THE RELEVANCY OF THE SEVENTH-DAY SABBATH:LITERALITY, PROGRESSION, AND 24 HOUR PERIODS IN THE GENESIS CREATION NARRATIVE

INTRODUCTION

This is the fourth article in a series entitled, The Relevancy of The Seventh-Day Sabbath. The series seeks to address issues that have been raised in dialogues concerning the Seventh-day Sabbath doctrine.The prior article in this series, The Relevancy of the Seventh-Day Sabbath: Differing Viewpoints and Long Ages in the Genesis Creation Narrative, introduced three sections, with two of them functioning as introductory elements towards the third. In fact, they form introductory roles to everything that will be assessed from this point on. These sections are: (1) the possibility of the correctness of a differing viewpoint, (2) the realization that there are descriptive and prescriptive verses and passages, and (3) a short introduction to long age interpretation of the days in Genesis.  We now move to the question of whether there exist enough evidence to support a literal reading, as in 24 hour time period, of the Genesis Creation narrative.

Although the majority of Christianity holds to the view that the days in Genesis account for literal 24 hour periods, there are still some that are on the fence concerning evidence that support such an interpretation. It is a crucial issue due to the foundational role that Genesis 1-3 plays within the framework of all of scripture. After all, it is the story of beginnings. The last article prompted questions of what can be found from a face value reading of these chapters. In other words, what can be supported if one comes to the text without the influence of anything but simply what the text says. This is an attempt to address the questions that were raised in response to that article. If one had to make a case for literal days in Genesis 1-2 these things that will be discussed below should be taken in consideration.

POSSIBILITY OF A DIFFERENT VIEWPOINT BEING CORRECT: AN EXPANSION

In response to this development it is important to reiterate my prior comments on the possibility of a different viewpoint being correct. However, I will do so briefly and present it in a slightly more nuanced manner. The responsibility we have to ourselves and the world, despite the conditioning of our religious and social environments, is to set our minds to grasp and retain scripture as it presents itself. Not as others present it to us. Scripture must be the communicator of how it is to be read. In a cosmic war wherein both our minds and our bodies are battlefields, perseverance in the rightness of scriptural understanding can’t be overstated. If what you know can affect your eternal destiny than it ought to be taken seriously.

With all that being said there still remains the question of whether or not there is enough evidence for literal 24 hour periods in the days of Genesis 1-2. This present study outlines findings that may or may not be sufficient enough. The reader will be left to wrestle with the text and determine the possibility of the correctness of this reading of the creation narrative.

The evidence will rest on these points:

     Literality and Progression of Days

     Literality and Progression of Creative Acts

     Israel, Sabbath, and Creation

Whether or not there exist evidence will have to be base on the inter-dependency of these points. It should be clearly seen that they intertwine and support each other. Evidence for 24-hour literal period of days in Genesis 1-2 must provide a framework in which the various elements are aligned in a manner that flows naturally out of the text. It should be easy to see that it makes sense. This is not to say that logic and reasoning are the only items necessary for the correct understanding of scripture. It is the Spirit that leads to correct understanding. However, there are many things that get in the way although the Spirit may be communicating.

LITERALITY AND PROGRESSION OF DAYS

Layout of the Week

Genesis begins with the statement of what seemed to have occurred before day 1. “In the beginning” is followed by a general summary of what was done: “God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1), a description of the condition of the earth: “the earth was without form and void” and dark (1:2a), and the position of the Spirit: “and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (1:2b). This is then followed by 6 “days” of creative acts (1:3-31).

The layout below illustrates one way that creation week can be divided in terms of activity:

The Forming Phase (1:3-10)

     Day One: Light and darkness distinguished and divided / day and night (1:3-5)

     Day Two: Expanse made, separated the waters (1:6-8)

     Day Three: Separation of dry land from water (1:9-10)

The Filling Phase (1:11-2:3)

     Day Three: Plants and trees fill the land (1:11-13)

     Day Four: Greater light, lesser light, and stars to fill the sky (1:14-19)

     Day Five: sea creatures fill the waters, birds fill the heavens (1:20-23)

     Day Six: Beast of the earth fill the land, mankind place to rule (1:24-31)

     Day Seven: Cessation of creating, God Rest, celebrates, resides in the created temple (2:1-3)

Numbering of Days

The first evidence that causes some to believe in a literal 24-hour period in creation is the numbering of days that come one after the other. The days in Genesis 1 and 2 are numbered from 1 through 7. This numbering follows a straight linear path with no detour or modification of the pattern. The Hebrew for the numbers goes as follow:

Numbers and Corresponding Hebrew Words

First

אֶחָד (ʼechâd)

Second

שֵׁנִי (shênîy)

Third

שְׁלִישִׁי (shᵉlîyshîy)

Fourth

רְבִיעִי (rᵉbîyʻîy)

Fifth

חֲמִישִׁי (chămîyshîy)

Six

שִׁשִּׁי (shishshîy)

Seventh

שְׁבִיעִי (shᵉbîyʻîy)

The words use for second though fifth are not as significant as the ones for first, six, and seventh. The Hebrew word ʼechâd within Genesis is not only used to refer to first as in to come before (cf. Gen 2:11; 8:5; 8:13), but also in the union that the marital process creates (2:24), singularity (10:25; 21:15), and in reference to God (3:22).

