I have been publishing a series of articles addressing how one might best approach interpreting the early chapters of Genesis, and how science might illuminate Biblical texts and guide our hermeneutics. If you have not been following those, you can find the links to the four previous articles below:
- The Propriety of Allowing Science to Illuminate Scripture
- Did Death Exist Before Man Sinned? Appraising a Creationist Argument
- The Search for Adam and Eve: Human Origins According to Scripture and Science
- Did People Once Live For Hundreds of Years? Evaluating the Long Life-Spans of Genesis 5 & 11
In this article, I will explore the text of the first chapter of Scripture, Genesis 1, with a view towards determining whether this text commits one to a young earth interpretation of origins, or at least the extent to which the text tends to support such a view, if at all.
It is common for young earth creationists to presume that, if the young earth interpretation of the text can be demonstrated to be the most face-value or simplest hermeneutical approach, then this is the view that one should prefer, and thus the scientific evidence must be shoehorned into a young earth mold. However, as I have argued in previous articles, this does not necessarily follow, since we have to contend with not only special revelation, but general revelation as well. In view of the independent considerations that warrant belief that Genesis is inspired Scripture and those that compel us to affirm an ancient earth and cosmos, interpretations that result in harmony between science and Scripture ought to be preferred over those that put them in conflict. Charles Hodge (1797-1878), a nineteenth century conservative Presbyterian put it this way :
It is of course admitted that, taking [the Genesis creation] account by itself, it would be most natural to understand the word [“day”] in its ordinary sense; but if that sense brings the Mosaic account into conflict with facts, and another sense avoids such conflict, then it is obligatory on us to adopt that other.… The Church has been forced more than once to alter her interpretation of the Bible to accommodate the discoveries of science. But this has been done without doing any violence to the Scriptures or in any degree impairing their authority.
Can One Interpret the Creation Days to Be Literal and Consecutive While Rejecting Young Earth Creationism?
Before I address the question of whether the ‘days’ of creation week are best understood to be literal and consecutive, I will first assess whether it is possible to take the ‘days’ to be literal and consecutive while simultaneously rejecting the implication of young earth creationism. There are two major schools of thought that answer that question in the affirmative, and so I will here offer a brief discussion of those approaches.
In 1996, John Sailhamer put forward the view (which he calls “historical creationism”) that, whereas Genesis 1:1 depicts the creation of the Universe, Genesis 1:2-2:4a describes a period of one week (that is, seven solar days) during which the promised land was prepared and human beings were created in it.  Sailhamer’s book has some impressive endorsements, including John Piper , Mark Driscoll , and Matt Chandler .
Sailhamer argues that the meaning of “earth” in verse 1 is different from the meaning in verse 2. He argues that in verse 1, its connection to the word “heavens” indicates that it is being used to refer to the cosmos. He argues, “when these two terms [sky and land] are used together as a figure of speech, they take on a distinct meaning of their own. Together, they mean far more than the sum of the meanings of the two individual words.”  When these words are used together, argues Sailhamer, they “form a figure of speech called a ‘merism.’ A merism combines two words to express a single idea. A merism expresses ‘totality’ by combining two contrasts or two extremes.”  Sailhamer uses the example of David’s statement that God knows his sitting down and rising up.  This statement expresses the fact that God has exhaustive knowledge of everything that he does (Ps 139). Thus, concludes Sailhamer, “the concept of ‘everything’ is expressed by combining the two opposites ‘my sitting down’ and ‘my rising up’.”  Sailhamer draws the parallel between this and the reference to the sky and land in Genesis 1:1. He notes, “by linking these two extremes into a single expression — ‘sky and land’ or ‘heavens and earth’ — the Hebrew language expresses the totality of all that exists. Unlike English, Hebrew doesn’t have a single word to express the concept of ‘the universe’; it must do so by means of a merism. The expression ‘sky and land’ thus stands for the ‘entirety of the universe.'”  Sailhamer argues (correctly in my view) that Genesis 1:1 is not, as some have suggested, a title or summary of the chapter, but rather refers to a distinct divine act that took place prior to the six days described in the remainder of the chapter. 
If only Genesis 1:1 describes the creation of the Universe, then what is the remainder of the chapter about? Sailhamer suggests that it describes God preparing the promised land for the occupation of mankind. He points out, correctly, that the Hebrew word אֶ֫רֶץ (“eretz”) generally refers to a localized region of the planet, rather than to the earth as a whole, so it is quite legitimate to translate the word as “land” rather than as “earth”. For example, the same word “land” is contrasted in Genesis 1:10 with the seas. Sailhamer notes that “the ‘seas’ do not cover the ‘land’ as would be the case if the term meant ‘earth.’ Rather the ‘seas’ lie adjacent to the ‘land’ and within it.” 
Sailhamer argues that the expression תֹ֙הוּ֙ וָבֹ֔הוּ (“tohu wabohu”) is best translated not as “formless and void” (which suggests that the earth was an unformed mass) but rather as “deserted wilderness”, which, he argues, sets the scene for God’s work to render the land inhabitable to mankind.
One concern I have about Sailhamer’s thesis is that, while it is true that the phrase “the heavens and the earth” is a merism that refers to the entire Universe, this merism shows up not only in Genesis 1:1 but also in 2:1, which states “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.” This verse seems to indicate that the entirety of Genesis 1 is concerned with the heavens and the earth, i.e. the Universe as a whole, not only to a localized region of the earth. The Sabbath commandment also refers to God having made in six days “heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them,” (Exod 20:11). This also seems to suggest strongly that the perspective of Genesis 1 is global rather than local. A further problem is that it seems rather unlikely that the word “earth” refers in Genesis 1 to some specific “land”, since the “earth” is contrasted with the seas (Gen 1:10). Furthermore, the waters of the fifth day are populated with the great sea creatures (Gen 1:21), which indicates that it refers to the oceans.
