Biblical reasons to doubt Justin Taylor’s doubts about the creation days being 24-hour periods

Justin Taylor has written an article on the Gospel Coalition, Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods. It is interesting; but I think ultimately very weak.

For the record, I’m not committed to a young earth. I think the evidence is inconclusive (one might even say it is ambivalent). Neither am I committed to the calendar-day interpretation of Genesis 1. But I don’t think Justin’s article, at least, gives us good reasons to doubt that interpretation. I’ll work through his arguments using his headings:

1. Genesis 1:1 Describes the Actual Act of Creation Out of Nothing and Is Not a Title or a Summary

Also

2. The Earth, Darkness, and Water Are Created Before “The First Day”

These are simply irrelevant to the length of yom. I myself am more inclined to read Gen 1:1 as, “When God created the heavens and the earth”—but this is perfectly consistent with taking 1:1 to describe the first thing God did. The problem is, if 1:1 is a merism and encompasses everything made, then it makes no sense for God to afterward say “let there be light” (v 3)—since light was already created in v 1, and indeed the sun was already present also.

This also makes Gen 1:14 and Gen 1:16 incomprehensible. Even assuming you translate v 14 as something like, “Let the lights in the expanse be to separate the day from the night”, rather than, “Let there be lights in the expanse to separate the day from the night”—which you will notice no translations do—you would have to translate v 16 in the pluperfect; ie, “God had made two great lights…” But it just isn’t in the pluperfect.

3. The Seventh “Day” Is Not 24 Hours Long

I think Justin is right about this; which does suggest that it may be permissible to treat yom as more than a calendar day.

The problem is, in the absence of any additional reasons to stretch the previous six days of creation, it is merely an interesting sidenote; not an argument. It doesn’t actually add to the positive case he wants to make.

4. The “Day” of Genesis 2:4 Cannot Be 24 Hours Long

True—but it is linguistically handicapped to argue that if a figurative expression like “in the day” doesn’t refer to a calendar day, then neither must a seemingly non-figurative, programmatic expression like “there was evening and morning, the fourth day”.

The comment about Hosea 6:2 is equally inept, since the whole point of the expression “in two days, in three days” is to use calendar days as idiomatic of a short time. But there is no such idiom in the creation account (quite the opposite); and even if there were, this would only suggest at most that yom should be interpreted as “a very short time” or “a little while” rather than a literal 24 hour day.

5. The Explanation of Genesis 2:5-7 Assumes More Than an Ordinary Calendar Day

It really doesn’t assume it. Rather, it is Justin who has to assume that eretz means “the earth”—as in the whole planet—and then posit ordinary providence as the reason for vegetation not having grown. The problem is, this drives a wedge between chapters 1 and 2. Genesis 2 has God forming the man, then planting the orchard in Eden, with the rain (according to Justin) presumably implied as coming later to cause germination over the rest of the earth. But Genesis 1 has vegetation created on day 3, and man created on day 6—well after the earth has brought forth trees and plants. Justin would have to take Gen 1:12 as something like, “The land produced seeds which would, when rained on, grow into plants and trees according to their kinds.” Which, again, is not what it says.

Moreover, presumably an ancient Israelite was perfectly aware that plants did not require rain specifically in order to grow; that they would, indeed, grow quite happily given “watered” ground (Gen 2:6)—especially if ed refers to springs rather than mist.

So Justin’s interpretation is awkward at best. It makes far more sense here to interpret eretz (Gen 2:5-6) as referring not to the whole earth, but to the land of Eden, in the same way that eretz yishra’el refers to the land of Israel. This fits better with chapter 2 as focusing on the preparation of the earth for Adam, and Adam’s own role in completing the work of God.

So What Does God Mean by “Days” in Genesis 1?

Justin’s final point about man being modeled on God, not vice versa, is a good one. I agree with him. In fact, it is not merely a good point, but a critical one, as I observed when I made it myself in my series on the nature of love. The trouble is, the mere fact of analogy doesn’t lead to the conclusion he wants. It’s true that, given analogy, God’s workdays need not necessarily be 24 hour days. But it is equally true that they need not necessarily be something else. You need an extra argument to plug in that will actually do the work of producing that conclusion. And I can’t see that Justin has done this.

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