Search This Blog

Monday, June 04, 2012

Lost in translation. Death and Days in the Book of Genesis!

One of the major fallacies that has been passed around in some Christian circles is the idea of the Framework Hypothesis applied to the Genesis creation account somehow allows for millions of years of time to be crammed into six days and also somehow millions of years of death and evolution as well.   Along with this misconception is the failure to comprehend the difference between the Hebrew words used in the account and the simple English translation.    Plants, microorganisms, individual cells within individuals and most likely insects would all have been "dying" or being eaten along with vegetation.   We cannot live without microorganisms living and dying within us not could plants existed for long ages without animals or vice-versa.  So we need to address both the subject of death and also days of creation. 

The following article will hopefully dissuade otherwise reasonable Christians from falling into these illogical thought pits.   If you are not familiar with the Framework Hypothesis, please read this short article , and/or go down to the end of this post and read this one afterwards.

‘No death before the Fall’?

The importance of the distinction of nephesh chayyah life

Published: 3 June 2012 (GMT+10)
It’s commonly said that biblical creationists believe in “no death before the Fall”. The problem is that there is a difference between what modern people conceive the word ‘death’ applies to and what the Bible applies it to. CMI writer and biblical scholar Lita Cosner points out the difference.

David H. from the United Kingdom writes in response to article Did God create over billions of years?, and CMI’s Lita Cosner responds, with her comments interspersed:

Dear David,
Your whole argument seems to hinge on the idea that there couldn’t have been any death before the fall.
Death of nephesh chayyah creatures, to be more precise. We don’t argue that plants and insects, etc., didn’t die before the Fall, and “what about skin cells” has always been a ridiculous straw man argument: we believe that certain forms of cell death would have had to be programmed at creation, as they are necessary for all multi-cellular life. Broadly speaking, there was no death of vertebrates.
But while humans clearly didn’t die before the fall, there’s no evidence that other life-forms didn’t die. The bacteria that help us digest food die every second, and if they didn’t die the world would be overrun with them in a few days-there would have been death of SOME things before the fall, whether creation took days or millions of years.
Again—bacteria are not nephesh chayyah life, so there’s no problem with them dying.

We don’t argue that plants and insects, etc., didn’t die before the Fall, and ‘what about skin cells’ has always been a ridiculous straw man
God told Adam he would die if he ate the forbidden fruit, and Adam apparently knew what death was-apparently he had seen it happen.
That’s not a strong argument. It is possible to understand a concept without seeing a concrete example of it.
And death was obviously possible before sin-Jesus was without sin, but he was capable of dying.
Jesus was incarnated in a fallen world, and was subject to its fallenness in every respect except sin. He aged, experienced pain and temptation, and all the other discomforts of a fallen world, because He made a distinct choice to add human nature to His being. Just because a sinless Man could die after the Fall doesn’t mean that sinless men would have died before the Fall.
Jesus died for our sins, not for the sins of spiders, dogs and goldfish.
Well of course; spiders, dogs, and goldfish aren’t morally culpable—they can’t sin, by definition. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by the Curse. See our article Can bunny rabbits be saved? We see innocent parties affected by someone else’s crime all the time—I didn’t fly a plane into a skyscraper on 9/11, but I have to take my shoes off every time I go through security because of it.
Those creatures committed no original sin, and have no saviour for it-they could assumably die before man sinned and paradise was lost, and they will assumably still die when paradise has been restored.
Elephants mourn their dead, and other animals have been shown to do the same. Why would God create a ‘very good’ creation that involved the suffering of animals? When a human being causes suffering to an animal, that’s called animal cruelty. If God called a world in which animals suffered diseases and die ‘very good’, then I would say that this would be the worst case of animal cruelty ever. Of course, I believe this isn’t the case.