A more recent attempt to harmonize an interpretation of the creation days that takes them to be both literal and consecutive, known as the cosmic temple view, has been put forward by Old Testament scholar John Walton of Wheaton College.  Walton interprets the days of creation as a chronological sequence of twenty-four hour days. However, he writes that these days are “not given as the period of time over which the material cosmos came into being, but the period of time devoted to the inauguration of the functions of the cosmic temple, and perhaps also its annual re-enactment.” 
Walton argues that Genesis 1 does not concern material origins at all. Instead, he asserts that the text concerns assignment of functions. Walton argues that, during the days of creation week, which he takes to be regular solar days, God was “establishing functions”  and “installed its functionaries”  for the created order. Walton concedes that “Theoretically it could be both. But assuming that we simply must have a material account if we are going to say anything meaningful, is cultural imperialism.”  Walton maintains that the thesis he proposes is “not a view that has been rejected by other scholars; it is simply one they have never considered because their material ontology was a blind presupposition for which no alternative was ever considered.”  However, as philosopher John Lennox rightly points out, “Surely, if ancient readers thought only in functional terms, the literature would be full of it, and scholars would be very aware of it?” 
Moreover, it is not clear exactly what is entailed by God assigning functions to the sun and moon, and the land and sea creatures if, as Walton maintains, this has nothing to do with material origins. Analytic philosopher Lydia McGrew also notes that ,
…it is difficult to figure out what Walton means by God’s establishing functions and installing functionaries in a sense that has nothing to do with material origins! Perhaps the most charitable thing to do would be to throw up one’s hands and conclude that the book is radically unclear. What could it mean for all the plants already to be growing, providing food for animals, the sun to be shining, etc., but for these entities nonetheless to lack functions prior to a set of specific 24-hour days in a specific week?
What would creation week have looked like from the standpoint of an earthly observer? According to Walton, “The observer in Genesis 1 would see day by day that everything was ready to do for people what it had been designed to do. It would be like taking a campus tour just before students were ready to arrive to see all the preparations that had been made and how everything had been designed, organized and constructed to serve students.”  Furthermore, Walton claims, the “main elements lacking in the ‘before’ picture are therefore humanity in God’s image and God’s presence in his cosmic temple”. 
Walton asserts that in the ancient worldview it was possible for something to materially exist but not to exist functionally. He claims that “people in the ancient world believed that something existed not by virtue of its material properties, but by virtue of its having a function in an ordered system. Here I do not refer to an ordered system in scientific terms, but an ordered system in human terms, that is in relation to society and culture.”  Walton places great emphasis on the meaning of the Hebrew verb בָּרָ֣א (“bara”), meaning “to create”. He offers a list of words that form objects of the verb בָּרָ֣א and asserts that the “grammatical objects of the verb are not easily identifiable in material terms.”  Walton lists the accompanying purpose or function that is assigned to each of the created entities. He then attempts to suggest that “a large percentage of the contexts require a functional understanding.”  This, however, does not exclude a material understanding. Even more odd is Walton’s statement that “This list shows that grammatical objects of the verb are not easily identified in material terms, and even when they are, it is questionable that the context is objectifying them.”  However, the chart that Walton presents lists objects of the verb that are material entities — including people, creatures, a cloud of smoke, rivers, the starry host, etc. It is certainly true that not all of these usages of the verb בָּרָ֣א refer to de novo special creation. For example, the creation of Israel (Isa 43:15) was not a special de novo material creation by divine fiat. However, even our English verbs “to create” and “to make” can have this flexibility of meaning, and its precise usage can be discerned from the context. If I say that I am going to create a new business, I do not mean that I am creating employees and office space de novo. Likewise, when the psalmist asks God to “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10), while “create” is not being used here in a material sense, the genre is clearly poetic, and so caution should be exercised about extrapolating the meaning of a metaphorical usage of the word to its regular usage. A yet further problem with Walton’s interpretation of the verb בָּרָ֣א as having only an interest in function in Genesis 1 is the fact that, as C. John Collins has noted, “1:26-31 are parallel to 2:4-25; this means that the ‘forming of the man using dust (2:7), and the ‘building’ of the woman using the man’s rib (2:22), are parallel descriptions of the ‘creation’ of the first human of 1:27. Hence it makes sense to read 1:27 as a description of a material operation.” 
Michael Jones, a popular Christian YouTube apologist, has in recent years championed Walton’s thesis. To Walton’s arguments in support of his contention that Genesis 1 does not concern material origins, Jones adds a very odd argument.  He cites Jeremiah 4:23-26, which says of Israel,
23 I looked on the earth, and behold, it was without form and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. 24 I looked on the mountains, and behold, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro. 25 I looked, and behold, there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled. 26 I looked, and behold, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
Jones comments ,
If Genesis 1 is about the material creation of all things, we should expect the same language in reverse to be disintegration of the materials spoken about. However, when Assyria conquered Israel and deported all the elites, we don’t suggest the fabric of space/time ripped open and the land of Israel popped out of existence. Instead, we understand the kingdom went from a productive functioning society to a chaotic land. The light from the sun literally did not stop shining on that region. It was just part of the cultural expression to say the kingdom went from an ordered society into disorder. And thus, the reverse in Genesis 1 would only suggest that God took a disordered chaos and ordered it to be a functioning temple for himself and the humans therein, not the beginning of all matter as we know it.
