There is probably nothing that divides Christian theologians more than how the seven days of creation in the Book of Genesis should be interpreted. While Christian’s have differences on various subjects, the seven days of creation seems to really have a wide array of interpretations that cause some Christian’s to pretty much table the discussion altogether. The key is to strip out presuppositions and look strictly at the facts. Then work to fill in the blanks around those facts.
Seven Days of Creation
When you look at Genesis 1:1, it takes us right to the start of it all. It famously launches us into “the beginning”. In the beginning, the earth was dark, formless and empty. However water covered the surface. We know that because the Bible tells us that ‘darkness was over the surface of the deep’ and that the “Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters“. God also created light so that there was both light and darkness and he defined the difference as night and day. However, as we find in the fourth day of creation, this does not mean that the earth was experiencing a true 24hr period though. Instead, it just means that light came into existence and was separated from darkness. It also means that God defined the covering of darkness as night and the covering of light as day.
On the second day, God separated the water that covered the earth so that there were ‘waters’ above the expanse and ‘waters’ below the expanse. This is often interpreted that God created the sky which includes the atmosphere, clouds, moisture, etc. At this point, the earth has the necessary components for potential life.
On the third day, God caused the waters to gather so that land became exposed. He called the dry land ‘earth’ and the waters ‘seas’. On the same day, God caused seeds to sprout vegetation including fruit trees and plants. He further created the vegetation with seeds so that they could reproduce “after their own kind”.
On the fourth day, God then creates the stars as well as he placed the sun and the moon within the realm of the earth so that they defined our day and night. The Bible refers to the sun as the ‘greater light’ that governs the day and the moon as the ‘lesser light’ that governs the night. It is important to acknowledge that the Bible is distinguishing between light that is created on the first day versus the light that is created on the fourth day. The light that is created on the first day is referring to just the physical nature of light. Light on the fourth day is referring to how God placed light within the visible reach of earth.
On the fifth day, God created all the sea animals and the birds.
On the sixth day, God created the land animals and humans. One interesting thing to note is the phrasing that is used. The Bible tells us that God said “let the earth bring forth living creatures after their kind”. The God goes on to make man from the “dust of the ground” and breathed into his nostrils the breathe of life. What is interesting here is that God references using earth to make both humans and land creatures.
Finally on the seventh day God rested. Unlike all the prior creation days, the Bible does not end with the phrasing “and there was evening and there was morning” to close out the seventh day.
When looking at the facts stated above, it is easy to see how many have determined that the first 3 days do not refer to literal 24hr periods because the earth did not circle the sun until the 4th day. However, others tend to believe that while the earth was not positioned to experience days and nights like the latter part of the week, the Bible is still referring to 24hr periods and is just applying the language retroactively so that we would understand the chronology and timing of events.
Some also point out that one way to interpret the first verse of the Bible is that the earth could have easily been created much earlier than the first day because it simply says that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The ‘beginning’ does not necessarily imply that it was the start of the week of the creation. For those that follow that line of thinking, the idea is that God is stating that at some point earlier, he created the heavens the earth and it was without form, void, and dark. Then on the first day, he created light and separated it from darkness.
There also seems to be a strong possibility that the seventh day never ended. Many theologians believe that we are still in the seventh day of creation. They come to this conclusion because the Bible actually never closes out the seventh day as it did with the other six days. Additionally, Hebrews 4:1-11 mentions that we shall not enter God’s rest which is still going on.
The idea that each day does not represent 24hr periods is partially related to the fact that, for God, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.
Young earth creationist such as Kent Hovind and Ken Hamm have both taken the position that the creation days are literal 24hr period days and that creation occurred around 6,000 years ago. They base this on the creation days being literal and map out the generations using Biblical ancestral family trees that are mentioned in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Old earth apologists such as Hugh Ross and Norman Geisler believe that the creation days refer to periods of time versus 24hr periods and therefore align more with the scientific findings on the age of the universe and life.
John Lennox has taken a more nuanced approach by arguing in his book, “Seven Days That Divided the World”, that the creation days are indeed 24hr periods but that significant periods of time existed between each day. He also proposes that the creation days of the Book of Genesis really are part of groupings where the first three days represent the creation of the universe while the second group of three days represents the creation of our habitat.
As you look at the scientific evidence along with the possible Biblical interpretations, it is not difficult to see that both science and the Bible can, and likely do, align with the age of the universe. Regardless, both science and the Bible are most definitely aligned in that there was a creation where time, matter, and space came into existence and that life abounded from that creation moment.