Current Theories and the Fourth Commandment
Wiseman (P.J.)
Source: Wiseman (P.J.) - Creation Revealed In Six Days: The evidence of Scripture confirmed by Archaeology
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  1. It is significant that the only references to the six days of work and one of ‘rest’ in connection with the narrative of creation are those relating to the Fourth Commandment. In no other connection in the Bible are the six days mentioned. The Fourth Commandment requires that mankind should work for six days and rest on the seventh, because God did something for six days and ceased doing it on the seventh. It is very necessary therefore that we ascertain what God did on the six days and why He ceased on the seventh day.
  2. The Fourth Commandment says: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy, six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work: but the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it” (Exodus 20:8-11).
    The impression conveyed by this passage is of ordinary days, certainly the six days’ work and one day’s rest of the Israelites refer to normal days. Why is it then that no system of interpretation reads both the six days and the seventh day, that is both the whole of the creation narrative and the whole of the Fourth Commandment consistently?
  3. There can be no doubt whatever about the answer. A simple but serious misinterpretation has led to an assumption that both Genesis and the Fourth Commandment were intended to teach that God CREATED the heaven and the earth and all plant, marine and animal life, as well as man, in six ‘days’ of some sort. Because of this false supposition some reject the ‘days’ of whatever length (and the narrative); others deny either the literalness of the six, or else that of the seventh day; others lengthen either the sixth or the seventh day to thousands or millions of years. Even the group of expositors who suggest that someone saw creation in a vision usually explain the six days literally, but interpret the ‘rest’ of the seventh day as a long period of unknown duration. At the same time all interpret the six days of work and one of rest which the Israelites were to observe as literal days. I suggest that every time the days are mentioned in both these passages they are intended to be taken literally as ordinary days.
  4. Because of the incorrect assumption that what God did on the six days was to CREATE all life and man, various interpretations have been adopted in an attempt to harmonize the Genesis narrative and the Fourth Commandment with scientific ideas concerning the origin of the heavens and the earth. These may be summarized as follows:
    • 1. The geologic ‘day’ theory.
    • 2. The six days re-recreation theory.
    • 3. The vision theory.
    • 4. The antedate or artificial week theory.
    • 5. The myth or legend theory.
  5. We are all liable to identify our own particular interpretation of the meaning of a Bible statement with the Bible statement itself. Consequently, when our own special theory as to its interpretation is doubted, we are sometimes apt to assume that the doubter is challenging not merely our interpretation but also the accuracy of the Bible narrative. For reasons which I hope to explain later, I believe that the days in both the narrative of creation and the Fourth Commandment are literal. But ever since I have considered these passages in the light of what is said about them in the rest of the Bible, and of what is known of literary methods prevailing in ancient times, none of the theories mentioned above have appeared to be satisfactory.
  6. Each of these theories may be subjected to the following tests:
    • 1. All the statements in the Genesis narrative?
    • 2. All the statements in the Fourth Commandment?
    • 3. All the facts (not theories) of science?
    Perhaps the most popular is:
The Geologic Age Theory
  1. This theory is that each ‘day’ is a long geologic age. Sir William Dawson was one of the leading exponents of this interpretation of the meaning of the word ‘day’ in Genesis. He writes in his Origin of the World:
    • “It would, I have begun to suspect, square better with the ascertained facts, and be at least equally in accordance with Scripture, to reverse the process, and argue that because God’s working days were immensely protracted periods, his Sabbath also must be an immensely protracted period. The reason attached to the law of the Sabbath seems to be simply a reason of proportion: the objection to which I refer is an objection palpably founded on considerations of proportion, and certainly were the reason to be divested of proportion, it would be divested also of its distinctive character as a reason. Were it as follows, it could not be at all understood: ‘Six days shalt thou labor, etc.; but on the seventh day shalt thou do no labour, etc.; for in six immensely protracted periods of several thousand years each did the Lord make the heavens and the earth, etc.; and then rested during a brief day of twenty-four hours; therefore the Lord blessed the brief day of twenty-four hours and hallowed it.’ This, I repeat, would not be reason. All, however, that seems necessary to the integrity of the reason, in its character as such, is that the proportion of six parts to seven should be maintained” (p137).
