In God's Time

The Time-Scale of Creation

(Genesis 2:1-4)

Both evolutionists and Young Earth Creationists have problems with a fifteen billion year age for the universe - the former because it is too short, the latter because it is too long. In this address, seventh in a series on ‘Beginnings’, given at St Albans Presbyterian Church, Palmerston North, New Zealand, on 30 April 2000, Rob Yule discusses the time-scale of origins, argues on biblical grounds that the days of Genesis are long time periods, and urges greater cooperation between scientists and biblical scholars.


Evolutionists and Young Earth Creationists both have problems with the current scientific consensus that the age of the universe is some fifteen and a half billion years, derived by the following means:


The Observed Age of the Universe


Expansion rate of universe

15.3 + 1.6 billion years

Burning and formation times of oldest stars

15.1 + 1.6 billion years

Decay of radiometric elements

16.0 + 4.0 billion years


Mean age

15.5 + 2.4 billion years


From Hugh Ross, ‘Big Bang Model Refined by Fire,’ in William A. Dembski, ed., Mere Creation: Science, Faith and Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 368.


For supporters of evolution, the time scale is far too short for complex life to have arisen by natural means. For defenders of a young Earth, the time scale is far too long for their claim that a literal reading of the opening chapter of Genesis requires six 24-hour days. Examining the time question is therefore unlikely to win me friends, but critically important to address if I am to establish my thesis about the remarkable convergence of the scientific and biblical worldviews in our day.


The Goal of Creation

The Bible tells us that God has ‘ceased’ or ‘desisted’ (shabat) from creative work (Genesis 2:2-3). This can be compared to Exodus 31:17, which says that ‘on the seventh day [God] ceased working and was refreshed [literally, ‘took breath’].’ Every artist likes to enjoy their masterpiece. Like a landscape-gardener who has finished laying out the grounds, God paused to savour the view, and declared it ‘very good’.

After Day Six, there is no reference to God creating. There is no ongoing ‘continuous creation.’ If God has stopped creating, does that mean creation has stopped? No, God has made us creators in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). He has entrusted us with the ongoing responsibility for managing the universe and being creative ourselves (Genesis 1:28-30). That is why God invites us to ‘enter his rest’ - so that we will not become workaholics, enslaved to toil (as the Hebrew slaves were in Egypt before the Exodus from Egypt and the institution of the Sabbath). That is why we need a regular Sabbath rest, so that we can be refreshed and not grow exhausted in our work. We also need a Sabbath so that we do not do our work independently of God - the chief pitfall of secular culture - but out of a life lived in relation to God: inspired, guided and kept accountable by frequent renewal of our companionship with God.

The seventh day is not an appendix, tacked on to the other six days but unrelated to them. Rather, it is an intrinsic part of the whole sequence. The seventh day is the goal of all the other days. The purpose of our life is not work and drudgery, but recreation - enjoyment of creation and its Creator. ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever’ (Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1). The Sabbath is an invitation to enjoy ‘God’s time.’ The Bible has two words for time. ‘Chronos’ is ‘clock-time’, the workaday week, which often drags. ‘Kairos’ is ‘high time’, the rest-day celebration, which always goes too fast.

The Sabbath completes God’s creation. All the other days lead up to this. It is the goal of the creation week, what God had in mind when he began his creative work. The structure of creation days indicates that a teleological, goal-oriented process was at work in the universe from its inception. Confirmation of this has come from modern scientific discovery, which has provided abundant evidence of the Anthropic Principle - that the universe has been finely-tuned from the beginning to provide a habitat for human life. God has designed the entire universe with human life and enjoyment in view.


The Revelation of Creation

Several times in this series I have remarked that the content of Genesis 1, a pre-scientific account of creation, contains insights that anticipate modern scientific discoveries with remarkable exactness. The opening of the Bible includes information about the universe that could not have been known by human observation or deduction, especially when compared with other cosmologies from the ancient world. Examples are the fact that the universe had a beginning, that light could not shine until the early universe had cooled, that light came before the origin of the sun and stars, that animate life forms appeared suddenly fully formed, and that the sequence of creation corresponds to the order established by science. These insights were so in advance of their time that they could not have been dreamed up; they must have been divinely revealed.

Do we have any clues how or where this information could have been revealed? I believe we do. The time sequence of Genesis 1 is a seven day week. Do we know when the seven day week entered history? Yes - it was during the giving of the Ten Commandments, in the great forty-day theophany or appearance of God to Moses on Mount Sinai, after the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt (Exodus 19:1-20:21). The fourth commandment concerns keeping one day of rest in seven, because ‘in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day’ (Exodus 20:11). The instructions regarding Sabbath observance are also repeated, just before the account of the Sinai theophany ends (Exodus 31:12-18).

