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9-8: The Anthropomorphic Days of C. John Collins, Part 1

Biblical Chronology, Vol. 9, No. 8
Copyright James B. Jordan 1997
August, 1997

In the journal Presbyterion 20 (1994):109-130, published by Covenant Theological Seminary, Dr. C. John Collins sets forth a revision of the Day Age approach in his essay, "How Old Is the Earth? Anthropomorphic Days in Genesis 1:1–2:3." Dr. Collins’s essay has been widely accepted in evangelical Presbyterian circles as an attractive alternative to the traditional view on the one hand, and the Framework Hypothesis on the other. Our purpose now must be to examine Dr. Collins’s arguments to see if in fact they provide sound reasons to reject the historic Christian interpretation of this passage. Inescapably this will entail our covering some of the same ground we have already ploughed, simply because some of the same arguments are presented.

Dr. Collins begins his essay with general remarks about the history of interpretation and the role of science in challenging our traditions. We shall address these matters next month. For now, we turn to Dr. Collins’s interpretation of Genesis 1, and of the Biblical material in general.

Section 4 of Dr. Collins’s essay, as well as an appendix to it, is devoted to an exploration of Church history to show that earlier theologians and exegetes did not always hold with a literal Six Day view of Genesis 1. It is true that a few pre-modern commentators did not, but not many, as Collins points out.

A fuller historical treatment is an essay by David W. Hall, "Holding Fast the Great Concession of Faith: Science, Apologetics, and Orthodoxy," which is found in the on-line magazine "Premise" vol. 4, no. 1 (at www.capo.org), and which will be published in Hall’s forthcoming book "The Arrogance of the Modern." Hall points out that Augustine’s mentor, Ambrose of Milan, held to a literal Six Day view. Augustine held the idea that the six days were actually instantaneous. While Augustine is often held up as someone who did not take the six days literally, no one can possibly use him to justify the notion that God took eons to make the universe, a notion he expressly rejected.

Collins moves on to express general agreement with E. R. Thiele’s "The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings," published originally in 1965, which attempts to shorten the chronology of the book of Kings to make it fit data from the Assyrian King Lists. We have shown in previous issues of this letter that this reconstruction is both bizarre and insupportable. (This material is included in our forthcoming book, "The Date of Creation: An Introduction to Biblical Chronology.") Collins then cites W. H. Green’s famous (or infamous) essay that argues for "gaps" in the chronologies of Genesis 5 & 11, which we have also already dealt with in these essays, and which will be included in the aforementioned book. Finally, on p. 117, Dr. Collins arrives at Genesis 1.

He begins, "It is simplest to take Gen 1:1-2 as a heading, as the NIV does: God called all things into being `formless and empty,’ and the rest of the chapter is six `days’ of structuring and filling" (p. 117). Actually, the world was also dark, and the six days deal with three areas, not just two.

Then Collins writes, "The simplest explanation for these six days is that they are anthropomorphisms: that is, they are `God’s days’" (p. 117). Right away we have to object: Man (the image of God) is a theomorph; therefore, man’s days are copies of God’s, not vice versa. By itself, the notion that the days are "anthropomorphic" actually points to their being six normal literal days. In our discussion of Meredith Kline’s position, we saw that there is no such thing as "sacred time" that is different from ordinary creation time. The only kind of "days" that exist are "days" in the creation.

Collins says that when God formed man of dust this presents God as a potter. Well, not quite. Potters use clay, which has water in it, and the text is states that Adam was made of dry dust. He also says that when God breathed into Adam, this is an anthropomorphism. Is it? It means God imparted the Spirit (breath) of life into man. I submit that Collins is using "anthropomorphism" very loosely and not very carefully here.

Then he submits that when the seventh day says that God was "refreshed" (in Exodus 31:17), this is an anthropomorphism, because God does not get tired and does not need to be refreshed (p. 118). Quite true, but this verb does not occur in Genesis 2, where God rested after the seven days. There is no such anthropomorphism in the actual text of the Seven Days. Thus, Collins’s point is irrelevant to the text of Genesis 1.

