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.”




Does Anybody Really Know What Time Is?

I have at least one clock in the five main rooms of my house—for a total of eight if I count my computer, cell phone and wristwatch. Today, when I opened my eyes, the first thing I did was look at my clock: it was 6:36 am. After drinking my morning coffee and reading the online news, I fixed my breakfast and read my morning devotions and daily bible passages. About two hours later, I took a shower, dressed and gave my brother a ride to work. He was early, because I had to drop him off on my way to church. I too was early, getting there about twenty minutes before the 10:30 am service. There was time for another cup of coffee.

My life is very time-oriented. Even the counseling I do typically has a time-orientation: sessions are scheduled for an hour. Focusing on the “objective” passing of time as shown by a clock is what Vern Poythress described in Redeeming Science as a clock orientation. Another, more subjective experience of time focuses on the rhythms of human events. Here, we interact with one another or with created things (like now with my computer). These interactions have natural groupings of beginnings, middles and ends; and they end when they are over. Poythress called this an “interactive orientation.”

All human beings are aware of both kinds of time orientation. We can have interactive experiences of time in which we “lose track of time” and then realize it is later than we thought. I have been in counseling sessions where I lost track of time and felt I had to apologize to the next scheduled person who I kept waiting 10 or 15 minutes. Poythress said this is a consequence of our postindustrial American culture, which has a strong clock orientation.

Preindustrial societies have an interactive time orientation. Meetings start when everyone is there and end when the participants are “finished.” There isn’t an overt or implicit attention to objective time. Robert Levine commented in his book A Geography of Time that “life on the clock is clearly out of line with virtually all of recorded history.” Poythress said in Redeeming Science:

Clock time is more merciless than nature’s obvious rhythms. In the ancient world before the arrival of mechanical clocks, you experienced the rhythm of the seasons and the rhythm of day and night, but not the mechanical rhythm of the ticking clock.

Parallel with the progress of science and technology, a clock orientation has increasingly become an integral part of how we view the world and even how we read our bibles.

Poythress noted that if you went to Genesis 1 with a clock orientation, your focus would be on how long (according to a clock) it took to complete the creation account. But if you approached Genesis 1 with an interactive orientation, you’d ask what important events took place, and what their meaning could be. Remember that humans don’t appear until day six. But God was present “working with a rhythm like that of human work.” Immediately he’d know that it took six days; “six human-like cycles of work and rest, followed by a seventh day of longer rest.”

The pattern that would strike him would be the rhythm of work and not the rhythm of the ticking clock. And the days are truly days because of their correspondence to the human rhythm of the workday: “And there was evening and there was morning …” How long the days took as measured by a clock was a secondary issue.

Americans, because of their strong clock orientation, have a tendency to press the “question of clock ticks” since it is so much a factor in American culture. So when someone is asserting that the days of Genesis 1 were “ordinary days,” the person “is claiming the days were ordinary by clock time.” A person with an interactive time orientation would never call them “ordinary.” In terms of what took place within them, “they were among the most extraordinary days in all of history!”

Poythress suggested that when insisting upon a strict 24-hour-day viewpoint for Genesis 1, its proponents had adopted a clock orientation of time and perhaps “unconsciously given in to the philosophical primacy of a modern scientific orientation toward precise, quantitative measurement of time.”

Placing the 24-hour-day view of Genesis 1 as a cornerstone doctrine for conservative Christians has never sat right with me. So when I read the discussion of a distinction between clock orientation and interactive orientation by Vern Poythress in Redeeming Science, I wanted to make it available to a wider audience.

There can be a lack of grace and narrow-minded critique of individuals who disagree with a young earth creationist, 24-hour-day view of the Genesis days of creation. I see this in what Ken Ham wrote in his blog post about Hugh Ross, who has a day-age-view of the days in Genesis. Ken Ham is the president of Answers in Genesis, a self-described apologetics ministry with a young earth creation view. I think Deborah Haarsma, the President of the Biologos Foundation, has the right response, in her blog: have a gracious dialogue with those who differ on this view; it’s a disagreement among believers.

Vern Poythress noted how the Genesis account of creation and the Fall in Genesis chapters 1-3 provides a foundation for the doctrines of God, nature, humanity, sin and the Sabbath. And in terms of basic theology, the principal approaches to interpreting the Genesis creation account have the same outcome. They all affirm the same theological truths. And the exact amount of time that it took to accomplish creation makes no theological difference to these basic truths.

The theology of creation, and the theology of God’s control and goodness displayed in creation, remain fundamentally the same, however short or long the timing for the various acts of creation (Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science, 114).