E. J. Young On Creation Days And Solar Days

The length of the creation days is not stated. What is important is that each of the days is a period of time which may legitimately be denominated יֹ֔ום (“day”).

4. The first three days were not solar days such as we now have, inasmuch as the sun, moon, and stars had not yet been made.

Edward J. Young | Studies In Genesis One, An International Library of Philosophy and Theology, Biblical and Theological Studies (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1964), 104.



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  1. How then are we to interpret Genesis 1:5 ? “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”

  2. Maybe the attention to “solar days” is much ado about nothing. Note that Gen 1 qualifies “day” with the phrase “evening and morning”. We recognize this as a reference to the ordinary (universal) understanding of one cycle of the earth’s rotation – rounded in this scientific measurement culture to 24 segments of 60 segments of 60 seconds, i.e., 24 hours.

    Note too the reversal of the common (western?) method of labeling these: not “morning and evening” but “evening and morning”. The distinction highlights that Moses/the Holy Spirit chose the phrase that was common for Israel’s method of measuring the cycle of 24 hours, from evening (a 12 hour period) to morning (a 12 hour period). This, as with the previous point, signifies to the reader that the phrase “evening and morning” qualifies the word “day” (yom) as an ordinary earth day.

    So, yes, the first three days were not measurable by the rotation of the earth, marked in the sky to an observer by the passage of the moon (12 hours, evening) and then the sun (12 hours, morning). Yet, in that their inspired description is exactly the same as the next three (solar!) days, it’s seems that this fact (not technically “solar” days) is a detail vainly in search of significance.

    Rather than adjectiv-izing these first three days with “solar”, maybe we should instead label them the same as they and the second set of three days are inerrantly described: ordinary “earth” days; i.e., what we now describe as six 24 hour periods of rotation.

    The critical apologetic significance of rightly interpreting this detail of Scripture (ordinary earth days) remains in our re-paganizing culture. Yet while the solar day tweak might have helped counter a distraction in the late modern era, maybe we’ve reached the point at which the value of observing this tweak has come to an end.

    Just a thought.

    • Reed,

      What if, in 1,500 BC, the Holy Spirit wasn’t addressing questions raised by 19th century geologists & paleontologists?

      What if the point of the narrative is to make us marvel?

    • Days are getting slightly longer over time. Every century, 2.3 milliseconds are added to a day. Unrelated but equally interesting, time moves faster at the top of mountains and slower in valleys. Gps systems have to account for time dilation when moving in earth’s orbit. (Due to their speed and the gravitational drop off)

        • Reed,

          My point is that a lot of the fundamentalist and Reformed world has been asking the wrong questions about Genesis since about 1961 and most of the questions didn’t come from our own people (e.g., Old Princeton or even Old Westminster) but from Ellen G. White et al.

          We stopped paying attention to what those things in which the text itself is interested. Arguably that’s even true of Young’s reply to Kline (the source of the quotation) but even in his reply to Kline, and in his published revision of his earlier approach e.g., his Introduction to the Old Testament (London: Tyndale Press, 1949), 51, Young still recognized that the text, on its face, isn’t answering our questions.

          The text (shorthand for the Holy Spirit and Moses) doesn’t care about the questions we’re asking. We’ve assumed that it does and we’ve imposed those questions on the text and made it sit up and bark but that’s on us, as they say in sports.

          The point of the text in it’s original context was to say to the Israelites, whom God had just rescued from Egypt: “Where are your cat gods now? Which of them rescued you or spoke into the nothingness (in nihilum, as John Frame once said in class) to make all that is? They didn’t. I did.”

          The text isn’t answering the fundamentalist/adventist question (see the chapter on this in Recovering the Reformed Confession) about the length of the creation days. That’s why Young said what he did.

          The point of the quotation was give us all pause, to recalibrate, and to re-think.

          E. J. Young was a stalwart defender of God’s Word. He was arguably dean of conservative/evangelical/Reformed OT scholars for decades. He was not a fundamentalist obscurantist. If he could recognize that it makes so sense to speak of solar days before the creation of the sun (on the terms of the narrative itself) then perhaps we should stop talking about “six normal days” or “six-twenty-four” creation.

