To say that God created the heavens and earth and all that is in them in seven days, as Scripture says, is a surprisingly contentious claim to make, even in Christian circles. The debate regarding young earth creation and old earth creation is a relatively new one, and has primarily arisen due to the prevailing confidence modern man places in “science.” Yes, I scare-quoted the all sacred “science.”
If we take a plain reading of the creation account in Genesis 1-2, we ought to come away with the idea that God, day by day, created the world and all that is in it. He did this all in seven days. Now, some, wanting to accommodate the (scare-quotes again) “apparent age of the earth,” have come up with the day-age theory. This goes along the lines of the hebrew word for day––יום––can sometimes represent an unspecified amount of time. The claim is that day in the creation account ought to be understood as eons spanning thousands (or millions) of years. The thought is that reckoning this way we have saved face for God by not embarrassing Him with the claim that we believe He created it all in seven literal days.
So, instead, we insist on seven literal eons of unspecified length. Saving face for God by overlooking something that is plainer than our noses: God, in the creation account, is clearly creating the world and everything about it in relation to Himself. This is why the sun doesn’t show up until day 4, to show that day is not dependent on the sun, but upon God. Day-age proponents are aiming to appease. The question is who or what are they appeasing?
A plain reading of this text produces no need for harmonization. For instance, Judas hanging himself (Mat. 27:5) and Judas’ falling headlong and his guts spilling out (Acts 1:18) requires a thoughtful harmonization. But in Genesis 1-2 there is only a problem if we import scientism’s assumptions into the text. Otherwise, we have a very plain, straightforward narrative: God says, “Let there be light,” and the lights came on, He saw it was good, separated the light from the dark, called the light Day (our word יום again) and the darkness night, “And the evening and the morning were the first day (Gen. 1:3-5).”
God names the light “day,” and it would be the oddest thing to then mean by the first day: the first “unspecified length of time.” As God is making the world the movement of creation is towards the creation of man; this planet was made to be inhabited by a creature in God’s image. All of it was designed with Adam in mind.
God of course, being timeless, did not need any time-frame in which to create the world. Thus, the most sensible thing to conclude from the creation narrative, as it pertains to the meaning of day, is that God meant an actual day here. It would be quite nonsensical to name day, describe it as an evening to morning rhythm/contrast, then mean by day something other than day. There is absolutely nothing in the text that inclines us to reason that these days need be anything other than evening to morning days. Speculation––based on “scientistic” assumptions––is what has produced the melee.
Be wary of the presuppositions you bring to the text.The key thing to remember here is that there are theological implications all throughout these texts, and changing the meaning of “day” brings theological repercussions. We see that God made man and woman last, and this has theological import: 1) man is both entirely dependent on God for his own existence and is also dependent upon the entire cosmos which God brought into being; 2) while this first point stresses mans dependent nature, we also see that mankind is to be seen as the crowning jewel of creation, for though all creation is glorious, none of it is made explicitly imago dei.
I already mentioned that the sun and moon were created on day four in order than Adam (once he was created) would know that the cosmos were not dependent on those celestial orbs, but that they themselves were contingent on God. If day six, for instance, was an age of primeval species fighting it out and finally one primate emerged which God condescended to impart soul and spirit to, we end up with generations of death. This weakens the prohibition against eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:17). Furthermore, those who enjoin day-age theory as a means to incorporate evolutionary assertions regarding the origin of humans, only muddy the clarity of the NT contrast of the first Adam and Christ as the Last Adam.
In sum, be wary of the presuppositions you bring to the text. Otherwise, you will start to bend the text around your worldview, rather than letting the text be your worldview. The one approach makes God subservient to outside opinion. The other submits all things to the authority of the Word of the Lord. After all, the Word of the Lord is how we were all created anyway.