For those of you looking for a heated argument your blog, I would recommend writing a post wherein you express your view that the “days” of Genesis 1 are not ordinary 24-hour days (it helps to put “days” in quotation marks). Quote M.G. Kline from Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony or Lee Irons from The Genesis Debate, use words like “non-literal” and “non-sequential” a lot, and then tag the post with “framework interpretation” when you’re done.
Well, The Confessional Outhouse is not looking for such heat. Instead, let’s see how two denominations, the URC and the OPC, have dealt with the issue of the interpretation of Genesis 1 in recent years.
When I first started attending the URC congregation of which I am now a member, the hot topic was an overture on Genesis 1 to the upcoming 2001 Synod. Had the overture been affirmed, the “24-hour interpretation” would have been made the official (or was it unofficial?) view of the young federation. The third of the nine points of the overture read:
3. Synod affirms that the whole creation was accomplished in six ordinary days [Gen. 1:3-2:2; Ex. 20:11]. The creation days are clearly defined in Scripture as each being composed of a period of darkness and a period of light, and as each having evening and morning and are presented as following chronologically one after the other. [Gen. 1:5b, 8b, 13, 19, 23, 31b; Ex. 20:19]
I don’t want to get into all the problems I have with this statement, I’ll just tell you that I’m thankful the overture didn’t pass. In defeating it, Synod said:
The Three Forms of Unity adequately contain the parameters within which the interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 can responsibly take place.
Synod refused to bind its ministers and congregations to an extra-confessional statement. The confessions have spoken as to the things we must affirm regarding the creation of all things. The Three Forms never tell us that we must interpret the six days of creation as ordinary 24-hour days.
Neither do the Westminster Standards. The WCF (4.1), WLC (15), and WSC (9) all employ the phrase “in the space of six days” but do not say that these “days” must be interpreted as ordinary 24-hour days.
The 71st General Assembly of the OPC affirmed and passed the findings and recommendations of the Creation Report (pdf) in 2004. Here’s how the report handled the confessional phrase “in the space of six days” (emphasis mine):
Even if we assume, though, that the vast majority of divines held to a twenty-four-hour day view (and we do not have explicit data in this regard for most of the divines), does it follow that it was the original intent of the divines to prescribe twenty-four hours and to proscribe any other view? To assume such, we believe, is to mistake the nature of constitutionalism more broadly and of the Westminster Assembly more narrowly. The nature of confession-making is such that on any number of points a significant majority may believe something together and yet choose not to make that common belief an explicit point of doctrine in the confession, prescribing the majority view and proscribing all others. It is not sufficient in seeking to ascertain the original intent of the framers of a constitutional document simply to survey their writings and discover how most of them viewed a particular subject. Rather, it is necessary that one demonstrate that not only did the framers have this or that particular view but that they sought to impose this view exclusively on the body politic or ecclesiastical. There is no known evidence that the framers of the Westminster Standards intended to prescribe that the duration of the creation days must be confessed to be days of twenty-four hours in length.
In ascertaining original intent in this sense then we must always pay the most careful attention to the words that the divines themselves chose to employ. It is not safe to assume that even if most divines held to a view that the six days of creation were each twenty-four hours that they intended to enshrine this view into the constitution. It may be assumed that the twenty-four hour day view was so common that it was deemed unnecessary for the divines to specify such. Or it may be assumed that the divines did not think explicitly in the category of days “consisting of 24 hours.” The last phrase, however, is a phrase that was moved but not adopted by the Assembly in regards to the question of the Sabbath. The Assembly Minutes indicate that in the debate on the doctrine of the Sabbath it was decided to “waive” the proposal that the words “consisting of 24 hours” be part of the description of the Sabbath day. This clearly indicates that the divines had such language at their disposal. They chose not to employ the phrase “consisting of 24 hours” in describing the Sabbath, perhaps because Lightfoot believed the Sabbath to be eternal. And they did not employ such language when they spoke of creation as being accomplished “in the space of six days.” That the divines did not say “in the space of six days consisting of twenty-four hours” should be lost on no one. The Westminster divines had full ability to prescribe twenty-four hour days but did not explicitly do so. One is then hard pressed to argue that the original intent of the divines was to do something that by the words of the Standards themselves they did not clearly do.
Here’s the first motion (emphasis mine):
That the General Assembly recommend that presbyteries should expect a ministerial candidate to articulate his view on the days of creation with a proper recognition of the hermeneutical, exegetical, and confessional considerations involved. The following kinds of questions should be used by presbyteries when examining a candidate, whatever his view of the days of creation, in order to show that his doctrine of creation is consistent with the Standard’s system of doctrine:
A. Does the candidate’s view uphold the following and can he explain what they mean:
1. creation ex nihilo
2. the federal headship of Adam
3. the covenant of works
4. the doctrine of the Sabbath
5. the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture
6. the historicity of the creation account
B. Does the candidate understand the priority of Scripture in the relationship between special and general revelation?
C. Does the candidate understand the hermeneutical principles that are expressed in Scripture and in the Standards?
D. Is the candidate able to address the issue of evolution both exegetically and theologically?
E. Can the candidate articulate the covenantal structure of the plan of redemption as found in Genesis 1-3?
These two denominations upheld their respective Standards and avoided the mistake of stating an official position on the “days” of Genesis 1. Both denominations recognized that the confessions have spoken concerning what must be affirmed about the creation of all things and they refused to go beyond them.
-It’s good to be confessional. (that’s my new post tagline)