7th May, 2011

Literally Six Days? Literally No.

I love Genesis. Reading the first few chapters never ceases to amaze and intrigue me.

One of the biggest debates some Christians have is whether God literally created the earth in six days or not. Some are so insistent the account be literal that it becomes a litmus test for “real” faith. When I was a teenager I was probably on that side of the argument. And I loved the argument.

I don’t put much thought into it today. My faith is that God could have created the entire universe in 6 nanoseconds, 6 seconds, 6 minutes, 6 hours, 6 days, 6 millennia. He is and He is able. The real question isn’t really one of faith; it is more how one approaches the text of Scripture.

Many who argue the days aren’t literal 24-hour days stop at the text that notes that it wasn’t until the fourth day that God created the sun and moon to govern the day and night. The conclusion taken from this is that perhaps one could argue that from that day forward there were “days,” but the first three to four days clearly couldn’t have been a reference to 24-hour periods of time as defined by the sun because there was no sun in existence – particularly if you are going to focus on the literal text. I understand that view, but would look beyond day four to add questions to the mix.

The traditional view of chapters 1 and 2 of Genesis is that in chapter 1 we see the general account of creation, day by day. In that chapter, the author of Genesis, inspired by God, writes that it is on the 6th day that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In chapter 2, traditionalists would say, we see the specific narrative of man’s creation. So, literally, what is taking place in chapter 2 is the specific accounting of the 6th Day of chapter 1.

A literal reading of chapter 2 is where I see problems with a literal, 24-hour, six-day Creation. Many things raise questions about how all of chapter two could have taken place in one day. But, we see in chapter two that there is some period of time where Adam, man, is alone, without female. Nevertheless, in chapter one it is clear that on the 6th Day God created male AND female. That suggests that the period of time Adam was alone, if the days are literal 24-hour periods, was short and all within a 24-hour period.

What all happened in the time that Adam was alone? (Note that his solitude was not good – the one thing about creation God said was not good – a great comment on God’s relational character and purpose.) Here’s the text:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

Genesis 2:15-22

According to Genesis 2, the following events occurred from the time Adam was created until the time Eve was created, Day 6 of Genesis 1, when God created man in His own image, male and female he created them:

1. God put Adam in the Garden of Eden.
2. God gave Adam instruction about taking care of the garden.
3. God gave Adam instruction about what he could and could not eat.
4. God brought Adam “all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air” so that Adam could name them.
5. God found no suitable helper for Adam in all of those animals.
6. God caused Adam to sleep deeply.
7. God took part of Adam and fashioned Eve therefrom (Adam awakes at some point).
8. God brought Eve to Adam.

That’s a lot of happenings in less than 24 literal hours. Whereas God can do all things in an infinitely small or large amount of time, as He is unlimited by time, Adam could not. When we learn that God brings “all” of the beasts of the field and birds of the air for Adam to name, we understand that such events occurred in the context of time. The sun and moon were governing the days and nights. It excites me to know that Adam and God had this amazing, intimate time together. That strengthens my faith in the type of intimate relationship God, our Father, desires to have with us. They were hanging out in the garden, naming animals (God was allowing Adam to be a part of His creation), walking, talking, and enjoying one another.

If Adam was anything like you or me, he may have had some difficulty making decisions about the names. Tara, the kids, and I were just trying to come up a name for the new puppy we are about to get. It has taken us two weeks to come up with just one name! I don’t think it took Adam that long for each one, but I do think that if God brought Adam hundreds of animals (even more if we take the word “all” literally here), there is no physical possibility that Adam named every animal in less than 24 hours. Add to all the naming his deep sleep and Eve’s formation and the limits of possibility are stretched beyond imagination.

So, a literal six 24-hour periods in Genesis 1? I really don’t think so. But I also don’t write all this to argue or point fingers at anyone. I just find Genesis so interesting that I love reading and analyzing it deeply. I don’t think God’s point in giving us the Creation account was to spell out precisely what He did so that we can box it up neatly. The real gems here are that God created, God is a relationship, God loves relationship, and God desires relationship for us and with us.

Reading Genesis and asking all of these types of questions doesn’t challenge my faith; to do so increases my faith in an amazing God, a great big God who isn’t limited by my “literal reading” of Scripture or by my imagination. He is bigger than that and bigger than me.

Questions really don’t suggest a lack of faith; they can inspire us to even great faith – “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not….” Hebrews 11:1.

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What language would Adam have spoken?

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