Saturday, July 7, 2007

What does the word "day" mean in Genesis?

As an apologist, one of my great pleasures is to get to answer questions from my brother's and sister's in Christ as well as unbelievers. One brother had the following question and I thought it was worth posting here with a reply. This is a subject that I feel needs to be given more attention by Christians.

My brother in Christ,

In response to your question:

"Explain to me the word day in Genesis, does it mean day or something else?"

This is a great question! I assume that you specifically have Genesis 1 in mind when you raise this question. If you have some other passage from Genesis in mind, do let me know.

As you are probably aware there are several different views on the subject of the creation account amidst those who are Christians. One view is that we should take Genesis 1 and 2 quite literally. That is to say that God created the earth and all that we know to exist in 6 literal days and rested on the seventh day. He made man out of the dust of the ground and Eve from the rib of Adam, etc.

Another view (that seems to be growing in popularity) is that the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2 is speaking figuratively and/or metaphorically. Under this line of thinking there is a large range of ideas about what Genesis 1 & 2 is really teaching and how we should interpret it. I won’t go into large detail about this as it does not specifically pertain to your question. However it is this second category where the question pertaining to the word "day" comes up. In the non-literal camp of the creation account, the majority of those who call themselves Christians believe that the earth is truly millions of years old as "modern science" boasts it to be. The problem that this creates for them is that if the earth is truly million’s of years old then the Genesis account cannot be taken literally. If God actually created the universe in the course of a week then the earth could only possibly be anywhere from 6,000 to 9,000 years old depending on who you ask. But agreeably it couldn’t be in the millions.

It is because of this that the question regarding the word "day" has come up in Christian circles. Let me tell you here and now where I stand, and then I shall tell you why.
I believe that Scripture very clearly teaches that God made the earth and all it’s inhabitants and the stars in the sky, etc, in 6 literal, 24 hour days. So in short, yes the word "day" in Genesis 1 actually means "day."

While I have great respect for Wayne Grudem and some others who hold to a non-literal view of the creation account, I must strongly disagree and dare I say "refute" their teaching on this subject.

The Hebrew word that is translated "day" here in Genesis 1 is "yom." Now let me tell you that it is indeed true that the word "yom" does not necessarily have to be translated "day." It can also refer to an undetermined amount of time. This is true with many words in Hebrew and Greek, they can have different meanings depending on the context. But indeed context is everything. Let’s take a look at the Scripture.

Genesis 1:3-5

"And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day."

Now let me just ask you, what does it sound like to you? I mean take the Hebrew word "yom" which can mean "day" or a undetermined period of time. Put it in context, what make sense to you? You see basically the non-literal camp tries to force the creation account to be an undetermined amount of time. That way they can say that each "day" is really a long period of time. An "age of time" if you will. This then allows each "day" that is referred to in Genesis to possibly be millions of years. This is how some Christians try an compromise with "modern science." They still credit God as the creator but they just claim that He took a very long time in doing so, and therefore they harmonize their view of the Bible with science.

Many people point to the Scripture verse that says "For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night." Psalm 90:4. They try and make the point that God can refer to creating something in a day and have it really be a thousand years because it is all the same to Him.

This, however, is a terrible argument. The above verse tells us how a thousand years seems to God, it does not imply that God doesn’t know the difference. God breathed out this Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16-17) in Genesis 1 & 2 just like the rest of the Bible and when He inspired the text He did so in a simple and straightforward way. There is surely a lot that God chose not to describe about the Creation account, it is after all a very short account when you think of the vastness of creation. But what God did say, He said clearly.

The context of Genesis 1 makes it ever so clear that God referred to days as we know them. "There was evening and there was morning, the first day." Would it make sense to insert "There was evening and there was morning, the first million years."? Or the "first undetermined time period?" It’s rather absurd to even talk about it.

In Exodus 20 when God gave the Ten Commandments, look what He says in regard to the Sabbath!

Exodus 20:8-11

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy."

You see that even when God speaks to His people directly, giving them the 10 commandments, he refers to the creation account in a literal fashion. The very reason why the Jews took the Sabbath laws so seriously as to stone the person in their midst who ignored the law is because they took God for what He said. They did their work in 6 days and rested on the seventh because that is what God Himself did. Had you asked Moses what day meant (The one who probably wrote Genesis) he would have told you... "a day."

