Were the Six Days of Creation Literal 24-hour Periods?
||Garry K. Brantley, M.A., M.Div.
Genesis 2 indicates that on day six Adam named all of the animals before God created Eve. It seems that this would have taken a considerable amount of time (certainly longer than 24 hours). Also, upon seeing Eve, Adam exclaimed happa‘am (literally, “now at length” or “at last”). Do not these textual considerations indicate that day six was longer than a 24-hour period?
This argument commonly is posed by those who deny that the days of creation were literal, 24-hour days (see Ross, 1994, pp. 50-51). However, the language of Genesis 2 does not demand that day six was an elongated period. Consider these reasons.
First, textual information places certain restrictions on the animals Adam named. Excluded from the naming process were sea creatures and creeping things mentioned earlier in the creation narrative (cf. Genesis 1:21,25). The text seems to place additional restrictions on the particular land-dwelling creatures paraded before Adam. The beasts God brought to Adam are qualified by the descriptive phrase beasts of the “field” (hassadeh). The precise limits of the term “field” are difficult to determine. However, since this qualifying term (hassadeh) apparently is used to describe the vegetation peculiar to Eden (Genesis 2:5), then the phrase “beasts of the field” also most likely refers only to those beasts living in Eden.
Further, if the beasts of the field were limited to those animals within the boundaries of Eden, then livestock and birds could have been similarly limited. This would greatly reduce the number of animals involved in the naming process, since it is very unlikely that all created animals lived in Eden. If so, Eden quickly would have been overrun and destroyed. One final point to keep in mind: Adam did not go find the animals; God brought them to him, reducing the amount of time and human energy necessary to complete the process (Genesis 2:19).
Second, the time word pa‘am can describe both an indefinite period (Genesis 29:34) and a contemporary event in distinction to a previous incident (Exodus 9:14). In the final analysis, context determines the appropriate interpretation. Grammatical and contextual considerations indicate that Adam simply was reacting to the humanity of Eve, in contradistinction to the animals. The definite article (ha), especially when prefixed to time words (e.g., pa‘am), carries a demonstrative force (Seow, 1987, p. 35). Accordingly, Adam simply specified that “this time” (happa‘am), unlike the other times when he observed mere animal nature, he was confronted with his human female counterpart. There is nothing inherent in the phrase to suggest an extended period (see also Jackson, 1984). These textual considerations, therefore, suggest that the events of day six could easily have been accomplished within a 24-hour period.
Jackson, Wayne (1984), “The Day-Day View: A Criticism Answered,” Reason & Revelation, 2:41-43, October.
Ross, Hugh (1994), Creation and Time (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress).
Seow, C.L (1987), A Grammar for Biblical Hebrew (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press).