Dr. Otto J. Helweg, P.E.
Dean Emeritus, College of Engineering and Architecture, NDSU
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Responses to:
How Long an
Evening and a Morning

Dr. Otto J. Helweg


There were two responses to my article in the Australian journal that had received permission to reprint the article from Hugh Ross. Unfortunately, when I asked the editors of the Australian journal for permission to reproduce the responses for this web page, they refused.

Since the responses add to the debate, I will attempt to reproduce the issues the two respondents raised. The first respondent was David G. Shackelford, Associate Professor of New Testament and Greek at the Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary/Northeast Branch, Schenectady, NY. He titled his response "How Short an Evening and Morning."

He starts out by saying,

"Dr. Helweg's article published by Reasons to Believe reflects the bias typical of those predisposed to modify the plain sense of the Biblical language in favour of an 'enlightened' scientific approach. The 'Reasons to Believe' are actually reasons not to believe the Bible as the Word of God."

He accuses me of using "liberal hermeneutical approaches" which undermines Biblical authority.

He takes issue with my assertion that the creation narratives were not concerned with the "how" but concentrated on the "who" of creation. He believes that the Genesis account DOES tell us "how" and that if it does not, we are accusing God of using deceptive language. For example, Shackelford, said, "If God did not mean what he said, why didn't He say what He meant?" It is important to Shackelford that we interpret Genesis in a "woodenly" literal sense as seen through our Western lenses. If we do not, he believes we step on the slippery slope of unbelief that ends up undermining the authority of the whole Bible. Because I proposed the "two-book" hermeneutical approach to the Bible, Shackelford makes the accusation that "Helweg has succumbed to the temptation of seeking to retain the façade of an authoritative science at the expense of an authoritative Bible."

In spite of a foot-noted reference to St. Augustine, where he said we should not give interpretations of Scripture "that are farfetched or opposed to science," Shackelford does not believe St. Augustine would "support a hermeneutic that sought to modify the plain sense of Scripture to fit a science that is subjective at its foundations." [as if Biblical interpretation was more objective that science] He then quotes a fundamentalist aphorism, "if the Scriptures make plain sense, do not try to make any other sense out of it [sic.]." Note again, the assumption that the language of Genesis 1-4 is "scientific."

Shackleford then uses the fact that our six-day work week is build on the assumption that the days in Genesis one are twenty-four-hour creation days. He then refers to Exodus 20:9 claiming that if the creation days are not twenty-four-hour days, the Sabbath has no meaning. He insists that when God says "years," he means "years" and when God says "days," he means "days." To use any other meaning for "days" is, Shackelford says, it to accuse God of using deceptive language.

Shackelford says that if God had created the world over "vast stretches of time" he could have said so and the Jews would have understood. This, of course, is a heroic assumption as the purpose of Genesis would have shifted dramatically from relating "who" to "how." Also, the Jews would then want to know what was going on over these "vast stretches of time." He ends the paragraph saying, "Why is it paradoxical to the logical mind that God created the world in days? After all, God is God."

Shackelford accuses me of an "ostentatious use of Daniel 8:26" and that I have committed the "unpardonable sin of Biblical hermeneutics violating the context." He again produces a well worn aphorism that "any text without a context is put a pretext." His argument is that even though visions require non-literal interpretations, since the singular phrase "evening and morning" refers to a specific number (2,300) of evenings and mornings, it does not follow that the same "evening and morning" phrase in Genesis could refer to a period longer that a twenty-four-hour day, the logic of which escapes me. After all, any period of time will be made up of twenty-four-hour days.

He continues saying that because the vision referred to the time the temple would stand, "It should be obvious to all except Helweg that the angel is speaking of literal days, not ages! The angel mentions the exact number of days." Shackelford then quotes Gleason Archer, a conservative Old Testament scholar, to support the interpretation of the passage referring to an exact number of days (even though scholars disagree on meaning). Interestingly enough, however, Archer does NOT interpret the day in Genesis one as a twenty-four-hour day, a fact Shackleford attributes to an error in judgement.

Shackelford concludes by saying that it is unfortunate that people who claim to be orthodox attempt to fit their interpretations of the Bible into Science. He believes that this never happened until Darwinism and the Age of Reason. He says the Bible began to lose its "prestige as the infallible Word of God" at this time. This seems to be an incredible statement because it completely ignores the continuing controversy of Biblical interpretation and attacks on it every since it was written, especially the case of Galileo which occurred over 300 years earlier.

