Genesis 1 and Special Pleading

I was speaking with a fellow teacher recently about creation in Genesis 1. Given that I taught science to 5th graders, I love to talk about creation and our origins. I made it clear that my position on creation was that God created everything as Genesis presents it: in a span of 6-24 hour days.

Given that this view of creation is so frowned upon in academic and erudite circles, she quickly let me know that she did not believe in a 6-day creation model. I asked her why, and she said, “how do we really know what (Genesis 1) means?”

Why is it that when I hear such remarks, I’m rendered speechless by just how thoughtless such a statement is? I did respond by saying, “what does the text say?

To which, she responded again, “how do we really know what those words meant or mean? We just can’t know.

Had I been a bit quicker on my feet, I would have asked her what she would do if one of her students responded to her instructions, or lessons in such a way? But I let it drop and she changed the subject.

However, upon further review, in her attempt to avoid any real discussion of the passage, she appealed to both the special-pleading fallacy and the deconstructionist fallacy. Both fallacies are quite in vogue when it comes to what the Bible really says.

According to Dr. Jason Lisle, the special-pleading fallacy is to exempt the Bible from the method of interpretation used in all other literature (Understanding Genesis, p. 57). This means that when it comes to the Bible, we would use a different method to interpret a text than we would if we were to read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Yet, the principles used to understand the latter are the same principles used to understand the former.

For instance, when Moses writes to the Israelites whom he is leading out of Egypt about who their God is, he simply states what the living and true God revealed about how creation came into existence. Moses writes, Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.

By this teacher’s reckoning, we cannot know what all these deep and confusing words actually mean. But, in the attempt to understand, I will do my best to explain. First, we see that God created light. How He did this, isn’t explained other than the fact that He said “let there be light.” He created light simply by stating that it should be created. God is like that. He is so awesome and powerful that He can make such a statement and it is so, kind of like Jesus did when He turned water into wine. He willed it to be so, and the best wine ever created was so.

Next, God declares the light to be good, as only God can do. He is the measure of what is good and what is not good. He also divided the light and tells us the light was “day” and the darkness “night.” He is defining the terms for us so that we may know what day and night actually mean. This is a technique used in education all the time. A writer will write something using a word that the students do not know or understand and will immediately define those words for us. I’m surprised my teacher friend didn’t recognize that Moses was using the same technique.

Next, Moses writes “so the evening and the morning were the first day.” Now we get to the tricky and controversial part. These words, I imagine, are what throw off my teacher friend and so many others when it comes to that complicated word “day.”

With all her education, training and instruction, she was unable to realize what that word “day” meant, even though Moses defined the word for us. He really doesn’t leave it open to interpretation. He clearly states that a day is “morning and evening.” It, in this verse, was also the very first one to ever exist. He will continue on throughout Genesis 1 giving us more examples of the same sentence structure, defining each one as “the second day,” and “the third day,” until he concludes with “the seventh day” in Genesis 2, when God rests from His creative activity.

These words are not complicated. They are words used by us all the time. Yes, the original was written in Hebrew, but there is no reason to take the Hebrew word yom and call it anything else other than a normal day, since this is how Moses presented it to the people he was leading out of Egypt.

Another vital technique used in literature, and in understanding what the Bible is saying, is to let the words around the word in question determine the meaning. In other words, we let the context define the meaning of a word. For example, if I tell my son after we have gone golfing, “get the clubs out of the trunk,” the context helps us know what kind of trunk is being used and what clubs I’m referring to. Sadly, what many people do when it comes to the word “yom” in Genesis 1, is not let the context define the word, but they bring their own definition to the word because it meets their presuppositions. If they were to apply such principles to my statement to my son, they would assume that I was telling my son to go to the tree in our back yard, and get a bunch of wooden clubs used to beat people with out of it.

People do this with Genesis 1 and the word “day” all the time. There are places in Scripture where day, can just mean a long period of time. And we might take that meaning if the context did not so clearly define the period of the day in question. The words “morning and evening” do not allow for such an interpretation. Moses is telling us the time period in question: a day is what we would call a 24-hour day, that includes both a morning and evening as has been defined already for us in Genesis 1, a morning being that portion of the day with light, and an evening being that portion of the day that is dark.

My fellow teacher is trying to say that these things are just too complicated to be understood in such a way. She is also using the deconstructionist fallacy saying that we cannot really know truth, that truth is unknowable, which is a self-refuting statement as well. However, as you can see, working through such a complicated text isn’t really all that hard if we apply simple rules of logic and understanding when it comes to the text.

But for the sake of clarity, what if you are still having trouble understanding what Moses wrote? Is there some other place where Moses wrote that would help us understand what he wrote in Genesis 1? One way of understanding Scripture is to not only let the context define Scripture… but let other texts of Scripture define Scripture as well, especially when the text is defined later by the same author. There just so happens to be a text that helps clarify this text written by Moses. He clarifies what the word “day” actually means, twice.

Exodus 20:8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it (Emphasis added).

For those who wish to import some other meaning to the word “day” in Genesis 1, this text is a real problem because Moses is assuming we understand a day to mean a 24-hour period. The command is to keep the seventh 24-hour period holy because on that day, a 24-hour period, God rested from His work of creation. We are to keep the Sabbath (the LORD’s Day under the New Covenant), as a reminder that our God is the One that created all things, in a span of 6-24 hour days. If “day” means something other than a 24-hour period, then what does it mean? Would those who cite that to God a thousand years is like a day, and a day is like a thousand years, expect us to believe that we are to work for 6,000 years, then for another 1,000 years we are to rest as God did? That would be an absurd interpretation.

One of the simplest ways of understanding what a writer meant is to understand who the writer was writing to. Moses was writing to the Israelites. He was showing them that God created everything in a span of 6 days, and rested on the 7th day. God was determining the pattern for our work week. Our work week is modeled after His week of creation. It is meant to be a regular reminder to us that there is a God of all creation, and we are beholden to Him and His word.

If Moses intended to say that it took longer than 6 days for God to create all things, then he failed miserably as a writer. But he didn’t fail. He wrote exactly as it was. We may struggle with how God did all that in the span of 6 days, but we are being dishonest if we say the text declares anything other than a 6-day creation.