In the Space of Six Days 1

By John Hooper

INTRODUCTION

With the words of our title the Westminster Confession and the 1689 Baptist Confession join to take their stand on the creation of the world:

It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days, and all very good. (WCF 4;1)

What the confessions do not say, however, is how long those days were. This can be said too of writings dating back to the earliest years of church history. It is a question that until the nineteenth century no-one would have thought to ask because it was simply not an issue. While the geologists James Hutton (1726-1797) and Charles Lyell (1797-1875) had made early cases for the gradual laying down of rock strata over very long periods of time, it was not until the arrival of Darwin’s theory of evolution in 1859 that those ideas began to take hold and a gauntlet was thrown down to those holding to the historic understanding of the early chapters of Genesis.

I wonder how we would have stood against such a test. I am sure we only need to examine our own hearts to understand a little of what it was that drove such giants of the faith as the Hodges, Warfield, and Machen to give ground. Even E. J. Young, whose commitment to the divine inspiration of the Scriptures is beyond doubt, felt that the duration of the days of Genesis 1 was a subject “not too profitable” to talk about. Why? “[F]or the simple reason that God has not revealed sufficient for us to say very much about it.”[1] With respect, we believe God has revealed sufficient in His Word to say with certainty how long those days were.

1. CREATION AND THE INTERPRETATION OF SCRIPTURE

There are many evangelical preachers and writers who hold to interpretations of Genesis 1 that are non-literal, non-historical, or non-chronological. They believe in the divine inspiration and inerrancy of Holy Scripture but the differences, they stress, are not over these fundamental issues. Where they diverge is simply the interpretation of Scripture. What does God mean by ‘day’?

This is intended to reassure us but it fails because, in the first place, interpretation is not a minor consideration. The meaning of the words of Scripture matters because the words themselves are inspired. They are God’s revelation, given to us so that we might know His mind and will. They have not been given to conceal.

Another important consideration is the preconceptions brought to the interpretation of Scripture. Genesis 1 begins with words of supreme majesty and authority: “In the beginning God…”, immediately confronting us with the most fundamental issue of all. These opening words demand that Scripture is approached by faith, with the presumption that God is, and as we begin our reading and interpretation in faith, so we go on. If Genesis 1 is approached in unbelief or scepticism, weighed down with secular scientific baggage, then just as the starting point is wrong so will be the end. “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Heb. 11:3).

No-one approaches the opening verses of the Bible in an attitude of neutrality. We come either with “the bias of faith”,[2] meaning that we are “prepared to listen and to bow unconditionally before the authority of Scripture,”[3] or with “the bias of unbelief.”[4] There is no middle ground of impartiality. However, instead of being approached in simple faith we often find Scripture being twisted and turned to make it fit with the demands of evolutionary science. It is important to recognise that the underlying contrast between creation and evolution is that between faith and unbelief, between which there can be no debate and no compromise. The Bible-believer and the evolutionist are operating on two entirely different levels. The one believes that Genesis 1 is the historic record of creation given by the Creator Himself and who therefore believes that “the worlds were framed by the Word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). The Bible says so. “That is all, and that is enough for faith.”[5] The other comes to the passage with a heart in rebellion against God and rejection of His Word.

At this point we come up against some rather perverse accusations by those who claim to believe in an inspired and inerrant Bible but who oppose 24-hour creation days. They charge us with “highly disputable exegesis”[6], “exegetical presumption”[7] and “strange exegetical twists.”[8] There is a strong irony here because they have to engage in some strange exegetical twists of their own to accommodate Scripture to the geologic time scale.

An example of this is the framework theory’s use of Genesis 2:5-6 to engineer a conflict between Genesis 2 and the traditional understanding of Genesis 1, the aim being to make Genesis 1 appear non-chronological. The theory’s supporters then go on to make this staggering claim: “If we believe that Scripture is inspired and therefore inerrant, we are required to adopt an interpretation of Genesis 1:1-2:3 that does not conflict with Genesis 2:5-6.”[9] What this means is that if we reject their view of Genesis 1 and 2, we cannot hold to the Bible as the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

We have hardly scratched the surface of the argument here but there are three important lessons to learn. First, we may be confident that there is no conflict between Genesis 2 and a strict chronological understanding of Genesis 1. Second, we may be equally confident that the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture are in no way threatened by such an interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis. Third, we may not sacrifice the miraculous and supernatural works of our God to the claims of evolutionary science and the theologians who compromise with those claims.