While Michael Jones has a brilliant mind and has made very welcome contributions to the field of apologetics, this interpretation reflects a total disregard of the rhetoric of Jeremiah. The prophet is using a portrayal as if it were the case that the sun had gone out, and “there was no man, and all the birds of the air had fled.” He is not making an ontological statement.
Furthermore, the arguments that Walton adduces in support of his contention that in the ancient worldview it was possible for something to materially exist but not to exist functionally seem to me to be very weak, even seeming to undermine his position. Walton, for example, asserts that in Hittite literature, there is a creation myth that speaks of “cutting heaven and earth apart with a copper cutting tool.”  He also quotes the Egyptian Papyrus Insinger as stating regarding the god, “He created food before those who are alive, the wonder of the fields. He created the constellation of those that are in the sky, so that those on earth should learn them. He created sweet water in it which all the lands desire.”  Walton also says that the Babylonian creation epic, Enuma Elish, has Maduk “harnessing the waters of Tiamat for the purpose of providing the basis of agriculture. It includes the piling up of dirt, releasing the Tigris and Euphrates, and digging holes to manage the catchwater.”  However, it is not clear to me how these texts support Walton’s thesis. No argument is offered for why the ancients did not believe that the gods physically separated the heavens from the earth. Just because we, as modern readers, take the face value reading of those texts to be manifestly false does not mean that an ancient audience necessarily would have. Walton also offers no argument to support the conclusion that either the author or audience of the text concerning the Tigris and the Euphrates did not interpret the text to say that Marduk physically released the rivers and constructed the holes to manage the catchwater.
Another key issue here is that there is no reason to believe that assignment of function and an interest in material origins are in any sense mutually exclusive. It is a non-sequitur to reason that since the the word בָּרָ֣א is often associated with a mention of functional assignment that it therefore had no connotations regarding material origins. Functional assignment and material origins go hand-in-hand, since material design is what allows an entity to perform its function.
Having rejected interpretations that propose to harmonize an old earth perspective with an interpretation of the creation week as being a series of six consecutive solar days, we must now address the question of what interpretive paradigm makes best sense of the text of Genesis 1, and it is to this question that I now turn.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
It has been often noted that verse 3 marks the first occurrence of the phrase “And God said…”. This expression is used to denote the commence of each of the six days of creation week (vv. 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24). Thus, it may be argued, the first day of creation week begins in fact in verse 3, not in verse 1. Therefore, by the time that one reaches the first day of creation week, the heavens and the earth already exist. Therefore, irrespective of what one thinks about the age of the biosphere (a separate discussion), Scripture is completely silent on the age of the Universe and the earth — even if the days of creation week are taken to be literal and consecutive. Moreover, when God says “Let there be light” (Gen 1:3), marking the commence of the first ‘day’ of creation week, this can be understood as God summoning the dawn of the first day, since the expression “Let there be…” does not necessarily indicate that something came into being — e.g. the Psalmist says “let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,” (Ps 33:22), which does not imply that God’s steadfast love had not previously been with them.
This argument is not without objection. For example, some writers take verse 1 to be a summary heading of the whole account rather than describing an event that took place an unspecified time prior to the first day of creation week.  However, Hebrew scholar C. John Collins notes that this interpretation is less likely, since “the verb created in Genesis 1:1 is in the perfect, and the normal use of the perfect at the very beginning of a pericope is to denote an event that took place before the storyline gets under way.”  John Sailhamer also adduces a few reasons that make it more likely that Genesis 1:1 describes an event that happened prior to creation week, rather than being a summary title.  First, Genesis 1:1 is a complete sentence and makes a statement, which is not how titles are formed in Hebrew. For instance, Genesis 5:1 serves as a title for the verses that follow, and reads like this: “This is the book of the generations of Adam.” Second, verse 2 begins with the conjunction “and.” This, however, is surprising if Genesis 1:1 is intended to be a summary heading of the whole chapter. Sailhamer notes that if 1:1 were a summary title, “the section immediately following it would surely not begin with the conjunction ‘and.'”  Third, there is a summary statement of chapter 1 found at its conclusion, in 2:1, which would render a summary title at he beginning of chapter redundant. It seems rather unlikely that the account would have two summary titles.
Perhaps the strongest argument for understanding Genesis 1:1 to be a summarizing title of the entire pericope was presented by Bruce Waltke.  He argues that the combination “the heavens and the earth” is a merism referring to “the organized universe, the cosmos.”  He argues that “this compound never has the meaning of disorderly chaos but always of an orderly world.”  He further contends that “disorder, darkness, and deep” suggest “a situation not tolerated in the perfect cosmos and never said to have been called into existence by the Word of God.”  However, C. John Collins responds to this argument by noting that the expression “without form and void” (Gen 1:2) is not a phrase for “disorderly chaos” but rather it depicts the earth as “an unproductive and uninhabited place.”  He points out that “There is no indication that the ‘deep’ is any kind of opponent to God; indeed, in the rest of the Bible it does his bidding and praises him (compare Gen. 7:11; 8:1; 49:25; Pss. 33:7; 104:6; 135:6; 148:7; Prov. 3:20; 8:28). And since God names the darkness (Gen. 1:5), there is no reason to believe that it opposes his will, either.” 
