Can you explain Hebrews 11:3?
Let me begin by saying that your question has been pondered by many a Bible scholar, theologian, and scientist too. While some may disagree, here are some of my personal thoughts and those of a few others I respect and admire on the issues involved.
Not only is faith confident (Heb. 11:1) and active (Heb. 11:2), it is understanding (Heb. 11:3). Philip Hughes in his "A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews," says, 'Faith not only makes the future promises present it unveils the unseen.' Although no human witnessed all the creation "days," we know from Scripture that God brought the world into being through his Word (Psa. 33:6, 9). Christians understand that "what is seen" is not self-existent reality. See WCF 4.1; WLC 15; WSC 9; BC 10.
Creation should inspire us to praise God. But not all praise God. Hughes uses a riveting illustration:
But not all praise God. Many, in fact, employing the same scientific method, manage to deny the Creator. They are like the piano mice who lived all their lives in a large piano. The music of the instrument came to them in their "piano world," filling all the dark spaces with sound and harmony. At first the mice were impressed by it. They drew comfort and wonder from the thought that there was someone who made the music - though invisible to them - someone above, yet close to them. They loved to think of the Great Player whom they could not see.
Then one day a daring mouse climbed up part of the piano and returned very thoughtful. He had found out how the music was made. Wires were the secret - tightly stretched wires of graduated lengths that trembled and vibrated. They must revise all their old beliefs. None but the most conservative could any longer believe in the Unseen Player. Later another explorer carried the explanation further. Hammers were now the secret - great numbers of hammers dancing and leaping on the wires. This was a more complicated theory, but it all went to show that they lived in a purely mechanical and mathematical world. The Unseen Player came to be thought of as a myth, though the pianist continued to play.
For the believer, those who know the Pianist, it is all so clear: "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." We do not hold our breath to see if Stephen Hawking re-embraces the Big Bang theory. That theory is somewhat congenial to the Biblical account, but we do not need it. We know that God simply spoke the universe into existence: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm" (Psalm 33:6, 9). Moreover, he did it ex nihilo - out of nothing. He did not have a rabbit, and he did not have a hat! By faith in God's Word we know for a certainty that every star was created by God - all 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000! (i.e., ten octillion).
Real science and true faith are not enemies; rather they accentuate one another; ultimately they will agree in One Creator (God is the Lord of science too). However, Christians while they should closely examine the ever changing fields of science should not embrace 'their mutating assumptions' as the Gospel. This chart shows some of the ever changing fields of science as compared to the unchanging Biblical record:
The original Greek and Hebrew texts (autographs) of the Bible have remained the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). Why? Because it is God's Word. It is true and accurate and will withstand the test of time. God's act of creation was "spoken" (Gen. 1), "in faith" (Heb. 11:6) and "what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Heb. 11:3) and it was "very good" (Gen. 1:31). This is a fact - one found in Scripture and the creation itself (Rom. 1:20) that speaks of its Creator.
Earth is a sphere
Earth a flat disk Earth is a sphere Innumerable stars
1100 stars Innumerable stars Air has weight
Air is weightless Air has weight Each star is different
1 Cor 15:41
All stars are the same Each star is different Light moves
Light was fixed in place Light moves Free float of earth in space
Earth sat on large animal Free float of earth in space Wind blows in cyclones
Winds blow straight Wind blows in cyclones Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains
2 Sam 22:16; Jonah 2:6
Ocean floor is flat Ocean floor contains deep valleys and mountains Creation made of invisible elements
Claims ignorance on topic Creation made of invisible elements
Ocean contains springs
Ocean feed by only by river and rain Ocean contains springs
So, we need to be sure to maintain the true Gospel while examining the musings of mere mice.
The Who of Creation
We are often asked, "How do you explain the age of the earth - since science says it is old." While this is an interesting question, before understanding the age of the earth we need to understand the "Who" of creation. Without an understanding of the "Who" of creation, the what, when, where, how, and age of creation will be misunderstood. God answers who made creation saying:
By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible" (Heb. 11:3; cf. Gen. 1:1).
