Dr. Jonathan Sarfati has a doctorate in physical chemistry and is an FM chessmaster as well. He is also a dedicated political science guy who is well-versed on political events and concerns here in the USA and also back Down Under. He is also an expert Bible brain as those of you who love the Bible can tell from the following article:
Published: 17 September 2013 (GMT+10)
As far as I can tell, he has won nearly all his debates with atheists. … I’m not the only one who thinks Craig has won nearly all his debates. For some atheists, it is rather maddening. … Craig is a skilled debater, an encyclopedia of facts and quotes, and a careful rhetorician. If you make a logical mistake, Craig knows exactly how to skewer you for it (and for this, I respect him). … This is especially embarrassing for atheists because Craig’s arguments and debates are easily available, and he uses the same arguments all the time. So it should be easy for atheists to prepare for a debate with Craig.1
Hostility to biblical timescale
Yes, I’ve seen a comparable statistic that says that over 50% of evangelical pastors think that the world is less than 10,000 years old. Now when you think about that, Kevin, that is just hugely embarrassing. That over half of our ministers really believe that the universe is only around 10,000 years old. This is just scientifically, it’s nonsense, and yet this is the view that the majority of our pastors hold. It’s really quite shocking when you think about it.3,4
Craig vs creation days
: Now similarly, so-called Young Earth Creationism takes the aim of Genesis 1 to communicate scientific information about creation.
Actually, Genesis is about history more than science (of course it touches upon, and is highly relevant to, aspects of anthropology, biology, geology, etc.). Normal (operational) science that puts men on the moon and cures diseases is based on repeatable observations in the present. Genesis claims to be an eyewitness account about the past, which can’t be repeated. In particular, Genesis is an account of world history from creation to the beginning of the Messianic people, Israel.
: Young Earth Creationism [takes] take the account to be accurate, not to be obsolete anymore.
: God created the world in 6 consecutive 24-hour days about 10,000 to 20,000 years ago.
: This interpretation takes the text in a prima facie way, that is to say, at face value. It takes the text literally in what it says, or at least as far as they can.
We would usually call this hermeneutic “plain”, “historical-grammatical” or “originalist” rather than “literal”, i.e. what the text meant (and conveyed) to the original readers.33 This means there is an objectively right way to interpret this.
Thou shalt understand, therefore, that the scripture hath but one sense, which is but the literal sense. And that literal sense is the root and ground of all, and the anchor that never faileth, whereunto if thou cleave, thou canst never err or go out of the way. And if thou leave the literal sense, thou canst not but go out of the way. Nevertheless, the scripture uses proverbs, similitudes, riddles, or allegories, as all other speeches do; but that which the proverb, similitude, riddle or allegory signifieth, is ever the literal sense, which thou must seek out diligently.10
: Even Young Earth Creationists are not totally literalists. For example, some aspects of the narrative are not taken literally, such as the creation of the sun on the fourth day in Genesis 1.
Very typically, Young Earthers will not embrace the view that there was plant life and life on earth prior to God’s creation of the sun. Rather, the creation of the sun on the fourth day is interpreted to mean something like the sun appeared on that day. That it came out from behind the thick cloud canopy that had been enveloping the earth.
This is not only fanciful science but bad exegesis of Hebrew. The word ‘asah means ‘make’ throughout Genesis 1, and is sometimes used interchangeably with ‘create’ (bara’)—e.g. in Genesis 1:26–27. It is pure desperation to apply a different meaning to the same word in the same grammatical construction in the same passage, just to fit in with atheistic evolutionary ideas like the big bang. If God had meant ‘appeared’, then He presumably would have used the Hebrew word for appear (ra’ah), as He did when He said that the dry land ‘appeared’ as the waters gathered in one place on Day 3 (Genesis 1:9).