In any case, while there is ongoing scholarly debate between those competing interpretations, reading Genesis 1:1 as a description of events that take place prior to creation week is at the very least plausible, if not somewhat favored as the most likely meaning. Thus, there is certainly no room for dogmatism that Genesis 1 commits one to a young Universe or earth, regardless of what one thinks about the age of the biosphere (which will relate to how one understands the ‘days’ of creation week).
Some scholars argue that Genesis 1:1 should in fact be translated, “When God began to create the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void…”  Such a reading would be consistent with Genesis 1 not referring to the special creation of the Universe from nothing but rather bringing about order and organization to a chaotic and formless void. However, C. John Collins states that “the simplest rendering of the Hebrew as we have it is the conventional one (which is how the ancient versions in Greek and Latin took it).”  The main argument for this alternative translation is the lack of a definite article in the opening words. The text as we have it says בְּרֵאשִׁית (“bere’shit”), whereas proponents of the translation under discussion would argue that the traditional translation would make more sense if it instead said בָּרֵאשִׁית (“bare’shit”). However, as C. John Collins notes, “Because we have no evidence that any ancient author found this a problem, the conventional reading stands.”  This too is an item of ongoing academic debate. However, even if the alternative reading is correct, we would not lose anything since plenty of other Biblical texts indicate that the Universe is temporally finite, and that God brought it into being ex nihilo.
Are the ‘Days’ of Genesis 1 Literal?
Discussion of the interpretation of Genesis 1 has tended to focus on the proper translation of the Hebrew word יוֹם (“yom”). Perhaps the best known representative of the old earth position is Hugh Ross of “Reasons to Believe,” though I often find his interpretations to be somewhat strained and far-fetched. Hugh Ross notes that “the Hebrew word yom, translated ‘day,’ is used in biblical Hebrew (as in modern English) to indicate any of four time periods: (a) some portion of the daylight (hours); (b) sunrise to sunset; (c) sunset to sunset; or (d) a segment of time without any reference to solar days (from weeks to a year to several years to an age or epoch.”  This is correct, but, as in modern English, the context allows the reader to discern which of those literal meanings is in view.
In Genesis 2:4, we read,
These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.
Here, the Hebrew word יוֹם refers to an indefinite but finite period of time, corresponding to definition (d) offered by Hugh Ross above. However, the context makes it obvious that this is the reading that is in view. In English, we also use expressions like “back in the day” to refer to an indefinite but finite period of time, and there is no ambiguity about whether it refers to a literal day or a longer period of time. Likewise, we might say “the day was almost over”, and that would make it clear that the the word “day” is intended to be understood as referring to daylight hours, corresponding to definition (a) of Ross’ set of literal meanings. Young earth creationists typically respond to Ross’ proposed translation, rightly in my view, by observing that the use of the words “evening” and “morning”, combined with an ordinal number, in referring to the days of creation week, makes it clear that a solar day is in view, either of a 12 hour or 24 hour duration.  What is often overlooked, however, is that settling the issue of translating the word יוֹם does not in itself indicate whether it is intended to be understood literally or figuratively. It also does not indicate whether the days are strictly consecutive, or whether there may be gaps between each of the days. Those are logically downstream questions of the issue of translation and must be addressed separately.
Is there any example in Scripture where the word יוֹם is clearly best translated as “day” in the regular sense, and yet is not intended to be understood literally? Indeed there is. In Hosea 6:2, we read,
Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.
The context here is that Israel has been subjected to God’s judgment. This text is a call for Israel to return to the Lord to receive healing and restoration. Whereas the Hebrew word יוֹם is used here (the same word translated as “day” in Genesis 1) along with an ordinal number, the word “day” is clearly being used in a non-literal sense and refers almost certainly to a longer period of time. The usage of the word “day”, when combined with an ordinal number, in a non-literal sense here at least renders it possible that the word “day” in Genesis 1 is being used in a non-literal sense as well. This does not by itself make it probable, but it at least opens up the possibility.
How, then, are the days of Genesis 1 best understood? There are a number of clues in the text that the days are not meant to be understood literally. C. John Collins observes that, whereas each of the six workdays has the refrain “and there was evening and there was morning, the nth day,” this refrain is missing from the seventh day.  Collins suggests that this may be explained by positing that the seventh day on which God rested has not come to an end, like the other six days, but continues even to the present time. In support of this, Collins appeals to two New Testament texts — John 5:17 and Hebrews 4:3-11. In the former reference, Jesus gets into trouble for having healed a man on the Sabbath day. Jesus responds by saying that “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” Collins suggests that Jesus should be interpreted to be saying here, “My Father is working on his Sabbath, just as I am working on my Sabbath.”  Collins concludes that “we can account for that most easily if we take Jesus to mean that the creation Sabbath still goes on.”  In Hebrews 4:3-11, the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 95:11, which indicates that unbelievers will not enter the “rest” of God (v. 3). The author then notes that God “rested” on the seventh day (v. 4). The author asserts that Joshua did not give the Hebrews “rest”. Since the context of Psalm 95:11 is God forbidding the Hebrews who had left Egypt from entering the promised land, the contention of the author of Hebrews that Joshua did not give the people true “rest” indicates that he does not understand Psalm 95:11 literally. Rather, there is a Sabbath rest for God’s people to enter into. And how can God’s people enter into God’s rest? By resting from their works as God did from His (v. 10). Collins concludes, “This makes good sense if ‘God’s rest,’ which he entered on the creation Sabbath, is the same ‘rest’ that believers enter—and thus God’s rest is still available because it still continues.”  This interpretation is not a modern one. Indeed, Augustine of Hippo wrote in his Confessions that the seventh day of creation “hath no evening, nor hath it setting; because Thou hast sanctified it to an everlasting continuance.”  What are the implications of this insight? Collins notes, “If the seventh day is not an ordinary one, then we may begin to wonder if perhaps the other six days have to be ordinary.” 
