The Language of Creation Week

In the Beginning

Was there a Creation Week? Or is the account in Genesis 1 simply an allegorical account of a long-age history? Are the days actual days, or are they long periods of time? What does the language of Genesis 1 tell us?

Language is that transfer of intelligence that allows us to understand one another. With language, we can convey ideas both concrete and abstract. For the most part language uses words. These can be complex words gathered together into a long statement; The cylindrical form supporting your vehicle has lost its symmetry, more simply, Your tire has gone flat. It can be reduced to a single word, Kevin! By the inflection of the voice, its tone and timbre, that single word conveys a whole host of meaning.

The account of Creation Week has been given to us using a written language. That means that not only are there words, there is grammar, there is syntax, and there is even semantics. Yet despite all of this it is argued that Genesis 1 is unclear as to what it means. Is this because we don’t understand the language? Is it because post-modernism is right and language conveys no real meaning? Or is it because there are competing theories about the beginning? It is this last which I believe to be true. So let’s look at what the language of Creation Week actually says, and then we can decide if it’s ambiguous.

In the beginningI once taught a youth class that these were the only three words in the Bible that were not controversial, I was wrong. Among creationists, there are three ideas with regard to a beginning. 1) This is the absolute beginning included with Day One of Creation Week. 2) This is the absolute beginning but it is separated from Creation Week by billions of years. 3) This is a second beginning after the original creation was destroyed. My view is the first one; this is both the absolute beginning of creation and the beginning of Creation Week.

The word beginning has a meaning. The meaning is decided by which part of speech it is. In this case, beginning is a noun, it has no article, which in the Hebrew means that this is the absolute beginning. To clarify matters, the words, heaven and earth, are added. God didn’t simply create, he created something specific. In this case the words, heaven and earth, are a figure of speech called a merism, this phrase indicates everything, that is God created everything. What we have then in Genesis 1:1 is God creating everything at the absolute beginning. There was nothing before this, and there was nothing outside of this.

Unformed and Unfilled

And the earth was without form, and void.

At this point, some will introduce a gap into the narrative. This gap comprises billions of years during which evolution occurred. They justify this explanation by saying that the word was can mean became. Thus the original creation was corrupted and became without form, and void. But does the language support this argument?

This is contrary to the typical usage of the word. The Hebrew requires the addition of a preposition with the word to make it mean became, there is no preposition in verse 2, therefore, the word is most properly translated as was.

There are a lot of ands in Genesis 1. The word and is a particular word in Hebrew and it can carry a range of meanings. The Hebrew word is transliterated as waw (vav). In Genesis 1:2 the opening waw is in the explanatory case, this is the equivalent of a parenthesis, it is meant to explain the condition or circumstance of verse 1. This differs from the and that is found at the beginning of the other verses in this chapter. These ands are in the consecutive waw, they indicate an action that follows the previous statements. From this we would understand that the without form and void is not an action that followed the creation of the heaven and earth, but the state of heaven and earth when it was created. Thus, there is no gap between verses 1 and 2.

Others, however, proclaim that there is a gap between verses 2 and 3. This is based, not on the language of the passage, but solely on the need to provide billions of years.

A Day in Creation Week

What is a day? This is a question that has been troubling people who study Genesis 1, the Creation Week. Looking up the word, day, using the Encarta link in my word processor I find seven different meanings. In the Hebrew, there are five different meanings for the word translated as day. How do we choose which one is correct? Let’s start with an English example.

In my grandfather’s day, it took a whole day to travel to the mountains. It was a journey to be made only during the day, as it was too dangerous at night.

The above statement contains three uses of the word, day. The first use refers to a time period or era, we could substitute the word, time, to add clarity to the statement. That will be one of the issues we need to examine, was there a better word that could have been used in Genesis 1. The second use indicates a normal day. The final use indicates a specific period of time, in this case daylight. Thus we also need to examine if modifiers could have been used to help our understanding of the word, day, in Genesis 1.

And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. Gen. 1:5

This is the first use of the word day in the Bible. Right from the start, we have two different meanings for the word day. In Hebrew, it is the same word, yom. Can we determine the intended meaning from the way the word is used? The verse tells us that God called the light Day. This should make the first meaning obvious; this is the period of light that we call daylight. We have been told specifically what this term, day, means here. The second sentence also clarifies what it means, And the evening and the morning were the first day. Again, we have a clarified statement, evening and morning, one cycle of darkness and light. In ordinary usage, this is one 24-hour day.

Linguistic scholars also tell us that when the word, yom, is used with a number, it always refers to a normal 24-hour day. The number here is of course, one. Now there are two kinds of numbers, cardinal and ordinal. Cardinal numbers tell us how many, one, two, three, four, etc. Ordinal numbers tell us what order, first, second, third, and so on. In Gen. 1:5, it is in fact a cardinal number. The literal translation is, and the evening and the morning were one day (Young’s Literal Translation). Thus, we have a definition of a day given to us in this verse. A day is a 24-hour period of darkness and light.

Conclusion

What follows in the rest of the week is a succession of evenings and mornings identified by an ordinal number. There is a second day, a third day, and so on to the sixth day. The seventh day is missing the phrase, evening and morning. As a day of rest this is appropriate, when we rest we do not pay as strict attention to time. Not that the day is different from the other days in length of time just that in resting we are not to be strictly governed by time.

