Regarding Responsible Reformation
by Al Maxey -------
Issue #56 ------- July 21, 2003
With the Lord a day is like a thousand
years, and a thousand years are like a day.

--- 2 Peter 3:8 (NIV)

The "Days" Of Creation
Literal or Figurative?

In a journal entry dated March 17, 1836, Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, "A Day is a miniature Eternity!" At about the same time, a contemporary of Emerson, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), poetically proclaimed, "Each day is a little life; every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death." Each of these men, in his own way, has touched upon the fact that there is something of the eternal realm in each day of our lives. Although men live within the parameters of space and time, eternity transcends, yet pervades, both! If we would truly grasp the eternal (as much as is permitted to us), we must seek to gaze beyond the temporal.

When God, who is infinite, communicates with man, who is finite, He must limit Himself to doing so through methodologies our minds are capable of grasping, just as an adult must limit his words when speaking to a toddler. In written language, and even in oral communications, this will involve the use of symbols and similes, as well as other figures of speech. Jesus often spoke in earthly parables to convey heavenly realities. Thus, we must exercise great hermeneutical care in our approach to and interpretation of the words employed to convey eternal Truths. This is especially true with regard to the biblical creation account.

"Now faith is ... the conviction of things not seen. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Heb. 11:1,3). None of us were at the side of God when He created the universe, not even Moses (who most feel penned the Genesis account). This truth was dramatically conveyed to Job by God in chapters 38 and following of the book by the same name. Basically, God asks Job, "Where were you when I created all of this?!" The answer is obvious. We weren't there! Thus, we have no clue as to the actual circumstances and intricacies of the creation. We know only what little God has revealed, and that is basically only enough to inform us of the fact that HE is the Creator. This I accept by faith.

What little God did reveal to us about the creation process He revealed via the medium of human language. To correctly interpret this medium (whether oral or written) one must employ certain logical, rational, scientific interpretive skills. It is not counter to faith, incidentally, to resort to logic or reason in seeking greater understanding of God's revelation to man. Indeed, we would be foolish not to employ such hermeneutical tools. After all, was it not the Lord Himself who said, "Come now, let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18)? We are informed that the apostle Paul's custom was to enter the synagogues and "reason with them out of the Scriptures" (Acts 17:2; also: 18:4, 19; 24:25). My faith does indeed rest upon the inspired Word of God. However, there are times when one must employ a bit of reason, logic and common sense to correctly interpret that Word.

I do not deny the reality that God created the heavens and the earth. Indeed, I affirm that revealed truth. I also do not deny the fact that the text declares He created all that is seen in "six days" and then rested on the seventh. Nor do I deny that Revelation informs us John saw the ascended Christ as "a Lamb that had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes" (Rev. 5:6). I do not deny the words of the inspired text. However, to truly understand the meaning of these words employed I must begin asking some responsible questions and seeking some reasonable answers. In other words, I must use the cognitive abilities God has given me; abilities which He expects to be utilized. This is known as exegesis, or interpretation. With Jewish sacred literature especially we must ask: Is this language literal or figurative? Is the ascended Lord literally a lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, or is this figurative? Are the "days" of creation literal 24 hour periods, or is this figurative? The Jews were very fond of using a wide variety of figures of speech in their writings, and this fact must be taken into account when seeking to interpret a particular passage.

With regard to the six "days" of creation, it is responsible exegesis to ask: Are these literal days or figurative days? Neither answer, by the way, in any way denies or undermines the truth that God is the Creator. It merely seeks to understand more clearly, if possible, the divine creative process. The above question becomes even more exegetically relevant when one considers the fact that the Hebrew word YOM (meaning "day") is frequently used in the OT writings in a figurative sense. Correct interpretation of the creation account, therefore, requires one to ascertain which usage of "yom" (literal or figurative) is being employed in the account. Since one cannot formulate that conclusion simply by an appeal to the meaning of the word itself, since "yom" is frequently used both ways in the Bible (and can mean a 24 hour period of time or a lengthy period of time or an epoch), one must seek to determine from the context, if possible, using common sense and reason, which meaning may apply in the text under consideration.

