Mr.Kenneth Keathley, Senior Professor of Theology, USA, 3rd International Conference on the Origin of Life and the Universe, April 28th, 2018-istanbul
The Seven Days of Genesis One: An Old-Earth Interpretation
Introduction: Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. I consider your invitation to be a great honor. I appreciate your willingness to hear from a Christian theologian. The friendships that have developed through our conversations are relationships that I will always treasure. My topic is concerns understanding Genesis 1-2 from an old-earth perspective. Let me begin by defining Old-Earth Creationism.
Old Earth Creationism: The God of the Bible created the Universe, which science demonstrates to be billions of years old. There are times in natural history in which God’s activity is detectable, particularly in the creation of humanity through an original couple.
An old-earth interpretation of Gen 1-2 from a Christian perspective: The Bible presents God as One Who is on mission. This mission begins in Genesis 1, where God inaugurates the universe to be His temple. In Genesis 2, God assigns humanity the task of joining in this mission. When the Bible presents God in action, it nearly always does so in accommodated, analogous language. As we will see, it is theologically essential that we interpret the days of creation in Genesis 1 in nonliteral, non-24-hour terms. The point I’m trying to make is that the belief that the earth is only 7,000 years old is based on a “literal” interpretation of Genesis 1, but that Christians historically have never interpreted Genesis in the so-called “literal” method advocated by young-earth proponents.
The Bible Presents God as One Who Is on Mission
The Mission of God is to establish the Universe as His Kingdom. Genesis 1 should not be read in isolation from the rest of the Bible. It serves as the introduction to the rest of the Scriptures, and as such it is the beginning of the biblical story.
The Bible presents the Universe as God’s Temple
This imagery is found throughout the Bible, from beginning to end, from Genesis to Revelation.
The six days of Genesis 1 are the account of God establishing his Kingdom by inaugurating the world as His Temple.
Genesis 1 Presents God Inaugurating His Temple in Six “Days” or “Episodes”
God creates the Heavens and the Earth (v. 1)
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
He creates without the use of any preexisting materials, without any opposition, and by the mere power of His Word.
This is radically different from all other ancient creation stories from the surrounding area held by the pagans. The Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Assyrians, the Canaanites, and the Egyptians all had creation stories. But all those stories were filled with conflict and opposition. The creator deity in those stories was not transcendent, sovereign, nor necessarily good. Moses is letting us know that the God of the Bible is fundamentally different from the pagan gods.
Yet the original creation is not ordered (v. 2)
“The earth was without form and void”
This disorder is not to be understood as evil or demonic, but as unruly (perhaps like a room of unruly schoolchildren).
The notions of “unformed” and “unfilled” provide the theological framework for the six days of creation.
God establishes the world as His cosmic temple in six days, or episodes. (vs. 3-31).
God forms and fills that which He has created: In the first three days, God forms the world. In the last three days, God fills the world.
Days 1-3: God forms the water, sky, and land
Days 4-6: God fills the water, sky, and land
God establishes order over that which He has created: “and God separated.” God separates or divides day and night, waters and land, fish and fowl. God advances His kingdom by establishing order.
God establishes sovereignty over that which has created: “and God called.” By naming a created item, God gave it a function and established His authority over it. When He calls the light “day” and the darkness “night,” God is exercising His divine authority. The process of naming is the establishing of God’s kingdom and temple.
The Bible presents God’s actions with exalted prose in a highly sophisticated presentation. Moses uses the repetition of certain phrases to emphasize the power, majesty, and wisdom of God as He works. The emphasis is on God’s sovereign actions and thoughts using key words and expressions. Moses uses these phrases over and over in order to make a point. The fourfold formula: announcement, commandment, report and evaluation:
Announcement: Each day begins with “And God said.” These brief statements by God drive the narrative.
Commandment: “Let there be” (or its equivalent). For God to speak is for him to act, and his actions are irresistible.
Report: “And so God made” (or its equivalent). Everything exists by God’s express will, purposes, and word.
Evaluation: “God saw that it was good.” Because Creation satisfies God’s purposes, it has value. Along with God’s evaluation came His blessing.
The Bible distinguishes between God’s creative episodes by calling them “days.” Soon I will discuss theological reasons for understanding the days nonliterally. Let me briefly list some exegetical reasons for viewing the seven days as something other than 24-hour periods.
“Day” (yom) is used in at least 3 different ways in Gen 1-2.
In 1:5, God calls the light “day,” referring to “daytime.”
In 2:4, Moses says “in the day,” referring to an “indefinite time period.”
Then at the end of each of the 7 creative periods—typically understood as 24 hours.