Christian this is God's answer (Gen. 1-2; Neh. 9:6; Job 9:8; 38:4; Psa. 89:11; 102:25; 115:15; 124:8; 136:5; 148:5; Isa. 40:21; 42:5; 45:12, 18; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Acts 17:24; Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:10; Rev. 4:11). Scientist this is God's answer.
A common question when it comes to interpreting Genesis 1-3 is 'what is the genre?' Is it historical or poetic (metaphorical). Before any proper interpretation can be embarked upon this distinction must be understood and the truth embraced.
The first five books of our Bible are called the Torah - the Law. Genesis is the foundational book of the Torah and is considered as historical and factual by Jews. Note, that Jesus also referred to the Genesis narrative as literal truth (cf. John 5:46-47). We see an example in Matthew 19:1-9. These verses concern a discussion on marriage, divorce, remarriage that takes place between Christ and the Pharisees. The Pharisees desired to see if they could catch the Lord contradicting the Torah. In Jesus' answer (Matt. 19:4; cf. Gen. 1:27) we note some of our Lord's affirmations: (1) there was a beginning, (2) there is a Creator, and (3) God literally made male and female. Jesus affirms the Genesis account!
Additionally, Wayne Jackson in "Fortify Your Faith in an Age of Doubt" (1982, Apologetics Press) points out that if we look at the Greek of Matthew 9:4, we see that Jesus used the aorist of the verb "made" (epoisesen) stressing the fact that the first couple were made by single acts of creation. Jesus did not use the imperfect tense (used to emphasize progressive action at sometime in the past) which he would have used if he understood Genesis to teach the notion that the first humans evolved over vast ages of time. The Lord Jesus Christ therefore actually verbally refutes the concept of evolutionary development and he speaks with final authority - as he is not only God, but he was also there (John 1:1; Col. 1:16). So, Jesus viewed Genesis, the Torah, the Law, as historical. He also exposes the error(s) of an evolutionary mindset.
Moreover, the Apostle Paul, appeals to the historical accounts of Genesis. Paul called Adam and Eve by name in 1 Timothy 2:13 and based his instructions to Christians for woman's work in the Church on the literal order of creation. He taught that Adam was as historical as Moses (Rom. 5:14) and he believed that "the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness" (2 Cor. 11:3). These are historical doctrinal arguments based upon the first few chapters of Genesis. Paul believed in a literal Genesis account.
In addition, the normal order for a Hebrew narrative sentence is: Conjunction > Verb > Subject > Object. The order in poetic writing is: Subject > Verb > Object. So, Genesis according to its grammar is historical. As the Genesius' Hebrew Grammar confirms:
The style of writing of Genesis 1 is historical, using the waw-consecutive to express consecutive action (waw = and). Biblical historians use this style to: "express actions, events, or states, which are to be regarded as the temporal or logical sequence of actions, events, or states mentioned immediately before." (Ref. 7) What this means for Genesis 1 is that God describes a sequence of events that occur one after the other throughout the creation week. We see this sequence reflected in the English as 'And God said,' 'And there was,' or 'And it was,' with which each verse in Genesis 1 begins. Each occurrence signifies that some action followed another in a real time sequence.
Edward Young in his Studies in Genesis states:
Genesis one is not poetry or saga or myth, but straightforward, trustworthy history, and, inasmuch as it is a divine revelation, accurately records those matters of which it speaks. That Genesis one is historical may be seen from these considerations: (1) It sustains an intimate relationship with the remainder of the book. The remainder of the book (i.e., The Generations) presupposes the Creation Account, and the Creation Account prepares for what follows. The two portions of Genesis are integral parts of the book and complement one another. (2) The characteristics of Hebrew poetry are lacking. There are poetic accounts of the creation and these form a striking contrast to Genesis one.
Genesis is a historical and not a poetical account of creation. This is affirmed both by Christ, Paul, the Hebrew grammar and syntax, and the Greek language.
