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The Question of Creation Days

The keystone of whether the earth is relatively young or extremely old rests heavily on the understanding of the Hebrew word יום yom, which is translated into English as day.  The Progressive Creation theory which espouses the belief of an old earth (approximately 4.56 billion years old), while trying to remain faithful to Scripture, contends that the days in Genesis 1 (1:1-2:3) are to be understood as long, indefinite periods of time.

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. (Exodus 20:11)

Chapter from The First Six Days

The First Six Days Module

The young earth view, however, claims that God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in six, literal 24 hour days roughly 6000 years ago.  Who is to say who is right?  How can we determine what a day really means?  Does day only and always refer to a period of 24‑hours or does it also refer to an indefinite period of time in which millions and billions of years could have passed allowing for the Progressive Creation and theistic-evolution theories?

Meanings of Day in the Old Testament

As with most misunderstandings in the Bible, the key to unlocking the puzzle lies in the context of the word.  The word day is used in several different ways in the Bible.  Occasionally, we see days referring to a time in the past.  Judges 18:1, for example, states that “In those days…” בימים ההם bayamim hahem. This exact phrase appears 31 times in the Old Testament.  It is a very common expression and is really no different than how we in English say “back in my day” or “back in those days” referring to a period of years in our lives but stating it in days.  Hence, in this context, days are understood to be referring to time in the past that probably lasted several years though definitely not thousands or millions – something that is obvious because it talks about human history of which the Bible gives definite times.

Sometimes the biblical writers used the word day to refer to a specific time that has theological or eschatological significance such as “the day of the LORD” yom YHWH יום הוה.  This expression, found 13 times in the Old Testament, mostly in the book of Isaiah, refers to a time in the future when God will judge the world and usher in a new age.  This expression seems to speak more of an event of unknown duration rather than a specific amount of time, though a period of 24 hours cannot be ruled out.

At other times, days in the plural can refer to the span of someone’s life.  In Genesis 5:4 we read concerning the days of Adam, “So all the days that Adam (yamei-adam ימי־אדם) lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.”  Here day is used in reference to Adam’s lifetime, which is described as days, but then the text very clearly goes on to clarify what is meant by days – that is the years of his life or the summation of the days of his life.  This is wonderfully illustrated by the Hebrew Title of the book of I and II Chronicles למלכי ישׂראל דברי הימים divre ha-yamim lemalche Israel, literally transliterated as affairs or matters of the days of the kings of Israel.

24-Hour Days

The final meaning refers to days of 24‑hours. The most basic way of defining a day was from evening to evening, which is indicated in the text by evening and morning. The ancient Israelites, contrary to us, started their new days at sunset.  Thus, Friday night at sunset would already be considered the Sabbath and the day would end Saturday evening at around the same time.

Another way to indicate a regular day of 24‑hours is by hayom hazeh היום הזה which is translated as “the very same day.”  In Genesis 7:13 we read: “On the very same day Noah […] entered the ark”.  Likewise, Genesis 17:23 states: “So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him.”  In both of these passages, the word day makes reference to the same day – that is the 24-hour period they were currently in.  It is clear that the word here does not refer to an indefinite period of time but rather to a 24-hour period.

Days with a Cardinal Number

When a cardinal number (one, two, three, four, etc.) appears in front of the word day, it refers only and always to one (or many) period(s) of 24 hours.  There are numerous verses which elucidate this point.  Genesis 33:13 states:

‘But Jacob said to him, ‘My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and herds which are nursing are with me. And if the men should drive them hard one day, all the flock will die.’

What Jacob is saying to his brother Esau is that there is a limit to how far little children and cattle can go in one day. The reference is clearly to one 24-hour period of time.  Numbers 11:20 clarifies the usage even more.  The children of Israel complained against the LORD because they did not have meat like they had in Egypt, the very place where God rescued them from.  Rather than simply trust God for their needs or even ask for meat, they complained bitterly against God.  In frustration with his stubborn children, He declares that they will have more meat than they know what to do with:

“You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have despised the LORD Who is among you, and have wept before Him, saying, ‘Why did we ever come up out of Egypt?’” (Numbers 11:20)

Here the meaning of day or days is clear.  There will be not just one, or two, or five, or ten, or twenty days, but a whole month’s worth of meat.  The meaning of the word day is augmented by the contrast with the word “month” chodesh חודשׁ, which only refers to the time of about thirty days or one cycle of the moon and never anything else.

