Genesis 1 and the Days of Creation

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Genesis 1 and the Days of Creation

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During the last 150 years or so, no part of the Bible has come under more rigorous attack than the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis. Darwinists have made much of evidence that earth is apparently anywhere from five to 15 billion years old. Yet a careful genealogical study of the biblical record combined with history suggests to some people that the earth has existed for a mere 6,000 years.

Before we address this discrepancy, let us first consider how the Bible, in its Genesis narrative, presents creation. What is the organizing principle of the biblical account of creation? How does the creation narrative present God’s acts of creation to the reader? On what does God hang the whole creation epic?

The creation account hangs first on the 24-hour day; then on the seven-day week. (Genesis 1 describes the first six days of creation week; the first few verses of chapter 2 recount the seventh day.)

The Earth in Orbit

We learn from observation that the earth makes one revolution around the sun in a year, and it rotates on its axis once every 24 hours. The axis rotation produces the familiar succession of day and night. The planet spins like a child’s top at a consistent angle to the sun, maintaining that angle while making its circular journey.

Earth revolves just rapidly enough to produce the 24-hour cycle (or, more precisely, 23 hours and 56 minutes). It revolves slightly obliquely to its plane of rotation, which makes for the four annual seasons.

What does Genesis 1 have to do with these natural phenomena? Can we take seriously the Bible’s creation account?

“And God saw the light that it was good, and God divided the light from darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:4-5 Genesis 1:4-5 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
American King James Version×
). We see from the account that God established the day-and-night cycle from the beginning. Day and night are functions of the rotation of the earth as it orbits the sun. Clearly the wording of Genesis describes the 24-hour period we are all familiar with. Notice further that God appointed the sun to separate light from darkness and to divide day from night (verse 14).

We can readily grasp the wording of the biblical creation account. It fits the context of something we experience every day. From birth to death we live in a constant succession of 24-hour days and nights.”The several pictures of creation history are set within the six work-day frames” ( The New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 82).

How Long were the Days of Creation?

Ever since the realization by scientists that the earth’s age must be measured in the billions of years, well-meaning people have tried to reconcile the biblical account with such scientific findings. Some have theorized that the seven 24-hour creation days were really much longer—possibly epochs lasting thousands or millions of years. To support this idea, some have argued that the Hebrew word for “day,” yom, means an unspecified measure of time in Genesis 1.

It is true that yom can mean an indefinite period such as in the English expression “at the end of the day.” But the context of each of the six days of Genesis 1 makes it clear how long each day of creation actually was. The expression “So the evening and the morning were the first day” in Genesis 1 is repeated for every one of the other five days.

One rotation of the earth on its axis is the unmistakable meaning of day in the creation account. Throughout the history of the Hebrew people, the evening has always signified the beginning of a new day, a specific 24 hours.

However, since that particular expression does not close the account of the seventh day (Genesis 2:1-3 Genesis 2:1-3 1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2 And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.
American King James Version×
), some have tried to lengthen the creation Sabbath as well. They reason that the seventh day of creation has not yet ended, even after thousands of years. Thus the earlier six days of creation may have lasted for thousands of years as well. But does Scripture support this view?

The Bible interprets the Bible. The account relaying the giving of the Ten Commandments confirms how long each of creation days was, including the seventh-day Sabbath. Exodus 20:8-11 Exodus 20:8-11 8 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days shall you labor, and do all your work: 10 But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD your God: in it you shall not do any work, you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maidservant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger that is within your gates: 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
summarizes their significance:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth … and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it [declared it holy].”

In defining when we are to keep one of God’s annual Sabbaths, the Day of Atonement, God tells us that, “from evening to evening [24 hours], you shall celebrate your sabbath” (Leviticus 23:32 Leviticus 23:32It shall be to you a sabbath of rest, and you shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even to even, shall you celebrate your sabbath.
American King James Version×
). The same principle applies to the weekly Sabbath and all of the annual feast days. (You might want to write for our free booklet Sunset to Sunset: God’s Sabbath Rest. )

Understanding Genesis 1:1-2 Genesis 1:1-2 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×

The first two verses of the Bible are critical in this discussion. “The Genesis prologue presents those historical truths which are the necessary presuppositions for the valid pursuit of human knowledge” ( The New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 81). So let’s take a fresh look at Genesis 1:1-2 Genesis 1:1-2 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters.
American King James Version×
.