Then Collins argues that the phrase "there was evening and there was morning, the n-th day" fits into the analogy of God as a human worker, resting and sleeping during the night. There are two problems with this. First, Collins has failed to demonstrate that Genesis 1 is building on some analogy of God as a human worker with human "weaknesses." Second, even if this be so, it stands to reason that the evening and morning is a real evening and morning, and the only kind of day that has such phenomena is a regular, normal, literal day.

The question is this: Does Genesis 1 present God’s "accommodation" to a human week as something that He actually did, or merely as a literary device? Collins is assuming the latter, but nothing he writes would lead us to agree with his assumption. If God chose to rest during the night, how does this fact argue against literal days?

We also need to ask when the evening and morning occurred. Does it happen after the day of work, or is it a summary of the day of work? That is, when does the new day begin? If the evening and morning happen after the day of work, then the new day begins in the morning. Against this notion, however, are two facts. First, the first day begins in darkness and moves to light. Second, it is clear from the scriptures that the Old Creation day moves from evening to evening (Exodus 12:6; Leviticus 23:2; Daniel 8:14; etc.; note also that the month begins with the dark of the moon and moves to its fullness, and that the solar year begins in the autumn). For these reasons, the statement "there was evening and there was morning, n-th day," should be taken as a summary of what has just preceded. Accordingly, the idea that God is resting or sleeping during the night is not present in Genesis 1 at all.

Then Collins states that the sixth day is pretty full, and that it is hard to believe that Adam watched God plant the Garden, named the animals, and had an afternoon wife-making nap, all on the same day. But this is merely subjective. Let’s assume Adam watched God make the Garden for one hour, and named animals for three hours, and slept for one hour. No problem here. We don’t know how many animals were brought to Adam, and there is no reason to believe that the great diversity of animals and birds that we see in the world today was present already at this time. God created various "kinds," and these diversified later on; or, if they were already diverse, Adam need only have named the "kinds."

Finally, Collins points out that the seventh day does not seem to end, and therefore is not a model for human days. Well, this is only a problem if we want it to be. Certainly, God has rested from His creative work ever since the seventh day, and in that sense it continues. God does do other things, of course, so in another sense He continues to be active. Moreover, Genesis 1 is not merely a record of creation, but also a typology of history, and the final sabbath will be endless. These facts do not in the least hint that the days are any other than ordinary days.

Collins concludes with this: "The seven `days’ of the creation week are an anthropomorphism to describe God’s activity. If we wish to specify their relationship to time as we know it, perhaps we may view them as successive periods of undefined length (with perhaps some overlap)" (p. 120). Several observations:

First, if these "days" are simply an exercise in anthropomorphism designed to point to something ineffable, then they need have no relationship to "time as we know it" at all. They are nothing more than a literary figure. I don’t understand why Collins wants to retain the idea of a sequence of such "days" as eons or anything else.

Second, "time as we know it" is the only "time" there is, because God is eternal. Genesis 1 describes God’s actions in time, and does so in the plainest language imaginable. Collins has provided no basis for thinking that some other kind of "time" is in view here.

Third, how can these "days" be of undefined length, when the fourth day and those after it are measured by the sun? It is clear from Genesis 1 that these days are normal solar days. And, since the sun was made to fit the day rather than the other way around, it is also clear that the preceding days were of the same length.

Fourth, what does it mean for God to take an eon to set up a firmament between heaven and earth, or for plants to grow on the earth for two eons without insects to fertilize them? This suggestion creates far more problems than it solves. Short days make sense, while long days make no sense at all.

Conclusion

Let us grant what Dr. Collins wishes: that there are lots of anthropomorphisms in Genesis 1. Indeed, let us grant that the entire passage is anthropomorphic, and that God is presented as working in the same way as a human being works. The question remains: So what?

The passage clearly presents God as working over the course of a week of seven days, days that have regular evenings and mornings. Either this is just a poem, a literary figure, or else it is a description of what God actually did. Collins seems to want to have it both ways, but his position is completely arbitrary. Either Genesis 1 is a merely literary accommodation, or it is a Divine accommodation. If it is the latter, then we need to take it at face value: God made the world in seven days, as a model for His images, human beings. Nothing hints that these days were anything other than days of ordinary length, and the attention called to evenings and mornings proves that they were of ordinary length.

(to be continued)