It is somewhat amusing that "scholars" sometimes do shoddy work, especially when they are telling us that the Bible does not say what it says, or that it does not teach what the Christian church has believed over its centuries of existence. This is true of the foundational nature of the doctrine of the Trinity, as Rev. Rushdoony and the Chalcedon Report have emphasized these many years, and it is true of the claim that the Hebrew word yom is flexible as to its meaning in Scripture.
Take your recently published letter from David Dean, Ph.D. no less, who among other mistakes, does not distinguish a singular from a plural in Hebrew. I think it will be useful to examine his two main assertions, one that the word yom is used to describe longer or indeterminate periods of time; and two, that the Bible itself links one day of creation with a longer period of time. Indeed, Mr. Dean's own language trips up his assertion that, "By implication, Hebrews 4 indicates that the seventh day is a span of time," when he says previously, "that a rest of God has existed from the seventh day of creation (vs. 4). . ." (emphasis ours). There is no indication in Hebrews, or anywhere else in Scripture for that matter, that the "seventh day" of Genesis 2:2-3 is anything but a day in the normal sense of the word, a period of light followed by a period of darkness.
The fact that the earthly Sabbath day is a type of our rest from sin, and of the eternal Sabbath (God's rest into which we enter) does not imply that the day itself is something not real, or not a normal day, any more than Paul's use of Sarah and Hagar as allegories of salvation by faith or by works means that these two women were nor real, or actual women. The logic is simply faulty.
In fact, if the object is not real, its use as a metaphor generally is not of much use. That is, if we don't know what the object itself is, its use as a metaphor is pointless.
I should point out that the Hebrew word yom is defined by the words of God Himself in Genesis 1:5, right at the beginning of the series of creation "days," as the period of "light" is separated from the period of "darkness" God Himself called "night." Is it not fascinating that God anticipated the ruminations of men about these days by Himself defining yom the very first time He uses it? His definition is that yom is the period of "light" which is followed by an "evening and morning," which are the boundaries of the darkness or "night." This really answers the question about the duration of the days of creation. Clearly Genesis 1, without losing a beat, counts these first three days of light and darkness as part of the series which goes on with days four through seven. These latter days in turn must be taken as solar-sidereal days if we take the words of Genesis 1 seriously at all. Thus we are stuck with a seven-day week of days which are approximately of the same length as days are today. (For more a detailed discussion readers may see my article, "The Light He Called Day," in the Mid-America Journal of Theology, vol. 3, no. 1, Spring 1987.)
This, by the way, was the position taken by Dr. Edward J. Young of Westminster Seminary, one of the greatest Hebrew scholars of our century, contrary to the claims of present professors at that worthy institution. My own class notes from March 19, 1962 (Old Testament Exegesis) make this clear from a direct question asked by a student, to which Dr. Young also added, "The argument from the Fourth Commandment has never been answered."
Looking at Mr. Dean's claims one by one, we find various problems. A literal translation of Genesis 2:4 would read, "these are the generations of the heavens and the earth in their creating, in the day the LORD God made earth and heavens." The "day" the LORD God made the earth and heavens is clearly day one of the creation week. Not only does the text say that (Gen. 1:1), the material following Genesis 2:4 concerning the creation of man out of the dust of the earth happened during the creation week, not after it. Therefore to apply the word "day" in Genesis 2:4 to the whole week simply does not agree with what the text itself says in two places.
Further, and quite importantly, we have a parallel wording in Genesis 5:1 concerning the "generations of Adam in the day God created Adam, in the image of God he made him." This "day" in which God created Adam refers obviously and clearly to day six of the creation week, the day God did indeed make man. If the day of the creation of man is limited to the particular day on which man was brought into existence, why should not the day on which God created the heavens and earth be the day on which they were brought into existence? Every implication in the text of Scripture itself is that the "day" in Genesis 2:4 is the first day of the creation week, nothing more and nothing less.
Mr. Dean's reference to Genesis 4:3 is to the word yamim, the plural of yom. This use is very much in character with the Bible's use of the plural for longer periods of time and the singular for a single day, or a particular point in time. The situation here is not at all that the word yom can mean a longer period, but simply that the Bible uses the plural to refer to longer periods of time, just as we usually do. We would say "on the day of Solomon's birth," or "in the days of Solomon" to refer to a particular day in contrast to a period of time. The use of yom in Scripture is the same. We will see that the Bible is quite rigid in using the plural for longer periods of time.
