We would suggest not…
There are many evangelical Christians who, accepting theistic evolution, contend that the Hebrew word “yom”, used in Genesis for “a day” can be interpreted as being a long period of time. The scriptural verse most frequently referred to when this subject is under discussion is 2 Pet. 3:8:
“With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day.”
From this it is considered acceptable to translate “yom” as a long period of time, a “thousand years” being only symbolic. Thus the “days” of Genesis can be stretched to be far longer and are then taken to be the “millions of years” that are needed by evolution theory.
But is this a correct and biblically sound interpretation? We would suggest not so for the following reasons.
The context of 2 Peter. 3:8
The context in this passage is quite different from that of Genesis. Peter is pointing out that God is very patient, and His view of time is quite different from ours, for He is prepared to delay the day of judgement so that some will come to repentance. To quote this passage in support of a long-age creation is to force it to apply to a quite separate situation that it cannot sustain.
There seems to be an element of clutching at straws when the passage of Peter is used in support of such a position. Peter is quoting from Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses the man of God (see title of Psalm 90) and the writer of Genesis, the first book of Moses (title of Genesis). Moses is saying that the Creator who “formed the earth and the world” is from everlasting, while man is like the grass which grows up only to quickly wither. To say that “a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” is not the same as saying that yesterday was in fact a thousand years, nor yet that a watch meant an extended era of time.
The translation of “yom”
Hebrew scholars consistently confirm that the correct interpretation of “yom” is a normal twenty-four hour day, even though such scholars are not necessarily sympathetic to the creationist interpretation of cenesis. In a letter to former CSM Council member David Watson, Oxford Professor James Barr stated:
“So far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience.”
Thus a professor of Hebrew confirms that “yom” was intended to mean a 24 hour period, yet Christians, with no such knowledge of Hebrew, insist that it can have the same meaning as the idiomatic use of the English word “day” such as “in my father’s day”.
It is also worth noting in passing that wherever else the word “yom” is used in Scripture in conjunction with a numeral it always refers to literal days e.g. Nehemiah 6:15 where the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem was finished in fifty and two days.
The Fourth Commandment
When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. He wrote
“Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work.”
Why such a strange demand? The answer is immediately given in the Decalogue.
“For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day.”
There is a precise parallel between God’s days of Creation Week and our own week of work and rest. And it is not only the Hebrews who had a seven-day week. All nations observed a seven-day week, and we still do. And the Lord Jesus, without whom was not anything made that was made, claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath also.
It is to be expected that an all-wise and all powerful God would create instantaneously and perfectly. That He took seven days is an indication of His care of His creatures. Menservants, maidservants and cattle, we all need a day’s rest each week.
Those who seek to stretch the time span of Genesis 1 to many thousands or millions of years generate for themselves great physical and spiritual problems.
(A) Genesis is very specific on the order in which the various parts of the universe were created. People who believe in extended periods of time for Gen 1 tend to ignore this aspect. One physical problem is that on the third day we read of the creation of plants, but it is not until the fourth day that the sun was created, If each of these “days” were very long periods of time, how could the plants grow without the sunlight they would have needed?
(B) Theistic evolutionists (who translate “yom” as a long period of time) must deny that the Earth was made before the Sun. (The 24 hour rotation period of the Earth is, in fact, independent of whether the Sun was there or not.) It must be emphasised that there is no grammatical warrant whatsoever for claiming that the sun was created on the first day but only “appeared” on the fourth day. The words “asah” and “bara” are used equally for “create” or “made” and the use of “asah” for the creation of the sun, moon and stars cannot be twisted to give this specific meaning. To translate “asah” consistently as “appearing” sometime after it had been “created” throughout Genesis 1 would make nonsense of the account of creation.
(C) The insects and bees would have been created on the fifth day along with “creeping things”. How would the plants, created on the third day, have been pollinated had there been huge spans of time in each “day”?