Some believers declared, "God said 'day' and that settles it ... it is a literal 24 hour period." It says "there was evening and there was morning," and that settles the matter forever. "It must be literal, and cannot be understood any other way," they contend. Therefore, these interpreters completely reject the thought that these "days" of creation could be anything other than literal 24 hour periods of time, or that the phrase "there was evening and there was morning" could be a Hebraism, and, indeed, they have sometimes condemned as "heretics" those who disagree with them. I guess, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, we could speculate they would also take exception with Jesus, who said, "Are there not twelve hours in the day?" (John 11:9). The point is, obviously, that the word "day" can have many different meanings and applications. We cannot opt for only one and then become dogmatic about it. The Bible uses the term both literally and figuratively. That is simply a fact. Indeed, there are passages in Scripture where the word "day" is used to represent extremely long periods of time. Thus, there is hermeneutical justification for the possibility, at least, that this term could be legitimately used with that significance in the creation account. If so, such would go a long way toward reconciling and resolving what some perceive to be a conflict between Science and Scripture with regard to the creation and age of the universe (but that's a matter we'll reserve for another study).

Let's examine a few of the figurative uses of the word "day" in Scripture. The Bible often speaks of times of hardship and distress as being a "day of distress" or a "day of calamity" or a "day of affliction." These are obviously, based on their context, not referring to literal 12 or 24 hour periods of time, but rather, in some cases, years wherein one experiences hardships and trials. The Psalms are filled with such expressions. Psalm 18:18 and 86:7 are a couple of good examples. In Psalm 59:16, when David speaks of "the day of my distress," the previous verses make it clear that this "day" actually encompassed many days during which his enemies sought his life. In Genesis 35:3 Jacob spoke of "the day of my distress," describing a series of afflictions that covered an extended period of time --- "an afflictive season," as one commentator phrased it.

In Prov. 24:10 we are warned, "If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small." Again, this is a phrase which depicts "seasons of distress and grief" (as per the hymn we sing: Sweet Hour Of Prayer --- and I doubt any of us take the term "hour" literally). In Prov. 27:10 reference is made to "the day of your calamity," which again views the matter as a season in one's life when adversity has seemingly gained the upper hand; a season which may indeed extend for years. Eccl. 7:14 declares, "In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God made the one as well as the other." Again, "day" is used figuratively to represent seasons of prosperity or adversity. Eccl. 12:3 uses the word "day" to describe old age, a season of life when various parts of the human body no longer have the ability to function as they once did. In this case, "day" may well span decades.

In like manner, "day" is used in 1 Sam. 8:18 to depict the years during which God's people suffered and cried out under the oppression of some of their evil kings. In Zech. 4:10 we read, "Who despises the day of small things?" Regardless of how one interprets the phrase "small things" in this passage, there is no question among commentators that "day" is not referring to a literal 12 or 24 hour period of time. It is figurative. In Exodus 13:8 many commentators feel the phrase "in that day" refers to the seven days that the Jews had been eating unleavened bread. Some scholars feel the "day" in Numbers 7:84 actually encompasses twelve days during which twelve leaders brought twelve offerings.

It is also very likely, as most scholars declare, that the use of the word "day" in Genesis 2:4 encompasses the six days of creation; that it constitutes a summary statement of God's creative power and activity. "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the DAY that the Lord God made earth and heaven." Was the creation accomplished in ONE "day" .... or SIX? Is this a conflict in Scripture? Only if we take the Hebrew word YOM literally. If we regard it as figurative, there is no conflict at all.

Even in the NT writings we find "day" being repeatedly used in a figurative sense. In His Sermon on the Plain Jesus spoke of various hardships and afflictions we endure as God's people, and He urged us to "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven" (Luke 6:23). Jesus was depicting those seasons of distress and grief which, for some people, may well last a lifetime! In John 8:56 Jesus said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day." Which 12 or 24 hour period in the life of Christ was this? Or, is it just possible the term "day" was used to signify the entire life of Jesus Christ, from incarnation to ascension? Some even suggest it may refer to the entire Christian dispensation, which would make this "day" about 2000 years long ... and counting!

Some see Eph. 6:13 as a passage warning Christians to prepare themselves for a lifetime of spiritual battle. "Take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." Many scholars feel the "evil day" may well represent the entire time we sojourn here on earth with the forces of darkness arrayed against us. Thus, the "evil day" could easily represent the entire Christian dispensation, or at least our own particular pilgrimage within it. Similarly, Paul uses "day" to refer to our being in the "light" which is Christ Jesus, rather than dwelling in the "night," which is characterized by ungodly "darkness." We are "children of light ... children of the day" (1 Thess. 5:5, 8). Obviously, this is a figurative use of the word "day."

There are many, many more passages which could be given, but I think these few illustrate the fact that the word "day" is used with great frequency in the Bible to refer to things other than literal 12 or 24 hour periods of time. Indeed, at times, it refers to rather lengthy seasons. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says of this term, "Its use in a great variety of biblical contexts reveals a wide semantic range." The ISBE further observes: "In many cases the term 'day' is employed loosely and becomes an extended term for 'time' or 'point of time.'" It is "the most important key term for expressing points of time and epochs of time." Thus, it is at least not inconsistent with biblical usage to suggest a possible figurative interpretation of the "days" of creation. There is nothing in the word itself to suggest one interpretation over the other. Context and reason must decide. After all, "God's thoughts are not as our thoughts; His ways are not as our ways; and so we may say His days are not as our days, seeing that with Him one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day" (The Pulpit Commentary).

