In all my searching and discussing the issue of the interpretation of the days of creation in Genesis 1, Google directed me to a statement from Westminster Theological Seminary declaring the results of their research into the history of how this issue has been treated by the leaders of the Augustinian and Reformed traditions going all the way back to Augustine himself. The statement is called, “Westminster Theological Seminary and the Days of Creation.“
The discussion among Presbyterians revolves around the reasons the Westminster Divines selected the language they did in when they framed the chapter on Creation in the Westminster Confession of Faith. The phrase in question will be highlighted in the following citation:
I. It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.
The question is raised as to why the wording “in the space of six days.” Why not simply “in six days”? The statement explains:
“The paraphrase view is doubtful because if the Standards had intended simply to utilize biblical language, “in six days” would have sufficed and been a more natural choice. The words “the space of,” as the other view above recognizes, seem deliberately chosen as an interpretive or clarifying addition that functions both to affirm and to exclude or negate.
To make the long story short, the statement concludes that the divines intended to exclude Augustine’s view that God created everything instantaneously inspiring the six days, as Calvin described the view (which he did not hold), “for the mere purpose of conveying instruction.” You can read more about this discussion in the statement itself. You can link to it from the title above, and I have also added a link to the page on my “Recommended Sites” page for future reference.
Finally, here’s a quote that sums up the entire issue as they see it. I find it rather helpful:
With Augustine and E. J. Young, the revered teacher of our senior faculty members, we recognize that the exegetical question of the length of the days of Genesis 1 may be an issue which cannot be, and therefore is not intended by God to be, answered in dogmatic terms. To insist that it must comes dangerously close to demanding from God revelation which he has not been pleased to bestow upon us, and responding to a threat to the biblical world view with weapons that are not crafted from the words which have proceeded out of the mouth of God.
Won’t We Leave Behind the Litmus Test of Wooden Literalism?
Nothing tickles me like Hank Hanegraaff’s affinity for alliteration! You remember Hank–he’s the host of The Bible Answer Man (BAM) radio show. I like Hank because he believes that “Truth Matters,” even if he disagrees with the doctrines of grace and is an evidentialist apologist. Some of my more hard core Reformed brethren may think that because of these two issues alone, I shouldn’t waste any more time listening to his show.
Despite occasional disagreements, there are many strengths to BAM and the Christian Research Institute that keep me coming back for more. Hank isn’t politically (or is that “religiously”?) correct–back in 1999, he suffered the slings and arrows of the Evangelical community who were capitalizing on what Hank in his inimitable way called “sensationalism and selling” as they geared up for Y2K for denying it was a danger; much more recently, he broke many hearts by refusing to bow to the golden idol of dispensational premillennialism expounding what he calls “Exegetical Eschatology.”
Well, now he’s cast his lot against the populist view again–this time the issue is the Genesis creation days. I found Hank’s remarks from his introduction to the Friday Bible Answer Man broadcast especially helpful in encouraging us to remember that not everything is a fundamental over which Bible believing Christians must divide. How to interpret Genesis chapter one is one such, in Hank’s words, “in house debate which Christians can debate vigorously without dividing over.”
A couple of comments and then right to our callers. I’ve been getting a lot of questions at the CRI, through social media, through the Bible Answer Man broadcast and otherwise regarding the Genesis creation days. Are they literal? Are they long? Or, are they literary? Of course, there are three dominant schools of thought within Evangelical Christianity regarding the Genesis days of creation.
First, the popular 24 hour view that posits that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 sequential literal days. Therefore a majority of young earth creationists view the earth to be approximately 6,000 years old and consider all death, including animal death, to be a direct function of Adam’s Fall.
Furthermore, there’s a day-age perspective. That perspective posits that God created the heavens and the earth in 6 long sequential day-ages which total billions of years. So, in contrast to the 24 hour perspective, the day-age perspective posits that “nature, red in tooth and claw” is the result of God’s very good creation prior to Adam’s Fall to a life perpetuated by sin and terminated by death.
And then there’s a very noteworthy framework perspective, which holds the seven days of creation are non-literal, non-sequential but nonetheless historical. In concert with the day-age perspective, they view animal death as consistent with the goodness of God’s creation and believe that the age question is settled by natural revelation, in other words, by reading God’s Book of Nature, as opposed to settling it by reading special revelation, in other words, the Bible.
All three perspectives hold to essential Christian doctrine, thus they commonly debate non-essential differences without dividing over them. And I want to park on that for just a second. There are essentials, and as Christians we stand shoulder to shoulder with respect to essential Christian doctrine. The problem is, I think, that a divisiveness has crept into the Body of Christ whereby this age issue has become an acid test for orthodoxy. Therein lies, I think, a substantial problem.
Better that we adhere to the maxim: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” And then learn—“Iron sharpens iron.”I’ve learned a great deal by reading the presuppositions of the framework hypothesis. I’ve learned a great deal by reading the literature of old earth creationists; I’ve learned a great deal, in fact, my own conversion was radically affected by, the literature of young earth creationism.
Now I have disagreements with old earth creationism, because of the concordism that is apparent there, where you try to take science–modern cosmology, as an example–and fit it into the biblical text such that “he stretches out the heavens” becomes a pretext for Big Bang cosmology. I may agree with Big Bang cosmology, but I certainly don’t think the texts that are used as pretexts should be used in that sense.
I think the same thing is going on by a lot of the texts used by young earth creationism. But at the end of the day this is still an issue that involves debate, not division, so let’s not make it an acid test for orthodoxy, and divide unnecessarily, when, no matter how much time modern cosmologies posit for the age of the earth, or the universe, we don’t have enough time to form a simple protein molecule by random processes much less a living cell. So the real enemy is the evolutionary paradigm which is not only not tenable in an age of scientific enlightenment, but flies in the face of common sense—nothing cannot produce everything. The only logical thing we can say in an age of scientific enlightenment, is “In the beginning God”—an uncaused First Cause is the reason we have the effect of a universe finely tuned for human life.