weekly day of rest and worship of the God who made sun, moon and stars.

7) God’s work is accomplished by his word, the expression of his will, not by effort and labour as is the case on our days; nor is God’s rest the same as ours. The two other references to the creation days (Exodus 20:5; 31:17) - and there are only two - cannot be taken in human terms so far as God’s work and rest is concerned, although they do apply to our 24 hour days.

8) It seems that the narrative is given in a seven day form to teach us God’s purpose for man, and to show the basis and meaning of the day of rest. Recurring rest after work reflects God’s plan for humanity; that his destiny after his work is done is to enter into God’s rest, a higher form of bodily existence of which the tree of life in Eden was a pledge.

9) The expanded view of the creation of the humans in 2:4ff suggests more activity than a solar day would allow.

10) Words drawn from the standards of human work and measurement may be the only ways we can hear or talk about creation. However, such words cannot limit God’s mighty and mysterious acts to the span of human comprehension.

Time: I think myself that the simple emphasis on God’s days is wisest. This avoids upsetting the simplicity and profundity of the passage which occurs when different human lengths are given to the days. We may do this to try and satisfy geologists or even to play off days 1-3 as non solar, and therefore perhaps of great length, against days 4-6 (or is it 5-6?) that are said to be solar. But these are forced approaches not warranted by the text. God created in six days but these are God’s days, related to ours but different.

It is very clear that the seven day scheme is designed to give a pattern for our work. Whatever distinctions of length in the creation days that there might be from God’s perspective, from our perspective it is missing the point to make such distinctions if by doing so we lose sight of the pattern provided for us of work and rest within a weekly cycle. On the simple narrative level for us, the seventh day is the seventh of whatever the first six were, and the recurring weekly cycle rather than the day is the crucial unit.

Obj: If it is said that we have lost the basis for the fourth commandment if the days are not identical to ours, I can only reiterate point 7 above. There is an analogy between God’s days and ours, but there is not perfect identity any more than God’s labour and his rest are identical to ours. 

Sequence: There is a strong emphasis on orderly progression in the narrative. Further, if light is sequentially first and humans sequentially last, as I imagine everyone would agree, would not it be logical to regard the other items as also sequential?  Well it may be logical but yet not the logic of the account itself. I think there is sufficient evidence for the possibility of a degree of topicality that we should not dogmatize on the details of sequence.

Obj: Again it is claimed that we have lost the basis for the fourth commandment if we do not have sequence. Mr. Walker says that it is ‘a logical fallacy and nonsense’ to say, that as God worked six topics and rested one topic so we are to work six topics and rest one. I submit that Mr. Walker at this point is more interested in making Dr. Futato look foolish than in really trying to understand him.

It is illegitimate to make a precise or scientific comparison of our work and God’s work, for no such comparison is possible. God does not bring to pass his works in time in the same way that we do, and only a general correspondence can exist. God created perfectly on his six days; we do not labour in this sense in our days. Indeed, God created by his word, but we must expend energy in labour. Hence, God’s work is not strictly related to the available hours of the day and night as if he clocked in and clocked off; we work in the day hours and rest at night. The question as to whether the works of each day were instantaneous, or occupied 12 or 24 hours is therefore missing the point. The teaching of the narrative does not depend on such precise correspondence.

God rested and was ‘refreshed’ (Ex 31:17) on his seventh day. This is not a rest because of exhaustion (cf. Isaiah 40:28), nor is it mere cessation from all work (John 5:17). Rather, it is a rest of satisfaction and pleasure in what God has done. We rest and are refreshed in a different way - a rest more of a physical kind - and not one which involves perfect satisfaction either.

If God, in accommodation to us, sets out his creative work in a somewhat topical form without concern for scientific chronology, it would not follow that we have no basis for our work (which must of necessity follow a temporal sequence). Nor would it follow that God has made up reasons for us to obey him. If it is not a strictly chronological sequence it is nevertheless a wise and logical order and just so should our work be done.

