googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: How Long Were the Days in Genesis?

Saturday, October 3, 2009

How Long Were the Days in Genesis?

There are some Christians out there who believe evolution to be true yet also claim to believe the Bible. Since the Genesis account of creation contradicts evolutionary theories concerning origins, there are various methods these people use to “reconcile” the two. There are various ways people do this but one way is to claim that the “days” of the creation week weren’t ordinary days but represented long periods of time. Each day was an epoch or era in which God performed a different creative act.

To bolster their claim, they point out the obvious fact that the word “day” can mean different things. It does not necessarily mean “24-hours.” To them, it could mean millions or billions of years. Well, it’s true that the word can mean different things, but then again, it can also mean 24-hours. So even though it could mean something other than 24-hours, that alone is not evidence that is does mean something other than 24-hours. As with any word, context should determine its meaning.

Look at the following sentence:

“Back in my grandfather’s day, people would play the banjo every day, but only during the day.”

The word “day” appears in that sentence 3 times – each time with a different meaning. Do you have any trouble determining what each occurrence means? Most second graders can figure it out. I did a quick search on and saw the word day appears in the KJV 2,263 times. Why is it that ordinary people can figure out the meaning of the word everywhere else in the Bible except Genesis?!

An ordinary reading of Genesis 1 immediately suggests that the word day means an ordinary, 24-hour day. If we pause to carefully consider if this is correct, we can find several reasons to believe the ordinary reading is the correct one.

First, I would direct you to Exodus 20:9-11:

“Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work,… For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.”

Here, when the LORD gave the Commandments, He gave us a formula to interpret the creation days. We are to work for six days and not work on the rest on the seventh in the same way that God worked for six days and rested on the seventh. This passage can only make sense if the days are understood to mean ordinary, 24-hour days. If the day meant “millions or billions of years,” then what are we to do? Work 6,000,000 years then rest for 1,000,000 years? The early readers would have obviously understood these to be ordinary days and we should do the same.

Furthermore, remember that Adam was created on the 6th day. So if the 7th day of the creation were millions or billions of years long, then Adam should have been millions or billions of years old. Yet the Genesis 5:5 says that he only lived 930 years.

A second clue that suggests these are ordinary days is because each occurrence of the word “day” in Genesis 1 is modified with the term “evening and morning.” Outside of Genesis 1, “evening and morning” appear with the word “day” three times (see list here). In all three instances, the word can only mean an ordinary day. For example, there is 1 Samuel 17:16, “And the Philistine drew near morning and evening, and presented himself forty days.” How else could this verse possibly be interpreted except to mean 40, ordinary, 24-hour days?

Consider also the reverse: if the days were meant to represent long periods of time, then what would be meant by the term “evening and morning”? Would it be millions of years of darkness followed by millions of years of daylight? That could hardly be true. The presence of the term seems to demand the word “day” to mean an ordinary day to the exclusion of all other possible meanings.

Still a third clue is that the word “day” is also modified by an ordinal number (i.e. first day, second day, etc). This construction occurs many times in the Bible. In the example from 1 Samuel 17:16, Goliath presented himself for “forty days.” From Genesis alone there are many examples of this construction: Genesis 7:17 explains that the Flood was upon the earth for “forty days.” Genesis 7:24 says, “the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days.” In Genesis 17:12, God commanded that Jewish boys be circumcised when they are “eight days” old. Genesis 22:4, Abraham lifted his eyes on the “third day” and saw the place where he was to sacrifice Isaac. In fact, in every occurrence, when the word day is modified with a number, it means an ordinary day.

We have seen that when “day” is modified with “evening and morning” it means an ordinary day. We have seen that when “day” is modified with a number it means an ordinary day. In Genesis 1 the word “day” is modified with BOTH the term “evening and morning” AND a number. What else then can it mean but an ordinary day?

Still, well meaning people will point to verses like 2 Peter 3:8 where Peter said, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years” and then use that as a type of formula (i.e. One “Lord’s day” equals 1,000 years). There are a few problems with this. First, if it were meant to be a straight conversion, then the creation week would still only be 7,000 years long - not millions or billions of years. Of course, there is the same issue of Adam’s age as described above. 2 Peter 3:8 merely means that God is outside of time. The same verse continues a thousand years as one day. There is also Psalms 90:4 which says a thousand years are like a “watch in the night” in His sight. Verses such as this are merely to demonstrate the timelessness of God. To Him, 1,000 years, a day, an hour, all have no meaning.

Since the days of Genesis 1 are so obviously ordinary days, one must wonder why people seek to find a different meaning. I believe the reason is obvious: they have trusted the finite knowledge of fallible men over the infallible Word of the infinite God. They believe scientists have “proven” the earth is much older than the Bible suggests so they project their old age beliefs onto their understanding of the Bible.

I say instead we should use the clear meaning of the Bible to help us understand His creation. The Bible says that the heavens, earth, and everything in them was made in six days. We need not look for a different meaning to what is perfectly clear.

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