09/15/16

What’s in a Day?

© AnnaOmelchenko | stockfresh.com

© AnnaOmelchenko | stockfresh.com

Christianity sees the seventh day of creation tied to the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11. Exodus 20:11 said God made the heaven and earth in six days and rested the seventh day. “Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” C. John Collins observed that for many people, this implies that not only was the creation week “the first ‘week’ of the creation, but in fact it was of identical length to the week we are familiar with.” A day in Genesis 1 is twenty-four hours and a week is seven twenty-four hour days. Any other interpretation is a violation of the authority of Scripture and is forbidden. But what if that’s not what Genesis 1 means when it refers to days and a week?

In Redeeming Science Vern Poythress pointed out that although some people think that the length of a 24-hour day in Genesis 1 is obvious, “the text does not directly state how long the days were in terms of ordinary human measurement.” The use of the Hebrew word for day (yom) and the evening and morning refrain points to a correspondence between God’s work and the human sabbatical pattern, but it does not prove the correspondence is an identity.

The next thread to pull in the seven twenty-four-hour day understanding is that the seventh day doesn’t have the formulaic beginning and ending: “And God said . . . And there was evening and there was morning, the ______ day.” The usual reply is that seventh day in the creation week was the day God rested from all his creative work (Genesis 2:1-3). Since he completed his work in the sixth day, the seventh day would not have a formulaic ending because the creative work was completed. Nevertheless, this is a distinct break in the pattern of the workweek with the first six days.

But how long is the seventh day? Poythress said the seventh day has a special blessing and holiness because God rested on it from all his work (Genesis 2:3). God’s rest is the pattern for human rest, as we see in the fourth commandment. Since God rested on the seventh day of creation, He blessed the Sabbath and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). The holiness belongs to God’s rest, not the day itself. “The holiness extends to the day precisely because it is the day of God’s rest.” In order to deserve the holiness it receives, the seventh day must be linked closely to God’s rest. So he concludes that since God’s rest goes on forever, “God’s day of rest also goes on forever.”

While God’s work of creation was finished and his rest from it lasts forever, our rest on the seventh day isn’t absolutely finished yet. We begin again on the first day of the next workweek. But our work is heading towards the coming time of absolute, final rest (Hebrews 4:9-11). “Our human rest on one day of 24 hours looks not only backward to God’s rest from creating but also forward to our final ‘day’ of rest.” Human 24-hour Sabbath rest both foreshadows our final rest, and imitates the final rest of God, into which He has already entered. “This foreshadowing involves analogy to the reality to which it points, rather than pure identity of length.” So again, God’s seventh day in Genesis 2:2-3 is unending.

“And if this is so, then it is analogous rather than identical to a human day of 24 hours.” If the seventh day of the creation week is analogical, then the pattern of God’s entire workweek forms an analogical pattern to our work and rest. God’s workweek is not the same as a human workweek, but they correspond to one another. They are analogical. Now look at this conclusion another way.

An original reader of Genesis 1 would recognize and relate to the rhythm of God working with a rhythm like that of a human work week rather than a description of His activity segmented into 24-hour days. “The pattern that strikes him is the rhythm of work, not the question of the ticking clock.” The Israelites did not have mechanical clocks, so measurement by clock time (i.e., 24-hour days) makes no sense to them. The time pattern of workdays, followed by night—evening and morning—would make the most sense to them.

Poythress said in Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1 the analogy in Genesis 1 extends to the entire week, including the evenings and mornings, and isn’t just focused on the word day. “God pauses between his works from one day to the next.” This reflects the human work pattern noted in Psalm 104:23: “Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.”

Now look at the pattern of evening and morning, repeated in the six days of creative work in Genesis 1. God is working during the day and “resting” during the evening, just as man does in his work. The lack of “evening and morning” for the seventh day in Genesis 2:3-4 indicates the continuation of his day of rest from the work of creation. “God’s rest from the work of creation is everlasting.” He no longer “creates” animals or plants or humans —the conception and birth of Christ being the only exception. So by inference, the day of God’s rest is everlasting; and not 24-hours long. So when Exodus 20:8-11 establishes a 24-hour Sabbath day of rest imitating the day of God’s rest from his creative works, it is analogical to God’s rest. “So again the salient factor is not the length of time, as measured by a clock of some kind, but rather the kinds of activities that take place during the day.”

We see God having the same pattern of work and rest, moving towards His Sabbath. The first day is God’s workday, followed by rest; and another workday and rest; continuing until the Sabbath day of rest. God cannot be literally said to “rest,” since he cannot get tired, so the language of his workweek and Sabbath is once again analogical and not literal. The narrator of Genesis “wanted primarily to tell us about the making and shaping of the earth as a place for humans to live in fellowship with their Maker.” See this link for free ebook copies of the two works referenced above by Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science and Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1.

C. John Collins said the best term for the formulaic language used in Genesis 1 was “exalted prose.” By this he meant the language is “higher” than ordinary language, as is the language in a very traditional high-church liturgy. “The language here is stylized, very broad-stroke, and majestic in its simplicity.” It makes the same truth claims as traditional prose narrative. But “we must not impose a ‘literalistic’ hermeneutic on the text.”