Jesus was incarnated in a fallen world, and was subject to its fallenness in every respect except sin.
And why would God consider there to be a problem with his creation just because animals were dying? He Himself commands animals to be slaughtered for sacrifices in the Mosaic Law, so he clearly doesn’t consider the death of animals to be a problem in itself.
Everything God commands post-Fall assumes the Fall—assumes a broken creation and a broken relationship between God and humans and now only blood could atone for sin. Prior to sin it was not necessary. He commanded animal sacrifices because sin is horrendous and offensive to God, and it must be atoned with blood—the animal dies to ‘cover’ human sin, until Christ came and gave Himself as a sacrifice ‘once for all’. Animals were slaughtered precisely because there was a problem.
The idea of a long period of time during which God created various creatures, and finally Adam and Eve, has no conflict with the Bible.
Respectfully, many of your arguments are strained and convoluted—stretching as it were to try to fit millions of years into Scripture. But please revisit the article to be reminded where the idea of billions of years comes from in the first place. It is not in Scripture itself. If you read the Bible by itself, you would never find billions of years—it’s an assumption that comes from outside Scripture because of uniformitarian geology and evolution—both need vast long periods of time. So you are trying to take a secular idea, originally designed to “Free the sciences from Moses” and then fit them into Scripture because you think the science behind it is authoritative. Jesus and the New Testament authors took Genesis as history, including creating in six days. Were they wrong?
Frankly, I have little trust in science’s claims about the age of the earth,
Then why on earth would you base your Bible interpretation on it? But you must believe those claims or have accepted them as your starting point, because the idea of long ages is clearly not a Scriptural one. You are looking for loopholes and gaps in Scripture to fit the millions of years in.
it seeming to be propped up by an unusually large number of assumptions, and the more assumptions a calculation is based upon, the more likely it is that one or more of them is wrong.
However, neither do I see any good reason for assuming that God intended us to believe that creation occurred in a week.
I see several:
  1. God structured the Genesis creation account around six days, resting on the seventh. Every other time in Scripture when the word ‘day’ occurs with an ordinal number plus ‘evening and morning’, it’s a literal day.
  2. If we believe the Flood is global, that explains the billions of fossils in sedimentary rock—then there’s no geological evidence for billions of years. We know that catastrophic geological events can change the landscape quickly on a local scale, we simply posit that in Noah’s Flood, the same thing happened on a global scale (see the relevant parts of our Geology and Noah’s Flood Q&A pages … ).
  3. If that wasn’t enough, God inscribed with His own finger that He created the heavens and earth in six days and rested on the seventh Exodus 20, 32:16).
  4. Jesus said that God made humans male and female “from the beginning of creation” (Mark 10:6). If we’ve only been around for the last few million years out of several billion, we weren’t “from the beginning of creation”. But if Jesus is thinking of Day 6, about 4,000 years before He said this, then it makes sense to say “from the beginning of creation”.
  5. Paul clearly sees death, both human (Romans 5) and in the rest of creation (Romans 8) as a result of Adam’s sin. But every non-historical understanding of Genesis has death before the Fall.
If he did mean us to have that understanding, it was very strange for Him to refer to the whole week as a day in Genesis 2:4.
See, this is an example of a non-literal use of day. You may be thinking, “Wait, you just said that the days in Genesis were literal!” I did—but not this instance. The grammatical construction basically means that “in the day that” should be roughly translated as “when”—and some translations do this. See The meaning of yôm in Genesis 1:1–2:4 for more information.
It seems more likely that God said that because he was using the word day in some other sense of the word.
There are multiple meanings for the word ‘day’, and for most other words, in fact. For example, “word” can mean—a unit of language (Why did Paul use this word and not that one in Romans 5:12?), Speech or talk (Pastor Bill gave an encouraging word in the service last Sunday), a short conversation (I’d like a word with you), a promise (I give you my word), or an argument (Bill and I had words and then he stormed out). To complicate things, “word” is also a verb (I carefully worded the contract to avoid loopholes). But when the word ‘word’ is used, you don’t have any problem differentiating between the various meanings. This is because you’re a native English speaker who automatically understands the meaning from the context.

