Westminster Theological Journal 25 (1962-3) 1-34



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Westminster Theological Journal 25 (1962-3) 1-34.

Copyright © 1963 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.

THE DAYS OF GENESIS

EDWARD J. YOUNG
"WE do not read in the Gospel", declared Augustine,

"that the Lord said, ‘I send to you the Paraclete who

will teach you about the course of the sun and the moon’;

for he wanted to make Christians, not mathematicians".1

Commenting on these words, Bavinck remarked that when

the Scripture, as a book of religion, comes into contact with

other sciences and sheds its light upon them, it does not then

suddenly cease to be God's Word but continues to be such.

Furthermore, he added, "when it speaks about the origin of

heaven and earth, it presents no saga or myth or poetical

fantasy but even then, according to its clear intention, presents

history, which deserves faith and trust. And for that reason,

Christian theology, with but few exceptions, has held fast

to the literal, historical view of the account of creation."2

It is of course true that the Bible is not a textbook of science,

but all too often, it would seem, this fact is made a pretext

for treating lightly the content of Genesis one. Inasmuch as

the Bible is the Word of God, whenever it speaks on any sub-

ject, whatever that subject may be, it is accurate in what it

says. The Bible may not have been given to teach science as

such, but it does teach about the origin of all things, a ques-

1 "Non legitur in Evangelio Dominum dixisse: Mitto vobis Paracletum

qui vos doceat de cursu solis et lunae. Christianos enim facere volebat,

non mathematicos" ("De Actis Cum Felice Manichaeo", Patrologia Latina,

XLII, col. 525, caput X).

2 "Maar als de Schrift dan toch van haar standpunt uit, juist als boek

der religie, met andere wetenschappen in aanraking komt en ook daarover

haar licht laat schijnen, dan houdt ze niet eensklaps op Gods Woord to

zijn maar blijft dat. Ook als ze over de wording van hemel en aarde

spreekt, geeft ze geen sage of mythe of dichterlijke phantasie, maar ook

dan geeft zij naar hare duidelijke bedoeling historie, die geloof en ver-

trouwen verdient. En daarom hield de Christelijke theologie dan ook,

op schlechts enkele uitzonderingen na, aan de letterlijke, historische

opvatting van het scheppingsverhall vast" (Herman Bavinck: Gerefor-


meerde Dogmatiek, Tweede Deel, Kampen, 1928, p. 458).
2 WESTMINSTER. THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
tion upon which many scientists apparently have little to

say. At the present day Bavinck's remarks are particularly

in order, for recently there has appeared a recrudescence of

the so-called "framework" hypothesis of the days of Genesis,

an hypothesis which in the opinion of the writer of this article

treats the content of Genesis one too lightly and which, at

least according to some of its advocates, seems to rescue the

Bible from the position of being in conflict with the data of

modern science.3 The theory has found advocacy recently

both by Roman Catholics and by evangelical Protestants.4

It is the purpose of the present article to discuss this hypothesis

as it has been presented by some of its most able exponents.


I. Professor Noordtzij and the "Framework" Hypothesis
In 1924 Professor Arie Noordtzij of the University of

Utrecht published a work whose title may be translated,

God's Word and the Testimony of the Ages.5 It is in many

3 Strack, for example (Die Genesis, 1905, p. 9), wrote, "sie (i. e., what

Strack calls "die ideale Auffassung") hat den grossen Vorteil, class sie bei

dem Ver. nicht naturwissenschaftliche Kenntnisse voraussetzt, die er aller

Wahrscheinlichkeit nach so wenig wie irgendeiner seiner Zeitgenossen

gehabt hat, and indem sie der Bibel wie der Naturwissenschaft volles

Recht lasst in Bezug auf das jeder eigentumliche Gebiet, hat sie doch

keinen Konflikt zwischen beiden zur Folge". Professor N. H. Ridderbos,

who has written one of the fullest recent discussions of the "framework"

hypothesis entitles the English translation of his work, Is There a Conflict


Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science?, Grand Rapids, 1957. The origi-

nal work bears the title, Beschouwingen over Genesis I, Assen.