    • “In reviewing the somewhat lengthy train of reasoning into which the term ‘day’ has led us, it appears that from internal evidence alone it can be rendered probable that the day of creation is neither the natural nor the civil day. It also appears that the objections urged against the doctrine of day-periods are of no weight when properly scrutinized, and that it harmonizes with the progressive nature of the work, the evidence of geology, and the cosmological notions of ancient nations. I do not suppose that this position has been incontrovertibly established; but I believe that every serious difficulty has been removed from its acceptance; and with this, for the present, I remain satisfied. Every step of our subsequent progress will afford new criteria of its truth or fallacy.
    • “One further question of some interest is - What, according to the theory of long creative days and the testimony of geology would be the length and precise cosmical nature of these days? With regard to the first part of the question, we do not know that actual value of our geological ages in time; but it is probable that each great creative aeon may have extended through millions of years. As to the nature of the days, this may have been determined by direct volitions of the Creator, or indirectly by some of those great astronomical cycles which arise from the varying eccentricity of the earth’s orbit, or the diminution of the velocity of its rotation, or by its gradual cooling” (p 153).
  2. As this explanation was admittedly made in order to harmonize the narrative of creation with the facts of science, we may look at its scientific implications first.
  3. If the ‘days’ are interpreted as geologic periods of unknown length, then the explanation does what those who adopt it desire to do: it enables Genesis to be reconciled with science in regard to the slow and gradual formation of the heavens and the earth, and of the appearance of life on it. As to the time occupied by these geologic days Sir William Dawson in his Meeting Place of Geology and History (p. 18) says: “Man is of recent introduction on the earth. For millions of years the slow process of world-making has been going on with reference to the physical structure and to the lower grades of living creatures.”
  4. But is this explanation in general agreement with science? Sir William thinks that he can relate the last three geologic ages with the last three ‘days’ of Genesis. Even if it is conceded that this explanation makes Genesis agree with science, does it agree with the Bible? Can we interpret either the Genesis narrative or the Fourth Commandment consistently so as to give the word ‘day’ the significance of an untold number of millions of years? We may well believe that the geologic formation of the earth occupied a very long period of time, but is it not difficult to interpret the seventh day as lasting for an equivalently long period of millions of years? And if all the days are to be interpreted as millions of years then the Fourth Commandment is difficult to interpret.
  5. In fairness to the advocates of this theory, it must be emphasized that it was not invented in recent times simply in order to harmonize Scripture with science. The interpretation is at least 1600 years old. Before Christian thought was pressed by science to allocate a very long time to the geologic formation of the earth, men felt that there was something wrong with an interpretation of Genesis which involved the creation of all things within a period of 144 hours. Professor Dickie in The Organism of Christian Truth, p. 121, says, “The theory was widely held that the six days of creation meant six extended periods of time. It commended itself among others to Augustine . . . but neither Augustine nor modern harmonizers of Genesis and science get the theory, whether true or false, from Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible even to suggest it. On the contrary it has always been read into the Bible from without, on scientific or quasi-scientific grounds.”
  6. Is this theory able to give a satisfactory explanation of the seventh day on which God ceased from His work? If the six ‘days’ are intended to be read as six long geologic periods extending to millions of years, how long a period are we to assign to the seventh day which God sanctified or set apart by ceasing from His work? No one doubts that the six days’ work and the seventh day’s rest which the Israelites were enjoined to observe were just ordinary days. Why then should we assume that the seventh day is used for a period amounting to thousands of years? and in what sense is the present age which has continued since creation hallowed or sanctified? and can we say that God has rested or ceased from creation every since?
