This is a report from a Presbyterial organization on interpretation of Genesis One.  I disagree with some of what is here, but it is about as thorough as I have seen.  It is copyrighted, so I only include the first few pages, as well as a link to read the whole article.    John Oakes

Editor’s Note;  To read the entire article, go to

Report of the Creation Study Committee (Presbyterian Church in America)

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Presbyterian Church in America
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Report of the Creation Study Committee

© 2000, Presbyterian Church in America. All Rights Reserved.

Table of Contents

I. Introductory Statement

II. Background to the Current Discussion of the Creation Days

III. Brief Definitions

IV. Description of the Main Interpretations of Genesis 1-3 and the Creation Days

A The Calendar Day Interpretation
B. The Day-Age Interpretation
C. The Framework Interpretation
D. The Analogical Days Interpretation
E. Other Interpretations of the Creation Days

V. Original Intent of the Westminster Assembly

VI. Advice and Counsel of the Committee

A. Proposal for Reporting to the 28th General Assembly
B. Recommendations

VII Appendices

A. Definitions (fuller version)
B. The New Testament’s View of the Historicity of Genesis 1-3
C. General Revelation


I. Introductory Statement

We thank our God for the blessings of the last two years. We have profited personally and together by the study of God’s Word, discussion and hard work together.

We have found a profound unity among ourselves on the issues of vital importance to our Reformed testimony. We believe that the Scriptures, and hence Genesis 1-3, are the inerrant word of God. We affirm that Genesis 1-3 is a coherent account from the hand of Moses. We believe that history, not myth, is the proper category for describing these chapters; and furthermore that their history is true. In these chapters we find the record of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth ex nihilo; of the special creation of Adam and Eve as actual human beings, the parents of all humanity (hence they are not the products of evolution from lower forms of life). We further find the account of an historical fall, that brought all humanity into an estate of sin and misery, and of God’s sure promise of a Redeemer. Because the Bible is the word of the Creator and Governor of all there is, it is right for us to find it speaking authoritatively to matters studied by historical and scientific research. We also believe that acceptance of, say, non-geocentric astronomy is consistent with full submission to Biblical authority. We recognize that a naturalistic worldview and true Christian faith are impossible to reconcile, and gladly take our stand with Biblical supernaturalism.

The Committee has been unable to come to unanimity over the nature and duration of the creation days. Nevertheless, our goal has been to enhance the unity, integrity, faithfulness and proclamation of the Church. Therefore we are presenting a unanimous report with the understanding that the members hold to different exegetical viewpoints. As to the rest we are at one. It is our hope and prayer that the Church at large can join us in a principled, Biblical recognition of both the unity and diversity we have regarding this doctrine, and that all are seeking properly to understand biblical revelation. It is our earnest desire not to see our beloved church divide over this issue.

II. Background to the Current Discussion of the Creation Days

The debate over the nature of the creation days is, theologically speaking, a humble one. It cannot rank with the significant theological debates of our time (within Protestant and evangelical circles) such as whether there can be such a thing as legitimate, biblical Systematic Theology, whether human language is capable of conveying absolute truth, whether truth is propositional, what ought to be the church’s doctrine of scripture, can the church’s traditional doctrine of divine impassibility be biblically sustained, is it time to jettison the historic Christian formulation of the doctrine of God, does the church need to modify its commitment to the Reformation doctrine of justification by faith, and more.

Nevertheless, behind this matter of the Genesis days, and connected with it, are issues of some significance to the Bible-believing Christian community. Most obviously, the discussion of the nature of the creation days is a part of what has been one of the most important sustained theological issues in the Western world over the last century or so: the resolution of the conflicting truth claims of historic Christianity and modern secularism which uses a naturalistic view of evolution as its prop. The doctrine of creation undergirds all truth. Creation and providence are a constant revelation of God, rendering all men inexcusable before him. The issues among us are more specific than the doctrine of creation as such. Among the vast number of biblical texts about creation, we are primarily discussing the exegesis of Genesis 1. For these reasons a sane and restrained discussion of the creation days is warranted, and may prove to be helpful to the whole Christian community as we seek to "take every thought captive" and make ourselves ready to "give an apologia for the hope that is in us."

