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This question has stoked controversy among conservative Christians in recent times, but it has proved to be of little interest to theistic evolutionists (those who accept evolution as God’s mechanism in creation) and those rejecting Genesis as God’s inerrant Word. The debate has been primarily between young-and old-earth creationists, who believe that God literally created the various kinds of living things (as opposed to the common descent of Darwinism). Both sides hold that humans have not descended from other species, and both reject the atheism and macroevolutionary theory of neo-Darwinism.
The two creationist camps, however, differ in interpreting the creation days of Genesis. If the days were consecutive 24-hour periods, and if the earth was created on the first day, then calculations based on biblical genealogies reveal that the earth was created only thousands of years ago. If the days were either of indeterminate length or nonconsecutive, then the Bible does not reveal when the earth was created. Interestingly, both sides agree that the genealogies reveal that Adam and Eve were specially created only thousands of years ago.
Genesis 1:1 BDC: Is the earth only 6,000 to 10,000 years old? Are the creative days literally, only 24 hours long?
Young earth creationists (YCs) interpret the days as 24-hour, consecutive periods for reasons such as the following: (1) The days in Gn 1 are consecutively numbered and comprised of an “evening and morning.” (2) Exodus 20:8–11 commands a literal week of six days of work and one day of rest based on God’s original creation/rest week. The two weeks would seem, then, to be of equal duration. (3) According to Rm 5:12, “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin,” but old-earth creationism would have animal death entering the world before the sin of Adam and Eve.
Old earth creationists (OCs) argue against 24-hour creation days for reasons such as these: (1) The Hebrew word for “day” (yom) is used in different ways in the creation account. For instance, Gn 1:5 refers yom only to daytime (daylight), not night-time. Also, Gn 2:4, literally translated, speaks of “the yom that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” (2) God’s rest on the seventh “day” has no evening and morning (Gn 2:2–3), and Heb 4:3–11 portrays this same Sabbath as continuing to the present time. (3) Adam could not have named all the birds and animals in 24 hours according to Gn 2.
Both sides believe they have strong arguments favoring their interpretation and rebutting the other side. And historically, debate regarding biblical interpretation has often led to a clearer understanding of God’s Word. But it is also highly debatable whether this issue merits the rancor and division often attending it. Some YCs accuse OCs of compromising the Bible with evolutionary science. Some OCs charge YCs with undermining biblical credibility by generating a false conflict between science and the Scriptures.
Happily, one thing is not debatable among those who believe the Bible: even if the correct interpretation of the creation days is not readily apparent in the present generation, the Bible can be trusted in every way. Debates about biblical interpretations should not be interpreted as the failure of Holy Scripture.
Modern-day vampires trace their origins to this verse and the mythical figure of Lilith, who was supposedly created before Eve. The legend of Lilith derives from a theory that Genesis has two creation accounts (this verse and 2:7, 20–22). The two stories allow for two different women. Lilith does not appear in the Bible (apart from a debatable reference comparing her to a screech owl in the Hb text of Is 34:14). Some rabbinic commentators, however, refer to Lilith as the first created woman, who refused to submit to Adam and fled from the garden. Eve was then created to be Adam’s helper. After their expulsion from the garden, Adam reunited for a time with Lilith before finally returning to Eve. Lilith bore Adam a number of children, who became the demons of the Bible. According to kabbalistic legend, after Adam’s reconciliation with Eve, Lilith took the title Queen of the Demons and became a murderer of infants and young boys, whom she turned into vampires.
1:26–27 “Let Us make …” (3:22; 11:7; Is 6:8) does not indicate multiple gods. Such a polytheistic view would be inconsistent with the lofty theology of the chapter and with the singular “His own image” (Gn 1:27; cp. 5:1–2). Ancient theories of the universe’s origin typically explained creation as the outcome of either a sexual cohabitation of male and female deities or of a battle between the major deity and some other hostile entity. The Bible uniformly affirms that God is asexual with no corresponding female consort. God made the universe by His authoritative speech, not by battling chaos deities. Genesis 1 was written in part to show that the view of the physical world current at that time (i.e., physical entities representing various deities) was wrong. The cosmos is inanimate and entirely under the control of the one God. Plural and singular forms are combined in 1:26–27 (cp. “the Spirit of God,” v. 2), reflecting God’s unity and yet His fullness. Subsequent scriptural revelation develops this further.
Although humans are created in the “image” and “likeness” of God (the terms are essentially synonyms; cp. 5:3), it does not follow that God has a body. “Image” or “likeness” often refers to a physical representation of something that may be non-material. Man was created to serve as God’s representative to govern the earth. Since man is God’s image-bearer, murder merits the strongest retribution (9:6). The OT prohibits making any material image of God (Ex 20:1–4; Dt 4:16) because God is spirit (Jn 4:24). In Lk 24:39 Jesus explains that a spirit “does not have flesh and bones” (see Is 31:3). Because God is spirit, He is invisible (Jn 1:18; Rm 1:20; Col 1:15; 1 Tm 1:17).
2:2–3 “Rested” (Hb shabat) does not imply fatigue but means only “ceased” because it is connected to the completion of the work of creation.
2:4–6 Chapter 2 is a second creation account only in the sense that it gives a more detailed accounting, not a contradictory one. While chapter 1 provides a general description, chapter 2, is specific. Twofold accounts were common in ancient theories of creation (e.g., the Babylonian story of Atrahasis). The differences in the order of the creation events are due to the narratives’ respective purposes. The first gives a loosely chronological account, gathering creation events into a discernible pattern to show the symmetry of creation’s purpose. The second is topical, focusing on the sixth day by expanding on the creation and the relationship of the man and woman. Genesis 2 presupposes chapter 1 and does not duplicate all the creation events.
2:7, 21–22 The creation of the first man and woman is not myth. The author of the account intends to portray a historical event. The heading “these are the records/family records” (v. 4) occurs 11 times in Genesis to introduce genealogies and historical narratives (e.g., 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:27). The first man (Hb Adam) is treated in genealogies as a historical individual named “Adam” (5:1; Lk 3:38). Since the name Adam means “man(kind),” the author also intends him to represent humanity in general (Gn 3:17–18; cp. Rm 5:12–21). The account of the man and woman’s creation views them as special creations, not merely types of humans. The concept of evolution of humans from lower forms is inconsistent with the author’s purpose in this narrative.
2:10–14 The lack of archaeological evidence for the garden of Eden would not mean that the place existed only in myth. Despite advances in archaeology, what has been discovered of the ancient Near East is only a small percentage of what might one day be found. The two rivers Tigris and Euphrates exist today in modern Iraq. The identities of the Gihon and Pishon are uncertain but may have been local streams or canals. Floods, climatic changes, and land shifts since ancient times may well have brought about significant changes in topography.
By Ted Cabal
The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Chad Owen Brand et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007).