Return2.4 The Framework Interpretation

The position set out in 2.3, which has affinities to both the analogical days view and the FI, allows for an FI position since on the two key points of time and sequence it leaves matters somewhat open. It should be noted that the argument given in 2.3 does not endorse every possible FI view, nor does it depend on the distinctive exegesis of Genesis 2:4ff offered by Kline, Futato and others. You may think that exegesis seriously defective or inadequate, but you would still be left with a pretty strong case - an unanswerable case perhaps!, - against the 6/24 view. I give my understanding of Genesis 2:4ff in the next section. Here, let me deal with some specific criticism of FI.

Argument from Genesis 2:5. Messrs. Walker and Zylstra are not impressed with Dr. Kline’s argument from Gen 2:5 “because it had not rained”. Kline argues that this shows normal providence was in operation during the creation week, thus no plants because no rain. I have some sympathy with Mr. Walker’s critique. Gen 2:4ff could be describing conditions in the area where humans were created rather than the whole earth. Further, ordinary providence in one instance does not rule out extraordinary action in another. But it does not follow that we can be dogmatic against Kline in Walker’s manner, for some of Walker’s assumptions are dubious too, particular his view of the length of the creation days.

I consider Dr. Futato’s paper “Because it Had Rained” is fundamentally on the right track. Those who have read it will probably not find it as confusing as Mr. Walker alleges.

Argument about two-registers cosmology. A third possible element in the Framework Interpretation relates to the idea that the heavens and the earth of Genesis 1:1 refer to God’s heavens including the angelic world and this physical universe (cf. Psalm 115:15-16). Most recent writers, overlooking the distinctive Hebrew way of thinking, seem to assume the words refer to the totality of the physical universe. Given that Genesis 1:1 is, I think, a statement of the initial act rather than a summary of what follows, we then have to ask why the earth gets a heavens. Kline argues that we are to see this earth with its heavens given to man as a kind of reflection of God’s heavens. There is nothing very startling about this. You find it in many older writers such as the influential William Ames, Marrow of Theology, 1623.

Meredith Kline reasserts it strongly and develops it to support the idea of this order of creation being a copy of the higher. As with the analogy of the tabernacle, the earthly copy is related to but not the same as the heavenly original, so with the days. In Dr. Kline’s elaboration he uses a rather distinctive terminology that only the initiated manage to fully grasp (I don’t regard myself as one of the initiated!). Like anyone with a big intellect and a favourite theme he overdoes things at times, yet he provides many insights of considerable value. It is more important and helpful to interact with Kline than to rubbish him. You will learn and maybe he will too.

From an exegetical point of view FI is far superior to the day-age views commonly held by the greats in the Reformed and Presbyterian world a generation or two back. I fail to see any proper ground for the great alarm in some circles. What I do see in many presentations of the 6/24 view is a truncated view of the order of creation which owes a great deal to the evangelical fundamentalist approach rather than a properly Biblical and Reformed understanding.

Response to some other objections.

I have already dealt with the allegation that a non-literal view provides no adequate basis for the fourth commandment. Some other objections are:

1. It suggests denial of the clarity (perspicuity) of Scripture.

I submit that the 10 points I have adduced about the days are plain enough in the text to thoughtful readers. They do not depend on knowledge of the physical world although such knowledge may make them seem more significant. They do not enable us to conclude the age of the earth from Scripture but leave that question open. They suggest we should agree with Augustine’s comment about the extreme difficulty or perhaps impossibility of conceiving the nature of the days (City of God, 11:6).

Secondly, the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture does not mean that matters of less moment are abundantly clear to everyone. The doctrine of creation is hardly suspended upon agreement about the precise nature of the days. The doctrine of creation is far more than many seem to think. The danger in the focus on the meaning of the days is that we bypass so much of an adequate doctrine of creation. Indeed, like views on the millennium of Rev 20 it can become a divisive shibboleth.