Further proof that yom day refers to a 24-hour day when preceded by cardinal numbers is found throughout the Old Testament. God, in explaining the judgment coming upon the world, says in Genesis 7:4, “For after seven more days I will cause it to rain on the earth forty days and forty nights, and I will destroy from the face of the earth all living things that I have made.”  God gave Noah another seven days – not long, indefinite periods of time, but seven 24-hour days, until the floodwaters would come.  Verse 10 records that indeed after seven literal days, the waters of the flood came: “And it came to pass after seven days that the waters of the flood were on the earth.”  Verse 11 surpasses the previous two in precision by telling us exactly when this occurred.

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

This description is not just about some indefinite period of time.  It was on the 17th of the second month, a very real time that the flood came.  And then the record (verse 24) tells us specifically how long the waters were on the earth.  “And the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days.”  One hundred and fifty days in the text is not some long, undetermined era.  Some people would contend that the days of the flood are irrelevant since Noah was simply a mythical or an allegorical figure.  However, if one accepts the words of Jesus and the New Testament, then one must also accept that Noah was a real person who lived through the worldwide flood.  (See Matthew 24:37, 38, Luke 17:26, 27, 1 Peter 3:20, 2 Peter 2:5, Hebrews 11:7).  Thus, because Jesus and the disciples accepted Noah as real, we must understand the days described in Genesis as being real, 24-hour days.

The list of verses in the Old Testament confirming that every time a number comes before day it is referring to a 24‑hour day is extensive.  A few more examples clearly illustrate the principle.  “Then he put three days’ journey between himself and Jacob, and Jacob fed the rest of Laban’s flocks” (Genesis 30:36).  “Forty days were required for him [Joseph], for such are the days required for those who are embalmed; and the Egyptians mourned for him seventy days” (Genesis 50:3).  “And seven days passed after the LORD had struck the river” (Exodus 7:25).  “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread.  On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses.  For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel” (Exodus 12:15).  “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none” (Exodus 16:26).  “So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, ‘Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land?’” (2 Samuel 24:13).  Although there are too many verses to list them all here, throughout the entire Old Testament, in every case where a number precedes day, it deals with the literal usage of day rather than an indefinite period of time.

Days with Ordinal Numbers

A cardinal number before day is not the only way to express literal days.  We see again and again that ordinal numbers (first, second, third, fourth, etc.) are also used in a literal sense when used with day.  Ezekiel records that on a particular (literal) day of a particular month of a particular year God again spoke to him: “Again, in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the LORD came to me” (Ezekiel 24:1, emphasis mine).  Likewise, Ezra records the exact day when the temple was finished: “Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius” (Ezra 6:15, emphasis mine).

We find in the book of Numbers a usage of ordinal numbers that is parallel to Genesis 1.  In Genesis 1 we saw the chronology of creation described as one day and then the second day, the third day etc.  In Numbers 29, God lists the various sacrifices and on which day they are to be performed for the feast of Tabernacles.  Notice that the days listed have the same ordinal numbers [1] as used in Genesis.

On the second day (יום השׁני yom hasheni) present twelve young bulls, […]  On the third day (יום השׁלישׁי yom hashlishi) present eleven bulls, […]  On the fourth day (יום הרביעי yom harevi’i) present […]  On the fifth day (יום החמישׁי yom hachamishi) present […]On the sixth day (יום השׁשׁי yom hashishi) present […]  On the seventh day (יום השׁביעי yom hashvi’i) present seven bulls (Numbers 29:17, 20, 23, 26, 29, 32, emphases mine).

The days above were most certainly real and literal days in which specific things had to happen; they were not long drawn out periods of time.  The text employs the use of ordinal numbers as does Genesis 1 but here we do not conclude that those days were indefinite periods of time; they were simply days.  Thus even with ordinal numbers a day is just a literal, 24-hour day.

