Essential Elements of Young Earth Creationism and Their Importance to Christian Theology, Part 5

From DBSJ. This installment discusses the fourth of nine essentials of YEC. Read the series.

(4) Six-Day Duration

One of the most repeated and universal experiences of human existence is the passing of a day. It is natural that God would define what a day is in the portion of his self-disclosure that describes his creation; there would be no better place to do so, in fact.

McCabe’s Case for Literal Days

Robert McCabe’s afore-mentioned “Defense of Literal Days” is an important read on this subject. He develops his defense of six 24-hour days in two sections.

The first part of his defense of literal days of creation is an examination of the evidence in favor of literal days in creation. He writes that although the semantic range of the Hebrew word for day ([yom]) includes literal and figurative uses, there are several strong arguments in favor of concluding that its use in Genesis 1–2 is literal.20 First, the Hebrew language offers a wide selection of words regarding time. It would have been easy for Moses to have used another word to indicate a longer amount of time. Second, when [yom] is used in the singular and not as part of a compound construction like (“in-the-day-of-making,” such as in Genesis 2:4), it always means a regular day. Third, the surrounding context offers clues that it is a literal use, with juxtaposed phrases such as “evening and morning” and “day and night.” Fourth, when [yom] is qualified by the ordinal numbers, it almost always refers to a literal day. Fifth, two passages in the Law corroborate that Genesis is speaking of literal days, namely Exodus 20:8–11 and 31:14–17. The Exodus passages give the most direct evidence for literal days and render the six-literal-day interpretation invulnerable to attack. Sixth, the creation happens in a certain sequence of events, as indicated by the arrangement of the ordinal numbers on the days. It is essential to the survival of the creation that these periods of time be short, as in one day. Longer periods of darkness, or great distances of time between the creation of certain co-dependent parts of creation, would render impossible the survival of the creation. For these reasons, it is most natural to understand the creation days as normal 24-hour days.

The second division of McCabe’s article on literal days refutes objections to the doctrine. The first objection he addresses is that the seventh day is allegedly open-ended without an “evening-morning” conclusion, thus indicating that all the days could be open-ended and longer than 24 hours. In reply, McCabe argues that the seventh day is treated in a special way in that it has none of the formulaic markers that are used in the six prior days. This is to demonstrate that the final day is not a day of creation, but rather one of cessation from creative work. Additionally, no “evening-morning” formula is necessary here because there is no need to transition to the eighth day, since the creation week is over. Passages such as Psalm 95:7–11, John 5:17, and Hebrews 4:3– 11 are used by some interpreters to argue that the seventh day is open-ended. McCabe argues a good case can be made that these later allusions/quotations of the “rest idea” do not demand a figurative interpretation of the six days of creation. In the Psalm passage, the rest refers to the blessing of the Promised Land. In John 5:17, God the Father is working but it is not necessary to conclude that he is working on his seventh-day Sabbath of Genesis 2. Hebrews 4:3–11 can be understood as using the seventh day of the creation week in an analogy or pattern with God’s eternal rest. None of these passages demand that the seventh day, much less the prior six, are non-literal.

The second objection McCabe addresses is the figurative use of “day” in Genesis 2:4 as a support for taking “day” in Genesis 1 figuratively. It is granted that “day” in this verse does not refer to a literal day, but rather to the entirety of the creation week. However, the bound form in which “day” is found affects the semantics of the term such that it is a special use of the term that means “when.”

Third, the explanations of God’s kind of time in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 supposedly support figurative (lengthy) creation days. When the Scripture says that a day is as a thousand years, this is allegedly proof that the days of the creation week can be very long ages. McCabe argues to the contrary, emphasizing the particles “like” and “as” are used to say that God views or experiences time much differently than mankind does. In addition, day is once again part of a compound construction in Psalm 90 and cannot be equated to the singular absolute state of “day” in Genesis 1.

Fourth and finally, McCabe addresses the objection that the many activities done on the sixth day of creation render it impossible that it could be a 24-hour day. In response, most of the activities on that day were done by God in very short order. The longest activity ascribed to Adam, naming the kinds of animals, was feasible for the newly created, sinless, and mentally well-endowed man to accomplish in a relatively short period of time. This is especially plausible given that he is not said to have named all of the created kinds, and that kinds are probably far fewer in number than our modern taxonomic species.

The defense of literal days in the creation week stands at the heart of young earth theology.

Various Other Objections

The appearance of age is used as an attack-point on young earth creationism. But at least some portions of the creation had to have a prima facie appearance of age greater than one week. Adam and Eve were mature adults; the animals, trees, rocks, stars, and other objects all appeared to have been in place longer than they actually were because of their maturation level. The appearance of age may have disappeared if a skilled scientist were present during the creation week, ready to make keen observations and armed with a full array of sophisticated instruments to test the age of various portions of the creation. That did not happen, so the age of creation has to be a historical question rather than one determined by scientific investigation.

We need not insist that the days were precisely the same number of seconds to the thousandths place as the present length of a day—we know that major seismic events can slightly change the rotational speed of the earth. The global flood probably had a similar effect on the length of a day. But because of the specification of numbered days as mornings and evenings, it is clear that God is presenting normal days as they were experienced by the initial Jewish readers of his book of beginnings.


20 My analysis of McCabe’s article suggests he has six supporting arguments, whereas he calls out five.

Matthew Postiff bio

Dr. Postiff has served as Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church since 2006. He holds a PhD in computer engineering from University of Michigan and ran an engineering consulting firm specializing in design and simulation of computer microprocessors. He earned his ThM from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in 2010.

