There is a hermeneutical problem of Genesis 1: other approaches exist apart from a traditional one. According to one of the alternative approaches, Gen 1 summarizes an entire topical sequence of events that occurred after earth’s creation, which are discussed in volumes 2 to 31. Therefore, one of the main arguments for a summary interpretation is that Genesis 1 does not explain how the world came into being and become what it is in volume 2. Other arguments include the hermeneutic of a Hebrew text, including the interpretation of “day” and the following understanding of the Creation Week. At the same time, the traditional 24-hours day, young-Earth approach rejects the view that the world can be older than 6000 years, claiming that Noah’s flood was central to the creation.
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Overview of the Summary Interpretation of Genesis 1
It can be claimed that the summary approach to view Genesis 1 entered theological debates in the twentieth century. This interpretation, firstly discussed in 1924, states that the Earth is older than 6000 years old, uncovering Genesis 1 as a “literary framework view” (Kulikovsky, 2007, p. 215). Mostly, the argument built by the summary view remains over the hermeneutical problem of the Hebrew text.
The Hebrew word “day (yôm)” is used in Genesis 1 when describing how God created day and night, separating light from darkness, and when listing other creations (heaven, earth, lights, sea and living creatures). However, some scholars, especially representatives of a summary approach, claim that “day” cannot be taken literally as “today” in Genesis 1 (Weeks, para. 12). This view emphasizes that there was no day-by-day sequence even when listing God’s creation in Gen 1. Therefore, in the summary approach, “day” symbolizes sequence but without mentioning the periods between the events.
Moreover, in a summary interpretation, Creation Week is not considered as a historical sequence. According to Roberts (2021), “the days of creation should not be thought of as a chronological sequence of solar days. Instead, the seven-day structure is a literary device commonly used in the literature of the ancient Near East for expressing completeness or perfection” (p. 9). This is so because there were used ordinal, cardinal, and definite numbers in the Hebrew text when talking about the seven-day structure: scheme of literary framework interpretation. Therefore, Creation Week is treated not as a chronological sequence, which can be brought into action in seven days, but as events following each other within unknown periods, meaning topical sequence.
The summary interpretation does not discuss the time when the earth was created. Interestingly, the concept of creation “ex nihilo” (out of nothing) came into Greek philosophy in the 2nd century Christian literature (Roberts, 2021, p. 16). However, scholars claim that Gen 1.1–2.3 was written in ancient (pre-Greek) times, which means that “the concepts of creation ex nihilo and creation ex materia would have been alien to the biblical text” (Roberts, 2021, p. 16). This relationship supports a summary interpretation of Genesis 1: God could not create the world out of nothing, so the listed events represent a summary of the sequence that happened without mentioning the origins of the world.
Response to the Old-Earth View
The traditional 24-hours day view of Genesis 1 stands for the interpretation of a day described as a solar day, meaning that all creations took place in a week, meaning the Creation Week. Therefore, in the young-Earth literature, a summary view on the “day” is considered inaccurate, claiming that it is in people’s nature to think in “long times” (Doyle, 2015). According to the traditional approach, the earth is young and appeared approximately 6000 years ago. This interpretation rejects any signs that the Earth is older than 6000 years, claiming that it can be correlated with the catastrophic events that appeared during Noah’s global flood (Trollinger S. & Trollinger Jr, 2017, p. 220). The traditional view claims that during the catastrophe, debris was buried, and the surface was rearranged, which created an assumption that the Earth is not older than 6000 years.
There are no disagreements concerning the order of created events between the traditional and the summary approaches. However, opposite to the summary approach, the traditional one claims that “The early unformed state of the earth is described by 1:2 with reference to the earth of v. 1.”, meaning that in Genesis 1, the Earth is young and not in its final form (Poythress, 2017, p. 99). In other words, the young-Earth interpretation argues that Genesis 1 is not listing the summary of events, but mentioning the actual creation of days, nights, heaven, etc., but in their early form, which will be finalized in the following parts of Genesis. The main disagreement among these approaches lies in the understanding of “day,” which is a period of unknown length for a summary view and a time-limited to 24 hours.
as little as 3 hours
Noah’s flood is central to all the theories made concerning Genesis 1. Some approaches emphasize its significance (as the young-Earth), while others consider it a geological nonevent. According to the traditional view, it was Noah’s flood that created the conditions for the living (provided fossils, rearranged surface, etc.) (Hall, p. 21). However, there is no emphasis on Noah’s flood in a summary view, meaning that there are no debates about any changes in Biblia’s timelines.
This old-Earth view requires significant changes to Christian doctrine concerning the Creation Week. The Westminster Confession, which took place in 1646, provided the core doctrinal statement in article 5.1: “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for …, to create, or make of nothing, the world … in the space of six days” (Kulikovsky, 2007, p. 210). This contradicts a lot to the summary view because six days are taken as in a solar system, 24-hours.
In conclusion, it is necessary to state that there have been many theories concerning the interpretation of Genesis 1, the significance of Noah’s flood, understanding of “day,” and the Earth’s age. However, one of the approaches is a summary view, supporting the old-Earth theory, which states that the Creation Week is a literary framework when “day” stands for the historical periods within unknown time. This interpretation is very different from the traditional one, which stands for the young-Earth (6000 years) view, and considers a “day” as 24-hours. I found arguments of summary approach as more reliable, meaning the solving of hermeneutical problem by deconstructing the Hebrew text’s grammar and providing geological proof of old-Earth. Moreover, the fact that the concept “ex nihilo” came into Greek philosophy later than Genesis 1 was written convinces me that the Creation Week represents a summary of events. At the same time, I do not find the traditional view’s argument that people used to think in “long times” as an explanation of old-Earth interpretation reliable.
Doyle, Shaun. (2015). Evidence for young-earth creationism. Journal of Creation.
Hall, John. The Biblical Timeline-1. Eternity 1(16), 20.
Kulikovsky, Andrew. (2007). Creation and Genesis: A Historical Survey. Creation Research Society Quarterly.
Poythress, Vern S. (2017). Genesis 1:1 Is the First Event, Not a Summary. The Westminster Theological Journal 79, 97-121.
Roberts, John R. (2021). Genesis 1:1 is a Summary Statement. SIL International, 1-21.
Trollinger, S. L., & Trollinger Jr, W. V. (2021). The Bible and Creationism. In The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in America, edited by Paul C. Gutjahr, 216-228. Oxford University Press.
Weeks, Noel. The Hermeneutical Problem of Genesis 1–11, Themelios.