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Did God Really Create the Heavens and Earth in Six Literal Days?

Let me give you some backdrop. While taking a class at seminary, I felt some students were unduly influenced toward a certain view of the "days" of creation. (There is a long-standing debate whether the word "day" in Genesis 1 refers to a normal 24-hour day or a long period of time.) So when given the opportunity to write a research paper on a theological topic, you could guess what I chose. I must tell you though that there are well meaning Christians on both sides of the isle and this certainly isn't an issue that should divide us. Be that as it may, I hope you find this (slightly revised) paper to be both scriptural and insightful. May God richly bless you in Christ!


A Case for "Modified" Creationism

Creationism affirms that God instantly brought into existence everything that is in six 24-hour days. Although I will modify this position later, I wholeheartedly agree that the days of creation were six 24-hour periods. In fact, after reading Genesis 1, I find it difficult to see how someone could believe otherwise. I do not believe I am alone either. In fact, I asked several people to read Genesis 1 and decide whether the word “day” means an ordinary day or a long period of time. All nine people who read Genesis 1 believed that “day” meant an ordinary day (albeit, two told me that although it sounds like an ordinary day it may refer to a longer period of time). Given these results, why do so many interpret the word “day” in Genesis 1 to mean a long period of time? My suspicion is that people, whether they are aware of it or not, bring outside influences into their interpretation of Genesis 1. These outside influences, which usually deal with issues of so-called science, directly affect their interpretation. To be fair, I acknowledge that virtually every time someone attempts to interpret a text he or she does so by relying on some outside knowledge. Unfortunately, this often causes the interpreter to engage in eisogesis, not exegesis. With this in view, I will endeavor to leave outside influences outside while examining the Hebrew word “yom,” which is translated “day” in Genesis 1.

Before we look closely into the meaning of the word “yom” it is first necessary to emphasize the importance of language. What do I mean by this? I mean that language is the primary means by which God communicates to us. Thus, it is important to let the words of Scripture speak to us in their context. For example, the word “day” can carry more than one meaning. Consider the sentence, “Back in my father’s day, it took ten days to drive across the Australian outback during the day.” The first “day” refers to “time” in general. The second “day,” which is used in conjunction with a number, refers to a 24-hour day. The third “day” refers to the daylight portion of a 24-hour day. Clearly, depending on the context, words can have more than one meaning. The Hebrew word “yom” is no different. According to Strong’s Lexicon, the Hebrew word “yom” can have at least four meanings: a 24-hour period, a year, a lifetime, or a time period. Since this Hebrew word has various meanings, it is necessary to determine the context in which it appears in Genesis 1 in order to discover its meaning. The following section therefore provides context to the Hebrew word “yom,” which is translated “day” in Genesis 1, demonstrating that it can only refer to a 24-hour period.

Five Reasons for Interpreting “Yom” as a 24-Hour Day

1. When the Hebrew word “yom” is used in conjunction with a number (cardinal or ordinal), it always refers to a 24-hour day (see Genesis 7:4, 10, 24; 8:14; 17:12; 30:36; 33:13; 50:3; Exodus 7:25; 12:15; 16:26; Numbers 11:20; and 2 Samuel 24:13). The one supposed exception is Zechariah 14:7, which says, “It shall be one day which is known to the Lord neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light.” Here, the common Hebrew word for “one” does not function as a number and the word “day” does not refer to a 24-hour day but to daylight. As a result, Zechariah 14:7 teaches that there will only be daylight in the renewed heaven and earth; there will be no more evening and morning. Thus, of the 410 times “yom” is used in conjunction with a number outside of Genesis 1, it always has reference to a 24-hour day. The question that then must be asked and answered is why is Genesis 1 the exception when the context demonstrates that “yom” refers to a 24-hour day?

2. When the Hebrew word “yom” is used in conjunction with the words “evening” or “morning,” which happens to be the case 23 times, it always refers to a 24-hour day. Interestingly, when I interviewed the respected Hebrew scholar, Dr. Arbino, he cited the phrase “evening and morning” as evidence of “yom” representing a 24-hour day. Again, the question that must be asked and answered is why is Genesis 1 the exception when the context demonstrates that “yom” refers to a 24-hour day?

3. When the Hebrew word “yom” is used in a numbered series it always refers to a 24-hour day (see Numbers 29). Once again, the question that must be asked and answered is why is Genesis 1 the exception when the context demonstrates that “yom” refers to a 24-hour day?

4. There is a Hebrew word, “olam,” which communicates a long period of time. If the writer of Genesis 1 wished to communicate a long period of time, such as millions or billions of years, why did he not use this word? Why did he instead choose to use the word “yom,” which given the context, refers to a 24-hour day?

