Were the Days of Creation Long Periods of Time or 24 Hours?

by Max Andrews

There are four literal interpretations of YOM (the Hebrew word for day).  The four definitions are (1) a portion of the daylight hours (2) the entire daylight segment of a twenty-four-hour day, (3) a twenty-four-hour day, and (4) a long but finite time period.[1]  Unlike the modern Hebrew and English, biblical Hebrew had no other word for a finite era or epoch. The figure of speech of “a day is like a thousand years” in 2 Pt. isn’t an issue, it’s a simile; I don’t advocate that 2 Peter permits and old earth interpretation in Genesis.  The four definitions of YOM are literal definitions; it’s unnecessary to say it’s non-literal.  Also, the issue of a numerical adjective in front of YOM, there is no such rule or law in Hebrew grammar that necessitates that YOM following a numerical adjective must be the twenty-four-hour interpretation of YOM.  The divisions of the days are “evening and morning” which signifies a division between the period of time (you’re going to have a hard time taking the text “literally” if you want to say there was evening and morning without a sun to make the distinguishing nature of evening and morning…).[2]  Even YEC’s must concede that the first three days of evening and morning are not used in the sense of referring to solar rotations, merely a division of time).  William Wilson, in his Old Testament Word Studies, explains that YOM is “frequently put for a time in general, or for a long time; a whole period under consideration… Day [YOM] is also put for a particular season or time when any extraordinary event happens.”[3]  This is completely consistent with a kairological (differing from a chronological reading in that [Gr. kairos] it is a point of time specific to an event) reading of Genesis 1 as advocated by William Dembski in The End of Christianity.

The claim that YOM, attached to an ordinal, always refers to a twenty-four-hour period must also be questioned.  Mark Van Bebber and Paul Taylor have said that 358 out of 359 times YOM is used in the Bible, outside of Genesis 1 and with an ordinal modifier, it represents a twenty-four-hour day.[4]  However, in examining each passage, the reader discovers that only 249 of these usages are the singular form of YOM, and all 249 are in the context of human activity or human history.  But Genesis 1 speaks of divine activity or natural history, apart from, and unrelated to, human activity.[5]  The ordinal argument fails.

Let’s look at Exodus 20:11, which is often cited as doubly confirming twenty-four-hour times frames.  This passage recognizes that the pattern of the creation week is to set up the formulation for our workweek.  Hebrew scholar Gleason Archer notes, “By no means does this [Exodus 20.9-11] demonstrate that 24-hour intervals were involved in the first six days, any more than the eight-day celebration of the Feast of the Tabernacles proves that the wilderness wanderings under Moses occupied only eight days.”[6]  The workweek is merely a formulation of the divine creative miracles in the form of an analogy.


[1] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (1906; repr., Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 1997), 398-401; William Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures, trans. Samuel Prideaux Tregelles (1847; repr., Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1979), 341-342; R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, eds., Theolgical Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago:  Moody, 1980), 1:370-371.

[2] Ancient Hebrews most often marked 24-hour days with “evening to evening” and occasionally with “morning to morning.”  Old Testament authors exclusively designated the passing of a 24-hour day in one of these two days.  The “and was evening, and was morning” [literal word for word] expression in Genesis 1 is unique.  Therefore, the repeated word-for-word translation of the Hebrew text used in Genesis 2 for the six creation days—“and was evening, and was morning”—alerts the reader that these days may have been periods other than 24-hours days. Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days (Colorado Springs, CO:  NavPress, 2004), 76.

[3] William Wilson, Old Testament Word Studies (Grand Rapids, MI:  Kregel, 1978), 109.

[4] Mark Van Bebber and Paul S. Taylor, Creation and Time:  A Report on the Progressive Creationist Book by Hugh Ross, 2d ed. David G. Hagopian (Gilbert, AZ:  Eden Productions, 1996), 73.

[5] Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days, 74.

