Today: 24 October 2014
 
 

  

The length of creation days

'God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.'
(Genesis, chapter 1 verse 31).

Since the Creation Musuem was set up last year in the U.S, there has been much public debate about the length of time between the instant of creation and the emergence of modern man. It gives the impression that all bible-believing Christians believe that the creation process took six 24-hour days to complete up to the emergence modern humans about 6,000 years ago.
The Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.A
(Archbishop James Ussher, primate of all Ireland famously 'calculated' in the 17th century that the actual date of creation was Oct 23, 4004 BC and this unfortunately found its way into the margins of a number of Bible versions as if it had the same authority as the Bible text itself)

In fact amongst those who take the Bible seriously there is a range of views from 6 days to billions of years, based on what understanding they have of the meaning of Genesis chapter 1.
I'll attempt to do justice briefly to the main views.

Early views of the creation days

First-century Jewish Scholar Philo expressed the notion that God created everything instantaneously (he would have been totally comfortable with the 'Big Bang' theory) and that the 6 days of Genesis chapter 1 are figurative, a metaphor for order and completeness.  

Earliest known Christian writings on this subject are by second century writers Justin Martyr and Iraneus who drew support from Psalm (OT) 90 verse 4 and 2 Peter (NT) chapter 3 verse 8 to suggest that the 'days' could be epochs, perhaps 1000-year-long creation periods.

In the third century AD Clement of Alexandria echoed Philo's belief that the days were not 24 hour days. As he understood it creation could not take place in time since "time was born along with things which exist".  

Origen, another third century Christian scholar from Alexandria,  observed that time as we mark it did not exist until the fourth day when the sun moon and stars were visible. He also noted that the seventh day, in which God rested following his creative work, ‘continues until the end of the world and the ascension of  all the righteous'.  

Among early Church leaders, no one wrote a more extensive analysis of creation days than did Augustine of Hippo (fourth century). In his treatise 'The City of God' this respected scholar wrote "As for these 'days' it is difficult, perhaps impossible to think - let alone explain in words - what they mean".  

And in 'The Literal Meaning of Genesis' he added "but at least we know that it (the Genesis creation day) is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar".  

And of course none of the creeds from these times mention the length of days in Genesis, so there is no ‘official church position’ from the early centuries of the church age.  

Modern 'young earth creationist' view
In this understanding of Genesis, the plain meaning of the text is taken to mean that the creation of the universe through to the creation of the human race was completed by God in 6 literal days of 24 hours, and the earth is only 'thousands' of years old, rather than 'billions'.  

In explaining why the universe and the earth looks much older, this view sees the apparent age as illusory. God must have created a universe that already looked old, with light from the distant stars already on its way to earth. In this view it us usually argued that all fossils that are found are the result of the Genesis flood.   It is also argued that the millions of species found on the earth today are, ironically, the result of rapid evolution from the much smaller number of species that were sheltered from the flood in the Ark.

Modern 'old earth creationist' view
In this view, the Genesis 'days' are seen, as often elsewhere in the Bible, as indicating epochs or unspecified periods of time. Hebrew ‘yôm’ (translated in Genesis chapter 1 as ‘day’) for example is used variously in the Bible to mean: ‘sunrise to sunset’; ‘sunset to sunset’; ‘a space of time’ (defined by an associated term); an age; a time or period (without any reference to solar days). In this understanding, the Genesis account outlines a sequence of creation periods, with God as the Creator.  

Some bible scholars also see in the strophic structure of Genesis 1 an indication that the language is intended to be pictorial and poetic, emphasising the Creator, and not intended to provide a detailed chronological account of the creation process itself to satisfy our natural curiosity.  

This view embraces most (but not all) scientists who are also Christians, and allows the timing of creation events to be a subject of worthy scientific study with all the techniques available to modern science. It gives weight to the (biblical) view that God reveals something of himself through what he has created. In this view, the universe is currently thought to be billions of years old, based on calculations of the distances to the most distant observable stars and other cosmological observations.

Conclusion:
You CAN be a Christian without committing to a 144-hour period from the instant of creation to the emergence of modern humans, although many Christians do accept a literalistic view of the ‘6 days’.

Next up – the emergence of life on earth

Go deeper - learn more

Pray: Lord, how ever long took you, I worship you as the Creator of all that is, including me.

Visit Reasons to Believe - a science/faith think-thank website

Read the book A Matter of days by Hugh Ross

Study the Bible: The message of Genesis 1-11
'The Bible Speaks Today' series


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