Craig gets the next thing right:
Clearly, Genesis 1–3 are intended to be historical at some level. For example, Adam and Eve are presented as the first human couple, the origins of the human race. They are treated as historical individuals who actually lived. They’re not just symbols of mankind. They’re actual people who are connected to other people in Genesis like Abraham and his descendants by genealogies that linked Adam and Eve to indisputable historical persons. It’s clear that Adam and Eve are not just symbolic figures in this narrative. The author does think of them as real historical persons who have descendants that eventually lead to Abraham and the people of Israel.
Craig goes downhill from here from the previous section:
On the other hand, the Genesis narrative is also undoubtedly, I think, meant to be symbolic and metaphorical in certain respects. For example, the name Adam in Hebrew just means man. In the beginning, God created man. And Eve means the mother of all living.
: Adam and Eve are not just historical individuals like Janice and Jim. This is man and the mother of all living human beings. They represent humanity before God. They are symbolic, I think, and metaphorical for humanity.
In the creation story, as it continues in Genesis 2, we have clearly metaphorical or perhaps anthropomorphic descriptions of God. God is depicted in human terms. For example, God is depicted as walking in the garden and looking for Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are hiding from God and God calls out, “Where are you?” He’s looking for them in the garden.
: Or, again, when God creates man, it says that he fashions him out of the dust of the earth and breathes into his nostrils the breath of life. Clearly, this isn’t intended to mean that God literally bent down and performed CPR on Adam through his nose. Rather, this is using literary and metaphorical devices for describing his creation of humanity.
The verb employed here accords more with the “Yahweh” character of God; yatsar means to ‘mold’ or ‘form’. It is the word that specifically describes the activity of the potter (Je 18:2 ff). The idea to be emphasized is that with the particular care and personal attention that a potter gives to his task God gives tokens of His interest in man, His creature, by molding him as He does. No crude material notions of God need to be associated with this verb. Let them misunderstand who insist that they must! Nor can it justly be claimed that an author who previously spoke of this work as a ‘creating’ and ‘making’ must be so limited and circumscribed in point of style as to be utterly unable to describe such a work of the Almighty from any other point of view and say He ‘formed’. Such an author must have an exceedingly cramped and wooden style. …
But more, a far more prominent distinguishing mark characterizes man’s creation: God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” A personal, vitalizing act of the Creator imparts life to man—an honour bestowed upon none of the lesser creatures. This breathing on God’s part must, as Keil rightly reminds us, be understood [theoprepōs], i.e. in a manner befitting God. Nor can we for a moment hold that air or human breath was what God breathed into man’s nostrils. It was His own vital breath. …. Much as we may be inclined to claim that the distinctive element in man’s creation is the “breath of life” breathed into his nostrils, this is a supposition that cannot be maintained. For the expression involved, nishmath chayyîm, is practically the same as that used in 7:22 with reference to all life that perished in the flood, the only exception being that the phrase is altered to “the breath of the spirit of life” (nishmath rûch chayyîm). Not this breath itself but the manner of its impartation indicates man’s dignity.20
In fact, the whole narrative in Genesis 1 is an incredibly carefully crafted piece of Hebrew literature. It really is unique. There is nothing like this in Hebrew literature elsewhere. Scholars generally agreed that it is not poetry. It’s not a Hebrew poem, nor is it a hymn exactly. Though, it seems to have strophe or verses. But it’s not just straight forward prose either.
This chapter is a highly stylized piece of writing that is constructed with certain parallels running all through it, for example “And God said,” “And God made,” “And it was so.” You find this structure repeated over and over again through the chapter. It is a very carefully stylistically constructed passage that exhibits an enormous amount of literary polish.
The fact is that yom exhibits the same sort of latitude that the English word ‘day’ does. It can be used to describe a 24-hour period of time, but it can be used more broadly as well. Like when we say, “In Lincoln’s day, there were no automobiles yet” Obviously there, you are not referring to a 24-hour period. Yom, in Hebrew, exhibits exactly that same sort of latitude.
Also, the very phrase that is used in Genesis 1 for the first day, yom ehad or “day one”, is also used elsewhere in scripture in a nonliteral sense.
