From Lawrence R.
I have been in a discussion with a young-earth creationist, and would like some clarification on how we are to understand Exodus 20:11–15 in light of the RTB model of creation days.
In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
I think I understand it that the creation days have literal and allegorical meanings, like so much of the scriptures have multiple layers of reference, and meaning. What say you?
The Hebrew word translated “day” (yôm) in Genesis 1 has four distinct literal definitions: (1) part of the daylight hours, for example, noon to 3 PM; (2) all of the daylight hours; (3) one rotation period of Earth—currently 24 hours; and (4) an extended, but finite period of time. Three of these four definitions are clearly and indisputably used in the account of the seven creation days: definition #2 in Genesis 1:5, definition #3 in Genesis 1:14, and definition #4 in Genesis 2:4. Thus, the debate between calendar-day (young-earth) and day-age (old-earth) creationists really isn’t between a literal and an allegorical interpretation of the Genesis creation days. Both sides hold that God created in six literal days. It is significant as well to recognize that in yôm is the only word in the biblical Hebrew vocabulary that can be defined as “a long, but finite, period of time.”
Calendar-day creationists often point to the fourth commandment regarding the Sabbath (Exodus 20:9–11) as solid support for their interpretation of the creation days.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
However, this passage is just one of five in the Pentateuch (Exodus 20:9–11; 31:15–17; 35:2; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:12–15) that address the fourth commandment. For all five passages the preposition “in” is not present in the original Hebrew text. For three of them (Exodus 35:2; Leviticus 23:3; Deuteronomy 5:12–15), no connection at all is drawn between God’s workweek and humanity’s. For the remaining two passages, the calendar-day support would hold only if neither the word for “day” nor the word for “Sabbath” were ever used with reference to any time period other than 24-hours. However, just like yôm has variable usage, so does shabbat (“Sabbath”).
In all five passages, the Sabbath rest for humanity is referred to as “a sabbath,” indicating that there may be more than one kind of Sabbath. Hebrew scholar Gleason Archer noted, “By no means does this [Exodus 20:9–11] demonstrate that 24-hour intervals were involved in the first six ‘days,’ any more than the eight-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles proves that the wilderness wanderings under Moses occupied only eight days.”1
Sometimes a sabbath is a full year, as in Leviticus 25:4, where God commands a 12-month rest period for agricultural land. Sabbaths for God’s physical creation appear to be related to the biological limits of His creatures. Thus, a 24-hour rest period every seven calendar days is appropriate for humans, while a 12-month rest period every seven years is best for agricultural fields. Since God is not subject to biological limits, His “rest” period can be of any duration He chooses. Thus, the mention of a sabbath in Exodus 20:9–11 seems to be a reference to the pattern of one out of seven, not the precise duration of the creation days. Therefore, the creation days need not be interpreted as 24-hour periods based on Exodus 20.
For a more in-depth treatment of the Exodus 20 passage as it relates to RTB’s understanding of the length of the Genesis creation days, see chapter 8 of my book A Matter of Days, a new edition of which will be released this spring.
- Gleason L. Archer, “A Response to the Trustworthiness of Scripture in Areas Relating to Natural Science,” in Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, eds. Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986), 329.