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-
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.
Utrecht published a work whose title may be translated,
God's Word and the Testimony of the Ages.5 It is in many
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
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-
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
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.
aarde, niet aan ontwikkeling onderworpen gelijk deze aarde" (op. cit., p. 78).
scheppen uit een kracht: de wil Gods (Openb. 4:11)" (op. cit., p. 79).
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
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.
verhaal in zijn natuurhistorisch verloop to teekenen maar om evenals elders
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).
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
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
18, 1953, p. 36, "es (i. e., the creation account) ist Lehre, die in langsamsten,
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,
daad Gods, op welk moment in de menselijke historie, is niet to wonderlijk
8 WESTMINSTER THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL
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
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
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