Herman Bavinck explains the days of creation in a very thought-provoking way (convincing, in my opinion). He says they were six days of “extraordinary character” (Reformed Dogmatics, II.499) Note: “triduum” means 3 day period.
“The first triduum…is formed and calculated in the biblical story in a way that differs from the second triduum. The essence of a day and night does not consist in their duration (shorter or longer) but in the alteration of light and darkness, as Genesis 1:4 and 5a clearly teaches. In the case of the first triduum this alteration was not effected by the sun, which only made its appearance on the fourth day, but came about in a different way: by the emission and contraction of the light created in verse 3. If this is the case, the first three days, however much they may resemble our days, also differ significantly from them and hence were extraordinary cosmic days” (p. 499).
“It is not impossible that the second triduum still shared in this extraordinary character as well. For while it is true that the sun and the moon and the stars were created on the fourth day, and it is conceivable therefore that the second triduum was determined by the rotation of the earth in relation to the sun, yet it does not follow that from the formation of the sun, the moon, and the stars on the fourth day astronomical and terrestrial relations were the same then as they are now. Scripture itself shows us that as a result of the fall and the flood cataclysmic changes occurred, not only in the human and animal world, but also in the earth and its atmosphere; and the period of creation in the nature of the case existed in very different circumstances from those that prevailed after the completion of creation” (p. 499-500).
Moses and the other “ancients” didn’t measure a day scientifically by minutes like we do, but by the presence and absence of light (morning/evening). Think about the extraordinary “day” (yom) in Joshua 10. Though it is a tough miracle to explain, one clear thing is that the “day” (yom) was measured by the presence and absence of light, not by a 24 hour time clock (Josh 10.13-14 & 27-28). Though it wasn’t literally 24 hours (it was probably quite a bit longer), it was still a literal day (yom).
Bavinck ends this great section with these words.
“The creation was a series of awesome miracles that the biblical story, which is both sublime and simple, portrays to us each time with a single brush stroke without giving details (p. 500).” “The days of Genesis 1 […] – like the days of creation as a whole – have an extraordinary character” (p. 499).
“…’Day’ in the first chapter of the Bible denotes the time in which God was at work creating. With every morning he brought into being a new world; evening began when he finished it. The creation days are the workdays of God. By a labor, resumed and renewed six times, he prepared the whole earth and transformed the chaos into a cosmos” (p. 500).
To me, this is more helpful than some of the other Christian descriptions of creation. I’m not a huge fan of the framework position or the gap theory, and some of the young-earth-literal-six-twenty-four-hour-day arguments go beyond Scripture, in my opinion. For me, Bavinck is one of the most level-headed, biblical, and careful commentators on the creation week. I encourage our readers to study this whole section of Bavinck (pages 495-500 of RD II) to see how he defends his position, which can be summarized like this: The triune God miraculously created all things out of nothing in six historical, extraordinary days.
I also like Galileo’s statement: In the Bible, “The Holy Spirit intended to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go.”
45 Replies to “Moses Did Not Have A Timex (or a Casio)”
Boy. You do realize that in some of our Reformed churches here in the U.S., this position would disqualify Bavinck from church leadership?
That it would!
Boy, with a hermeneutic like that, Bavinck could embrace all sorts of terrible things … a covenant of works … the law/gospel distinction … the distinction between archetypal and ectypal knowledge … One can hardly imagine the madness that would ensue and the certainty he would concede! I mean if you can’t trust the Bible to be literally true, what can you trust?!?!
Nice post, Shane! Good observation, Richard!
I hope such things do not happen. When the church does not confront the Scriptures with humble and honest mind, but with a predetermined assumption, then that would be a symptom of corruption. What Bavinck points out should have been noticed by any astute reader of the Bible.
While it is a bit dated (1999) it is still some of the best exegetical critique of non-literal views by Dr. Joseph Pipa here
Did Bavinck face criticism from Christians for supposedly embracing a non-literal position, or is that more common to the past 50 years or so?
Great post and I will look at Bavinck again.
Thanks for the comments guys.
