The Framework Interpretation: An Exegetical Summary

Lee Irons

Extracted from Ordained Servant vol. 9, no. 1 (January 2000), pp. 7-11

Genesis 1:1-2:3 presents us with the picture of God's performing His creative work in the space of six days marked off in order by the rhythmic cadence of the six-fold evening-morning refrain. 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 is the exegetical support for such a view?[1]

The First Three Days

We begin by observing that on the first day of creation God created daylight and the alternating cycle of day and night. The divine naming of this phenomenon "day" (Gen. 1:5) establishes its permanent meaning and significance both during and beyond the creation period. On the very first day of creation, and from that moment on—until the sun is replaced by the immediate light of the divine radiance in the eschatological new creation (Rev. 22:5)—the created reality "day" has existed. Nothing in the text leads us to hypothesize that the light of the first three days was some undefined supernatural illumination different from what obtained after the creation of the sun on day four. Arguably, the use of the terms "day," "evening," and "morning," which presuppose ordinary solar processes, dictate that the first three days are in fact solar days.[2]

But what about the fourth day itself? Does not the fact that the luminaries were created later, four days after the creation of day and night, prove that the first three days were non-solar? That is one possible interpretation of the fourth day, although the difficulties raised above would still remain (e.g., why did God name these allegedly sunless days "days," complete with sunset and sunrise?).

Another explanation, which we believe to be more plausible, is that we have here an example of temporal recapitulation. Oswald T. Allis explains this feature of Hebrew narrative in his defense of Scripture against the higher critics. "The sequence in which events are recorded may not be strictly chronological... We often find in describing an event, the Biblical writer first makes a brief and comprehensive statement and then follows it with more or less elaborate details."[3] Taking our cue from Allis, it is possible that when Moses comes to the fourth day of creation, he returns to events that had already been narrated on day one to describe them in greater detail. Day one narrates the creation of light and its basic physical result—the establishment of the day/night cycle. Day four returns to the same event to narrate the divine creation of the solar mechanism that stands behind the results of day one as their physical cause. This interpretation would explain why the first three days seem so ordinary, without so much as a hint that they existed apart from the sun.[4]

The Two Triads

Confirming the plausibility of this approach is the presence of similar parallels between days two and five, and days three and six. Just as days one and four are very closely related (dealing with light and luminaries), the other remaining days also reveal strong parallelisms. Day two narrates the creation of the firmament, which divides the waters above the firmament (the clouds of the sky) from the waters below (the seas). Day five is thematically linked to the sky/seas of day two in an unmistakable manner: on the fifth day, God creates the denizens of the seas and of the sky. Likewise, on day three, God forms the dry land—which will be inhabited by the living creatures of day six—and the vegetation. To what creature of day six does the vegetation correspond? Man. The linking of vegetation and man anticipates the close connection in Gen. 2 between man and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil which will function as the probationary element of the covenant of works. Most modern commentators recognize the validity of this two-triad structure.[5]

Differences exist on how to classify the two triads, but Meredith G. Kline's analysis is suggestive: the first triad (days 1-3) narrate the establishment of the creation kingdoms, and the second triad (days 4-6), the production of the creature kings. Furthermore this structure is not without theological significance, for all the created realms and regents of the six days are subordinate vassals of God who takes His royal Sabbath rest as the Creator King on the seventh day. Thus the seventh day marks the climax of the creation week.[6]



Day 1. Light

Day 4. Luminaries

Day 2. Sky

Day 5. Sea Creatures
           Winged Creatures

Day 3. Dry land

Day 6. Land Animals

Day 7. Sabbath

This deliberate two-triad structure, or literary framework, suggests that the several creative works of God have been arranged by Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in their particular order for theological and literary, rather than sequential, reasons. For this reason we believe the days of the creation week are a figurative framework providing the narrative structure for God's historical creative works.

"Because It Had Not Rained" (Gen. 2:5)

Although the above considerations make the framework interpretation a plausible understanding of the days of creation, we recognize that we have not yet demonstrated the impossibility of a sequential understanding of the creation days. One might still argue that day four need not be taken as a recapitulation of day one, proposing instead that God could have sustained day and night for the first three days by supernatural means prior to the creation of the sun, moon and stars. But Gen. 2:5 rules out such an explanation and further strengthens the link between days one and four in a figurative framework.

Gen. 2:5a states that "no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted," and verse 5b provides a very logical and natural explanation for this situation: "for the LORD God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground" (NASB). Then, in verses 6-7, we are told how God dealt with these exigencies. In verse 6, the absence of rain is overcome by the divine provision of a rain cloud ("a rain cloud began to arise from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground"); and in verse 7, the absence of a cultivator is overcome by the creation of man.[7]

Notice that Moses offers his audience (ca. 1400 BC, long after the creation period) a perfectly natural explanation for the absence of vegetation. The Israelites would have been familiar with the idea that some form of water supply is necessary for plant growth—whether God—sent rain or man-made irrigation. So when Moses states that God didn't create vegetation until He had established the natural means of sustaining that vegetation, i.e., the rain cloud (verse 6), he is assuming that the Israelites would recognize the logic of this situation based on their own experience. The very fact that Moses would venture to give such an explanation indicates the presence of an unargued presupposition, namely, that the mode of providence in operation during the creation period and that is currently in operation (and which Moses' audience would have recognized) are the same. Since the mere giving of a natural explanation presupposes providential continuity between the creation period and the post-creation world, we may infer a general principle, applicable beyond the case of vegetation, that "God ordered the sequence of creation acts so that the continuance and development of the earth and its creatures could proceed by natural means."[8] In other words, during the creation period, God did not rely on supernatural means to preserve and sustain His creatures once they were created.