[6] Gleason Archer, “A Response to the Trustworthiness of Scripture in Areas Relating to Natural Science,” in Hermeneutics, Inerrancy, and the Bible, ed. Earl D. Radmacher and Robert D. Preus (Grand Rapids, MI:  Academic Books, 1986), 329.


13 Responses to “Were the Days of Creation Long Periods of Time or 24 Hours?”

  1. I see your argument and understand what you are saying but I do have one question….

    If God wanted to say that it was a literal 24 hour day in hebrew how would he have to say it for you to believe it was an actual 24 hour day?

    In other words, is there any possible way that God could have said that it was a literal 24 hour day?

    • Thanks for commenting! I think if the days were ordered or expressed in a different way it could have been clearer. If it’s a 24 day then the sun could have been placed first to have a twenty four hour day for one.

  2. Max,

    I came across your blog via apologetics315, which to me means that you have done a good job because they don’t put any slouch on there website.

    I loved your article on “what you need to know if you’re called to ministry.” It was insightful, wise and scripture filled.

    If you don’t mind, I would like to continue this discussion because you seem like a bright person and I think that two Christians can disagree on something but still be loving to each other and if you don’t mind I would like to continue to discuss some our differences on this issue if it is ok with you. If so, continue to respond, if not then just don’t respond and I will drop it understanding that you are probably busy and would like to move on to other posts.

    I would like to respectfully disagree with your answer on 3 different levels….

    1.) Your answer is based on the assumption that the sun is required to have a 24 hour day.

    2.) Your answer is inconsistent

    Wouldn’t it seem more natural for God to create the sun before he created the plants? The earth’s sun is so important and yet the earth had light and vegetation without the sun. A common view that is stated by christians (in fact I heard it on the radio from pastors perspective with Don Stewart and Chuck Smith) is that many false religions worship the sun and yet God didn’t create it until day 4 demonstrating that it is not as important as some pagan religions thought it was.

    Obviously the act of creation is a miracle, so who are we to say that if God wanted to say that it was a 24 hour day he would have had to create the sun on day 1.

    Our job is to accurately handle the word of truth. If God says that there were days without a sun then it is my job to believe it. We cannot force natural assumptions of a sun being required for a 24 hour day just like we cannot say God could not have used dust to create Adam or call DRY land out of the sea. Since when has anyone see dry land appear from water? Usually if it comes out of the water it is wet, yet this is how God acted and who am I to judge. I am simply to interpret and believe it.

    3.) You didn’t completely answer the question.

    I didn’t ask what God would have to do differently in order for it to be a literal 24 hour day, I asked what he would have to SAY differently in order for God to communicate a literal 24 hour day. There are other hebrew words that God could have used to describe a long period of time, but I don’t believe he could have been any more specific about a 24 hour day.

    I fear that an old earth creationist view limits the mouth of God. It seems that they do not allow God to describe 24 hour day no matter what. This brings my back to my original question…

    There are many different ways that God could have said it took millions of years, but what would God have to say for you to believe he meant a literal 24 hour day?

    • Thanks for commenting, Drew. Brian, with Apologetics 315, hosts quite a few of my blog posts quite often.

      1. This is where I find the YEC answer to be too ad hoc. The earth’s rotation is dependent on the moon to stabilize the planet’s rotation so if there wasn’t a moon then the earth would be wobbling around. If there’s no sun to measure the 24 hour rotation of the earth then what was it? At this point the answer has to be God supervening and creating a pseudo-sun-object or he is miraculously doing this himself. Sure, he can miraculously do it himself but this answer is so ad hoc it’s just too unconvincing. If the sun is a necessary condition for a 24 hour day then the sun must be prior to the 24 hours of the earth’s rotation and difference between night and day. For the YEC model, the sun is only a sufficient condition for 24 hour days, which I find unconvincing.

