The First Six Days

If the sun did not exist, would it be possible for trees to exist on earth? “Of course not!” you might say. “Without the sun, there would be no earth as we know it, and there would certainly be no trees or other plants. Vegetation without sunlight is impossible.” But are you sure about that? In Genesis 1 the Bible says that God made seed-bearing plants and trees on day three of creation, and not until day four day did God make the sun, moon, and stars. So if Genesis is right, it sounds as though trees did live without the sun. What should we think of that?

Or what about people without belly buttons? We’ve never seen anyone who doesn’t have a belly button, a scar marking the spot where the umbilical cord was once attached. But if Genesis is right, then there were probably two people who did not have belly buttons: Adam and Eve. Genesis says that on day six of creation, God made Adam from dust and made Eve from one of Adam’s ribs. Adam and Eve had no mother, no umbilical cord, and thus no belly button. Hard to picture, isn’t it?

And can you picture tigers that would not eat meat? Tigers have stalking instincts, lightning reflexes, and knife-like claws and teeth. Tigers look like they were born to hunt and kill. We can hardly imagine a tiger living only on fruits and vegetables. But Genesis 1:30 says that on day six of creation, God said, “To all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.’ And it was so.” Does this mean that tigers, lions, wolves, and other fierce meat-eaters were once gentle vegetarians?

Why God Sounds Odd

These are some of the odd but obvious issues that arise in connection with the Genesis account of God’s activity in the world’s first six days. If Genesis sounds strange to us, it’s not just because of modern science. People who lived long ago didn’t have modern biology and astronomy, but even non-scientists could see sunshine, belly buttons and tigers. Even young children are struck by unusual and unexpected things in the creation story.

Does that make the story less trustworthy? No, things that don’t fit our thinking may seem harder to believe, but they actually show that Genesis is genuine. It’s obviously not something somebody made up with a view toward suiting people’s expectations. Everybody has always known that earth gets light from the sun, so someone tailoring a story to fit his audience would never say that earth had light and plants before there was even a sun or moon. Everybody has always known that the people they’ve met didn’t emerge from dust full grown, with no belly button, so someone crafting a made-up story to sound believable would not say such a thing. Everybody has always known that many animals are meat eaters, so someone inventing a story to click with readers’ expectations would not say that all animals were originally vegetarian. Whatever we think of the odd-sounding things in Genesis, it’s obvious that the account of the six creation days does not pander to readers. What if it simply records what God did?

We might object, “Those things aren’t possible!” But the Bible says, “Nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). Our thinking may be limited, but God’s power is not limited. When Jesus faced people who didn’t believe in life after death, he said, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). According to Jesus, if we know the Scriptures and God’s power, we will believe what the Bible says about resurrection on the last day—and we will believe what the Bible says about creation on the first six days.

If God will resurrect people from the dust of death (Daniel 12:2), could he not create the original man from dust? If God’s new creation will not need the sun but will get light directly from God (Revelation 21:23), could not God provide his original creation with light for the first three days without the sun? If God’s new creation will have no animal bloodshed (Isaiah 11:6-9), could not God have populated his original creation with sharp-toothed animals who ate only fruit and vegetables?

Too much of our thinking is based only on what we see right now. Science does a good job of describing patterns in the world as we now find it, but let’s not assume that these patterns have always been that way or that they will always remain that way. We can’t figure out the world’s origin or destiny merely by projecting present patterns backward into the distant past or forward into the ultimate future. If we base all our beliefs on present patterns and human reason, then we are in error, says Jesus, because we do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.

Is it so bad if God does things that sound odd to us? A god who always fit our notions would be a god we created, not the God who created us. God’s ways are not our ways. He does things that are strange and wonderful beyond all our limited ideas and observations—beginning with the first six days.

A Young Earth?

The Bible reveals God as a glorious Creator and says that “in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth” (Exodus 20:11; 31:17). It’s common to think that science has made it harder to believe this. But is that really so? After all, we’re not the first people to notice startling things in the creation story. If we don’t believe something in Genesis, is it because we’ve gained scientific knowledge or because we’ve lost knowledge of God Almighty? Millions of people throughout the centuries have believed on the basis of Genesis that earth once had light without sun, people without belly buttons, and animals without meat-eating. If those things are believable, can modern science add anything to make the first six days less believable?

