Ok, I literally hate when people ask the question, “do you believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis?” I think there is an ingrained tendency to narrow one’s focus too much, to the point where you develop tunnel vision and either refuse, or fail to accept that there is more than one way take a passage or group of passages literally.
This is generally true of the creation days described in the book of Genesis. The primary text in question is found in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2:1-4 with the main focus being on the Hebrew word Yom which is translated day over the six creation days. One problem that arises is when someone — usually a young Earth Creationist or a skeptic — insists an ancient universe creationist is not taking the text “literally”. This particular digression is not helpful when discussing these passages because Yom has multiple literal meanings.
- day, passage of time, year, today
- day, as opposed to night
- day, a 24 hour period
- days, lifetime (pl.)
- an undefined but finite period (general)
Each of these usages are literal definitions of the word translated day. If there are multiple literal definitions, why is one application considered the default literal usage? The key is to determine which literal understanding is intended in the text.
Some literal usages have problems, such as taking day to mean a 24 hour solar day. Read my article Days of Old (Genesis Creation) to see why I believe the creation days in Genesis literally convey long periods of time instead of literally conveying 24 hour periods of time.
Now, it would be the case that someone isn’t taking the Genesis creation literally if they believed the account was mythological or metaphorical. This is where the question can produce a productive discussion. Keep in mind though, that someone who suggests the Genesis creation is a myth or metaphor may also take the creation days to be long periods of time, but that doesn’t mean simply by understanding the days to be long periods that you are mythologizing the creation account.
Next time you’re inclined to ask if someone takes the Bible, or the Genesis account literally, know first that there are literally multiple different literal definitions of words.