Westminster Theological Journal 20 (1958) 146-57.

Copyright 1958 by Westminster Theological Seminary, cited with permission.








THERE are no signs that the debate over the chronological

data of Genesis 1 is abating. Among those who hold

biblical views of the inspiration of the Scriptures certain

interpretations of that chronology have, indeed, long been

traditional. These may disagree as to the duration of the

"days" of Genesis 1 but they have in common the opinion that

the order of narration in that chapter coincides with the actual

sequence of creation history. Although these traditional inter-

pretations continue to be dominant in orthodox circles there

also continues to be debate and its flames have recently been

vigorously fanned by the bellows of the dissenters.1

At the heart of the issue, though its crucial character ap-

pears to be generally overlooked is the question of whether

the modus operandi of divine providence was the same during

the creation era as that of ordinary providence now. This is

not to raise the question of whether Genesis 1 leaves the door

open for some sort of evolutionary reconstruction. On the

contrary, it is assumed here that Genesis 1 contradicts the

idea that an undifferentiated world-stuff evolved into the

present variegated universe by dint of intrinsic potentialities

whether divinely "triggered" or otherwise. According to

Genesis 1, the divine act of absolute beginning--or creation

in nihilum--was followed by a succession of divine acts of

origination, both ex nihilo and intra aliquid.2 The present


1 Two discussions in particular have evoked animated reactions among

evangelicals in this country: B. Ramm, The Christian View of Science and

Scripture (Grand Rapids, 1954), pp. 173 ff. and N. H. Ridderbos, Is There

A Conflict Between Genesis 1 and Natural Science? (Grand Rapids, 1957).

2 In nihilum serves to distinguish the initial creative act as alone having

had no setting of prior created reality. Intra aliquid has the advantage

over ex materia (for productions like that of Adam's body out of existent

dust) that it does not obscure the pure creativeness of the divine act. There

should be no hesitation in classifying such works as creation in the strict

sense. The opinion that Calvin refused to do so is mistaken. (Cf. the

criticism of B. B. Warfield on this point by J. Murray in "Calvin's Doctrine





world with the fulness thereof is the net result of this succes-

sion of discrete creation acts of God completed within the era

of the "six days" (Gen. 2:1-3).3

Though this closed era of the "six days" was characteristic-

ally the era of creation, it was not exclusively so. That is, the

works of creation were interlaced with the work of providence

--in a manner analogous to the mingling of natural and super-

natural providence in the structure of subsequent history.4

As a matter of fact, one aspect of the creative acts themselves

(excepting the act of absolute beginning) may properly be

subsumed under the rubric of providence. They were works of

providence in that they were part of the divine government of

the world in so far as that world was already existent before

each new creative act occurred. In the discussion which

follows, however, predications made concerning the modus


of Creation", WTJ XVII, 1954, pp. 29 ff.). Calvin does on occasion insist

that the word "create" be restricted to ex nihilo fiat. Thus, in commenting

on the use of the word "create" in Gen. 1:21 for the origin of creatures of

sea and air, which Calvin interprets (mistakenly) as having involved the

use of existent water, he accounts for this usage solely on the ground that

the material employed belonged to the universal matter created ex nihilo

on the first "day". However, in such a passage it must be observed that

Calvin is exclusively concerned with the precise meaning of the Hebrew

word xrABA not at all with the general theological use of the word "create".

3 There have been acts of creation since the creation of man which

terminated the era of the "six days"; cf., e. g., the origin of souls and such

miracles as the multiplying of the loaves and fishes. None of these, however,

has added to the "kinds" originated within the "six days".

4 Cf. B. B. Warfield, "Christian Supernaturalism" in Studies in Theology

(New York, 1932), pp. 37 ff. The likeness of creation acts to subsequent

supernatural acts is profound. They are alike highways to consummation.