Many people, even many Christians, find it hard to believe that the six days were really six days. They find it hard to believe that God created everything in less than a week and that the earth is not billions of years old. If Adam was created the same week as the universe began, and if we calculate the time from Adam to the present, using the Bible’s genealogies and dating of historical events, the universe is about six thousand years old. Perhaps biblical genealogies list only major figures and skip some lesser names (ancient genealogies sometimes did this), so Adam might be estimated at ten or twenty thousand years ago instead of six. But even twenty thousand years is far less than the billions claimed by most contemporary scientists. Astronomer Hugh Ross is a devout Christian who teaches that the Bible is God’s error-free Word, but Dr. Ross also believes the earth is billions of years old. He says that scientists view the idea of a young earth as “more far-fetched than the hypothesis that the earth is flat.”

That’s a wild exaggeration, of course. Belief in a young earth is very different from belief in a flat earth. Astronauts can orbit the earth and see it is round, but there is no way to directly observe the earth’s age. I’m well aware of things like radiometric dating of rocks and redshift analysis of light from stars, but such dating methods are not direct observations. Rocks don’t come with a date written on them. Light doesn’t arrive from distant stars with a clock showing how long it took. Dating methods involve many assumptions and long chains of inference. At present, a particular dating method may seem to support an ancient earth, but in the future, mainstream science may change its mind in response to new data or revised assumptions.

Christians who believe in a young earth are not like the Queen who told Alice in Wonderland, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” It’s not a desire to believe all sorts of ridiculous things, but a confidence in God’s Word that moves people to believe the earth is thousands, not billions, of years old. What’s more, creation scientists offer considerable scientific evidence which supports a young earth over one that is billions of years old

But not all Christians think this way. Some Christians are convinced that the earth is billions of years old and do not think that creation occurred in six twenty-four-hour days. They don’t think science supports this view, and they don’t think the Bible teaches it. All Christians agree that God is the Creator and agree that the risen Jesus is Lord and Savior, but they don’t all agree on how to understand the first chapters of Genesis, and they have developed various theories of creation, trying to unite a sound understanding of the Bible with sound science. Let’s consider four such theories: theistic evolution, functional creation, progressive creation, and the gap theory.

Theistic Evolution

First, theistic evolution. According to this theory, the Bible is right when it speaks of God as the Creator and Sustainer of all things, but mainstream science is right when it speaks of the origin and development of the universe over billions of years and the evolution of all forms of life (including humans) from common ancestry. Evolution is God’s method of creating.  Creation is not sudden or miraculous but is a seamless, continuous process which happens in accordance with observable laws of nature.

Theistic evolution tries to keep science and Scripture separate. Each has its own proper place and boundary and should not interfere with the other. To learn about physical processes and the formative history of things, we should listen to science. To know the deepest truths about the ultimate origin and governance of the world, we should listen to Scripture. We will get confused if we expect science to answer questions about the spiritual realm. We will also get confused if we expect Genesis to answer questions about the physical realm.

According to theistic evolution, the six-day sequence in Genesis 1 is a literary framework, not a factual account. It’s a majestic, poetic portrait of God as the almighty Creator of all things. There’s no value in consulting the Bible about the age of the earth or asking how there could be light on the first day but no sun or stars till the fourth day. Such questions are a symptom of taking the story too literally. God’s creation of different things on each of the six days is a vivid poetic device to drive home the profound point that God made it all, but according to theistic evolution, the Genesis poetry has no bearing on the actual sequence or timing. For that kind of information, we must rely on science, not Scripture.

This approach is badly flawed. Theistic evolution believes too much in unproven evolutionary dogma and too little in the factual content of the Bible. Genesis 1 is not poetry; it is prose. It is history, not just a mythic tale to make a spiritual point. Many theistic evolutionists don’t believe Adam and Eve were two real individuals created in God’s image. They don’t believe Adam and Eve’s fall into sin was a real event that corrupted all humanity. This undermines what the New Testament says about Jesus Christ as the last Adam whose perfection brings life where the first Adam’s disobedience brought death (Romans 5:12-19, 1 Corinthians 15:45-50). Of the various creation theories, theistic evolution is least acceptable. It is too much at odds with Genesis and with the rest of the Bible.