C. John Collins also points to Genesis 2:5-7, in which we read,
5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.
Collins notes that this text is “out of step with the sequence of the days in the first story: there, God made the plants on the third day, as we find in 1:11-12.”  Furthermore, “2:5-6 says that those plants weren’t there because it hadn’t yet rained (which is the ‘ordinary providence’ reason for plants not being there), while Genesis 1 has them being created (which is a special situation).”  These texts are best harmonized by taking Genesis 2:5-7 to be referring to a localized region of the earth, not to the globe as a whole — that is to say, in a specific region of the planet, “no small plant of the field had yet sprung up” since it had not yet rained. That the origins of plants described in Genesis 1:11-12 refers to a different event from that described in Genesis 2:5-7 is apparent given that Genesis 2:5 indicates that the reason why the bushes and plants of the field had not sprung up is because there had been no rain, which implies that the plant growth relates to God’s ordinary providence, not to their special creation by divine fiat, as in 1:11-12. In other words, it was the dry season. Collins points out that “In Palestine it doesn’t rain during the summer, and the autumn rains bring about a burst of plant growth. So verses 5–7 would make good sense if we supposed that they describe a time of year, when it has been a dry summer, so the plants aren’t growing—but the rains and the man are about to come, so the plants will be able to grow in the ‘land.'”  Collins concludes, “The only way that I can make any sense out of this ordinary providence explanation that the Bible itself gives is if I imagine that the cycle of rain, plant growth, and dry season had been going on for some number of years before this point—because the text says nothing about God not yet having made the plants.”  If this is the case, then this would suggest that the length of the six days of creation could not have been that of an ordinary week, since it would imply that the cycle of seasons had been going on for some time.
One may observe that Genesis 1:11-12 does not necessarily entail that God created fully grown plants de novo, since the text indicates that “The earth brought forth vegetation…” This would allow one to take plant growth as taking place by God establishing the cycle of ordinary providence. However, since vegetation and fruit trees take more than a day to grow and develop by ordinary providence, this would likewise entail a creation week that is rather different in terms of duration than our typical week. In my opinion, positing that Genesis 1:11-12 and Genesis 2:5-6 refer to distinct events, the latter being more local in scope, is the simplest and most natural explanation of the relevant data. This, then, for the reasons articulated above, tends to suggest a creation week that is not identical in length to our regular seven day week.
There are still yet further clues that the duration of creation week is not like our typical weeks. For example, many have noted the sheer number of events that are said to have taken place on the sixth day, which presumably would have taken more time than a single solar day. Collins lists the various things that are said to have happened on the sixth day: “God makes the land animals, forms Adam, plants the Garden and moves the man there, lays instructions upon him, puts him through a search for ‘a helper fit for him’ (and during this search Adam names all the animals), casts a deep sleep over him and makes a woman out of his rib.”  Furthermore, when Adam is united with the woman, Eve, whom God had formed, Adam responds, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”  This is suggestive of Adam having waited a long time for a suitable helper.
Besides the discussion of whether the ‘days’ of creation week are to be understood literally or not, there is also the issue of whether there is any reason to preclude the possibility of there being gaps between the days, even if those days are taken as regular days. Indeed, John Lennox suggests “that the writer did not intend us to think of the first six days as days of a single earth week, but rather as a sequence of six creation days; that is, days of normal length (with evenings and mornings as the text says) in which God acted to create something new, but days that might well have been separated by long periods of time. We have already seen that Genesis separates the initial creation, ‘the beginning,’ from the sequence of days. What we are now suggesting in addition is that the individual days might well have been separated from one another by unspecified periods of time.”  I am not aware of any linguistic reason to exclude this possibility.
To recap, while the young earth creationists are correct that the best translation of the Hebrew word יוֹם in the context of Genesis 1 is “day”, the text of Genesis 1 is consistent with the creation week being quite unlike our ordinary weeks with respect to duration. What, though, is the best way to understand the nature of the days of creation? It is to this question that I now turn.
An Analogical Days Approach
My own view is closest to that espoused by C. John Collins, which he calls the analogical days view.  Collins notes that “the best explanation is the one that takes these days as not the ordinary kind; they are instead ‘God’s workdays.’ Our workdays are not identical to them, but analogous. The purpose of the analogy is to set a pattern for the human rhythm of work and rest. The length of these days is not relevant to this purpose.”  An advantage of this approach is that one can understand the word “day” in its ordinary sense but apply its meaning analogically, just as we do with other analogical expressions such as the “eyes of the Lord” (in that case, we do not need to propose an alternative translation of the Hebrew word for “eye”, but rather understand its ordinary meaning in an analogical sense).