The ordination of the Sun and Moon on the 4th day (1:14-19): They were not given the task of determining days, hours, weeks, and months until the 4th day. This requires that at least the first three days are not literal 24-hour periods.
The refrain “evening and morning” does not refer to 24 hours. The refrain does not even refer to daytime. Rather, the refrain refers to the nighttime. The imagery is of God resting in the evening after working all day. As I will explain further, this imagery lets us know that should not interpret the days literally.
The 7th day has not ended. According to John 5:17 and Heb 4:3-11, God is presently enjoying his Sabbath rest. This means that the 7th day has lasted for thousands of years, and therefore cannot be a literal 24-hour period.
Humanity is the crowning feature of creation (vs. 26-27): On the 6th day, God does something truly unique: He makes beings that can reflect God’s nature.
Man and woman are created in God’s image: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”
Man and woman are given authority: “Let them have dominion.” Humanity is given the task of managing God’s creation on earth.
Man and woman are given a mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply.” Adam and Eve were commissioned to expand Eden, so that the blessings of God’s kingdom would extend to the entire world. The commission is made more explicit in Genesis 2.
We Must Interpret the Days of Genesis 1 Nonliterally
The biblical doctrine of God requires that we interpret the days of Genesis 1 as accommodated language. Recently I spoke on a university campus in which I presented an old-earth interpretation of Genesis 1-2. A student asked, “Why shouldn’t we believe that Genesis 1 is referring to six literal 24-hour days? Shouldn’t we interpret the Bible literally?” I answered that typically we should interpret the Bible literally, unless the biblical text under consideration itself gives us good reasons not to do so. Genesis 1-2 provides us with not just good reasons, but compelling reasons for interpreting the six days as longer than normal 24-hour periods. The Bible almost always presents God’s actions in analogous and anthropomorphic language. This is a crucial point that needs to be explained further.
The Bible teaches that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.
Definition of omnipotent: “God is all-powerful.”
Definition of omniscient: “God is all-knowing.”
Definition of omnipresent: “God is everywhere present.”
The Bible also often presents God in an anthropomorphic, accommodated, and analogous manner. When Scripture presents God acting, it generally does so using accommodated language. This is clearly evident in Genesis, especially in the creation account of Genesis 1-2.
Definitions of anthropomorphism, accommodation, and analogy:
Definition of anthropomorphism: “God is described in human terms so that we may understand what He is doing.” Sometimes the Bible presents God as thinking, deciding, or changing His mind.
Definition of accommodation: “God provides His revelation in terms that the original audience could understand.” This is an accommodation to limitations, not an accommodation to error.
Definition of analogy: “God reveals Himself to us through the use of similarities.” When the Bible describes God as our Rock, our Shield, and our Fortress, these are analogies. God is not made out of stone or metal. God is Spirit.
Examples of anthropomorphism, accommodation, and analogy:
When God brought the animals to Adam:
“God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them.”—Genesis 2:19 ESV
Remember: God is all-knowing. A literal interpretation would imply that God didn’t know what names Adam was going to give the animals. Therefore we don’t interpret this verse literally.
When God spoke to Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah:
“Then the Lord said, ‘Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave, I will go down to see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me. And if not, I will know.’”—Genesis 18:20-21 ESV
Remember: God is present everywhere. A literal interpretation would imply that not only did God not know what was happening in Sodom and Gomorrah, but that He was absent from those cities. Therefore we don’t interpret these verses literally.
When the Bible speaks of God’s “refreshment” on the 7th day:
“It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.”—Ex 31:17
Remember: God is all-powerful. God is never fatigued. The expression “refreshed” means “caught his breath.” A literal interpretation would imply that God was tired and needed to regain His strength. Therefore a literal interpretation is not acceptable. God’s activities during the seven days of Genesis 1 and the human workweek have many similarities, but also many differences. God worked only one week; we work many weeks. His creative activity was different. We create using preexisting materials; God created out of nothing. Moses makes an analogy in Exodus, the prophet was not teaching that God created in a literal week.
Conclusion: We have seen that the Bible presents God as One Who is on mission. This mission begins in Genesis 1, where God inaugurates the universe to be His temple. God’s activities are presented as seven days, or episodes. In Genesis 2, God assigns humanity the task of joining in this mission, but in Genesis 3 humanity fails miserably. The remainder of the Bible is the account of God completing His mission, and redeeming humanity in the process. The New Testament repeatedly refers to Jesus Christ as the “second Adam.” When the Bible presents God in action, it nearly always does so in accommodated, analogous language. For this reason, it is theologically essential that the days of creation in Genesis 1 be interpreted in nonliteral terms.