In this light, it seems wise to offer an historical assessment of the church’s views on the creation days, in order to provide a helpful framework for the current debate. We do not appeal to this history as finally authoritative; the Bible alone must have the final word. But a recounting of history may provide for us some helpful boundaries in this debate and give us a sense of what the best theological minds of the ages have done with this issue.

In the fourteen centuries prior to the Westminster Assembly numerous commentaries on the days of creation in Genesis 1-2 were produced. Frank Egleston Robbins in his The Hexaemeral Literature: A Study of the Greek and Latin Commentaries on Genesis (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1912) lists more than 130 authors of works on the six days of creation from Origen in the 3rd century to John Milton in the 17th century.[1] Robert Letham in his more recent article "’In the Space of Six Days’: The Days of Creation from Origen to the Westminster Assembly," Westminster Theological Journal 61:2 (Fall 1999), adds several more to the list, including many whose writings the Westminster Divines would have known.

Out of all of this literature it is possible to distinguish two general schools of thought on the nature of the six days. One class of interpreters tends to interpret the days figuratively or allegorically (e.g., Origen and Augustine), while another class interprets the days as normal calendar days (e.g., Basil, Ambrose, Bede and Calvin). From the early church, however, the views of Origen, Basil, Augustine and Bede seem to have had the greatest influence on later thinking. While they vary in their interpretation of the days, all recognize the difficulty presented by the creation of the sun on the fourth day.

Origen (c. 185-254), in answering Celsus’complaint that Genesis has some days before the creation of the sun, moon, and stars, and some days after, replies that Genesis 2:4 refers to "the day in which God made the heaven and the earth" and that God can have days without the sun providing the light (Contra Celsum, VI: 50-51). Referring to his earlier Commentary on Genesis (now lost), Origen says, "In what we said earlier we criticized those who follow the superficial interpretation and say that the creation of the world happened during a period of time six days long…." (Contra Celsum, VI: 60). In his De Principiis IV, 3, 1 he says, "What person of any intelligence would think that there existed a first, second, and third day, and evening and morning, without sun, moon, and stars?"[2]

Basil (330-379) opposes the allegorical tendencies of Origen and takes a more straightforward approach to the days of creation. He regards them as 24-hour days, but he acknowledges the problem of the sun being created only on the fourth day. His solution: "Before the luminaries were created as its vehicles the light caused day and night by being drawn back and sent forth." [3] This explanation drew some criticism, with the result that Basil’s brother, Gregory of Nyssa, later wrote a treatise defending his brother against those critics "who alleged obscurity in the explanation of the making of the light and the later creation of the luminaries." [4]

Although Ambrose (c. 339-397) largely followed Basil’s treatment of the six days as 24-hour days, Augustine (354-430) found Basil’s explanation of the light and darkness on the first three days before the creation of the sun too difficult to accept. It is partly for this reason that Augustine says in The City of God XI, 6, "What kind of days these were it is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive…" Puzzled as to when God created time, with the sun (by which our normal days are measured) created only on the fourth day, Augustine opted for instantaneous creation, with the "days" of Genesis 1 being treated as six repetitions of a single day or days of angelic knowledge or some other symbolic representation. Augustine’s view, with its emphasis on instantaneous creation, would have an influence through the Middle Ages and still be held by some, such as Sir Thomas Browne, at the time of the Westminster Assembly.

