- The Intermittent Day Interpretation — In this view the days are ordinary 24-hour days separated by periods of unspecified length. Thus, the days are “normal” and consecutive, but not contiguous. The main thrust of this interpretation is to harmonize the account in Genesis with the long time periods believed in by most scientists. The lack of a definite article with the first five days would seem to allow for time periods between the days
The Days of Divine Fiat Interpretation — This is a view proposed by the English physicist Alan Hayward in his book Creation and Evolution . Here the days are six consecutive 24-hour days in which God said his instructions, while the fulfillment of those instructions took place over unspecified and possibly overlapping periods of time. Hayword interprets the result following each of God's pronouncements as a parenthetical expression (there were no parentheses in Biblical Hebrew, but translators sometimes insert them). For example, he would write the account of the first day as follows
And God said, “Let there be light.” (And there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.) And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.The result of God's pronouncement is sure, but may take place over an unspecified time period.
The Temple Interpretation — In this interpretation the seven days are seen as describing God's construction of a temple for himself. This interpretation can be found in the works of Walton  and of Middleton . In ancient cultures a temple was seen as a dwelling place for their god. In this interpretation of Genesis 1 the whole cosmos ( the heavens and the earth) is viewed as God's dwelling place. This view is also echoed in Isaiah 66:1–2
This says YHWH
Heaven is my throne
and earth is my footstool.
Where could you build a house for me?
What place could serve as my dwelling?
All this was made by my hand,
And thus it came into being — declares YHWH.
Walton emphasizes that ancient accounts were more interested in the creation of function than in the creation of the material world. He gives as a modern example the creation of a company. A company doesn't come into existence with the construction of the buildings, but with the commencement of business operations. Middleton emphasizes the importance of images in a temple. Images were placed in ancient temples to indicate that their god resided there. They didn't believe that these images or idols were actually gods, but were a reminder of their god's presence. In Genesis 1 we are described as being God's images. We are to remind the world of God's presence. Ancient cultures used the size of their temples to show the importance of their god. Surely no temple was as large as that described in Genesis one.
A number of authors have noticed the importance of the number seven in the creation account of Genesis 1:1–2:3. Here are some of the occurrences of seven in this passage
- There were seven days described.
- There were seven execution reports ("and it was so").
- There were seven evaluation reports ("and God saw that it was good").
- God is mentioned 35 times (5×7) in this passage.
- The earth is mentioned 21 times (3×7) in this passage.
- The entire passage contains 469 (67×7) Hebrew words.
- The opening verse Genesis 1:1 contains seven Hebrew words.
- The second verse of the preamble (Genesis 1:2) contains 14 (2×7) Hebrew words.
- There are 35 (5×7) Hebrew words describing the 7th day and the Hebrew Sabbath.
The number seven also played an important role in the construction of Solomon's temple. The temple was dedicated during the seven day Feast of Tabernacles (1 Kings 8:2). Solomon's dedication speech contained seven petitions. It should also be noted that the building of the temple took seven years. Walton views Genesis 1 as a temple dedication.
The gods in ancient cultures were often described as resting in their temple after an important battle with other gods or after resolving some form of chaos. This didn't indicate inactivity, but was an indication of a return to normalcy. In Genesis God is said to have rested on the seventh day.
This interpretation is often adopted by Theistic Evolutionists, but there is no reason it needs to be restricted to this group.
- Attack against Polytheism — When we come to the opening chapters of Genesis, we ask questions such as “How was the universe created?”; “In what order were things created?”; “How long did it take?”; “How does this account square with the findings of science?”; etc. However, these were probably not the questions the original hearers were asking. It has been traditionally believed that Genesis was written by Moses during the wanderings in the wilderness following the deliverance from Egypt. The Hebrews had spent approximately 400 years in Egypt where they were certainly exposed to the Egyptian gods. Some scholars believe that the creation account in Genesis 1 is an attack against polytheism rather than a detailed description of creation. All the cultures in that part of the world (Egyptian, Mesopotamian, etc.) had gods associated with almost every aspect of nature. They had gods for light, darkness, the sun, the moon, seas, the sky, birds, animals, and sea creatures. It is possible that each of the days is an affirmation that every aspect of nature is the creation of the one true God and is not under the control of a separate god. It is certainly true that polytheism was a major threat to the nation of Israel throughout its history. This viewpoint is described in the book In The Beginning … We Misunderstood by Miller and Soden .
- Historical Creationism — This is an interesting interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 presented by Old Testament Professor John Sailhamer in his book Genesis Unbound . He bases his approach to these chapters on an analysis of the Hebrew text in the context of its location at the beginning of the Pentateuch. In his interpretation, Genesis 1:1 describes the creation of the whole universe and the Hebrew word ‘reshit’ for beginning refers to an unspecified period of time (possibly billions of years). He claims that a better translation of the Hebrew word ‘eretz’ in vers 2 and the rest of Genesis is ‘land’ rather than ‘earth’ as is common in most translations. In particular, he believes that in most cases it refers to the land promised to his people by God. He also says that the Hebrew phrase ‘tohu wabohu’ in Genesis 1:2 does not mean ‘without form and void’ as it is often translated. Instead, he claims that the phrase conveys the idea of ‘uninhabitable’ and ‘wilderness’. As a result, he interprets the six days described in Genesis 1 as God's preparation of a land for his people and does not refer to the creation of the whole earth (this was done in verse 1). He draws a parallel between Eden in Genesis 2 and God's later ‘promised land’. In both cases the land was bounded by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in both cases God had a close relationship with his people in the land, and in both cases obedience to God was a condition for continuing to dwell in the land. Following disobedience to God's commands, in both cases his people were expelled from the land towards the east (Babylon). He claims that his interpretation fits in well with the rest of the Pentateuch and solves many other problems that have plagued interpreters.
There are many other interpretations, but these should give you an idea of the principal interpretations. Let us now look at the principal arguments for and against the four major views described above.