Three views on the Genesis days of creation from a Calvinistic perspective

Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.

— Augustine, St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis (Ancient Christian Writers series, 1982), Vol. 1, Book 1, Chapter 19, pp. 42-43, boldface added

Most who believe the original Christian Scriptures are infallible and without error hold one of the following three interpretations of the Genesis creation week. More detail on these views and other views held by conservative Christians can be found in the off-site material.

 

Literal 24-Hour View

Day-Age View

Figurative 24-Hour View

Adherents

Martin Luther

Henry Morris

Charles Hodge

Hugh Ross

Augustine?

Robert Godfrey

Meaning of day

24-hour day

Age

24-hour solar day

Interpretation

Literal

Chronological order

Literal

Chronological order

Figurative

Topical order

Explanation

God created everything in 6 literal, 24-hour days; the order of the days in Genesis corresponds to the order in time

God created everything in 6 ages; the order of the days in Genesis corresponds to the order in time

God created everything; the order of solar days in Genesis corresponds to a topical framework, not to any literal order in time

 

The word day (ym in Hebrew) means a 24-hour solar day

The creation activities of each day are followed by "evening and morning," indicating a 24-hour period. This goes against the Day-Age view, but agrees with the Literal 24-Hour and Figurative 24-Hour views. "Evening and morning" seems to mean a solar day (darkness and sunshine), but the Literal 24-Hour view requires that the first three days are non-solar.

The days are ordered topically

The colors of this table correspond to those of the text to the right. God's rest on the seventh day highlights his reign over the three realms of his creation.

 

Light

Water and air

Land

Kingdoms

God created the light, dividing light from darkness (day 1)

God created the sky, dividing water from clouds (day 2)

God divided the land from the water, making plants on the land (day 3)

Kings

God created the light sources to rule the day and night, dividing light from darkness (day 4)

God made animals to rule the water and the air (day 5)

God made animals to rule the land and man to rule the creation (day 6)

This suggests the Figurative 24-Hour view: since the days were arranged to fit a topical framework, they were not necessarily literal. "In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed" (Ex 31:17). If God was not literally refreshed on the seventh day, why assume the creation week had to be a literal week? The seventh day cannot be both literal and 24 hours in duration since it never ends.

The days are not chronological (they are not ordered in literal time)

The sources of light had to be created before the light they give. But the sources of light were created on Day 4 and their light was created on Day 1, so the topical order of the days was not meant to be taken as a literal order in time. Gen 1:4 (Day 1) tells us that God divided the light from the darkness, while Gen 1:18 (Day 4) tells us how God did so. This observation contradicts the two chronological views, each of which has difficulty with the simple question, Did God separate the light from the darkness on Day 1 or on Day 4?

Extra-biblical considerations

Unlike the other views, the Literal 24-Hour view goes against evidence that the universe is very old. Many of those who object to scientific evidence on the grounds that Scripture should have priority nonetheless emphasize church history as a primary argument in favor of the Literal 24-Hour view. For example, some argue that any interpretation of Scripture that was virtually unknown before some scientific theory made it popular is highly suspect. Thus, since the Figurative 24-Hour and Day-Age views had not been formulated before the theory of an old earth became accepted, those interpretations are highly suspect. The same argument cast suspicion on figurative interpretations that were unknown before heliocentric theory was adopted. Further, although Augustine did not hold to the developed Figurative 24-Hour view described above, he did believe the creation process was instantaneous, not over a literal six day period. Those who hold to the Day-Age view tend to stress scientific evidence more than church history, whereas those who hold to the Figurative 24-Hour view tend to stress the wording, context, and structure of Genesis. They freely acknowledge that progress in science led theologians to re-examine the text of Scripture, as it had in the heliocentric-geocentric controversy.

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