On Sunday, we read Exodus 20:2–17 (one of the versions of what we regularly call the “Ten Commandments”). What leaped out at me as we read it was:
the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work… For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.Exodus 20:10-11
[NB – this reasoning why we are to rest on the seventh day is missing from the Deuteronomy 5:6–21 version]
The Exodus reasoning only works if the author of this section understood the six-day creation story as being actual days (of one earth rotation) from Sunset to Sunset.
There are some who attempt to conform Genesis 1, with its 6-day creation sequence, with Science, with its billions of years. They want the biblical yôm (יום day) to be understood as an “eon”. They want Genesis 1 to map nicely onto our current scientific understanding – look at how superbly it matches, they will say.
Actually, it doesn’t!
The magnificent poem of Genesis 1 presents a picture of a flat earth, with God separating light and dark and thereafter an evening and a morning – “the first day”. The lights of the Sun, Moon, and stars are only created three days later. The priestly author of Genesis 1 didn’t realise that all the light come from the lights!
The pro-eon interpretation realises nowadays that from God’s perspective the earth is always half in daylight and half in darkness. This, rather than arguing for day=eon, merely underscores that the priestly author of Genesis 1 did not have in mind the round earth with half in the light and half in the dark.
Each of the six days in Genesis 1 has an evening and a morning. They are clearly what we understand now as one rotation of the earth experienced from a specific point on the planet.
The day=eon approach, furthermore, simply doesn’t work when you get to Day 3 on which there are “plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it”… all a day=eon before the existence of the Sun!
Attempts to refer to 2 Peter 3:8 (“But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day”) do not help the Genesis 1 day=eon crowd. The author of 2 Peter is referencing Psalm 90:4. The 2 Peter text is clearly a simile (ὡς as/like) – it is not an identification of a day with an eon. NB, the 2 Peter text is not about the creation story; it is about the slowness of the arrival of “the last days”. And in the psalm, it is about the brevity of our human life in comparison with God.
I’m not, in this post, going to draw in Augustine, or other pre-contemporary-science interpreters of Genesis 1. I simply conclude that the best way forward is to regard Genesis 1 as a magnificent poem – a “why” of creation, rather than attempting to wrench it to fit the “how” of creation we find in Science. The wrenching of Genesis 1 to make it map onto contemporary Science I think projects our interpretation onto Genesis 1 rather than honestly allowing the stunning poem of Genesis 1 to address us as it actually is.