5. If the “days” of creation are not 24-hour days as the context clearly demonstrates, then death must have occurred before the Fall. That death would have occurred before the Fall is obvious because thousands, millions, or billions of years (depending on how old one believes the earth to be) would have lapsed between “day” three, when God created the plants and trees, “day” five, when God created the sea life and birds, and “day” six, when God created the land animals and humans. This, of course, presents a huge problem because no plant, tree, fish, bird, or land animal could have survived for thousands, millions, or billions of years. As a result, an innumerable number of plants, trees, fish, birds, and land animals would have died before the Fall, which occurred on or after “day” six. Is this possible? Did death precede the Fall? What does the Bible teach? The book of Romans tells us, “Therefore, just as through one man [Adam] sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12; see also 8:19–22). In other words, it was not until the Fall, that sin, which led to death, entered the world. Therefore, before the Fall, no plant, tree, fish, bird, or land animal could have died, hence making the thousands, millions, or billions “day” hypothesis untenable. What does all this mean? The Hebrew word “yom,” which is translated “day” in Genesis 1, cannot refer to a long period of time; it can only refer to a 24-hour day.

The Reason for the Six 24-Hour Days of Creation

The question may be asked, “Why did God create everything in six 24-hour days? This is a good question. God did not need to take six days. He could have created everything in six seconds, or better yet, since He is omnipotent, in no time at all. Why then did God take so long? The answer to this question is found in the book of Exodus. After God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He led them to Mount Sinai where He gave Moses the Law. God said to Moses, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates” (Exodus 20:9–10). Unquestionably, God is referring to a literal seven-day week. The Israelites were to work six days and rest the seventh. In the very next verse God gives the reason for the seven-day week: “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” (Exodus 20:11; see also 31:15–17). Our seven-day week is therefore patterned after the seven days of Genesis 1. Just as God made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day, so should we work for six days and rest for one. If these “days” were not to be taken as 24-hour days, then neither could the Sabbath be taken as a 24-hour day. The Sabbath, however, which in Hebrew tradition extends as far back as Mount Sinai, starts at sunset Friday evening and continues until sunset Saturday evening. Since the Sabbath has always been considered a 24-hour day, then the six days of creation in Genesis 1 must also be considered 24-hour days.

In short, if we are to truly let the words of Scripture speak to us in their context, without any outside influence, then the word “yom” in Genesis 1, which is used in conjunction with a number, is used in conjunction with the words “evening” and “morning,” and is used in a numbered series can only refer to a 24-hour day. Further, the fact that sin and death entered the world at the Fall, which occurred on or after “day” six, rules out the possibility that “day” means a long period of time. Finally, that our seven-day week has its basis in the seven literal days of Genesis 1 further proves that the Hebrew word “yom” can only refer to a 24-hour day. These reasons alone should convince any reader of Genesis 1 that God, who alone inspired the writers to accurately record His revelation (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20–21), desires mankind to understand that He created everything in six 24-hour days. Still, contrary to the insurmountable evidence, there remain Christians who believe that “yom” in Genesis 1 does not refer to a 24-hour day but rather to a long period of time. Why is this so? Why is Genesis 1 the exception? As I stated in the opening paragraph, I believe that it is issues concerning science which directly affect people’s interpretation of Genesis 1. Hugh Ross, a leading figurehead of the ‘long time period’ interpretation of Genesis 1, well might be an example of this thesis.

The Influence Behind Hugh Ross’ Interpretation of “Days” in Genesis 1

In his book, “A Matter of Days,” Hugh Ross briefly describes his life and studies leading up to his conversion.

“Raised and educated in Vancouver, Canada, I never conversed with a Christian about spiritual matters until I was 27. Studies in science consumed all my time and eventually convinced me, at age 16, that a transcendent God must exist. At the time I doubted that a God who created a hundred billion trillion stars would care much about frail humans on an insignificant planet. Challenged by a teacher to find out why millions of people fought and died for religious beliefs, I set out to prove that the world’s religions and their “holy books” were humanly crafted frauds. There were many serious scientific and historical errors in the non Christian holy books I studied. But then I picked up a Bible and found it profoundly different. . . In my first reading of Genesis 1, I saw indications that the Genesis creation days were long time periods.”

Hugh Ross admits to having spent years studying science. (For the record, I think studying science is a good thing.) He also admits that in his first reading of Genesis 1 he saw indications that the “days” were long time periods. How is it that upon his first reading of Genesis 1 he interpreted the six “days” of creation, which are qualified by the phrase “evening and morning,” as long time periods and not 24-hour days? Does not the word “day” immediately bring to the human mind a 24-hour period? Does not the statement, “You have three days to pay this amount” immediately bring to the human mind a period of 72 hours? How is it then that Hugh Ross saw indications of long time periods in Genesis 1 when he read “day” and “evening and morning” in each of the six days of creation? I would submit that it was his studies in science as a non-Christian, which almost always leads one to the millions or billions of years hypothesis, that caused him to see indications of long time periods in Genesis 1.

Objections to 24-Hour Days

1. Science has revealed the earth and universe to be billions of years old, therefore the six days in Genesis 1 must represent long periods of time. This objection fails for at least three reasons. First, as scientist Bert Massie acknowledged, carbon dating, which is used to date fossils, is only reliable up to a few thousand years. Second, there are scores of scientists who claim that the earth and universe is no more than 10,000 years old. This does not mean that objective science does not exist. It only means that science does not tell us anything—scientists do. We must, therefore, be aware of the presuppositions scientists hold. Third, as noted earlier, the Hebrew word “yom,” which is translated “day” in Genesis 1, cannot refer to billions of years because death in plants, trees, fish, birds, and land animals would have occurred before the Fall.