          Six days and nights, sure. That’s on the face of the text. What kinds of days and lights are there without the sun? No idea. No one knows. None of us has ever experienced any such thing. That’s the point of the text. These days are not like your days and, in some ways, they are or become like your days.

          That’s the relevance.

          It also should make some presbyteries wonder whether they would admit Joe Young into their ministry? If they won’t perhaps they have a bad standard. I’m not even talking about Machen, who held to the day-age view! There are presbyteries in the OPC and perhaps in the PCA (I’m less confident about that) and whole denominations which wouldn’t admit either Young or Machen to their ministry.

          • Thx Dr. Scott. Two responses if I might.
            1) Dr. Young rightly exegeted the text: Moses/the Holy Spirit did not describe the first three days as “solar” days.
            2) That fact, however, does not support the argument that these days were NOT normal, ordinary days (the point of my reference to the “evening and morning” phrase.)

            You’re making a different point when you say that the text isn’t concerned about the length of days. Agreed, the text is concerned with something fare more significant, e.g., fiat creation by God. And yet, in doing that, God uses language that accurately reflects his creation via 6 ordinary days. Thus, in the same manner that we are justified in noting his creation of two genders (male and female) to defend against transgenderism (not the point of the male/remale reference), we can also use the ordinary days language to defend against the evolutionary materialism arguments for massive lengths of time to develop what we see today.

            IOW, I’m still at “so what”. Gn 1’s language about the nature of the days of creation is premised on the notion of ordinary days. Noting the lack of the celestial bodies on the first three days, or micro-time dialations, does not detract from that.

            Intending to be respectful in my disagreement; thanks for bearing with me where I’ve not communicated that well.

            • Reed,

              So there are normal days without the sun?

              That’s an exceeding odd definition of “normal.” Who has ever experienced a non-solar day?

              Yes, fiat creation is the point but I don’t see anyone defending that. What I see are presbyters busting the chops of candidates for not holding “six normal days” (i.e., six solar days, if such a thing happened in creation).

              “Ordinary”? What’s ordinary about “let there be”? The great point of the narrative, on its own terms, is that this is extraordinary. Speaking into the nothingness, which we can’t even conceive, and forming a world in which there is light without the sun is, by definition, not ordinary. We really need to stop using those words in this context.

              Yes, there is creational pattern for humanity, including two sexes (not genders) but that nothing about recognizing the extraordinary character of creation changes the creational pattern of “male and female he created them.” These are two distinct questions.

              We don’t have to flatten out the Genesis 1 narrative, including that mysterious phrase in 2:4 “In the day Yahweh Elohim created,” to affirm, as we must, a creational pattern for human sexuality, the Sabbath, etc.

              The premise of your objection doesn’t work. Ordinary, in this discussion, is a question begging term and is normal. It assumes what it must prove.

  3. I’ve never understood this argument, to be honest. It basically makes God’s organization of the days subjective to the created order. Why would you need to have solar to have 24 hour days?

    Why would having it be 24 hour days also not cause you to marvel?

    Besides it’s not like the discussion over the age of the universe just popped up in the 19th century.

    • Benjamin,

      What do you mean when you say “it”? What is the antecedent?

      How can we talk about 24 hours before the creation of the sun?

      The age of the universe was an older discussion but since Paley et al fundamentalists have been trying to make Genesis 1 answer the questions they were asking. What if Genesis 1 has it’s own, different agenda?

  4. PS, I recognize the analogical day position is inoffensive to the text. No qualms; serve with men holding to it on our presbytery’s exam committee. (I just think it’s an immaterial position. 😉 )

  5. I think it’s just a bit disingenuous to say that those of us that hold to 6/24 are beholden to fundamentalists and/or Ellen White. Lots of godly Reformed men criticized Warfield et al in real time as the arguments were being formulated in response to the changing “science”. R.C. Sproul played golf on Sunday. That doesn’t mean that Sabbath-keeping is somehow at risk because a famous name didn’t hold to the Fourth Commandment.