2. It suggests that a literary approach to Scripture is an imposition of the critic’s subjective philosophy on Scripture so the reader’s frame of reference dominates rather than the author’s intended meaning.

I must say I think this argument very unsatisfactory. Of course there are literary critics who dissect Scripture to fit their own agenda.  But perhaps Mr. Walker, who makes this criticism, is making his reaction to liberal critics an interpretive principle that does not allow believing examination of the literary structure of Scripture. The fact is that it is people like Dr. Futato who are seeking to apply a proper grammatical-historical exegesis.  He is wanting to set the narrative not in the context of the western philosophical tradition but in the context of God’s dealing with his people in the 15th century BC when they were delivered from Egypt and brought to Canaan. And he is not saying that literary form and literal meaning are mutually exclusive, but literary form may well disclose the emphasis of the narrative and of course sometimes show the surface meaning is not the intended meaning. [4]

3. It is very commonly suggested that we are on a slippery slope with the non-literal approach. Even the resurrection of Christ is not safe.

What an appalling argument, and yet a common one! Is not a truly Reformed argument but the argument of one more influenced by evangelical fundamentalism that he realizes! It can only be accounted for by perhaps unconscious polarization of thought, such as I have described earlier, due to the wide dissemination of defective views of Scripture interpretation. Wisely does Prof. H. Ohmann of the Liberated Reformed Churches in the Netherlands comment in Lux Mundi, December 2000:

Is it feasible to have the length of the days of creation play the role the resurrection of Christ has in the doctrine of the Church, and in the biblical revelation? The truth and reality of the resurrection of our Saviour in the history of revelation is the main point of interest throughout the Bible (esp. the New Testament). I simply remind the reader of 1 Corinthians 15 and many other passages in the letters of Paul. ‘Do you ever notice an equal importance being attached to the length of the days of creation in the rest of the Bible? Did you ever give that a thought?’

Return2.5 The meaning of Genesis 2:4ff

A complementary account. In the section beginning at 2:4 we have a complementary account of the creation of humankind. Verse 4 should be taken as a literary inversion as in NKJV: ‘This is the account [toledoth] of the heavens and the earth in the day they were created/when the LORD God made earth and heavens.’ The word toledoth begins each of ten sections in Genesis. It moves the narrative forward by passing over certain people or subjects and concentrating on those matters which carry forward the covenant purpose of God. Chapter 2 does not contradict but fills out part of Chapter 1.

There are a number of contrasts in this more detailed picture. I’ll mention three of them.

1) The Creator is 35 times termed God [Elohim] in Genesis 1:1-2:3. This name gives emphasis to his power and majesty. In the unit Genesis 2:4-4:26 God is named 35 times also, but 20 occasions combine the name God with the covenant name Israel had come to appreciate in the Exodus from Egypt (Ex 6:1-9). LORD God [Yahweh Elohim] is the name of personal interest and covenant love. Here is no evidence of different sources and sloppy editing, but evidence of profound theological insight. The Redeemer of Israel is also the Creator of all; the Redeemer of Israel has never been a mere lordly sultan but always a God of love.

2) In Gen 1:1 we are faced with a watery mass to which God gives order, stability, form and population; in 2:5 we begin with dry land and an absence of rain. This is discussed below.

3) Genesis 1 leads us to think in terms of the instantaneous creation of the man and woman together at the command of God. Genesis 2 provides another perspective - the man first, then the woman, and at least some plants and animals after the man but before the woman.

Life support. According to 2:5-6 it appears that there were a variety of soil types and ecological systems in the place of human origin. The whole world was not a garden, although conditions elsewhere than where man originated are not the immediate concern. It is the eretz, the earth or land where man originates, that is the focus, so the expedient of translating the verbs in 2:8,19 as pluperfects (had planted, had formed) as in NIV is needless.