  7. On the use of this word ‘day’ that great Hebraist, Dr. Ginsburg, wrote,
    • “There is nothing in the first chapter of Genesis to justify the spiritualisation of the expression ‘day’ On the contrary, the definition given in verse 5 of the word in question imperatively demands that ‘yom’ should be understood in the same sense as we understand the word ‘day’ in common parlance, i.e. as a natural day.
    • “The institution of the sabbath on the seventh day, which if understood as an indefinite period would have no meaning for man, and the constant usage of this expression in Scripture to denote an ordinary day, with the few exceptions of poetical or oratorical diction, and the literal meaning which all commentators and Bible readers have assigned to it till within the last century, are additional proofs that the primitive record purports to intimate by the expression ‘yom’ a natural day.
    • “The arguments generally produced by those who ascribe to the word ‘day’ here an unlimited duration of time are untenable. They say (1) that the word ‘day’ is not to be taken here in its literal meaning is evident from chapter 2:4 ‘for the portion of time spoken of in the first chapter of Genesis as six days is spoken of in the second chapter as one day’ (Hugh Miller). But the word used in the hexaemeron is the simple noun, whereas in chapter 2:4 it is a compound of ‘the day of’ with the preposition ‘in’, which, according to the genus of the Hebrew language, makes it an adverb, and must be translated, ‘when’, ‘at the time’, ‘after’. They say (2) that the Psalm of Moses 60:4 is decisive for the spiritual meaning. But the reference to that Psalm is inapposite; for the matter here in question is not how God regards the days of creation, but how man ought to regard them.”
  8. But the greatest defect of this theory is that it does not deal with the six ‘evenings and mornings’; it either ignores or fails to make any reasonable interpretation of them. Was each of them an indefinitely long night in which there was no light? Was the geologic night as long or almost as long as the geologic ‘day’? The words ‘evening and morning’ seem very unnatural to describe such a geologic night. Was there in any sense an evening and morning to that kind of day, and in what sense has there been an hallowing of the sabbath day which is alleged to have lasted from creation till now?
  9. A variation of the geologic age interpretation should be mentioned - it is that put forward by Mr. Hugh Capron in his Conflict of Truth. He says that on each of the six ordinary days God issued a commandment, or pronounced the laws upon which the production of phenomena depends, that just as a man might say “I will build a house” or “I will make a garden” the resolution takes but a moment, but its accomplishment may take much time. While Mr. Capron has rightly stressed the reiterated statement that Genesis purports to be an account of what God said, he also fails to deal with the ‘evenings and mornings’. While an ‘evening and morning’ is a most natural phrase to separate one day from the next, Mr. Capron’s interpretation does not convince that an ‘evening and morning’ is an appropriate method of dividing periods which may have occupied millions of years.
The Six Days Re-Creation Theory
  1. The second theory - that of six days re-creation - puts forward the idea that there have been two quite distinct creations and that these were separated by an unknown period lasting possibly millions of years. It interprets the first chapter of Genesis thus; the first sentence “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” is presumed to be a completed account, or at least all we are told about the first or original creation of the heaven and earth. The theory assumes that plant, animal and a human life were included in that creation, notwithstanding that no mention is made of the creation of life until later in the chapter.
  2. The second verse is said to leave room for, or to assume that a catastrophe came upon the earth affecting the sun and moon, resulting in the earth becoming ‘darkness and waters’, chaos and ruin, involving the destruction of all plant, animal and human life.
  3. The remaining verses (3-31) are said to refer to the six literal days in which God re-created the earth; the light is made to appear again, the waters which had covered the earth are made to recede so that dry land appeared and all plant, animal and human life are re-created - all in six ordinary days of twenty-four hours each. This theory then assumes that chapter 2:1-4 refers only to the second or re-creation period.