With this principle in hand, we now return to the problem of daylight, and evenings and mornings, prior to the sun. Although the sequential view attempts to explain this problem by hypothesizing that God sustained these natural phenomena by some non-ordinary means for the first three days, this speculation of human reason is contradicted by the disclosure of divine revelation that God employed ordinary means during the creation period to sustain His creatures. Thus, we are cast back upon our original suggestion that the fourth day is an instance of temporal recapitulation, narrating the creation of the normal physical mechanism God established to sustain the daylight/night phenomenon throughout the creation period and beyond. Gen. 2:5 necessitates a non-sequential interpretation of the creation account, and non-sequentialism in turn demonstrates that the week of days comprises a figurative framework.

The Seventh Day

The final exegetical observation that ultimately clinches the case is the unending nature of the seventh day. "On the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which God had created and made" (Gen. 2:2). The seventh day is unique in that it alone lacks the concluding evening-morning formula, suggesting that it is not finite but eternal. Further cementing this impression, the author of Hebrews equates the seventh day of creation with God's eternal rest ("My rest") when he writes: "although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has thus said somewhere concerning the seventh day, 'And God rested on the seventh day from all His works,' and again in this passage, 'They shall not enter My rest'" (Heb. 3:4-5). Hebrews interprets Ps. 95:11 in light of Gen. 2:2. Although the works were finished from the creation of the world, that is, although God's own rest has been a reality ever since the conclusion of the sixth day of creation, yet it is incumbent on the covenant community that they not passively assume that their participation in God's rest is a fait accompli. Rather, they must "be diligent to enter that rest" by mixing the gospel message with faith (Heb. 4:1-2,11).

God's rest is an eternal, ongoing reality, to which the covenant community of all ages is called to enter. It began on the seventh day of creation and so, according to the terms of the covenant of works, Adam was called to enter that rest as signified by the weekly observance of the Sabbath after the divine pattern (Gen. 2:3). The eternal divine rest continued after the fall, and so the offer was reissued in the covenant of grace on the basis of faith, but the wilderness generation failed to enter because of unbelief (Heb. 3:18-19). The divine rest continues in the new covenant administration of the covenant of grace, for the church is called to enter it "today" by responding in faith to the gospel message (Heb. 3:13; 4:7-9). Evidently, God's seventh-day rest did not end when the sun rose on the first day of the week! It continues even "today" and will continue for eternity, when the elect, who by sovereign effectual calling had been granted rest-entering saving faith, are ushered into the eternal Sabbath rest of God at the blessed appearing of our glorious rest-giver, the Lord Jesus Christ (Gen. 5:29; Matt. 11:28; 2 Thes. 1:7; Heb. 4:8-9).[9]

If the seventh day of creation is not a literal, finite day measured by the sun-earth relationship which defines our experience of time, it must belong to another temporal arena. The divine Sabbath rest must not be viewed from the earthly point of view, as if Gen. 2:2 were merely telling us that creative activity ceased on earth, though that is certainly true. No, in Gen. 2:2 the veil is parted that we might behold a heavenly scene in the invisible world above—God's royal enthronement in the heavenly sanctuary (Ps. 132:7-8, 13-14; Isa. 6:1). Thus, as Kline writes, "It is heaven time, not earth time, not time measured by astronomical signs."[10]

And if the seventh day marks the passing of heaven time, then the whole picture of God's performing His creative work within a "week," must be heavenly, and thus figurative, as well. The two-triad framework underscores the theological import of the days, marked off by the six-fold evening-morning refrain and brought to their climactic zenith in the seventh day of rest, as forming a grand picture of God's creating with a sabbatical teleology in view. The six days of creation have no independent, earthly meaning apart from the concluding capstone of the seventh day which completes the sabbatical picture and gives it meaning. Thus, to arbitrarily sever the seventh day from the preceding six by asserting that the seventh day is heavenly, while the six days are earthly, is to sever the head from the body, leaving a truncated torso of six days emptied of eschatological significance.

The fourth commandment has been appealed to by critics of the framework interpretation as proof that the creation days are literal (Ex. 20:11). However, this argument presses the relationship between God's work-rest pattern and man's too far, as if the two are identical rather than analogical. The weekly cycle of work and rest appointed for man may still be modeled on God's work week of creation even if the divine archetype is calibrated according to heaven time.