Some of God's Creation Details
To understand the "age of the universe" we also must understand some of the details of God's creation. The truth is in the details. However, even though God created the universe, he did not see fit to tell us everything concerning his creation. God did not give us the exact year he created it. Though Scripture says "in the beginning" (Gen. 1:1), God did not pull out a calendar and point out a date, or pick up a Rolex and give us the exact hour.
However, what God does detail a little for us is: (1) in the beginning he created the universe (Gen. 1:1), (2) he uses a format of "day" (yom in Hebrew) to explain his creation, (3) he spoke it into existence (Gen. 1), and (4) he created it ex-nihilo (Heb. 11:3). These are some of the details and boundaries we are privileged to know and work within.
A Mature Universe
While we cannot definitively say everything about creation that there is to know, we may deduce from Scripture that God created a mature universe; one with age. One where Adam: (1) understood instruction (Gen. 2:16-17), (2) could speak - as he names the animals (Gen. 2:19-20), and (3) was old enough to understand both the need for and be given a wife (Gen. 2:18, 21-24) and even marveled with words at his wife's creation (Gen. 2:23). Adam was given instruction that he could eat of every tree of the Garden (Gen. 2:15-16) - except one (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil). Thus, the "trees" in the Garden were ALREADY producing fruit! They were created mature. God created a mature universe.
So, when Adam was created, he was a mature adult; fully able to walk, talk, care for the garden (Gen 2:15), etc. When God created fruit trees, they were already bearing fruit. In each case, what God created was functionally complete right from the start - able to fulfill the purpose for which it was created. God's evaluation of his own work was that his completed creation was "very good" (Gen. 1:31). God observing what he created in days - not just the sun, moon, stars, trees, vegetation, animals and man himself, etc. - but their function and harmony with each part fulfilling the purpose for which it was created - was "very good." God created the universe - ex-nilho (Heb. 11:3) - and he created all of its processes to work in harmony with one another. For, the universe to have functioned in harmony from the beginning it had to be created with "true maturity" - not just with an appearance of age, but an already operating system (complicated systems operating within other complicated systems, etc.). So, we can affirm God created a mature universe, one with age, one that he intends to last (see "Does the earth abide forever?" below).
The Complexity and Intelligent Design of the UniverseCreation was not any mere accident. Systems within systems. Structures with structures. Mechanisms with mechanisms. However, you desire to describe what we see in the universe it is a complex intelligent design. God didn't just make a bunch of pieces of the creation and merely allow them to be shaken up for eons and at a later date there was the universe!
William Palely in his 1802 book, "Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity" gives us a watchmaker analogy. In essence, the analogy consists of the comparison of some natural phenomenon to a watch. Ultimately we can conclude from his analogy that both the complexity of the watch and creation itself necessitate an intelligent designer. Let me state it another way:
[At your own expense] Take an older simple watch completely apart and put it into a paper bag and begin to shake it. Yes take apart every gear, pin, spring, the dial and hands, etc. Take out the crystal, the crown, pusher, lug and rotor. Take all the pieces of the watch. Place them all in one paper bag. Shake the bag vigorously. How long will it take for the watch to put itself together? If we are honest with ourselves, we know that all the shaking in eternity would never put this watch together and make it work again. No mere human shaking of a bag would ever put the watch back together again.
The universe is even more complex than a mere watch. The universe began with nothing and became something with the spoken Word of God. If there is a Shaker than it is God. The shaking had to be done with intelligence, right? It couldn't be some mere cosmic slim directing all we see - and don't see! "You believe that there is one God" - James 2:19. But, God is no mere Shaker, he is the Creator. He is God! If God shook all the pieces then he, the Architect of the universe, shook them all with a master plan - a plan that came together in days, not eons.