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. Hence the following equation is what Gen 1:5 expresses:
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 with light and darkness and transitions between day and night, even though there is no sun until the fourth day.21,22
Zechariah 14:7 to refer to the day of the Lord. Zechariah 14:7 refers to the day of the Lord that is to say, God’s judgment upon Israel which is clearly not meant to be just a 24-hour period of time. So the language in Genesis 1 should not be pressed to indicate literal 24-hour days.For example, this phrase is used in
The ‘day’ in question is surely the same as that mentioned in verses 1, 4, and 6, and it is clear from verse 5 that on ‘that day’ the Lord will come. In other words, it describes a specific time at which a space-time event occurs in the future. How can the coming of the Lord take a long period of time? It is an event: at one moment on that day, He will be absent—in the next moment He will have returned. Therefore the ‘unique day’ in Zechariah 14:7 does indeed refer to a literal 24-hour day.23
Exodus 20:9–11, the author is reflecting back on the Genesis narrative.On behalf of those who do interpret it literally, I think one of the best proof texts for interpreting yom as literal in Genesis 1 actually isn’t in the book of Genesis. It’s in the book of Exodus. If you look at
He is looking back on this seven day creation week and reflecting on it. In Exodus 20:9–11 he says this:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God. In it, you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days, the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
Here the passage says that in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them. Defenders of the literal interpretation will say that this shows that Genesis 1 is intended to refer to a literal week of six consecutive 24-hour days.
But I think that this interpretation may be pressing the passage in Exodus a little too hard. What the Exodus passage is talking about clearly is the pattern that is set down in Genesis, namely, the pattern of God’s laboring for six days creating the world and then resting on the seventh day.
That pattern is the same that Israel should observe in its literal work week. Israel should work for six literal days and then rest on the seventh day. But that doesn’t mean to say that because the pattern is the same, that therefore, the periods of time or the days described in Genesis 1 are therefore exactly the same length as our ordinary calendar days. Look at how the Sabbath commandment is repeated in Exodus 31: [18:45] 12–17. …
The clearest of all [evidences for 24-hour Creation days] is the Fourth Commandment, which, in both Exodus 20:8–11 and 31:17, has the causal explanation ‘For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the Earth … but he rested on the seventh day’. The word ‘for’ (Hebrew kî , also having the sense ‘because’) at the beginning of this expression is a causal explanation, showing that the Creation Week is the very basis of the working week. In these passages, it’s explicit that the Creation Days were the same as those of the human work week. There is no point even trying to understand the Bible if a word in the same passage and same grammatical context can switch meanings, without any hint in the text itself.
Notice that in this passage, it refers to the seventh day as the day of God’s Sabbath rest. It says, “On the seventh day, God ceased from labor and was refreshed by this day.” But when you read Genesis 1, the seventh day is clearly not a 24-hour period of time. It, unlike the other days, does not come to an end with evening and morning.
The words ‘one day’ are used when day is first instituted, to denote that one day is made up of twenty-four hours. Hence, by mentioning ‘one’, the measure of a natural day is fixed. Another reason may be to signify that a day is completed by the return of the sun to the point from which it commenced its course. And yet another, because at the completion of a week of seven days, the first day returns which is one with the eighth day. The three reasons assigned above are those given by Basil (Hom.  in Hexaem).24
Likewise, the seventh day is referred to as Gen 2:3), with lack of an article on [yôm]. This, also, the author is implying, was a Yet it was a special day, because God had finished his work of creation. [hashəvî’î] (25
To say the least, this places a great deal of theological weight on a very narrow and thin exegetical bridge! Is it not more concordant with the patent sense of the context of Genesis 2 (and Exodus 20) to infer that because the Sabbath differed in quality (though not—from anything we can learn out of the text itself—in quantity), a slightly different concluding formula was appended to indicate a qualitative difference (six days involved work; one day involved rest)? The formula employed to show the termination of that first sabbath: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made” (Gen. 2:2) seems just as definite as that of “and the evening and the morning were the first day.”26
God is still in the day of his Sabbath rest. God is still in the period of no longer being active in creating new things.
