Due to the fact that I have been presenting my views on Genesis 1 for some time now in both written articles and in a current podcast series, I have received quite a lot of questions about how I would either defend a specific non-literal YEC reading of Genesis 1 in detail and how I would handle arguments given for a YEC reading of Genesis 1.
I plan on doing a series dealing in more detail with the specifics of Genesis 1 from my view since my current work has been more on a hermeneutical and macro level, but I would like to give some examples for why I find the common arguments put out by YEC’s to be less than convincing and sometimes downright insulting. I will try to give a smattering of the most common arguments in order from most absurd to most technical. I see and respond as briefly as possible to them.
Before I dive into these responses, I would also like to remind my readers that I am not YEC, OEC, or TE (Theistic Evolution). I hold to a Literary Framework view that sees Genesis 1 as synchronic and polemical to Israel’s recent Egyptian context. Often the dialogue is framed as if there are only two options – YEC and OEC. This is simply not the case. But since my view is hardly ever addressed, I will use arguments presented by YECs in general though typically to OECs.
1. OEC’s are intimidated by secular scientists and so they reject what they know the text says.
This is condescending at best. Not only do most people who do not take YEC views driven by textual concerns and a desire to follow what they see in the scriptures, this is also wildly problematic in its view of what science is. Notice the false attribution of “secular” science which effectively means whatever science disagrees with their view. It’s a kind of questing begging that sees anything that disagrees with their view of Genesis as “secular” and as such disqualifies anything that disagrees with them from consideration. This is the other side of the coin from atheists who say that whatever is “creation science” must be wrong because it is “Christian.” Well really we should be asking what the evidence is showing, and not disqualifying something just because it disagrees with us (not to mention that many scientists are Christians or religious who disagree with YEC and who do good science). Notice these scientists are only “secular” (which ones? Who are they? How do they know they are driven by “secular “concerns”?) in this area but not with regard to any other area of science where they uses the same methods and such but which do not rub up against YEC literalism.
I’m also surprised that no one sees that start irony that this was some of the same kind of rhetoric used against heliocentrism several centuries ago. We have by and large altered how we understand some of the cosmology found in the Bible as being less than literal precisely because it could not accord with the findings of “secular” science. It’s just too far in our rear view mirror for people to remember that. We could see this in the historical move from a flat earth three-tier cosmology common to all ANE cultures (Israel included) and a spherical globe earth. Or do many of you think that the earth does indeed rest on literal pillars and is covered by a firm glass like dome called a firmament? Everyone in the ANE context of the OT would have read that in the same way we do comments about the sky being blue and the earth orbiting the sun.
2. If you just take the plain meaning of the text, it clearly means 6 literal solar days.
While this does touch on what I will address in later articles in a more robust manner, let me simply state that this is clearly false. In fact it was precisely the plain meaning of the text which drove myself and many others away from a literalist understanding of Genesis 1. A plethora of questions arise from such a reading:
- How is there morning and evening with no sun?
- Is this supernatural light “good” and if so why did God scrap it and replace it just a few days later with the sun?
- How are there days when God says that the whole purpose of the sun and moon and stars was for the purpose of marking out days and seasons in Day 4?
- The light and the darkness are separated on Day 1 but then God creates the sun and the moon for the purpose of separating the light and the darkness on Day 4. But if that had already happened on Day 1, then what light and darkness are being separated on Day 4? Did they fuse back together at some time?
- How is it literal days if plants are created on day 3 but we are told in Genesis 2 that no plants had grown because it had not yet rained and man was not yet created to work the earth? Could they not survive the 3 days without water until man was created?
And on and on. There are numerous problems with reading Genesis 1 as a literal diachronic account of creation, not to mention the numerous reasons to read it along literary framework lines. Thus for many of us, a straight forward reading will not yield 6 literal days. It simply is not the clear and plain meaning of the text like they imagine it to be.
3. Genesis is literal history and not allegory.
I will quickly state that this is just a false dichotomy. In fact most Bible students should readily identify this fact. Several examples can be used to show this from the Scripture (though this is far from exhaustive):
- Chapters like Exodus 15 and Judges 5 are songs/poems that recount historical events but they do so in a poetic and non-literal genre. Does this mean that the events they recount did not happen historically? Does it mean that they are allegorical? Do we read them as literal or allegorical? Well neither. They are poetic retellings of historical events and are thus literal history but told with highly stylized language and flair.
