What is the Meaning of the Word “Day” in Genesis? Part 2

Post Author: Bill Pratt

In the first post in this series, we introduced the topic of “days” in Genesis, but there are more arguments that need to be fleshed out.  We will continue using Norman Geisler’s treatment of this subject in his second volume of systematic theology.

Young-earth creationists point out that when numbered series are used in the Old Testament in combination with the Hebrew word yom, they are always referring to a 24-hour day.  Here is the argument:

Further, it is noted that when numbers are used in a series (1, 2, 3 … ) in connection with the word day (yom) in the Old Testament, it always refers to twenty-four-hour-days. The absence of any exception to this in the Old Testament is given as evidence of the fact that Genesis 1 is referring to twenty-four-hour-days.

How do opponents of the young-earth view reply?

Critics of the twenty-four-hour-day view point out that there is no rule of the Hebrew language demanding that all numbered days in a series refer to twenty-four-hour-days. Further, even if there were no exceptions in the rest of the Old Testament, it would not mean that “day” in Genesis 1 does not refer to more than a twenty four hour period of time: Genesis 1 may be the exception! Finally, contrary to the solar-day view, there is another example in the Old Testament of a numbered series of days that are not twenty-four-hour-days. Hosea 6:1–2 reads: “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.” It is clear that the prophet is not speaking of twenty-four-hour “days,” but of longer periods of time in the future. Even so, he uses numbered days in a series.

A further argument of young-earth creationists has to do with the fact that the phrase “evening and morning” is used in conjunction with “days.”

Another line of evidence is the use of the phrase “evening and morning” in connection with each day in Genesis 1.  Since the literal twenty-four-hour-day on the Jewish calendar began in the “evening” (by sunset) and ended in the “morning” (before sunset) the next day, it is concluded that these are literal twenty-four-hour-days.

Here is the reply that is given to that argument:

First, the fact that the phrase “evening and morning” is often used in connection with twenty-four-hour-days does not mean it must always be used in this way.

Second, if one is going to take everything in Genesis 1 in a strictly literal way, then the phrase “evening and morning” does not encompass all of a twenty-four-hour-day, but only the late afternoon of one day and the early morning of another. This is considerably less than twenty four hours.

Third, technically, the text does not say the “day” was composed of “evening and morning” (thus allegedly making a twenty four hour Jewish day); rather, it simply says, “And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day” (Gen. 1:5). Further, the phrase may be a figure of speech indicating a beginning and end to a definite period of time, just as we see in phrases like “the dawn of world history” or the “sunset years of one’s life.”

Fourth, if every day in this series of seven is to be taken as twenty-four hours, why is the phrase “evening and morning” not used with one of the days (the seventh)? In fact, the seventh day is not twenty-four hours, and thus there is no necessity to take the other days as twenty four hours either, since all of them alike use the same word (yom) and have a series of numbers with them.

Fifth, and finally, in Daniel 8:14, “evenings and mornings” (cf. v. 26) refer to a period of 2,300 days. Indeed, often in the Old Testament the phrase is used as a figure of speech meaning “continually” (cf. Ex. 18:13; 27:21; Lev. 24:3; Job 4:20).

There are several more arguments to be reviewed, so stick around.

  • franklinmonroe

    The second reply above is entirely too literal since it is based upon the English contemporary understanding of “evening” and “morning” (that is, that “evening” does not literally include the period of night, and “morning” cannot include the afternoon).

    However, the Hebrew language and culture could divide the 24-hour day into just two designations: “evening” which would include night and “morning” which would include afternoon. The Hebrew word in Genesis can support the idea of “night” or “evening”; the Hebrew word translated as “morning” is a bit more narrow.

    We do this ourselves when we refer to a 24-hour period as simply “all day and night” (no one would attempt to claim that we were referring to less than a whole 24-hour period because we did also say “morning and evening” along with “day and night”).

  • “Genesis 1 may be the exception!”

    This sounds like an admission that your view has no scriptural merit.

    You then search the whole Bible to find a verse (Hosea 6:1–2) that will fit with what you already believe. If you are right about this then the Catholics are right about Peter being the rock that the Church is built upon.

  • Darcy

    “In fact, the seventh day is not twenty-four hours…”

    Uh? Unless I’m missing something, there’s no sound logic behind this. After “Genesis 1 may be the exception”, the seventh day another ad hoc “exception”? Why to disconnect what’s clearly connected by God Himself in context?

    “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” Gen.2:3
    “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Ex.20:11
    “And he said unto them, The sabbath was made for man…” Mark 2:27

    Conversely, I found that “the word “day” used for the previous six days, meaning “morning and evening” or “sunset to sunset,” is the same hebrew word used for the seventh day Sabbath (Genesis 2:2, 3). This Hebrew word is “yom” and since this word is also used for the days before, and they have an ending point, then the seventh day which uses the same word must logically also have an ending point.”

    Concerning the two views, I think it’s easy to see which one is adhering to the text and which one is trying to “edit” it.

  • Nucc3 .

    Bill, I’ve spoken to Dr Norman Geisler PERSONALLY on this question and I remember his response CLEARLY… He said.. I don’t know…On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, he’s old earth and Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday he’s young earth and on SUNDAY his day of rest, he’s at church. (:-)

  • Nucc3 .

    I don’t think so Bret because it doesn’t say Peter YOU ARE THE ROCK
    Matt 16:17-19

  • Nucc3 .

    Just think of how Moses after hearing such plain words and being told to write them down then having to do a 5000 year old +- google search to check what “DAY” COULD HAVE MEANT.
    Does that make any COMMON SENSE WHATSOEVER?

  • Yes, I heard him say the same thing, roughly. He doesn’t take a firm position on this issue.