Seven days that divide the world.  That’s what mathematician, philosopher of science and apologist John Lennox calls the biblical account of the first seven days of the universe. But why should that be? Compared to the text of Genesis 3 (the account of Eve, the serpent and the fall), the account of the creation (Genesis 1) is rather straight forward. Yet it appears there are more interpretations of the straight forward text of the first seven days than there are of the clearly more complex text of Eve and the fall.
Even so, the account of Eve and the serpent is not so difficult that it can’t be easily understood, as I demonstrate here. Both the account of the creation and the account of the fall appear very clear and straight forward. Why then are there so many different understandings of what they mean? That is an important question to answer before looking at the Biblical account of the creation of the universe.
Jesus asked a very similar question, and also gives us the answer:
Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.
Why were the people of Jesus’ day unable to hear? Because they had an agenda, and they were intent on carrying it out, Jesus said. (John 8.44) And as we well know, having an agenda or a priori assumptions that cannot be changed creates boundaries that circumscribe what you will allow yourself to believe or not believe, locking out of consideration anything to the contrary.
The Hidden Agenda
What is that agenda behind people interpreting these two passages of scripture that make some so reluctant to accept the clear message of the text of one or the other (or both)? Interestingly enough it boils down to the same issue: a desire to either support, or remove support for the long ages needed for the big bang and neo-Darwinian evolution. With regard to how to understand the serpent in the account of the fall in Genesis 3, a statement made by a Christian blogger who supports evolution and thus rejects much creation evidence makes this point crystal clear:
If we all agree that the serpent is metaphorical, why push for literalism elsewhere in the Creation account?
Clearly he believes Genesis 3 is to be understood metaphorically. Note – I don’t agree that the serpent is metaphorical. But the fact that he believes we all agree it’s a metaphor is the key. He believes so strongly that everyone reads it metaphorically that he labels the topic the “hidden consensus.” He is not the only one who thinks that understanding the serpent as a metaphor is a widespread belief – judging from the many trying to counter that belief. But understand: how you understand Genesis 3 – as metaphor or history – is very important. Because if you take Genesis 3 as metaphorical, it makes for a stronger argument to say that Genesis 1 should also be understood metaphorically.
And we all know where a metaphorical understanding of Genesis leads to. It leads to where old earth believers want to go: a billions year old creation. It leads to all sorts of long age theories and a rejection of a literal 6 days creation that is clearly indicated in Genesis 1. As I noted, our sample blogger whom I’ll call by the name of his article (since he doesn’t give his name), Mr. “truth problem” makes it clear on his site that he supports evolution. So a long age interpretation in support of evolution is his hidden underlying agenda.
And thus the agenda of long ages raises its ugly head. With the understanding that some have a deep desire, (actual need) to keep long ages, we arrive at one reason why a number of bible scholars, commentators and bloggers who hold to a young earth and recent creation want to emphasize a literal snake. They want to avoid having to defend against the charge of an ad hoq fallacy if they take Genesis 3 metaphorically, but Genesis 1 literally. So to maintain a strong case for taking Genesis 1 literally, they’re forced into a position that Genesis 3 is also literal with a literal, natural snake. Which is for the most part fine – it is literal narrative.
There’s only one problem: in context, the serpent is clearly Satan. And thus they all arrive at the same solution: that the serpent is a literal snake possessed by Satan. A better approach is to understand that “serpent” is a code word. This solves the problem of susceptibility to an ad hoq fallacy charge by keeping the understanding of both texts as a literal one, without need to appeal to a metaphorical understanding of either. The author of the “truth problem” article (and many others) believes a metaphorical understanding is required to make sense of the text, but it is not. A literal interpretation with the understanding that code words are used explains well both the talking serpent and the days of creation without need to appeal to a metaphorical understanding.
What is a “code word”?
A code word is a technical term, a special word that points to a specific object or person. Like technical terms used in various fields of study, a code word has a specific meaning when used in specific situations, or contexts. Code words are common in various professions. For instance to pilots, the words “stall” and “attitude” are technical terms that mean something different than their usual meanings. To a pilot, a stall is not when an engine stops working; it’s when the wings stop producing enough lift to keep the plane flying. Likewise, “attitude” has nothing to do with how you express your feelings and thoughts. It expresses the orientation of the plane in 3 dimensional space – how the plane is positioned in terms of yaw, pitch and roll. If a pilot said “he was in a nose high attitude and stalled the plane”, if you don’t understand the technical terms, you’ll miss what’s being communicated. That’s true wherever a technical term is used – including the Bible.
