Through the years, many attempts have been made to reconcile biblical chronology with modern geological time scales. Some have argued that the days of Genesis 1 represent vast eons of time, while others sandwich millions of years within the first two verses of this chapter. Still others inflate the time span between the genealogies in Genesis to find this coveted time. All of these approaches meet with insuperable difficulties when the biblical data are accepted as historical.
In 1977, the late P.J. Wiseman introduced a novel interpretation of the days of Genesis in an attempt to bridge the chronological chasm between the Bible and modern geology. This theory, which recently was resurrected by Donald Wiseman (1991), suggests that the six days in Genesis 1 refer to the time period God took to reveal what He already had accomplished, rather than the time frame of His actual creative work. This approach offers the best of both worlds. It does not deny a literal understanding of the days in Genesis 1, and it allows for the time needed to accommodate the evolution model or an ancient Universe.
Advocates appeal to extrabiblical and biblical evidence to support this view. Certain ancient Near Eastern myths refer to pagan gods instructing rulers in the arts, crafts, agriculture, etc., for six days. Since Genesis is similar in literary structure and vocabulary to such ancient myths, we are asked to concede the possibility that Genesis 1 also chronicles six tutorial classes delivered by God to man (see Wiseman, 1991, 3:31). To further bolster this theory, P.J. Wiseman suggested the following translation of Genesis 2:3-4: “And God blessed the seventh day and set it apart, for in it he ceased from all his business which God did creatively in reference to making these the histories of the heavens and the earth, in their being created in the day when the Lord God did the earth and the heavens” (Wiseman, 1977, pp. 201-202). This translation draws a subtle distinction between the creation of the Earth and heavens, and the activity from which God ceased on the seventh day, i.e., revealing the histories of the heavens and Earth.
This theory, however, does not do justice to the biblical text. First, it is improper exegesis to force the concepts of pagan creation myths into the Genesis narrative simply because it manifests some similarities in literary style and vocabulary to such ancient Near Eastern compositions. While mythical texts occasionally illuminate our understanding of obscure words and practices mentioned in the Bible, they should not serve as the controlling factor of biblical exegesis (see Brantley, 1993). Genesis has the right to be interpreted by its own context, just as any other literary work. And, a candid reading of the text indicates that the divine action during the six days was that of creation, not revelation (cf. Genesis 1:1,7,21, et al.).
Second, Wiseman’s translation is inconsistent with the structure of the Hebrew text. The Masoretes inserted the Hebrew letter peh between Genesis 2:3 and 2:4, suggesting that verse four began a new paragraph. Wiseman ignored this ancient textual notation, and forced them into one ambiguous sentence. Unlike Wiseman’s translation, however, Hebrew scholars generally recognize that verses two and three are linked syntactically in such a way that they emphasize the actual completion of creation (see Keil,1:67-68). Further, verse four is isolated grammatically from the preceding narrative. Hence, Wiseman’s translation is a forced, unnatural reading of the text.
Theories of this kind demonstrate how much the biblical text must be bent to accommodate evolutionary time scales. Yet, such interpretations challenge the credulity of Bible students much more than would a literal understanding of the text.
Brantley, Garry K. (1993), “Pagan Mythology and the Bible,” Reason & Revelation, 13:49-53, July.
Wiseman, Donald (1991), “Creation Time—What does Genesis Say?,” Science & Christian Belief, 3:25-34.
Wiseman, P.J. (1977), Clues to Creation in Genesis (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott).
Keil, C.F. and F. Delitzsch (1983 reprint), Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).