Also strange is the reworking of Romans 5:12 by the day-age theory to allow for the presence of death in creation before the fall of man. The Scripture could not be plainer: “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” We dare not separate these two. Suffering and death throughout the natural world belong to the judgment that God passed in Genesis 3:17, cursing “the ground” for Adam’s sake with a curse that extended beyond thorns and thistles to encompass the whole of the wider universe. Creation has a vital interest in the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus Christ as even now it is waiting “for the manifestation of the sons of God” because then it too “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). Nothing less than the accomplished work of Christ is at stake here. If we disconnect death from sin in the old creation then we disconnect the glories of the new from the work of Christ.

2. CREATION AND THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD

According to Scripture creation reveals to us much of the attributes of God. “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion” (Jeremiah 10:12). How we handle the creation account and other related passages will therefore influence our understanding of the person and character of God.

Power

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:20; see also Isaiah 40:26; Jeramiah 27:5, 32:17; 51:15-16). Specifically it is the power of God’s Word that was instrumental in creation: “he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9; also Jeremiah 10:13). When God’s Word goes forth it always accomplishes His will (Isaiah 55:11), thus in Genesis 1 there is no suggestion of delay or long time periods at any stage, and no secondary causes being used. Rather, the sheer power of the Word effected the creating work of each day: “God said … and it was so” (Genesis 1:9, 11, 15, 24, 30).

Wisdom

“O LORD, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches” (Psalm 104:24). There is a precision about six days that cannot possibly be said of billions of years. Those who hold to the day-age and other theories cannot tell us how long God took to create the universe because they simply do not know. But God Himself has told us how long He took – precisely six days!

In His supreme wisdom our God chose six days in which to work followed by one day of rest. This was not an arbitrary choice but was designed for a purpose, as a pattern for the human race (Exodus 20:9-11). “The human week derives validity and significance from the creative week. Indeed, the very Hebrew word for week means ‘that which is divided into seven’, ‘a besevened thing’.”[10] 

Sovereignty

It has been well said that “the central affirmation of the creation narratives is the sovereignty and majesty of our Creator.[11] “In the beginning God …” This is where we begin. Creation is for God’s glory (Psalm 19:1) and for His pleasure (Revelation 4:11). “The LORD hath made all things for himself” (Proverbs 16:4). The Belgic Confession emphasises this aspect when it affirms that God “created of nothing the heaven, the earth, and all creatures, as it seemed good unto him.”

It is as sovereign that we see God in Genesis 1:3 creating light independently of the sun. This is referred to in Psalm 74:16, “thou hast prepared the light and the sun,” as well as in Job 38:19-20. The sun is not the origin of light. God Himself is light (I John 1:5; Psalm 104:2). In the words of the hymn writer John Mason, He is “A sun without a sphere,” and when shedding light into the world He is not constrained by the use of means.

Having created light, God then goes on to divide the light from the darkness in such a way that periods of light and dark succeed each other as day and night. This gives us the first use of the word ‘day’ in the creation account, denoting the period of light between each period of darkness. It is followed immediately with the words, “And the evening and the morning were the first day,” giving us the second use of ‘day,’ meaning the complete cycle of light and darkness. It is significant that the creation of the ‘day’ was itself independent of the creation of the sun. The period of time that we know as the 24 hours taken by the earth to revolve on its axis giving day and night is a creation of God that did not require the sun’s presence. The solar system is God’s servant, not His master.

