Friday, July 9, 2010

Exegetical Eschatology: The Unexpected "First Going"

In "The Coming(s) of the Son of Man" and "Parousia and the Definite Article" we identified some of the presuppositions we tend to read into the texts which speak of Christ's "coming." We discovered that there are several "comings" of Jesus, and that the Greek word for "coming" does not demand a single coming.

Related to assumptions made concerning Christ's "second coming," there is another assumption often made when we read mention of His "coming" prior to His death, namely that they expected a "first going" to begin with! After all, if prior to the crucifixion the disciples didn't really understand that He was going to "go" in the first place, then when they spoke of His "coming" it could not have been His final return at the end of time that they had in mind.

As we will see, not only does this assumption lack any warrant as was the case with the previous assumptions we've examined, but it goes contrary to the biblical evidence which strongly suggests they had no idea Jesus was going anywhere.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

In the Beginning: Evening and Morning—Days Not Ages

Christians' beliefs concerning the age of the universe typically fall somewhere under one of two broad categories. One view, popularly called "Old-Earth Creationism"—hereafter abbreviated OEC—holds that the universe is approximately as old as the majority of scientists in the modern era insist it is, billions of years in age. This view, by and large, is the result of interpreting the biblical data in such a way as to be consistent with modern scientific interpretations of natural evidence. The alternate view, popularly called "Young-Earth Creationism"—hereafter abbreviated YEC—is that the universe is approximately 6,000 years old. In contrast with the former view, proponents of YEC generally interpret the natural evidence in such a way as to be consistent with a seemingly straightforward interpretation of the biblical data.

It is important to keep a couple of things in mind when entering into a discussion or study of this issue. First, proponents of both broader categories listed above vary widely within those categories when it comes to their beliefs concerning the particulars. For example, some OECs believe in evolution whereas others do not, and YECs differ in how they explain the natural evidence, such as distant starlight suggesting the universe is very old. As such, one cannot assume much about what any given adherent to one of these views believes beyond the age of the universe. Second, despite rhetoric to the contrary coming from both sides, adherents to both views often take both Scripture and science very seriously. It is not as though one views the Bible as authoritative and the other views science as authoritative. Instead, both groups highly value both God's special revelation and His natural revelation.

With this introduction out of the way, I wish to begin this series in earnest by arguing against one particular view held by many OECs.


When we want to know how someone with a hectic schedule manages to squeeze in time for certain activities, we'll often ask, "Where do you find the time?" This is, in essence, one of the first questions I'm interested in answering when examining any particular OEC position: Where in the opening chapters of the Bible (or thereafter) does one see the alleged millions of years of cosmic history fitting in?

There are two main camps into which most OEC proponents I've met can be grouped. One of the two positions is that the seven "days" of creation in the first chapter of Genesis are not 24-hour periods of time, but rather long "ages" or "epochs" of determinate but indeterminable time, perhaps spanning millions of years each. The Genesis creation "week," then, actually comprised of millions upon millions of years, is where one often sees the bulk of the universe's history. I'll address the other view in the future, but I'd like to first spend several posts arguing against this position.


I have a few objections to this understanding of the so-called "days of creation." Today we'll look at the first of my objections. The Hebrew word rendered "day" in the first chapter of Genesis, where we read "the first day," "the second day" and so forth, is the word יוֹם (yom). It has various meanings throughout Scripture, including the idea of a long period of time. Proponents of OEC claim that since yom can carry this meaning, it is valid to understand it this way here in "the first day" and so on. However, it is the word's context that determines its meaning.

This article correctly points out that there are many different ways in which yom is used throughout Scripture, and that even in the text in question it is used in a few different ways. However, when one looks at the ways in which the word is used, one sees that the context determines its proper translation. For example, in Genesis 4:3 we’re told Cain’s offering of fruit came after the “process of time [yom],” something we know man hasn’t the ability to do in 24 hours. In Isaiah 30:8 we’re told God’s words were to be inscribed on a scroll to serve “as a witness forever,” thereby defining the “time [yom] to come.” Similarly, we’re given the context with the days of creation as well: evening and morning. The explicit inclusion of evening and morning I think clearly defines the period of time represented by the word yom in each case: 24 hours.


The article attempts to refute this argument, but does so very poorly. It claims that evening and morning require “a sunrise and sunset,” and since “the Sun was not created until Day Four…they cannot be actual evenings and mornings.” This is incredibly silly. Isn’t it in Alaska, among other places, where there are periods of days and days when the sun never sets, and other periods of days and days when the sun never rises? The author(s) of this article would seem to suggest that during these periods of times, these places in Alaska do not have evenings and mornings. This is ludicrous! Of course evenings and mornings exist whether the sun appears to set and rise or not. The article’s subsequent claim, then, falls utterly flat when it says, “The words for Evening and Morning can only represent the beginning and ending of the creative period, and not actual sunrise [sic] and sunsets.” Total nonsense.