The alternative understanding proposed by Collins and Poythress for a literalistic sense of the days in Genesis 1 is called the analogical days view. There is an analogical, but not an identical correspondence between God’s workweek in Genesis and the human workweek of six 24-hours days and a day of rest. The days in Genesis are structured to set a pattern for our own rhythm of rest and work. The length of time for the creation week, either before or after it, is irrelevant to the purpose of the account. Poythress closed his discussion of the analogical day view in Redeeming Science with the following:

Thus, when some advocates of the 24-hour-day view claim to have specific information about the length of the days, they fall short in hearing what Genesis does and does not say. They sincerely desire to honor God’s word, and to follow God wherever he leads, but they have not done full justice to the passage. In harmony with the analogical day view, the passage simply teaches that God made the world in six days but does not provide details about how to measure the exact length of the days by some objective, nonhuman standard.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

 

 

08/5/16

The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher

© Oleksandr Solonenko | 123rf.com

© Oleksandr Solonenko | 123rf.com

According to Bishop James Ussher, the world was created at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4,004 BCE. This amazingly precise declaration was just one of the important dates, both biblical and historical, that appeared in his seminal work, The Annals of the World. The “cosmological age” for creation occurring around 4,000 BCE was a widely accepted date in the 17th century. Its acceptance was partly based on 2 Peter 3:8, which says: “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The application of the passage for the date of creation is that the six days of creation meant the earth would exist for 6,000 years—4,000 years until the time of Christ, and 2,000 years afterwards. If Ussher was correct, we are now living on borrowed time.

Ussher’s chronology was not the first to calculate that the creation of the world was around 4,000 BCE, but today it is the most well known. Others who had proposed similar biblically based estimates include: Bede (3952 BCE), the astronomer Johannes Kepler (3992 BCE), Sir Isaac Newton (4000 BCE), and Rabbi Jose ben Halafta (3761 BCE). Ussher’s very specific date was based on a desire “to get it right.” He used astronomical and religious sources to estimate the season of the year, day of the week and time of day he thought creation had to be. He believed the time was in the autumn, since that was the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, and on a Saturday evening, because of the Sabbath.

The Annals full title in English is a mouthful: “Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabees.” It was 1300 pages, with 14,000 footnotes. Ussher worked on it for 20 years before it was published. The original printing sold well. What gave Ussher’s chronology staying power was its use in the margins of an edition of the Bible published by London bookseller Thomas Guy in 1675. Beginning in 1701 several editions of the King James translation included Ussher’s dates in its marginal notes and cross-references. The widely circulated Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 and revised in 1917, used Ussher’s dates and would become the main conduit of the chronology into modern times.

Ussher (1581-1656) was a careful and thoughtful man, well schooled in his faith and history. He was ordained in 1601 and was a professor at Trinity College in Dublin from 1607-1621. As early as 1624, he was invited to preach before King James I. He was made archbishop of Armagh in 1621 and primate of Ireland in 1634. When civil war broke out in 1642, he was in England. He never returned to Ireland. Ussher declined an invitation to join the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1643-49), who incidentally produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. He later preached against the legality of the Assembly.

He wrote on a wide variety of topics, mostly theological and historical, and was an expert in Semitic languages. “He was widely acknowledged for his thorough and impartial scholarship.” Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist and paleontologist, said Ussher’s chronology was “an honorable effort for its time.” You can find more information about Ussher and his chronology here on Wikipedia, or in “James Ussher” in the Encyclopedia Britannica online. You can also listen to a 10-minute podcast on Ussher and his book, “Annals of the World, 1650,” for Documents that Changed the World.

Ussher’s chronology is the cornerstone for determining the age of the earth by young earth creationist organizations like Creation Magazine, the Institute for Creation Research, which was founded by Henry Morris, and Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham. Here is a link to a timeline that appeared in Creation Magazine. It was based upon the details provided by Archbishop Ussher in his Annals of the World. Both the Institute for Creation Research (here) and Answers in Genesis (here) explicitly draw their declarations for the age of the earth from Ussher’s calculations. If you want, you can verify this claim by comparing their discussion of dates for creation to the timeline of Ussher’s chronology found in Creation Magazine. The organization Answers in Genesis also has a table listing 32 different individuals who calculated the date of the creation of the earth to be between 5501 and 3836 BCE.

But what if the assumptions made by Ussher and others about the biblical genealogies used to calculate the age of the earth were wrong?  William Henry Green, an Old Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 1800s, addressed this question in his 1890 article in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra, “Primeval Chronology.” Green said the accepted chronology of his time (Ussher’s chronology) was based upon an assumption that there were no gaps in the biblical genealogies, most notably those of Genesis 5 and 11. However, he examined the biblical genealogies and found: “There is an element of uncertainty in a computation of time which rests upon genealogies, as the sacred chronology so largely does.”

I here repeat, the discussion of the biblical genealogies above referred to, and add some further considerations which seem to me to justify the belief that the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 were not intended to be used, and cannot properly be used, for the construction of a chronology.

Green then went through an extensive examination of several different genealogies in the Bible to support his point that they regularly had gaps. He commented they are frequently abbreviated by omitting unimportant names. “In fact, abridgement is the general rule.” He thought the occurrence of an abridgement should not create surprise “and we are at liberty to suppose it whenever anything in the circumstances of the case favors that belief.” The analogy of Scriptural genealogies opposes the supposition that “the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are necessarily to be considered as complete, and embracing all the links in the line of descent from Adam to Noah and from Shem to Abraham.”

On these various grounds we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the creation of the world.

Biblical evidence is then available to indicate Ussher’s chronology was based on faulty assumptions regarding the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. They were not intended to construct a chronology and are improperly utilized by individuals and organizations that do so.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”