If someone says on Monday that he rested on Saturday and is still resting, it in no way implies that Saturday lasted until Monday.27
If the seventh day, though it is referred to as a day and is the model for Israel’s literal Sabbath day, isn’t to be taken literally as we know, then why should the other days also be taken literally as 24-hour periods of time?
Sometimes those who defend the literal interpretation of six consecutive 24-hour days will point out that when an ordinal number is used with the word yom as in second day, third day, and fourth day, then it always refers to a literal 24-hour day. When you use an ordinal number like second, third, fourth, fifth with yom, then it’s always referring to a literal 24-hour day. … They will say that the use of the ordinal number with yom indicates that it’s a 24-hour period of time. However, I don’t find this to be a convincing argument at all.
First of all, there is no grammatical rule in Hebrew that says that yom followed by an ordinal number has to refer to a 24-hour period of time. Even if it were the case that nowhere else in Hebrew literature that we have extant do we find yom followed by an ordinal number not referring to a 24-hour day, that could just be an accident of the Hebrew literature that happens to have survived.
Long-agers Bradley and Olsen claim that all exegetical bets such as the number/day connection are off, because Creation is the one exception to the rule:
There is no other place in the Old Testament where the intent is to describe events that involve multiple and/or sequential, indefinite periods of time. If the intent of Genesis 1 is to describe creation as occurring in six, indefinite time periods, it is a unique Old Testament event being recorded. Other descriptions where yôm refers to an indefinite time period are all for a single time period. Thus, the absence of the use of yamîm for other than regular days and the use of ordinals only before regular days elsewhere in the Old Testament cannot be given an unequivocal exegetical significance in view of the uniqueness of the events being described in Genesis 1 (i.e, sequential, indefinite time periods).28
This is classic question-begging—they assume that the authors’ intent was to describe sequential indefinite periods of time, yet this is what needs to be demonstrated. And claims of exceptions require exceptionally strong reasoning! Secondly, as we have pointed out, we are perfectly aware that there are some occasions where yôm can mean an indefinite period of time. This is so only when it is modified by a preposition such as be (e.g. as we have shown with Genesis 2:4 [see below]). However, none of the instances in Genesis 1 are modified in this way.
Hosea 6:2. In Hosea 6:2, it says, “He will revive us after two days. He will raise us up on the third day that we may live before him.” Here the days are not meant to be 24-hour periods of time. It is talking about God’s judgment upon Israel. He’s rent Israel. He has judged Israel. But on the third day, he will raise us up.Secondly, in any case, the claim is simply false. It is false. We do have passages where yom is used with an ordinal number to refer to a non-literal day. One such passage would be
The third day is symbolic of the day of God’s deliverance and healing and restoration of Israel after it’s having been wounded and rent by the Lord’s judgment. It’s simply false that yom used with an ordinal number always refers to a 24-hour period of time. InHosea 6:2, it is clearly not referring to a literal 24-hour period of time.
The old-Earth creationist Alan Hayward, whom Ross praises for ‘sound theology’ despite being a unitarian,29 so denying the Deity of Christ as is clearly taught in the New Testament (e.g. John 1:1–14, 5:18; Titus 2:13), claimed that this passage “is at least one exception that shatters the so-called rule.”30 Not surprisingly, Ross accepts and repeats this argument (C&T:47).
However, this verse is set in a very specific sort of poetic synonymous parallelism. It is a common Semitic device, which takes the form X//X+1, i.e. one number followed by the next one, but where the numbers are not meant to be taken literally because they refer to the same thing in different ways.31 Other OT examples that illustrate the synonymity are:
Hosea 6:2 is likewise this specific Semitic figure of speech, so must be interpreted accordingly. So the use of ‘two days’ and ‘three days’ are not intended to give literal numbers, but to communicate that the restoration of Israel mentioned in the previous verse will happen quickly and surely. This applies regardless of eschatological views about when this takes place.
Therefore, these instances must refer to normal days, or maybe even shorter periods, as opposed to long periods, otherwise the device would lose its meaning, i.e. the restoration would not be quick and sure if the days were long periods of time.
