Literary Structure of the Days of Creation
By Doug Kennard, Professor of Christian Scripture, Houston Graduate School of Theology
(#3 in the Creation Accounts series)
This blog helps sharpen the recognition of particulars in the creation account texts, especially in regard to structure and time. Good exegesis provides a good framework for Christian understanding. The pattern of creation in Genesis 1 follows regularly as: an announcement (And God said), command (let there be), report (and it was so), evaluation (And God said that it was good), and temporal framework (And there was evening and morning, the ... day).
The indication in the text that Elohim created by word implies sovereignty and extends far beyond Marduk’s magic word as Marduk was unable even to quiet Tiamat by word (Enuma Elish 2:117). When God speaks, creation and blessing is dependent upon God for realization. The fact that God creates only good reflects back on Him as the Good God (Matt 19:17; James 1:17).
The evaluation of “good” (tōb) in this context is an acknowledgment of purpose, order, and blessing, thus the creation is fitting into God’s sovereign design (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31; 2:9, 17–18; 3:5–6, 22). This goodness of design does not indicate static perfection, for though the created light was evaluated by God to be good, God further developed this light (Gen 1:4, h’wr) to be sourced and governed by lights (Gen 1:14, m’rt). God pronounced again that these lights of the creation were good (Gen 1:18). Therefore, the concept of good (tōb) permits development within whatever is evaluated. Lights, plants, animals, and humans are created and affirmed as good, with the possibility of further development.
This evaluation sometimes comes in the middle of a creation day to structure levels of the creation. For example, after water, sky, and land are all separated and evaluated, vegetation is presented as a higher creation structure (Gen 1:10). Likewise, in the middle of day six, after the land beasts were created and evaluated, God created humans as superior.
The days (yōm) of Genesis can be taken as the light part of the day in contrast to darkness (Gen 1:5), or as an age of creation (Gen 2:4). However, throughout Genesis 1 the term “day” is used with a number and described in the Hebrew manner, beginning with the lengthened shadows of dusk, then the dark of night. The light of morning is best taken as a natural calendar day (Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31, 2:2–3). Once the sun is attached to these days, they would be understood as solar days (Gen 1:19).
The word yōm appears in the OT 359 times with an ordinal number, in which at least 358 times it is a solar day (Kennard, Critical Realist’s Theological Method, 321). Sometimes it is in the plural (as in a week of 7 solar days) but the majority of the instances are in the singular as here, meaning a solar day. Hugh Ross’s claim that this instance is unique as divine activity instead of the majority of instances of the word being in contexts of human activity (A Matter of Days, 74) neither appreciates God’s sovereign involvement throughout the Bible, nor the fact that the meaning of words is dependent upon their use in contexts. The use of yōm is dominated throughout the OT in identifying solar days, especially when the additional corroborating features of ordinal and “evening and morning” are accompanying. Sometimes the words “evening” and “morning” do not have the word yōm with them while they continue to mean solar day (Ex 27:21).
While the seventh day does not specifically say it has an evening and morning, it should be understood as a solar day after the pattern through the literary unit and the appeal to a seven-day creation week which informs the Sabbath mandate (Ex 20:11). The six calendar days of creation are specifically declared to be the length of time for creation in order to explain the rationale for the seventh solar day each week being designated as a Sabbath rest (Ex 20:11; Jubilees 2.1, 17–22). In comparison to other ancient Near Eastern creation accounts, the biblical creation moves swiftly to its completion in six solar days; that is, our God is able to dispatch creation swiftly when compared to the gods of the ancient Near East and modern science.
The framework interpretation partly resists this historical calendar week of creation for a literary appeal to patterns during the creation week. I think that their literary patterns have some basis for organizing the week in parallel days: 1 and 4 for light and lights, 2 and 5 for water and separation with animals in both areas, and 3 and 6 for land with land animals. Separation occurs through day four and contents occur from at least days three vegetation through day six creation of humans, so the parallel is not so nice in Hebrew as it is when viewed as a simple framework. I think that these parallels are part of the designed good.
However, the abundant use of the waw consecutive with a preterite indicates narrative sequence (“then God said,” Gen 1:3-31; 2:3); whereas, the waw consecutive through Genesis 2 presents a narrative description around the human without claiming a chronological order. Historical sequence for Genesis one is also indicated by other repetitive elements, such as “God said” (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26, 28, 29), “let there be” (Gen 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26), “and it was so” (Gen 1:3, 7, 9, 11, 15, 24, 30), “and there was evening and morning” (Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), and the ordinal sequence “one day…second day” (Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). The ordinal sequence ends with the seventh day establishing sacred time of the Sabbath (Gen 2:2; Ex 20:11; Jubilees 2.1, 17–22).
Although an academic review of the Creation account can be a bit overwhelming, understanding ancient Hebrew meanings helps readers recognize intentionality and purpose in the text, adding to a further appreciation of the carefully written account and its connection with important OT and NT concepts of Sabbath rest and the goodness of God.