      2. I think it’s anachronistic and ad hoc to suggest that the reason why God made the sun later is to demonstrate that he is superior to false gods. This is like me saying that God created only one creation because it shows his superiority to the Greek atomists for having many creations. I don’t see this from the text. I can see how this can be in the plagues of Moses but not in creation. It’s special pleading and anachronistic. As for the day 1 issue, I’d refer above. Also, the perspective of the writer, I would ague, is that he is on the surface of the earth, not above the earth. So when Moses says that the earth was made, the word can be used to saying, “made known” or “made it visible” in this context, that the sun was not visible because the atmosphere was translucent and wasn’t clear enough to see the whole sun in and of itself.

      3. I don’t see how God SAYING the sun was made from the beginning doesn’t communicate a 24 hours more clear. It’s funny that you have the requirement of excluding natural assumptions into the text. We MUST do this to exegete Scripture appropriately to make sense of it. How do we know a miracle hasn’t occurred unless we know water is less dense than the human body or that water doesn’t normally undergo chemical reactions to become fermented wine or that dead bodies doesn’t merely come back to life? One MUST know science in order to get meaning from the text. How do you know what the Lamb of God is unless you know what a lamb is? I think that excluding natural assumptions from exegesis is a poor idea and one is left bereft of any coherent meaning of the text. In this case, it’s just ad hoc and inconsistent to exclude natural assumptions (because you HAVE to do it with other texts like miracles). This approach you may be suggesting sounds exegetically untenable (not to mention the science).

      Actually, I disagree, there weren’t many other ways for God to say millions of years. What would you suggest? You can’t say change the order or anything but the word YOM (I guess by your emphasis of SAYing). So, don’t hold a double standard. I said it’s the only word he could have used in the ancient Heb language and it works perfectly and consistently (notice that YOM in Genesis 2 describes the WHOLE creation week as one day… Interesting, it’s actually quite contradictory to YEC) What do you think?

  3. Very nice and challenging response. I will try to handle each point clearly.

    1.) Your argument works against you.

    You said, “If there’s no sun to measure the 24 hour rotation of the earth then what was it? At this point the answer has to be God supervening and creating a pseudo-sun-object or he is miraculously doing this himself. Sure, he can miraculously do it himself but this answer is so ad hoc it’s just too unconvincing. If the sun is a necessary condition for a 24 hour day then the sun must be prior to the 24 hours of the earth’s rotation and difference between night and day.”

    I am seeking to present your view correctly so please correct me if I misspeak in this statement….

    I would suggest that an OEC has the same exact problem. Millions of years of vegetation without the sun how is this possible? I don’t think that there is a legitimate answer other than the intervention of God. Yet you do not allow this for other aspects of creation

    2.) I agree that my presentation of this point was weak. However, the point remains that the center point of God’s creation is the earth. This does not mean that the earth is the actual center of the universe, but I would think that it is the focal point. Hence the sun comes later.

    3.) You say, “I don’t see how God SAYING the sun was made from the beginning doesn’t communicate a 24 hours more clear.” Apparently your view does not allow you to either unless you believe that day 4-7 are literal 24-hour days.

    You say, “One MUST know science in order to get meaning from the text.” And “excluding natural assumptions from exegesis is a poor idea and one is left bereft of any coherent meaning of the text. In this case, it’s just ad hoc and inconsistent to exclude natural assumptions (because you HAVE to do it with other texts like miracles). This approach you may be suggesting sounds exegetically untenable (not to mention the science).”

    I would like to make 2 points.

    First, I do not think that you should completely exclude naturalistic assumptions from the text. I think that Christians should seek to do good science. There are many of young earth creationists who are not honest or scholarly and that drives me crazy even if I believe there position is right.

    Secondly, you have to exclude naturalistic assumptions unless you plan to tell me how God created everything out of nothing, which really is not even an accurate because nothing implies a lack of something when in the beginning there was really only God. My point is that the creation event is a miracle. You will not be able to explain many things in a natural way. Therefore, you must be careful when you make naturalistic assumptions. Because we were not there to actually observe what happened we must be careful and trust what the Lord has said.