It is by the road of his successive creation acts that God has betaken him-

self to the Sabbath of the seventh "day". In the sequel, it is by the way

of supernaturalism that God directs his image-bearer to union with him

in his consummation rest. Adam wakes to the supernatural voice and

it is to him from the very beginning a voice that speaks to him out of

God's Sabbath, challenging him with the invitation, "Come up hither"--

to consummation. And every supernatural word thereafter issues from

and beckons covenant-man unto that same Sabbath dwelling-place of

God, while every supernatural work propels him towards it. The redemp-

tive principle becomes necessary in the supernaturalism that conducts

fallen man to consummation rest and it is, therefore, prominent in biblical

revelation; but it is nevertheless subordinate to the eschatological thrust

that marks all supernaturalism.



operandi of divine providence during the creation era will have

in view only the work of God other than his acts of creation.

The traditionalist interpreter, as he pursues his strictly

chronological way through the data of Genesis 1, will be com-

pelled at one point or another to assume that God in his

providential preservation of the world during the "six days"

era did not operate through secondary means in the manner

which men now daily observe and analyze as natural law.

The question, therefore, is whether the Scriptures justify

this traditional assumption of supernatural providence for

the creation era or whether they contradict it--or whether

possibly they leave it an open question. It will be the central

contention of this article that a clear answer to that question is

available in Gen. 2:5 and that that answer constitutes a

decisive word against the traditional interpretation.


GENESIS 2:5ff.


The major English versions exhibit marked divergence in

the way they translate Gen. 2:5 and relate it grammatically

to verses 4 and 6-7.



(4) These are the genera-

tions of the heavens and

of the earth when they

were created, in the day

that the LORD God made

the earth and the heavens,

(5) and every plant of the

field before it was in the

earth, and every herb of

the field before it grew:

for the LORD God had not

caused it to rain upon the

earth, and there was not a

man to till the ground.

(6) But there went up a

mist from the earth, and

watered the whole face of

the ground. (7) And the

LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground ...


American Revised

(4) These are the genera-

tions of the heavens and

of the earth when they

were created, in the day

that Jehovah God made

earth and heaven. (5) And

no plant of the field was

yet in the earth, and no

herb of the field had yet

sprung up; for Jehovah

God had not caused it to

rain upon the earth: and

there was not a man to till

the ground; (6) but there

went up a mist from the

earth, and watered the

whole face of the ground.

(7) And Jehovah God

formed man of the dust

of the ground ...


Revised Standard

(4) These are the genera-

tions of the heavens and

the earth when they were


In the day that the

LORD God made the earth and the heavens, (5) when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up--for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; (6) but a mist went up from the earth and watered the

whole face of the ground

--(7) then the LORD God

formed man of dust from

the ground ...





Of these versions the treatment of verse 5 in the ARV is

alone acceptable. A Hebrew idiom for expressing an emphatic

negative found in the original of this verse has been muffed

by the AV with the result that it is obscure at best. The RSV

like the ARV correctly renders the negative element but has

other serious defects. It treats verse 5 as though it were part

of an involved temporal section extending from 4b through 6,

all subordinated to the action of verse 7. This is an old inter-

pretation which Delitzsch properly rejected because it required

"a clumsy interpolated period" such as is "not to be expected

in this simple narrative style".5 The RSV rendering would

also compel Genesis 2 to teach that man was created before

vegetation, whereas the ARV permits the exegete to regard the

arrangement of its contents as topical rather than chronolog-

ical. If the arrangement of Genesis 2 were not topical it

would contradict the teaching of Genesis 1 (not to mention

that of natural revelation) that vegetation preceded man on

the earth.6

Set against the vast background of creation history, these

verses serve to bring together man and the vegetable world

in the foreground of attention. This prepares for the central

role of certain objects of the vegetable kingdom, i. e., the

Garden of God and especially the trees in the midst of it, in

the earliest history of man as recorded in the immediately

following verses (cf. 2:8ff. and 3:1ff.).

Verse 5 itself describes a time when the earth was without

vegetation. And the significant fact is a very simple one. It

is the fact that an explanation--a perfectly natural explana-

tion - is given for the absence of vegetation at that time:

"for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth".