Days in Hosea 6:2

Certain Bible expositors have suggested that Hosea 6:2 uses days as ages of time (probably about 1000 years each) in relation to the nation of Israel and their national revival: “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.”  While this is a provocative interpretation that cannot be disproved, the context does not demand such an interpretation and hence neither can it be positively proven.  It could be that even here it is referring to two plus one literal days.

This survey of the usage of days in the Old Testament brings us back to the question of just how we are to understand the days of creation.  We have seen that there are times when the word day is used for periods of time other than a literal 24-hour (though millions or billions of years are never implied).  However, whenever a number is placed in front of the word day, the meaning becomes limited to that of a 24‑hour period, that is, a regular day just as we use the word today to describe a day. Therefore, looking at Genesis 1, are we to interpret those days as literal, 24-hour days or long, indefinite periods of time in which evolution may have occurred?

The First Day

The glory of the Bible is that, unlike the writings of other ancient nations which demonstrated a belief that water was the primal material before the existence of any gods, it claims that God was in the beginning and that He created all that is.  Both the Gap theory and a relatively new theory, which posits that the six-day-creation-clock didn’t really start ticking until God uttered the words “Let there be light” in verse three, suggest that the first day didn’t start in verse one but in either verse two or verse three, respectively.  Let us simply analyze, biblically and linguistically, the full range of the key Hebrew words in Genesis 1:1–2 and see what they mean and if they support the idea that a time gap exists in those verses.  (English words for which the Hebrew equivalent is given are italicized.)

In the beginning God created (ברא bara) the heavens and the earth (את השׁמים ואת הארץ et hashayim ve’et ha’aretz).  The earth was without form, and void

(ובהו תהו tohu vavohu); and darkness was on the face of the deep (תהום tehom). And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters

(המים על־פני al pnei hamayim).

Bara and Asa<

The first key word isברא created (bara) which is used a total of 53 times in the Old Testament.  The basic and majority times used form of the word, which is used in Genesis 1, has the general meaning of create, shape or form.  It has been suggested that the word bara used here in Genesis is a different type of action than the word עשׂה (asa – do, make, fashion or produce) used in Exodus 20:11 where God says that he made the heavens and earth in six days.

Bara and asa are for the most part synonymous with one important distinction between them: bara is used only of God’s actions and never of man’s.  There are countless examples of where man can asa (do or make); however, only God can bara.  There is by implication creation ex nihilo, but the major thrust of the word bara lies in its use by God only and on the initiation of something new.  The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) notes concerning asa and its distinction from bara:

The word [asa] occurs with great frequency in the Genesis account of creation, which is the first great act of God in history. The significant interchange between the words bara’ “create” and ‘asa is of great interest. The word bara’ carries the thought of the initiation of the object involved. It always connotes what only God can do and frequently emphasizes the absolute newness of the object created. The word ‘asa is much broader in scope, connoting primarily the fashioning of the object with little concern for special nuances.

The use of bara’ in the opening statement of the account of creation seems to carry the implication that the physical phenomena came into existence at that time and had no previous existence in the form in which they were created by divine fiat. The use of ‘asa may simply connote the act of fashioning the objects involved in the whole creative process. (TWOT: 1708 asa)

As the TWOT notes, the use of asa is a broader term than bara, but we see from the context in which the words are used that they can be used interchangeably to a large extent.  Perhaps the best example is Isaiah 45:18 where God is disparaging those who put their trust in idols rather than in Him, the true God and creator of all.  Notice that the three words that are used, create, form and make all describe the same event – the creation of the heavens and earth.

