By. Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
As Reformed Christians we have a special stake in the creation/evolution debate. With our high view of Scripture we are pre-committed to the integrity of the word of God in all areas of life. Unfortunately, much of Reformed theology writes off six-day creation as naive fundamentalism or gross bibliolatry. Though most Reformed scholars would decry evolutionism, they often capitulate to the evolutionary elite, being pressured to re-interpret Genesis in order to maintain academic credibility. This is a tragic surrender of orthodoxy to the reigning cultural mythology of our day: chance-oriented, naturalistic evolutionism.
In this article I will provide a summary of the evidence from Scripture and the Westminster Confession which demands a literal, six-day creation position for Reformed Christians who operate under the Westminster Standards. I will also incorporate some subsidiary themes illustrating the necessity of the standard historical-grammatical approach to Genesis. Let us begin with our confessional position.
The Language of the Confession
Some Reformed Christians deny that God created the heavens and the earth in six literal days. This denial brings them into clear contradiction with the Westminster Standards, which teach that the Lord God created the heavens and the earth “in the space of six days” (WCF 4:1; LC #15, SC #9).
It is important to note that here the Confession is not merely picking up the language of Scripture and quoting it, thereby leaving the language open to interpretation. The six-day statement is not a catch phrase. The Assembly very clearly speaks of a literal, six-day creation, when it states in WCF 4:1: “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.” The phrase “in the space of” demonstrates their concern with the temporal time-frame of the creative process.
In so stating the matter, the Westminster divines picked up on the language of John Calvin, who held to a six-day creation: “For it is too violent a cavil to contend that Moses distributes the work which God perfected at once into six days, for the mere purpose of conveying instruction. Let us rather conclude that God himself took the space of six days, for the purpose of accommodating his works to the capacity of men.”1 Calvin clearly had in mind literal days, for he states on page 105 of his Genesis commentary: “I have said above, that six days were employed in the formation of the world; not that God, to whom one moment is as a thousand years, had need of this succession of time, but that he might engage us in the consideration of his works. “The language of the Confession and the sentiment of the Westminster divines are so obvious that even detractors from six-day creation have admitted the meaning of the Confession. One such opponent of six-day creation, Edward D. Morris, writes: “But the language of the Confession, in the space of six days, must be interpreted literally, because this was the exact view pronounced by the Assembly.”2
The Gravity of the Issue for Presbyterians
This is a serious matter for ministers in confessionally-based Presbyterian churches. The Confession of Faith is historically definitional of Presbyterianism, and must be approached seriously. Presbyterian ministers must “sincerely receive and adopt” the Westminster Standards in their solemn ordination vows. It is apparent that the order and structure of the Confession of Faith are such that foundational issues of major consequence are placed first. The Confession of Faith is not a haphazard collection of doctrinal maxims; neither is it a systematic theological approach to doctrine. Instead it has an essential overall harmony that proceeds along a clear line of development: it first lays down foundational matters, then builds upon those in a logical and coherent fashion. As Philip Schaff notes: “The Confession consists of thirty-three chapters, which cover, in natural order, all the leading articles of the Christian faith from the creation to the final judgment.”3
William Hetherington’s classic work on the Confession elaborates a little more fully:
The first thing which must strike any thoughtful reader, after having carefully and studiously perused the Westminster Assembly’s Confession of Faith, is the remarkable comprehensiveness and accuracy of its character, viewed as a systematic exhibition of divine truth, or what is termed a system of theology. In this respect it may be regarded as almost perfect, both in its arrangement and in its completeness. Even a single glance over its table of contents will show with what exquisite skill its arrangement proceeds, from the statement of first principles to the regular development and final consummation of the whole scheme of revealed truth…. Thus viewed, the Confession of Faith might be so connected with one aspect of Church history as to furnish, if not a text-book according to chronological arrangement, in studying the rise and refutation of heresies, yet a valuable arrangement of their relative importance, doctrinally considered. . . . A few remarks may be made with regard to the plan according to which the Confession is constructed. A Confession of Faith is simply a declaration of belief in religious truths, not scientifically discovered by man, but divinely revealed to man. While, therefore, there may fairly be a question whether a course of Systematic Theology should begin with disquisitions relative to the being and character of God, as revealed, or with an inquiry what Natural Theology can teach, proceeding thence to the doctrines of Revelation, there can be no question that a Confession of Faith in revealed religion ought to begin with that revelation itself. This is the plan adopted by the Westminster Confession. It begins with a chapter on the Holy Scriptures; then follow four chapters on the nature, decrees, and works of God in creation and providence: and these five chapters form a distinct division, systematically viewed, of the Confession.4
In other words, foundational to the “system of doctrine” contained in the Confession and “sincerely received and adopted” by elders in the Presbyterian Church in America (Book of Church Order 21-5, #2) are the first five chapters of the Confession. Note the foundational logic of the Confession: Chapter 1 secures for us the infallible means whereby we know God, his will, and ways, i.e., through Scripture. May we deny that God speaks infallibly and inerrantly in Scripture? May we deny any of the sixty-six books of Scripture? This chapter establishes for us our ultimate authority for framing our system of doctrine: the word of God contained in the Old and New Testaments. All else fails in our doctrinal system if this chapter is not true. Chapter 2 moves quite necessarily to the nature and being of the God whom we worship and serve. Which elements of our statement regarding the being of Almighty God may we remove? He is our very reason for existence.