Matt: I’m not aware of any criticisms of Bavinck’s position in the early 20th century. The creation options weren’t such an issue back then – quite a few good guys believed different things about the creation week. Bavinck sort of treats the creation week like he treats the infra- and supra-lapsarian positions. He shows some strengths and weaknesses for both (historically and biblically), then comes down on one side carefully and humbly.
And by the way (if I can prod and poke a bit!) I’d say Bavinck did believe in literal, historical days of creation. They were just literal in the Hebrew sense of the term (as in Joshua 10), not in the scientific western sense of it (as in 24 exact hours).
Thanks Shane. It would be nice if we could better follow Bavinck’s wisdom in not throwing stones or making accusations that don’t really fit. I too often get the sense that some theologians treat Genesis 1 as if Moses were responding to Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins instead of looking more closely at the historical context.
Thanks for the post, and for clarifying the term “literal” very helpfully. On my first exposure (with you at seminary) to Kline’s Framework View, I was not thoroughly convinced. Like most other views, I felt that it just went further than the text required, or said more than Gen 1-2 were saying.
I just recently was referred to Appendix A in Kline’s God, Heaven, and Har Maggedon, in which he gives an updated explanation / defense of the Framework view, and I must say, I found it quite compelling. He is really simply trying to deal with the text, reading it with Hebrew cultural and linguistic sensibilities honed over his life of OT study. Have you read that Appendix, and if so, what were your thoughts?
Thanks, Fix. Amen – “literal” has to be defined in broader biblical terms.
I read that work of Kline you mentioned, but it was awhile back. I’ll have to skim it again later (I’m away from my study). Sorry I can’t be of more help! Send an email or call if you want to chat on it more. We can “literally” talk about it then later!
I remember reading that appendix and thinking it was very intriguing. I especially thought there was a lot of merit in understanding upper and lower registers based on the ANE iconography of humans mirroring the ‘heavenly’ actions of the gods. In general it was a good presentation of space and time in Genesis 1.1-2.4.
I’d have to do more study, but I’m wondering about the legitimacy of applying that iconographic theme to literary material. I was just reading some Enuma Elish yesterday morning (in English) which got me wondering about some of these themes. When I have a chance, I’ll do some more reading in that area.
Good to hear from you Fix! How is the fam?
Nice Pointer. I’m wondering about the last quote from p. 500: “With every morning he brought into being a new world; evening began when he finished it.”
The Hebrew idiom is, “there was evening-there was morning, 2nd day”, etc. This seems to be the reason why Judaism begins its sabbath on Friday evening. As if a “day” begins the evening before. Which has always seemed odd to me. It’s as if the 7th day begins on the evening of the 6th day. A quick scan of Scripture doesn’t seem to ever say begin on evening of 6th day – have I missed something?
So given that, I’ve always thought that the idiom in Genesis is meant to convey, “there was evening, and then morning, so the first [2nd, 3rd, etc] day had ended. That fits with Bavinck. what do y’all think?
Even with a solar system it is possible that a day is not 24 hours… i.e. the long day of Joshua where the sun stood still. Interesting too that it is not possible according to the text in Joshua:
 At that time Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel,
“Sun, stand still at Gibeon,
and moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
 And the sun stood still, and the moon stopped,
until the nation took vengeance on their enemies.
Is this not written in the Book of Jashar? The sun stopped in the midst of heaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day.  There has been no day like it before or since, when the LORD heeded the voice of a man, for the LORD fought for Israel.
(Joshua 10:12-14 ESV)
“There has been no day like it before”… like what? Like this long day that was different than any other day… BOOYAHH! :P
Thanks, Jason – and thanks to others who (so far) have remained civil. Let’s refrain from taking the digital gloves off!
Jason – don’t forget the last half of the verse: “…When Yahweh listened to a man’s prayer and fought for Israel” [the Divine Warrior was using the created order as a prayer-induced weapon]. The Genesis days (at least 1-5) are out of the picture in Joshua 10, because there was no man to pray like this in Genesis 1, nor were there enemies in Genesis 1 that Yahweh had to fight against.
Thanks for the comments.
The first/second triduumm: Perhaps more common than we’ve thought.