The point being made here is that God is not bound by the restrictions and restraints of space and time. He may well employ the figures and language of space and time to convey to the finite minds of those who abide within the parameters of space and time some eternal truth, but He Himself exists and operates beyond such parameters. To God, one day and a thousand years are the same. Simply put, He exists outside of time and space, and yet permeates both! Thus, the figurative use of such terms as "day" or "year," or Hebraisms such as "evening and morning" or "night and day," are far more conducive to perceiving ultimate Truth than the literal use of such terms and phrases. For example, are we to assume God literally had to rest following only six literal days of work? Did this exhaust deity? Did the Creator require 24 hours to renew Himself? Does God tire out and need a day off? Of course not. These figures, as applied to God, are not the realities themselves, but rather convey some greater spiritual truth or principle.

Exodus 20:11 makes it clear why the figure of six days of work and one day of rest was applied figuratively to God --- because it is essential to man to rest and renew himself (physically, emotionally and spiritually). Thus, through these figures we see the Father setting the example for His children. After all, do not children learn from observing their parents? Our heavenly Father has demonstrated the importance of taking time out from one's labors to renew oneself. Yes, the Sabbath (for man) was a literal "day" of rest (something man needs), nevertheless there is biblical evidence that God's "Sabbath rest" is not a literal 24 hour day, but an eternal day. This is an extremely important point and needs to be examined more carefully .... it holds great promise for us!

Please take a moment to read:
Hebrews 4:1-11

As depicted above (vs. 3), at a point God completed His work of creation. Throughout Scripture the creation is viewed as something that was done, that happened, that was accomplished --- past tense; a completed act. Our God finished that aspect of His "work." He then entered into His "rest." The concept of "rest" does not indicate God was exhausted, but rather that He had brought to completion His work and was thus no longer engaged in it. He rested, or ceased, from His labor of creation and transitioned to a new focus (from creation to covenant). He thus has now entered into a "new day" --- one which would have a more spiritual focus: His rest --- the "Godly Sabbath," as some scholars characterize it. This spiritual "day" continues; it is never-ending --- indeed, one "day" we too shall enter His "rest" and enjoy that eternal "day" together with Him. This is the emphasis of the above passage. If anyone can read Heb. 4:1-11 (which clearly links this "rest" of God back to the seventh "day" following His work of creation), and come to the conclusion that this seventh "day" (God's "rest") is a literal 24 hour period, then I would sincerely like to hear how they managed it. The seventh "day" of creation is clearly figurative; it is an everlasting "day." I look forward to entering that "rest," and I certainly hope it lasts longer than 24 hours .... don't you?!

Thus, if the seventh "day" of creation is clearly figurative in nature, then why may not the previous six "days" (which Gen. 2:4 reduces down to a single "day") be figurative as well?! If "day" seven is outside the boundaries of space and time, is it just possible "days" one through six may be also?! I think too many have made the mistake of trying to impose space/time restrictions and restraints upon a God who is bound by neither. Yes, our God utilizes these figures of speech to convey to us concepts that can best be comprehended within the scope of our finite perspective via such literary devices, but He Himself is not constrained by such figures as though they themselves were the realities.

God gave the people of Israel a special Sabbath rest from their physical labor so that their seventh day could be characterized by a spiritual focus; a day unhindered by physical pursuits and concerns. This would be a weekly reminder to His people of that great eternal Sabbath rest (that eternal seventh "day") to which they would one day be raised to enjoy. Similarly, the Lord's Supper is a continuing reminder of a great promise of His return to take us to that eternal feast. The temporal clearly prefigures the eternal in both cases.

Hebrews 4:1 speaks of the promise of our "entering His rest." Those of us "who have believed" will "enter that rest" (vs. 3). Some persons, however, because of their disbelief and rebellion against the Lord "shall not enter My rest" (vs. 3). This "rest" was not the physical promised land (as vs. 8 clearly declares). Rather, "there remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God" (vs. 9). God rested after His work of creation on the seventh "day" (vs. 3b-4), and you and I must "be diligent to enter THAT rest" (vs. 11). This passage clearly tells us that the "rest" which God Himself entered following His work of creation (the seventh "day") is the very same "rest" which remains, and to which you and I aspire to enter! That is a loooong seventh "day." Certainly not a literal 24 hour period of time. If that "rest" (that seventh "day") is only 24 literal hours, then we are all in big trouble!! The fact is, however, the seventh "day" is an eternal "day," not a temporal one. It is forever. Thus, "day" (Yom) is clearly figurative, not literal. Is it just possible the first six "days" should also be viewed from the perspective of the eternal realm rather than the temporal? Perhaps this will provide us all some "food for thought" --- a reflective feast.