There are special words for the plants in 2:5 which throw light on the passage. First, we are told that plants [siah - elsewhere only in Gen 21:15 and Job 30:4,7] of the plain have not sprouted because it has not rained. The kind of plants mentioned depend on annual rains in spring and autumn. This detail suggests that the length of the work of the days in Genesis 1 is not a concern of the text, and implies that ordinary providential process is operating (no rain therefore no plants). Second, fields of grain [esebh] have not been established because there is no human to cultivate the ground.

God meets these two deficiencies. First, he causes a mist, or rather, rainclouds [edh - elsewhere only in Job 36:27b] to rise from the earth. Thus the arid regions will have vegetation. Second, God makes a cultivator from the dust and his own breath (2:7), but first places him in a Garden and not in the agricultural land.

After a quite brief reference to the creation of the man we have a very extended reference to the river in Eden that divided into four heads, and to the regions through which they flowed (2:10-14). It is evident that even the Flood of Noah’s day did not work radical change, and the Tigris and Euphrates are still identifiable rivers today. The Gihon and the Pishon are perhaps the Nile and a now dry river in Arabia which flowed up to 5 kilometers wide through grassland from the Hejez mountains to the Gulf. [5] But why such a lengthy reference? We have more here than anticipation of the words of God to Adam after his sin in 3:18.

Bear in mind the conditions of ancient life, so dependent on water. The common origin of the rivers does not fit our geographical science but does teach the vital truth that God is the single source of provision for man from ‘the waters below the firmament’ as the common view of the earth as a disk floating on water had it.

Egypt and Mesopotamia were river civilizations, using irrigation techniques, while Canaan depended on the autumn and spring rains (note Deut 11:10-17). It was important to Moses’ hearers to stress that life and fertility everywhere come from the LORD God, not from the gods of Egypt overthrown in the Plagues, and not from Baal, the storm and fertility god of the Canaanites whose land they were to possess.  Elsewhere Scripture continues to use the river as a powerful symbol of the life-giving presence of God (Ps 46:5; Ezek 47:1-12), and it reappears in the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:1).

The making of the man. If God provided spring and autumn rains so that the plants of the plains would sprout, he also provided a cultivator so that fields of grain could be established. We would do well to recognize the figurative aspects in the language about man’s creation: we need not suppose God to be a literal potter actually breathing into the nostrils of a clay model of a man.  Yet the language about the forming of the man tells us a great deal about the loving care of God. We may be made of the same stuff as worms but there is still this unique relationship with God. Chapter 1 had spoken of the image of God and chapter 2 speaks of covenant relationship.

Given that the literal existence of Adam is sometimes denied, it will be worth noting the following confirmations of the ordinary impression of historicity. The genealogies of Genesis 5 and of Luke 3 require an individual Adam, and Jesus’ references to Genesis 1 and 2 have the same implication (Matt 19:4-5). Paul’s testimony is that sin and death in the human family came through the transgression of one man, Adam (Rom 5), who was, he assures us, formed first (1 Cor 11:8-12) although Eve was the first to sin (1 Tim 2:13-14). It was through this first representative man, Adam, that death came, which the second representative man, Jesus, reverses by his resurrection (I Cor 15:45-47).

The Garden and the Earth.. In Genesis 2:15 we are told that the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden for certain purposes. Those purposes are traditionally stated ‘to till and to keep it’. However, there is no ‘it’ in Hebrew and the two verbs are frequently used in a religious sense for the duties of the Levites in the tent of meeting. [6] They may be rendered very properly ‘to worship and obey’. Man is not being isolated in the Garden from the world he is to subdue, but he is being shown how his dominion must be exercised to be effective. Only in a right relationship to God can his relationship to creation be right.

The location of the Garden is uncertain but falls somewhere within the boundaries of the great and ancient rivers of life (2:10-14). If the narrative presupposes the Hebrews are still in Egypt, then it is somewhere east of there.

