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The Genesis Debate:
Three Views on the Days of Creation

Edited by David G. Hagopian (Crux Press, 2001)

Reviewed by Scott Yoshikawa
(Ph.D. in New Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School)

Copies of The Genesis Debate may be purchased from Amazon or Crux Press.

I. Brief summary

David G. Hagopian has brought together three pairs of authors each arguing for one of three major views on the reading of Genesis 1 in light of creation and science.

J. Ligon Duncan and David W. Hall defend the 24-hour view that affirms the days of creation as consisting of literal, 24-hour days as we know and experience them today. Their argument comes from two main lines of thinking. First, they assert that the Hebrew word yom consistently throughout the OT refers to a literal, 24-hour day. In the absence of strong evidence to the contrary, which they do not believe is evident in the text, there is no reason to conclude that the author in Genesis 1 is meaning anything else than what is meant elsewhere in Scripture. While admitting the term may have a broader meaning, it only does so when the context dictates it clearly, which they say Genesis 1 does not grant. Second, they appeal strongly to interpretive history asserting a virtual historical consensus on the subject in favor of the 24-hour view.

Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer argue for the "day-age" view asserting that the Hebrew word yom can and does refer to a span of time other than 24-hours. They heavily stress precedence for this as recognized both by the OT text and the many of the same historical voices mentioned by Duncan and Hall. What is primary for Ross and Archer is to respect the voice of science as much as Scripture and history. For them science has reached a strong consensus on astronomical facts concerning the nature of the origin of the universe. These are virtually irrefutable facts. Scripture being a non- technical text in regard to science typically speaks of natural phenomena in descriptive rather than technical terms. Genesis 1 is no exception to this. The Hebrew use of yom is flexible enough to allow for these "days" to be more than 24-hours; they assert that vast ages of time, millions to billions of years, are summed up in this chapter. So there is no contradiction between science and the Bible. The two are accommodated without having to alienate either the Christian or unbelieving scientific community.

The third essay is presented by Lee Irons with Meredith G. Kline who argue from an almost completely exegetical and textual perspective. The "framework view" as it is called focuses upon the structure of the Genesis 1 text asserting that the literary and theological framework must take precedence over any apologetic concerns since this is the intention of the text itself. The essential distinctions of the framework view are twofold: (1) it holds to a nonsequential view of the days of creation, (2) it holds to a nonliteral view of the seven days as a whole. Irons and Kline make it clear that the Hebrew yom has a metaphorical use here. It has a literal denotation (referring to an actual day) but with a nonliteral connotation (moving it away from an actual day to an unstated time reference). The argument is further supported by an upper-lower register view that affirms a heavenly perspective on the event. Ultimately, the framework view comes down on a side closer to the day-age perspective but affirms that it does not necessarily eliminate room for a modified 24-hour view. These are secondary issues. What is primary to the framework view is the theological connection of the message of Genesis 1 to the covenant community that has based its life around the Sabbath week. Their faith in God as creator resonates through their acknowledgment of the Sabbath day.

II. Critique

Each of the three pairs of authors have contributed something vital to the Genesis 1 discussion for which they should be commended and thanked for their time and effort. Duncan and Hall have rightly reminded the reader of the dangers that conformity to the present age presents to every generation. Their appeal to past interpreters further reminds us of the dangers of "novel" thinking and the importance of an orthodox consensus. Ross and Archer bring with them an arsenal of scientific understanding that has been used by the unbelieving community to attack the Bible and have sought to use it in support the Bible. They have found no reason to reject the Bible in the name of science. Their efforts affirm that the Bible can be reasonably interpreted without compromising inerrancy or a critically scientific mind. Irons and Kline offer a strongly textual argument reminding the reader that the Genesis 1 text has a primarily theological meaning that leaves ample room for secondary apologetic considerations.

Of the three arguments presented, the strongest by far is the framework view. Irons and Kline have put together an impressive work of exegesis and theological erudition that places the biblical text in its proper place without snubbing a literal treatment of the text or sidelining the concerns of science. On the other hand, Duncan and Hall do not present a unified and exegetically convincing argument. Too much rests upon the lexical use of a single word divorced from a broader context. Ross and Archer similarly offer a minimal amount of exegetical work and only for that which accommodates their pre-commitment to make science fit the textual data.