It goes on to claim that “Scripture itself sets this pattern for us. Morning and evening are used figuratively in Psalm 30:5, Psalm 49:14,15, Psalm 90:6.” Oh really? First of all, 3 isolated verses in the poetic writings of the psalms constitutes a “pattern” set for us to interpret Genesis 1 in this way? That is ridiculous in and of itself, but I don’t think these verses make the case the author(s) intend to make anyway. They do use the picture of a 24-hour day, comprised of evening and morning, to symbolically represent a longer period of time. However, in each case evening and morning still mean a half of a 24-hour day, and the context tells us what evening and morning symbolize within that symbolic day. In the first passage, the weeping in an evening explicitly symbolizes God’s momentary anger, and the shout of joy in the morning God’s lasting favor. In the second passage, morning doesn't symbolize a period of time at all but an instant in time, so it's irrelevant. And in the third passage, the brief watch in the evening explicitly symbolizes the brevity of a thousand years to the Lord. The point is, whenever evening and morning symbolize larger periods of time, the fact that they are being used as symbols is made explicit in the text. In the days of Genesis, however, there is no such indication whatsoever.

Quite the contrary, there appears to be utterly no contextual purpose of including evening and morning apart from defining the length of the yom! Think about it—as we've seen, in other passages there are expressed purposes behind using evening and morning symbolically, explicit realities symbolized by those pictures. In the days of Genesis, on the other hand, there is nothing described which evening and morning are intended to symbolize. There is nothing about an evening or morning depicted as being analogous to the first and second halves of the creative period. Try reading those verses without "the first day" or "day one" or whatever at the end. "And there was evening and there was morning," and don't mention the day. It becomes totally disconnected from anything else in the text. Its presence becomes utterly jarring and meaningless. Only when "the first day" or whatever is included does evening and morning have any relevance in the text. Thus, its presence pretty clearly is intended to define a "day."


I recently happened upon one objection to my "evening and morning" argument which at first blush seemed to have some validity. This article makes the following claim:

"Evening and morning" is an idiomatic expression in Semitic languages. Like all idioms, its meaning is nonliteral but clearly understood by native speakers. The phrase "evening and morning" can, like yom, denote a long and indefinite period. The Old Testament itself unambiguously uses the "evening and morning" phrase in just such a way. In Daniel 8 we read the account of Daniel's ram and goat vision and the interpretation given by Gabriel. The vision covers many years; some commentators believe the time has not yet been completed. Daniel 8:26 says, "The vision of the evenings and the mornings that have been given to you is true, but seal up the vision for it concerns the distant future" (RSV). In Hebrew manuscripts, "the evenings and mornings," is not in the plural but in the singular, identical to the expression we find in Genesis 1. Translated literally, the verse would red, "And the vision of the evening and the morning that has been given you" Here we have a clear indication from scriptural usage that this phrase does not demand a 24-hour-day interpretation and can refer to an indefinite epoch.

It is true that in verse 26 the words ערב ('ereb, "evening") and בקר (boqer, "morning") are in the singular, rather than in the plural. However, what is not mentioned in this article is that the same words are used in their singular forms shortly before this verse but are explicitly numbered! Verse 14 reads, "He said to me, 'For 2,300 evenings and mornings; then the holy place will be properly restored.'" In this verse, 'ereb and 'boqer again appear in the singular, and yet are numbered in the thousands. Clearly, despite the author's use of the singular, the plural is intended, and as such every major translation renders it accordingly.

So when we come to verse 26, then, how are we to understand 'ereb and boqer when used in the singular? The author already used the singular forms of these words to refer to many evenings and mornings, so the only valid understanding of their use here is likewise. Besides, as we've seen, evenings and mornings are only used symbolically elsewhere in Scripture when explicitly said to symbolize something, which they are not here. Therefore, the NIV, NASB, Amplified, NLT, ESV, CEV and NKJV versions are all justified in rendering verse 26, "evenings and mornings." The author clearly has in mind the same 2,300 evenings and mornings referred to earlier. As the NLT renders it, "This vision about the 2,300 evenings and mornings is true."

Daniel's use of evenings and mornings is clearly intended to communicate a length of time in number of days. The KJV renders verse 14, "Unto two thousand and three hundred days" (and the NKJV renders it similarly). Therefore, far from lending support to the particular OEC position which views the evenings and mornings of creation as long periods of time, this passage in Daniel actually undermines it. Just as evening and morning are used in Genesis 1 to specify the length of time comprising each "day," so, too, are they used in this fashion by Daniel.