Does this not provide the obvious context for the revelation of the six days of creation to human beings? It was an unparalleled revelation of God’s glory, when the Lord spoke personally to Moses, ‘face to face’ as to a friend (Exodus 33:11). It is the only extended occasion suitable for conveying to Moses the extraordinary information contained in Genesis 1 - with its precise language, orderly creation sequence, and remarkable anticipations of modern scientific knowledge. It fits with the tradition that Moses wrote - or at least compiled from earlier sources - the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. And its telltale signature is the time sequence of the seven day week.

The theory of a divine origin is consistent with the fact that the frame of reference of Genesis 1 is God’s viewpoint, the perspective of the Creator. This differs markedly from Genesis 2 and 3, which is from a human viewpoint. Genesis 2 deals only with realities near to human experience - the land, its geography and horticulture, the animals, the companionship of men and women - all looked at from a human standpoint, within the horizon of human life. ‘In chapter 1 man is the pinnacle of a pyramid, in chapter 2 the centre of a circle.’ (Benno Jacob, quoted by Gerhard Von Rad, Genesis [London, SCM Press, 1972], p. 77). In contrast Genesis 1 takes a magisterial view, looking at the entire creation systematically and synoptically, progressing teleologically towards its goal.


The Riddle of Creation

In the text of Genesis 1 the first three days come before the formation (or appearance) of the sun and moon on the fourth day. This means that the first three days cannot be twenty four hour solar days marked out by sunrise and sunset. It suggests that the narrative, like a puzzle inviting a solution, challenges us to find other chronological clues to the time-frame of creation elsewhere in the text, and in the structure of the created world itself. It appears that the Creator has set a profound riddle in both nature and in Scripture, challenging biblical scholars and scientists alike to work together to unlock it.

Like an encrypted message that cannot be solved without the key to the code, both science and Scripture are needed to explain the riddle of the universe. It cannot be unlocked by science or theology on their own. Only when nature and Scripture are studied cooperatively can this riddle be solved. Unilateral approaches, using a single source of knowledge, will not find it. Naturalistic science, trying to explain reality without reference to a Creator or a transcendent mind, cannot account for the evidence for design or purpose which is everywhere apparent in the universe, so emptying human life of meaning and significance. Conversely, single source approaches to revelation, employed by both Barthians and fundamentalists, devalue God’s revelation through nature and accept the Bible as the only valid source of information. This removes Christian belief from its factual footing in the empirical world of nature and history where it can be examined by scientific and historical study, thus depriving people of evidences for faith (Hugh Ross, The Fingerprint of God, 2nd. ed. [Orange, California, Promise Publishing, 1991], p. 164).


The Days of Creation

To claim that 24 hour days are meant in Genesis 1, is actually to go against the time indications given in the text itself. The Hebrew word for ‘day’, yom, like our word ‘day’, is used variously of different time periods depending on the context. This is so even within the Genesis narrative itself. Genesis 2:4 summarises the entire sweep of God’s work of creation, all six days, with the words, obscured in many translations, ‘These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.’

‘Day’ here refers to the whole period of creation. The Hebrew term ‘generations’ (toledoth) also refers to a long time period. It is used in biblical genealogies, and as an editorial marker throughout Genesis, to mean an ‘account of a man and his descendants’ or ‘successive generations of families’. In this passage it means an ‘account of heaven and earth and that which proceeded from them’ (Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon, p. 410). Clearly an extended time period is indicated, analogous to the unfolding of human generations, certainly not anything as short as a week.

If, as I believe, Moses was the person to who Genesis 1 was revealed, then his reference to God’s time scale, in the Prayer of Moses, offers important guidance on this question (Psalm 90:1-4):

Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God,
You turn people back to dust,
saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like a day
that has just gone by,
or like a watch in the night.

Peter is probably alluding to this Psalm when he says, ‘with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day’ (2 Peter 3:8).

Most decisive, but often overlooked, is the fact that the seventh day is not closed off in the text. The formula, ‘And there was evening, and there was morning, day x’, which marks the close of each of the previous six days, is absent from the text in the case of the seventh day. This would suggest that while the first six days had a beginning and an ending, the ‘rest’ of the seventh day continues throughout all subsequent history. That is why elsewhere in the Bible the possibility of entering God’s rest is still open (Hebrews 4:1,6,9,11, cf. Psalm 95:11). God’s Sabbath rest on the seventh day will not end until he creates the ‘new heaven and new earth’ envisioned in the prophecies of Isaiah (Isaiah (65:17, 66:22-23)) and Revelation (21:1), on what Eastern Orthodoxy calls ‘the eighth day’, the resolution of the creation octave.

Given that the structure of Genesis 1 is based on a sequence of creation days, if the seventh day is an extended length of time, it suggests that the other days are too. Since the seventh day is the only part of the sequence of creation days which we have direct experience of, its use to describe an extended period of time would suggest that it is a defining chronological clue as to how the other days of creation are to be understood.


© 2000, St Albans Presbyterian Church