- The gospels are not told in historical order. They are often arranged by theme or message and thus present a synchronic account of the life and teaching of Jesus. In fact, several of his sermons are likely amalgamations and combinations of several sermons. This is common faire for undergraduate Bible students at even the most conservative Bible colleges. Does this mean that because they are literary and theological retellings of the life and teaching of our Lord in a synchronic manner that they are therefore allegory or non-literal? Does it mean we are saying that they are false or unhistorical or that in saying this I am somehow rejecting the inspiration, inerrancy or perspicuity of the Scripture? Of course not.
Really what this argument does is simply perpetuate a false dichotomy as a hermeneutic – the kind of vague “literalism” that dispensationalists will often use in an attempt to accuse other theological positions of not taking the text seriously by either being inconsistently “literal” or “allegorical,” when in fact it is often far more complex than that with many more options available to the exegete.
4. Jesus took Genesis literally and so should we.
There are two major problems with this argument. Firstly, it treat Genesis as a singular genre – historical narrative. This means that if they can show some passage where Jesus assumes the historical reality of Adam and Eve or the Patriarchs or cities such as Sodom and Gomorrah, that they have thus proven that all of Genesis (and thus chapter 1) is literal history as well. This not only makes the confusion above of equivocating between historical and literal (see Moses’ and Deborah’s songs which are historical but non-literal) but it also does not allow for genre variation within a book like Genesis. We see blended genre in other historical books like Exodus and Numbers (I would argue both penned by Moses), but we also see it in Genesis itself. Or do we think that Jacob’s blessings on his sons are all historical literal narrative? Of course not.
The second major problem is that the passages used to support this kind of argument often prove far too much. A common passage used for this is Mark 10:6. It is argued that Jesus believed that men and women were present at the beginning of creation due to his statement in Mark 10:6 that they were created male and female “from the beginning.” There are several problems with this:
- Whatever is meant by Jesus in Mk 10:6, it cannot be what the YEC means for it. Even to remain consistent they must maintain that Adam and Eve were not created from the beginning moment of creation but rather at the end of the creation event (on day 6 – the final stage of creation). At the very most then, Jesus could be read to me mean that man and woman were present from the beginning of creation (referring to the whole of the creation period before God’s Sabbath rest), at the point when he created humans, he created them male and female. This means that however long it took from the beginning of creation to the beginning of humanity would not be accounted for in this verse.
- This means that the other option would be that Jesus is referring not to the beginning of all of creation, but to the beginning of the creation of humanity. However, this would hold regardless of the view one holds of Gen 1 since one could maintain that from the creation of humans (at their point of creation during the creation event) that they were created male and female. This could be true if that point of creation was 6 days or 14 billion years into the creation event. When humans arrived on the scene, they were male and female.
- Furthermore, the parallel passage shows that the import of Jesus’ point is in fact the creation of humanity and the development of divorce as a practice later in history. Of course there could not be divorce prior to the creation of humans. So Jesus said that Moses allowed for it because of the sin of the people, but that it was not that way from the beginning. Well if we are talking about divorce then that would only even become possible on day 6 anyway (which again could be 6 days or 14 billion years later).
- In addition, the use of the phrase, “since the beginning” also appears in John 8:44 referencing Satan being a murderer since the beginning. Well was Satan a murderer before humans existed – from the moment of creation? That would be a huge stretch to imagine that before the fall in the garden.
- Finally, there are other questionable uses of the phrase that would be problematic if we held that it must mean from the very instant of the start of creation.
So when the YEC says that Jesus held to a literal reading of Genesis 1, they are making a wild over statement. In fact, what is surprising is that if the timeline of creation was so pivotal, so vital to the conflict of worldviews between Christians and unbelievers, it is the most important thing never directly stated anywhere in the Bible. God doesn’t inspire a single author in the Scriptures to spell it out.
