|Vol. 12 No. 12 December 2010||
Were the Days of Creation
Literal, 24-Hour Days?
Louis Rushmore, Editor
Brother David Everson wrote the following paragraph in an article already appearing in the archived pages of Gospel Gazette Online.
How can we know for a fact that the days of Genesis One are 24-hour days? First, God defined what the day was, “And the evening and the morning were the first day.” That is, a period of light and a period of darkness marked a day. This has not changed since the creation week! Second, when the word day is preceded by a number in the Hebrew, it always meant a 24-hour day. Third, the concept of a week has no meaning if they were not 24-hour days. For unlike all of the other periods of time which have an actual astronomical event to mark its passing, a week is represented only by seven repeating units of light and darkness which is established by God in Genesis One. Fourth, the six 24-hour days of creation are the only ones that have any other proven biblical evidence to back it up. “For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and all that in them is” Exodus 20:11, 31:17. There are none of the other theories that are repeated and confirmed by inspired text other that this one. Fifth, if we do not take literally the account as given by God in Genesis One, why should we take anything in the first eleven chapters literally? That means if Jesus and the apostles took them literally, they really did not know what they were talking about and so are not a very reliable guide for our souls salvation.
Let us look further. Genesis 1:5 is the first verse in the Bible that defines the word “day,” and it is “the first day” of creation week. “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” A “day” is described as composed of two parts, “darkness” and “light,” and according to the assessment of a day under Judaism when Moses penned Genesis, the darkness precedes the light (and, of course, follows light, too): “the evening and the morning were the first day.” Each of the first six days of creation week is designated in the same way (Genesis 1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31). There is no reason for supposing that the duration of the seventh day on which God rested from creation was of any different duration that the preceding six days, each punctuated with darkness and light, or evening and morning.
These references to days are obviously the 24-hour days with which we are familiar, comprised of two periods, one of darkness and one of light. “Literally, And evening was and morning was, day one” (Pulpit Commentary). Furthermore, the Israelites to whom Moses penned the Book of Genesis naturally would have understood the seventh day on which God rested from creation and the basis for establishing the Sabbath Day as a reference to a 24-hour day (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11).
The day is described, according to the Hebrew mode of narrative, by its starting-point, “the evening.” The first half of its course is run out during the night. The next half in like manner commences with “the morning,” and goes through its round in the proper day. Then the whole period is described as “one day.”
The days of this creation are natural days of twenty-four hours each. We may not depart from the ordinary meaning of the word without a sufficient warrant either in the text of Scripture or in the law of nature. But we have not yet found any such warrant. Only necessity can force us to such an expedient. Scripture, on the other hand, warrants us in retaining the common meaning by yielding no hint of another, and by introducing “evening, night, morning, day,” as its ordinary divisions. Nature favors the same interpretation. (Barnes’)
One day translates the Hebrew literally. Some interpret day to refer to an indefinite period of time, but there is nothing in the context that requires the Hebrew term for day to be taken as other than an ordinary day. All the other days of creation are described by numbers that indicate their place in order or sequence: second, third, fourth, and so on. The author's purpose is clearly to explain that the seventh day Sabbath has its origin in creation. (UBS)
In addition, numbering the day as “first,” “second,” etc., specifies the usual and ordinary use of the word “day” – a 24-hour period of time marked with darkness and light or night and day. “… fact that the term yôm with an ordinal (first, second, etc.) adjective means 24-hour days wherever this construction occurs in the Old Testament. Also the normal understanding of the fourth commandment (Ex 20:11) would suggest this interpretation” (Bible Knowledge).
There are numerous alternative notions to the days of creation week being 24-hour days, doubtlessly motivated by a number of considerations, not the least of which is belief in the theory of organic evolution, which is taught today in public schools and universities. Wycliffe notes: “The creation of light ended the reign of darkness and brought on the first day. Since it was still some time before the creation of the sun and moon, it is incorrect to speak of actual twenty-four-hour days until after that point in the program of the Creator. The reference here is to a day of God, and not to an ordinary day bounded by minutes and hours.” However, our understanding of the use of the word “day” in the context of creation week must conform to what the original recipients of the Book of Genesis would have understood; that is what God meant and what corresponded to the reality of creation – 24-hour days, punctuated with darkness and night.
“Suppose the writer of Genesis wished to teach his readers that all things were created and made in six literal days, then what words would he use to best convey this thought?” he would have to answer that the writer would have used the actual words in Genesis 1. If he wished to convey the idea of long geological ages, however, he could surely have done it far more clearly and effectively in other words than in those which he selected. It was clearly his intent to teach creation in six literal days. (Morris)
Whereas the ancient languages in which the biblical narrative was written were often more precise languages than many of our contemporary languages, every biblical word still needs to be examined within its immediate and extended contexts. The same is true respecting the word “day” in Genesis 1. It can be used in a variety of ways, dependent upon the context in which it appears. Not being persuaded by evolutionary thought and more in tune with biblical revelation and allowing the Bible context to speak for itself, conservative religionists usually conclude that the days of creation were 24-hour periods. Exodus 20:11 is sufficient and divine commentary on the days of creation to establish that they were 24-hour days. “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (NKJV).
Barnes’ Notes. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
Bible Knowledge Commentary. CD-ROM. Colorado Springs: Cook Communications Ministries, 2000.
Everson, David. “And God Created a Day.” Gospel Gazette Online 24 Dec 2010 <https://www.gospelgazette.com/gazette/2000/dec/page5.htm>.
Morris, Henry M. The Genesis Record. CD-ROM. Austin: Wordsearch, 2008.
Pulpit Commentary. CD-ROM. Seattle: Biblesoft, 2006.
UBS Old Testament Handbook Series. CD-ROM. New York: United Bible Societies, 2004.
Wycliffe Bible Commentary. CD-ROM. Chicago: Moody P., 1962.