The Creator did not originate plant life on earth before he had

prepared an environment in which he might preserve it

without by-passing secondary means and without having

recourse to extraordinary means such as marvellous methods of

fertilization. The unargued presupposition of Gen. 2:5 is

clearly that the divine providence was operating during the


5 New Commentary on Genesis (Edinburgh, 1888) I, p. 115. Cf. W. H.

Green, The Unity of the Book of Genesis (New York, 1910), p. 25.

6 That much is deducible from Gen. 1:26-30 whatever one's view of the

chronological character of the order of narration in Genesis 1 as a whole.



creation period through processes which any reader would

recognize as normal in the natural world of his day.

The last clause of verse 5 cites as a second reason for the

lack of vegetation the absence of men. Though there be no

rainfall, if man is present "to till the ground" and, in partic-

ular, to construct a system of artificial irrigation, he can make

the desert blossom as the rose.7 The effect of this last clause

of Gen. 2:5 is to confirm and strengthen the principle that

normal providential procedure characterized the creation


Verses 6 and 7 then correspond respectively to the two

clauses in verse 5b and relate how the environmental de-

ficiencies there cited were remedied. First, "flooding waters9


7 This verse reflects conditions in the East where irrigation is of the es-

sence of farming and distinct terms are found to distinguish land that is

naturally irrigated from land that is artificially irrigated. Cf. T. H. Gaster,

Thespis (New York, 1950), pp. 123, 126.

8 If the view of some exegetes were adopted that the sphere of Gen. 2:5

is limited to such cultivated plants as were found in the Garden of Eden,

the concept of providential operations involved would remain the same.

The text would still affirm that at a point prior to the creation of man and,

therefore, within the creation era the absence of certain natural products

was attributable to the absence of the natural means for their providential

preservation. It may here be added that this avoidance of unnecessary

supernaturalism in providence during the "six days" accords well with the

analogy of subsequent divine providence for the latter too is characterized

by a remarkable economy in its resort to the supernatural.

9 The meaning of the Hebrew word dxe is uncertain. It probably denotes

subterranean waters which rise to the surface and thence as gushing springs

or flooding rivers inundate the land. The watering of the Garden of Eden

by a river in the immediate sequel (v. 10) may be intended as a specific

localized instance of the dxe phenomena (v. 6). Note the similar advance

in the case of man, viewed in verse 5b as the artificial irrigator, from the

general statement of verse 7 to the specific assignment in the Garden

(vs. 8, 15). The word dxe appears elsewhere in the Old Testament only in

Job 36:27. That passage is also difficult; but Odxel; there seems to denote the

underground ore, as it were, from which the raindrops are extracted and

refined, i. e., by the process of evaporation in the cycle of cloud formation

and precipitation. (For the translation of the preposition 5 as "from" see

C. H. Gordon, Ugaritic Manual (Rome 1955), p. 75). The Hebrew -in is

probably to be derived from the Akkadian edu, a Sumerian loanword

which denotes overflowing waters. (Cf. E. Speiser, Bulletin of the American

Schools of Oriental Research, 140 (1955), pp. 9-11). Other views are that

it comes from Akkadian id, "river", also a Sumerian loanword (used in the




began to rise from the earth and watered all the face of the

ground" (v. 6). Here was a source of natural irrigation to

compensate for the want of rain. The first verb is a Hebrew

imperfect and the inceptive nuance--"began to"--is legit-

imate for that form and is required in this case if verse 6 is

not to neutralize the first clause in verse 5b. The English

versions of verse 6 convey the impression that there was an

ample watering of the earth during the very time which

verse 5 describes. If that were so, the explanatory statement

of verse 5, "for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon

the earth", would be stranded as an irrelevance. Actually,

verse 6 reports the emergence of a new natural phenomenon,

the necessary preliminary to the creation of the florae de-

scribed in verse 5a.

