The question often arises as to the correct meaning of ‘day’ in the opening verses of Genesis. There are those who argue that the word signifies a long period of time (e.g. progressive creationists like Hugh Ross). Others contend that the passage in question (Gen. 1:1–2:4) is not meant to be an actual historical account of the creation but is rather a theological reflection on God’s creative power and His sovereignty over the created order (e.g. the ‘framework hypothesis’ of Meredith Kline, Henri Blocher et al.). In the latter case the text is seen as having no relevance in determining the sequence of events at the time of origins.
The traditional view has been that the text is meant to communicate a straightforward account of God’s creation of the universe. The account is, therefore, of six 24-hour days of creative acts followed by a seventh 24-hour day of divine rest.
Theological reflection approach
Regarding this approach it is important to note that it is not really a question of Hebrew textual exegesis but rather a hermeneutical conclusion driven by factors external to the text. Taking the ‘framework hypothesis’ as an example, at an initial glance, Days 1–3 seem to be showing the creation of three empty ‘realms’ or ‘domains’ and Days 4–6 showing the creation of their respective ‘kings’ or ‘rulers’. Even if this was true, it would simply inform us that God created the universe in a specific order of divine acts. It would not annul the historicity of the account unless the reader felt compelled for other reasons to see the pattern as purely literary.1 In fact the structure of Gen. 1:1–2:4does not really lend itself fully to the schema. For further details the reader is invited to consider the analyses of Wayne Grudem2 and Jonathan Sarfati.3
Poetry or prose?
A question arises as to the genre of the passage: is it poetry or is it prose narrative? If it is poetry, then perhaps there is greater flexibility in the meaning of the words. If it is prose narrative, then it would be appropriate to read it as intending to give a historical account of the creation.
Regarding the issue of genre, even if it is poetry, the passage would not necessarily be overly flexible in its interpretation. Ps. 78:1–72 is clearly poetic and yet gives an accurate account of Israel’s history from the Exodus to the anointing of David.
Furthermore, it can be easily demonstrated that Gen. 1:1–2:4 in fact is not a poem. Hebrew poetry is characterized by certain syntactical features. A thorough grammatical/syntactical treatment of Hebrew poetry is that of M. O’Connor.4 A simple test is the use of parallelism where a second grammatical clause repeats the idea of the preceding clause either by way of rewording it, or further explicating it, or by expressing its antithesis. O’Connor’s analysis goes far beyond these simple observations but does not nullify them. Reading the Hebrew text shows that it lacks these requisite poetic markers. Therefore, the Hebrew text is most reasonably read as prose narrative.
Secondly (and more objectively), in prose narrative there is a different ratio of verbal forms than there is in poetry. This has long been recognized by Hebrew scholars and has most recently been exhaustively analyzed by Steven Boyd.5 By way of explanation there are four forms of the finite verb in biblical Hebrew: the preterite (vayyiqtol), the imperfect (yiqtol), the perfect (qatal) and the vav perfect (veqatal). To quickly summarize, in passages that are universally recognized as historical narrative there is a marked preponderance of preterites over the other three forms. In poetry there is a preponderance of imperfects (yiqtol) and perfects (qatal).
Boyd demonstrates that, given the ratio of verbal forms, the statistical evidence for the text being prose is overwhelming. Indeed it would be irresponsible to read it any other way.
The use of the word yôm in Gen. 1:1–2:4 with particular reference to the use of the cardinal number echad in 1:5b
Regarding the word ‘yôm’ in Gen. 1:1–2:4, it is apparent that there are three different uses of the term in the passage. In 1:5a it denotes ‘daylight’ as opposed to ‘night’. In 1:5b it denotes the combination of the two. The word ‘echad’ is most probably to be read as a cardinal number (‘one’) as opposed to an ordinal (’first’) in contrast to many translations. Thus it appears that the text is in fact defining what a ‘day’ is in the rest of the Creation Week. Finally in Gen. 2:4, yôm is part of an anarthrous6 prepositional compound beyôm meaning not ‘in the day’ but simply ’when’.
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