Dr. Doug Borchman was an atheist. He presently works at the University of Louisville. but earned a B.S. and Ph.D. in Chemistry at Wayne State University before completing postdoctoral training at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. He has an interest in the human eye, especially cataracts. In time, he began to wonder as Charles Darwin (the founder of evolutionary theory) did, of the complexity of the human eye and the difficulties of applying evolution to it. Darwin wrote, "...that the eye...could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree." As Borchman, now a professing Christian, points out:
The eye has more than 2 million working parts.
The human eye is capable of seeing at a resolution of 576 megapixels.
Corneas are the only tissues that don't require blood.
The eye can process 36,000 bits of information an hour.
The eye blinks 10,000 times a day.
Under the right conditions, the human eye can see the light of a candle at a distance of 14 miles.
The eye can see 2.7 million different colors.
The eye has about 12 million photo receptors (light-sensitive cells).
The retina contains 130 million rods for night vision and 7 million color-sensitive cones for day vision.
There was and still is a design and intelligence involved! As Paul says, "For [God's] invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:20).
Part of what science is discovering is true. Some of their studies, analysis, and other experiments are becoming more accurate. "Science is not a stumbling block to belief in a Creator," Borchman said. "Rather, it tells us there must be something else. What's incredible is this Creator God wants to have a relationship with us." God being who he is - infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth - created in an instant what would have otherwise taken centuries. If the sciences understand this truth then their dating and other interpretations of what they discover will begin to offer even further evidence of God the Divine Creator!
God Created in Days
It is often argued that the term yom (day) in Hebrew can be interpreted as longer than a regular 24 hour day. From here then some argue that the days in Genesis 1 are not literal. However, while it is very true that the term "day" may mean a longer period of time:
It can have any of five meanings: 1) a period of light; 2) a period of 24 hours; 3) a general, vague time; 4) a point of time; 5) a year (TWOT, 1:371).
of the 1700+ times it appears in the Old Testament, the majority of its uses concern the normal cycle of daily earth time (a 24 hour cycle). Unless context dictates differently the primarily usage of a word should be maintained in our exegetical analysis. As R. L. Dabney points out that:
The narrative seems historical, and not symbolical; and hence the strong initial presumption is, that all its parts are to be taken in their obvious sense.... It is freely admitted that the word day is often used in the Greek Scriptures as well as the Hebrew (as in our common speech) for an epoch, a season, a time. But yet, this use is confessedly derivative. The natural day is its literal and primary meaning. Now, it is apprehended that in construing any document, while we are ready to adopt, at the demand of the context, the derived or tropical meaning, we revert to the primary one, when no such demand exists in the context. [Lectures in Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1878, rep. 1972, pp. 254-255).
In addition, Moses, the author of Genesis, qualifies the use of yom (day) with the phrase "the evening and the morning" (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). The verses that use this phrase (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31; Exod. 16:8, 12, 13; 18:13, 14; 27:21; 29:39, 41; Lev. 6:20; 24:3; Num. 9:15, 21; 28:4; Deut. 28:67; 1 Kings 17:6; 2 Kings 16:15; 1 Chron. 16:40; 23:30; 2 Chron. 2:4; 13:11; 31:3; Ezra 3:3; Job 4:20; Psa. 55:17, 65:8, 90:6; Eccl. 11:6; possibly Dan. 8:14, 26) all refer to a normal 24 hour day. Again Dabney argues:
The sacred writer seems to shut us up to the literal interpretation, by describing the day as composed of its natural parts, 'morning and evening.'... It is hard to see what a writer can mean, by naming evening and morning as making a first, or a second 'day'; except that he meant us to understand that time which includes just one of each of these successive epochs: one beginning of night, and one beginning of day. These gentlemen cannot construe the expression at all. The plain reader has no trouble with it. When we have had one evening and one morning, we know we have just one civic day; for the intervening hours have made just that time (p. 255).
Some argue that since the sun and moon were not created until Day 4 (Gen. 1:14-19) that yom (day) could not mean a 24 hour day in Genesis 1. But their "assumption" maintains needing a sun and morning to have daylight. This is clearly not what the Scripture teaches. We see numerous examples of "light" without the sun and moon in Bible. One of the most significant is the "Plague of Darkness" in Exodus 10:21-23 saying:
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt." So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.