For thus says the LORD,

Who created (bore בורא) the heavens,

Who is God,

Who formed (yotzer יוצר) the earth and made (oseh עושׂה) it,

Who has established it,

Who did not create (braha בראה) it in vain,

Who formed (yatzarah יצרה) it to be inhabited:

“I am the LORD, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:18)

This verse is incredibly specific, especially in regards to the creation of the earth.  First of all, God declares that He is the one who created (bore בורא) the heavens – which could also be translated as Creator of the heavens.  Next He says that He is the former (yotzer יוצר) and the maker (asah עושׂה) of the  earth, a seeming confirmation of the supposed distinction of bara and asa.  However, God continues by saying that He created it, where the word it, is the third person singular feminine possessive suffix.  Put simply, it means that the word it is attached to the word created.  The word it must refer to earth because the earth is a singular feminine noun and heavens is a dual masculine noun.  Clearly and unmistakably God declares that He created, formed, and made the earth.  Thus, to suggest that Exodus 20:11 (“For in six days the LORD made [asa] the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them…”) is not parallel in thought to Genesis 1 is to ignore the evidence in favor of one’s own theory.

The Heavens and Earth

Thus far verse one has told us the when of creation – in the beginning, and then the how – God created something completely new (bara), which only God can do.  Now we are up to the what, which is of course: the heavens and the earth.  The question before us is understanding what precisely that means since immediately in verse two we are told that the earth was formless and void (תהו ובהו tohu vavohu); the earth must have not been fully complete.  Thus, just what did He create?  What are we to understand by the heavens and the earth?  Did He create them complete or could that term be understood as the material that He would later form, as if He first created the clay and then worked it into a suitable form?

The answer to this enigma lies in the fact that there is no single word for universe in Hebrew, which is confirmed by the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “The Hebrews had no proper word for ‘world’ in its wide sense of ‘universe.’ The nearest approach to such a meaning is in the phrase ‘the heavens and the earth.’”[2] Thus, stating that God created the heavens and the earth is equivalent in our day to saying that He created the universe; it encompasses all that is. [3] Bible commentators Keil and Delitzsch note the significance of the first creative act found in the Bible:

[…] there is nothing belonging to the composition of the universe, either in material or form, which had an existence out of God prior to this divine act in the beginning (Keil & Delitzsch Genesis 1:2).

That is to say, God essentially created the building blocks before beginning construction.  The term the heavens and the earth here might be thought of as the raw material, the elements that God created out of nothing that He would form and fashion later to His liking.  Consider that before God created anything, there was only God.  There was no universe, no vacuum of space, nothing whatsoever.  There was only God.  Thus as part of His creative act, He had to create a dimension that was apart from Him – in which He could further manipulate and form the basic elements according to His will.  Keil & Delitzsch again comment:

This is also shown in the connection between our verse and the one which follows: “and the earth was without form and void,” not before, but when, or after God created it. From this it is evident that the void and formless state of the earth was not uncreated, or without beginning. At the same time it is obvious from the creative acts which follow (vv. 3-18), that the heaven and earth, as God created them in the beginning, were not the well-ordered universe, but the world in its elementary form; (Keil & Delitzsch 1866: Genesis 1:1)

Tohu Vavohu

“The earth was without form, and void (תהו ובהו tohu vavohu)” (Genesis 1:2a)

Verse two tells us that the matter God created was still in no particular shape or form.  There was no planet earth as we know it today, but the raw material that God had created, (according to Genesis 1:2b) was still in no special shape.  It was still unformed and unorganized.  These words do not in any way suggest that there had been an earlier creation, as proposed by the Gap Theory.  They do not suggest that the earth was a wasteland waiting to be recreated.  The word tohu in Genesis 1:2, according to the TWOT, refers not to the result of a supposed catastrophe (for which there is no clear biblical evidence) but to the formlessness of the earth before God’s creative hand began the majestic acts described in the following verses. As Jeremiah 4:23 indicates, the earth always has the potential of returning to tohu wabohu if God decides to judge it. (TWOT Tohu)

Furthermore, the text says that the earth “was without form, and void” and not “became without form, and void” as the Gap Theorists argue. [4] The Hebrew והארץ היתה vehaaretz hayta is what is known grammatically as a copulative clause. [5] The Hebrew letter vav (or waw) attached to the noun (the earth) acts as a type of parenthetical [6] statement that is to suggest a reading: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  (Now the earth was without form, and void.)”  Thus the earth was desolate and void (tohu vavohu) at the very beginning of God’s creation and did not become as a result of God recreating it.