Now here’s the cool thing—Hebrew does the same thing. We just can’t automatically understand the grammatical cues—we need to study the language and dissect it in a way that we just don’t do with our native language. But the grammar and context still gives us the cues for how we need to understand a particular word.
It also seems like the seventh is still ongoing-there is no record of that day ending and being declared ‘good’ like the other six,
But God’s rest ended—Jesus said in John 5, “My Father is working even now” as a justification for working on the Sabbath. So the seventh day cannot be ongoing. The author of Hebrews is arguing from analogy, using a non-literal Sabbath, but presupposing a literal Sabbath to which it can be compared.
and certainly creation couldn’t be declared good YET, not until God’s Kingdom has taken effect over the world and restored it to it’s proper state.
But this is before the Fall—before there was sin. And you yourself used the word ‘restoration’, which presupposes that something is wrong. We can’t see a time before something was wrong in the geological record—there are thorns and cancer and animals eating each other. And by the way, human remains are dated by standard dating methods as older than any possible date for Adam, so you have human death before Adam sinned, too.
With no reason to think that day is 24 hours, and reason to think ‘6 days’ can be called ‘1 day’, there’s no reason to think any of the days are 24 hours.
I covered this above.
I think the earth may well be considerably younger than 4 billion years-I think geologists probably choose data to support that date in order to fit an evolutionary timescale.
Of course they do—and there are a lot of chronometers that indicate a considerably younger earth—see this article for several.
But the Bible gives us no reason to think it’s only 6000 years.
See my list above. Also The Use of Genesis in the New Testament and Biblical chronogenealogies.
If anyone asks me how old the earth is, I just say, “I don’t know-the Bible doesn’t say, and science doesn’t seem very reliable on that subject.”
And that line of approach will not see you win anyone to the Lord, particularly atheists as even they can clearly see that the Bible refers to a comparatively young creation (compared to an evolutionary view). You’d be saying that the Bible does not mean what it says, so why should he/she trust any of it. See a timeline about what the Bible says about the age of the earth.
That’s not rejecting the Bible. That’s just accepting that a word can have more than one meaning.
It can, but no word actually carries its full semantic range in a particular context. The context is vital because it provides the framework of understanding of most words we use.
It’s vital to understanding English, and assumably Hebrew as well. If you don’t accept that fact, you might come to some very strange understandings-like thinking that an ant never got stood on before the fall, because there was no ‘death’.
Respectfully again, it is you who does not seem to understand Hebrew. Ants are not referred to as nephesh chayyah creatures. But could God have created a world in which an ant never died? Seems pretty simple for the God who created the stars as an afterthought. And regarding your misunderstanding of the Hebrew word yom, may I recommend reading the links provided to gain a better understanding?

I hope these thoughts have been helpful.

Lita Cosner
Information Officer
Creation Ministries International (US)

Related articles

Further reading


Translating one language into another can be very confusing unless you understand vernacular and slang and common double meanings of words and phrases.    For instance, suppose a Russian Jew who knows no English has come to the USA and been invited to dine at your home on a Sunday afternoon.   He is equipped with a Russian-English electronic word translator.   We promise we will be eating some tasty hot dogs and hamburgers and he is immediately horrified, as his translator will produce something sounding to us like "Zharko Sobako" which would literally be a dog who is quite overheated.  Anything with "ham" in the title might throw him off.   He will have no interest in eating a dog and will be sure you are "gloopy" or kind of whacky.   Do you realize in English we can say the word, "hot" and mean more than warm, extremely attractive, having a string of success in a sport/competition, being overly angry...and when we say "hot dog" we usually mean kind of a lunch meat in the form of a tube that will be grilled or boiled or etc. before being served on a bun along with the choice of a few condiments.    But our Russian cannot know this and it will take us awhile to convince him that these "hot dogs" are much like tubular bologna/baloney.    But darned if baloney doesn't have more does does mean.  

Hot dog?

English requires more comprehension of slang and vernacular to be fluent than do most languages.   Having a passing knowledge of Russian, I know that Russian has figures of speech and vernacular as well, but not nearly so many as English does.  Did you know that the word in Russian for "German" is also a word that commonly means "Idiot?"   I could insult you in Russian and if you could only translate it literally you would not think that I had said anything derogatory.   If someone inquires whether I can speak French I would say "Un petit peu" and hope that he could speak English, otherwise we would have to work hard to communicate.   One of my friends (who speaks very fluent English) always begins a conversation with me in French for one or two sentences and that usually is as far as I can go with him en Francais