He attributes seeking reconciliation between the Bible and science as a result of pride, especially when science is wrong. He faults Archer for arguing that rational observation of the scientific facts demand a day-age interpretation of the creation narrative. But Shackleford states that "scientific evidence is always subject to the interpretation of the scientist," as if the interpretation of the Bible was not subject to the theologian. Shackelford believes that the scientific data supporting an extensive creative process have been answered by the creationists organizations such as the Creation Science Foundation and the Institute for Creation Research.

Shackleford then quotes extensively from Archer.

'Gen. 1:27 states that after creating all the land animals on the sixth day, God created man, both male and female. Then, in the more detailed Treatment of Gen. 2, we are told that God created Adam first, gave him The responsibility of tending the Garden of Eden for some time until He Observed him to be lonely. He then granted him the fellowship of all the Beasts and animals of earth, with opportunity bestow names upon them all. Some undetermined period after that, God observed that Adam was Still lonely and finally fashioned a human wife for him by means of a rib Removed from him during a "deep sleep". Then at last he brought Eve Before Adam and presented her to him as his new life partner. Who can Imagine that all of these transactions could possibly have taken place In 120 minutes of the sixth day (or even within twenty-four hours, for that Matter)? And yet Gen. 1:27 states that both Adam and Eve were created at the very end of the final day of creation. Obviously the "days of Chapter 1 are intended to represent stages of unspecified length, not Literal twenty four hour days." {1}

Shackleford's answer is that God can do anything, which is true, but are we to ignore the "Book of God's Works" in interpreting God's Word. Shackleford ends by saying, "The bottom line is that those opting for any version of day-age or day-revelation, etc. do so at the expense of, and in opposition to, the clear statements of Scripture."

The second response was by David M. Fouts, Associate Professor of Bible and Hebrew at Bryan College, Dayton, TN. Bryan College is named after William Jennings Bryan, the famous presidential candidate and prosecutor in the Scopes Trial. His response was less vitriolic and dealt more with substantive issues, many of which paralleled Shackleford's points.

His first concern was that I classified Genesis 1 as poetry. He stated that repetition is not a necessary component of Biblical Hebrew poetry but is more of a characteristic of Biblical Hebrew prose. He gave three examples of Hebrew poetry as:
(a) parallelism of juxtaposed lines,
(b) metrical characteristics, and
(c) figures of speech.
He stated at with one possible exception, poetic features were not in Genesis 1. He also pointed out that, with the exception of the NIV, none of the other translations interpreted Genesis 1 as poetry.

His second concern was that, admitting the Hebrew word for "day" may have several meanings, he disagrees that using Genesis 2:4 ('in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens') where the "day" refers to all the creation days, is a legitimate argument against the twenty-four-day interpretation. He supports this by saying,

"This is not a typical meaning of the term "day" however. The use of with the preposition is in construct with the infinitive, a syntactical construction which often is simply translated idiomatically as 'when'. So Genesis 2:4 may be safely translated 'when the Lord God made...' without any mention of "day" at all. To negate the meaning of as a 24-hour day in chapter 1 using in Genesis 2:4 is at best and imprecise argument."

His third concern is the main point of my article where I use the phrase "evening and morning" in Daniel 8:26. He admits that the phrase in Hebrew employs singular nouns rather than plural, but says this is normal in Hebrew. He states that only five percent of the hundreds of uses are in the plural [a statement I was unable to verify]. He says that because the evening and morning phrase in Daniel has the 2,300-day modifier, it may be translated in the plural. [obviously] But he then goes on to say that, because of this, the phrase in Daniel cannot be used to argue against the meaning of a 24-hour day for "evening and morning" in Genesis 1. Instead, its use here actually supports 24-hour days elsewhere. [again, this logic escapes me]

He closes by saying, "it seems to me to deny the simple meaning of a 24-hour day in Genesis 1 based on the argumentation of Dr. Helweg does not do justice to the position propounded by Reasons to Believe in its newsletter Facts and Faith."

{1}Kaiser, W., 1964, reprinted 1994. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, Moody Press, Chicago, 1966 p. 20.



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