Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What A Difference A Yôm Makes

One of the central features of the Old Earth-Young Earth debate is the meaning of the word that has been translated as "day" in the Genesis creation account. So, when approaching this issue, it is important to first be clear about what the word even means ... and that, like many other questions of Biblical interpretation, begins with the realization that we are used to dealing with English, which contains many times more words than the Hebrew language, which only contains a few thousand. This means that Hebrew nouns almost all have multiple meanings. The word for "day" is no different.

The Definition(s) of "day"

There are several definitions of the word "day":
1. A partial day
2. The daylight hours
3. A calendar, or solar, day
4. a working day, a day's journey
5. days, lifetime (plural)
6. year
7. a definitive time, a period of time with a beginning and an end
8. any temporal reference

There is no separate word for epoch or era as we have in English. If you wanted to talk about an epoch or era, you would use the word yôm (see: definition #7). Though the word ôlam could be used to describe something like "a long time," it is an indefinite word that would constitute something like saying "once upon a time" or "a time long, long ago."

The point is that when an OE creationist says that the "days" of Genesis 1 can be "long periods of time," she is in fact using a literal definition of the word yôm! Likewise, when YE defenders attempt to claim the spiritual/Scriptural high ground by insisting that only they accept a clear, literal interpretation of the text, this is simply not the case. All the OE view says is that it is perfectly acceptable to interpret the word “day” as a long period of time – an interpretation that is actually used in exactly that way in several other places in Scripture. As an OE proponent, I too accept a clear, literal interpretation of the text. I just happen to think the days in question are specified periods of time which God used to perform his creative acts.

And it just happens that the interpretation I defend also takes into account the clear reality of God's General Revelation through nature about the age of the universe.

There are several things to consider here … each of which support the OE view

First, three of these definitions of "day" are used in the Genesis creation account itself. The most common is definition #2, "the daylight hours," which, incidentally, is not the definition most YEs defend as being literal and clear in the creation account (they usually insist on definition # 3 above).

Second, how does the "literalist" YE proponent interpret the use of yôm in the following:
Genesis 2:4: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens ..." This is quite obviously a summary of the creation account that looks back at God’s creative work and summarizes the entire creation week with … you guessed it … yôm. Here, the entire week is referred to as a "day."
Genesis 2:17: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." How does the "literalist" YE defender deal with this? Adam did not die during the 24-hour period after he ate the fruit of the tree. In fact, he didn't die until over 900 years later!
What kind of "day" are you talking about?

Another point that YE folks claim is that the Sun, Moon and stars were not created until Day 4. So, if this is the case, just how are we to understand those who insist that these days were "normal calendar days as we experience them now" if there was no Sun to mark and define the first three days? How would we know when the days started and finished? The explanation we are given is this:
Where did the light come from? We are not told, but Genesis 1:3 certainly indicates it was light created to provide day and night until God made the sun on Day 4 to rule the day He had made. Revelation 21:23 tells us that one day the sun will not be needed, because the glory of God will light the heavenly city. (Ken Ham, editor, The New Answers Book, p. 102)
But notice that this is really no explanation at all. All it really is is a perfect example of how YE folks read the text into their paradigm instead of reading what the words actually say. No OE creationist claims there was no light prior to creation day 4. That's not the question. The question is how are the solar/calendar days counted? If these are normal days as YE folks demand, there would have to be a way to mark them. God's providing light in the same way He will in the new heaven and new earth of Revelation does nothing to mark the days. In fact, Revelation 22:5 specifically states that "there will be no more night" in the new heaven and earth, so the attempt to compare God's light in the new creation to the "regular days" of Genesis 1 is completely unfounded.

In addition to this, there is absolutely no plausible scientific explanation for the completely catastrophic event that would have occurred if the Sun, moon and stars, suddenly and out of nowhere, popped into existence beside and already existing Earth. This is not to say that God could not have done such a thing if He wanted to. That's not the issue. Of course He could have. The question is whether or not there is any evidence that He did so.

In the end, the YE paradigm is just as deficient in its explanation of Scripture as it is of nature.

Instead of putting forth these kinds of "just-so stories," the OE view offers a completely different take that is a perfectly consistent and straightforward explanation for this apparent conundrum -- one that pays attention to the actual meanings of the Hebrew words involved in this passage and is also compatible with the real world record of nature.

As it turns out, the Hebrew word translated "made" in Genesis 1:16 ("God 'made' two great lights ...") is the word 'asah. This is not the same word that is used to describe God's "creating" (Hebrew: bara) in Genesis 1:1 (the heavens and the earth), 1:21 (the 'soulish' creatures, nephesh), and 1:27 (man). Each of these instances refers to the creation of something -- which did not exist before -- out of nothing. Asah, on the other hand means "to fashion" and is also placed in a tense that connotes a past, completed action. Additionally, the phrase used in verses 14 and 15 ("let the lights be...") is yet another Hebrew word, haya. This, combined with the past completed action of asah, makes it completely within the bounds of interpretation to say that the sun, moon and stars were already created during day one of the creation account, but did not become visible to an Earth-bound observer until the atmosphere had thinned enough to "let the lights be seen" and "give their light upon the Earth."