Indisputably Chapter 2 must also be foundational to the whole system of doctrine contained in the Confession. Chapter 3 flows quite logically into a consideration of the decrees of God, which explain, uphold, and direct the entire universe. The God whom we worship and serve is a sovereign who planned all things by his eternal decree. This sets Christianity against all forms of unbelief and establishes our reason for serving the Lord God: he is absolutely sovereign. It explains also the rationality, significance, and value of the universe as rooted in the eternal plan of God. Chapters 4 and 5 turn to consider the very creation of the entire universe and all of its elements and the actual outworking of the decree of God in providence. This is the arena in which man will live in the service of God: a God-created, God-governed universe. Nothing other than God himself accounts for the existence and control of all reality. The stage is set for considering the following doctrinal formulations of our faith and practice in the world which God created and governs.
A denial of the Confessional position on creation is a denial of a foundational principle of the Confession and our “system of doctrine.” The Presbyterian Church in America deems “the doctrine of creation” to be one of “the fundamentals of our standards” (M19GA 2:479, 481). Not only so, but this denial of six-day creation is also a capitulation to the most significant unbelieving opposition to Scripture and Christianity today, a secular, humanistic-based science that proceeds from a chance oriented universe by means of uniformitarian science (although some state that they do not hold to any form of evolutionary theory).
Scripture and Creation
Any attempt to deny a process of creation involving a series of successive divine fiats stretching out over a period of only six literal days is manifestly contrary to the plain, historical sense of Scripture. The Hebrew word yom (“day”) in the Genesis 1 account of creation should be understood in a normal sense of a 24-hour period, for the following reasons:
(1) Argument from primary meaning. The preponderant usage of the word yom (“day”) in the Old Testament is of a normal day as experienced regularly by man (though it may be limited to the hours of light, as per common understanding). The word occurs 1704 times in the Old Testament, the overwhelming majority of which have to do with the normal cycle of daily earth time. Preponderant usage of a term should be maintained in exegetical analysis unless contextual forces compel otherwise. This is particularly so in historical narrative. R. L. Dabney points out:
The narrative seems historical, and not symbolical; and hence the strong initial presumption is, that all its parts are to be taken in their obvious sense…. It is freely admitted that the word day is often used in the Greek Scriptures as well as the Hebrew (as in our common speech) for an epoch, a season, a time. But yet, this use is confessedly derivative. The natural day is its literal and primary meaning. Now, it is apprehended that in construing any document, while we are ready to adopt, at the demand of the context, the derived or tropical meaning, we revert to the primary one, when no such demand exists in the context.5
(2) Argument from explicit qualification. Moses carefully qualifies each of the six creative days with the phraseology: “evening and morning.” The qualification is a deliberate defining of the concept of day. Outside of Genesis 1 the words “evening” and “morning” occur together in thirty-seven verses. In each instance it speaks of a normal day. Examples from Moses include:
Exodus 18:13: “And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening.”
Exodus 27:21: “In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD.” R. L. Dabney argues that this evidence alone should compel adoption of a literal-day view:
The sacred writer seems to shut us up to the literal interpretation, by describing the day as composed of its natural parts, ’morning and evening.’… It is hard to see what a writer can mean, by naming evening and morning as making a first, or a second ’day’; except that he meant us to understand that time which includes just one of each of these successive epochs: — one beginning of night, and one beginning of day. These gentlemen cannot construe the expression at all. The plain reader has no trouble with it. When we have had one evening and one morning, we know we have just one civic day; for the intervening hours have made just that time.6
(3) Argument from ordinal prefix. In the 119 cases in Moses’ writings where the Hebrew word yom stands in conjunction with a numerical adjective (first, second, third, etc.), it never means anything other than a literal day. The same is true of the 357 instances outside the Pentateuch, where numerical adjectives occur.
Leviticus 12:3: “And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.”
Exodus 12:15: “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”
Exodus 24:16: “Now the glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.”
The Genesis 1 account of creation consistently applies the ordinal prefix to the day descriptions, along with “evening and morning” qualifiers (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).
(4) Argument from coherent usage. The word yom is used of the creative days of four, five, and six, which occur after the creation of the sun, which was expressly designated to “rule” the day/night pattern (Gen. 1:14). The identical word (yom) and phraseology (“evening and morning,” numerical adjectives) associated with days four through six are employed of days one through three, which compel us to understand those days as normal earth days.