Evolution Disclaimer

One final issue. What do proponents of the framework interpretation teach concerning evolution? Before answering this question, it should be pointed out that the framework interpretation itself is limited to the exegetical question of whether the picture of God's performing His creative work in a week of days is literal or figurative. So evolution is logically a separate issue. However, in today's climate of debate, it is best to be clear on this point to avoid misunderstanding.

Kline states explicitly that he understands Gen. 2:7 to exclude an evolutionary scenario for the origin of man's body, since that text makes clear that the same act of divine inbreathing that constituted Adam in his specific identity as the image of God, also constituted him a living creature. Divine revelation therefore rules out the possibility that God impressed the divine image on a pre-existing biological organism.[11]

With regard to the other (non-human) living creatures, I believe that Gen. 1 teaches that God created all the various plant and animal "kinds" by direct acts of supernatural creation, apart from any processes of biological change or ancestry, allowing only for microevolutionary processes of differentiation within the basic "kinds." (Most scholars recognize that the Hebrew word "kind" [min] has a broader range than the modern scientific term "species.")

But many critics of the framework inter-pretation are concerned that, though the current defenders of the view do not espouse evolution, a figurative approach could eventually lead down the slippery slope to macroevolution. But this fear would only be justified if the figurative view were adopted in spite of the text, out of the desire to achieve harmony with science. While God's revelation in nature and God's revelation in Scripture can never be in conflict since God is the author of both, God's revelation in Scripture has presuppositional priority over natural revelation. Thus, if there is an apparent conflict, the only role that natural revelation can (and should) play in the interpretive process is to serve as a warning flag suggesting that our interpretation of Scripture may need to be reexamined.[12] We reject as invalid any interpretation of Scripture which achieves harmony with natural revelation at the price of sound exegesis. All Biblical interpretation must conform to the analogy of Scripture, which is the ultimate touchstone of exegetical validity. These hermeneutical presuppositions flow from sound Reformed principles, and ensure a correct handling of God's authoritative self-revelation in Scripture.


The framework interpretation agrees with the 24-hour view that at the literal level Gen. 1 speaks of ordinary solar days. In fact it is even more consistently literal since it insists on this meaning even for the first three days. What sets the framework interpretation apart is its claim that the total picture of the creation week is figurative. The creation history is figuratively presented as an ordinary week in which the divine craftsman goes about His creative toil for six days and finally rests from and in His completed work on the seventh. To insist on taking this picture literally is to miss the profound theological point—that the creation is not an end in itself but was created with the built-in eschatological goal of entering the eternal Sabbath rest of God Himself in incorruptible glory.


[1] For more on the framework interpretation, see Mark Futato, "Because It Had Rained: A Study of Gen 2:5-7 with Implications for Gen 2:4-25 and Gen 1:1—2:3," WTJ 60.1 (Spring 1998) 1-21; Lee Irons with Meredith G. Kline, "The Framework Interpretation," in The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the "Days" of Creation, ed. by David G. Hagopian (Mission Viejo, CA: Crux Press, forthcoming) ; Meredith G. Kline, "Because It Had Not Rained," WTJ 20.2 (May 1958) 146-57; ibid., "Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony," Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48.1 (April 1996) 2-15.

[2] Long before modern geology and astrophysics, Augustine concluded, on the basis of this argument, that the days of creation were "beyond the experience and knowledge of us mortal earthbound men." Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, vol. 41 in Ancient Christian Writers, ed. J. Quasten, et al (New York: Newman Press, 1982), pp. 134f.

[3] O. T. Allis, The Old Testament: Its Claims and Critics (Presbyterian and Reformed, 1972), pp. 97, 82. Allis cites the placement of man in the garden in Gen. 2:15 as a clear example of temporal recapitulation, for that event had already been narrated in verse 8. Cp. E. J. Young, Studies in Genesis One (P&R, 1964), pp. 73f.

[4] The framework interpretation thus rejects the attempt of the day-age theorists to take yom ("day") in Gen. 1 as denoting a finite but extended period of time, since Gen. 1:5 clearly defines the days as ordinary solar days.

[5] E.g., Cassuto, Sarna, Wenham, and many others.

[6] Kline, "Space and Time," p. 6.

[7] Futato writes: "The....problem with its two—fold reason will be given a two-fold solution" (p. 5). Due to space constraints, I must refer the reader to Futato's article for a defense of the translation "rain cloud." The Hebrew word mistranslated "mist" (KJV, NASB) occurs only one other time in the Bible, where it is translated "cloud" in the LXX (Job 36:27).

[8] Kline, "Space and Time," p. 13.

[9] John Murray agrees: "There is the strongest presumption in favour of the interpretation that this seventh day is not one that terminated at a certain point in history, but that the whole period of time subsequent to the end of the sixth day is the sabbath of rest alluded to in Genesis 2:2." Principles of Conduct (Eerdmans, 1957), p. 30.

[10] "Space and Time," p. 10.

[11] Ibid., p. 15, n47.

[12] Due to the noetic effects of sin, it is equally possible that the interpretation of natural revelation is what needs to be modified in light of the teaching of Scripture.

Pastor Lee Irons is a recent graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in California, and is now serving as the missionary pastor of Redeemer Orthodox Presbyterian Chapel in San Fernando Valley, California.