What is significant here is we have: (1) the same author writing Genesis and Exodus - Moses, (2) the same number of days - 3 (three) without the sun and moon being visible, (3) the word "days" (yammim, plural of yom) is used, and (4) though the sun or moon gave no visible light, yet there was "light" for the people of God. Other texts reveal light to live by without the sun and moon as well:
Exodus 13:21 "And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night." ... But at night the pillar of cloud moved and stood between the Egyptians and the Israelites, and there was darkness for the pursuing Egyptians, but light by night for the Israelites (Exod. 14:20).
In New Jerusalem, the city has no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they might shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb [i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ, cf. John 1:29, 36] (Rev. 21:23; 22:5).
The same Hebrew word yom (day) and phraseology ("evening and morning") associated with days 4-6 (AFTER the sun and moon were created) are are used in days 1-3 (BEFORE the sun and moon were created) which teaches us to understand those first 3 days were 24 hour days too. If Moses had wished to speak of "eras" and not a "day" he could have used another Hebrew word such as olam, but he did not! God is the source of light and life (plant life on Day 3, animal life on Days 5 and 6, and human life on Day 6) for creation! Perhaps those that make this argument against God's creation need more light from Scripture.
The creation of the universe was finished in 6 days (Gen. 2:1). The seventh day (Gen. 2:2, 3) is not set off by the phrase "evening and morning" as it is the eternal rest of God (Psa. 95:7-11; Heb. 3:7-11; 4:1-11), which God's people have been commanded to celebrate on literal days (yom) - the Sabbath (Exod. 20:8-11). It is the very rest of God (Heb. 4:4, 9-10; Exod. 33:13-16) which "new creations" (2 Cor. 5:17; cf. Isa. 49:8; Matt. 11:28; 2 Cor. 6:2) in Christ Jesus are privileged to enter and will live for eternity in the "re-newed" earth (see "Does the earth abide forever?" below), where there is no need of the sun or moon (Rev. 21:23).
The Work Week
Related to understanding the term "day" or "days," is God's command regarding the work week. In Exodus 20:9-11, God in the Fourth Commandment specifically patterns man's work week after his own creation work week - consisting of 7 yoms (days). Man's work week is expressly tied to God's work week: "For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (Exod. 20:11; cf. Exod. 31:15-17). God's creation week is spoken of as involving "six days" (yammim, the plural of yom). The 600+ instances of the plural "days" in the Old Testament all refer to normal days. "Ages" are NOT designated using the term yammim (days).
Once again Dabney is helpful saying:
In Gen. 2:2-3; Exod. 20:11, God's creating the world and its creatures in six days, and resting the seventh, is given as the ground of His sanctifying the Sabbath day. The latter is the natural day; why not the former? The evasions from this seem peculiarly weak (p. 255).
We might add, that the Torah begins with a verse (Gen. 1:1) containing 7 words and 28 letters (divisible by 7), making this number of days even more significant. God is making a point that should not be dismissed and is crucial for our understanding God's creation of his universe.
God Created, but Science Attempts to Uncreate God
Perhaps many in their scientific endeavors are just confused in the "interpretation" of certain given facts, because they refuse (Rom. 1:18-32) and can't (Rom. 8:5-8; 1 Cor. 2:14) acknowledge the existence of the eternal God (Psa. 10:4; 14:1; 53:1; Rom. 3:10) who is greater than they (Psa. 115:3; 135:5-6; 147:8-9; Isa. 44:24; Dan. 2:21; 4:32, 35; Matt. 6:26; Col. 1:16-17). Perhaps in the search for "their" perceived truth, they have been blinded (2 Cor. 4:4) to the Truth (John 14:6).
Creation is an act of God alone - a miracle. In time all true science will confirm God's Word, as God is the Lord of science too.
Related Topics:Does the earth abide forever?
Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).