  4. Mr. G. H. Pember who was one of the leading exponents of this view, states it thus in his Earth’s Earliest Ages:
    • “God created the heavens and the earth perfect and beautiful in their beginning and that at some subsequent period, how remote we cannot tell, the earth had passed into a state of utter desolation, and was void of all life. Not merely had its fruitful lilacs become a wilderness, and all its cities been broken down; but the very light of its sun had been withdrawn; all the moisture of its atmosphere had sunk upon its surface; and the vast deep, to which God has set bounds that are never transgressed save when wrath has gone forth from Him, had burst those limits; so that the ruined planet, covered above its very mountain tops with the black floods of destruction, was rolling through space in a horror of great darkness. But what could have occasioned so terrific a catastrophe? Wherefore had God thus destroyed the work of His hands? If we may draw any inference from the history of our own race, sin must have been the cause of this hideous ruin; sin, too, which would seem to have been patiently borne with through long ages, until at length its cry increased to Heaven, and brought down utter destruction. For, as the fossil remains show, not only were disease and death inseparable companions of sin then prevalent among the living creatures of the earth, but even ferocity and slaughter. And the fact proves that these remains have nothing to do with our world; since the Bible declares that all things made by God during the Six Days were very good, and that no evil was in them till Adam sinned”. (p. 33)
    • “It is clear that the second verse of Genesis describes the earth as a ruin; but there is no hint of the time which elapsed between creation and this ruin. Age after age may have rolled away, and it was probably during their course that the strata of the earth’s crust were gradually developed. Hence we see that geological attacks upon the Scriptures are altogether wide of the mark, are a mere beating of the air. There is room for any length of time between the first and second verses of the Bible. And again; since we have no inspired account of the geological formations, we are at liberty to believe that they were developed just in the order in which we find them. The whole process took place in preadamite times, in connection, perhaps, with another race of beings, and, consequently, does not at present concern us”. (p. 28)
    • “We must now return to the ruined earth, the condition of which we can only conjecture from what we are told of the six days of restoration. Violent convulsions must have taken place upon it, for it was inundated with the ocean waters: its sun had been extinguished: the stars were no longer seen above it: its clouds and atmosphere, having no attractive force to keep them in suspension, had descended in moisture upon its surface: there was not a living being to be found in the whole planet”. (p. 81)
    • “This ‘light’ of the first day must be carefully distinguished from the ‘light holders’ of the fourth, since the word used conveys in itself no idea of concentration or locality. Nevertheless the light must have been confined to one side of the planet, for we are told that God at once divided between the light and the darkness, and that the alternation of day and night immediately commenced”. (p. 84)
    • “In twenty-four hours the firmament was completed, and then the voice of the Lord was again heard, and in quick response the whole planet resounded with the roar of rushing floods as they hastened from the dry land into the receptacles prepared for them, and revealed the mountains and valleys of the earth”. (p. 89)
    • “Then follows the institution of the Sabbath on the seventh day: and the fact of its introduction in this connection is sufficient to show that it was no special ordinance for the Israelite, but a law of God for all the dwellers upon earth from the days of Adam till time shall cease”. (p. 97)
  5. Here again it is obvious that this interpretation has been adopted because of the impossibility of compressing the geologic formation of the earth into a period of six ordinary days1. This difficulty is obviated by stating, what is doubtless true, that the period occupied by the events of verse 2 may be a vast number of millions of years. But it is equally obvious that the theory creates more difficulties than it attempts to solve2. While it provides the long periods required by geology, and also adheres to the Scripture narrative as to the literalness of the six days, it gives no satisfactory reason for the ‘evenings and the mornings’. Notwithstanding Pember’s insistence that those who adopt the geologic ages theory fail to explain these ‘evenings and mornings’, it is very significant that he himself fails to do so. Are we to suppose that God re-created the earth and all life upon it in six ordinary days, and then only during the daylight hours of those six days?