When you take this interpretation and compare it to the record of how the Earth was formed, the comparison is astonishingly accurate. The scientific data reveals that the Earth began with a thick, opaque atmosphere that gradually, through the combined actions of the brightening Sun and maturing vegetation, thinned from opaque, to translucent, and finally into the transparent atmosphere we have today -- exactly in line with the Scriptural interpretation above.

Are we just capitulating to science?

YE folks like to claim that this idea that the universe is old did not even exist until modern science began insisting on it in the last century or so. Even if this were so, it has no bearing on the facts. All it would mean was that our enhanced understanding of nature allowed us to clarify the meaning of Scripture just as it did with the "fixed and immovable Earth" and the belief of Augustine mentioned in my earlier post. But  the truth is that this is not a new interpretation that has been made up only to appease modern scientific theories. Ancient thinkers also had questions about the "clear meaning" of the days of Genesis:
  • Philo (10 BC-50 AD) believed that Genesis had more to do with principles of order and arrangement than with the length of time involved.
  • Justin Martyr (103-165) and Irenaeus (late 2nd century AD) were early church fathers who both suggested that the days may have been long epochs.
  • Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD), like Philo, believed that creation could not take place in time at all since "time was born along with things which exist." He understood the days to communicate the priority of created things, not their timing.
  • Origen (185-254 AD) thought it was unreasonable to suggest that the first three days could have been counted without the moon and stars which weren’t created until the 4th day.
  • Augustine (354-430 AD) thought that what was plainly obvious was that we could not know, or explain in words, what the "days" meant but that "at least we know that [the Genesis day] is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar."
One of these days is not like the others

One point that those who hold the YE paradigm often skip over is this: Each of the days of Genesis ends with the phrase, "and there was evening and there was morning the x day." But what about the 7th day? The phrase is not there. And there is a perfectly logical explanation for this found within the OE view. It is the idea that the 7th "day" has not ended yet! We are still living in it. There are actually two lines of evidence that support this view.

Scripture mentions this notion in Hebrews 4:1-11 when it speaks of our being able to "enter God’s rest." The implication is that God’s rest began after He completed His creative work on the 6th day and continues to the present. Science also confirms this idea. Since mankind came on the scene, no new species have appeared in the fossil record. We have only discovered animals that have gone extinct. In other words, a study of nature through science once again confirms the Scriptural idea that God is "resting from the work of His creating."

Uncannily consistent

While the OE interpretation of the 4th and 7th days is uncannily consistent between the record of nature and the record of Scripture, the similarities do not stop there. In just the last five years, newly discovered evidence reveals even further alignment between the two. Studies in plate tectonics show that continental land masses emerged above the original water world a little over halfway between when the Earth formed and the present day ... just as the Scripture says that God separated the earth and sea during creation day 3.

Another conundrum has always been that Scripture claims God created plants prior to animals while the scientific record seemed to deny this. As it turns out plants, which have no bones to fossilize, are extremely difficult to uncover in the record of nature. That is until just last year when researchers discovered evidence of plants dated to nearly 600 million years ago -- a time just prior to the first recorded emergence of animal life on Earth during the so-called Cambrian Explosion which occurred about 540 million years ago.

While YE proponents continue to defend unsupportable models (both Scripturally and scientifically) of the reality of the world we live in, the OE view continues to present a perfectly logical, acceptable and astonishingly accurate compatibility between the two. I find it hard to comprehend why any creationist would continue to deny and demean that obvious compatibility.
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  1. Thank you Bob,

    This is an issue that I have long been debating in my mind. After reading what you have written here and consulting other sources such as Reasons to Believe, I would say I now agree with the Old Earth model.

    The one thing that still bothers me is that the Old Earth model would require death prior to the fall and that all animals were not in fact vegetarian as Genesis 1:29-30 seems to indicate.

    I'm curious if you have any thoughts on these issues.

    Thank you,

    Jay Whip

    1. Wow, thanks Jay. I really appreciate your comments and your willingness to consider the actual claims being made. That is so encouraging to me.

      As for the "death before the fall" topic, stay tuned. That is the next post in the series. I hope to have it up in the next couple of days.

      Thanks again ...

  2. How interesting that you quote Augustine since Augustine's view was that God's creation was instantaneous, not over 6 days and that God used 6 days to communicate such a complex creation to us.

    1. Not sure why it's "interesting" but you are correct. Care to elaborate?

  3. Oh and would you please explain how these Scientists arrive at 500 and 600 million year dates? And also present a rational for the uniformitarian assumptions that permeate all dating techniques?

    And would you also accept that Diamonds for e.g. are billions of years old when they have C14 in them?

    1. kpolo,

      After your comment on the original post here, I asked you to provide some specific responses about what you think science actually tells us. You haven't done that. Your MO seems to be to just fire off rhetorical questions that you really aren't seeking answers about.

      If and when you show signs of trying to listen and seek to understand my position(s) I will be happy to engage you. But I will not just respond to every random, sarcastic comment you decide to throw out.

      I think I've made my position pretty clear and there will be more to follow.

      Cheers ...


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