Verse 7 then records the creation of man. With adequate

natural irrigation already available, the mere preservation of

vegetation does not require man's husbandry. But its full

horticultural exploitation does. Besides, the mention of man

at this point need not be accounted for solely in terms of his

services to the vegetable kingdom for he was not made for it

but it for him.




Embedded in Gen. 2:5ff. is the principle that the modus

operandi of the divine providence was the same during the

creation period as that of ordinary providence at the present

time. It is now to be demonstrated that those who adopt the

traditional approaches cannot successfully integrate this

revelation with Genesis 1 as they interpret it.

In contradiction to Gen. 2:5, the twenty-four-hour day

theory must presuppose that God employed other than the

ordinary secondary means in executing his works of provi-

dence. To take just one example, it was the work of the

"third day" that the waters should be gathered together into


Mari texts as the name of the river god) or from Ida, the name of a high

mountain in central Crete (a tentative suggestion of C. H. Gordon in

"Homer and Bible", Hebrew Union College Annual XXVI (1955), pp.

62, 63).




seas and that the dry land should appear and be covered with

vegetation (Gen. 1:9-13). All this according to the theory in

question transpired within twenty-four hours. But continents

just emerged from under the seas do not become thirsty land

as fast as that by the ordinary process of evaporation. And yet

according to the principle revealed in Gen. 2:5 the process of

evaporation in operation at that time was the ordinary one.

The results, indeed, approach the ludicrous when it is

attempted to synchronize Gen. 2:5 with Genesis 1 interpreted

in terms of a week of twenty-four-hour days. On that inter-

pretation, vegetation was created on what we may call

"Tuesday". Therefore, the vegetationless situation described

in Gen. 2:5 cannot be located later than "Tuesday" morning.

Neither can it be located earlier than that for Gen. 2:5 as-

sumes the existence of dry land which does not appear until

the "third day". Besides, would it not have been droll to

attribute the lack of vegetation to the lack of water either on

"Sunday" when the earth itself was quite unfashioned or on

"Monday" when there was nothing but water to be seen?

Hence the twenty-four-hour day theorist must think of the

Almighty as hesitant to put in the plants on "Tuesday"

morning because it would not rain until later in the day! (It

must of course be supposed that it did rain, or at least that

some supply of water was provided, before "Tuesday" was

over, for by the end of the day the earth was abounding with

that vegetation which according to Gen. 2:5 had hitherto

been lacking for want of water.)

How can a serious exegete fail to see that such a recon-

struction of a "Tuesday morning" in a literal creation week is

completely foreign to the historical perspectives of Gen. 2:5?

It is a strange blindness that questions the orthodoxy of all

who reject the traditional twenty-four-hour day theory when

the truth is that endorsement of that theory is incompatible

with belief in the self-consistency of the Scriptures.

But any strictly chronological interpretation of Genesis 1,

even if the "days" are regarded as ages, forces the exegete

inescapably into conflict with the principle disclosed in Gen.

2:5. The traditional day-age theorist must, for example,

imagine that during the creation era plants and trees flourished

on the face of an earth spinning alone through a sunless,




moonless, starless void. Now it will be recognized that that

is not ordinary botanical procedure - and yet Gen. 2:5 takes

for granted ordinary botanical procedure.

In the vain attempt to avoid such a reconstruction, accord-

ing to which vegetation (product of the "third day") thrives

without benefit of the sun (product of the "fourth day"),

the most unwarranted notions of the work of the "fourth day"

have been substituted for the straightforward statements of

the text. Gen. 1:14-19 declares that the heavenly bodies were

on the "fourth day" created and set in their familiar positions.

