NOTE: Papa Ephraim wrote this treatise defending Creationism and Creation Science for the edification of his family who were, at that time, debating him about evolution (his brother and father are evolutionists). The treatise reflects the fronima of Elder Ephraim’s monasteries concerning a literal interpretation of the 6 Days of Creation [a few of his monastics still struggle with accepting this concept]. A literal interpretation is the “consensus of the Fathers” and thus orthodox Christians are expected to adopt this belief, too, or they might emit a foul stench.
There are seven reasons why the “days” mentioned in the first two chapters of Genesis must be literal, 24-hour periods:
- The use of the Hebrew word “yōm”
- The ratio of preterites to finite verbs
- The fourth commandment
- Christ’s witness
- Scientific considerations
- Theological considerations
- The consensus of patristic interpretations
1) The word “yōm” in Hebrew (“day”) has various meanings. But whenever it is used along with an ordinal number (as it is in Genesis 1-2) it always refers to a 24-hour period. If the author of Genesis wanted to describe an action in the distant past, he could have used three other words in Hebrew that would have been appropriate: “yamim,” “qedem,” and “olam.” If the author of Genesis wanted to tell us that creation started in the past but continued into the future (meaning that creation occurred by some sort of theistic evolution) he would have used one of the following Hebrew words: “dor,” “olam le,” “tamid,” “ad” (or “ad olam”), “shanah,” or “yōm rab.” If his intent was to convey ambiguous time, he would have used “yōm” combined with “light” and “darkness,” or the word “eth.” For these reasons, scholars of Hebrew have no doubt that the days in Genesis 1-2 were 24-hour periods. More details about the usage of those Hebrew words are available here and here.
2) Steven Boyd did a statistical analysis of Hebrew verb tenses for 97 passages in the Old Testament and found that the ratio of preterites to finite verbs has a median of .52 for passages that are obviously narrative, whereas for passages that are obviously poetic the median ratio was only .04, as shown in the chart on the following passages:
The triangle at a height of .65 is the verb ratio for the Genesis account of creation. He then used the logistic regression in the chart below to calculate the probability that the Genesis account of creation is a narrative or not, and found that the probability is 99.99%!
He therefore concludes that:
- It is not statistically defensible to interpret Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 as poetry or metaphor,
- The creation account describes actual events, and
- The only tenable interpretation of Genesis is that God created everything in six literal days.
3) The fourth commandment (which is the third commandment according to the Roman Catholic numbering system) says:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work… for in six days the Lord made the heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day… (Exodus 20:8-11).
If those days were just metaphorical, then the analogy here would be quite contorted and thus meaningless.
4) Christ said in Mark 10:6, “But from the beginning of creation God made them male and female.” If there were billions of years before the creation of man, He wouldn’t have said “from the beginning of creation” but “from the near end of the creation.”
5) Interpreting the “days” of Creation Week as long periods of time causes problems from a scientific point of view. For example, the trees that were created one “day” before the sun would have died if that “day” lasted for years. Furthermore, the plants that require insect pollination that were created on the third day would not have survived until the insects were created on the sixth day, if those “days” were really eons.
[NOTE: This point makes no sense from an orthodox theological standpoint. Death entered into the world through man’s disobedience, which Papa Ephraim mentions in his next argument. So, death was non-existent in creation before man’s existence. Man was created on the 6th day so death was non-existent on days 1-5 of creation. How would the trees or anything in nature die before man’s Fall? The Fathers say all of creation was much different before the Fall and wasn’t governed by the laws of nature that we see after the Fall (i.e. there was no food chain, predator/prey, things didn’t die, things generally didn’t age to death, etc.). In a homily, Geronda Ephraim stated that the Church Fathers said if man didn’t fall, God would have found another way of reproduction for humans that wouldn’t have involved a fleshly, carnal union. So, it would seem that orthodox theologians have to look at “pre-fall” existence in this universe quite differently. Of course, there is probably some subjective circular reasoning theory on how trees could potentially die before death entered into the world in contemporary Christian literature].
6) The New Testament teaches that death entered the paradisiacal world as a result of sin (Romans 5:12; 8:20-22, 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). But if each “day” of Genesis was really billions of years, this means that none of the plants and animals could have died for billions of years until Adam was created and sinned. If there had been billions years’ worth of death, extinction, and bloody “survival of the fittest” before Adam’s fall, one must adopt a strained interpretation of God’s claim that the world He created was “very good” (Gen. 1:31).