Go to Google Books and search for this title: Notes on the Shorter Catechism, Author = W.P. Mackay
Open/view the contents and scroll to p. 25 . . . Check out the chart of parallels between the 1st & 2nd triduum (using Bavinck’s term); God forms, arranges, separates in the 1st triduum, God furnishes, fills, beautifies in the 2nd triduum. Them follows a great little redemptive-historic run down of “Light” in Scripture.
Found this in this small volume on the Short Catechism while browsing the stacks at WTS-East in the spring. Mackay’s Notes published in 1889. The actual books at WTS is getting fragile. I recommend the Google Books. Can even d/l a copy as .PDF.
Thanks for the tip Cris, for the benefit of others, here’s a link
Matt said “I too often get the sense that some theologians treat Genesis 1 as if Moses were responding to Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins instead of looking more closely at the historical context.”
Isn’t the same thing said by the FVist, about us who hold a the historical reformed position? As if Luther and Calvin were wrong because the historical occasion (i.e. ideas) in which they were writing, were not the same as in second-temple Judaism.
While Moses wasn’t responding to Darwin, this does not mean would should not read the text in its plain literal sense.
Right. So is the plain “literal sense” 6 24 hour solar days, or is the “literal sense” that God created, divided, established kingdoms and then placed kings over those kingdoms while resting on the Seventh day as a sign that God was finished with that aspect of his work and now reigns over all creation?
The FVers make their assertions and so we answer them on biblical grounds. They are denying the fundamental understanding of justification. But to speak of an old earth or young earth, at least in my opinion, in no way damages the teachings of Scripture or the work of Christ accomplished by his active and passive obedience.
It appears that some people are assuming by Bavinck’s use of the term “extraordinary” means he does not hold to a literal 24-hour day. What if we said the day of Christ’s death was “extraordinary” with it’s earthquakes and bodies of the dead were raised? The term just means that the day is not ordinary. But it’s still a day. The term day has limits, even in the Hebrew language. Gideon’s long day was an extraordinary day, but not millions of years extraordinary.
“So is the plain “literal sense” 6 24 hour solar days, or is the “literal sense” that God created, divided, established kingdoms and then placed kings over those kingdoms while resting on the Seventh day as a sign that God was finished with that aspect of his work and now reigns over all creation?”
“The FVers make their assertions and so we answer them on biblical grounds. They are denying the fundamental understanding of justification. But to speak of an old earth or young earth, at least in my opinion, in no way damages the teachings of Scripture or the work of Christ accomplished by his active and passive obedience.”
Of course I agree with you here, but in your original point, you seemed to be saying that many read the Bible through the lens (so-to-speak) and defend their position via the historical situation (i.e. Darwinism). This may be true for some, but just because someone would defend a literal short-time creation, doesn’t follow that we are reading it through a certain (“recent”) historical situation.
One might even state that Bavinck was even more literal than the most avid KJV fundamentalist. If we literally understand the term ‘day’ in the first triduum, how could we possibly quantify it with terms like hours, minutes or seconds when these units depend upon the movement of an as of yet uncreated solar system?
To insist upon six 24 hour days – especially in the first half of the week – is to interpret the passage from our own temporal paradigm. That is, we insert the definition that a day must be 24 hours even when we can’t independently define what an hour is. The conventional fundamentalist hermeneutic is quite non literal.
God is creating our temporal paradigm (it is not our own) with Morning and Evening. To say that the morning and evening created in Genesis 1 is different from ours, seems to be quite a stretch. I’m not saying the day were 24hrs, but I would say they were short periods of time (give or take some hours). I don’t know what the fall did to the earth, etc. so I don’t think we can get down to the hour or minute.
Shane, I really appreciate you posting this. It has been most helpful.
A closer reading of Joshua 10 is in order. The writer bases the action of the event on the assumed measurement of a full day. It is not an expandable notion, as you imply. The time the sun sat in the sky is the length of a known measure -“about a full day”.
“And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day“.