When it comes to Bible translation, the translation from Hebrew to English is pretty straightforward because the written word rarely ventures into the land of vernacular (but there can be cultural differences that make some meanings a bit tricky)  but there are some meanings that do not translate precisely even in The Pentateuch.   For instance, while we say that the Biblical commandment is "Thou shalt not kill" the precise translation is "Thou shalt not murder" and there is a distinction.   Understanding what life forms were not designed to kill and be killed versus the life forms that were primarily designed to be food for the more advanced forms is clear to someone who reads Hebrew but unclear to English-only readers.    This also applies to the organisms that God sent to Noah on the Ark.   Only vertebrates that walked or crawled on the Earth plus birds were included.   Other forms of life were left to fend for themselves in the Flood.   God was aware that most acquatic life forms and that insects and microorganisms would do fine and in fact some would flourish in flood conditions.  The White Cliffs of Dover testify to this, because under normal circumstances that many foraminifera and coccolithophores in such pure form and vast quantities could not accumulate at all. 

White Cliffs of Dover

We will get back to other topics concerning Darwinist fallacies AND more modern life forms in fossil rocks later this week. 

The numbering pattern of Genesis - Does it mean the days are non-literal?

The days of Genesis 1 have an interesting pattern in the Hebrew, which is not often reflected in English translations. The first day has a cardinal number (i.e. one, two, three … ), יום אֶחָד (yôm echad) Day One. The others have ordinal numbers (second, third, fourth … ). Also, days 2–5 lack a definite article (ה, ha, ‘the’) while days 6–7 have one. So a literal translation of Creation Week would be Day One, a second day, a third day, a fourth day, a fifth day, the sixth day, the seventh day.
This pattern is enough to destroy one of the arguments against literal days by leading old-earth creationist Dr Hugh Ross:
The unusual syntax of the sentences enumerating specific creation days. Looking at the word-for-word translation of the Hebrew text, one finds this phraseology: “and was evening and was morning day X.” … The word arrangement is clearly a departure from simple and ordinary expression. … This syntactic ambiguity does not constitute a proof. However, it does suggest that the “day” here is to be taken in some unusual manner.’1
As shown above, Ross is simply wrong about the syntax, so his argument collapses. Unfortunately, it is one of many such examples of bluff using learned-sounding arguments about Hebrew, which turn out to be nonsensical.2

One Rev. Dr Rowland Ward, whose doctoral thesis was on the history of the Presbyterian Church in Australia, has a long history of vexatious opposition to the view that Genesis is straightforward history, even giving credence to the thoroughly scientifically and ethically discredited book Telling Lies … by atheist Ian Plimer.3 Ward is more sophisticated than Ross, and points out the correct pattern. But he uses this to argue against a straightforward interpretation of Genesis. He later argues for the Framework Hypothesis, a view arising from abject capitulation to ‘science’, but also dissatisfaction with the poor exegesis required to claim that the days were really ages, as Ward himself notes.4 But the Framework Hypothesis has already been demolished,5,6 so this article concentrates only on the number pattern. Ward says:
‘These distinctions are not what we would expect if we have emphasis on a mere chronological ordering of events (cf. Num 29:17, 20, 23, 26, 29, 32, 35).’7
It’s worth noting the pejorative word ‘mere’, as if chronology is somehow unworthy, despite its importance in Scripture (cf. Luke 3:1–2). However, the argument is fallacious, and as will be seen, those who, unlike Ward, are specialists in Hebrew believe that the pattern actually strengthens the case for literal days.
Hebrew text
Dr Andrew Steinmann, Associate Professor of Theology and Hebrew at Concordia University, Illinois, has analyzed the pattern in Genesis in detail. Far from being an exception to the ‘yôm + numeric = literal day’ rule, he argued that the pattern gives strong support for 24-hour days in Genesis:
‘If אֶחָד is used as a cardinal number, what is the force of Genesis 1:5? [Quote in Hebrew and English].
‘The answer may lie in the use of the terms “night”, “day”, “evening”, and “morning”. Gen 1:5 begins the cycle of the day. With the creation of light it is now possible to have a cycle of light and darkness, which God labels “day” and “night”. Evening is the transition from light/day to darkness/night. Morning is the transition from darkness/night to light/day. Having an evening and a morning amounts to having one full day. Hence the following equation is what Gen 1:5 expresses: Evening + morning = one day
‘Therefore, by using a most unusual grammatical construction, Genesis 1 is defining what a day is. This is especially needed in this verse, since “day” is used in two senses in this one verse. Its first appearance means the time during a daily cycle that is illuminated by daylight (as opposed to night). The second used means something different, a time period that encompasses both the time of daylight and the time of darkness.
‘It would appear as if the text is very carefully crafted so an alert reader cannot read it as “the first day”. Instead, by omission of the article it must be read as “one day”, thereby defining a day as something akin to a twenty-four hour solar period with light and darkness and transitions between day and night, even though there is no sun until the fourth day. This would explain the lack of definite articles on the second through fifth days. Another evening and morning constituted “a” (not “the”) second day. Another evening and morning made a third day, and so forth. On the sixth day, the article finally appears. But even here, the grammar is strange, since there is no article on יום as would be expected. This would indicate that the sixth day was a regular solar day, but that it was also the culminating day of creation. Likewise, the seventh day is referred to as הַשְּׁבִיעִי (Gen 2:3), with lack of an article on יום. This, also, the author is implying, was a regular solar day. Yet it was a special day, because God had finished his work of creation.’8
Note that the last section on the seventh day refutes the common claim by progressive creationists such as Ross that the seventh day is still continuing.9 This claim has been discredited on other grounds too.10,11