4 See J. O. Morgan: Moses and Myth, London, 1932; N. H. Ridderbos:

op. cit.; Meredith G. Kline: "Because It Had Not Rained", Westminster



Theological Journal, Vol. XX, No. 2 (May 1958), pp. 146-157; Bernard

Ramm: The Christian View of Science and Scripture, Grand Rapids, 1954,

which gives a useful summary of various views (see pp. 222-229).

5 A. Noordtzij: Gods Woord en der Eeuwen Getuigenis. Het Oude Testa-



ment in het Licht der Oostersche Opgravingen, Kampen, 1924. In "Vragen

Rondom Genesis en de Naturwetenschappen", Bezinning, 17e Jaargang,

1962, No. 1, pp. 21 ff., attention is called to the position of Noordtzij.

The position is described as figurative (figuurlijke), and is opposed by

adducing the following considerations. 1.) The clear distinction between

Genesis 1 on the one hand and Genesis 2 and 3 in itself is not sufficient

ground for assuming that one section is to be taken literally, the other not.

2.) Did the writer of this part of Genesis really desire to make a hard and


THE DAYS OF GENESIS 3

respects a remarkable book and contains a useful discussion

of the relationship between the Old Testament and archae-

ological discoveries. Noordtzij has some interesting things to

say about the days of Genesis. The Holy Scripture, so he

tells us, always places the creation in the light of the central

fact of redemption, Christ Jesus.6 When we examine the first

chapter of Genesis in the light of other parts of Scripture, it

becomes clear that the intention is not to give a survey of the

process of creation, but to permit us to see the creative activity

of God in the light of his saving acts, and so, in its structure,

the chapter allows its full light to fall upon man, the crown of

the creative work.7

Inasmuch as the heaven is of a higher order than the earth

it is not subject to a development as is the earth.8 It rather

possesses its own character and is not to be placed on the

same plane as the earth. The order of visible things is bound

up with space and time, but not that of invisible things.

Nor does the Scripture teach a creation ex nihilo, but one out

of God's will.9

That the six days do not have to do with the course of a

natural process may be seen, thinks Noordtzij, from the

fast distinction between the creation account and what follows? The objec-

tion is summarized: "Sammenvattend zou men kunnen zeggen, dat het

argument: de schepping is iets totaal anders dan het begin der menschenge-

schiedenis en daarom kan men Genesis 1 anders opvatten dan Genesis 2

en 3, minder sterk is dan het lijkt" (pp. 23 f.).

6 "Der H. S. stelt het feit der schepping steeds in het licht van het

centrale heilsfeit der verlossing, die in Christus Jezus is, hetzij Hij in het

Oude Verbond profetisch wordt aangekondigd, hetzij die verlossing als

uitgangspunt voor de eschatalogische ontwikkeling wordt gegrepen"

(op. cit., p. 77).

7 "Zoo dikwijls men echter Gen. 1 beschouwt in het Iicht van de andere

gedeelten der H. S., wordt het duidelijk, dat hier niet de bedoeling voorzit

om ons een overzicht to geven van het scheppingsproces, maar om ons de

scheppende werkzaamheid Gods to doen zien in het licht zijner heilsge-

dachten, waarom het dan ook door zijn structuur het voile licht doet

vallen op den mensch, die als de kroon is van het scheppingswerk" (op.



cit., pp. 77 f.).

8 "Maar nu is de hemel, wijl van een andere en hoogere orde dan deze

aarde, niet aan ontwikkeling onderworpen gelijk deze aarde" (op. cit., p. 78).



9 "De H. S. leert ons dan ook niet een „scheppen uit niets" maar een

scheppen uit een kracht: de wil Gods (Openb. 4:11)" (op. cit., p. 79).