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There are 6 Comments

dgszweda's picture

One element that can often be missed is the plain reading of the text. While it is great to get into the Hebrew and as McCabe and other's have eloquently established is that the text does support literal days.  But when reading the Scripture I often challenge those that dispute a literal 24 hour day, how else could the author have established this to be a literal day.  And what you find is that the text as it is read really does go to extraordinary lengths to firmly establish that these were literal days.  This is further confirmed by Christ when he references this in the NT.  It is so well established in my viewpoint that even organizations like BioLogos no longer attacks what the text says.  Most organizations state that the text clearly articulates 24 hour days, and the author clearly believed it was 24 hour days, but that the author was really referencing other Near Eastern Literature.  The attack is never rooted in a proper reading of Scripture, but in a secular world (and an increasingly Christian audience) that is trying to resolve rheems of scientific data that supports a long evolutionary process with what they read in Scripture.  For the secular audience it is an easy attack.  Christians are being sucked into the argument and doubting Scripture because they are constrained by a thought process that science and Scripture should agree and they have been led to believe that Science is General Revelation (but alas these are topics for other posts).

Ron Bean's picture

Many years ago as a new believer I had no problem accepting the plain reading of the creation text. I remember laughing out loud the first time I heard a preacher speaking about the gap theory as a way of explaining the age of the earth.  (I think my response was something like "there's nothing between verses 1 and 2 and you're wrong to put something there!") The guy tried to prove his point with notes from his Old Scofield Bible.

Over 40 years I've also seen some who wanted to reinterpret the creation account go on to accept theistic evolution and a few who eventually came to the place where they found the next 10 chapters of Genesis embarrassing to discuss much less preach on. I'm not saying "slippery slope", I'm just saying.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

dgszweda's picture

I would say it is a bit of a slippery slope.  The issue for most people in their mind (especially Christians) is this:

  1. Science provides a model with much evidence that the world is very old (15 billion years at present)
  2. Science provides a model with much evidence (albeit weaker) that living organisms evolved over a great period of time
  3. Science is provable and provides evidence that we can observe
  4. It is in contradiction to the Biblical Account
  5. Science and the Bible should be resolved as General and Special revelation should be aligned
  6. When we have difficulty resolving it, science must be viewed as pre-eminent and our interpretation of Scripture must be flawed


I know this is a bit simplistic, but in the general vein of how the thought process goes.  Where this becomes a slippery slope is that the same issue that we have with Creation, we must have with the following:

  1. Virgin Birth
  2. Resurrection
  3. Flood
  4. Any of the miracles
  5. The Exodus of the Israelites

So on and so on.  You could argue that the virgin Birth and the Resurrection can be repudiated even more as while evolution and the Big Bang can not be observed and tested, the virgin birth and the resurrection can be.  I struggle with how a Christian can accept the Virgin Birth, but struggle with Creation.  It makes no logical sense to me.

Jeff Howell's picture

in this discussion of the days of creation is the lack of attention to the aspect of audience. Almost always when reading of NT theological and interpretive issues regarding, for instance, some aspect of Paul, the audience or recipient of the book figures prominently in the interpretive discussion. Who were the original readers? Another factor that is weighed considerably is the occasion. What was going on in Corinth, for instance, that necessitated the first epistle?

What seems to be missing from the discussion of Genesis, the first 2 chapters in particular, is this attention to the book itself as literature, and to the previously mentioned questions. It seems clear really that the original readers or audience would be the Israelites, and the human author is Moses. It would seem entirely realistic to accept that the occasion would be as Israel was in the formation stage of nationhood or possibly in the wanderings themselves. With these background issues established, a key question that can be asked of the text of Genesis 1-2 would be, "is there any evidence as to how Israel understood it and applied it, since they were the original audience?" There is evidence that Israel accepted Genesis 1-2 as normal straightforward narrative, when the Genesis 1-2 passage is coupled with Exodus 20:8-11 and Numbers 15:30-21. In fact, the straightforward understanding and application of Genesis 1-2 and Exodus 20:8-11 led the people of Israel to obey in their administration of judgment to the Sabbath violator. 

Based on these passages and observations, it would appear we have an example of Israel's hermeneutic, as well as the evidence that they interpreted Genesis 1-2 as clear and understandable narrative with the days being normal consecutive days. Their handling of the text is never challenged or corrected later on in Scripture, because they were right. We should learn from their example, and accept the simple yet accurate understanding of 6 consecutive normal days. 

Bert Perry's picture

The slippery slope fallacy argues that a series of unconnected consequences will follow one act.  It does not apply to cases where the results are the foreseeable consequences are clear.  In the case Ron describes, you start with the premiss that one can insert an idea into the first ten chapters of Genesis without harm to the 1st Fundamental, and you end with the notion can insert an idea into the first ten chapters of Genesis without harm to the first fundamental.  The end result is simply more obvious.  

Back to the point.  For me, one of the most powerful arguments for literal days is that there was evening, and there was morning.  You can argue nonliteral days when there is not yet a sun, but there is something of evening and morning that would transcend that.

Unless, of course, you go back to Ron's example of someone who simply insists that it's not literal.  OK, we are then at an impasse.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

LGCarpenter's picture

rheems of scientific data that supports a long evolutionary process

Actually, no.  The "rheems of scientific data" put forth today by the "scientific" community is only the interpretation of the evidence by those who try to find an explanation of the world as we see it in a solely natural framework.  A view of the evidence through a biblical framework clearly points to a young earth and requires no more faith than that required for billions of years.  Evolution is a house of cards propped up by "must haves", "may haves" and truckloads of "just so" stories.

Mr. LaVern G. Carpenter

Proverbs 3:1-12

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