Then Steinmann concluded, while also pointing out the fallacy of interpreting a word by its whole semantic range rather than the specific context,12 that the Hebrew clearly teaches 24-hour days.
יום, like the English word “day”, can take on a variety of meanings. It does not in and of itself mean a twenty-four hour day [ref]. This alone has made the length of days in Genesis 1 a controversial subject [ref]. However, the use of אֶחָד in Gen 1:5 and the following unique uses of the ordinal numbers on the other days demonstrates that the text itself indicates these as regular solar days.13


Creationists should be aware of the pattern of ordinals and cardinals, and the fact that there are definite articles on some days and not others. But far from it being a problem for creation, this pattern is a clincher for the 24-hour interpretation.


  1. Ross, H., Creation and Time, NavPress, Colorado Springs, p. 48, 1994. Return to text.
  2. For examples, see Sarfati, J., Shame on Charisma! 29 May 2003. Return to text.
  3. For thorough refutation, see Plimer Files. Return to text.
  4. Ward, R.S., Foundations in Genesis: Genesis 1–11 Today, New Melbourne Press, Melbourne, Australia, p. 44, 1999. Return to text.
  5. Pipa, J.A., From chaos to cosmos: a critique of the Framework Hypothesis, , 13 January 1998. Return to text.
  6. Kulikovsky, A., A critique of the literary framework view of the Days of Creation, Creation Research Society Quarterly 37(4):237–244, 2001. Return to text.
  7. Ward, Ref. 4, p. 45. Return to text.
  8. Steinmann, A., אֶחָד as an ordinal number and the meaning of Genesis 1:5, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) 45(4):577–584, 2002; quote from pp. 583–584; italics in original, bold added. Return to text.
  9. Ross, Ref. 1, pp. 48–49. Return to text.
  10. Is the seventh day an eternal day, Creation 21(3):44–45, 1999. Return to text.
  11. Kulikovsky, A.S., God’s rest in Hebrews 4:1–11 , Journal of Creation 13(2): 61–62, 1999. Return to text.
  12. New Testament scholar Dr Don Carson referred to the exegetical fallacy of ‘Unwarranted adoption of an expanded semantic field. The fallacy in this instance lies in the supposition that the meaning of the word in a specific context is much broader than the context itself allows and may bring with it the word’s entire semantic range.’ Exegetical Fallacies, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 2nd Ed., p. 60, 1996. Return to text.
  13. Steinmann, Ref. 8, p. 584, italics added. He has a footnote, ‘Whether or not one believes in the veracity of the Genesis account of creation in six solar days is another matter altogether. As the ETS accepts biblical inerrancy, we can presume that the author himself doesn’t intend to advocate error in Genesis. Rather, he is pointing out that it is more honest to say that Genesis teaches 24-hour days but is wrong, than pretending that it’s right but teaches something else. Return to text.

1 comment:

Anonymous whatsit said...

Run, Radar, run! The more YEC is falsified in your comments section, the more articles you have to paste.