Theories of the meaning of yom (day) taken and adapted from Dr. John Harris' (Dean of the School of Christian Studies and Professor of OT at East Texas Baptist University) OT Survey I Notebook:

1. The Literal Twenty-Four Hour Period Theory

This is the straightforward approach (cf. Exod. 20:9-11). Questions arising from this approach:

a. How was there light on day one when the sun was not created until day four?

b. How were all the animals (especially those original to other parts of the world) named in less than one day? (cf. Gen. 2:19-20)?

2. The Day-Age Theory

This theory attempts to harmonize science (particularly geology) with scripture. This theory states that the "days" were "geological ages" in length. Their length is unequal, and they approximate the various layers described in uniformitarian geology. Scientists tend to agree with the general development of Genesis 1: vapor and a watery mass preceded the separation of land and sea prior to the appearance of life. Vegetable life came before animal life, and mankind represented the latest and most complex form of life. Questions arising from this approach.

a. How did plants survive for "ages" without the sun?

b. How did pollination take place in plants if insects and birds were not made until "ages" later?

3. The Alternate Age-Day Theory

The days are in fact twenty-four hour periods, but each day is separated by ages in which what was created developed. Questions arising from this approach.

a. The same problems arise as in the Day-Age Theory.

b. Does the text indicate "day" to be used both as twenty-four hours and as an era?

4. The Progressive Creation-Catastrophe Theory 

This theory goes as follows: between Gen. 1:1 and 1:2, there was an indefinite period of time in which the geological ages took place; during this period, the pre-historic creatures in the order suggested by the fossils were created; around 200,000 years ago, a supernatural disaster occurred and destroyed much of the life on this planet and made many animals extinct; then the days of Genesis 1 occurred. These days refer to a re-creation, rather than to an original creation.

5. The Eden-Only Theory

The creation account refers only to the creation and physical aspects of the Garden of Eden.

6. The Gap Theory

Based on Gen. 1:1, God created a perfect world. Based on Gen. 1:2, Lucifer (Satan) was placed in charge of the world and rebelled. God then judged Lucifer and the world by utter destruction. For millions of years, the world was left alone and the geological ages passed. Based on Gen. 1:3-2:3, in 4004 b.c.e., the six literal twenty-four hour days of re-creation occurred. Bishop Ussher (a.d. 1654) used the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 to calculate and date the creation of humanity, ca. 4004 b.c.e. However, genealogies do not represent complete chronological schemes. 

7. The Sacred Week Theory

The writer of the book of Genesis used the concept of days and a week as a literary device to put across the divine message of the activity of God in creation. Such a structure illustrates the beauty and symmetry of God's creative work.

8. The Cosmic Temple Inauguration

This is a recent view by John H. Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, IVP, 2009, which sees the six days as a "functional ontology, not a material ontology." They describe God ordering or setting up a functioning universe for mankind's good. This fits the other ancient cosmologies. For example, the first three days would represent God providing "seasons" (i.e., time), "weather" (i.e., for crops), and "food." The repeated phrase "it is good" would denote functionality.

The seventh day would describe God entering His fully functional and inhabited "cosmic temple" as its rightful owner, controller, and director. Genesis 1 has nothing to do with the material creation of matter but the ordering of that matter for a functioning place for God and humans to fellowship.

The "days" become a literary device to communicate the ANE's general consensus that

a. there is no distinction between the "natural" and the "supernatural"

b. Deity is involved in every aspect of life. Israel's uniqueness was not her general worldview but the following

(1) her monotheism

(2) creation was for mankind, not for the gods

(3) there is no conflict between the gods nor between the gods and humanity in Israel's account

She did not borrow her creation account from others but shared their general worldview.


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