The analogical days interpretation also allows us to make sense of the Sabbath commandment in Exodus 20:8-11, in which we read,
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Young earth creationists argue that this text indicates that the creation week was comprised of six ordinary days, since it is said to set a pattern for a human workweek. However, as Collins notes, “this misses two key points: the first is what we have already noticed about the creation rest being unique. The second is that our working and resting cannot be identical to God’s—they are like God’s in some way, but certainly not the same.”  Collins points out that there are obvious points of disanalogy between God’s workweek and ours — “For example, when was the last time you spoke and caused a plant to grow up? Rather, our planting and watering and fertilizing are like God’s work because they operate on what’s there and make it produce something it wouldn’t have produced otherwise. Our rest is like God’s, because we cease from our work for the sake of contemplating his works with pleasure.”  Furthermore, God is said to have rested on the Sabbath day. Collins points out that “That last word in Hebrew, ‘was refreshed,’ carries the sense of getting your breath back after being worn out (see Ex. 23:12; 2 Sam. 16:14); and I can assure you that you don’t want to say that God needs that kind of refreshment (see Isa. 40:28–31—God doesn’t get weary). Instead we have to see it as an analogy: there are points of similarity between the two things, but also points of difference.”  Of course, there is also an analogy between God’s work week and the six years of sowing the land followed by a seventh year of rest (Exod 23:10-11).
One consideration that I would add to Collins’ case is that the ancients often used numbers symbolically rather than literally. For example, the evangelist Matthew refers to three sets of “fourteen generations” — from Abraham to David, from David to the exile, and from the exile to Christ (Mt 1:17) — even though he has to duplicate and skip generations to make the math work. He probably does this because fourteen is the numerical value of David’s name in Hebrew, and Matthew intends to express that Jesus is the promised Davidic heir. It seems to me, therefore, to be not much of a stretch to speculate that perhaps a similar thing is going on in Genesis 1, where the number seven is being used in a symbolic rather than literal sense.
There may also be other reasons, besides the analogy to the human workweek, why the author of Genesis chose to use the number seven. Earlier in this article, I criticized the cosmic temple view of Genesis 1 advocated by John Walton. However, one useful insight of Walton’s analysis is the parallels that he draws between the Biblical creation account and that concerning the construction of the tabernacle and temple. For example, he observes that “Isaiah 66:1 expresses clearly the temple/cosmos function in biblical theology as it identifies heaven as God’s throne and earth as his footstool, providing a resting place for him. God likewise achieves rest on the seventh day of creation, just as he takes up rest in his temple.”  That God takes up rest in His temple is evident from Psalm 132:13-14, in which we read, “For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place: ‘This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.'”
Walton further observes that “the celestial bodies are referred to using the unusual term ‘lights,’ which throughout the rest of the Pentateuch refers to the lights of the lampstand in the tabernacle.”  Furthermore, “the idea of rivers flowing from the holy place is found both in Genesis 2 (which we will suggest portrays Eden as the Most Holy Place) and in Ezekiel’s temple (Ezek. 47:1).”  Along similar lines, Michael Fishbane further argues that ,
Indeed, as Martin Buber long ago noted, a series of key verbal parallels exists between the account of the creation of the world and the description of the building of the tabernacle in the desert (compare Genesis 1:31; 2:1; 2:2; 2:3 with Exodus 39:43; 39:32: 40:33; and 39:43, respectively). Thus, “Moses saw all the work” which the people “did” in constructing the tabernacle; “and Moses completed the work” and “blessed” the people for all their labors.
… Manifestly, then, the building of the tabernacle has been presented in the image of the creation of the world, and signified as an extension of a process begun at the creation.
Walton also points to Exodus 40:34 and 1 Kings 8:11, which indicate that the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle and temple respectively.  Walton compares these texts to Isaiah 6:3, which describes the vision of Isaiah in the temple, where the seraphim call out to one another, saying “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” A yet further connection between creation and the temple is Psalm 78:69, which says, “He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.”
Now, this is where it gets interesting in relation to the seven ‘days’ described in the creation account. G.K. Beale observes that ,
More specifically, both accounts of the creation and building of the tabernacle are structured around a series of seven acts: cf. ‘And God said’ (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26; cf. vv. 11, 28, 29) and ‘the LORD said’ (Exod. 25:1; 30:11, 17, 22, 34; 31:1, 12) (Sailhamer 1992: 298–299). In the light of observing similar and additional parallels between the ‘creation of the world’ and ‘the construction of the sanctuary’, J. Blenkinsopp concludes that ‘the place of worship is a scaled-down cosmos’ (1992: 217–218).
Levenson also suggests that the same cosmic significance is to be seen from the fact that Solomon took seven years to build the temple (1 Kgs. 6:38), that he dedicated it on the seventh month, during the Feast of Booths (a festival of seven days [1 Kgs. 8]), and that his dedicatory speech was structured around seven petitions (1 Kgs. 8:31–55). Hence, the building of the temple appears to have been modelled on the seven-day creation of the world, which also is in line with the building of temples in seven days elsewhere in the Ancient Near East (Levenson 1988: 78–79). Just as God rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, so when the creation of the tabernacle and, especially, the temple are finished, God takes up a ‘resting place’ therein.
Perhaps, therefore, the organization of the creation account around seven days is an aspect of the intended parallels between creation and the temple or tabernacle, which would provide another reason why the number seven may be used in a symbolic sense in Genesis 1.
Are the Days of Creation Chronologically Arranged?
