Alice C. Linsley
Today I'll take up the second question sent in by a reader of Just Genesis. The question is: "Do you believe in a literal 6-day creation?"
Answer: While Genesis is a reliable source of anthropological information about the ancient Afro-Asiatics, it is not a scientific text in the empirical sense. It emerges from an ancient and eastern worldview and must be understood in that context. In that context the number 6 is symbolic and the days of creation are not necessarily 24-hour days, as St. Augustine recognized in his The Literal Meaning of Genesis translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J. (Newman Press, New York, 1982, Volume I, Book 8, Chapter 2, pp. 35-36.)
St. Augustine held that we should be willing to reconsider our ideas about creation/reality as new information becomes available, but he never entertains the idea that new information might contradict biblical revelation. He is almost unique among the Church Fathers in interpreting the six days of creation in a figurative sense, but as an African he was aware of the figurative quality of sacred story telling among Africans.
St. Augustine explains: "The sacred writer was able to separate in the time of his narrative what God did not separate in time in His creative act." In his view, the six days of creation convey the logical order of and relationship of created things, rather than a passage of time. He wrote, "But in the beginning He created all things together and completed the whole in six days, when six times he brought the 'day' which he made before the things which He made, not in a succession of periods of time but in a plan made known according to causes."
Though most of the other Fathers don't agree with him, they always treat St. Augustine's view with great respect. They recognize that the Hebrew word "yom", meaning "day" is used elsewhere in the Bible to indicate an unspecified period of time.
The Question of Chronology
While Genesis 1 appears to be a chronological telling of creation and a chronological accounts of the lives of the Patriarchs, detailed study reveals that some events must be understood to have taken place at nearly the same time or prior to the events being described. For example, the narrative of Abraham’s wives has Sarah’s burial before it speaks of Abraham’s marriage to Keturah. This creates the impression that Abraham married Keturah after Sarah died, but that is not the case. Abraham married Keturah after he settled in the land of Canaan, his mother’s homeland. This second marriage enabled Abraham to gain territory in Canaan.
For St. Augustine this idea was so important that he included this in his Christian Instruction, explaining: “In the Scriptures some things are related in such a way that they seem to be following the order of time or occurring in chronological succession, when actually the narrative, without mentioning it, refers to previous events that had been left unmentioned. Unless we understand this distinction, we shall fall into error. For example, we find in Genesis: ‘And the Lord God planted a paradise of pleasure in the east; and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.’ This last mentioned event would seem to have occurred after God had made the man and placed him in paradise. After both these facts have been mentioned briefly (that is, that God planted a paradise and there ‘placed man whom He had formed’), the narrative turns back by means of recapitulation and relates what had been planted and that God brought forth out of the ground all manner of trees fair to behold and pleasant to eat of.” (St. Augustine, Christian Instruction 2:36.52)
The Symbolism of the Number Six
The number six is significant because it represents the material world. In Jewish mysticism six pertains to the flesh, reproduction, and the land. Among the ancient Afro-Asiatics it carried the same meaning as its factors are 2 and 3. In Genesis the number two represents a kingdom or territory established through the first-born sons of the ruler-priests by their 2 wives. The lines of these 2 sons intermarried, insuring that the Son of God would be born to their priestly families. Isaac, first-born of Sarah married a half-sister, just as his father Abraham married a half-sister when he took Sarah as his wife.
The number three represents a confederation or tribal unity. This is why we find 3 sons listed so often in Genesis. Consider these examples:
Gen. 4 - Cain, Abel, Seth
Gen. 4 - Jubal, Jabal, Tubal
Gen. 7 - Ham, Shem, Japheth
Gen. 11 - Haran, Nahor, Abraham
Gen. 22 - Huz, Uz, Buz
The number six then symbolizes man's dominion over the Earth and the fruit of the union of man and wife. Nothing new is created after the 6 day. All of creation is complete, but awaiting day 7, the Sabbath.
This brings us to another point about the six "days" of creation. They are followed by the seventh which refers to union, as in marriage. Genesis 1 says that God's creative work lasted for six days and that God rested from all His work on the seventh day. The number seven in association with God at rest (sabbath) portrays the concept of completion or perfection of a relationship between Master and Servant, or between Creator and Creation, or between Husband and Bride. We find evidence for this throughout the Afro-Asiatic world.
There were seven urns at the wedding in Cana of Galilee where Jesus Christ turned water to wine. In Jewish weddings the Sheva Brachot (7 marriage blessings) are recited under the huppah and the wedding feast lasts 7 days.
Related reading: Biblical Evidence of an Old Earth; On Gaps and Overlaps; Millions of Years Between Genesis 4:1 and Genesis 4:17