4 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

manner in which the writer groups his material. We are given

two trios which exhibit a pronounced parallelism, all of which

has the purpose of bringing to the fore the preeminent glory

of man, who actually reaches his destiny in the sabbath, for

the sabbath is the point in which the creative work of God

culminates and to which it attains.10 The six days show that

the process of origins is to be seen in the light of the highest

and last creation of this visible world, namely, man, and with

man the entire cosmos is placed in the light of the seventh

day and so in the light of dedication to God himself.11 What is

significant is not the concept "day", taken by itself, but rather

the concept of "six plus one".

Inasmuch as the writer speaks of evenings and mornings

previous to the heavenly bodies of the fourth day, continues

Noordtzij, it is clear that he uses the terms "days" and

"nights" as a framework (kader). Such a division of time is

a projection not given to show us the account of creation in

its natural historical course, but, as elsewhere in the Holy

Scriptures, to exhibit the majesty of the creation in the light

of the great saving purpose of God 12 The writer takes his


10 "De schepping is aangelegd op het groote, geestelijke goed, dat zich

in de sabbatsgedachte belichaamt. Daarom en daarom alleen is er in

Gen. 1 van 6 dagen sprake, waarop de sabbat volgt als de dag bij uitnemend-

heid, wijl het Gods dag is" (op. cit., p. 81).


11 "dat Genesis 1 het wordingsproces ziet in het licht van het hoogste

en laatste schepsel dezer zichtbare wereld: den mensch, en dat met then

mensch heel de kosmos gesteld wordt in het licht van den 7den dag en

dus in het licht van de wijding aan God zelven" (op. cit., p. 79). Even if

the entire emphasis, however, were to fall upon the seventh day, it would

not follow that the six days did not correspond to reality. On the con-

trary, the reality of the sabbath as a creation ordinance is grounded upon

the reality of the six days' work. If the seventh day does not correspond

to reality, the basis for observance of the sabbath is removed. Note the

connection in Exodus 20:8 ff., "Remember the day of the Sabbath to keep

it holy," "and he rested on the seventh day."

It should further be noted that the phrase tBAwa.ha MOy is not used in

Genesis 1:1-2:3, nor is there anything in the text which shows that the

six days are mentioned merely for the sake of emphasizing the concept of

the sabbath. Man, it is well to remember, was not made for the sabbath,

but the sabbath for man (cf. Mk. 2:27). Genesis 1:1-2:3 says nothing about

man's relation to the sabbath. Man was not created for the sabbath, but

to rule the earth.



12 "De tijdsindeeling is een projectie, gebezigd niet om ons het scheppings-

verhaal in zijn natuurhistorisch verloop to teekenen maar om evenals elders


THE DAYS OF GENESIS 5

expressions from the full and rich daily life of his people, for

the Holy Spirit always speaks the words of God in human

language. Why then, we may ask, are the six days mentioned?

The answer, according to Noordtzij, is that they are only

mentioned to prepare us for the seventh day.

In reply to this interpretation, the late Professor G. C.

Aalders of the Free University of Amsterdam had some cogent

remarks to make. Desirous as he was of being completely fair

to Noordtzij, Aalders nevertheless declared that he was com-

pelled to understand Noordtzij as holding that as far as the

days of Genesis are concerned, there was no reality with re-

spect to the divine creative activity.13 Aalders then adduced

two considerations which must guide every serious interpreter

of the first chapter of Genesis. (1) In the text of Genesis

itself, he affirmed, there is not a single allusion to suggest

that the days are to be regarded as a form or mere manner of

representation and hence of no significance for the essential

knowledge of the divine creative activity. (2) In Exodus

20:11 the activity of God is presented to man as a pattern,

and this fact presupposes that there was a reality in the

activity of God which man is to follow. How could man be

held accountable for working six days if God himself had not

actually worked for six days?14 To the best of the present

writer's knowledge no one has ever answered these two con-

siderations of Aalders.

in de H.S. ons de heerlijkheid der schepselen to teekenen in het licht van

het groote heilsdoel Gods" (op. cit., p. 80).