Glory

God’s purpose in creation is to show forth His own glory: “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1-2). He has made all things “for himself” (Proverbs 16:4). Chiefly this glory is revealed in all things being created for Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 2:10). During the first three days of the creation week the vast expanse of the created heaven, which we call space, was totally empty except for one small mass called earth. Not until the fourth day did God create the sun, the moon, and the stars also to extend across the vast expanse of space. This is significant. It tells us that God’s creation work and all that flows from it is geocentric. Our solar system is centred on the sun, around which the earth and all the other planets revolve. For this reason we tend to think of the sun as being central, but that is not the case in the divine purpose. The sun, the rest of the solar system, and indeed the entire universe are all in the service of the earth. God’s work is entirely earth centred, and that because His purpose is to perform on earth a greater work still, the work that all creation serves, “His highest work, redemption.”[12] We will return to this later.

3. CREATION AND THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE

Having been Divinely inspired, the Bible possesses all the authority of God Himself. Some are uneasy with this thought and want to restrict the Bible’s authority. They will concede that Scripture has authority in matters religious and moral, how we can be saved and how we are to live, but when it comes to the spheres of science and the natural world its authority is limited. On the origin of the universe its authority is negligible.

I am sure we have all heard it said that the Bible is not a textbook of science and therefore we should not expect it to explain the how of origins. To understand the mechanism whereby God created the heavens and the earth we are told to look at creation itself through the discoveries and conclusions of scientists. We are told that in addition to reading the special revelation that is Holy Scripture we must consider God’s natural or general revelation in creation.

At the 1982 International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) the following statement was agreed by an impressive array of well-known evangelicals:

It is sometimes argued that our exegesis should not be influenced by scientific observations. We believe this view is mistaken. While the Bible clearly gives more specific information about our relationship to God then one can possibly deduce from natural revelation, it does not necessarily follow that our understanding of the physical world, its origin, etc. will also be more clearly deduced from God’s revelation in His Word than His revelation in His world. Since both are revelations from God, and therefore, give a unified story, it seems quite permissible to consider all of the evidence (scientific as well as biblical) to be significant to the degree that each revelation can be clearly interpreted.[13]

Notice the limitation this places on “God’s revelation in His Word.” As far as the physical world is concerned, the Word of God in Scripture does not give us the detail and clarity that we need so as to understand how that world came into being. For that information we must turn to science. In other words, the supposed findings and conclusions of the scientist informs Scripture, filling in the gaps for us. This is the very opposite approach to that taken by our Reformed forefathers.

Reading the Book of Creation

I am sure we can all concur with the framers of the Belgic Confession that creation is a “most elegant book” leading us “to contemplate the invisible things of God” (Art. 2). But what relationship does that book have alongside the book of Scripture? Those who reject six twenty-four hour day creation are keen to remind us that there can be no contradiction between them because “Nature is God’s ‘expression’ as much as the Bible,”[14] which is true, but do the two books speak with equal authority?

John Calvin answers the question beautifully in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. In considering the question, Why do men so misread creation as to come to their outrageous conclusions? Calvin takes us to the heart of the matter. There are two reasons. The first is man’s ability to read the book of creation, which has been drastically curtailed by his fall and the curse so he is trying to read a book with distorted words and letters. The second reason is that he is trying to read it with defective eyesight:

Just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.[15]

When Lyell, Darwin and their followers look at the evidence of geology and the natural world and cry “billions of years” they are viewing the evidence without wearing the spectacles of Holy Scripture. The humble believer sees the same evidence through the lens of Scripture and cries “six days!”

Many evangelicals today, instead of wearing the spectacles of Scripture, are foolishly putting on the spectacles of theistic evolution. Rather than the bias of faith they adopt the bias of unbelief and bring faulty observations of the natural world to Scripture, only to arrive at faulty interpretations of God’s Word as to the origin of the world. They write in terms of the Biblical creation account being “objectively provable” and “scientifically verified,”[16] demonstrating that their system of interpretation is back to front, placing the authority of the scientist above that of Scripture.

A clear example of this kind of thinking is found in the use of I Thessalonians 5:21, “Prove all things”:

Extrabiblical evidences are not inconsequential. They are vital. Christianity’s uniqueness resides not only in its gospel message, but also in its testability. Paul exhorts Christ’s followers to “test everything” … the fulfilment of biblically predicated scientific discoveries help attest and elucidate Bible passages.[17]

And even more shocking:

[W]e must regard any creation account or narrative of human events that clearly contradicts scientific and/or historical data as erroneous, mythical, or fictional.[18]

This is, of course, the very opposite of what Paul is saying. His concern is that all things should be tested against the standard of the Word of God as the Spirit illuminates the believer’s mind and opens his eyes to its truth. The believer then, in humble child-like faith, submits to the authority of that Word.