Indeed this is how "day" (yom) has always been understood by orthodox Jews, by believing Christians up until just recently. There has never been this question until very recent history. This should lead us to ask, "Why should we have any reason to understand it differently now?" My personal answer is, we don’t. But let’s be honest, the reason the question about the word "day" has come about is because to many Christians feel the need to try and make what the Bible teaches line up with modern Science. This I believe is extremely dangerous.

In fact it is due to this need to harmonize the Bible and science that we now have what is called "theistic evolution" as a theory some "Christians", if you can call them that, now hold to. The idea of course being that God guided/created the process of evolution. This view is completely incompatible with Scripture hands down. However it is this kind of thing that comes up when we start to "fictionalize" the creation account and insist that we cannot interpret it in a literal fashion. The very idea that we should change our interpretation of Scripture based off of what Modern science teaches is foolish. In fact I think it is such human wisdom that we are warned against in 1 Corinthians 1-2.

The brightest minds once thought the earth was the center of the universe, and they thought that the world was flat, all these things that were once modern science were found weighed and wanting eventually. True science always agree’s with the Bible. That is why there will never be found a "missing link" that conclusively proves evolution.

One other thing to keep in mind when discussing the creation account and how old the earth is, etc. God made Adam with an appearance of age. It’s clear that Adam must have been made a full grown man for him to "know" his wife. He certainly did not start out as a zygote, or embryo. In turn then, it makes just as much sense that the earth, plants, animals and everything else would also have an appearance of age. This would mean that when scientist measure the layers of the earth and guesstimate it’s age, they might be right if it weren’t for the fact that God made the earth to have such an appearance to begin with. Not to mention the possibilities of a world wide flood and what that might do to the physical appearance of the earth and it’s layers.

There is certainly a lot more we could discuss on this issue, and I do recommend that you read the differing views that are out there. But you must ask yourself a couple of questions.

1. What does the Scripture seem to clearly and plainly say? God is not trying to be tricky in what He says to us.

2. Does the narrative context of Genesis suggest that we should look at the creation account as metaphorical or as poetic rather that literal?

3. How have followers of the living God always understood this word "day" (yom) and is there any good reason to understand it differently now?

4. Would anyone understand the creation account to mean an undetermined amount of time if it weren’t for "modern Science?"

5. Should our interpretation of Scripture be conditional on human wisdom, especially that human wisdom that has not been proven?

It’s clear to me that the non-literal view of Genesis 1&2 comes from a foolish need to compromise with worldly wisdom. Where does this compromise stop? Should we take Genesis 3 non-literally also? Perhaps sin isn’t as serious as the Bible seems to say. Perhaps Christ has not raised from the dead and Hid crucifixion was metaphorical and symbolic as the "Jesus Seminar" claims. No the Bible is straightforward and means what it says. Though there are certainly places where there is Hebrew poetry like Psalms, and there are times where authors use hyperbole, and exaggerate, and use figurative and comparative language, we must be consistent in our interpretation of Scripture. We must always let the context define our interpretation, and we must always interpret the Bible by the Bible rather than by "modern science."
What does day mean in Genesis? It means day.

In Him,

Jacob Allee


Hidden One said...

Ah, something on which we agree.

Barry said...


Great explanation. I am 100% in the literal 6 day camp. One of the ways to support the 6 literal days as opposed to a day = 1000 years interpretation is that scripture says on the third day God created the plants. On the fourth day He created the light in the expanse to light the earth. Science knows that plants need light to grow. If there was a gap of 1000 years or so between day three and day four how could the plants have survived with out light? It doesn't add up.

Barry said...

Hey Jacob,

I thought I commented to this post I while back and I have seen it show up. I wondered what happened to it. No biggie. I can't remember what I said. I'm sure it was something insightful. Much more than this comment.

risen_soul said...

sorry about the delay on posting your comments. My life has been crazy lately with the move and everything.

God bless.

kangeroodort said...


I appreciate your argumentation, but it seems that you have not read as much about this subject as you let on. Old earth creationists have long answered all the objections you have presented in this post.