Moses is certainly not suggesting merely that hitherto hidden

heavenly bodies now became visible on earth. He knew how

to express such an idea in Hebrew if that had been his intent

(cf. his account of the appearance of the continents from

under the seas, v. 9). The very least that transpired on the

"day" in question is that the sun was brought into a radically

new relationship to the earth wherein it began to govern

earth's times and seasons and in general to affect life on earth

as men now observe it to do. But the strictly chronological

view of Genesis 1, even with such a minimizing exegesis of

the "fourth day", must still suppose that prior to this re-

ordering of the universe on the "fourth day", plant life had

flourished on the earth contrary to present natural law.

On this traditional reconstruction it is impossible to make

sense of Gen. 2:5. Surely if vegetation could have flourished

without the sun it could have survived without rain. Laws

quite unlike any we know would then have prevailed. For

that matter, God could have preserved forests in space without

so much as roots in a dry earth. It would then, however, be

completely irrelevant for Gen. 2:5 to assign natural reasons

for the absence of vegetation. Indeed, the very fact that it

offered a perfectly natural explanation would bring Gen. 2:5

into principial contradiction to Genesis 1.

To the divisive higher critic this might mean only that there

is another item to add to his list of alleged contradictions

between the two variant creation accounts he supposes he has

discovered in Genesis 1 and 2. But the orthodox exegete,

having been confronted with the evidence of ordinary provi-

dential procedure in Genesis 2:5 will be bound to reject the

rigidly chronological interpretations of Genesis 1 for the reason




that they necessarily presuppose radically different provi-

dential operations for the creation period.

If Gen. 2:5 obviates certain traditional interpretations of

Genesis 1, by the same token it validates the not so traditional

interpretation which regards the chronological framework of

Genesis 1 as a figurative representation of the time span of

creation and judges that within that figurative framework the

data of creation history have been arranged according to

other than strictly chronological considerations.

To be sure, certain features are found in their proper relative

positions chronologically. But where that is so it must be

determined by factors other than the order of narration. It is

perfectly obvious, for example, that the rest of the "seventh

day", expressive of the divine joy in creation consummated,

must follow chronologically the creation labors themselves.

Again, the implications of man's position as lord of creation,

the scope of the cultural mandate, and other considerations

require that the creation of man concluded the creative acts of

God in the actual historical sequence as well as in the order of


Nevertheless, Genesis 2:5 forbids the conclusion that the

order of narration is exclusively chronological. The rationale

of the arrangement involves other factors. To some extent

a topical approach informs the account. As has been fre-

quently observed, a succession of correspondences emerges

when the contents of "days" one to three are laid alongside

the contents of "days" four to six. Another literary interest

at work within this parallelism is that of achieving climax, as

is done, for example, in introducing men after all other

creatures as their king.

Of greater significance for the life of man than these merely

literary devices is the Sabbathic pattern of the over-all

structure of Gen. 1:1-2:3. For the Creator's way in the day

that he made the earth and the heavens must be the way, of

his image-bearer also. The precise ratio of man's work to his

rest is a matter of following the chronological structure of the

revelation in which God was pleased to record his creation

triumph. The aeons of creation history could have been

divided into other than six periods. For temporally the

"days" are not of equal length (cf., e. g., the seventh "day"




which is everlasting), and logically the infinitely diversified

creative works were susceptible of analysis into other than six

divisions. But the Creator in his wisdom, adapting the pro-

portions of the ordinance, it would seem, to the constitutional

needs of man, chose to reveal his creative acts in terms of

six "days" of work followed by a seventh "day" of rest.

The divine demand for human imitation inherent in the

Sabbathic pattern of that revelation becomes articulate in the

fourth word of the decalogue. The comparison there drawn

between the divine original and the human copy is fully satis-

fied by the facts that in each case there is the Sabbathic prin-

ciple and the six-one ratio. The argument that Genesis 1

must be strictly chronological because man's six days of

labor follow one another in chronological succession forces the

analogy unnecessarily. The logic of such argument would

not allow one to stop short of the conclusion that the creation

"days" must all have been of equal duration and twenty-four

hours at that.




