The Westminster Confession of Faith says in Chapter 4, Of Creation that, “It pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, for the manifestation of the glory of His eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, in the beginning, to create, or make of nothing, the world, and all things therein whether visible or invisible, in the space of six days; and all very good.” The context containing the words, “in the space of six days” will be the focus here. After reviewing sources on this subject, there was a result of different views regarding the context of how the confession defines creation, as opposed to how others define creation. In recent years, there has been an increasing number of views taken with the confession regarding the wording and perhaps, even, concepts of the fourth chapter on creation and the exact time aspect of creation. What we can say that is clear is that God is the one who created the world. That is not what is in view here, but rather the time that God took in creating the world “ex-nihilo” is the point of this particular discussion.
The purpose of this article is to understand why there are different views and scruples with the confession regarding the statement of “in the space of six days.” With that in mind, the discussion that will be had will focus on the confession and Bible’s definition of day or "yom" in Hebrew and also the definition of the confession’s use of the word “space” or “in the space.”
The first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning, God…” (Genesis 1:1). This is the obvious place to begin with the history of this doctrine of creation. Moses penned these words for a people who were wanting to know more about who God is and what he had done for them. So, the Westminster divines saw it fit to include in chapter 4 of the confession Of Creation with scripture proofs from Genesis 1. Hebrews 11:3 is also used as a scripture proof to show that creation came from God and that was the standard Biblical position going into the New Testament.
The divines were not speaking on anything that was controversial regarding creation at the time. Rather, it was universally believed that God created the world in six days, as Moses explained it in the first chapter of Genesis. But was this the original intent of the Westminster Divines?
For this, we turn to David Hall’s view on the original intent of the writers of the confession. “Hall presents the views of twenty-one Westminster divines to prove the legitimacy of a twenty-four view…” There were 109 members of the assembly, so this does not necessarily help the cause of the original intent of the divines to be one propagating a 24-hour view. Fesko goes on to critique Hall’s view in saying, “…we know next to nothing about many of the divines…Who is to say what they believed about the length of the days of creation.” This does not answer the question as to the original intent of the statement of the six days in this portion of the chapter. It is possible that the original intent was a 24-hour view, but not necessarily.
The assertion has been made that the divines entertained theories in using the phrase, “in the span of six days” that the days were long and not necessarily 24 hours, as we know them today. William S. Barker remarks, “but all that the statement (Hall’s claims) is claiming is that the language “in the span of six days” does not exclude such possibilities, as further exegetical might be pursued as to the nature of the six days of creation in Genesis 1.”
There is no real way to figure out what the original intent of the entire Westminster assembly was. We know from Hall’s theory that at least 21 members held a 24-hour view, but we do not know how many other members could have held that view. This could have been the original intent, but there is no way to prove that theory. On the other hand, there is no way to prove the intent for any of the other proposed views of the span of creation.
We can say that the original intent was to be Biblical and reflect the words of Moses and reflect the original intent of God in his word to his people. Other than that, the original intent is ambiguous. Chad Van Dixhoorn points out that, “In the end, for some reason, the Westminster assembly decided not to elaborate on the words of Scripture. In spite of the way in which some members specified in their own writings how long those days were, the assembly instead chose to highlight the conclusion of Scripture: that all of God’s creation was ‘very good’.
Barker, William S. 2000. “Short Study: The Westminster Assembly On The Days Of Creation: A Reply To David W. Hall.” Westminster Theological Journal 62 (2000): 113–20.
Duncan III, Ligon J., Hall, David W., Archer, Hugh Ross & Gleason, Irons, Lee, Kline, Meredith G. 2001. The G3N3S1S Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation. Mission Viejo, CA: Crux Press, Inc. Fesko, J.V. n.d. “The Days of Creation And Confession Subscription In The OPC.” Westminster Theological Journal 63 (2001): 235–49.
Van Dixhoorn, Chad. 2014. Confessing The Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust.
The Westminster Confession of Faith. 1990. Atlanta, GA: Commitee for Christian Education & Publications.