A Day is (not) a long time in Genesis 1

Joshua 1:1 in the Aleppo Codex.
Image via Wikipedia

Thanks to Jeff for this quote from ]] –

What God created is here called “the heavens and the earth,” a poetic expression (merism) signifying the whole universe. Other examples of this poetic device are “day and night” (meaning all the time) and “man and beast” (meaning all created physical beings). “Heaven and earth” thus indicates not only the heaven and the earth but everything in them. Genesis 2:4 also uses this expression in a restatement of the work of creation throughout the six days.

via Scripture Zealot.

Ross goes on to state (and Jeff links to more scholars at the bottom – scholars of Hebrew) that day (yom) in Genesis 1 actually refers to 24 hours. Walton, I believe, agrees.

Not knowing Hebrew, but knowing how to use certain resources, I tend to agree. Of course, I don’t think that Genesis 1 refers to a 6-day event, but an event celebrated by 6 days of ordering. In other words, while the days are literal actual days, the text is not referring the beginning of the universe. I realize that this is a difficult concept to grasp, but we have to look at the entire text and how the audience would have received it in order to ascertain the correct meaning.

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19 Replies to “A Day is (not) a long time in Genesis 1”

  1. The problem with this is that days are only “invented” (for lack of a better word) in verse 14. ‘And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.’ (days is the same word yom in the plural yamiym)

    1. I think, if I understand you correctly, I would agree – which is one of the reasons I do not believe that the text is talking about an actual creating event.

    1. Peter – I chose the image (knowing that it was Joshua 1.1) because the only other image which was appealing was a mouse. For some reason, Zemanta recommended a mouse.

  2. The text is not referring to the beginning of the universe? It starts with “in the beginning,” in the most distant period that anyone can imagine. Then comes the summary statement, “God created the heavens and the earth,” just a summary statement since both earth and heaven are not actually created/called forth out of the primeval waters until later on in the detailed story that follows which explains how the heavens and earth were each created and named. It’s a Big Splash cosmology, beginning with primeval waters and darkness, and neither was it unique to begin one’s creation story with primeval waters and darkness. The Hebrew tale was like other ancient Near East tales in that respect. Neither does it say God created the darkness and the primeval waters. It just says God’s spirit was hovering above them, ordering them around, he called things forth out of the primeval water. But first He called forth light and separated it from the darkness (again, not that God does not call forth darkness, nor call it good), and then created heaven, and finally earth, separating them from the primeval waters. Note that the sun, moon, and stars are all created after heaven is called forth from the waters, even after the earth is called forth from the waters just as in Enuma Elish. But note that the creation of daylight preceded everything, including the length of time known as a day on earth. As if the whole cosmos revolves around the length of time it takes one tiny planet to revolve, which makes no sense unless its an earth centered cosmos that is being created, a cosmos in which they could not conceive of other planets or even as the earth as a planet. Just so when it came to the fourth day’s creation as well, when God created the sun and moon, “two great lamps” to rule the light of day and night and to light the earth below and for “signs and seasons” on earth. That’s because God is setting up means by which people will be able to tell how long it is between religious holy days on which the creator is worshiped in extra special ways. Yes, that’s what Genesis says. The word “seasons” is the same word employed in the Pentateuch for religious holidays. The sun and moon are set above the earth for signs and seasons on earth below, the earth being created before them. They are mere lights added to the sky, the sun was never assumed to be thousands of times larger than the earth itself. One early Greek philosopher startled his contemporaries by hypothesizing that the sun was as large as Greece itself. Imagine how the Hebrews viewed things, with their psalm about the sun running his course through the sky, so much like the Mesopotamian view of the sun or the Egyptian. Neither does the Bible depict the sun as but one star among many, the stars are created separately, almost as an afterthought (…and the stars also), again, on the fourth day, not the first, along with the sun. This is indeed a story of beginnings. And a primitive one at that. The Big Splash theory.

    1. No doubt that it is the story of beginnings, but I have to defer to Walton’s theory on this, for now. It is not about physical, scientific creation.

  3. Horrendous typo! I typed: (again, not that God does not call forth darkness, nor call it good)


    (again, NOTE that God does NOT call forth darkness, nor call it good)

  4. The text of Genesis describes the beginning of the earth and the world around, as created by God. What most scholars overlook is the agent by which he did it, namely his Spirit. There is, apparently, little about the Spirit being involved in creation in the NT. It is preserved in Jewish philosophy where everything living or moves is animated by God’s Spirit.

  5. Joel,

    Its not really that hard to grasp.. unless you have no exegetical skills what so ever – mine are minimal and I can grasp it.

    Been having the same discussion on Glenn’s blog. Its quite annoying how we can say “yes it means six days” but the 6 day creationist says “but you dont really mean 6 days”, and we say “yes we do”, and they say, “no you dont”.

    Ironically, the book “Starlight and time” is the best attempt from a 6 day creationist to make the days longer so they fit in with “science” without making them not 6 days (ie due to the gravitational effect on time, 1 biblical day was actually millions of light years).

    The whole thing is stupid, Genesis isnt about Science, its about theology – that is, how order was created from chaos by the “order maker”. I think the Young earth and old earth scientists should just keep their battles to themselves and stop bringing God and the Bible into it.

    1. Agreed. It is difficult to get the YEC believer to see you can take the text literally by not believe it is a 6-day creation, scientific, event.

  6. yeah, well its impossible to get people to believe evolution/earth age has nothing to do with theology as well.

    If there is no evolution and the earth is young, or vice versa, my understanding of Genesis remains the same. Science is pretty much irrelevant in your exegesis of Genesis 1.

  7. Joel :No doubt that it is the story of beginnings, but I have to defer to Walton’s theory on this, for now. It is not about physical, scientific creation.

    Walton’s theological hypothesis is that Genesis 1 is best understood as God creating “functions,” and that they have nothing to do with a material description of the creation of the cosmos. But Walton tips everything in terms of his purely functional interpretation, and he has yet to convince many other theologians and ANE experts of his particular theological interpretation. Though oddly enough his grand theological interpretation remains at odds with his sociological observation that from the point of view of the ancients who wrote such creation tales, they really did believe in a firm sky, heaven and God lying above their heads, a flat earth, surrounded above, below and on the distant horizons by primeval waters.

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