A while back, I wrote about the plain meaning of the words of the Bible. Many Christians want to believe the Bible but seem to exhibit a greater confidence in the opinions of scientists whose theories contradict the plain words of the Bible. Rather then call the Bible wrong, these Christians assume that the Bible simply doesn't mean what it says. They allege that the creation account in Genesis is a “story” akin to a metaphor or analogy. What is worse, they not only believe that a metaphorical interpretation was intended, they further claim the original readers (the fledgling nation of Israel) would have immediately understood it to be figurative! It's truly incredible.
In English, there are certain clues that alert the reader to when grammatical devices are being used. For example, when a person reads the word, “like,” he should be on the look out for simile (he runs like the wind). Equative verbs that compare two different objects identifies metaphor (his car is his baby). Assigning anthropomorphic characteristics to concepts is personification (Reality is a cruel mistress). Get it? So where are the literary clues in Genesis? If the passage is “easily understood” to be non-literal, there surely must be some grammatical device we can point to.
Of course, Hebrew does have some poetic devices not used in English. One device is a type of alliteration where each passage begins with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Psalms 119 is the most complete example of this. Another type of Hebrew poetry is where the author repeats the same point using slightly different words. Psalm 91:4 says, “He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.” Covering us with His feathers is not much different than taking us under His wing. Also, a buckler is just another word for a shield. Curiously, neither of these devices are used in Genesis 1 or 2.
I've discussed this issue more than a few times with many, many people who hold the non-literal view. I ask them earnestly to clearly explain the literary construction in Genesis that helps them identify it as figurative and to give me a few examples of where else it is used in the Bible. They almost invariably retreat to a position of, “well, science has proven it can't be literal so it must be figurative.” You can see how that is not persuasive. Neither does it explain why the ancients would have understood it to be figurative because they did not have the “benefit” of modern, scientific theories of origins. They would have interpreted it “plainly” as should we.
But to those people still who hold a figurative interpretation, let me ask a question: What if God had intended Genesis to “really” mean six days? How could He have written it any more plainly? Think about this for a moment: Each day enumerates specific creative acts by God and the days are clearly delineated with the phrase “evening and morning” and identified with an ordinal number (first day, second day, etc.) Assuming for a moment it's not literal, I'm not sure how it would be substantially different if God had truly meant it to be literal.
Obviously anyone can read the creation account for himself but let me sum it up in paraphrase. The creation account reads something like this:
On the first day (during the day and the night) God did this...
On the second day (during the day and the night) God did this...
So forth until the seventh day when God rested (ceased creating).
That all sounds pretty factual to me. If the plain meaning of the words in Genesis 1 cannot be understood to mean what they clearly say, then no part of the Bible can be believed with certainty. If God did not create the world in 6 days, then how do I know Jesus rose on the 3rd day? How do I even know He literally “rose”? How do I even know if Jesus was a literal person? If the words of the Bible don't mean what words ordinarily mean, than the entire Bible is meaningless!
If I had written the account with the intention of making sure it would be understood to be literal, I'm not sure what more I could have said except perhaps to add a qualifier: “these were not metaphoric days but real, ordinary days!”