Saturday, January 23, 2010

Six 24 Hour Days? Doubt it.

In a Christianity and science class I once took back in the early years of 'bible college', I was taught that believing the days in Genesis were literal 24 hour days was a non-negotiable core of Christianity. In fact, I remember the professor's statement that 'all of our other beliefs were contingent upon believing in 24 hour days of creation'. However, as years have passed and as I've had the opportunity to move onto academic institutions with legitimate scholars as professors, I see this in a completely different light.

And, you may be surprised, but my rejection of the '24 hour day' theory has little if nothing to do with science. In fact, my rejection of this once held belief is found in the heart of the text itself.

First, it's important to understand time itself: time is a human concept which is based entirely upon the structure of our home planet and solar system. A year is the time in which it takes the Earth to travel around the sun, a month is the amount of time it takes the moon to travel around the earth, and so on. Without the solar system as we know it, we don't have time as we know it.

In light of that fact, we are faced with the fact that the sun was not created until the 4th day of Genesis. The presence of the sun in our solar system is the very basis for our entire concept of time, and thereby renders it impossible for the 'days' to have been the 24 hour days we know.

Additionally, we find that the first chapters of Genesis are highly poetic and rhetorical in their Hebrew form leading one to question the 'literalness' of Genesis 1.

As we move on in Genesis, we are presented with a problem regarding the Hebrew form of the text. If the 'days' in Genesis 1 were literal, 24 hour, solar days, it's inexplicable why the author would have dropped this form in Genesis 2. Following the form of the days being 24 hour days, the correct literary pattern would have been "and on the 8th day..." etc.

Genesis 2:15 confirms a non-literal view of days, as there would have been far too little time for Adam to name all the animals. (thank you Captain Obvious.) Mathematicians calculated that Adam would have had less than 5 nanoseconds to name each animal within a 24 hour period, which doesn't include obvious time for sleep. Additionally, animal names in ancient Hebrew are extremely complex and appropriate, with names derived from animal behavior. To properly name the animals, as we know they were, it would have required a great deal of time to observe the animals and arrive at appropriate names for them. It requires only a small amount of common sense to see that a 'day' in this case, must certainly had been figurative.

Further in the Hebrew scriptures we find Psalm 104, which is commonly referred to as the "Creation Psalm". While in English this Psalm appears to simply reflect praise to God for his creation, in the Hebrew we find that it is a verse-by-verse parallel of Genesis 1. In Psalm 104, it is clear that the term 'days' is not taken literally. Had the author of Psalms taken Genesis as literal, 24 hour days, he clearly would have reflected such in his own writing.

In the New Testament, we find further evidence of a figurative view of 'days' in Hebrews 4 and John 5 where we are told that God is still in the 7th day. If God is still in the 7th day, the term day certainly cannot be a 24 hour solar day- but rather a day that is either figurative or based upon a different concept of time than the time within our own solar system. If they days in Genesis 1 are to be taken as 24 hour days, then it is contradicted by these texts in the NT. However, if it is a more figurative view of days, scripture continues to flow harmoniously.

So, does a non literal view of the days of Genesis make me a heretic? Only if one condemns the most respected church father's as heretics as well- Origen, Clement, Cyprian, and Augustine among others, all held a non-literal view of the days of creation. In fact, even my fundamentalist 'friends' may be surprised to know that when Torrey wrote The Fundamentals, he authorized four different views of Genesis 1, including non-literal days.

In the end, it is important for Christians to know that we can believe in the inerrant nature of scripture while also understanding that the rabbit hole often runs deeper than the literary surface.