Bavinck reads some Hellenic notions back into the first three days, and suggests that these realities may have continued up until the time of the flood. I understand that he is trying to be careful not to say too much, but his reading — which makes duration dependent upon the presence of the spheres — implies a subjugation of meaning to being or things. Space is given the precedence here over a specific measurement of time, and an inequality is created- a type of dualism. Bavinck was neo-Thomistic in many regards.
Your illustration of the absence of G-shocks (a fine watch by the way) is similar. It is like suggesting that logic was not in the Bible because Aristotle had not yet had a chance to define the syllogism. Reading assertions back into the Scriptures is one thing, but reading denials is not less problematic.
This is just a précis.
Grace and peace,
About Joshua 10 – if you read it closely (which you’re right, we should!) you can’t miss verse 14: there has been no day like it before or since (Jason D nicely put these verses above for us). We can’t get around the fact that this specific day in Joshua’s battle with the Southern Amorite kings was a day longer than 24 hours but it was still called a literal day (yom).
Also, the statement about Bavinck being a “neo-Thomistic” theologian with “hellenic notions” is pretty sweeping and certainly needs to be backed up substantially. Blog comments probably aren’t the best place to discuss this, but if you know of a book or dissertation on these things, feel free to point them out. I don’t accept them without solid proofs, however, having read nearly 2500 pages of Bavinck over the course of five years.
Nonetheless, thanks for the comments.
Verse 14 is qualified by the type or kind of day it was (“when God listened to the voice of a man”), and says nothing about the length.
“About” a day (v. 13), implies that it was shorter, not longer than a normal day. “A little over” or “more than” a day would suggest what you said.
I have to wonder when your take on things squares so very nicely with modernist presuppositions of secular science. This is a relatively new view of Genesis 1 and had little or no traction prior to the Enlightenment and Darwin’s project.
Bavinck’s presuppositions don’t need a thesis, they are inherent in the very words you quoted above. The subjugation of time to things (the spheres) is simply classic Aristotelean metaphysics. It lead to a view that the universe was eternal in the view of the Hellenes. In Christian circles, the boundary is eternity itself, but we end up with a distinction without a difference when pursuing this new line of thought.
Peace and grace,
If I may ask, was Berkhof mistaken when he wrote: “Kuyper and Bavinck hold that, while the first three days may have been of somewhat different length, the last three were certainly ordinary days. They naturally do not regard even the first three days as geological periods.” (Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 154)?
Seth, thanks for pointing that out. I did know Kuyper discussed the creation week in some ways similar to Bavinck. Berkhof is right that Kuyper and Bavinck didn’t regard the days as geological periods or ages. However, I think to be most accurate, we’d have to replace Berkhof’s “certainly” in that quote with “probably” or “possibly.”
Again, good work on pointing that out. Bavinck wasn’t saying the six days of creation were unbounded geological ages (he refutes that view); he was simply saying we probably should refrain from saying they were exactly 24 hours (specifically the first three days).
Interesting, Shane. I’m curious to know on what basis Berkhof makes such a definitive statement. I’ll have to look up references when I get a chance.
How about this passage in Exodus that reflects upon the days of Creation:
8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
I think Michael has it right when he suggests that “extraordinary” is to be taken in a sense other than duration. I do not see a distinction between the words “six days” in verse 10 and the words “six days” in verse eleven. Clearly the passage is speaking about working six, literal, 24 hour days followed by a literal 24 hour. Further, the passage links the pattern with the days of Creation.
As you said, verse 11 tries to make a link to the the Creation; it is not trying to explain the meaning of ‘evening and morning’ in Genesis. It should work in the other direction; we must understand what God is trying to teach us trough the record of Creation, and apply that understanding in keeping the Sabbath. In this sense, I think, you can understand verse 11 as a simple reference to Genesis story.
Bavinck misses what is obvious. The days in the first trivium are meant to be completely analogous to the days of the seconds trivium.
The word for day in the Hebrew is the same in both triviums, and both triviums are in the same immediate context.
Furthermore, they are all closed off with the same formula: “there was evening, and there was morning, the _____ day.”
What reader would expect the days to be substantially different in length of time? Bavinck owes us an explanation of what “morning” and “evening” mean if the days aren’t 24 hours in length. Yet, such an explanation is lacking. Why?
