Perhaps, if anything, the divines were speaking to Augustine’s notion of instant creation. The theory by the early theologian that God created all things instantaneously had some traction over the centuries. Calvin disputed this claim, but later theologians like Charles Hodge held some views that pointed to Augustine’s claim. It is this subject that we will now turn.
The confession states in this chapter that God made the world of nothing. With that in mind, the alternative to the Biblical view would be essentially pantheism. The Bible plainly states that God was the one who created. Other worldviews say that matter is eternal. But quite obviously, matter is not eternal. 19th century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge puts it like this in his Systematic Theology, “There is, therefore, according to the Scriptures, not only an immediate, instantaneous creation ex nihilo by the simple word of God, but a mediate, progressive creation; the power of God working with second causes.”
Hodges’ view correlates with Augustine’s view of instant creation. He speaks about creation in his book, City of God. “‘What kinds of days these were is extremely difficult, or perhaps impossible for us to conceive.” Augustine was trying to figure out why the Bible said that the sun and stars were created on the fourth day. Since we measure time with the sun, how could the first three days be 24-hour days? This is the basis for Augustine’s theory of instantaneous creation.
Calvin tended to disagree with this instant creation theory put forth by Augustine, which was one of few things that the reformer disagreed with the North African theologian. Calvin wanted to uphold God’s sovereignty by sticking to a strict, 24-hour, six-day, view. In his commentary on Genesis 1, John Calvin says, “‘God had before created the light, but he now institutes a new order in nature, that the sun should be dispenser diurnal light, and the moon and stars should shine by night. And he assigns them this office, to teach us that all creatures are subject to his will, and execute what he enjoins upon them.”
Calvin really makes an excellent point, so much so that the assembly adopted his words of “in the span of six days” in his commentary on Genesis to say “in the space of six days.” But, this was not shared by every theologian even some that served in the assembly. Sir Thomas Browne produced a work in favor of instantaneous creation called Religio Medici in 1643, which was the first year that the assembly met together.9 Other later theologians like Andrew White were neutral with Calvin’s statement in 1896, saying, “it was held, virtually ‘always, everywhere, and by all,’ that the universe, as we now see it, was created literally and directly by the voice or hands of the Almighty, or by both —out of nothing—in an instant or in six days.”
Obviously, the theologians and most likely every single member of the assembly knew about Augustine’s theory. Although there was at least one theologian that even agreed with the theory and who knows how many more, it was not that hot of a topic at the time. It is possible that the divines were giving remarks against Augustine’s theory, but in the end probably not likely.
Generally, when an exception is taken to the confession during an ordination exam the prospective minister will give the answer that he holds to a day-age view or a framework view possibly. There are other views like gap theory, but this has long since passed by the wayside. The intent here is not to totally hash out what day-age view or framework view are, but they will be defined briefly here.
The day-age view is the theory that each day referred to in the first chapter of Genesis represents a long period of time, perhaps millions of years. This theory stems from the interpretation of scientific theories put forth by carbon dating and fossils. There is obviously more to it than that, but that is the short definition of the theory.
The framework view is a bit more complicated in that it deals more with the text of Genesis. Lee Irons is the leader on this theory and defines it in this way: “The framework interpretation is the view that this picture functions as a figurative framework in which the eight divine fiats are narrated in a non-sequential or topical order. The days are ordinary solar days, but taken as a whole, the total picture of the divine work week is figurative. Although the temporal framework has a non-literal meaning, the events narrated within the days are real historical events of divine creative activity.”
What do these theories have to do with the Confession? Well, in a way, they have nothing to do with the Confession because they had not been proposed as theories until afterward. In another way, these theories are reacting to and bouncing off of the words of both Genesis and the fourth chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith. These theories are popular ways of explaining creation and thus are used as answers to the exceptions put forth on the floor of presbyteries.
Some commentators have put forth that none of the Westminster divines held to any other view, but a 24-hour view. They speak against both of the views and their proposed theories regarding the Confession. “Both the day-age and framework teams claim that Protestant confessions are ambitious on the length of the creation days. But we have taken great pains to prove that the long history of biblical interpretation, and specifically the written comments of the Westminster divines, endorse only the 24-hour view.”
The day-age view and the framework view are interesting and have been important in recent scholarship. However, no one can prove either of these theories is true beyond a shadow of a doubt. John Frame puts it well in his Systematic Theology, “I have no new insight on these issues, nor even any view on the matter that I could argue with confidence.” One could take an exception with the confession at this point and still be ordained into most presbyteries. However, if an exception is taken to the way the confession is defining the concept of six days, one would have to look outside of the confession and outside of the Bible to make their point.
Each presbytery is different when it comes to what they will accept from a candidate for ministry regarding exceptions taken to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Each presbytery is different and each denomination differs slightly as well. The OPC’s history on this issue of “in the space of six days” is an interesting one. J. Gresham Machen, who in fact was the founding father of the OPC held to a day-age view. Machen said, “It is certainly not necessary to think that the six days spoken of in the first chapter of the Bible are intended to be six days of twenty-four hours each. We may think of them rather as very long periods of time." Machen thought that it was more important that the word יום was used in the Hebrew text and that the word “day”
could mean an indeterminate length of time. Therefore, the OPC has never subscribed to a view of a literal six-day, 24-hour creation. The PCA does not propose that a six-day, 24-hour, view has to be taken, nor does it take the stance that that is what the confession means when it says, “in the space of six days” in this fourth chapter. The PCA’s stance is that the confession does not take this phrase to define the length of time that God used to create the world. Because the phrase ‘in the space of six days’ does not necessarily mean six twenty-four hour days, it would not be necessary for a candidate for licensure or ordination to declare an exception if his only question concerns the days of creation. Fesko, along with others in the PCA, as well as other Presbyterian denominations take the notion that the length of days is still an open question that requires more exegetical study.
Of Creation Conclusion
There is no resolution to the debate yet as to what the divines were intending as far as length of time, nor is there a resolution as to which view is correct in determining what the divines meant by the phrase “in the space of six days.” What can be said however, is that Moses wrote in Genesis that God created, that God created within the space of six days and that it was all very good. To go beyond that is standing on shaky ground, whichever theory you tend to believe. The Bible says the world was created in six days also in Exodus 20:11. Though, again, it does not say the number of hours or exactly how long those days were. We simply do not know.
Defining the word creation can come from a number of different angles. “By the word ‘creation’ we are to understand the production and formation of all things. I use two words, because creation is twofold—primary and secondary, or immediate and mediate.” Immediate is talking about first causes and mediate is talking about second causes. Both of these causes were caused by God. This we can know for sure.
In conclusion, it is a safe place to be to simply agree with the confession and the Bible when it says that God created the world, ex nihilo, in the space of six days. Each view has its positive and negative points and all are worth arguing for. I do not see any of the three positions or perhaps another position, as long is it agrees with the Bible, as being a wrong stance. I tend to believe in the six day, twenty-four hour view because I believe that is what the Bible says and I believe this is what the confession is saying.
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.
Frame, John M. 2013. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief. Philippsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.
Hodge, Charles. 1995. Systematic Theology: Theology. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Irons, Lee. 2016. “The Framework Interpretatio: An Exegetical Summary.”
Shaw, Robert. 2008. The Reformed Faith: An Exposition Of The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications.
The Westminster Confession of Faith. 1990. Atlanta, GA: Commitee for Christian Education & Publications.
Van Dixhoorn, Chad. 2014. Confessing The Faith: A Reader’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust.