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As the church has wrestled with the conflict between the historical understanding of Genesis 1:1–2:3 and the claims of modern science with respect to origins, some have offered the novel interpretation of the “framework” hypothesis as a way to avoid conflict. This theory asserts that Genesis 1 is not to be taken as a literal, chronological account of Creation, but rather as a topical account that asserts God created all things. While avoiding any conflict with the claims of science, the theory does great damage to the Bible, for it goes against the grain of the plain and historic interpretation of Genesis 1. As we shall see, its arguments are not sufficient to counteract the language and grammar of the text.

The framework hypothesis argues first that God uses ordinary providence to govern and sustain the universe during the period of Creation. Its proponents maintain, on the basis of Genesis 2:5, that God is unwilling to create plants until He has provided a means to water them. They deduce from this that God uses only ordinary means to maintain the created order during the time of Creation. If God does not use any extraordinary means to preserve and govern His creation, we may not take Genesis 1 as a sequential account, because there can be no light without the sun, no supernatural drying of the land, no plants on the third day without rain, and so on.

However, the majority of Old Testament commentators reject the interpretation that Genesis 2:5 refers to the creation of plants on the third day. The remainder of chapter 2 teaches that verse 5 refers to the creation of the garden, showing that God provides a river to water the garden and man to cultivate it. Thus, the text does not establish the principle of ordinary providence.

Moreover, even if Genesis 2:5 teaches that God provides rain to water the plants created on the third day, one may not deduce that God exclusively uses ordinary providence to maintain the earth during Creation. To insist on the basis of one example of ordinary providence that God uses that method exclusively involves a fallacy of deducing a universal principle from one particular instance.

Actually, Genesis 1 teaches that God uses extraordinary providence during Creation. Genesis 1:2 teaches that God preserves the creation by the extraordinary work of the Spirit’s hovering—preserving, separating, and perfecting. Later, when the waters are separated from the waters, the Spirit holds them in place. When the dry land is separated from the water, the Spirit causes the earth to dry and keeps the water within its boundaries. There is no need for supernatural preservation only if God creates everything at once. Thus, the text teaches that God works through extraordinary providence during the process of Creation. During the remainder of redemptive history, while God normally works through ordinary providence, He still uses extraordinary providence (miracles such as dividing the Red Sea, changing water into wine, and so on).

The text teaches that God works through extraordinary providence during the process of Creation.

The second argument is the structure of Genesis 1:1–2:3. The framework proponents point out that Moses arranges the days in a very stylized framework, with days four to six paralleling days one to three. Meredith Kline suggests that the things created on day four govern day one, the things of day five govern day two, and the things of day six govern day three.

This proposed structure has a number of inconsistencies with respect to the literary framework. If we carefully examine the supposed parallels, we see that they do not correspond. For example, God creates the heavenly bodies on the fourth day and places them in the firmament He made on the second day. Thus, they rule in the firmament of day two as they regulate the light from day one.

Admittedly, Moses uses a literary structure. But there is no evidence that highly organized structure and symmetry rule out a straightforward narrative; Moses often uses a literary structure to communicate chronologically sequential events (the Flood and the plagues).

Is there another explanation for structure in Genesis 1? Moses uses verse 2 to structure the Creation account: “The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The account details the progressive shaping and ordering of this dark, chaotic, and void mass. In dealing progressively with the “defects,” God first creates an environment—forming light/energy, atmosphere and earth, sea and dry land, and vegetation on the dry land—and then creates the environment’s inhabitants, again moving progressively—the heavenly bodies, fish and fowl, the land animals, and man.

Framework theorists add a second structural argument for a non-sequential reading of Genesis 1. They maintain that the record of day four is a senseless duplication if viewed as a chronological progression from day one. The events of day four simply parallel those of day one.

A closer reading of the text, however, suggests a clear chronological progression. We all recognize that the sun and stars are not the only source of light. Day one describes the creation of the physical phenomenon of light (energy/light); day four, the governors of light. As we shall see, the grammar also suggests chronological sequence. Furthermore, there is a progression in means. On day one the separation of light from darkness is not an act of providence but a distinct creative act: “God divided the light from the darkness” (v. 4). On day four the heavenly bodies effect this separation, and God assigns to the heavenly bodies the purpose to govern the separation of light and darkness, as well as to mark time (monthly and annually) and to serve as signs for navigation. Therefore, we conclude that nothing in the internal structure of Genesis 1 negates sequence.

The Creation account details the progressive shaping and ordering of this dark, chaotic, and void mass.

A third argument for the non-literal reading of chapter 1 is that since the seventh day is not a literal day, we should not interpret the first six days as literal. According to the framework hypothesis, since the seventh day lacks the concluding formula (“evening and morning”) and the New Testament refers to God’s rest as eternal (John 5:17; Heb. 4:3–4), we may not interpret it to be a literal day.

The absence of the formula used for the other six days is in part explained grammatically. The phrase evening and morning links the day that is concluding with the next day. For example, the evening and morning that mark the end of day one also mark the beginning of day two. Thus, we do not find the formula at the end of the seventh day because the week of Creation is completed.

Neither do John 5:17 and Hebrews 4:3–4 prove that the seventh day was not a literal day. The emphasis of John 5:17 is that since God the Father works every day of the week and has entrusted His work to the Son, the Son may do the works of the Father on the Sabbath. In other words, because Jesus Christ is the Son of God, He is not breaking the Sabbath when He heals on it.

According to Hebrews 4:3–4, the seventh day pictures the eternal rest God offers to His people. I agree that God permanently rests from His work of Creation, and that the seventh day of Creation pictures the eternal rest God promises to His people. This theological significance, however, does not preclude that the day is a literal day.

The framework hypothesis’ arguments fail to prove that Genesis 1 should be interpreted in a non-sequential manner. Furthermore, the clear reading of the text demands a chronological interpretation.

First, throughout Genesis 1 (55 times), Moses uses the grammatical mark of sequential narrative, the waw consecutive (the conjunction and used with a specific form of the verb that means “and the next thing that happened was”). This form introduces each day and each creative act. Even though the Bible occasionally uses this form in a non-chronological way, Old Testament writers used this grammatical mark throughout lengthy sections to signify sequence.

Second, the use of day with the ordinal number demands a sequential reading. An ordinal number is a number that reflects order: “first,” “second,” “third,” etc. When an ordinal number is used with yom, the Hebrew word for “day,” it always signifies sequence.

Third, the phrase evening and morning suggests a completed day. The phrase describes the period of darkness that completes a regular day. In addition to Genesis 1, Moses uses the phrase three times (Ex. 27:21; Lev. 24:3; and Num. 9:21). In all three, the phrase refers to a literal night.

Exegetically, the framework hypothesis raises more problems than solutions. Nothing in the text demands a non-chronological, topical structure. Thus, evidence compels us to interpret Genesis 1 as sequential narrative.

I ask the proponents of framework to answer these questions: Why does Moses use so many time indicators? If time is an analogy, to what does it refer? Are there other examples of the Bible’s using so many time indicators in a non-literal way? Could Moses have revealed sequential normal days in a more explicit manner? Could Moses have revealed a topical account in a more explicit manner?

Covering the Past

Days Without End?

Keep Reading A Day in the Life of the Universe

From the July 2001 Issue
Jul 2001 Issue