13 "Wij kunnen dit niet anders verstaan dat ook naar het oordeel van

Noordtzij aan de „dagen" geen realiteit in betrekking tot de Goddelijke

scheppingswerkzaamheid toekomt" (G. Ch. Aalders: De Goddelijke Open-

baring in de eerste drie Hoofdstukken van Genesis, Kampen, 1932, p. 233).

14 "1°, dat de tekst van Gen. 1 zelf geen enkele aanvijzing bevat, dat de

dagen slechts als een vorm of voorstellingswijze zouden bedoeld zijn en

derhalve voor de wezenlijke kennis van de Goddelijke scheppingswerkzaam-

heid geen waarde zouden hebben: en 2° dat in Ex. 20:11 het doen Gods

aan den mensch tot voorbeeld wordt gesteld; en dit veronderstelt zeer

zeker, dat in dat doen Gods een realiteit is geweest, welke door den mensch

hun worden nagevolgd. Hoe zou den mensch kunnen worden voorgehouden

dat hij na zes dagen arbeiden op den zevenden dag moet rusten, omdat

God in zes dagen alle dingen geschapen heeft en rustte op den zevenden

dag, indien aan die zes scheppingsdagen in het Goddelijk scheppingswerk

geen enkele realiteit beantwoordde?" (op. cit., p. 232).
6 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
II. Preliminary Remarks About Genesis One

Before we attempt to evaluate the arguments employed in

defense of a non-chronological view of the days of Genesis

one, it is necessary to delineate briefly what we believe to

be the nature of the Bible's first chapter. We may begin by

asking whether Genesis one is a special revelation from God

in the sense that it is a communication of information to

man from God concerning the subjects of which it treats.

This question has been answered in the negative by John L.

McKenzie, S.J. in a recent article. "It is not a tenable view

that God in revealing Himself also revealed directly and in

detail the truth about such things as creation and the fall of

man; the very presence of so many mythical elements in their

traditions is enough to eliminate such a view".15 If, however,

this view of special revelation cannot be held, what alternative

does Professor McKenzie offer? The alternative, it would

seem, is to look upon Genesis one as in reality a human

composition, although McKenzie does not use just these terms.

According to him Genesis one is a retreatment of a known

myth, in which the writer has radically excised the mythical

elements and has "written an explicit polemic against the

creation myth". The polytheism, theogony, theomachy and

the "creative combat" are removed so that now the act of

creation is "achieved in entire tranquility".16

What then are we to call the first chapter of Genesis after

these various pagan elements have been excised? It is not

history for "it is impossible to suppose that he (i. e., the

Hebrew) had historical knowledge of either of these events"

(i. e., either of the creation or the deluge).17 Nor can Genesis

one really be called a theological reconstruction or interpreta-

tion.18 What then is this first chapter of Genesis? Actually

15 John L. McKenzie, S.J.: "Myth and the Old Testament", in The

Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. XXI, July 1959, p. 281.

16 Op. cit., p. 277. This position is widely held; cf. Young, "'The Interpre-

tation of Genesis 1:2", Westminster Theological Journal, Vol. XXIII,

May 1961, pp. 151-178, where references to relevant literature will be

found.


17 Op. cit., p. 278.

18 But cf. Gerhard von Rad: Das erste Buch Mose, Genesis Kapitel 1-25,

18, 1953, p. 36, "es (i. e., the creation account) ist Lehre, die in langsamsten,