(A) One spiritual problem is that if man had evolved from apes over millions of years, as theistic evolutionists claim, there would have been thousands of similar “apes” that would have looked like a man. Did God select a pair, make them in his image (whatever that might mean in this interpretation) and breathe into them the “breath of life”? Some such sequence of events would need to be postulated, but this would then completely contradict the Genesis account of the creation of the man and his wife.
(B) More importantly, the account of the Fall of Adam is removed from being a central action that affected the future of mankind. One man fell, and he brought with him all creation into subjection to sin. Romans 5:12 reads:
“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”.
It was then necessary for the perfect man (i.e. Christ, who was both man and God) to come to earth to die to redeem us from sin and restore the communion between God and man. 1st Corinthians 15:22 reads:
“For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”.
This replacement of the Fall by a supposed upward progress from ape to man is subtly destroying the roots of the Christian faith – often without the Christians who accept it realising how the root cause of their need of salvation from original sin has been removed.
There are other interpretations of Genesis 1 that try to insert long periods of time into the account. A view popular with some Christians at the end of the nineteenth century was the Gap theory (see pamphlet 316 by Dr. Farid Abou-Rahme). This placed millions of years between verses 1 and 2 of Gen. 1.
Another compromise was Wiseman’s “Days of Revelation” theory. God is said to have revealed to Moses (the writer of Genesis) over a period of seven days how He created the universe. These fudges suffer from the same physical and spiritual problems already mentioned.
The Early Church Fathers’ views
Those who deny that Genesis 1 is an accurate record of events sometimes appeal for support in the writings of the Early Church Fathers, in particular Augustine, Origen and Basil. Having quoted some obscure passages from their writings, the claim is then made that “Naive literalism was never a part of Christian orthodoxy”.
Yet a careful examination of all of their writings on this subject, rather than these carefully selected passages taken out of context, clearly reveals that all the church fathers interpreted Genesis literally; as did Calvin and other theologians up to the time of Darwin.
Basil, who is often quoted in support of an old Earth view, actually states;
“God made every-thing… in a short time… So let us pass by all figurative and allegorical interpretation… [Concerning “evening” and “morning”] – This is to be understood as the duration of one day and one night [and that some interpreters] have taken refuge in allegories.”
Augustine, in his City of God, says:
“Let us omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the nature and origin of the human race…they are deceived by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give the history of many thousand years, though reckoning by the sacred writings we find that not 6,000 years have yet passed.”
The motive for these “long age” theories
Why have Christians resorted to accepting these theories that so clearly contradict the Genesis record? To find the reason we must place ourselves in the position of Christians involved in science at a time when the theory of evolution had come to dominate all the academic and scientific establishments.
They faced a dilemma. To deny the “millions of years” of evolution was to court ridicule from professional peers, blockage of promotion and even the possibility of dismissal. But to accept such a time-scale was to deny the obvious meaning of Genesis. It was for this reason that men searched the Bible for some way in which ‘millions of years’ could enter into the picture. This gave rise to the Gap theory, the Day-age theory, and ideas that Genesis was an allegory, and other interpretations of the plain text referred to above. These were seized upon as solutions to their dilemma, despite their lack of scriptural support. This is still the situation even today.
These ‘long age’ theories were first proposed in order to have the best of both worlds, gaining respectability with the world while remaining ‘biblically based’.
New evidences for a young Earth
However, in the last half century there has developed a considerable body of scientific evidence indicating that the earth is indeed young. CSM pamphlets cover many lines of evidence for a young Earth, from geology, anthropology sedimentation and astronomy.
Some who are confronted by this evidence may prefer to keep quiet. If their ‘young Earth’ views became known, their status or even their livelihood could be affected. Family responsibilities and social standing are seriously at risk for what can so easily be dismissed as an unorthodox view held by a ‘cranky minority’.
Those who continue to hold to these “long age” theories must surely realise that they have a major problem facing them. The majority have to “square their conscience” on this vital subject and then make sure that they avoid debate and even discussion with creationists! What they do not realise is that they are limiting their spiritual life by their refusal to seek where the truth lies on this subject, for “all truth is God’s truth”.