Presuppositions become clear in this discussion. The 24-hour view and the day-age view appear to come to the text with a strong commitment to something other than letting the text speak for itself. Duncan and Hall even chide Irons' and Kline's work for doing this. Yet the chiding reveals that they themselves have not done this. Duncan and Hall are set against a conformist's view and see anything less than a belief in their view as a compromise to worldliness. But the accusation only stands if the biblical text demonstrates their view convincingly. And while in actuality it might, it does not in their presentation. Their constant appeal to church tradition rather than substantive exegesis appears to show a failing in their argumentation. Other voices have to shore up where textual evidence has fallen short.

Ross and Archer show a pre-commitment even more strongly than Duncan and Hall. They are unabashed about their belief in certain facts of science as irrefutable, requiring the text to accommodate for them. They assert that general revelation ought to share a proper place alongside special revelation. But in practice, it seems that general revelation is taken as "fact" whereas special revelation is subject to interpretation and is more subjective, thus the Bible can bend in places where its strict literalness can be questioned. Here Ross and Archer have not demonstrated the awareness that science is just as subjective and involving interpretation as biblical exegesis. Not only are the scientific "facts" today often overthrown or changed tomorrow, but most importantly, while the "facts" do not lie, the way they are interpreted, handled, systematized, and shown in relation to other facts (which cannot be avoided in any knowledge-based inquiry) is absolutely a matter of interpretation. The most recent hermeneutical discussions have not only crossed philosophy, theology and linguistics but are now branching into the realm of science which is beginning to see that it, indeed, involves interpretations of facts and the use of models to generate systems of knowledge. Ross and Archer seem to take the "facts" of science too much for granted, not allowing for immense complexity involved in moving from observation of phenomena, to understanding of said phenomena, to extrapolation of said phenomena from present observation to past reality, and then to abstract principles that govern theological issues such as creation. Each of these steps involve many levels of interpretation, especially since no one ever has "all the facts" even in scientific inquiry.

Hence, the approach of Irons and Kline not only takes us back to the proper focus - the text - but also to the proper focus of the text which is theological. Since it is a theological conclusion we are attempting to reach, priority is placed rightly by Irons and Kline in the exegesis of the text rather than upon science or an appeal to a single lexical term or to church history. Duncan and Hall claim that when all is said and done the 24-hour view will stand when science and novel interpretations have fallen away. What is more accurate is that the Biblical teachings will endure when all else has fallen away, and Duncan and Hall have asserted more than successfully argued that their interpretation is the correct one. Irons and Kline have presented a more biblically convincing argument and have used their space in their essay to interpret the text of Genesis 1.

A few general comments about the "feel" of the book will wrap up this review. First, each side seemed more inclined to critique and find fault with their opponents rather than to listen to them. Unnecessarily strong terms like "utterly failed", "patently absurd", "self-congratulatory", and "eccentric and thinly supported" are only samplings of what regularly appears in most of the responses. While strong critiques must be laid out in any discussion such as this, there are more times where sides are talking past each other and are more concerned with defending their view than talking with each other, trying to learn from one another. Granted, there are moments of charity but these are drowned out by a multitude of critiques that border on derision. And charity comes mostly in times of agreement, where anyone can be charitable. Each side has something good to offer in varying degrees of success. A better overall spirit would have been appreciated.

Second, although Ross and Archer seem a little out of place, the debate seems to have been more confined to Reformed circles than would have been helpful to a wider audience. Since there are a plethora of 24-hour advocates out there to choose from, Duncan and Hall could have been replaced with another set of debaters, say, from an evangelical, or even Roman Catholic, perspective.

Third, the church history debates seem to be talking way past each other and are probably not as important as either side has made it. Perhaps a bona fide church historian should have been one of the contributors. As it stands, the average reader, even scholar, who is not an expert in church history will find it difficult to know who to side with on these issues. And he may even conclude that taking a side is unnecessary at all.

Overall, the book was interesting, readable, and helpful in understanding three of the major views on the debate. I commend and recommend it highly.