5. Moses bases the Sabbath as the 7th day on the 7 literal day structure of Genesis 1.
When giving the 10 commandments, Moses writes this on the Sabbath:
8 “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”
The argument from YECs is to say that Moses is here proving that Genesis 1 teaches 6 literal days because it is the framework that Moses appeals to in order to set the 7 day Sabbath cycle for Israel. This argument has several deep flaws with it:
- I would argue that Moses was the author of both Genesis and Exodus and so he would know what he meant in Genesis 1 and would mean the same in Exodus 20. This much, the YECs and I agree. The problem is that if that is the case then the verse no longer proves what they say it does. Since Exodus is reliant on Genesis 1 and its meaning, then whatever is meant in Genesis 1 would also be meant in Exodus 20. If Moses meant simply a 7 division paradigm, or the 7 days as a framework for a synchronic creation account, then all he would be doing is repeating that same thing in Exodus 20. This means that Exodus 20 cannot be used as an argument for or against YEC because it would mean whatever Moses meant in Genesis 1, which is the very thing under dispute. To say that it means literal days is to simply beg the question of what Genesis 1 means in order to argue a verse that Genesis 1 means that. That’s just poor hermeneutics and logic.
- We have further evidence that Moses did not mean literal days in Genesis 1 because if that were the case, then day 7 would be a literal solar day. This means God would have only rested from creation for 24 hours, which we know is not the biblical view. In John 5, Jesus is challenged on why he is working on the Sabbath and he gives an interesting response. In v17, we read, “But He answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working."” Think about what Jesus was saying for a moment. If God’s Sabbath had ended after 24 hours, then of course God would be working after that, he was no longer resting – and so that would not serve as a defense of Jesus’ actions any more than me saying that I work on Sunday because Jesus worked on Tuesdays. In order for Jesus’ defense to make sense, he would have to be saying that God worked redemption during his Sabbath rest “up until now” and that Jesus is just doing what his father has been doing. The Sabbath rest of day 7 began after creation and has continued “until now.” It is not a literal 24 hour day. So if Moses was trying to find an exact literal analogue for the Sabbath, then that would mean the Jews would work for 6 days and then rest for the rest of their lives. That is clearly not what is being said here. Rather he is appealing to the paradigm of 6 periods followed by a period of rest.
- This is further supported by the laws regarding Sabbath years and Sabbaths of Sabbaths (Jubilee years). They all follow the creation paradigm of 6 periods of labor followed by a period of rest but do not follow it in an exacting manner. They follow the paradigm laid out in Genesis 1. Which again means that whatever Moses meant in Genesis 1, is upheld in the paradigm in the Sabbath laws and as such cannot be used to say that Genesis 1 must be 6 literal solar days.
- Considering that Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses and it is there that we read “For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.” Moses is apparently very clear that a day is a flexible concept even to the point where 1000 years, a full day (yesterday) and a single watch of the night are all symbolically interchangeable.
6. Yom plus “morning and evening” in the Hebrew always refers to a literal solar day.
This is simply a false assertion about the Hebrew construction. The problem is that “morning and evening” is never used in the same way in conjunction with “yom” like it is in Gen 1. The few times that the phrase “morning and evening” is used (only about a dozen times) it is used either of the daily events of a battle or of the daily sin offering, in which the 24 hour day is supported by other clear textual and narratival markers that determine the kind of interval that is being spoken of. This means that the set of verses outside of Genesis 1 that uses the same grammatical structure is a null set – it does not exist. Therefore such a use in Gen 1 serves as a kind of hapax legommena and as such we cannot appeal to any external grammatical rules to demonstrate any particular reading of it. This means that we cannot say that in Genesis 1 it must mean a literal 24 hour day because of some grammatical construction of yom plus ”morning and evening” because there are no other parallel passages in which to derive this rule.
7. Yom plus an ordinal or cardinal number in the Hebrew always refers to a literal solar day.
This again is simply a false statement about Hebrew, and yet it is probably one of the most oft repeated truisms of the YEC movement. Countless books, articles, blogs, debates and lectures assert this truism, apparently without ever checking to see if it is true or not. Let me rebut this by simply giving several counter examples:
- Zechariah 14:7-9 in reference to the day of the Lord says, “And there shall be a unique day, which is known to the LORD, neither day nor night, but at evening time there shall be light.” The “unique day” is a reference to the coming day of the Lord which we know will not be a singular day. In fact the context even says that there will not be day or night but it will be light all the time. This verse pairs yom with a cardinal number and yet clearly is not a 24 hour solar dar.
- Deuteronomy 10:10 reads, “I myself stayed on the mountain, as at the first time, forty days and forty nights, and the LORD listened to me that time also. The LORD was unwilling to destroy you.” In this verse when Moses said “as at the first time,” he pairs yom with an ordinal number. This is a reference to his first trip up the mountain to the Lord and which he says lasted 40 days and 40 nights. If we were to follow the YEC rule that yom plus an ordinal number always means a 24 hour solar day, then Moses would be lying to us when he said that first yom (yom+ordinal) lasted for 40 days.
