Is the Seventh Day of the Creation Week Still Continuing?
In discussions I have had with people who hold to an ancient Earth, the suggestion has been made, based on the passage in Hebrews 4:4-11, that the seventh “day” of Creation (i.e., God’s Sabbath rest) discussed in Genesis 2 still is continuing, and that it is in that seventh “day” that the time may be placed to accommodate an old Earth. Is this view correct?
People who believe in what is known as the Day-Age theory (which teaches that the “days” of Genesis 1 were “ages” rather than normal 24-hour days) sometimes suggest that the seventh “day” still is continuing. Their argument is that since the phrase “evening and morning” is not used in regard to the seventh day, it must not have been a 24-hour day. Therefore, we are living in the seventh day—a position they must defend to remain consistent. There are, however, a number of serious problems with this approach. The first has been explained by Guy N. Woods.
Jehovah finished his labors at the end of the sixth day, and on the seventh rested. The narrative provides no basis for the assumption that the day he rested differed in any fashion from those which preceded it. It evidently was marked out and its length determined in the same manner as the others. If it was not a day of twenty-four hours, it sustains no resemblance to the sabbath which was given to the Israelites (1976, pp. 17-18, emp. added).
Moses’ obvious intent was for the reader to understand that God: (1) rested (past tense); and (2) gave the seventh day (the Sabbath) as a day of rest because He had rested on that day.
There is a second problem with the view that the seventh day still is continuing. James Pilgrim has addressed that problem.
...[I]f the “day-age” theorists accept day seven as an “age” also, we ask, “What about day eight, or day nine, or day ten...?” On the assumption that the earth is 7,000 years old (a most distinct possibility), let the “day-age” proclaimers put 2,555,000 days (7,000 years at 365 days per year) on a page. Now let them circle the day which began the normal 24-hour day. Let them also give just one scripture reference to substantiate the validity of that circle. Can they do it? No! Will they do it? No! (1976, 118:522, emp. in orig.).
The third problem with the idea that the seventh day is continuing has to do with Adam, as Woods has noted:
Adam, the first man, was created in the sixth day, lived through the seventh day, and into at least a portion of the eighth day. If these days were long geologic periods of millions of years in length, we have the interesting situation of Adam having lived in a portion of one age, through the whole of another age, and into at least a portion of a third age, in which case he was many millions of years old when he finally died! Such a view of course is absurd; and so are the premises which would necessitate it (1976, p. 18, emp. in orig.).
Whitcomb has explained why these things are true.
...Genesis 2:2 adds that He rested on the seventh day. That day also must have been literal, because otherwise the seventh day which God blessed and sanctified would have been cursed when God cursed the world and cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden. You see, the seventh day must have ended and the next week commenced before that Adamic curse could have come. Adam and Eve lived through the entire seventh day and into the following week, which is simply a confirmation of the fact that each of the days, including the seventh, was literal (1973, 2:64-65).
It also has been suggested that Hebrews 4:4-11, where the writer speaks of the continuation of God’s Sabbath rest, provides support for this unusual view. First, I would like to present the passage in question, along with the argument framed from it. Then I would like to offer an explanation of why the passage does not support the concept of the seventh day continuing, and why the argument based on it is faulty. Here is the passage.
For he hath said somewhere of the seventh day on this wise, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works”; and in this place again, “They shall not enter into my rest.” Seeing therefore it remaineth that some should enter thereinto, and they to whom the good tidings were before preached failed to enter because of disobedience, he again defineth a certain day, “Today,” saying in David so long a time afterward (even as hath been said before), “Today if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts.” For if Joshua had given them rest, he would not have spoken afterward of another day. There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience.
Here, now, is the argument. Proponents of the idea suggest that since God’s Sabbath Day (the seventh day of the creation week) continues to this very day, then it follows logically that the other days of the creation week were long periods of time as well (see Ross, 1994, pp. 48-49,59-60; Geisler and Brooks, 1990, p. 230). In support of this position, progressive creationist Hugh Ross suggested: “Further information about the seventh day is given in Hebrews 4.... We learn that God’s day of rest continues” (1994, p. 49).
Wrong! Here is the correct meaning of the passage. While the text speaks clearly of the cessation of God’s creative activity—beginning on the seventh day—it nowhere implies or states that God’s seventh day has continued from the past into the present. Nor does the passage speak of the duration of the seventh day. Mark Van Bebber and Paul Taylor have addressed this point.
