And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. — Genesis 2:2-3 (ESV)
How should we understand the six days of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3? Some insist that the only way to interpret the passage is what is called the “calendar day” view, in which God created the entire universe in six literal, consecutive days roughly 6,000 years ago. Others hold that the days can be understood in some other way, either as indefinite periods of time—the “day-age interpretation”—or as literary devices which are not meant to be taken literally, as in the “framework interpretation.”
In order to evaluate these interpretations, one must take a close look at what the passage actually says. Take, for example, the seventh day, in which God rested from his work of creation. People rest because they get tired. God, on the other hand, rested on the seventh day because he was done. I get worn out on a long hike in the mountains. God was able to create the entire universe without the slightest diminishment of his strength. As the prophet Isaiah wrote to God’s weary people:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
— Isaiah 40:28 (NIV)
It is clear that God’s rest on Day 7 was not like our rest. It was similar to our rest—such as Sabbath rest or nightly rest—in that God ceased from his work. But it was different from our rest in that there was no reason whatsoever why God needed to stop, other than the fact that he had accomplished what he set out to do. We humans get to the point where we must rest, even though our work is not yet complete. God’s rest, then, is similar (or analogous) to our rest, but not identical.
There are at least three of these analogies in the opening passage of Genesis:
- God’s rest is similar to, but not identical to, our rest.
- God’s work is similar to, but not identical to, our work.
- God’s speech is similar to, but not identical to, our speech.
This insight leads to what is called the “analogical days” interpretation of Genesis 1. Just as God’s rest is not the same as our rest, God’s work is not the same as our work, and God’s speech is not the same as our speech, it is quite reasonable to consider that perhaps
- God’s day is similar to, but not identical to, our day.
More could be said in support of the analogical days interpretation, but for now I have simply presented the basics of this position. Please note that this is not “reading science into the Bible.” I have simply looked closely at the passage and observed that it is possible that God’s day might not be the same as an Earth day.
Grace and Peace
It is not just Christian young-Earth creationists (YECs) who insist that the only way to interpret Genesis is “6000-year old Earth.” Atheists and skeptics usually agree with the YECs on this one. Unfortunately, the bad apologetics of young-Earth creationism makes it easier for these skeptics to reject Christianity.
A good summary of various interpretations of Genesis can be found in the Report of the Creation Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination which holds firmly to the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.
An important advocate of the analogical days interpretation is C. John Collins of Covenant Theological Seminary. His books include Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary.
The analogical days interpretation is age-neutral. The Earth could be 6000 years old, it could be billions of years old. In this viewpoint, Genesis simply is not about the age of the Earth.
The analogical days interpretation is also not necessarily “competition” for the other interpretations I mentioned. For example, I think the analogical interpretation flows nicely out of the text of Genesis, while the day-age interpretation does not. That does not mean that the day-age interpretation is incorrect; it just may be that the analogical days interpretation gives a solid biblical foundation which is complementary to the scientific insights of the day-age interpretation.