So Hayward and Ross are wrong to use this verse with a special grammatical structure to try to overturn the hundreds of crystal-clear examples of yôm used with a number.
[in the following week’s lecture]: We saw in particular that it would be unwarranted to think that the word yom or day has to refer to a literal day. For example, in Genesis Chapter two and verse four, you have the word yom used in a clearly metaphorical way. In Genesis two-four, it says “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”
Now in this passage, Genesis two-four, it refers to the entire creation week as the day in which the Lord made the heavens and the earth. Even in the very creation account itself we have the word yom used in a metaphorical sense to describe the entire creation week not just a 24-hour period of time.
In any case, showing that the word yom means a 24-hour day really doesn’t begin to address the question of whether or not a 24-hour day might be used as a metaphor for something else.
In Genesis 2:4 yôm is part of what I can call a grammatically bound construction. To communicate my point, I will provide a literal translation of 2:4: “in-the-day-of-making by the Lord God earth and heaven.” The five hyphenated words in this translation comprise this compound grammatical relationship. These five words involve three closely related words in the Hebrew text: an inseparable preposition (“in,” bə) immediately attached to “day” (yôm) a construct, singular noun, and an infinitive construct (“making,” ‘āśôt). Elsewhere in the Bible, this compound bə yôm is often a Hebrew idiom for “when”, thus the verse means, “when the Lord God made the earth and heaven.32
Furthermore, as pointed out in RC:
Even if it were true that the word yom means 24-hour period of time, that doesn’t even begin to address the literary question of whether or not a 24-hour day might not be used as a literary metaphor for something else. I don’t find the arguments on behalf of the literal interpretation compelling. …
I want you to notice something very peculiar when it comes to the third day. If you have your Bible, take a look at Genesis chapter 1, verses 11 and 12. This is one of the most interesting features of this narrative.
Genesis chapter 1, verses 11 and 12 says, “Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth, bearing fruit after their kind with their seed in them,’ and it was so.” The earth brought forth vegetation and fruit trees, etc., etc.
Notice it doesn’t simply say here, “And God said, ‘Let there be fruit trees and vegetation,’ and it was so,” a sort of miraculous creatio ex nihilo. No. What it says is, let the earth bring forth vegetation, and fruit trees bearing seed after their kind, and bearing fruit after their kind. Then it says the earth brought these things forth.
We all know how long it takes, for example, for an apple tree to grow up from a little shoot, become a sapling, then grow into a big tree and blossom and put forth flowers and then put out apples, finally.
“Let the earth bring forth grass.” In a moment earth began by germination to obey the laws of the Creator, completed every stage of growth, and brought germs to perfection. …
At this command every copse was thickly planted; all the trees, fir, cedar, cypress, pine, rose to their greatest height, the shrubs were straightway clothed with thick foliage. The plants called crown-plants, roses, myrtles, laurels, did not exist; in one moment they came into being, each one with its distinctive peculiarities. Most marked differences separated them from other plants, and each one was distinguished by a character of its own. …
“Let the earth bring forth.” This short command was in a moment a vast nature, an elaborate system. Swifter than thought it produced the countless qualities of plants. It is this command which, still at this day, is imposed on the earth, and in the course of each year displays all the strength of its power to produce herbs, seeds and trees. Like tops, which after the first impulse, continue their evolutions, turning upon themselves when once fixed in their centre; thus nature, receiving the impulse of this first command, follows without interruption the course of ages, until the consummation of all things.34
Finally, notice also the sixth day. This is the day that God creates Adam and Eve. When you read chapter 2 of Genesis, it makes it plausible that the author didn’t intend that sixth day to be just a 24-hour period of time. He goes on in chapter two to describe Adam’s activity on this day prior to Eve’s creation, naming all of the animals, for example.
Hundreds and thousands of animals that must have been known to the ancient Israelites, and in order to get acquainted with their habits, to realize that none of them is fit for him as a mate, that he is alone and unique in creation, and then having him fall asleep, and Eve finally being created, seems to envision a longer period of time.