Going back to our original example, I suggested that there are other words that could have been used to give a different meaning to the Creation Week. Hebrew has eleven words that can indicate a long period of time, and three of those words can designate a specified period of time. When God inspired Moses to write Genesis 1 he chose to use the word yom rather than one of the three words indicating a period of time, or the one of the other eight words indicating a long time. God chose a word that normally means a 24-hour day. Just to be sure we understood, he included words that defined that day as one day.

Does this understanding of day have any further use in understanding the Bible? Yes it does. In Exodus20:11 we are given the reason for the Sabbath day, For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day:. This verse indicates the God used six literal days for creation week, ending in a day of rest.

From the language of Genesis 1 we learn that this is an account of the absolute beginning. From this beginning, there extended a period of seven 24-hour days during which God made, formed, and filled the heavens and the earth. The language of Genesis 1 is the language of a literal Creation Week.

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HeadlyvonNoggin profile image

HeadlyvonNoggin 3 years ago from Texas

Good hub, barrydan. Well written and articulated. I know we've had our disagreements in the past, but I hope you know it is all about finding truth and better understanding, which I find most often comes in conversing with those who disagree with me, and I appreciate the input you give and the knowledge you share.

I think we often get bogged down in the semantics of this chapter and forget that this a story that is describing an ancient past to us humans. It's not being told from a human point of view, as there were no humans until the end, but from God's. For instance, though it speaks in the language of evening/morning and days, the lights in the sky that were to be used to signify days and nights and seasons for us humans were not established until day 4. And it is specified a couple of times in the bible that a day to God is not the same as how we perceive a day. God is not constricted by time as we are as time itself is a construct of this universe and He exists apart from it, unlike us. From God's perspective, this really could be six consecutive days, but from our perspective be something much different. Six ages. Basically, once He made a change or added a new creation, that would be the beginning of a new era that was different than the one before. After the evening and the morning came the next age, or the first day of the next age.

Though this is a point of contention between believers and non-believers, and even between believers with one another like you and I, I think we're ultimately doing the typical 'human' thing and are just complicating matters for ourselves unnecessarily. The scientific account of the earth's geological and biological formation follows right along with the Genesis account. It matches right up without trying to. From sunlight reaching the surface, to the establishment of the atmosphere and water cycle, to land, plant life on land, a transparent atmosphere where the sun/moon/stars can be seen, life 'coming forth' from the sea, mammals 'coming forth' from those on the land, to humans, it all falls right in line. There is no contradiction.

As for the language of the creation account itself, I think you need look no further than the reaction of the Jewish community in light of the growing support of the theory of evolution. Being that they fluently speak and read the language, yet see no contradiction with the creation account and the theory of evolution, should be enough I would think to at least consider the possibility that a literal 6 24-hour day creation isn't necessarily the only way the creation account can be read....

"Rabbi Eliyahu Benamozegh, an Italian Kabbalist, wrote that were evolution to become a mainstay of scientific theory, it would not contradict the Torah as long as one understood it as having been guided by God."

"By the early to mid 1900s, the majority of Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism came to accept the existence of evolution as a scientific fact. They interpreted Genesis and related Jewish teachings in light of this fact."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_views_on_evolu...


barrydan profile image

barrydan 3 years ago from Calgary, Alberta, Canada Author

Thank you for your comment, HeadlyvonNoggin. It would appear that in applying the science of cosmology to the Bible that you choose to ignore the science of language. The question is not, Could God have meant something else?; but, Why didn’t God say it that way?

If God wanted us to understand long- ages he had different words he could have used. He could have used the plural word for day. In that case, we would have, the first days, the second days, etc. However, God didn’t do that, he used the singular word for day.

Had God used the plural word, he would also have needed to use an ordinal number for the first day. God didn’t, he used a cardinal number, making the first day an example of what he meant by day. That example is clarified by use of the words, evening and morning. This established the use of those words for the rest of the Old Testament. If we change the meaning of the term, evening and morning, to mean an indefinite period of time, then every time it is used later in the Old Testament, this meaning must apply. It is a meaning that doesn’t make sense anywhere else, which makes it clear that it wouldn’t make sense here either.

The book, Dismantling the Big Bang makes a number of statements that are directly applicable to our discussion. “When the scientific evidence is interpreted within the biblical world view, using biblical assumptions, the evidence is consistent with the biblical time scale.’ With my hubs I have attempted to bring attention to this evidence. “Compromise positions do not earn respect among non-Christians.” I have read the comments to your hubs and would say that your position has earned hostility rather than respect. “…if the biblical account if changed to fit the naturalistic model …, then the value of the revealed account is destroyed because it no longer says what the author intended it to say. Compromise positions are therefore neither good science nor good theology.” The science of language cannot be ignored when using other sciences, otherwise logic is invalidated.

Creationists cannot use naturalistic theories to explain a supernaturally created cosmos. Creationists must start with scripture and uphold the authority of scripture in their apologetics. Scientists who are creationists have developed theories from the evidence, which can explain the cosmos around us, and these theories are more successful than the standard model. The account of creation in Genesis 1, when taken literally, is both linguistically and scientifically, the best way to understand the text.

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