Mr. Dean's reference to Genesis 8:22 also implies quite the opposite of what he asserts. In this verse both plural and singular of "day" are used, again in their usual order. God says literally, "during all the days (plural yamim) of the earth seed time and harvest . . . day (singular yom) and night shall not cease." Again, far from being an exceptional use of "day," both of these uses clearly fit the meaning of a day of light and darkness, a solar-sidereal day.
Genesis 29:14 is another plural, the Hebrew says that Jacob abode with him (Laban) literally "a month of days." This is worthy of no more discussion. Genesis 40:4 is again a plural, saying literally, "and they [Pharaoh's butler and baker] were days [plural yamim] in keeping." Genesis 43:9 is the same. Rueben says to his father Jacob, "then let me bear the blame forever [literally "all the days" (kola ha-yamim]. Are we having fun yet? Actually all of these singular and plural uses of yom demonstrate that their use is quite not flexible. Every time a short period is in view, the singular is used, and every time a longer period is in view, the plural is used. Wow! What proof of flexibility!
Finally, in Hosea 6:2 we get a use of "two days" and "three days" that might be metaphorical. But if it is a metaphor, it is one for a short time, as the New Geneva Study Bible and Matthew Henry point out, not a "long time" as is asserted by Mr. Dean. This means of course that the metaphor fits the usage we have been seeing. One day is a short time. Even two and three days are short times. Indeed, this is the emphatic meaning of the words quoted in Hosea 6:2. God may have hurt us, but He will heal us in a short time. The text says literally, "he will enliven us [two] days, in the third day he will raise us up. . . ." (There is no number for word "two" here in Hebrew since the plural without a number is most often dual). Therefore even if the text is metaphorical, it does not constitute an example of a flexible time element for the word "day." Quite the contrary, a small number of days is used to emphasize the immediacy of God's salvation. However, Hosea 6:2 most likely is not metaphorical at all, but is referring to Christ's resurrection. As Matthew Henry says, in that case, "Though they [the prophets R.G.] not be aware of this mystery in the words, yet now they are fulfilled to the letter in the resurrection of Christ. . . ." So again, whether the use of "two days" and "three days" is metaphorical or not, there is no evidence here for stretching a "day" into some indeterminate period of time.
We have already expressed our disagreement with Mr. Dean's second assertion that "Hebrews 4 indicates that the seventh day is a span of time." We have already noted Mr. Dean's poor logic and inadvertent self-contradiction above. What Hebrews 4 does teach is that the weekly Sabbath, including of course the first one, is a type of the eternal rest which God has prepared for His people (Heb. 4:3), and which He had prepared from the foundation of the world. The fact that God Himself entered this rest the seventh day of the creation week simply reiterates Genesis 2:2, that God ended His creating work on day six, and rested on day seven. There is no implication here that the first Sabbath day, the seventh day of creation, is longer than one day, any more than it is implied that every Sabbath day is longer than one day (an absurd idea to be sure, considering the Fourth Commandment).
We might also note that Hebrews 3:11, following Psalm 95, says that entering the land of Canaan is also, "enter into my rest." Does that say anything about lengthening the forty years in the wilderness? Of course not! The point of Hebrews 4 is that since our weekly rest does look forward to an eternal rest, "there remains therefore a Sabbath-keeping for the people of God" (Heb. 4:9). Hebrews 4:9 is a reiteration of the Fourth Commandment for New Testament Christians, based on the fact that the Sabbath looks forward to our eternal rest. Again our patient reader will not be surprised that the undersigned has examined this passage in an article (again) published in the Mid-America Journal of Theology (vol. 2, no. 2, Fall 1986. See also Professor John Murray's similar conclusion in the first volume his Collected Works, page 216).
Notice then that not one of Mr. Dean's references to verses concerning the word yom actually shows, or even come close to showing, what he asserts. I do not think Mr. Dean cannot see this; I think he just didn't look very carefully. And when he did look, he did so with presuppositions that kept him from seeing the details accurately. Otherwise he would not have been willing to extinguish the difference between singular and plural, or to assert something in Hebrews 4 that is simply not there.
Dr. Dean himself declares that the two conditions we have been examining are required for serious exegetes to contend that the days of Genesis 1 might not be days of ordinary length. Now since these conditions are not at all met, we would agree with his necessary conclusion that "other interpretations are [not] viable."
Robert Grossman, B.D. VDM
- Robert Grossman, B. D. VDM