Both the New International Version and the older Schofield Reference Bible suggest the possibility that the expression “the earth was without form and void” (verse 2) can be rendered “the earth became without form and void.” In other words, something spoiled the original creation described in Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
and made it necessary for God to restore order out of chaos—which He did during six 24-hour periods followed by a Sabbath rest.

The Companion Bible points out that, in the King James Version (and most subsequent translations), “the verb ‘to be’ is not distinguished from the verb ‘to become,’ so that the lessons conveyed” in these first few verses “are lost.” It goes on to explain that without form (Hebrew tohu ) “is used of a subsequent event which, we know not how long after the Creation, befell the primitive creation of Gen. 1.1.”

(For a detailed account of the rationale and reference sources that confirm the possibility of the rendering “became” instead of “was,” see “Earth’s Age: Does the Bible Indicate a Time Interval Between the First and Second Verses of Genesis?,”).

Suffice it to say here that God does not create by first making a mess (1 Corinthians 14:33 1 Corinthians 14:33For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.
American King James Version×
). God told the cherub (angel) Lucifer, “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, till iniquity [lawlessness] was found in you” (Ezekiel 28:15 Ezekiel 28:15You were perfect in your ways from the day that you were created, till iniquity was found in you.
American King James Version×
). God is the God of perfection, order and beauty. It is either the angelic realm or man’s world that makes the messes.

The conclusion is that an original creation (Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
) preceded the making of a gigantic mess by Satan (the former Lucifer) and a third of the angels (Revelation 12:4 Revelation 12:4And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.
American King James Version×
), who had become demons. Sometime later God accomplished a full restoration during six 24-hour days, followed by the day of rest that created the seventh-day Sabbath (Exodus 20:11 Exodus 20:11For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: why the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
American King James Version×
).

The time gap between Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
and 1:2 is an unspecified period that could encompass billions of years, accounting for the “deep time” that geologists and other scientists have discovered in the last two centuries. So the Bible itself solves the enigma. We do not need to artificially lengthen the seven 24-hour creation days to resolve the problem.

More on Creation

We can learn something every time we study the magnificent creation account in Genesis 1. Sometimes a different translation can shed new light on it and yield fresh understanding.

Consider Genesis 1:14 Genesis 1:14And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
American King James Version×
in the Revised English Bible: “God said, `Let there be lights in the vault of the heavens to separate day from night, and let them serve as signs both for festivals and for seasons and years.’ ” Of course, no translation is perfect. Sometimes another version can introduce a problem while shedding light on something else, even in the same passage.

Although “vault” is an awkward rendering for “sky” or “firmament,” the inclusion of “festivals” along with seasons and years anticipates God’s intentions for the good of mankind. God gave the Sabbath at creation just after He made man (Mark 2:27 Mark 2:27And he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath:
American King James Version×
). But He revealed the biblical festivals much later to the “church in the wilderness” (Leviticus 23; Acts 7:38 Acts 7:38This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give to us:
American King James Version×
).

As is the case with the seventh-day Sabbath, the annual festivals are important for understanding God’s plan for mankind. Yet mere knowledge of their existence is insufficient. By actively observing the biblical festivals each year, the Church acts out the very plan of God, growing in understanding of God’s purpose (2 Peter 3:18 2 Peter 3:18But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
American King James Version×
).

Their timing is interwoven with the seasons of the Northern Hemisphere. God’s year does not begin in the dead of winter as on our humanly devised calendars, but in the spring when green plants emerge from the earth, birds are flying, and the creation in general brightens with resurgent light and heat.

The United Church of God publishes a booklet that explains the meaning of the annual biblical festivals. Please request your free copy of God’s Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind . GN