  6. It is submitted that Scripture gives us no information whatever about these alleged two quite distinct and complete creations separated from each other by millions of years. And science for its part has no knowledge of the alleged universal destruction of all marine, animal and human life in one catastrophe; nor is it aware of an infinitely long period of perhaps millions of years when, after all forms of life had existed on the earth, there was left no kind of life whatever on it. Isaiah 45:18 is sometimes quoted as evidence that the second verse in Genesis refers to a catastrophic ruin which had overwhelmed the earth and all life on it. Does the statement “He created it not in vain, He formed it to be inhabited” imply any such thing? Is not this verse in entire agreement with Genesis 1:2, that the formlessness and emptiness does not express God’s final purpose for the world? It must be borne in mind that the second verse in Genesis refers to a time when the Spirit of God was working on the earth.
  7. Those who adopt this re-creation theory say that subsequent to the second verse (except presumably to the sun and the moon in verses 14-18) the whole passage relates to the earth. It is said that it is the earth only, not the heavens, which were re-created in the six days. Seeing that they assume the Fourth Commandment refers to the six days as being the time occupied by God in creation, they appear to have overlooked the fact that according to this assumption the Fourth Commandment says that God did something relating not only to the earth, but also the heavens during the six days.
The Vision Theory
  1. Still another explanation- the vision theory- has been adopted to explain the ‘days’. It is said that the narrator had visions of each stage of the creation on each of the six days. This explanation at least has the merit that it does not involve the creation or re-creation of all things in 144 hours or use the word ‘day’ to indicate a long geological period. But can it be sustained? I think not in its present form, because one significant fact about this first narrative is that all the marks of a vision are absent. We do not read “I beheld”, “I saw”, etc. On the contrary, we read that “God saw”. The difference between a normal narrative and a vision may be seen when we compare this record with such a passage as Jeremiah 4:23-24, which has been used in order to illustrate verse 2, “I beheld the earth, and, lo, it was without form and void; and the heavens, and they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and, lo, they trembled, and all the hills moved lightly. I beheld and, lo, there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens were fled.”
  2. It is also said that the earlier chapters of the Bible are like the last chapters. They are, but with this important difference: the one is a narrative, the other a vision. A comparison shows the difference of style. In the Book of Revelation we read, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away . . . and I heard a voice out of heaven saying . . .” Such phrases as “I turned to see”, “after this I looked and lo”; the constantly repeated “I saw” are entirely absent from the Genesis account. Dr. S. R. Driver (Genesis, p. 23) stated, “The narrative contains no indication of its being the relation of a vision (which in other cases is regularly noted, e.g. Amos 7-9; Isa. 6; Ezek 1, etc.); it purports to describe not appearances (‘And I saw and behold . . .’), but facts (‘Let the earth . . . and it was so’), and to substitute one for the other is consequently illegitimate.” I agree entirely with his statement that “it purports to describe not appearance but facts”.
  3. A still less satisfactory way of dealing with the narrative is to say that it must be read as poetry. It is sufficient to cite Dr. Ginsburg’s comment on this, “there is in this chapter none of the peculiarities of Hebrew poetry”. It is prose, not poetry, and purports to be an account of what ‘God said’.
The Antedate or Artificial Week Theory
  1. The fourth theory is that which found favour with such scholars as Drs. Driver and Skinner and the moderate school of critics. Let Dr. Driver tell us in his own words that this theory is,
      “Genesis 2:1-3, it will be observed, does not name the sabbath, or lay down any law for its observance by man; all that it says is that God ‘desisted’ on the seventh day from His work and that He ‘blessed’ and ‘hallowed’ the day. It is, however, impossible to doubt the introduction of the seventh day as simply part of the writer’s representation, and that its sanctity is in reality antedated: instead viz. of the seventh day of the week being sacred, because God desisted on it from His six days’ work of creation, the work of creation was distributed among six days, followed by a day of rest, because the week, ended by the sabbath, existed already as an institution, and the writer wished to adjust artificially the work of creation to it. In other words, the week, ended by the sabbath, determined the ‘days’ of creation, not the ‘days of creation the week.”
