Does Genesis 1 Teach That God Created the World in 6 Days?
J.D. Greear, Pastor of the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, posted a blog today on The Biggest Questions I Get On Genesis 1 and 2. I'm not asked his first question as often, but I get asked the second question all the time: "Do the creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 contradict each other?" and "Does Genesis 1 teach that God created the world in 6 literal days?" I have to say that I had problems with both of Greear's answers.
Before getting to that, let me say first that I have loved J.D. Greear's teaching. I've read a couple of his books, including Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart, which I quoted from in my own book 40 of the Most Popular Bible Verses (and What They Really Mean). I still recommend Stop Asking and Gospel to others.
What I know of Pastor Greear, I believe him to be a solid teacher and a faithful pastor. He is a brother in Christ. But surely he had to know someone was going to express a disagreement with his answers to these Genesis questions (I'm sure I'm not the only one). I offer this not to divide, but to provide sound counsel and instruction according to the word of God.
I'm going to respond to Greear's two questions in reverse order. He addresses an understanding of Genesis 2 first before rendering a verdict on Genesis 1. Well, in order to come to a proper understanding of Genesis 2, we need to understand Genesis 1 first, right?
Answering the Second Question First
When asked, "Does Genesis 1 teach that God created the world in 6 literal days?" Greear replies, "Genesis 1 doesn't give us enough to come to rock solid answers about the creation timetable." Yes, it does. As we read in Genesis 1:5, "And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." Same goes for the second day, then the third, and so on. That's a day -- not a whole lot of other ways to interpret that.
Greear's understanding of Genesis 1 is influenced by "the scientific nuances of our contemporary creation v. evolution debate." When he says "the focus of Genesis 1 is not how God created but that he created," he's only saying that because he's being sympathetic to the idea that it could have occurred over hundreds of millions of years through evolutionary processes. If that's not what he had in mind, then Genesis 1 absolutely tells us how God created everything.
God said "let there be," and it was. He spoke all things into existence. He commanded them to exist, and they did. He looked at what he created, when he created it, and God called it good (i.e., Genesis 1:10). That displays immediacy. We're clearly not talking about a drawn-out process. Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible." (See also 2 Peter 3:5 and Psalm 33:6.)
Now, God is obviously all-powerful. He could have created all things by a snap of his fingers -- bam, there it is. Why even bother with doing it over a span of 6 days? There's significance to what was created on each day and why, but that would take up a lot more space. I'll save that for another day. Let's just stick with the picture of one week. Why 6 days?
The answer is in Exodus 20:11, which says, "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy." The reason is because God set an example for man to work six days and rest a seventh. That's the reason.
The Sabbath itself is an example, a picture of the rest we find in Christ Jesus. Rather than trying to attain our salvation by works, which we cannot do, we are to rest in the finished work of Christ (Matthew 11:28) who is described as the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28).
|Not an accurate depiction.|
I know I'm kind of tangenting here (is that a word?) but here's the point: I believe Genesis 1 does tell us the who, what, and how of the creation story. There is then evidence in the rest of the Bible that affirms the 6-day creation. None of Scripture contradicts the 6-day creation. But there are Scriptures that would conflict with the idea that the world came into existence over billions, millions, even thousands of years.
Romans 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." There was no death in the world before sin. That is the consequence for sin (Romans 6:23). Sin is so serious, so awful a rebellion against God that it sent the entire universe into upheaval. All of creation awaits deliverance from this bondage of corruption (Romans 8:20-21).
Nothing was corrupted before sin. There could not have been this process of death and decay and fossilization before Adam's sin. What was incorruptible became corruptible because of sin. But we also read that what is corruptible is going to be made incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:42).
Just as Adam's sin in Eden was the event that sent everything into disorder, the death of Christ on Calvary is the event bringing everything back into order. The cross is the pivotal point in all of cosmic and human history. Colossians 1:20 tells us that God is working through Jesus Christ, "to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross."
When Christ returns, he "will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself" (Philippians 3:21). How is it that our eternal, glorified bodies will be incorruptible, and there will be no more death, no mourning, nor crying or pain (Revelation 21:4)? Because there will be no more sin. God will have restored creation to the state it was in before sin came into the picture.