With the Venerable Bede (c. 673-735) there begins a trend in which commentators preferred to understand the six days to be real days, explaining Gen 2:4 by asserting that in the latter passage dies means "space of time," not "day," and that all things were created at once in the sense that the first heaven and earth contained the substance of all things, i.e., matter, which with Augustine they would not admit was made wholly without form, and which was formed in six days into this world. [5]

Bede does hold to 24-hour days, but realizes that an explanation is needed for the alternation of light and darkness in the first three days before the creation of the sun. He says that "the light was divided so as to shine in the upper and not the lower parts of the earth, and that it passed under the earth, making a day of twenty-four hours with morning and evening, precisely as the sun does." [6] In the western or Latin church some commentators, such as John Scotus Erigena, followed Augustine’s views, but most followed Bede’s approach, sometimes combining various elements from both views as in the case of Robert Grossteste (c. 1168-1253), who also emphasized the literary structure of Genesis 1 with three days of ordering and three days of parallel adornment.[7]

On the question of the nature of the light before the creation of the sun, the Greek church, following Basil, tended to have a different explanation from the Latin church:

One school, which Bonaventure [13th century] . . .had suggested was that of the Greeks rather than the Latins, maintained that light originally came into the world in an ebb-and-flow-like manner. Day was made when light flowed into the world, night, when the light was drawn back . . .The more common opinion of the Latins was that the first light, when it came into being, had diurnal or twenty-four-hour rotation; it moved around the universe in twenty-four hours, just as the sun will when it comes into being three days hence. . . [8]

Although the first three days might be 24-hour days, in either view they were not solar days. The eastern or Greek church also entertained a variety of views on the days of creation, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Diodore of Tarsus, and Theodoret teaching more fanciful versions than that of Basil.[9]

In the 16th century the Protestant Reformers mainly wanted to distance themselves from fanciful allegorizations of the days of creation-which is how they regarded Augustine’s solution to the problem of the nature of the days. Martin Luther acknowledged some of the difficulties in Genesis 1, alluding to Jerome’s comment that the Rabbis prohibited anyone under thirty from expounding this chapter, but he clearly held to six 24-hour days. [10] The issue of the sun being created on the fourth day lingered in the interpretation of the Reformers and Puritans. John Calvin in his Commentary on Genesis 1:14 says of the fourth day:

God had before created the light, but he now institutes a new order in nature, that the sun should be dispenser of diurnal light, and the moon and stars should shine by night. And he assigns them this office, to teach us that all creatures are subject to his will, and execute what he enjoins upon them. [11]

Commenting on the creation of light on the first day in Genesis 1:3, Calvin pursues the same theme of God’s sovereignty:

It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments, the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light: and, according to our notions, we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and the moon.

Then he goes on to say:

Further, it is certain, from the context, that the light was so created as to be interchanged with darkness. But it may be asked, whether light and darkness succeeded each other in turn through the whole circuit of the world; or whether the darkness occupied one half of the circle, while light shone in the other. There is, however, no doubt that the order of their succession was alternate, but whether it was everywhere day at the same time, and everywhere night also, I would rather leave undecided; nor is it very necessary to be known.

Calvin does not directly address the issue of the exact nature of the days of creation in the 1559 edition of his Institutes but rather, discouraging speculation, refers his readers in a straightforward manner to the text of Genesis and to the help of such earlier commentaries as Basil’s Hexaemeron and the Hexaemeron of Ambrose.[12] It should be noted that these commentators are explicit in their endorsement of a 24-hour view of the Genesis days.

Calvin, along with the other Reformers, rejected the Augustinian approach to the Genesis days. For Calvin, God did not merely accommodate himself to his people in the way he explained his creative work, God actually accommodated himself in the way he performed his creative work: "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."[13]

The implication of the sun’s being created on the fourth day apparently was lurking in the mind of the great Puritan theologian of the late Elizabethan period, William Perkins, who wrote in his Exposition of …the Creede:

…some may aske in what space of time did God make the world? I answer, God could have made the world, and all things in it in one moment: but hee beganne and finished the whole worke in sixe distinct daies. In the first day hee made the matter of all things and the light: …in the fourth day hee made the Sunne, the Moone, and the Starres in heaven: …and in the ende of the sixth day hee made man. Thus in sixe distinct spaces of time, the Lord did make all things… [14]

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