Genesis 1 and the Framework Interpretation
Great amounts of ink have been spilled fighting the duration of the six days of creation. Growing up in a conservative background, the default, the “biblical”, position was six literal 24-hour days. “The bible says day so it means day” was the logic. While admirable for taking the bible seriously as the inspired, inerrant Word of God, such literal biblicism misses the point that the creation narrative is not a scientific how-to guide for creation, it is a story portraying the creational work of God; it is a historical narrative. This is an important distinction.
I once did hold to a six 24-hour day view. When I was younger, it was simply because of “the bible says day” type of logic. Getting older and more theologically minded, however, I changed the reasoning to a more theological one: the Sabbath day was linked to the day of rest. So if the Sabbath is one 24-hour day in seven for us, then it was the same in creation. At this point many theological discussions occured with friends who were questioning the complexities brought about by star light, the fossil record, death before the fall, etc.. Many of these discussions were met in agreement that God did the work, God created and bound creation to laws of nature (such as laws of physics), and that creation ex nihilo was divine work that was unaffected by created laws of nature. The issue where we parted ways was whether or not God used natural means (that is means adhering to created laws of nature) or miraculous divine means to do so. He could have done either, he is God. And so at this point, many conversations ended with the agreement to just disagree.
Over the next few years I came in contact with the framework interpretation. Lee Irons defined the framework interpretation rather well in an article for the OPC’s Ordained Servant publication:
“The framework interpretation is the view that this picture functions as a figurative framework in which the eight divine fiats are narrated in a non-sequential or topical order. The days are ordinary solar days, but taken as a whole, the total picture of the divine work week is figurative. Although the temporal framework has a non-literal meaning, the events narrated within the days are real historical events of divine creative activity.”
This became a helpful and influential part of my understanding of creation. Over the next few years I became convinced of the validity of the framework interpretation of Genesis 1. This interpretation also functions in understanding the polemical elements of creation toward the cultures in the ancient near east. It allows for a historical understanding of the “who” and the “what”, but is silent on the scientific inquiries of the “how”. The emphasis of the framework interpretation is a theological emphasis. What follows are some of the reasons I have come to believe the framework interpretation.
The genealogical pattern in Genesis of “These are the generations of” begins at the start of the second creation narrative. This phrase is found 10 other times in Genesis (though the wording is slightly different in Genesis 5.1). The phrase follows a strictly genealogical pattern through history with the exception of the first use in Genesis 2.4 and also the use in Genesis 6 that preempts the flood narrative, which is a type of recreation. The point I would like to draw attention to is that the phrase cues for us a timeline of events. It is not insignificant the first use is at the beginning of the second creation narrative. Whatever Moses’ point was of Genesis 1-2.3, it has a different function in the text than the second creation narrative that starts in Genesis 2.4 which follows the genealogical pattern outlined in the rest of Genesis.
Genesis 1 also has a number of patterns that form, in the words of Lee Irons, a “rhythmic cadence of the six-fold evening-morning refrain”. There are a number of these rhythmic patterns found in Genesis 1. One of the typical patterns is the pattern that each day generally follows:
Fiat - And God said, “Let there be light.”
Fulfillment - And there was light.
Surveillance - And God saw that the light was good.
Conclusion - And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Another pattern is the mirror of the days. This can be seen in a number of different ways. There are 8 fiats included in Genesis 1. These 8 fiats occur over the 6 days of creation in an orderly way:
1 creation fiat
Let there be light
1 creation fiat
Let there be lights
1 creation fiat
Let there be an expanse to separate
1 creation fiat
Let the waters teem and let birds fly
2 creation fiats
Let the dry land appear
Let the earth sprout vegetation
2 creation fiats
Let the earth bring forth living creatures
Let us make man
Using the same structure of days 1, 2, and 3 mirroring days 4, 5, and 6 another pattern can be seen in the acts of creations on each day. The pattern draws attention to the realms and rulers, or kingdoms and kings, of creation. The same pattern also draws distinction between creature and Creator.
Day 1 - light
Day 4 - luminaries
Day 2 - sky and seas
Day 5 - winged creatures and sea creatures
Day 3 - dry land and vegetation
Day 6 - land animals and man
Day 7 - sabbath
Each of these patterns shows a very intentional structure to the crafting of Genesis 1-2.3. For further explanation on these points and others, the OPC’s Creation Report is very helpful at this point.
One particular objection that I want to address is an appeal to the confessional standards. Certain people, who hold to the six 24-hour day view of creation, have objected that any view other than the literal day position is outside of the bounds of the Westminster Confession which states that the work of creation took place “in the space of six days”. The argument is that the original intent of the divines was that six days meant six ordinary days. They didn’t specify a 24-hour period because they didn’t think in those terms. In contrast to this, Alan Strange’s work on creation brought up a debate that was recorded in the minutes of the Westminster Assembly in which John Lightfoot contended for the eternality of the seventh day. In response to the debate, a motion was introduced to define the seventh day, explicitly, as a 24-hour day. The motion failed and the wording of the Confession was left as it appears today. What this shows is that the Westminster divines did think in terms of 24-hour days, but they did not include such language in the Confession. While many of the divines seemed to have held to ordinary days in creation, the Confession does not bind to this view.
A second objection that I will mention briefly is that theistic evolutionists use the framework interpretation. This concern, while valid, does not pose a threat to the framework interpretation itself. The framework interpretation addresses whether the presentation of the creation week in Genesis 1 is meant to be taken figuratively or literally. Evolution is a separate issue. Many proponents of framework interpretation reject evolution. I will say plainly that I believe in a literal Adam and Eve and a literal fall. I also believe in ex nihilo creation. This objection need not disprove the framework model.
One of the beautiful aspects of the framework interpretation is that it is agnostic to the question of “how”. Could God have created the earth in 144 hours? Sure. Could he have used millions (or billions) of years? Sure. What is clear in Genesis is that God created everything that exists. He created everything in an orderly fashion and he created out of nothing (ex nihilo). Genesis is a historical book and this includes the creation narratives. Genesis 1 addresses the “who” and the “what” of creation. Genesis is not a science text-book, however, and was not intended to explain “how” it happened. This reality doesn’t need to shake our faith. We can know our Creator, and we can join him on the seventh day; we can rest in him.