The gap theory (believing there's a massive gap of time between Genesis 1:1 and Genesis 1:2), the day-age theory (believing each day in the creation story is a significantly longer period of time), theistic evolution (believing God created everything through Darwinian processes), progressive creation (believing God intervened in a long creation at different times) -- all of these ideas conflict with Scripture. They are imposed upon the text. Creation didn't happen in such ways. Take it to the bank.
Greear says, "When it comes to the age of the earth, that's a question that scientists and theologians should explore together." I agree to an extent. Both the theologian and the scientist must first be submissive to the full authority of Scripture; rather than the theologian and scientist first trying to find common ground based on a mutual interpretation of Scripture.
The theologian can misinterpret Scripture based on his own pre-conceived notions just as the scientist can misinterpret science based on his own pre-conceived notions. Remember, folks: Science doesn't say anything, scientists do. The evidence for a young earth is there. It's not popular because we live in a fallen world, but it's there. Most people on planet earth won't look for it, and they won't have to. The story of Genesis 1 is clear enough for anyone to understand.
Now, salvation does not hinge on this subject. I don't expect when a person comes to Christ, they're automatically going to accept that all things came into existence in 6 days. But the subject is still very important. A person's understanding of the creation story affects other doctrines, like sin, as I've demonstrated, and even their eschatology (the study of last things).
But there's no reason to divide over the issue. As a pastor, I have had to deal with a person or two in my church who imposed upon someone else that because this other person didn't believe in a 6-day creation model, they must not believe the Bible and they might not actually be Christians. No. That is divisive and wrong. It is thinking the worst of a person rather than letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (Colossians 3:15). Greear is right when he says "not to look at others with disdain" on this subject.
Now, while I don't think Greear is being contemptuous, the way he phrases his answer unintentionally demonstrates that even Old Earth Creationists can be divisive. His full answer goes like this: "With all due respect to those who consider this a Priority One issue, Scripture forces me to say: Genesis 1 doesn't give us enough to come to rock solid answers about the creation timetable."
Scripture forces him to say that? When he says something like "Scripture forces me to say" and never actually quotes it, he's drawing lines in the sand, putting the Bible on his side of the line, and whoever is not on his side is not on the side of the text.
Answering the First Question Second
Once we answer the question of Genesis 1, we can then answer the question about Genesis 2, but not before (this response to Greear's answer is going to be much shorter than the first). Why does it look like Genesis 2 contradicts Genesis 1? Part of Greear's answer here is really good.
He says, "Look for the ways in which the contradiction might actually be a complementary rendering before crying foul... We shouldn't be lining up Genesis 1 and 2 to hunt down contradictions -- as if the author who put chapter 2 after chapter 1 was so dumb he couldn't recognize the differences between the two."
Right. The author of Genesis knows way more than we do. So what we should be looking for is what his intention was for writing Genesis 1 and 2 the way he did. The rest of Greear's answer is non-specific and makes errors with his treatment of Genesis 1. But if a person understands that Genesis 1 is a chronological summary of all 6 days of creation and what happened on each of those days, then answering for the differences between chapters 1 and 2 is rather simple.
On day 6 of creation, God created all land animals and the first man and woman. Genesis 1:27 says, "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 2:4-45 is then the expanded account of Genesis 1:27.
The reason Greear doesn't draw that conclusion is because he doesn't believe day 6 of creation is an actual day. Once again, these are the doctrinal problems one runs into when they try to impose something upon the text that isn't actually there.
You might notice I avoided using the term "6-literal days" except where Greear used it. The only reason we even use the term "6-literal days" instead of just saying "6 days" is because it's become so prominent an idea to believe that a "day" in Genesis 1 describes a much longer period of time. That prominence I believe has shaped Greear's worldview, not his understanding of the text. (Love you, brother, but it's true.)
Thank you for reading! If you have an hour to spare, I recommend watching Dr. Albert Mohler's sermon Why Does the Universe Look So Old?