Functional Creation

Functional creation holds that the Genesis creation story is mainly about God assigning various things their order and function, not about the origins of physical objects or the processes by which they came into existence. John Walton, a longtime professor of Old Testament at Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, is an influential teacher of this view. According to functional creation, the Hebrew word בָּרָ֣א, translated as “created,” means God assigned functions to already existing material. Functional creationists affirm that all material things and processes originated with God, but they say that this is not the focus of Genesis. Rather, the Genesis story is about the six days in which God readied the earth to be humanity’s home and God’s temple, his dwelling place. In this view, Genesis 1-2 does not teach or deny any biological or material processes. Scientific investigation might provide insight into biological and material processes, but Genesis has no interest in such matters.

Functional creation works very hard to understand the text of Genesis in its historical context of ancient Near Eastern literature, rather than trying to read modern science back into the text. At the same time, it leaves room for Christian scientific researchers to study biological origins without worrying that their findings or theorizing might contradict God’s Word in Genesis. This obviously appeals to many scholars in both biblical studies and scientific research. Functional creation professes to focus on the religious and functional purpose of Genesis, without making any claims for or against any scientific theory.

A strength of functional creation is that it offers valuable insight into God’s purposes in creating. We benefit from knowing that God intended the world to be his temple and our home, assigning us responsibility to care for his creation. A difficulty with functional creation is that it depends heavily on new theories in recent scholarship and offers some ideas about Genesis that have not been part of the church’s understanding of Genesis throughout history. Another difficulty is that this view may too easily dismiss statements in Genesis that are relevant for the origins of physical objects and processes. Genesis might not be exclusively focused on functions.

Progressive Creation

Now let’s consider progressive creation, sometimes known as “the day-age theory.” Unlike theistic evolutionists, progressive creationists don’t see the six-day story of Genesis as just a literary device; they see it as a historical overview of six real periods of time, presented in accurate sequence. At the same time, they believe that the six days of creation lasted far longer than 24 hours each. They cite biblical statements that for God a thousand years are like a day or a few hours (Psalm 90:4, 2 Peter 3:8) and say that God measures time differently than we do. So, they reason, the six creation days may actually refer to long periods, each one lasting millions or even billions of years.

Progressive creationists accept a very old universe but deny that a seamless process produced all forms of life. Contrary to theistic evolution, they don’t believe lifeless material somehow produced primitive cells leading to plant life and then to other life forms. They believe that on the third day-age of creation, God created the main kinds of plant life; that on the fifth day-age, God created the main kinds of fish and birds; and that on the sixth day-age God created the main kinds of land animals. They believe that each new day marked a new period of creation in which God made something new which couldn’t have developed from what was there previously. They believe this fits the biblical story and also explains the progression of radically new life forms appearing in the fossil record with little indication of transitional forms.

Progressive creationists also believe that although God created the earth billions of years old, he created humanity much more recently. Dr. Hugh Ross, a leading advocate of progressive creation, explicitly affirms “belief in our direct descent from Adam and Eve, specially created by God several thousand years ago and unique among all God’s creatures on Earth in possessing spiritual capacities.” Any primates or hominids who may have lived and died before Adam and Eve were not spirit-creatures and were not ancestors of humanity. God made Adam and Eve in his image, without evolutionary ancestors.

Progressive creation has much to be said for it. It affirms basic biblical truths. It recognizes that Genesis 1 teaches historical facts, not just poetry. It affirms miraculous acts of God corresponding to each of the six days. It affirms the special creation of Adam and Eve. It accepts what Scripture says and tries to deal responsibly with scientific information. Many excellent Christians hold this view. But progressive creation has at least two problems.

First, interpreting the six creation days as long periods of time is a forced meaning which doesn’t fit the words of Genesis. It’s true that for the eternal God, extremely long periods of time may seem no longer than a day. It’s also true that the Hebrew word for day, yom, can occasionally mean an indefinite period of time—but not in the context of Genesis 1. There the Bible numbers each day and marks it with evening and morning: “And there was evening and there was morning—the first day… And there was evening and there was morning—the second day…” and so forth, through the sixth day. Elsewhere in the Bible, whenever yom, the Hebrew word for day, is used with a number, it always means an ordinary, 24-hour day. This holds true in over 400 cases without exception. Also, whenever yom is used in connection with evening and morning, it always means an ordinary 24-hour day. So when Genesis gives each creation day a number and marks each day with evening and morning, it offers double proof that these are days of ordinary length. It’s quite a stretch, then, to say that yom in Genesis 1 means a long age.