    I remain unconcerned about when people I otherwise disagree with happen to hold the same concept as me. We agree (Dr. Clark and I) on the use (or lack thereof) of musical instruments in public worship…so do the Church of Christ and Orthodox Jews. It doesn’t change the Biblical argument for either.

    As far as the “it” the idea that you can’t have 24 hour days without the sun. The logic does not follow at all. That means that God could have had 24 hours days until the sun is made, which is a strange argument to make about the ability and powers of God. On the sun side there are pertinent examples today of Arctic winter or summer where there is no appreciable setting or rising of the sun, yet we wouldn’t say time doesn’t pass in those areas.

    • Benjamin,

      How do we measure 24 hours?

      God can do anything he wants but creation can’t be “ordinary” and it also be the case that there are also solar days without the sun. That’s incoherent.

      I’m not being disingenuous. If you read the chapter on creation in RRC or Ronald Number’s The Creationists you will see how the discussion/debate on creation shifted after the publication of Whitcomb and Morris. History matters.

      Prior to W & M, who relied on Adventist ideas, no one in the P&R world thought that Machen and Young were liberals. After, I’ve had ruling elders tell me that they wouldn’t ordain Machen. I know presbyteries that wouldn’t admit E J Young. Pointing that out is not disingenuous. Those are facts.

      The question is, how did we get here? The answer to that is history.

      The influence of the SDA is not merely a matter of formal agreement. It represents a substantive change in the way P&R people read the Bible.

  6. The clearer passages of Scripture interpret those that are less clear to us. Westminster Confession of Faith 1.9 “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

    Exodus 20:8-11 is clear on the length of days–especially verse 11:

    8 Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God, on which you must not do any work—neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant or livestock, nor the foreigner within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them, but on the seventh day He rested. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy.

    • Ron,

      The rule is not in doubt. What is in question is your application of it.

      When, in the narrative of Genesis 1 was the Sabbath instituted? On the seventh day. When, in the narrative did the Sabbath day end? It does not. The work of creation is done according to Gen 2:1: “Genesis 2:1 “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts.” In 2:2 God’s Word says, “By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” The sun, by which we ordinarily measure days, has been created but you will notice that Scripture does not say “morning and evening, the seventh day.” The pattern has changed. According to the narrative, the seventh day is different. In the narrative (we are paying attention to Scripture on its terms, not ours, right?) it has no formal beginning or end. Further, in 2:2 God is said to have “rested.” Unless one has a pagan view of God then we must say that resting if figurative. So, in the narrative we have a day after the completion of the work of creation, as it were (“work” as applied to God is itself a figure of speech) and in which God is figuratively said to rest on a day without beginning or end. In 2:3 God is again said to have rested, which is the language picked up by Exodus 2:8. Clearly God is setting an example for us which we are to follow but, as always with the creation narrative there are analogies between our experience of days and the days described in Gen 1 and 2. Like Gen 2, our seventh day is solar but unlike Gen 2, our days have mornings and evenings. Like God we rest but unlike God our rest is literal, not figurative. Moreover, in 2:4 Scripture says “in the day Yahweh Elohim created the earth and heaven.” This is freely recognized by most interpreters (6-24 and non-6-24) to be figurative. So, we must recognize not only that Exodus 20:8 appeals to the 6 and 1 pattern but also how it does so.

  7. God’s rest, like ours, is a change of activity. If God, at any time, were to stop working, the universe would collapse. I am not too sure the figurative idea works. Seems to be another attempt to have things fashioned with an underlying influence of “Surely God did not say….” I appreciate the discussion however. Thank you,

    • Ron,

      One of the earliest heresies faced by the ancient Christian church was the heresy of the anthropomorphites. John Cassian (Conferences 1.10.3) describes a certain Serapion. They were biblicists par excellence. They refused to recognize figures of speech and thus attributed to God literal eyes, ears, a nose etc (all of which Scripture figuratively attributes to God). To suggest that God literally worked and then literally rested is heresy against the ecumenical faith because it attributes change to God thus denying his immutability.

      Ron, Before you pursue this line further, please take a look at the chapter in Recovering the Reformed Confession on the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty.

      I am in no way questioning God’s Word. I am questioning the way that you propose to read it and the consequences of the way you are reading it.

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