[NOTE: Papa Ephraim completely contradicts point 5 here. Here, he admits there would be no death until Adam’s creation and disobedience so how is it possible to argue that the trees created before the sun would’ve died if the “days” were many years. Patristic texts teach that pre-Fall existence was unlike anything post-Fall man had experienced. That era was not governed by the same “natural laws” that govern the world today. St. Basil even states that animals and humans were created vegetarian and that animals were not eaten in the original creation. “The first legislation allowed the use of fruits”. ].
7) The Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church frequently interpret passages of the Bible figuratively. However, there are a number of passages that none of them interpret figuratively. One such passage is the Genesis account of creation.
St. Basil wrote in his commentary on Genesis, the Hexameron:
“There are those truly, who do not admit the common sense of the Scriptures, for whom water is not water, but some other nature, who see in a plant, in a fish, what their fancy wishes, who change the nature of reptiles and of wild beasts to suit their allegories, like the interpreters of dreams who explain visions in sleep to make them serve their own ends. For me grass is grass; plant, fish, wild beast, domestic animal, I take all in the literal sense. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel.”… It will not lead me to give less importance to the creation of the universe, that the servant of God, Moses, is silent as to shapes; he has not said that the earth is a hundred and eighty thousand furlongs in circumference; he has not measured into what extent of air its shadow projects itself whilst the sun revolves around it, nor stated how this shadow, casting itself upon the moon, produces eclipses. He has passed over in silence, as useless, all that is unimportant for us. Shall I then prefer foolish wisdom to the oracles of the Holy Spirit? Shall I not rather exalt Him who, not wishing to fill our minds with these vanities, has regulated all the economy of Scripture in view of the edification and the making perfect of our souls? It is this which those seem to me not to have understood, who, giving themselves up to the distorted meaning of allegory, have undertaken to give a majesty of their own invention to Scripture. It is to believe themselves wiser than the Holy Spirit, and to bring forth their own ideas under a pretext of exegesis. Let us hear Scripture as it has been written.” (Hexaemeron 5:6, p. 74)
St. Ephraim the Syrian likewise says
“No one should think that the Creation of Six Days is an allegory; it is likewise impermissible to say that what seems, according to the account, to have been created in the course of six days, was created in a single instant, and likewise that certain names presented in this account either signify nothing, or signify something else. On the contrary, one must know that just as the heaven and the earth which were created in the beginning are actually the heaven and the earth and not something else understood under the names of heaven and earth, so also everything else that is spoken of as being created and brought into order after the creation of heaven and earth is not empty names, but the very essence of the created natures corresponds to the force of these names.” (Commentary on Genesis 1, p. 282)
It is significant that St. Ephraim says this, not only because he knew Hebrew well, but also because modern scholars tell us that the “Eastern Fathers” are given to allegorical interpretations. Nevertheless, it is clear from this passage of St. Ephraim (who was an “Easterner”) that even the “Eastern Fathers” are unwilling to allegorize certain passages of the Bible.
As for the duration of the “days” in Genesis, St. Ephraim says:
“Although both the light and the clouds were created in the twinkling of an eye, still both the day and the night of the First Day continued for twelve hours each.” (Commentary on Genesis 1, p. 287)
Similarly, St. Basil the Great wrote:
“There was evening and morning.” This means the space of a day and a night…”And there was evening and morning, one day.” Why did he say “one” and not “first”?…He said “one” because he was defining the measure of day and night and combining the time of a night and a day, since the twenty-four hours fill up the interval of one day.” (Hexaemeron 2:8, pp. 33-34
And St. Ambrose (who read St. Basil’s Hexaemeron) taught the same thing:
“In notable fashion has Scripture spoken of a “day,” not the “first day.” Because a second, then a third day, and finally the remaining days were to follow, a “first day” could have been mentioned, following in this way the natural order. But Scripture established a law that twenty-four hours, including both day and night, should be given the name of day only, as if one were to say the length of one day is twenty-four hours in extent.” (St. Ambrose, Hexaemeron 1:37).
It can be inferred from the following quote of St. Gregory the Theologian (who is considered to be the most “contemplative” of the Fathers) that he also believed that creation lasted only six days:
“Just as the first creation begins with Sunday (and this is evident from the fact that the seventh day after it is Saturday, because it is the day of repose from works), so also the second creation begins again with the same day [i.e. the day of Resurrection].” (St. gregory the Theologian, Homily 44, “On the New Week, Spring, and the Commemoration of the Martyr Mammas,” p. 657.)