A further question we must address is that of whether the text of Genesis 1 requires us to take the days as being in chronological sequence, and if so, whether that raises any problems. The biggest problem with the chronological interpretation of the creation days is that photosynthetic plants are created before the sun. Indeed, the sun is not created until day four. Hugh Ross points out that technically the text does not indicate that the sun and moon came into being on the fourth day. Rather, the text only reports God saying “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth.”  Furthermore, “Genesis 1 employs one set of verbs for the creation of birds, mammals, humans, and the universe. These verbs — bara, asa, and yasar — mean ‘create,’ ‘make,’ and ‘fashion’ or ‘form,’ respectively. Another verb, haya, means ‘exist, be, happen, or come to pass’ and is used in conjunction with the appearance of ‘light’ on day one and of the ‘lights in the expanse of the sky’ on day four.”  Ross suggests that this is “consistent with the creation week’s start point at the advent of light on Earth’s surface — that divinely orchestrated moment when light first penetrated the opaque medium enshrouding the primordial planet.”  Ross further contends that on the fourth day “God transformed Earth’s atmosphere from translucent to transparent. At that time, the Sun, Moon, and stars became visible from Earth’s surface as distinct light sources.”  I am not convinced by this proposal, since it seems to run into the problem of photosynthetic plants being starved of light for a significant portion of earth’s history.
An alternative scenario, proposed by C. John Collins, I find to be more attractive. Collins notes that the Hebrew verb used in Genesis 1:16, יַּ֣עַשׂ (“asa”), meaning “to make”, “does not specifically mean ‘create’; it can refer to that, but it can also refer to ‘working on something that is already there’ (hence ESV margin), or even ‘appointed.'”  He thus argues that “Verse 14 focuses on the function of the lights rather than on their origin: the verb let there be is completed with the purpose clause, ‘to separate.’ Hence, the account of this day’s work focuses on these lights serving a function that God appointed for the well-being of man — and that they serve that function by God’s command, which implies that it is foolish to worship them.” 
Besides the issue of the sun, moon and stars not being brought in until day four (which I think is satisfactorily resolved by Collins), I do not see any further chronological incompatibilities between the account in Genesis 1 and the scientific evidence. Though one might object that Genesis 1 has the trees (which first appeared around 360 million years ago) created before sea creatures (which first appeared more than 500 million years ago), the Hebrew word that is used for vegetation here is דֶּ֔שֶׁא (dese). It refers generically to any photosynthetic land life. The words translated “seed,” “trees,” and “fruit,” are properly understood, respectively, to refer to the embryos of any plant species, any large plant containing woody fiber, and the food and/or embryos produced by any living thing. Thus, I would argue that an allowable interpretation of the text is that it refers to the earliest land vegetation.
However, if one were not persuaded by the proposals offered above, would a valid alternative approach be to postulate that the ‘days’ of creation are arranged without regard to chronology? I will now consider this question.
Many have noted that days one to three form a triad that corresponds to the triad formed by days four to six. On day one, God creates the light and distinguishes it from darkness; whereas on day four, God creates the sun, moon and stars. On day two, God separates the sky and sea; whereas, on day five, God creates birds and sea creatures. On day three, God causes dry land to appear; whereas on day six, God creates the land animals and humans. This pattern has been argued by some to indicate that the exact chronological sequence of events is not in mind here. This observation forms the basis of the literary framework view, first put forward by Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803).  Mark Throntveit likewise argues that this structural organization of the text suggests that the sequence of days are not intended to express chronological sequence at all.  However, as many have rightly pointed out in response to this argument, literary framework and chronological sequence are not necessarily mutually exclusive. 
Another argument for taking the days to be arranged a-chronologically are the supposed contradictions between the sequence of events described in Genesis 1 and 2. I have already addressed one of those by showing that Genesis 2 focuses in on a particular geographical region. The other contradiction that is sometimes alleged is that Genesis 2:19 indicates that the creation of animals took place after mankind was on the scene, as suggested by some translations. However, Collins argues that the Hebrew verb ought to be rendered by the pluperfect “had formed”, which resolves this problem. 
Nonetheless, it must be recognized that the ancients did not always narrate chronologically. Sometimes they narrated events a-chronologically (though, it must be noted, without using chronological markers such as “the following day”). For example, in the temptation of Christ, which is narrated in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, the two accounts do not recount the three temptations in the same order. Matthew connects the events using the word Τότε (meaning “then”), whereas Luke connects events using the word Καὶ (meaning “and”). For this reason, I am inclined to believe that Matthew represents the events in chronological order, while Luke represents them a-chronologically. Thus, key to determining whether Genesis 1 commits its readers to interpreting it to be a chronological account of events is elucidating whether there are any concrete chronological markers in the text that would lead its original audience to believe that a sequential succession of events is being described.
In 1996, David A. Sterchi published a paper in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. In this paper, he argued that while the structure and syntax of Genesis 1 does not exclude chronological sequencing, it also does not require it.  He points out that the first five creation days lack a definite article, though days six and seven both have a definite article. Thus, these phrases are most appropriately translated “one day . . . a second day . . . a third day . . . a fourth day . . . a ˜fifth day.” Sterchi suggests that “the text is not implying a chronological sequence of seven days. Instead it is simply presenting a list of seven days.”  Furthermore, he argues that “On the one hand was a commitment to the truth in reporting the account in the text. On the other was the desire to use a literary structure to further reinforce his message. One way to achieve literary freedom and still maintain truth in the process was to remove the confines of chronological syntax. So the author chose to leave the days indefinite and used the article in days six and seven for emphasis, not determination.” 