Of course the days of the first trivium are special. What they aren’t is longer or shorter than the days of the second trivium.
It is not obvious; 1st trivium should explain the 2nd, not the other way around.
So much for the perspicuity of Scripture. Does anybody really believe that Moses said we are to work 6 days and rest on the 7th because God worked for 6 undefined periods and rested on the 7th undefined period? The Hebrew is that vague? How about the Greek?
Ted Bigelow writes:
The word for day in the Hebrew is the same in both triviums, and both triviums are in the same immediate context.
Furthermore, they are all closed off with the same formula: “there was evening, and there was morning, the _____ day.”
Paul asks: Can anybody demonstrate a single instance in Scripture where the phrase “evening . . . morning” and a specifically numbered day is employed by a Biblical author where a literal 24 hour period is not meant? Please cite the Hebrew Scholar.
Thanks for the interesting challenge. (Paul, is that you? Or some other Paul?) Here are all the ESV verses that contain both the words morning evening. There are no other uses of the incantation “there was evening, and there was morning”, so there are also no others that mention a specific day. It is interesting that there doesn’t seem to be anything special about evening/morning vs. morning/evening. When the Bible speaks of evening before morning, it’s usually talking about night, and morning before evening it’s talking about day.
The closest answer I could find to this question is the (Dan 8:26) “vision of the evenings and mornings”, which specifies in 8:14 “2,300 evenings and mornings”. ESV study bible notes imply that this duration is probably pretty close to literal (unlike the “time, times, and half a time”), because the subsequent interpretation of the vision ties quite specifically to upcoming historical kingdoms.
But there’s also the altar in the temple of Ezekiel’s vision; in Ezek 43 he speaks of “on the second day”, “for seven days”, “from the eighth day onward”. This mirrors the creation pattern, but probably only dispensationalists would assert that these days are meant to be understood literally. (Even though they reference literal seven days of sacrificial cleansing in Ex 29, which is a demonstration of analogical linkage between literal 7-days and non-literal 7-days, which helps out with Gen 1 vs. Ex 20:8ff)
Let me just add that in Daniel, the words ערב (ereb, “evening”) and בקר (boqer, “morning”) are in the singular forms, although the English translators used plural in the translation.
Okay, Andrew, try the Hebrew word “Yom.” Then think perspicuity when you go down the “maybe it means this or maybe it means that” road. Using that hermeneutic we really don’t know what anything means, do we?
BTW, while you’re looking at “Yom,” why not see if there are other more useful words to illustrate an “I don’t really know” time period.
The real problem with the days of Genesis chapter one is the fact that it’s not academically respectable to believe they were literal 24 hour days as the author of Exodus suggests in 20:11.
Strong’s Hebrew Dictionary gives pretty good list of various meanings of “yowm” and their incidences in the Bible; see http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=H3117&t=KJV
The way I often think about it is that God created everything in six days, but His days aren’t necessarily the same as our days (as Peter mentions in one of his epistles). The narrative in Genesis gives us an example from God of our own work week, and (more eschatalogically) of the ultimate rest we will all have in Christ in eternity.
When Peter says “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Does the would day in this text have any correspondence to ours? Yes, it does, if it didn’t, then the comparison wouldn’t mean much. Peter is simply saying that God’s time is not the same as our time, as it relates to the Lord’s return. He is writing about mockers and their mocking.
Jeff, don’t you think that same principle can be applied in general to God’s time? God is not locked into the simple linear time we are in this universe. He is outside of both space and time. Augustine had some really interesting things to say about this, and how it applies to passages like Genesis. He basically concludes that the creation week is something written to help us understand something that would otherwise be incomprehensible to us. (I can find the passages later if you’re interested.)
I certainly agree that “God is not locked into the simple linear time.” I don’t no of six day creationist that would disagree. He is certainly outside space and time, but he also works within the space and time he has created.
My point above was that the passage in Peter is not a good text to use against a literal six-day creation view.
Everyone might be intersted in a Q&A I posted a few minutes ago with Drs. Joseph Pipa and T. David Gordon on the days of creation here.
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