The Days of Genesis One

David McClister

ONE OF THE MOST GLARING differences between believers and unbelievers is their views on the origin of the universe. Those who believe the Bible hold that the existence of the universe and of life itself is due to the creative act of God, whereas many unbelievers accept some form of the theory of evolution.

There has long been a debate among believers, however, with regard to the creation account in Genesis chapter one. Specifically, were the "days" of the creation week regular 24-hour days, or do "days" refer to longer periods of time?

It is not my intention here to explain, explore, or refute the arguments of those who say that the days of creation week were longer than 24 hours, I will attempt the more modest task of making the case that the days of the creation week were indeed 24-hour periods.

Now I am perfectly aware that the word "day" in the Old Testament (the Hebrew word yom, can refer to a period of time other than a 24-hour day. It sometimes refers to "the daylight hours" as opposed to "night" (see Gen 8:22). "Day" can also refer to an indefinite time, such as in the phrase "day of wrath" or "day of the Lord." These "days" were not specific points on a calender but were understood as a time when God would come in wrath against an enemy. In such phrases the word "day" means "event." Sometimes the word "day" simply means "time" as when a Bible writer says that something has lasted "to this day" (cf Gen 19:37,38) or as when Isaac said he did not know the day of his death (Gen 27:2). And sometimes the word refers to a 24-hour period. Like many words in the Bible, the exact meaning of the word "day" must be inferred from the context.

The question, therefore, is: Does the context of Genesis chapter one indicate the meaning of the word "day?" I think it does. It is the presence of the words "first," "second," "third," etc. in the account. Consistently throughout the Old Testament, as far as I know, every time the word "day" is used with a number, it always refers to a 24-hour period of time.

There is not a good reason to suppose that Genesis one is different in its usage of the terms "first day", "second day", etc. The fact that the word "day" can refer to a longer period of time does not necessarily justify understanding it that way in Genesis one. We must let the context make that determination, and nothing in the context suggests that we should abandon the usual, normal and literal meaning of the word in favor of a figurative or extended meaning. In short, the plainest way to read :"day" in Genesis one is to take it as meaning a 24-hour period. The burden of proof lies on those who would advocate a figurative usage here. If the days of Genesis one are not regular 24-hour days, then how are we to understand them? And, more importantly, what in the text will provide the "controls" for our understanding?

There is more in the context that would limit the days to 24-hour periods. Repeatedly in the account, we are told "and there was evening and there was morning: (six times, at the end of the activity for each day). If the days are longer than 24 hours, what are the evenings and mornings? What in the context could suggest that these were something other than normal periods of evening and morning by which a normal day is measured?

Consider also that when God made the lights of the heavens - the sun and moon He said "let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years (Gen 1:14). If a day is not 24 hours, then what is a year? It is meaningless to speak of a year if a day is not a normal day.

There are other problems as well. For example, it is a fact that plants need sunlight to survive. If the days were much longer than 24 hours ( and many argue that these "days" are actually several, if not hundreds, of years in length ), then the "evening" portion of those "days" would be so long as to kill off the plants God made on the third day, leaving nothing to eat for the animals He made on the sixth day.

Why would there be any doubt about the length of the days in Genesis one in the first place? The answer is that some have apparently brought a different agenda to the text. Some of this has been done by people (including some Christians) who are sincere and who are honestly wrestling with understanding the creation account. Sincere and honest, but I believe, incorrect. But some of it is simply an attempt to make the Bible harmonize with the current scientific model of evolution. But when science and the Bible disagree, will our reaction be to accept the Bible or to re-interpret plain Biblical statements so as to support (or harmonize with) science? And what if, in the days to come, science modifies its theories (as it always does)? Will we then retreat from our position and bend the text into another direction to make it support the newer theories? What would such an exercise say about our previous explanation of the Bible? Does this not put science in the position of dictating what the Bible says?

I realize that making the days of Genesis chapter one 24-hour periods does not answer every question we may have about the creation account, and it may make some questions harder to answer. But we must let the text speak for itself, and from where I sit the text seems to speak quite plainly.


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