If the events are being narrated a-chronologically, is there any plausible hypothesis for why the creation of the sun and moon is not mentioned until day four? I believe there is. Johnny Miller and John Soden point out that the order of events between the Genesis creation account and that of the Egyptians is strikingly similar, though there are key differences, one being that the appearance of the sun is the initial and main event in the Egyptian creation myth, whereas the sun is held back until day four in the Biblical account.  They note that, “The issue is not so much the change in order (it is still the same, except for the appearance of plant life). Rather the use of the ‘week’ in creation instead of a single day delays the event of the sunrise from the first morning to the fourth day. The sun is no longer the dominant force or king over the gods (even though it was to “rule the day”; Gen. 1:16). The sun is just another of God’s submissive creations, doing his bidding and serving his will. The resulting picture dramatically downplays the sun, Egypt’s main actor. Instead, God clearly shines as the sovereign and transcendent ruler of creation. The climax becomes the creation of mankind as God’s representative.”  Relating to this motif also is the omission of names for the sun and moon, which were revered as deities by the Egyptians — these celestial bodies instead are referred to as “the greater light” and “the lesser light”.
To conclude, one cannot, in my judgment, hold to the creation ‘days’ being a series of six consecutive solar days while rejecting a young earth interpretation. While Sailhamer and Walton, among others, have attempted to do this, my assessment of their respective approaches is that they fail to harmonize this interpretation with an old earth. Furthermore, the Genesis account says nothing about the age of the Universe or the earth, since those are created before the commence of the first day of creation week. Thus, the only question that should be under evaluation is the age of the biosphere. Moreover, there are some clues in the text of Genesis 1 that are consistent with the creation week being longer than our regular weeks. One can harmonize the text of Genesis 1 with an old earth interpretation by positing the presence of gaps between each of the ‘days’ or by positing that the ‘days’ are not literal. The analogical days interpretation suggested by Collins and others is the most plausible non-literal interpretation of the days. While the structure and syntax of the passage is consistent with the days being chronologically arranged, it does not require it.
 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 570–571.
 John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound: A Provoscative New Look at the Creation Account (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 1996), kindle.
 John Piper, “What Should We Teach About Creation?” Desiring God, June 1, 2010 (http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-should-we-teach-about-creation)
 Mark Driscoll, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2011), 96
 Matt Chandler, The Explicit Gospel (Wheaton, IL, Crossway, 2012), 96-97
 John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009).
 Ibid., 91
 Ibid., 64
 Ibid., 92
 Ibid., 170.
 Ibid., 42.
 John C. Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 132.
 Lydia McGrew, “Review of John H. Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One,” What’s Wrong with the World, March 12, 2015. http://whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2015/03/review_of_john_h_waltons_the_l.html
 John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 98.
 Ibid., 96.
 Ibid., 24.
 Ibid., 41.
 C. John Collins, “Review of John Walton, The Lost World Of Genesis One,” Reformed Academic, May 22, 2013.
 Michael Jones, “Genesis 1a: And God Said!” Inspiring Philosophy, June 7, 2019, YouTube video, 22:42, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R24WZ4Hvytc
 John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009), 30.
 Ibid., 32.
 Bruce Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3, Part III: The Initial Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (July–September 1975), 216–228.
 C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011), kindle.
 John Sailhamer, Genesis Unbound: A Provoscative New Look at the Creation Account (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 1996), kindle.
 Bruce Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis 1:1–3, Part III: The Initial Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos Theory,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (July–September 1975), 216–228.
 C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011).
 The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) opts for this translation.
 C. John Collins, Reading Genesis Well: Navigating History, Poetry, Science, and Truth in Genesis 1–11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018), 160–161.
 Ibid., 161.
 Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy (San Francisco, CA: RTB Press, 2015), 74.
 Jonathan Sarfati, Refuting Compromise: A Biblical and Scientific Refutation of “Progressive Creationism” (Billions of Years) As Popularized by Astronomer Hugh Ross (Creation Book Publishers; 2nd edition, 2011), kindle.
 C. John Collins, Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 62.
 Ibid., 84-85.
 Ibid., 85.
 Saint Augustine Bishop of Hippo, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. E. B. Pusey (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996)
 C. John Collins, Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 85.[
 Ibid., 87.
 Ibid., 88.
 Ibid., 89.
 John C. Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning According to Genesis and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 54.
 C. John Collins, Science & Faith: Friends or Foes? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 90.
 Ibid., 89.
 Ibid., 86.
 John H. Walton, Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 148.
 Michael Fishbane, Text and Texture (New York: Schocken, 1979).
 John H. Walton, Genesis, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 149.
 G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, ed. D. A. Carson, vol. 17, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove, IL; England: InterVarsity Press; Apollos, 2004), 61.
 Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy (San Francisco, CA: RTB Press, 2015), 80-82.
 Ibid., 82.
 C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2011), kindle.
 Johann Gottfried von Herder, The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry, trans. James Marsh (Burlington, Ontario: Edward Smith, 1833), 1:58. See also Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1–15, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word Books, 1987), 6–7.
 Mark Throntveit, “Are the Events in the Genesis Account Set Forth in Chronological Order? No,” The Genesis Debate (ed. R. Youngblood; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1986) 36–55.
 John C. Lennox, Seven Days That Divide the World: The Beginning according to Genesis and Science (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011),
 C. John Collins, “The Wayyiqtol as ‘Pluperfect’: When and Why?” Tyndale Bulletin 46, no. 1 (1995): 117–40.
 David A. Sterchi, “Does Genesis 1 Provide a Chronological Sequence?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (December 1996), 529-536.
 Johnny V. Miller and John M. Soden, In the Beginning … We Misunderstood: Interpreting Genesis 1 in Its Original Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2012), 106.