God establishes a variety of trees which are both desirable in appearance and satisfying to the taste. In this setting two special trees are mentioned which raise the question of desire and satisfaction for the man to a higher level than the merely physical (2:9). Given that Proverbs 3:18 says that wisdom is a tree of life, it seems that we should view the tree of life in the Garden as a symbol of the gift of life which comes through abiding in what God has revealed. We are not to live by food alone but by every word that comes from God (Matt 4:4).

The other tree represents the condition connected with the promise. To eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is to decide for oneself what is desirable and what is not. For the man to act in this way is not the path of wisdom and life but folly and death.

The rivers and the mineral features mentioned (2:10-14) indicate a world well equipped for man’s global task: there is great potential, and much to bring as tribute to the LORD God. But how will he relate to the world around him? What will be his desire, and where his satisfaction? Will he serve the LORD God rightly in his world, or will the man go his own way? Will he worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator? These are the issues addressed in this profound passage.

Return2.6  Conclusion

The issues involved in a proper understanding of Genesis are very important. Many factors need to be considered and I have not done this fully. For example, the nature of creation, the meaning of its original goodness, whether there was death among the non-human creatures, are all among matters which have assumed quite a deal of importance in some minds. To many the subject is very emotional because of the claims of evolutionists particularly those who are naturalistic to the core. I cannot deal with these in this paper. However, I hope a reasonable idea of the coherence of Genesis 1 and 2 has been given. I hope I’ve shown you don’t need to know much about the physical world at all to recognize that these creation days are unique and cannot be neatly packaged in our little boxes. The text itself drives you that way.

The question has been asked whether the FI is out of line with the Reformed Confessions. Certainly the TFU do not mention the length of the days of creation, nor other related issues recorded in Scripture, such as the Noahic Flood. Confessions are not intended to cover everything. Even the WCF, which does state in 4:1 that creation was “in the space of six days”, may not be doing other than reflecting Biblical language. In this case, whatever Scripture means is what the Confession means.

In my opinion there is nothing in the argument from Scripture for FI which is subversive of the doctrine of creation in our Confessions. There is perhaps one point and that is the relationship of creation and providence. Dr. N.H.Gootjes of the Canadian Reformed Churches gave me a copy of a paper he wrote in 1993 entitled “Is Creation the Same as Providence?” In it he raises important issues. It could be that certain forms of the FI could clash with the traditional distinction between creation and providence. On the whole, however, I think this is a matter which can be discussed within Reformed seminaries without falling out over it.

Finally, it’s nice to see a 6/24 man, A.J.Monty-White, give a very positive review to Dr. Futato’s little devotional book, Creation - A Witness to the Wonder of God, in Evangelical Times (UK), March 2001.

Rowland S. Ward

23 February 2001



[1] For a first-rate survey see Peter Harrison,  The Bible, Protestantism and the Rise of Natural (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Harrison is particularly familiar with the theological literature of the 17th century.

[2]   This quite significant fact is not noted by Davis A. Young, The Biblical Flood, A Case Study of the Church’s Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995 ).

[3]   For the best account of changes in thinking in the 20th century see Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism (Berkeley: University of California Press 1993) which is written from original sources.

[4] As a simple introduction to this important field have a look at David A. Dorsey, A Literary Structure of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker 1999).

[5] See Dora J. Hamblin, ‘Has the Garden of Eden Been Located at Last?’ in Smithsonian, May 1987, 129-131; James A. Sauer, ‘The River Runs Dry’ in Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 1996, 52-57,64.

[6]   The standard Hebrew text reads ‘to work her and take care of her’ and the ‘her’ cannot be the garden since that is a masculine word. However, some Hebrew manuscripts lack the dot (mappiq) in the last letter and that makes the translation infinitive - ‘to work and to take care’ [See U. Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis (Jerusalem: The Magnes Press 1961) 122-123]. The usage of the two words for priestly duties - ‘to worship and to obey’ - is recognized by commentators such as Gordon Wenham although its significance is not always followed through adequately.