Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
As Reformed Christians we have a special stake in the creation/evolution debate. With our high view of Scripture we are pre-committed to the integrity of the word of God in all areas of life. Unfortunately, much of Reformed theology writes off six-day creation as naive fundamentalism or gross bibliolatry. Though most Reformed scholars would decry evolutionism, they often capitulate to the evolutionary elite, being pressured to re-interpret Genesis in order to maintain academic credibility. This is a tragic surrender of orthodoxy to the reigning cultural mythology of our day: chance-oriented, naturalistic evolutionism.
In this article I will provide a summary of the evidence from Scripture and the Westminster Confession which demands a literal, six-day creation position for Reformed Christians who operate under the Westminster Standards. I will also incorporate some subsidiary themes illustrating the necessity of the standard historical-grammatical approach to Genesis. Let us begin with our confessional position.
The Language of the Confession
Some Reformed Christians deny that God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days. This denial brings them into clear contradiction with the Westminster Standards, which teach that the Lord God created the heavens and the earth "in the space of six days" (WCF 4:1; LC #15, SC #9).
It is important to note that here the Confession is not merely picking up the language of Scripture and quoting it, thereby leaving the language open to interpretation. The six-day statement is not a catch phrase. The Assembly very clearly speaks of a literal, six-day creation, when it states in WCF 4:1: "It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good." The phrase "in the space of" demonstrates their concern with the temporal time-frame of the creative process.
In so stating the matter, the Westminster divines picked up on the language of John Calvin, who held to a six-day creation: "For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men."1 Calvin clearly had in mind literal days, for he states on page 105 of his Genesis commentary: "I have said above, that six days were employed in the formation of the world; not that God, to whom one moment is as a thousand years, had need of this succession of time, but that he might engage us in the consideration of his works. "The language of the Confession and the sentiment of the Westminster divines are so obvious that even detractors from six-day creation have admitted the meaning of the Confession. One such opponent of six-day creation, Edward D. Morris, writes: "But the language of the Confession, in the space of six days, must be interpreted literally, because this was the exact view pronounced by the Assembly."2
The Gravity of the Issue for Presbyterians
This is a serious matter for ministers in confessionally-based Presbyterian churches. The Confession of Faith is historically definitional of Presbyterianism, and must be approached seriously. Presbyterian ministers must "sincerely receive and adopt" the Westminster Standards in their solemn ordination vows. It is apparent that the order and structure of the Confession of Faith are such that foundational issues of major consequence are placed first. The Confession of Faith is not a haphazard collection of doctrinal maxims; neither is it a systematic theological approach to doctrine. Instead it has an essential overall harmony that proceeds along a clear line of development: it first lays down foundational matters, then builds upon those in a logical and coherent fashion. As Philip Schaff notes: "The Confession consists of thirty-three chapters, which cover, in natural order, all the leading articles of the Christian faith from the creation to the final judgment."3
William Hetheringtonís classic work on the Confession elaborates a little more fully:
In other words, foundational to the "system of doctrine" contained in the Confession and "sincerely received and adopted" by elders in the Presbyterian Church in America (Book of Church Order 21-5, #2) are the first five chapters of the Confession. Note the foundational logic of the Confession: Chapter 1 secures for us the infallible means whereby we know God, his will, and ways, i.e., through Scripture. May we deny that God speaks infallibly and inerrantly in Scripture? May we deny any of the sixty-six books of Scripture? This chapter establishes for us our ultimate authority for framing our system of doctrine: the word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments. All else fails in our doctrinal system if this chapter is not true. Chapter 2 moves quite necessarily to the nature and being of the God whom we worship and serve. Which elements of our statement regarding the being of Almighty God may we remove? He is our very reason for existence.
Indisputably Chapter 2 must also be foundational to the whole system of doctrine contained in the Confession. Chapter 3 flows quite logically into a consideration of the decrees of God, which explain, uphold, and direct the entire universe. The God whom we worship and serve is a sovereign who planned all things by his eternal decree. This sets Christianity against all forms of unbelief and establishes our reason for serving the Lord God: he is absolutely sovereign. It explains also the rationality, significance, and value of the universe as rooted in the eternal plan of God. Chapters 4 and 5 turn to consider the very creation of the entire universe and all of its elements and the actual outworking of the decree of God in providence. This is the arena in which man will live in the service of God: a God-created, God-governed universe. Nothing other than God himself accounts for the existence and control of all reality. The stage is set for considering the following doctrinal formulations of our faith and practice in the world which God created and governs.
A denial of the Confessional position on creation is a denial of a foundational principle of the Confession and our "system of doctrine." The Presbyterian Church in America deems "the doctrine of creation" to be one of "the fundamentals of our standards" (M19GA 2:479, 481). Not only so, but this denial of six-day creation is also a capitulation to the most significant unbelieving opposition to Scripture and Christianity today, a secular, humanistic-based science that proceeds from a chance oriented universe by means of uniformitarian science (although some state that they do not hold to any form of evolutionary theory).
Scripture and Creation
Any attempt to deny a process of creation involving a series of successive divine fiats stretching out over a period of only six literal days is manifestly contrary to the plain, historical sense of Scripture. The Hebrew word yom ("day") in the Genesis 1 account of creation should be understood in a normal sense of a 24-hour period, for the following reasons:
(1) Argument from primary meaning. The preponderant usage of the word yom ("day") in the Old Testament is of a normal day as experienced regularly by man (though it may be limited to the hours of light, as per common understanding). The word occurs 1704 times in the Old Testament, the overwhelming majority of which have to do with the normal cycle of daily earth time. Preponderant usage of a term should be maintained in exegetical analysis unless contextual forces compel otherwise. This is particularly so in historical narrative. R. L. Dabney points out:
(2) Argument from explicit qualification. Moses carefully qualifies each of the six creative days with the phraseology: "evening and morning." The qualification is a deliberate defining of the concept of day. Outside of Genesis 1 the words "evening" and "morning" occur together in thirty-seven verses. In each instance it speaks of a normal day. Examples from Moses include:
Exodus 18:13: "And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening."