Yôwm for Days

The Hebrew word for day used in Genesis 1 is yôwm.  It is used 11 times (1:5; 1:8; 1:13; 1:14; 1:16; 1:18; 1:19; 1:23: 1:31). Eight of these times are used for the numbered days, while 3 seem to be used for the part of the day that we identify as being daytime: “God called the light day” (1:5); “separate the day from the night” (1:14); “the greater light to rule the day” (1:16). These uses suggest that within the numbered days there are lighted parts that are also identified as day and are being contrasted with a nighttime.  The phrase, “and there was evening and there was morning,” which is repeated throughout the chapter, seems to give credence to the idea of literal 24 hour periods with identifiable light (day) and dark (night) sections. Thus, yôwm is used to represent days and the light part of the days.

LITERALITY AND PROGRESSION OF CREATIVE ACTS

God’s creative acts in Genesis 1-2 took place in succession. Alone, this section doesn’t give evidence for a literal reading of the days. However, the inter-dependency of these many parts aid in solidifying the argument. As stated above, God creates the space/forum and then fills them. This forming and filling seems to be intentional and follows a pattern. Genesis intentionally begins by saying that the earth was “without form and void” (1:2).

What follows in the following verses is the undoing of what had been originally made. The earth was chaotic but God set out to put it in order. Every single creative act of God done through the days were to serve as correctives to the description that was given. In the reordering of earth God set out to arrange multiple tiers. He “separated the waters above the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse” (1:7). This can be considered a first tier work in that He created the two major areas in which everything else on earth were going to be placed. It can then be said that the second tier was divisions that occur within the first tiers. The second tier involved the separation of the land from the waters (1:9-10). These were the major divisions that occur. Afterwards it was filling.

These dividing and filling patterns were said to have occurred within the span of one day. The progression of the creative acts were on par with the progression of the numbering of the days and they both culminated with everything being done on the sixth in time for the entering in of the seventh, in which this type of activity was not mentioned. Is this coincidence? Perhaps. However, maybe a more likely view is that God purposely set out to structure things as He did in the time period that He saw fit.

ISRAEL, SABBATH AND CREATION

What remains is the connection between the Sabbath promise and its’ reference to creation. One of the most common argument use for rejecting a weekly sabbath for New Testament Christians is that the sabbath was for the Jews. Inherent in the this argument is the recognition that Israel was given and kept a literal sabbath in a seven day week. Not only do Christians agree with this but they also are aware of the passages associated with this. This will not be an attempt to make a case for the sabbath. Rather, it will be an investigation of the text in order to ascertain what was believed concerning the sabbath in its’ Exodus rendition.

In Exodus 20 God spoke His dâbâr (word) to Israel. He first tells them who He is and his role as their liberator from Egyptian slavery (20:2). It ends with a description of the state of mind the people were in: more focused on fear of thunder, lighting, trumpet, and the smoking mountain (20:18). Thus, God established Himself as both liberator and creator. In the midst of these two markers are the dâbâr that was spoken. In one part of the dâbâr the reason for the seventh-day was given. The reason, in Exodus’ rendering of the dâbâr, is to serve as a memorial of creation: “for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day” (20:11).

How is this relevant to our deliberations? If all agree that Israel was to keep a literal 24 hour period of sabbath and this sabbath was tied to creation, how is it then that the days in Genesis are not literal? It wouldn’t make any sense unless there is no connection between Genesis 1-2 and the days of creation spoken of in Exodus 20. Why in Exodus, when speaking of a day, refers back to the days of creation if the idea isn’t to make the case that those days were just that… days. The other option would be revelation outside of scripture. That will require a separate discussion on what the Bible reveals concerning prophets and their relation to the interpretation of scripture. A further option would be that although the days in Genesis are not literal the Sabbath is meant to be literal for Israel and the days of creation, as articulated in  Exodus 20, are meant to be understood as symbolic. The case for these alternative would have to rest on textual support.

Reader, where do you stand? What makes sense to you? What can you see for yourself in the text? Although this is a broad overview of the issues involve, it is significant towards a coherent understanding. 


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