  2. Dr. Driver having adopted the theory that the Genesis narrative in its present form is a comparatively late production and that the Fourth Commandment pre-dated it, some such explanation became necessary. But I suggest that it is a most remarkable fact that the alleged unknown writer of Genesis does not mention the word ‘sabbath’. Surely he would have done so if he had been engaged on such an attempt to ‘fake’ the narrative as described by Dr. Driver. Not to have done so would be fatal to his purpose. This antedate theory generally rejects the Genesis narrative as real history. It is said by this school of ‘critics’ that the creation narrative is nothing else than the common stock of oral traditions of the Israelite nation which had been originally borrowed from Babylonian sources and that it was put into writing about the eighth century B.C. That this is not the case will be seen in later chapters.
The Myth or Legend Theory
  1. The last of the theories on our list is not very different, it is that the Genesis narrative is mythological or legendary in character and does not warrant serious attention as a reputable historical document. This theory would merit critical scrutiny if a satisfactory explanation were given why it is written without mythological or legendary elements. Kautzsch, who is sufficiently critical of these early narratives, says, “it avoids all intermixture of a mythological character in particular, all thought of an evolution such as is usually bound up inseparably with the cosmogonies of ancient religions” (Hastings, Bible Dictionary, Vol. 5. p. 669). The idea popularized by Wolf two centuries ago, by which he endeavoured to explain all ancient stories as myths, has been generally discarded by scholars, though it sometimes reappears in surprising places. As Dr. Farnell of Oxford University says, “There has come in recent years, to aid both our sanity and our science, the conviction that the most potent cause of the type of myths just referred to has been the actual reality or historic matter of fact.”
  2. There is also the person who tells us that religious truthfulness and scientific truthfulness are not the same thing. If what is meant by this is that Biblical and scientific explanations of events are not at all likely to be made in the same way, we agree; but if it means that the truth of one may in reality be misleading error, then we disagree. Surely Truth is one and is not divided against itself.
What then, is the explanation?
  1. I submit that all these theories and ‘explanations’ fail to determine in a complete and reasonable way what God did for six days and why he ceased on the seventh day.
  2. Before an answer can be given we must enquire precisely what the Fourth Commandment says and also what Genesis says. In the remaining part of this chapter we will examine the words used in the Fourth Commandment, leaving the Genesis account to the next chapter.
  3. If words mean anything, it is obvious that the revelation from God on Mount Sinai was of the greatest possible significance. I do not stay to discuss this with those who would deny its actual occurrence. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there anything to equal it in awe and solemnity; if the nineteenth chapter of Exodus is read, it will be seen how important was the occasion. Nearly two centuries had passed without any exceptional revelation from heaven, then we read, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Come up to me into the Mount and be there; and I will give thee tables (tablets) of stone, and a law, and Commandments which I have written” (Exod, 24:12). Those ‘Ten words’ thereafter had a special significance. “Thus saith the Lord” prefaces the utterances of the prophets, yet a clear distinction was drawn between these prophetic revelations and the giving of the law on Sinai; a difference not so much in degree of the revelation as in its status and circumstances. The law had been given by God speaking ‘face to face’ with Moses; it is said to have been personally communicated to him in a most exceptional manner.
  4. When did the seventh day’s rest originate? There can be no doubt that it was introduced at a very early date (that this could not be the first day after the creation of the first man will later become evident seeing that many important incidents are stated to have occurred between the creation of the man and that of the woman). But obviously it had lost much of its proper significance by the time of the Exodus, for on Mount Sinai God called upon the Israelites to “Remember the sabbath day to keep it holy”. Specific directions were then given as to the manner in which it should be kept. Unlike the early Babylonians the Egyptians apparently did not keep a seventh day’s rest so that the Israelites who had been slaves in Egypt had not been permitted this rest. The fact that the seventh day had a recognized significance, prior to the introduction of the sabbath, may be clearly seen by reference to Exodus 16 where the cessation of the manna is recorded; for this incident happened before the Fourth Commandment was given. Moreover, evidence of the institution of an observance of the seventh day may also be seen during the Flood (Gen. 7:4; 8:10-11). The division into weeks can also be seen in the history of Jacob (Gen. 29:27-28). There is however no sufficient reason to suppose that the Patriarchs were required to keep the seventh day in precisely the same way as the Israelites were commanded to keep the sabbath after the giving of the law3.