And again, St. Gregory gives the Patristic view of the kind of world into which Adam was placed as follows:
“The Word, having taken a part of the newly created earth, with His immortal hands formed my image.” (St. Gregory the Theologian, Homily 7, “On the Soul,” p. 33)
He would not have called the earth “newly created” if each of the days in Creation Week were billions of years long.
* * * * *
It is clear beyond a doubt from a careful analysis of the words in Genesis as well as from simple logic that the “days” were literal 24-hour periods. The scientific and theological evidence also preclude interpreting the days as long periods of time. Furthermore, the Holy Fathers unanimously interpreted Genesis literally and even warned against interpreting it metaphorically. Therefore, if we interpret the days in Genesis as long periods of time, our interpretation is neither logical, nor scientifically justifiable, nor theologically sound, nor Orthodox.
The first Church Father who mentions the days of Creation is Barnabas (not Paul’s companion) who wrote a letter in AD 130. He says:
“Now what is said at the very beginning of Creation about the Sabbath, is this: In six days God created the works of his hands, and finished them on the seventh day; and he rested on that day, and sanctified it. Notice particularly, my children, the significance of ‘he finished them in six days.’ What that means is, that He is going to bring the world to an end in six thousand years, since with Him one day means a thousand years; witness His own saying, ‘Behold, a day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years. Therefore, my children, in six days – six thousand years, that is – there is going to be an end of everything.” (The Epistle of Barnabas 15)
Barnabas is referring here to the traditional view of both the Jewish Rabbis and the early church leaders, that the days of Creation were literal six days, but that Psalm 90:4 (and for the Christians, 2 Peter 3:8) prophetically pointed to the coming of the Messiah after 6,000 years (and for the Christians, the return of Christ).
* * * * *
Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (AD 120 – 202), was discipled by Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who had himself been taught by the Apostle John. He tells us clearly that a literal Adam and Eve were created and fell into sin on the literal first day of Creation (an idea influenced by the Rabbis). He writes:
“For it is said, ‘There was made in the evening, and there was made in the morning, one day.’ Now in this same day that they did eat, in that also did they die.” (Against Heresies, 5:23:2, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol.1, p.557)
When he refers to Adam sinning and bringing death to the human race on the sixth day, he also points out that Christ also died on the sixth day in order to redeem us from the curse of sin.
Agreeing with Barnabas, he explains that the literal six-day Creation points to six thousand years of history before Christ’s return:
“And God brought to a conclusion upon the sixth day the works that He had made; and God rested upon the seventh day from all His works. This is an account of the things formerly created, as also it is a prophecy of what is to come. For the day of the Lord is as a thousand years; and in six days created things were completed: it is evident, therefore, that they will come to an end at the sixth thousand year.” (Ibid. 28:3).
* * * * *
Hippolytus, Bishop of Portus, near Rome (AD 170 – 236), was trained in the faith by Irenaeus, and like his mentor, he held to literal Creation days. He writes:
“And six thousand years must needs be accomplished… for ‘a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.’ Since, then, in six days God made all things, it follows that 6,000 years must be fulfilled.” (The Extant Words and Fragments, On Daniel 2:4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5, p.179)
Lactantius, a Bible scholar (AD 260 – 330) who tutored Emperor Constantine’s son, Crispus, taught the official Christian doctrine of the traditional church. He wrote:
“To me, as I meditate and consider in my mind concerning the creation of this world in which we are kept enclosed, even such is the rapidity of that creation; as is contained in the book of Moses, which he wrote about its creation, and which is called Genesis. God produced that entire mass for the adornment of His majesty in six days…. In the beginning God made the light, and divided it in the exact measure of twelve hours by day and by night….” (Lactantius, On the Creation of the World, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 7, p.341
As with the other church leaders at the time, he accepted the prophetic days of 2 Peter 3:8, and tells us:
“Therefore, since all the works of God were completed in six days, the world must continue in its present state through six ages, that is, six thousand years.” (The Divine Institutes 7:4).
It should be noted that Lactantius famously argued against the idea of a spherical earth, ridiculing it as a pagan notion, requiring belief in the “antipodes” where men walk with their “feet higher than their heads.”