The interpretation of the seven days of creation in Genesis 1 have divided the world for centuries. It remains to this very day a cause for controversy, dividing people of different faiths but also people of the same faith. Indeed, even Christians who regard the Bible as their sacred text aren't able to come to a unanimous agreement.
Are the seven days are literal recount of creation? Or are they more metaphorical? This article will explore some of the differing interpretations of the seven days of creation amongst Christians.
Firstly, it is important to consider both the historical and literary context of a text when attempting to draw an interpretation. The Scriptures originated among pre-scientific Hebrews who could not have known many of the scientific truths evident today. This is why the Bible isn't a science text book. The Bible doesn't go on talking about the laws of gravity or thermodynamics because it would have been absolute nonsense to the Hebrews. God chose to speak to the Hebrews in a way they could understand given their time and place in history.
The Bible is not a science textbook so we must be careful to not try to look f or more than what the text actually says. The purpose of the Bible is to instead teach timeless theological truths, not to teach science. We must keep in mind the pre-scientific context of the Scriptures when interpreting Genesis 1.
The literal context is also very important because poems should be treated as poems, recounts should be treated as recounts, letters should be treated as letters, and so on.
So what type of a text is Genesis 1? Edward J. Young, a distinguished Hebrew scholar, says that the text has the marks of a prose narrative – it tells a story through events. Genesis 1 lacks a major characteristic of Hebrew poetry, namely two-line parallelism, where a statement is made on one line and then repeated in different words on the next line. For example:
"To you, O Lord, I cry,
And to the Lord I plead for mercy." – Psalm 30:8.
However, Young also says that Genesis 1 has certain features that are unusual in straight prose. For example, it contains repeated lines like "and God saw that it was good," and repetitions like "And God said," "let there be," and "and it was so."Overall, the impression given is of a text that is written inexalted, semi-poetical language. The semi-poetical elements help to make it memorable but do not take away from an ordered narrative purpose, according to Young. Another factor to consider is that the creation account resides in the book of Genesis which is often quoted as history.
A good interpretation of the seven days of creation must take into account both the pre-scientific origin of the book of Genesis, and its literary form. Let's now have a brief look at three common Christian interpretations.
24 Hour View
First, there's the 24 hour view: the days are in chronological order. Each of the seven days are 24 hour days of the same week. This would mean that the age of the Earth would be about six thousand years, a conclusion which can be drawn by considering genealogies. People who hold this view are called young-earth creationists, or often just creationists. This is a literal, natural reading of the text.
Then there's the day-age view, the days are chronological and each represent a period of time of unspecified length. These people believe that the universe and Earth are ancient. There are biblical reasons for holding this view such as in 2 Peter 3 verse 8 it says: "With the Lord, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day."
Lastly, there's the framework view which says that the days exhibit a logical order rather than a chronological order. Most of us should be familiar with the first two views, but the framework view may cause a bit of confusion.
The Oxford mathematics professor, John Lennox, provides a good illustration of this view: if a builder is describing how his company built a hospital he will probably describe the process chronologically, "We dug a hole, laid foundations, and then put up the structure floor by floor: basement, car park; ground floor, administration; first floor, wards; second operating theatres; third, more wards." But ask the surgeon to describe the construction of the hospital and he might say, "We put the operating theatre on the second floor and located wards above and below it on the first and third floors." The surgeon describes the hospital logically from his perspective, not chronologically. This is what is meant by the framework view.
What then unites us?
I should stress now that these different interpretations did not arise because of modern science, but solely through looking at the text alone. I'm not arguing for a particular view in this article, but merely presenting them in a concise manner.
A good question to ask now is, does the interpretation actually matter? My opinion is that it does matter because as a curious human being I believe that finding out the truth is of paramount importance. The way in which God created the universe and life is intriguing. I think it is a profound truth because it is a matter of how all creation originated. However, I do not think that this is an issue which should cause bitter divisions and contempt.
Despite differences in the interpretation of these perplexing seven days, Christians can remain united under the core truths of Genesis 1: God exists and is the Eternal Creator of the universe, and mankind has been made in His image.
Anton Zhang is studying aviation at the University of New South Wales, he is part of a family of four, his hobbies include music, hiking and fencing. He is an active part of the Christian youth work at the Padstow Chinese Congregational Church.
Anton Zhang's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/anton-zhang.html