2. Adam could not have named all the animals in one 24-hour day. Therefore the six days in Genesis 1 must represent long periods of time. This objection also fails for several reasons. First, Adam only named the animals (“cattle,” “birds of the air,” and “every beast of the field”) that were brought to him (Genesis 2:20). He did not name the “sea creatures,” “beasts of the earth,” or “everything that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:21, 25). Second, Adam’s brain at the time of the naming of the animals had not been affected by sin. He was still a perfect human. Consequently, naming the animals brought to him would be far less difficult than it would be for an imperfect human.

3. There is no “evening and morning” for the seventh day (Genesis 2:2–3). Therefore the six days in Genesis 1 must represent long periods of time. This objection does not carry any weight. The seventh day, just like the first six, refers to a 24-hour day. First, as I previously discussed, when the Hebrew word “yom” is used in conjunction with a number, as it is in day seven, it always refers to a 24-hour day. Second, as I also discussed, Exodus 20:9–11 and 31:15–17 both refer to seven 24-hour days—six for work and one for rest. Third, God said that He “rested” on the seventh day from all His work; He did not say that He is “resting.” It is important to note that because God said He “rested” on the seventh day from all His work does not mean that He is no longer working. His work now consists of sustaining and redeeming His creation.

4. The word “yom” in Genesis 2:4 refers to the entire creation week. Therefore the six days in Genesis 1 must also represent long periods of time. This objection also carries no weight. As I previously discussed, when the word “yom” is used in conjunction with a number or the words “evening” or “morning,” it always refers to a 24-hour day. The word “yom” in Genesis 2:4, however, is not used in conjunction with either a number or the words “evening” or “morning.” Genesis 2:4, which reads, “In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,” in its context simply means, “In the time God created.” This interpretation of Genesis 2:4 is held by the respected Hebrew scholar Dr. Arbino. When I asked him if Genesis 2:4 could be interpreted this way, he said, “that’s exactly what the Hebrew means.”

5. Second Peter 3:8 states “that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” Therefore the six days in Genesis 1 represent long periods of time. There are three reasons why this objection, likewise, carries no weight. First, and most obviously, the Greek word “hemera” for “day” in 2 Peter 3:8 is not the Hebrew word “yom” for “day” in Genesis 1. Second, the context to 2 Peter 3:8 deals with the second coming of Christ; it has nothing to do with the six days of creation. Third, this verse does not say that a day “is” a thousand years; it merely says that a day is “like” a thousand years. (Jonah is very grateful for this.) In other words, to God a day is like a thousand years because He is not, in any way, limited by time. A long time or a short time is no time to God.

6. Creationism does not accommodate micro-evolution. Therefore it cannot be accepted as true. This objection is valid. Hence the statement in the opening paragraph. Since micro-evolution (changes within species) is scientifically verifiable it must be accommodated in one’s view of human beginnings. Thus, I endorse a “Modified Creationism.” This view affirms that God instantly brought into existence every kind in six 24-hour days. According to Millard Erickson, the Hebrew word “min,” which is usually rendered “kind,” can be defined as a “general term of division.” What this means is that God may have produced the first kind of each plant, tree, fish, bird, and land animal on days three, five, and six. The resulting species would then have descended from the original kinds. For example, horses, donkeys, and zebras most likely descended from a horse-like kind. Similarly, dogs, coyotes, wolves, and jackals most likely descended from a dog-like kind.

In conclusion, the position to which I hold, “Modified Creationism,” uniquely accommodates both the biblical and scientific records. As I have demonstrated, the Hebrew word “yom” when used in conjunction with a number, when used in conjunction with the words “evening” or “morning,” and when used in a numbered series can only refer to a 24-hour day. Since the word “yom” in Genesis 1 meets these qualifications it must refer to none other than a 24-hour day. Besides, had the writer wanted to convey a long period of time, he could have simply used the Hebrew word “olam.” The case is strengthened when we consider that if the six days of creation were not 24-hour periods but rather long periods of time, then death would have occurred before the Fall, which is biblically impossible. The final nail in the coffin is that our seven-day week is patterned after the seven days of Genesis 1. Let us thank God that He chose to use 24-hour days instead of millions or billions of years. Could you imagine what our work week would be like?


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Erickson, Milllard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Group, 2007.

Geisler, Norman L. and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004.

Ham, Ken, Sarfati, Jonathan and Carl Wieland. The Revised & Expanded Answers Book: The 20 Most-Asked Questions About Creation, Evolution, and the Book of Genesis, Answered!. Arkansas: Master Books, 2005.

Hamp, Douglas. The First Six Days: Confronting the God-Plus-Evolution Myth. Santa Ana: Yoel Press, 2007.

Massie, Bert. “Intelligent Design.” Lecture, Mill Valley, CA, October 18, 2010.

Ross, Hugh. A Matter of Days. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2004.

Strong, James. The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 21st century ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001.

Youngblood, Ronald. The Genesis Debate: Persistent Questions About the Creation and the Flood. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.