Reflections from Readers

From a Reader in Oregon:

Brother Al, Thank you for including me on your Reflections list. I have been reading through the archives and am impressed with your willingness to address, from a more biblical point of view, some of the issues that plague brethren. I was raised in, and still assemble with, a "conservative" group. Several of us are seeing the inconsistencies and misuses of passages that patternism produces, and we are reexamining some of our own positions. Burdens are being lifted and shackles broken off (to the chagrin of others who seem to be more concerned with "following the old paths"). Your prayers on our behalf would be appreciated.

One subject I have been studying in recent years is our concept and use of the word "worship." I am beginning to think our concept and misuse of this word contributes to a narrow view of the purpose of assemblies and our lives. I read Spilt Grape Juice and Unbroken Bread by Mike Root and discovered that at least one other person questioned some of the same things I did and bravely revealed what I believe to be sound answers. Terms such as: worship times, worship places, worship assemblies, worship clothes, worship services, worship songs, begin worship, end worship, and many more terms seem to take away from the concept that our lives are the only worship we can offer and it is a 24/7 proposition. I have found no NT scriptures that support some of our uses of this word or that associate it with the Christian assembly (other than the assembly being an extension of lives of worship). Could you share your thoughts on the subject some time?

I don't mean to consume your time, but you have been consuming mine! For the last several nights I have been reading your past Reflections (my wife is questioning what is keeping me up so late). I can honestly say that almost all of your articles have reinforced my (changed) beliefs on many subjects. Others have caused me to reconsider my own beliefs. In short, you have challenged my thought processes that have been previously based to a large degree on traditional thought. I hope to visit one of your assemblies someday. Thank you again for sending your Reflections my way .... keep up the good work.

From a Reader in California:

Good article, as always. Have you read Dr. John Mark Hicks' book (I think the title is Come to the Table: Revisioning the Lord's Supper)? It has a rather different take on the matter of self-examination and what Paul meant about discerning the body of Christ. I'd highly recommend it! Thanks again for all your work and allowing us to feast at your expense.

From a Reader in Texas:

I enjoyed your recent Reflections email concerning the Lord's Supper. I am currently reading a book I recently purchased at a San Antonio leaders' retreat by Hicks. I get the hint that he is heading for more of a celebration time than a somber, reflective time. You might enjoy reading it. Thanks for your frequent Reflections.

From an Elder in Indiana:

I have been considering the matter of unity between Christian Churches/Churches of Christ and the a capella brethren for some time, and my interest has been ratcheted up several notches after the North American Christian Convention. There we heard from Rick Atchley and Max Lucado. I have also previously read the fine writings of Rubel Shelly. Rick Atchley led a Bible study at the NACC and he addressed the congregation assembled on Thursday, July 10. Very briefly, he discussed that he wanted to bring unity back to the churches of the Restoration tradition and acknowledged that he was not very popular in some quarters because of his effort. He knew that his remarks at the NACC would soon be on certain Web sites. "I would tell you what they were," he said, "but toxic waste is not good for anyone." Oh, come on, I said, he has to be kidding. He wasn't.

When Don DeWelt was referred to as a man who led people astray, my first thought was to laugh and my second thought was to read it out loud to my wife in a fit of astonishment. Since then, however, I have become saddened. On one of the "toxic waste" Web sites, I learned of your writings. I am interested in being added to your mailing list for Reflections.

From a Reader in South Carolina:

Brother Maxey, What a blessing to have found your web site! While visiting a "conservative" web site I was inadvertently directed to your web site. We here in the state of South Carolina have been ripped apart by erroneous teaching on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Your book Down, But Not Out is a masterpiece! We need more brothers like you to take a stand against this division. Please include me in your mailing list for Reflections. Thanks!

From a Reader in Alabama:

I just finished reading your latest Reflections and I think I saw a tradition in one place. You included the statement: "Jesus said that the cup represented (emphasis mine) His 'blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins' (Matthew 26:28)." Most prayers I hear in the Church of Christ about the Lord's Supper include the word "represents." I'd say this has become a tradition. I choose to leave out the word "represents."

I enjoy reading Reflections. I forwarded Reflections #55 to a person I recently met. He said he also sent it to his mother. I hope they decide to subscribe.

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