Exodus 27:21: "In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD." R. L. Dabney argues that this evidence alone should compel adoption of a literal-day view:
(3) Argument from ordinal prefix. In the 119 cases in Mosesí writings where the Hebrew word yom stands in conjunction with a numerical adjective (first, second, third, etc.), it never means anything other than a literal day. The same is true of the 357 instances outside the Pentateuch, where numerical adjectives occur.
Leviticus 12:3: "And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised."
Exodus 12:15: "Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel."
Exodus 24:16: "Now the glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud."
The Genesis 1 account of creation consistently applies the ordinal prefix to the day descriptions, along with "evening and morning" qualifiers (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).
(4) Argument from coherent usage. The word yom is used of the creative days of four, five, and six, which occur after the creation of the sun, which was expressly designated to "rule" the day/night pattern (Gen. 1:14). The identical word (yom) and phraseology ("evening and morning," numerical adjectives) associated with days four through six are employed of days one through three, which compel us to understand those days as normal earth days.
(5) Argument from divine exemplar. In Exodus 20:9-11 (the Fourth Commandment) God specifically patterns manís work week after his own original creational work week. Manís work week is expressly tied to Godís: "for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth" (Ex. 20:11). On two occasions in Mosesí writings this rationale is used:
Dabneyís comments are helpful: "In Gen. ii:2, 3; Ex. xx:11, Godís creating the world and its creatures in six days, and resting the seventh, is given as the ground of His sanctifying the Sabbath day. The latter is the natural day; why not the former? The evasions from this seem peculiarly weak."7
(6) Argument from plural expression. In Exodus 20:11 Godís creation week is spoken of as involving "six days" (yammim), plural. In the 608 instances of the plural "days" in the Old Testament, we never find any other meaning than normal days. Ages are never expressed as yammim.
(7) Argument from alternative idiom. Had Moses intended to express the notion that the creation covered eras, he could have employed the term olam. Even the resting of God on the "seventh day" does not express his eternal rest, for it would also imply not only his continual rest but also his continual blessing of creation, as if sin never intervened: Genesis 2:3 ó "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made."
The Uniqueness of the Creative Fiats
Our concern regarding this denial of six literal days also involves a contradiction with the Westminster Standards (WCF Chps. 4 & 5; LC #15 & 18, SC #9 & 11), due to a confusion of the theological concepts of creation and providence. Some argue that Genesis 1 suggests God frequently operated through protracted, providential governance in his creative work, rather than proceeding solely by a series of immediate, instantaneous fiat-acts. This is manifestly contrary to the revelation of God in Scripture, not only in Genesis 1, but elsewhere (e.g., Ps. 33:9; Heb. 11:3). This is a dangerous and unnecessary concession to modern secular-based science. It is not only an erroneous interpretation of the revelation of God, but provides a slippery slope to evolution, opening the doors to progressive creationism, threshold creationism, and, eventually, theistic evolution.
A common means of re-interpretating Genesis 1 is employing what is called the Framework Hypothesis. The Framework Hypothesis works on the assumption of a topical arrangement rather than a chronological arrangement of the material of Genesis 1 . It suggests that obvious balance and parallel between Days 1-3 and Days 4-6 is clear evidence of the topical concerns of Moses. The proposed hypothetical, non-chronological framework for Genesis 1 fails structurally and logically. It possesses only an apparent and superficial parallelism, a parallelism that can be equally accounted for by the providential design of God in creation. Problems with the Framework Hypothesis abound. I will briefly mention just a couple. The Framework Hypothesis expressly and resolutely denies that Moses intended to provide a record of a sequence of chronological creational fiats and events, despite the wholesale structuring of Genesis 1 around a series of specifically enumerated days (first day, second day, etc.). This view argues rather that Moses merely provided a balanced artistic expression of the truth of divine creation ex nihilo, without providing any insight into Godís modus operandi in creation. This dangerous hermeneutic methodology generates serious exegetical confusion regarding the proper approach to historical narrative in Scripture. This is amply illustrated in two main areas:
As Reformed Christians committed to the integrity of the inspired word of God, we must hold to the teachings of Scripture, rather than the ever-changing doctrines of man. Genesis is foundational to the whole Bible; Genesis 1 is foundational to Genesis. The issues that hang in the balance are enormous. We should stand ó in this area as in all others ó with Paul and proclaim, "Let God be true, and every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4).
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., is an ordained minister in the Orthodox Church, and pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church near Placentia, CA. Dr. Gentry received a B.A. (cum laude) from Tennessee Temple University, an M.Div. from Reformed Theological Seminary (where he studied under Dr. Greg Bahnsen), a Th.M. and Th.D. (summa cum laude) from Whitefield Theological Seminary. Dr. Gentry has served on numerous boards and advisory committees and has been an instructor for presbyteries, Christian high schools, Whitefield Theological Seminary and Christ College. He has authored many articles and pamphlets along with more than ten books on a wide range of topics including abortion, prophecy, eschatology, theology, and law. Dr. Gentry teaches Biblical Studies and Theology for Bahnsen Theological Seminary.
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