How is a Technical Term or Code Word Different from a Metaphor?
Code words are different from metaphors in that they point to a specific item, and the meanings are typically given, if not in the same passage, then another one. Metaphors are general and can point to a number things. The meanings are typically not given. For instance we see a metaphor in Song of Solomon:
How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves.
Song of Sol 1.15
What does “Your eyes are doves” refer to? It could be the color of the eyes, the beauty of the eyes; perhaps how they flutter like dove’s wings. It is unclear precisely what it refers to. It could be all of those, some of them, or some other set of qualities related to doves. That is typical of a metaphor. The precise meaning is not concisely conveyed. On the other hand a code word or technical term refers to one specific item that concisely identifies the idea being communicated.
Here’s another metaphor:
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
What qualities of a river apply to justice? Or righteousness to a never-failing stream? I can think of many, but I will not belabor the point by enumerating them. Clearly metaphors convey multiple complementary ideas that may apply to the concept at hand without specifically narrowing the idea to one.
Code Words in Scripture
Unlike metaphors, code words refer to one specific, identified person or object. And the meaning of the code word is often defined within the context of the scripture where it is used. Code words in scripture are probably more common than you realize. Here are a few examples, which as noted above concisely identify specifically what is being communicated:
|Jeshurun||Israel (Deut 33.5; Is 44.2)|
|Oholah, and Oholibah||Samaria and Jerusalem respectively (Eze 23.4)|
|Sleep||Death (John 11.11-14; 1 Thess 4.13-14)|
|The Dragon||Satan (Rev 12.9)|
|The Serpent||Satan (Gen 3.14-15; Rev 12.9)|
|The Day of Preparation||Friday (John 19.31)|
|Saints||Literally “holy ones” – all those who belong to God (not just church elected ones) (Ps 16.30)|
There are others but you get the point.
Is “day” in the creation account a metaphor, or a code word?
Now that we understand what a metaphor and code words are, we can look at the text and see what better fits the context. Let’s return to the to the text of the creation account
God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day. (Gen 1.5)
God called the expanse “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning–the second day. (Gen 1.8)
And there was evening, and there was morning–the third day. (Gen 1.13)
Above are the first 3 of 6 occurrences of “and there was evening, and there was morning…” Any preacher will tell you that when a phrase is repeated, it’s important. Here we have a phrase stated, then repeated 5 times – for a total of 6 appearances in this section. There must be a very important point here. What is it? It’s the definition of a very important word, one that functions as a technical term or code word. What’s the term? The code word is “day” and it is clearly defined as consisting of an evening and a morning. That is a normal 24 hour day. That is stated 6 times.
This is a key definition because as many will tell you, “day” can mean part of a day (as in the morning); or a time period as “in the days of…” (Est 1.1), or it can mean a regular, full day. That is all true. What is not true is that you can choose which meaning fits based on what you want it to be. That is never true. Meaning is not determined by the hearer’s desire. Meaning is determined from the author’s intent, and the author’s intent is determined from the context. Thus in short: Context determines meaning. Here, because the meaning is carefully given no less than 6 times(!) it clearly, unequivocally means a normally, 24 hour day.
When is the last time you squeezed a million, or billion years into an “evening and morning”? How can you possible squeeze an “age” of whatever period into “evening…and morning”? You cannot. And if hidden agendas were exposed we’d see the only reason people try to do so these days is to accommodate the false theories of evolution and the Big Bang. But just as you understand my use of “these days” from the context (as you did my use of “in Jesus day” above), likewise the context of “days” in Genesis 1 makes the meaning of a normal day clear.
Scholarly Attempts to Turn “Evening…and day” to Millions of years
Many scholars have been led astray by historical scientists (those who tell stories about the past; not those who do science which consists of performing tests to determine what’s true) who tell them the earth is 4.3 billion years old, and the universe is 13.7 billion years old. So given that, they try to squeeze those billions of years into the biblical account. Here’s a list of the common views of Genesis 1 as summarized by John Lennox, to which I’ve added his own view as the last entry:
The 24 hour view
The days are seven 24-hour days, of one earth week, about six thousand years ago.
The day-age View
The days are in chronological order, each representing a period of time of unspecified length.
The Framework View
The days exhibit a logical, rather than a Chronological order.
Creation days + long ages
The days are of normal length, but they are “separated by long
The day-age view and the Framework view are not at all supported by the biblical text. As to the creation days + long ages theory that Lennox holds to, God clarified what he meant, and wrote it in stone. Let’s see if it fits.