You seem to suggest that yom should be understood as "day" in Gen. 1 because of the mention of evening and morning. The problem with this is that the Sun and Moon were not created until day four. So what Biblical basis do you have for reading the evening and morning of days 1-3 as 24 hour solar days, considering the Sun wasn't even created yet?

Gen. 2:4 says that the entire creation happened in one "day" (yom). So now what do we do with the "day equals 24 hours" view? Did creation take six twenty-four hour days to create (Gen. 1:1-31), or only one 24 hour day (Gen. 2:4)?

A further difficulty with your view results from the fact that God rested from his creation on day seven. Are you suggesting that God only rested for a 24 hour solar day? There are Biblical reasons to suggest that the seventh day continues even till today.

Your refernce to Exodus 20:10-11 is not very helpful either. Hugh Ross quoted Gleason Archer as stating, "By no means does this demonstrate that 24-hour intervals were involved in the first six 'days' any more than the eight-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles proves that the wilderness wanderings under Moses occupied only eight days." [Creation and Time, 59].

Hugh Ross goes on to say, "Sometimes the sabbath is a full year (cf. Leviticus 25:4). The biological cycle for human beings dictates a twenty-four-hour rest period, for agricultural land, a twelve month rest period. Since God is not subject to biological cycles, His rest period is completely flexible. Clearly, the emphasis in Exodus 20 is on the pattern of one out of seven, not the literal duration of the days of creation." [ibid. 59]

There are difficulties with both views, but the issue isn't as cut and dry as you would seem to like.

risen_soul said...

Does God need a sun and a moon to be able to tell time? Why would God use language like morning and evening, which puts a very clear picture into the minds of readers if He meant to describe anything but a litteral day?

Regardless of so and so's quote, the Exodus 20 passage is very valid. God spoke to His people and said that he created in 6 days and rested on the seventh day, which is why we have the practice of a 7 day week in the first place, because Jews and Christians alike have always understood that God made the universe in 6 days and rested on the 7th.

God is not a God of confusion, He didn't write His word in code and puzzles. the context defines yom to mean day very clearly in Genesis 1. In Genesis 2 as you have mentioned that would be a good example of where the context allows for it to refer to a time period rather than a 24 hour day.

The view of "old earth" is a pathetic compromise by theologians trying to please modern science. I have read the arguments that yo made before, I don't think they hold water.

It's a clear step into liberalism. But I see that you are a self proclaimed Arminian, so i don't suspect that you and I would agree on much when it comes our understanding of God.

The Arminian view has a very small God who is subject to the will of man, so why should he not be small in Creation as well?

kangeroodort said...


Quite a response. I see you are a little hyped up about this whole thing.

I understand that you think the old earth view is some sort of attempt to compromise with modern science. The problem with that is the fact that many of our earliest theologians [long before Darwin] did not think that the "days" of Genesis referred to 24 hour solar days.

Since you have read so much on this issue, I suspect that you have read the Hugh Ross book I quoted above. You probably own it right? Take a look at page 46 for the lexicongraphical meaning of the word "yom", "ereb" [evening], and "boqer" [morning] as well as the different ways "yom" is used throughout Scripture.

The "day" means "day" argument seems to me to be a bit strange coming from someone who has most certianly ridiculed Arminians for saying things like "all" means "all" and "world" means "world".

I agree that the context is important, and based on the fact that days 1-3 are without sun and moon is, I think, contextual justification for seeing those creation days as something other than 24 hour solar days.

In the end, I don't really care much if you agree or not. It is not a matter of orthodoxy as far as I am concerned.

BTW, thanks for the snide remarks concerning my Arminian convictions.

JP said...


We all agree that day one had two divisions right? light and dark...because there was no sun and no moon you propose that it was not a 24 hour day, at least not the first three days.

So what are you suggesting. Lets day day one lasted 1 million years, and day two 10 million years and day three 14 million years, after all we need to account for all those years science tells us existed.

So how does the division of light and dark work? Day 1 have 500,000 years of light, and 500,000 of dark...Day 2 had 5 million years of light and then 5 million of darkness, Day 3, 7 million of light, and 7 million of dark.....Ok it doesn't have to be half and half.....but how do you and other non-literalists factor this in? Or do we just ignore that light division?