- In Isaiah 9:14 we read that God cut off Israel and struck them down “in one day,” (yom+cardinal) and yet this judgement on Israel we know took centuries.
- In Hosea 6:2 we read, “After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.” This is referring to the restoration of Israel and not only is it highly poetic (formed around Hebraic parallelism) but it is clearly not limited to two or three days that God restored Israel to the land. This is a non-literal usage of yom even though it is twice paired with a cardinal number.
More examples could be adduced but this goes to show that the “rule” often repeated by YECs is simply not a real or valid rule in Hebrew. They have been repeating something that was created by grammatical fiat and as such should be rejected. We do not just get to make up rules to support our views while ignoring the many exceptions that invalidate the rule.
8. We see the use of the waw-consecutive construction in the Hebrew which is how Hebrew marks out historical narrative and thus we should take Genesis 1 as literal history.
Like the “rule” listed above, this is simply not a real rule. While the waw-consecutive (also called the vav-consecutive) construction is a well-known feature of Hebrew narrative (or rather Hebrew narration), it is simply not the case that it denotes historical narrative. The waw-consecutive is a construction of an imperfect verb preceeded by the Hebrew letter waw (“and”). If one reads the King James Bible they will quickly see the rather awkward plot device of beginning many sentences in a row with “and.” When this happens, the translators have chosen to make the waw explicit in the translation. What this does it is moves the plot of a narrative along. Think of it like, “and this happened, and then this happened, and this this happened.” The problem here is not that waw-consecutive is a rule to identify narrative, it is that the YECs are incorrect in saying that the rule is that it shows literal/historical narrative. They make the rule prove far too much. Again, without going into a ton of detail, let me merely present several counter examples that invalidate the “rule” as asserted by YECs:
1. The waw-consecutive appears 7 times in Moses’ song of Exodus 15. This is a historical poem, not a historical narrative.
2. The waw-consecutive drives the parable given by Jotham in Judges 9:8-15.
3. Nathan’s parable in rebuke of David in 2 Samuel 12:1-4 employs the waw-consecutive several times.
4. The waw-consecutive can be replaced in Hebrew poetry and prose with the use of the jussive case and genre does not appear to matter.
5. The waw-consecutive can actually be missing the imperfect verb and yet refer to the movement of action in a future tense (see Ex. 22:26)
6. The waw-consecutive is even found at times in Hebrew poetry, such as Psalm 22:6: “But I am a worm and not a man, A reproach of men and despised by the people.” In cases such as these, it’s use does not indicate plot progression but logical or temporal sequences.
7. We can see many other examples in Hebrew poetry such as 47 uses in Psalm 18. (For more on this, see “A Royal Song of Thanksgiving, II Samuel 22 = Psalm 18” in Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry, edited by Cross and Freedman.)
So unless the YEC wants us to read clear poetry as literal historical narrative, or the same for allegory such as Jotham’s allegory of the bramble and the trees, or known parable such as Nathan’s parable of the stolen sheep, then this clearly cannot be a hermeneutical rule that whenever we see the waw-consecutive it automatically means that we must be reading literal historical narrative. Rather, what the waw-consecutive shows is the movement of a story along – it pushes the actions by moving from one verb to the next in a logical and/or temporal progression. That is, it is a feature of narration not necessarily literal history. This can happen in Hebrew narrative, parable, allegory, or poetry.
While this may be convincing or compelling to some of you to reexamine your YEC or give further consideration to alternative views, my purpose here is not to “convert” YECs to other views. The purpose for me is always to help us understand each other better and to give clearer, deeper, more thoughtful arguments for our positions and against those that we disagree with. I’m here not belittling my YEC brothers, but calling them to a higher standard of reasoning and argumentation. As you can see, none of my comments are our of fear (or reverence) for “secular science” or anything of the kind.
In fact, my concerns are not even related to any manner of concordism or attempt to sync the Bible and science. I think that is largely a failed or at best irrelevant endeavor of a modernist church. I am hoping you see that the concern is to faithfully read and interpret the scriptures and to hold true what I think the authorial intent of both the human and divine author was in inspiring and composing the text as they did.
Soli Deo Gloria.