    I am reminded of the story in Joshua 9 when the Gibeonites brought bread and old wine skins. Joshua and company trusted their senses and what naturally made sense, instead of following the word of God first.

    Which brings me to my closing.

    You said, “(notice that YOM in Genesis 2 describes the WHOLE creation week as one day… Interesting, it’s actually quite contradictory to YEC) What do you think?” I think that a careful reading of the text would show you that the context surrounding day in Genesis 1 (and there was evening and there was morning one day etc.) is different than the context in Genesis 2 (in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven). You cannot compare the 2.

    Also, could you please demonstrate why yom is the only word that could be used? I have never heard a commentator or a Hebrew scholar suggest that. In fact, I refer you the following article…

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/tj/v5/n1/semantic#f28

    Written by James Stambaugh who has an M.Div. (major in biblical Hebrew). I think that his article deals with your question sufficiently as well as offer a valid reasoning for believing that it means a literal 24 hour day.

    As to your comment, “You can’t say change the order or anything but the word YOM (I guess by your emphasis of SAYing). So, don’t hold a double standard.”

    Yes I can. There are different words that can describe long periods of time however there are not any other words or any other ways that God could say it was a literal 24 hour day. It is not a double standard. The point is that there are many different ways that God could have said it was a literal 24 hour day, unless you have a way to make it more specific than that I think we have to admit that this is the most specific way God could have described a day.

    Gleason Archer said this, “From a superficial reading of Genesis 1, the impression received is that the entire creative process took place in six twenty-four hour days. If this was the true intent of the Hebrew author, this seems to run counter to modern scientific research which indicates that the planet Earth was created several billion years ago.”

    I understand if you want to say that science seems to contradict a literal 24 hour day however I do not think you can make a legitimate exegetical case for your view.

    I would abandon a 24 hour view if God had used another word to describe this time period. What would cause you to abandon your view of an old earth?

    The reason I ask this question is because everyone has a breaking point. If they don’t have a breaking point than they are unwilling to see the truth. Paul even made this point when he said that his faith was in vain if Christ did not rise. If the resurrection is not true Paul would have abandoned the faith.
    I don’t think you have allowed God to say a literal 24 hour day. What would he have to say in order for you to believe it?

  4. So evening/morning (Hebrew day), number and day mean nothing to you? The context cannot be any clearer these are literal 24 hour days. Do you skip over Exodus as well where God declares twice that He made all things in 6 literal 24 hour days? Is the OEC position so committed to finding a way to inject evolutionary dogma into their interpretation of Scripture they cannot even allow for God to perform a miraculous creation of the universe in six literal days? Sad!!

    • I have a feeling you didn’t even read my post. I explicitly discuss the numerical adjectives and Exodus. You come on here and start calling it “sad” and how I “inject evolutionary dogma” when I’m not an evolutionist. I must say, this is probably a bit embarrassing for you.

  5. I’ve posed this question previously, but I’m not sure it was on this site. For me, the most compelling Scriptures that seem to point to a young earth aren’t in Genesis, but found in the New Testament.

    “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.'” (Mark 10:6)

    “‘Haven’t you read,’ He replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’” (Matthew 19:4)

    “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–His eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)

    The first 2 are of course a statement from Christ, in part affirming the truth of Gen. 1:27; but notice that Jesus Himself refers to the creation of Adam and Eve as “at the beginning” or “In the beginning”. If it was 30 AD and Jesus was referring to an event that occurred 4,000-8,000 years earlier, HIs statement makes sense. If Adam and Eve arrived by millions of years of evolution/billions of years from the beginning of God’s creation in a OEC sense, He would actually be talking about something that happened in recent history, and “at the beginning” doesn’t seem to make sense. Granted, if man was created on the 6th literal day, that is near the end of the first week, but any day in the first week would be “at the beginning” when measured against thousands of years.