First, Genesis 2:19 clearly states that God brought the animals to Adam. So there was no need to expend time finding and capturing them.
Second, as explained earlier, the number of kinds was much smaller than the number of today’s species.
Third, the list of animals that Adam had to name was far from exhaustive. Scripture explicitly states that Adam named all the ‘Genesis 2:20 omits ‘creeping things’ (remes, reptile), and the ‘beasts of the field’ are a subset of the ‘beasts of the earth’ of Genesis 1:24.’ (behemāh), the ‘ ’ (‘oph hashāmayim) and all the ‘ ’ (chayyat hassādeh). There is no indication that Adam named the fish in the sea or any other marine organisms, nor did he name any of the insects or arachnids. So, like the Ark’s obligate passengers (see comments on Genesis 7), this involved only a small fraction of all the kinds of animals. Furthermore, the animals Adam had to name were even fewer—
When at last Eve is presented to Adam in chapter 2, verse 23, what does he say? “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The word there, “at last,” is a word that connotes a period of time or a period of waiting.
For example, it’s the same word that’s used in the story of Jacob with Leah and Rachel, where Jacob “at last” is able to leave Laban after 14 years of working to win Leah and Rachel as his wives. Also, when Jacob finally sees his son, Joseph, and is ready to depart this life and to die, the same word is used. “At last” he is ready.
This phrase “at last” is used in Genesis elsewhere to indicate a long time of waiting. That again suggests that the author didn’t see what he said in Genesis 1 as being a description of a 24-hour period. For these and other various reasons, I think that one can legitimately approach Genesis one-three with greater flexibility than what the literal interpretation would imply. If this is right, that would mean that the creation account is not meant to be transpiring in 6 consecutive 24-hour days. …
Happa’am ( ‘p’ is doubled. Although Ross claims this is ‘usually translated as “now at length”‘, this is simply not supported by major translations such as the KJV, NKJV, NIV or NASB. Nor is it supported by other parts of the Bible. Rather, the lexicons show that while pa’am has a variety of meanings, and is most often translated ‘time’, with the definite article it means ‘this time’.37 This is illustrated by passages Ross conveniently omits:) is merely pa’am ( ) with the definite article added, so the
There is no basis for saying that this word carries with it the idea of a long period of time in Genesis 2.
Historically, it’s interesting to note that many of the church fathers and the rabbis down through history did not take Genesis 1 to refer to literal 24-hour days. People like Augustine and Origen and Justin Martyr, for example, and others of the church fathers took these to be not 24-hour periods of time.
But the interesting feature of this patristic view is that the equation of days and millennia was not applied to the creation week but rather to subsequent history. They did not believe that the creation had taken place over six millennia but that the totality of human history would occupy six thousand years, a millennium of history for each of the six days of creation.38
Now we have understood that the expression used among these words, “ [ ”Isaiah 65:22] obscurely predicts a thousand years. For as Adam was told that in the day he ate of the tree he would die, we know that he did not complete a thousand years. We have perceived, moreover, that the expression, “The day of the Lord is as a thousand years,” is connected with this subject. And further, there was a certain man with us, whose name was John, one of the apostles of Christ, who prophesied, by a revelation that was made to him, that those who believed in our Christ would dwell a thousand years in Jerusalem; and that thereafter the general, and, in short, the eternal resurrection and judgment of all men would likewise take place. Just as our Lord also said, ‘[ ’ Luke 20:35f.] 39
When the infinitive absolute precedes a finite verb of the same stem (as is the case here), it strengthens or intensifies the verbal idea by emphasizing “either the certainty (especially in the case of threats) or the forcibleness and completeness of an occurrence.” In other words, the emphasis is on the certainty of their death rather than its precise timing or chronology. This is demonstrated in 1 Kings 2:37–46: Shimei could not possibly have been executed “on the day” he exited his house since he was not killed until after he had travelled from Jerusalem to Gath, located his missing slaves, and travelled back to Jerusalem.42