A second problem with progressive creationism is that in theorizing long periods of time, it also theorizes that animals ate each other long before Adam sinned. Genesis 1:30, however, says that God directed the animals to eat plants, not each other. It is hard to square eons of animals devouring each other with the statement that God made everything very good and that all animals and people were originally vegetarian.

The Gap Theory

Still another theory of creation is the gap theory, also known as “the ruin-reconstruction theory.” This theory takes Genesis pretty much as it’s written, except that it places a huge time gap between the first and second verses of Genesis 1. Verse 1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and verse 2 says, “Now the earth was formless and empty.” Suppose verse 1 describes the creation of a good world, which eventually fell into disorder, perhaps due to the rebellion of Satan and other angels who went bad. After millions, or perhaps billions, of years, nothing remained of the earth but a formless, empty ruin. Then, says the gap theory, God chose to reconstruct the world. He created something new on the ruins of the old, and he did this during the six creation days described in Genesis 1. Most fossils of prehistoric creatures would be remains from the ruined world that existed earlier, not from the recently created world. Earth itself is ancient, but the six creation days were six 24-hour days which occurred ten thousand years ago or less.

The gap theory has considerable appeal because it seems to harmonize some aspects of science with Scripture. But it does so at the cost of imposing something that has no basis in the biblical narrative. It seems contrived and artificial to insert a huge period of time between two verses when there’s not a word about it in the text. Verse 2 follows immediately after verse 1 in a smooth transition, without any mention of a time gap. To almost any ordinary reader, it sounds like Genesis 1 is describing the first six days of a world that was just beginning to exist, not a world that was being re-created after first existing for long ages and then falling into ruin.

In Six Days God Created

Now, in describing these theories of creation and pointing out some weaknesses, I don’t want to overlook one valuable thing which they have in common: belief in God as the Creator of all things. Even if Christians differ on what’s the best theory of creation, they should form a united front in affirming the reality of the Creator and in resisting efforts in science and education to deny God or to suppress evidence of divine design. The central truth of the creation story is that God did it. That’s not the only thing Genesis says, but it’s the most important thing. It’s also the most obvious thing in scientific study. The evidence of intelligent design is overwhelming. There must be a Creator.

If you’re not sure how to square science with the Bible, I don’t want you to get hung up on unnecessary obstacles. If you’re not sure what theory of creation is right, don’t let uncertainty about these lesser things keep you from believing the central and most obvious thing. Once you truly believe in God, you may begin to find that other aspects of the Bible’s creation account aren’t so unbelievable, and you may see that some currently popular ideas in science are based more on anti-supernatural bias than on genuine evidence. Also, once you believe in God and start studying the Bible, you’ll find that the only way to have a right relationship with your Creator and have eternal life in his new creation is to trust in God’s Son, Jesus, to save you from sin and direct your life.

To my fellow Christians, who already believe in God as the Creator of all things, who see the Bible as the Word of God, who trust Jesus as Lord and Savior, and look forward to the final resurrection, let me simply say that my desire is to set forth the plainest, soundest understanding of the six creation days. I want to take God at his Word. In pointing out difficulties with various theories, I’m not judging individual Christians who love Jesus but have a different theory of creation than I do. I know some who are great and godly people. Old-earth creationists should not regard young-earth creationists as scientifically illiterate, and young-earth creationists should not regard old-earth creationists as spiritually bankrupt. If we must err in dealing with Christians who don’t agree, let’s err on the side of treating them too kindly. Still, in studying the creation account itself, if I must err, I’ll err on the side of taking it too literally.

Centuries ago, some Christians had trouble believing that God created in six 24-hour days, not because it was too short, but too long. Their assumptions made them think God must have done it all in an instant, and the six days were just a teaching device. John Calvin responded that such an idea violated the plain meaning of Scripture. “Let us rather conclude,” wrote Calvin, “that God himself took the space of six days.”

Martin Luther said the same thing: “The Days of Creation were ordinary days in length.” A number of great Christians in earlier centuries thought otherwise, said Luther, and we must respect them as our elders in the faith. “Nevertheless, we do not depart from the authority of Scripture for their sake,” said Luther. “If you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are.”

Human theories come and go as time passes, but the Word of God stands forever. And God’s Word says, “In six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them.”

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.