Like David in the Psalms, the writer of Hebrews is warning the elect not to be disobedient and hard-hearted. Thus, he alludes to Israel in the wilderness who because of their hard hearts could not receive God’s promise of rest in Canaan. “Rest,” as used in these verses by both David and the writer of Hebrews, had a specific historic reference to the promised land of Canaan. The Hebrew word used by David for “rest” was menuwchah, which is a general term for rest which has a special locational emphasis (e.g., “the resting place or abode of resting”) [see Brown, et al., 1979, p. 629b]. This concept is echoed by the author of Hebrews who uses the Greek word katapausis, which also may refer to an abode or location of resting (Hebrews 4:1,3-5,8).
At the climax of this passage, the author promises a future day of rest (Hebrews 4:9, Greek: Sabbatismos). This is the only time in the New Testament that this word for “rest” is employed. It seems to be a deliberate reference to Day Seven of Creation. The author does not say, however, that the seventh day continues on into the future. He uses Sabbatismos without an article (like saying a Sabbath, rather than the Sabbath). In Greek, this grammatical structure would generally represent the character or nature of Day Seven, without really being Day Seven. That is, the context makes it clear that the future day of rest will be similar to the original seventh day. The task will be complete; we will live with Christ eternally—our work on earth will be done (1996, pp. 72-73, emp., parenthetical, and bracketed items in orig.).
The passage in Hebrews thus is employing the essence of the seventh day of creation to refer to the coming essence of heaven—i.e., a place of rest. It is not speaking about the actual length of that seventh day. Furthermore, the fact that God has not been involved in creative activity since the close of day six says absolutely nothing about the duration of the various days of creation. When God completed the creation, He “rested”—but only from His work of creation. He is very much at work now—but in His work of redemption, not creation. Jesus Himself said: “My Father worketh even until now” (John 5:17). While it is correct to say that God’s rest from creative activity continues to this very hour, it is not correct to say that His Sabbath continues. That was not the point the Hebrew writer was making, and to suggest that it was represents either a misunderstanding or misuse (or both) of the passage.
God was not saying, via the Hebrew writer, that He wanted to share a literal Sabbath Day’s rest with His creation. Rather, He was saying that He intended to enjoy a rest that was typified by the Sabbath Day’s rest. The Israelites who rebelled against God in the wilderness were not able to share either a “rest” by entering into the physical presence of the Promised Land or a “rest” by entering into the eternal presence of God. R.C.H. Lenski commented on the text as follows:
The point lies in taking all these passages together. The rest from which the Jews of the Exodus were excluded, into which we are entering, is God’s rest, the great Sabbath since the seventh day; of course not of the earthly days and years that have rolled by since then and are still continuing, but the timeless, heavenly state that has been established and intended for men in their glorious union with God.
These are not different kinds of rest: the rest of God since creation and a future rest for his people; or a rest into which men have already entered and one that has been established since the redemptive work of Jesus, into which they are yet to enter; or a rest “at the conclusion of the history of mankind.” The seventh day after the six days of creation was a day of twenty-four hours. On this day God did not create. Thus God made the first seven-day week (Exod. 20:8-11; 31:12-17), and the Sabbath of rest was “a sign” (v. 17) so that at every recurrence of this seventh day Israel might note the significance of this sign, this seventh day of rest being a type and a promise of the rest instituted for man since the days of creation. Like Canaan, the Sabbath was a type and a promise of this rest (1966, pp. 132-133, emp. added).
Additionally, even if it could be proven somehow that the seventh day of creation was longer than the others (which it cannot), that still would establish only one thing—that the seventh day was longer. It would say absolutely nothing about the length of the other six days. And concerning those days, the Bible could not be any clearer than it is in explaining their duration of approximately twenty-four hours. Genesis 1 defines them as periods of “evening and morning” (1:5,8,13,19,23,31). While God’s activity within each literal day may have been miraculous, there is nothing miraculous about the length of the days themselves. They were, quite simply, the same kinds of “days” that we today enjoy. Attempts to reinterpret the message of Hebrews 4 do not alter that fact.
Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs (1979), The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson).
Geisler, Norman L. and Ronald M. Brooks (1990), When Skeptics Ask (Wheaton, IL: Victor).
Lenski, R.C.H. (1966), The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg).
Pilgrim, James (1976), “Day Seven,” Gospel Advocate, 118:522, August 12.
Ross, Hugh (1994), Creation and Time (Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress).
Van Bebber, Mark and Paul S. Taylor (1996), Creation and Time: A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross (Gilbert, AZ: Eden Communications).
Whitcomb, John C. (1973), “The Days of Creation,” And God Created, ed. Kelly L. Segraves (San Diego, CA: Creation-Science Research Center), 2:61-65.
Woods, Guy N. (1976), Questions and Answers: Open Forum (Henderson, TN: Freed-Hardeman University).