In the Ten Commandments, God commands the observation of the Sabbath, and note His reason why:
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.
11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
The reason is based on what God himself did during the creation week. Look at the first phrase above: “Remember the Sabbath day” ( זכור את־יֺום השבת ) which can be literally translated “remember the day of the Sabbath.” God commands the remembrance of the day of the Sabbath. Surely he does not intend for us to remember a million year period that we did not live through. What then is the meaning of “day” here? Clearly it is a day we can live through and remember to honor. The command is meaningless if “day” refers to a thousand, million or billion year period.
What then is the meaning of “day” when God himself says “in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth…” Could he mean thousands, millions or billions years there? No, in context God is speaking of the same type of “day” we are to remember for the Sabbath; the same type of day he defined in Genesis 1 as being “evening and day.”
Thus the point of the command is to set and remember a recurring cycles of seven regular days – which reflects the time God allowed to elapse during the creation week (I say allowed because God could have done all instantaneously, but he choose to do it over 7 days) – and as God did on the seventh day, we are to enter into a time of refreshment on the seventh day. In so doing not only do we honor God, but we remember and reflect the cycle of work and rest God initiated during his act of creation.
When taken in context, note the impossibility of making any sense of this command and its explanation with any other theory, particularly any long age theories.
Day Age incompatibility
If each day is a long age (or includes days separated by long age as Lennox suggests), how do we “remember” something we never live through? How do we ever get to a Sabbath day if we’re in a million year work week? Or if the Sabbath is itself an age or million of years and we’re there now, how do we ever leave it to get to the work week? How are we to hold to a 6 + 1 day work week if there are “long periods of time” anywhere in between each day? Thus no long age view – including Lennox’s own creation days + long ages in between fit God’s plain restatement of what happened during the creation week, and how we are to imitate it by working six days and resting one day each week.
Nor does the Framework hypothesis makes any sense of keeping a work week followed by a day of rest. You cannot even make sense of the commandment under the Framework Hypothesis. Additionally, it does not fit God’s restatement of the fact that he created the “heavens and the earth” (a merism meaning everything) in 6 days.
God intended (and still intends) for us to believe in a six day creation. He was so intent on it, that he carefully, unequivocally defined what “day” means; designed the flow of human life – the entire work week – around his six day creation; and wrote it himself in stone commanding us to remember it. If that is not enough to persuade you God meant what he said, then you have fallen into the error of those who “nullify Gods law” (Matt 15.6) for the sake of the teachings of men (in this case the big bang and evolution). As Jesus said:
“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'”
Are you dishonoring God by putting the teachings of men above the clear word of God?
1. John Lennox, Seven Days That Divide The World, The Beginning according to Genesis and Science, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011
2. The author of the referenced site apparently wishes to remain anonymous, so I’ll reference by him by his site name: “truth problem” (http://thetruthproblem.info/ )
3. The Truth Problem, The Hidden Consensus – Reading Genesis Literally http://thetruthproblem.info/figurative.html accessed 9/17/2015
4. The Truth Problem, Creation & Evolution, a Case for Inclusivity, 2009, http://thetruthproblem.info/evolution.html
For a brief discussion on the Truth Problem site’s evolutionary views, see here
5. The “Truth problem” article a proposes Metaphorical Mode for understanding Genesis 3.
For a brief discussion on the problems with that understanding, see here
For a brief discussion of what form Satan appeared to Eve in, see A Talking Snake and the Alien Connection
6. No need to write in corrections – yes this is technically a simile, but what is a simile? A metaphor using “like” or “as”, thus it is also a metaphor.
7. John Lennox, Seven Days That Divide The World, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, p. 44
8. In the above picture each line represents a commandment. Hebrew is read from right to left, so the 4th commandment is the 4th line down on the right side which begins: זכור את יֺום )
9. John Lennox, Seven Days, p.54
10. Scripture tells us God himself spoke the words of the 10 commandments (Ex 20.1) fashioned the tablets and wrote the original 10 commandments himself (Ex 32.16, Deut 5.22). Moses subsequently broke the original tablets due to the people’s sin with the Golden Calf (Ex 32.19). Appropriately, the Lord made Moses chisel out the next set of stone tablets to replace the ones he broke, upon which God would again write the 10 commandments on. (Ex 34.1)
Image: The Tables of the Ten Commandments
© James Steidl/fotolia
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