    Similarly, in a statement that is commonly used as an apologetic for God’s natural revelation, Paul also notes that mankind has observed the qualities and works of God “since the creation of the world.” This also seems to put the creation of mankind in a relative sense at the beginning of the creation of the world.

    How can these statements that apparently affirm a young earth view held by Jesus and Paul be reconciled from an old earth standpoint? Thanks.

  6. Hey Max. I came across this via your Twitter feed.

    This is an interesting post. Let me through a few more wrenches into our interpretations of the chapter. I’m agnostic on age/day, etc. issues. I probably most align with a framework view, but see big problems with that view as well.

    (It doesn’t appear that your blog allows Hebrew, so I’ll do a simplified transliteration). The problems don’t begin with the days, but the phrase “in the beginning.” Whenever we read the phrase, we think of a point at which everything else happened.

    Even a quick analysis of bereshiyt shows that it simply does not refer to a point in time, but to a period. A few examples are Jeremiah 26:1 or especially 28:1, where “in the beginning” refers to some four and a half years into Zedekiah’s reign.

    Furthermore, the typical interpretation of 1:1 as a title or summary statement of that which follows (which is common in science/faith literature…unfortunately, most s/f literature doesn’t even begin to delve into the Hebrew text) seems almost certainly wrong. You can search ANET, but there simply isn’t such an idea in ancient writing that we’ve found. If 1:1 is a title or summary of what follows, then this is our only ancient passage with such a concept.

    But what does that mean? It means that 1:1 refers to God’s actions before what we read happening on the first day. 1:1 uses bara’, which I believe (along with most Hebrew scholars) refers to actual, not merely functional, creation. John Walton differs, and his view has become very popular among non-scholars, but he has yet to sway the field to understanding bara’ as functional. On the other hand, Hebrew scholars are in agreement that “‘asah” almost certainly refers to functional shaping of something already in existence. Thus, we need to look at where these two words are used.

    bara’ occurs five times in Gen. 1-2 (1:1, 1:21, 1:26, 2:3 and 2:4). We will come back to 1:1, but consider the 2nd and 3rd instances. The second refers to the first creation of “living things.” It says that God bara’d the sea monsters and “all living things.” The third instance refers to God creating male and female. Outside of 1:1, these are the only two times that bara’ is used. The more functional term, ‘asah occurs in 2:3. Most of chapter 1 refers to divine activity, but not all of it is divine creative activity. Creative (as in ex nihilo) occurs in three instances; 1:1, 1:21 and 1:26…the creation of the world, the creation of life and the creation of humanity. The rest of the chapter deals with God shaping what he has made for purpose (ala ‘asah, which is just what we read in 2:3 (literally) “And God blessed the seventh day and consecrated it, because he rested on it from all of his work, which God created (bara’) in order to make (‘asah). Furthermore, 2:4 says that these are the generations of God’s creating the sky and the land, on the day that he made them. Both instances show a distinction in the divine activity between the two verbs.

    A couple of years ago, at a conference with Jack Collins, John Walton, Tremper Longman III and Walt Kaiser, I posed this question to John Walton. I asked, “If bara’ is purely functional in the same way as ‘asah, then why the distinction between the two verbs. John Walton didn’t have an answer, but TL3 simply said the obvious, “Because something different is happening between what God is doing.”

    I could go on and on, and that doesn’t even get us through 1:1, because what does “the sky and the land” refer to? Why is ha ‘aretz used for “earth, when there are better Hebrew words for the planet? Is there a specific focus on “the land,” because it is the Promised Land where God will dwell with man? Is it a merism? So many questions and so little time!

    Hopefully this shows a little bit of why this topic is so complex and the current views on hand (day/age, YEC, etc.) don’t quite deal with everything that’s going on in the Hebrew.

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