THE DAYS OF GENESIS 7

it is a story which the Hebrews told in place of the story

which it displaced. It is not, however, a single story, but

rather represents a multiple approach, and each of its images

has value as an intuition of creation's reality. These images

are symbolic representations of a reality which otherwise

would not be known or expressed. The knowledge of God the

Hebrews possessed through the revelation of himself, and in

their handling of the creation account they sought to remove

everything that was out of accord with their conception of

God. They did possess a knowledge of God but, even so, the

unknown remained unknown and mysterious. In speaking of

the unknown, therefore, all the Hebrews could do was "to

represent through symbolic forms the action of the unknown

reality which they perceived mystically, not mythically,

through His revelation of Himself".19

McKenzie's rejection of the view that Genesis one is a

special revelation from the one living and true God is some-

what facile. He brings only one argument against that posi-

tion, namely, the assumption that there are mythological

elements in the first chapter of the Bible.20

Elsewhere we have sought to demonstrate the untenable-

ness of the view that there are mythical elements in the first

chapter of the Bible.21

If, however, one rejects the position that Genesis one is a

special revelation of God, as Professor McKenzie does, a

number of pertinent questions remain unanswered. For one

thing, why cannot God have revealed to man the so-called

area of the unknown? Why, in other words, can God not have

told man in simple language just what God did in creating

the heaven and the earth?22 What warrant is there for the

jahrhundertelangem Wachstum sich behutsam angereichert hat". Despite

this sentence, it is not clear that the positions of von Rad and McKenzie

are essentially different.

19 Op. cit., p. 281.

20 K. Popma: "Enkele voorslagen betreffende de exegese van Genesis

1-3", in Lucerna, 30 Jaargang, no. 2, p. 632, speaks of this as exegesis

"die haar naam niet meer waard is; t.w. diverse opvattingen van sage,

mythe, e.d.".



21 Cf. Young: op. cit.

22 In Bezinning, loc. cit., p. 23, the wholesome remark is made, "welke

daad Gods, op welk moment in de menselijke historie, is niet to wonderlijk

8 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL

assumption that the unknown could only be represented

through symbolic forms? Furthermore, if the Hebrews were

guided in their handling of the creation by the conceptions of

God which they held, whence did they obtain those concep-

tions? Were they communicated in words from God himself,

as when he said, "Ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy"

(Leviticus 11:45b), or did they adopt them as a result of their

reaction to events in the world which they thought represented

the acting of God in power? How could the Hebrews know

that the conceptions of God which they possessed actually

corresponded to reality?

McKenzie's article shows what difficulties arise when one

rejects the historic position of the Christian Church, and

indeed of the Bible itself, that Scripture, in the orthodox sense,

is the Word of God and a revelation from him. As soon as

one makes the assumption that Genesis one is really the

work of man, he is hard pressed to discover the lessons that

the chapter can teach. If the work is of human origination,

how can it have a theological message or be regarded in any

sense as the Word of God?

The position adopted in this article is that the events

recorded in the first chapter of the Bible actually took place.

They were historical events, and Genesis one, therefore, is

to be regarded as historical. In employing the word "his-

torical", we are rejecting the definition which would limit the

word to that which man can know through scientific investiga-

tion alone.23 We are using the word rather as including all

om haar enigermate letterlijk in onze taal to beschrijven? Is de vleeswording

des Woords, is de bekering van ons hart minder wonderlijk dan de schepping

van hemel en aarde?" Those who reject the historic Christian position

that Scripture is a special revelation from God and yet still wish to regard

the Scripture as the Word of God have no adequate criterion by which to

judge the nature of Scripture. Thus, Ralph H. Elliott, The Message of



Genesis, Nashville, 1961, p. 13, remarks that creation was event, and

that it was up to succeeding generations to translate this event into mean-

ing "as they analyzed the event and as they comprehended God". But

how can one be sure that they analyzed the event correctly or that they

comprehended God correctly unless God himself told them how to do this?

23 Cf. e. g., W. F. Albright: From the Stone Age to Christianity. New York,

1957, p. 399, and a discussion of this view in Young: Thy Word Is Truth,

Grand Rapids, 1957, pp. 245 ff.
THE DAYS OF GENESIS 9

which has transpired. Our knowledge of the events of creation

we receive through the inscripturated revelation of God.

The defense of this position will be made as the argument

progresses. At this point, however, it may be well to note

that the New Testament looks upon certain events of the




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