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The Days of Genesis: 24 Hours?

Category Articles
Date December 20, 2001

THE DAYS OF GENESIS: 24 HOURS? DAY-AGE? FRAMEWORK?

The publishing of the book will not end the debates in the church. Perhaps it will lead to greater clarity in thinking and help provide an atmosphere where calm discussion can take place.

A new book has appeared entitled “The Genesis Debate – Four Views” edited by David G. Hagopian, Mission Veijop, California, Crux Press, 2001, 319pp. This book explains the debate about the proper interpretation of Genesis on creation. The debate is wide ranging and involves the evangelical world. Much has been written on the subject and much will be written, we can assume. If you would like to see a debate on the subject of the days of creation, here’s a book to read. Eight gentlemen contributed to this volume. Besides the editor, who wrote an introduction and conclusion, Norman L. Geisler offers a foreword that promotes the effort. The remaining six divide into three teams each espousing a view of the days of creation taught in Genesis 1.

Team 1 is J. Ligon Duncan III and David W. Hall. They defend the twenty-four hour view of the days of creation. The second team comprises Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer and promotes the long day theory while Lee Irons with Meredith G. Kline elaborate the framework hypothesis. One can assume that Kline’s involvement was limited for the “and” has been replaced by “with” between the names.

Each team has its turn on the stage. The twenty-four hour view begins the debate. Their presentation is evaluated by the day-age team and then the framework pair. Their responses are then rebutted by the twenty-four hour team. That pattern is repeated with the day age and framework presentations. The format of the book will remind the reader of high school and college debates.

1. TWENTY-FOUR HOUR VIEW

The twenty-four hour view builds its case upon two pillars. The first is that Scripture teaches the twenty-four hour view and the second is that the church has almost always understood it so until the nineteenth century and the advent of evolutionary theory. The debaters travel through the Bible making the point that Scripture in the Pentateuch, the Wisdom books and the Prophetical literature treats the days of Genesis 1 as normal days. Their discussion of New Testament passages comes to the same conclusion.

After reviewing the history of Genesis 1 interpretations the team of Duncan and Hall take time to answer the objections some raise against this view. They carefully and forcefully argue that newer interpretations have followed upon the rise of evolutionary thought and are an accommodation to it. There’s more to the story than interpretation of Scripture, they claim. The issue involves philosophy, science, apologetics and other disciplines.

Their case is well argued and it’s difficult to get past two points. The fourth commandment in Exodus appears to assume twenty-four hour days. It is also true that departures from the twenty-four hour position have, for the most part, come within the last century and a half. The position is not without problems, however, and the other debate teams quickly raise the difficulties.

2. DAYS OF LONG AGES VIEW.

Team two relies on science and Scripture for their position that the days of creation were long ages. The earth may be 12-15 billion years old. Man may have been created about 50,000 years ago. The fossil record substantiates what is recorded in Genesis 1, that creatures were created as kinds. The world did not evolve, but rather God intervened with both cataclysmic episodes and bursts of creativity. Creation ceased with the appearance of man and any changes since then are due to providentially directed natural processes.

These debaters then turn to Scripture to demonstrate that the days of creation follow each other chronologically. They also argue the case that “day” can mean longer periods of time and claim that meaning for the word in Genesis 1.

That the book of nature and the book of Scripture agree is an assumption that all debates should make. The authors seem knowledgeable of the scientific issues and make their best arguments based on recent scientific discoveries. It’s hard to overcome some of the witness of general revelation.

3. THE FRAMEWORK HYPOTHESIS

The framework hypothesis is a novel interpretation of the first chapters of the Bible. The third debate team argues for it. It was first developed by the Dutch scholar, Arie Noordtzij, in the nineteen twenties who noticed the correspondence of the first three days with days four through six in Genesis I. His ideas were conveyed to the English world by N.H. Ridderbos. Meredith Kline has promoted the thesis over his many years of scholarly activity. “What then is the framework interpretation? It is that interpretation of Genesis 1-2:3 which regards the seven day scheme as a figurative framework. While the six days of creation are presented as normal solar days… the total picture of God’s completing His creative work in a week of days is not to be taken literally. Instead it functions as a literary structure in which the creative works of God have been narrated in the topical order” (p.219).

The framework team deals with Scripture, especially the Genesis passages in a fuller way than did the other positions. Many of their arguments are telling and difficult to overcome The discussion, however, becomes so complicated, in places, that it impinges on the notion of clarity in Scripture.

I read the book in an unusual way. I read the presentations first. After absorbing each thesis I moved on to the rebuttals. The assumption behind this method of reading the book is that the rebuttals would focus on narrow issues and arguments. In fact the main statements are more interesting and better argued than the “picky stuff’ of the rebuttals.

Unexpectedly, the footnotes were quite interesting and contained a wealth of insight and information that the main text omitted.

Who won? That’s always the question in a debate. Were there any “knock-out” blows? I don’t think so. All three positions show a high regard for Scripture. The debaters, though pointed at times, also showed a healthy respect for each other. The publishing of the book will not end the debates in the church. Perhaps it will lead to greater clarity in thinking and help provide an atmosphere where calm discussion can take place.

Marten Woudstra, in a 1957 lecture, reviewed the then current writings on creation issues, including the framework hypothesis, and urged caution and careful consideration. He instructed us to be bold in calling issues that are insoluble, insoluble. It’s almost a half-century later. “The Genesis Debate” teaches us that not all matters have been resolved and we still need caution and careful consideration when debating creation issues.

William H. Kooienga, Ocean Springs, Mississippi, USA.

Christian Renewal, November 12 2001, with permission.

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