  5. Precisely what does the Fourth Commandment say about the seven days? The Authorized version translates it: “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.” First we notice that in the Hebrew version we find that the word ‘in’ does not appear. And the best manuscripts of the Septuagint version omit ‘the sea’, in editions such as Professor Swete’s Cambridge Septuagint these words form no part of the text. Moreover, the word ‘seventh’ is found instead of ‘sabbath’.
  6. The word translated rested, like the same word in Genesis 2:3, simply means ceased, or desisted. It does not necessarily mean the rest of relaxation; for this, quite a different Hebrew word is used. In Arabic the word sabbatu means to cut off, to interrupt, and in Assyrian to cease.
  7. Another word which needs comment is the Hebrew word malach translated work. It expressly refers to ordinary word and Dr. Driver renders it business; it simply means occupation. Delitzsch says of it, “It is not so much a term denoting a lighter kind of labour as a general comprehensive term applied to the performance of any task whether easy or severe.” The idea of creation is not in any way inherent in it.
  8. Finally the precise significance of the word translated made must be understood, because the meaning of the passage which has caused so much difficulty is dependent upon the sense in which it is used in this verse. It is a translation of the Hebrew word asah, a very common Hebrew word which is used over 2,500 times in the Old Testament. On more that 1,500 occasions it is translated ‘do’ or ‘did’. The word itself does not in any way explain what the person ‘did’ or what was ‘done’. As Dr. Young says, “The original word has great latitude of meaning and application. In verse 11 it means to make or yield fruit. In 2 Samuel 19:24 to dress (or trim) a beard.” Yet notwithstanding that this word has such a wide application, there has been a tendency to elevate its meaning in this Fourth Commandment to the equivalent of the word ‘created’. It necessarily means no such thing. It simply says that God did something and what God did on the six days can only be discovered by the context in which the word appears. One thing however is quite clear, the Fourth Commandment does not use the word ‘bara’ or create, or say that God created the heavens and the earth in six days.
  9. The use of the word in the immediate context is illuminating:
    • verse 9. Six days shalt thou do (asah) all thy work.
    • verse 10. In it thou shalt not do (asah) any work.
    • verse 11. For in six days the Lord made (asah) the heaven and earth.
  10. If only the translators of the Authorized Version had translated the word asah in verse 11 in precisely the same way as they had the two preceding verses, the difficulties we have experience would possibly never have arisen. Its literal translation would then have read “For in six days the Lord did the heavens and the earth . . . and rested the seventh day”. We should then have asked what the Lord did for the six days, and why He rested on the seventh day. Instead of which it has been incorrectly assumed that during the six days He was creating the earth.
  11. Further instances of the exceptionally wide meaning possessed by the Hebrew word asah, translated made, may be seen by reference to any good Hebrew concordance. In Brown, Driver and Briggs edition of Gesenius the following meanings are assigned to it: do, make, produce, yield, acquire, appoint, ordain, and prepare. It is therefore obvious that the word must be translated in the light of its context. Here are some translations of this word as they appear in the Authorized Version.
    • Genesis 18:8 the calf he had dressed.
      … 20:9 thou hast done deeds unto me.
      … 20:10 that thou has done this thing.
      … 21:23 kindness which I have done unto thee.
      … 27:17 the savoury meat and bread which she had prepared.
    • Exodus 19:4 ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians.
      … 23:22 obey His voice and do all that I speak.
  12. It is obvious that in such an instance as Genesis 18:8 the word asah is not intended to convey the idea that Abraham either created or made the calf he was preparing for a meal.
  13. There would have been no difficulty, for instance, if this word had been rendered in exactly the same way as did the translators of the Authorized Version over 300 years ago and as the Revisers did 250 years later, in the following passages:
    • Genesis 19:19 which thou hast shewed.