(5) Argument from divine exemplar. In Exodus 20:9-11 (the Fourth Commandment) God specifically patterns man’s work week after his own original creational work week. Man’s work week is expressly tied to God’s: “for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth” (Ex. 20:11). On two occasions in Moses’ writings this rationale is used:
Exodus 20:11: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
Exodus 31:15-17: “Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. . . . It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”
Dabney’s comments are helpful: “In Gen. ii:2, 3; Ex. xx:11, God’s creating the world and its creatures in six days, and resting the seventh, is given as the ground of His sanctifying the Sabbath day. The latter is the natural day; why not the former? The evasions from this seem peculiarly weak.”7
(6) Argument from plural expression. In Exodus 20:11 God’s creation week is spoken of as involving “six days” (yammim), plural. In the 608 instances of the plural “days” in the Old Testament, we never find any other meaning than normal days. Ages are never expressed as yammim.
(7) Argument from alternative idiom. Had Moses intended to express the notion that the creation covered eras, he could have employed the term olam. Even the resting of God on the “seventh day” does not express his eternal rest, for it would also imply not only his continual rest but also his continual blessing of creation, as if sin never intervened: Genesis 2:3 — “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”
The Uniqueness of the Creative Fiats
Our concern regarding this denial of six literal days also involves a contradiction with the Westminster Standards (WCF Chps. 4 & 5; LC #15 & 18, SC #9 & 11), due to a confusion of the theological concepts of creation and providence. Some argue that Genesis 1 suggests God frequently operated through protracted, providential governance in his creative work, rather than proceeding solely by a series of immediate, instantaneous fiat-acts. This is manifestly contrary to the revelation of God in Scripture, not only in Genesis 1, but elsewhere (e.g., Ps. 33:9; Heb. 11:3). This is a dangerous and unnecessary concession to modern secular-based science. It is not only an erroneous interpretation of the revelation of God, but provides a slippery slope to evolution, opening the doors to progressive creationism, threshold creationism, and, eventually, theistic evolution.
A common means of re-interpretating Genesis 1 is employing what is called the Framework Hypothesis. The Framework Hypothesis works on the assumption of a topical arrangement rather than a chronological arrangement of the material of Genesis 1 . It suggests that obvious balance and parallel between Days 1-3 and Days 4-6 is clear evidence of the topical concerns of Moses. The proposed hypothetical, non-chronological framework for Genesis 1 fails structurally and logically. It possesses only an apparent and superficial parallelism, a parallelism that can be equally accounted for by the providential design of God in creation. Problems with the Framework Hypothesis abound. I will briefly mention just a couple. The Framework Hypothesis expressly and resolutely denies that Moses intended to provide a record of a sequence of chronological creational fiats and events, despite the wholesale structuring of Genesis 1 around a series of specifically enumerated days (first day, second day, etc.). This view argues rather that Moses merely provided a balanced artistic expression of the truth of divine creation ex nihilo, without providing any insight into God’s modus operandi in creation. This dangerous hermeneutic methodology generates serious exegetical confusion regarding the proper approach to historical narrative in Scripture. This is amply illustrated in two main areas:
(1) Framework Hypothesists confidently interpret Genesis 1 artistically rather than chronologically. This interpretive procedure overthrows the obvious chronological development revealed in Genesis 1. It is a serious methodological flaw in this hermeneutic in that Genesis 1 provides both the revelational foundation to the universe and the world, as well as to the historical revelation of the development of the human race and of redemption in Genesis, which in turn is foundational to the theology and redemptive history of all of Scripture.
(2) Framework Hypothesists evidence exegetical and theological confusion by allowing that death in the sentiate animal kingdom (wherein resides the “breath of life” [e.g., Gen. 6:17; 7:15, 22]) was a part of the “very good” creation order as it originally came from the hand of God (Gen. 1:31). That is, prior to the Fall of Adam and the resultant curse, death reigned among the animals. Confession and Scripture both concur that the befalling creation curse resulted in “the bondage of corruption” in “the creation itself” (Rom. 8:21) “which must be taken in the sense of the decay and death apparent even in non-rational creation.”8
As Reformed Christians committed to the integrity of the inspired word of God, we must hold to the teachings of Scripture, rather than the ever-changing doctrines of man. Genesis is foundational to the whole Bible; Genesis 1 is foundational to Genesis. The issues that hang in the balance are enormous. We should stand — in this area as in all others — with Paul and proclaim, “Let God be true, and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).
- John Calvin, Genesis, Banner of Truth (1847 translation, 1965 publication), 78.
- Edward D. Morris, Theology of the Westminster Symbols, (Columbus, OH, 1900), 202.
- Philip Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom [Grand Rapids, 1990], 1:766.
- William M. Hetherington, History of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (Edmonton, AB,  (1991), 350, 351, 357.
- R. L. Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids , 1972), 254-5.
- Ibid., 255.
- John Murray, Romans, 1:304.