We could argue about God needing or not needing the sun or moon to keep time, but for now I'm not interested in do non-literalists factor is the light and dark?


risen_soul said...

you can cut the hurt puppy act. You were the one who came on the offensive with the whole, haven't read as much as you let on, junk.

Do you have a list of what I've read? For you info, I haven't read this Ross gentleman, but I have read the same arguments from Grudem.

As far as my argument for day meaning day, I was refering to Gen. 1. I'm not making an "all means all" argument. I'm making an argument that "yom" means "day" because of the context of Genesis 1. Not that it can't mean anything else elsewhere. I'm not so ignorant as to not let context help in translating or understanding a word as many do with the word "all."

I still don't think God is dependant upon the sun and the moon to know what 24 hours is. He is the creator of days.

As far as your arminian views, I will be a big critic because arminianism has a small, weak view of God, where He is waiting to see what man will do and then react. This is not the God of the Bible who is Sovereign.

I think Arminianism is one step shy, if that, of heresy. So I'm not going to be light on what I view as false teaching.

take care.

kangeroodort said...


Like I said, I am not dogmatic about the issue. I really don't care if you want to believe that the earth is 6000 years old, and that Noah took dinosaurs on the Ark.

I don't care what you think of Arminianism either; but you want to defend your charge of heresy, then come on over to my blog and put your money where your mouth is. Unless of course you are afraid that you might get "backed into a corner". If you do, at least there will be a quick list of debate tips for you to reference. Hope to hear from you soon.

risen_soul said...

I would consider a debate with you if your willing to lay down some ground rules. The last thing in the world I have time for is a never ending debate at "bash a Calvinist Central."

If you want to set it up so that we pick a specific topic, have a chance for each person to give their position on that topic, then give a rebuttle, and then some sort of cross examination and closing argument, then I would be interested.

I don't want to get sucked into a never ending debate, so if you are interseted in laying down ground rules so that we can have a concise, to the point debate, then I'm game.

I have a general idea of how we might do that, if indeed you are interested.

kangeroodort said...


I am not interested in a never-ending debate either. I have written a post on why I believe that regeneration cannot Biblically precede faith. Why don't you engage me on that subject. You already have my position spelled out for you at my blog.

As far as how we will work the whole thing out so that it is as fair as possible, I am interested in any suggestions.

risen_soul said...

Sorry for the delayed response, I've been out of town and without access to the net.

We can engage on that subject if you like, however my conviction on that subject is not the same as many Calvinist's. I personally believe that God gives the gift of faith while simultaneously giving His Spirit and regenerating a person.

I do not think that faith precedes regeneration, nor regeneration precedes faith.

So on that point I'm not sure that you'd find our discussion as interesting as you would someone who takes the stance that many other Calvinist's do.

Personally I don't see that as the crucial issue between the Arminian view and the Calvinist view. Rather the issue might be things like, how serious is sin and is man totaly dead in Sin. Do we choose God or does He choose us. Does God fail to save those whom He desires to save or does He save everyone He intends to save...etc.

As far as how we could have a fair debate, I would suggest something like each of us writing our view point on the agreed topic, then each writing a rebuttle to the other's opening statement, perhaps followed by a series of (cross examination) questions for each other and then a closing argument.

Obviously we would have to set a word or page limit on each of those, but we can decide on that. Then we would both be able to publish the debate on our own sites. That would be my suggestion.

kangeroodort said...

Sounds good. Do you have any ideas for a topic? It would be good to keep the discussion narrow.

risen_soul said...

I wish you had gotten back to me sooner because now I'm back in school as of this week and working like a maniac on my classes. I'm taking 16.5 hours this semester along with working and spending time with my family.

Regardless of whether you view this as me backing down or not, I think the responsible thing for me to do right now is say, maybe later.

Perhaps during my break over December-January we can plan on it.

kangeroodort said...

Risen Soul,

Don't sweat it. No, I do not think you are backing down from anything. I understand the madness of school. If you ever feel you have the time to devote to it just drop a comment at my blog. Good luck with your studies.

God Bless,

risen_soul said...

I appreciate your understanding. If time allows, I'll get back to you for a good old fashion scholarly debate.