      … 24:14 thou hast shewed kindness.
      … 32:10 the truth which thou hast shewed unto thy servant.
    • Judges 6:17 then shew me a sign that thou talkest with me.
  14. If the Fourth Commandment had been similarly translated it would have read, “For in six days the Lord shewed the heavens and the earth and all that in them is and rested on the seventh day.” What did the Israelites of that day understand by the Fourth Commandment? Surely this, that because God did something for six literal days and ceased on a seventh day, they too were required to work for six days and to cease on the seventh. There is not the slightest indication, or any impression that there had been some miracle of speed in creation, or that the Creator of the heavens and the earth had need of a day’s rest after six days’ work, or that the Commandment referred to six long geologic ages, or that the day of God’s cessation was also a correspondingly long geological period of time. Neither here nor anywhere else is there anything which would lead them to infer that all had been accomplished as in a flash, or that creation occupied a limited period of time, or that it relates to a second Creation or to six literal days of re-creation and a very long period for the seventh day. They accepted the plain and obvious meaning that God did something for six ordinary days and ceased on a seventh literal day. Read in the sense of its use in other passages in the same documents, the word asah would not convey to them the meaning of creation in six days, but of something done in six days.
  15. If then God was not creating the heaven and the earth during these six days what was He doing? The Genesis narrative considered in the next two chapters will help us to answer this question.



In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: It may be mentioned that the length of the day in the remote past was, according to the mathematical astronomers, little different to that of the present day. “The moon causes tides to sweep round the earth in just under twenty-five hours. In the deep oceans little friction is caused by such action; but in shallow seas tidal action causes much fluid friction, which leads to the dissipation of energy as heat. This energy comes mainly from the earth’s energy of rotation, so that tidal friction lessens the rate of rotation of the earth and therefore lengthens the day. Of course the effect is very small. The earth has a vast stock of rotational energy; and, even though it has been calculated that the tidal friction leads to a rate of dissipation of energy equal to some two thousand million horse-power, the day is thereby only lengthened by 1/1200 of a second per century” (Scientific Theory and Religion, p. 329).

Footnote 2: “This identity even to small details (so far as is possible in so simple and condensed account) of the written and geological record coupled with the fact that the fossil record merges without break into modern times, can mean only one thing, and that is that the written account describes the record of the rocks. The evidence all points against the interpretation that the geological record can be dropped in between the first and second verses of the chapter. This theory was formulated over a hundred years ago to fit in with the ideas of the time, and was not held by either Hugh Miller or Sir J.W. Dawson who were in a better position to assess the value of the evidence than was Dr. Chalmers in 1814” (A. Stuart, M.Sc., F.G.S., in Transactions of the Victoria Institute, 1937, pp. 105-6).

Footnote 3: There are clear indications that long before the time of Moses or even Abraham, the seventh day had a peculiar meaning in Babylonia. They observed the 7th, 14th, 19th, 21st and 28th days of the month, but in a very different way from that of the Hebrews. Other nations such as the Egyptians used it and they certainly would not have borrowed it from the Israelites after Sinai. Its recognition was so widespread that Josephus could write in the first century, “There is not any city of the Grecians, nor any of the Barbarians, nor any nation whatsoever, whither our custom of resting on the seventh day hath not come” (Contra Apion, 2:40). Obviously therefore it has a universal and not merely a national significance. Before it was known that the Babylonians kept a seventh day there were some who thought that the seventh day’s rest of Genesis 2:3 was an isolated instance, and the remaining references to a seventh day in the lives of the Patriarchs an accident. Now it is generally known that a seventh day’s observance existed long before the Mosaic era, the testimony of Genesis is now generally accepted that it was an institution from the beginning. Three-quarters of a century ago Dean Burgon clearly showed that a seventh day’s rest was known to the Patriarchs.


Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)



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