Quite apart from the evidence of Gen. 2:5 the figurative

framework interpretation of Genesis 1 which it demands

would commend itself to us above the traditional interpreta-

tions. Only brief mention will be made here of other lines of

evidence since it is the main burden of this article to center

attention on Gen. 2:5 whose decisive import for the Genesis 1

problem has (to the writer's knowledge) been hitherto un-


The literary character of Gen. 1:1-2:3 prepares the exegete

for the presence there of a stronger figurative element than

might be expected were it ordinary prose. This passage is

not, of course, full-fledged Semitic poetry. But neither is it

ordinary prose. Its structure is strophic and throughout the

strophes many refrains echo and re-echo. Instances occur of

other poetic features like parallelism (1:27; 2:2) and allitera-

tion (1:1). In general then the literary treatment of the

creation in Genesis 1 is in the epic tradition.

Having made such an observation concerning the literary




genre of the creation record, it is imperative (especially in the

present theological scene) that one convinced of the genuinely

historical nature of the events recorded in the opening chap-

ters of Genesis promptly add that the disregard for historical

truth associated with the usual epic is not imported along

with the formal literary aspects of the epic style into the

divine revelation. Such importation was no more inevitable

than that the polytheism of pre-biblical psalmody, for example,

must have been carried over with the religious lyric form into

the biblical Psalter. Though Genesis 1 be epic in literary style,

its contents are not legendary or mythical in either a Liberal

or Barthian sense. The semi-poetic style, however, should

lead the exegete to anticipate the figurative strand in this

genuinely historical record of the origins of the universe.

It also needs considerable emphasis, even among orthodox

exegetes, that specific evidence is required for identifying

particular elements in the early chapters of Genesis as literary

figures. The semi-poetic form of Genesis 1 does not make it

an exception. Exegesis which disregards this degenerates into

allegorizing and these chapters are not allegories.

The specific exegetical evidence for the figurative character

of the several chronological terms in Genesis 1 has been re-

peatedly cited. The word "day" must be figurative because it is

used for the eternity during which God rests from his creative

labors. The "day's" subordinate elements, "evening" and

"morning", must be figurative for they are mentioned as

features of the three "days" before the text records the

creation of those lights in the firmament of heaven which were

to divide the day from the night. (From the position taken

in this article the last argument is, of course, only ad hominem.

But on the other hand, if the validity of the interpretation ad-

vocated here is recognized, the figurative nature of the

"evenings" and "mornings" follows with equal necessity.)

Purely exegetical considerations, therefore, compel the

conclusion that the divine author has employed the imagery of

an ordinary week to provide a figurative chronological frame-

work for the account of his creative acts. And if it is a fig-

urative week then it is not a literal week of twenty-four-hour

days. Furthermore, once the figurative nature of the chrono-

logical pattern is appreciated the literalness of the sequence is




no more sacrosanct than the literalness of the duration of the

days in this figurative week.

Whether the events narrated occurred in the order of their

narration would, as far as the chronological framework of

Genesis 1 is concerned, be an open exegetical question. The

question is actually closed in favor of the non-chronological

interpretation by the exegetical evidence of Gen. 2:5. But if

the exegete did not have the light of Gen. 2:5, he would

certainly be justified in turning to natural revelation for

possible illumination of the question left open by special

revelation. And surely natural revelation concerning the

sequence of developments in the universe as a whole and the

sequence of the appearance of the various orders of life on our

planet (unless that revelation has been completely misinter-

preted) would require the exegete to incline to a not exclusively

chronological interpretation of the creation week.

The exegete could then find confirmation of this view in the

evidence of a topical interest in the arrangement of Genesis 1

and in the non-chronological mode of representing history

which is certainly common enough elsewhere in Scripture.

He might also well observe the likeness between Moses' record

of the creation "week" and certain visions of John, the seer

of the Apocalypse, which are heptad in structure with suc-

cessively numbered divisions and yet are not strictly chrono-

logical in sequence. It appears that the God of revelation

chose to reveal the primeval ages of creation and the eschato-

logical ages of re-creation in similar literary form.



Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia



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