The primacy and authority of Scripture must be maintained and Scripture brought to science, not the other way around. The Bible is not a book to be proved or verified. A.W. Pink makes a vital point when he says concerning the Bible that “all its fundamental truths may be discovered by means of its own contents, without reference to anything ab extra or outside itself.”[19] Our interpretation of a text, a passage or a book of Holy Scripture “must be the one, necessary interpretation demanded by scripture itself.”[20] This is a principle we do well to remember, and when we apply it to origins we discover that “The uniform testimony of Scripture attests to divine creation out of nothing by God’s word in the space of six normal days. There simply is no contrary evidence within the canonical Scriptures. It requires the imposition of extrabiblical concepts to reinterpret the texts in other ways.”[21]

In fact the situation is far worse than I have described because it is not simply God’s book of creation that evangelicals are placing above Scripture, but God’s book of creation as it is interpreted by scientists holding to an atheistic, naturalistic, evolutionary world view. And where will that lead? It has been well said, “Harmony with the evolutionary idea is not available except by the abandonment of the authority of the Bible”.[22] We dare not squeeze Scripture into the world’s evolutionary mould.

The Perspicuity of Scripture

Scripture tells us all we need to know about the creation of the world. The Bible does indeed tell us the ‘how’ of origins. In fact science is most definitely not the place to turn to for the explanation of how the universe came into being, because it does not and cannot tell us. In Scripture God tells us something that science, however good it is, will never teach us, that He created the heavens and the earth and He did so by His Word. Genesis 1 is clear: “And God said… and God said… and God said….” Psalm 33 confirms this: “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth… For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (v. 6-9). The apostle John opens his gospel record with an inspired comment on the Bible’s opening words, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things were made by him…” (John 1:1-3). Similarly the writer to the Hebrews: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God” (Hebrews 11:3). It is safe to say that nowhere in the annals of scientific literature will we ever find the discovery of this profound and majestic truth. We may spend all our days exploring the depth, breadth and height of creation but we will never find it because we are looking in the wrong place. The place to look is Scripture alone and we will find it in these extraordinary words: “And God said… and there was” (Genesis 1:3).

(To be continued)

 

[1] E J Young, In the Beginning: Genesis 1-3 and the Authority of Scripture, page 43.

[2] Homer C Hoeksema, In the Beginning God, page 58.

[3] Homer C Hoeksema, In the Beginning God, page 58-59.

[4] Homer C Hoeksema, In the Beginning God, page 94.

[5] Homer C Hoeksema, In the Beginning God, page 75.

[6] Lee Irons and Meredith G Kline, The Genesis Debate, page 87.

[7] Lee Irons and Meredith G Kline, The Genesis Debate, page 233.

[8] Hugh Ross and Gleason L Archer, The Genesis Debate, page 74.

[9] Lee Irons and Meredith G Kline, The Genesis Debate, page 233.

[10] E J Young, Studies in Genesis 1, page 78.

[11] Ligon Duncan and David Hall, The Genesis Debate, page 264. (Emphasis original)

[12] From William Gadsby’s hymn that begins, O, what matchless condescension.

[13] Quoted by Ross and Archer in The Genesis Debate, page 73.

[14] Hugh Ross and Gleason L Archer, The Genesis Debate, page 72.

[15] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, I, vi, 1.

[16] Hugh Ross and Gleason L Archer, The Genesis Debate, page 142.

[17] Hugh Ross and Gleason L Archer, The Genesis Debate, page 73.

[18] Hugh Ross and Gleason L Archer, The Genesis Debate, page 192.

[19] A W Pink, Interpretation of the Scriptures, page 42.

[20] Homer C Hoeksema, In the Beginning God, page 58.

[21] Ligon Duncan and David Hall, The Genesis Debate, page 45. (Emphasis original)

[22] Nigel M de S. Cameron, Evolution and the Authority of the Bible, page 48.

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