Earlier this week, our editorial team was in an uproar over news that lexicographers conceded to popular thought, allowing the informal or emphatic use of the word “literally,” as in “this literally breaks my heart.” One Reddit user even posted the news with the following caption: “We did it guys, we finally killed English.”
Our editorial team bemoaned the change. But if The Credible Hulk has taught us anything, it’s to back up our rage (more like disapproval) with facts and documented sources. So I did some digging. As it turns out, the second use of “literally” has been included in Merriam-Webster since 1909. According to Merriam-Webster, it was the clever post by the Reddit user that “generated enough concern that dozens of newspapers published articles decrying the dictionary’s inclusion of the figurative sense of literally.” The grammar rant spread from there. But, ultimately, it was misplaced. The second definition had been around for some time, unnoticed.
Reminds me of the various definitions for the word “day.” When it comes to the age-of-the-earth debate, the biggest point of contention is the length of the creation days. Each of the six creation days listed in Genesis 1 concludes with “and there was evening, and there was morning—the Xth day.” Some Christians assert that “day” as used in the biblical creation account is rightly translated as a 24-hour day. Yet several other literal interpretations are allowed.
The Hebrew word for day (yom) can indicate either:
- Part of the daylight hours
- All of the daylight hours
- Twenty-four hours
- A long but finite period of time
As to the “evening and morning” expression, it seems, according to astronomer Hugh Ross in his booklet Genesis One: A Scientist’s Perspective, that the unusual phrasing does not necessitate a 24-hour definition. “More likely ereb [evening] and boqer [morning] serve as the literary ‘frame’ to mark the beginning and ending of creation-day events.” In other words, they act as bookends to the events of each creation day.
So what about that seventh creation day? Ross explains,
For each of the six creation days in Genesis 1, the text repeats the “evening and morning” expression. However, the expression is not attached to the seventh day, the day of God’s “rest” or “cessation.” Its absence suggests that the seventh day has not yet ended. Given the strong parallel structure of the passage, if the seventh day represents a lengthy time period, it seems reasonable that the other days could be lengthy as well.
Examining the creation passages outside of Genesis 1–2 can give further insight to the length of the creation days. For example, Hugh notes that Hebrews 4 (verses 4, 9, and 11, specifically) helps shed light on God’s rest in creation, “‘On the seventh day God rested from all his works’…There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God…Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…”
Just like with the use of “literally,” context is key to understanding which definition of “day” is in use. RTB posits that, when considering the major biblical creation accounts, the case for long but finite creation days best fits the biblical and scientific evidence.
Genesis One: A Scientific Perspective by Hugh Ross
Psalm 104: In Wisdom You Made Them All by Krista Kay Bontrager with Fazale Rana
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