Tehom, the Deep

The rest of verse 2 seems to indicate that the creation of the heavens and the earth was water.  That is to say, that all of the matter of the universe was comprised of water and that water was formless.…and darkness was on the face of the deep (תהוםtehom). And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters (על־פני המים al panei hamayim). (Genesis 1:2b)

The apostle Peter comments on the creation of the world from water, “…that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water” (2 Peter 3:5)

It is also interesting to note that several ancient creation myths (cosmologies) had water as the original and eternal substance from which gods subsequently emerged. [7] The Bible, of course, demonstrates the superiority of God over His creation since He is the one who made the waters, and not the one emerging from the waters.  These ancient myths, I believe, are a distorted memory of the true creation account in which water was the first substance God created.

Tehom accurately describes well the water that was there in the beginning.  It is best translated as deep, depths, or abyss.  According to A. S. Yahuda, a word similar to tehom appears in the ancient language of Akkadian, which has a very similar meaning, thus helping us to better understand its use in the Bible:

[…] [tamtu] is conceived in its primordial condition as […] the primeval water as a sea, an ocean, before the earth was created by the heaping up of mud on the shore of this tamtu. (Yahuda 1933: 128)

Physicist Dr. Russel Humphreys, in his book, Starlight and Time, describes his theory based on the observations of this verse, how water might have then been transformed into the other known elements, “…this verse suggested to me that the original material God created, the deep, was pure water, which He then transformed into other materials” [8] (Humphreys 2004: 72).

Merachefet, God’s Energizing of His Creation

And the Spirit of God was hovering (מרחפת merachefet) over the face of the waters (על־פני המים al panei hamayim). (Genesis 1:2b)

The last word to analyze, מרחפת (merachefet), found also in Deuteronomy 32:11 [9] denotes the fluttering, hovering, or brooding motion of a bird over its nest.

As an eagle stirs up its nest,

Hovers (מרחפת merachefet) over its young,

Spreading out its wings, taking them up,

Carrying them on its wings, (Deuteronomy 32:11)

The purpose of the act of brooding by a bird over its nest is to provide warmth and nurturing to its young.  The movement is that of the bird gently shaking and moving its body in fairly small motions.  It also contains the idea of the bird covering its young with its wings, enveloping them in order to bring them to maturity. [10]

It seems that at this point God began to energize the raw material that He made in verse 1.  The oscillation on the face (or surface) of the deep, which is really what the hovering could be compared to, created the movement of the inert elements.  It is interesting that all matter and energy at their core are simply wavelengths; “matter acts as both a particle and as a wave” (Koehler 1996).

We saw above that the Hebrew letter vav attached to the front of the word hayta (was) created a type of parenthetical statement.   The fact that מרחפת (merachefet) is a transitive participle substantiates that verse 2 is not a new thought or even the first act of God but a clarification of what came before it in verse 1.

God Speaks

The sequence of events is that the first thing that God did was to create the heavens (space) and the earth (material) – that is, He created a place or dimension outside of Himself and then the matter to work with, which we are told was without form and empty.  Then God, hovering over the face of the deep, decreed light to exist.  These are the first recorded words of God, but in fact, the third creative act.

This view can be strongly defended from the Hebrew grammar.  The typical sequence of a narrative is to start with a verb in the simple past tense [11] (Genesis 1:1 begins with bara – created in the simple past tense) thereby signifying something new or dramatic to the story.   Verse 2 we saw is a parenthetical statement explaining what is meant exactly by the creation of the “earth”.  The action picks up again in verse 3 with the use of a sequential past tense [12].  The use of a different kind of Hebrew verb marks quite clearly that the writer understood the actions of verse 3 to be a continuation of the previous two verses.  Hebrew expert Dr. Buth notes that this is the normal storytelling construction in biblical Hebrew.

The sequential past tense is used to present the next event in the story or the next event in a sentence.  If the writer wants to mark a break in the flow of the story for any reason, then they do not use the sequential past tense.  For a past event they would need to put something other than the verb at the beginning of the sentence and then use a simple past tense (Buth 2005: 52).

Not only is verse 3 a continuation of verse 1, but the entire creation account of Genesis 1 uses the sequential past tense.  Consequently, according to the grammar, there is no break between verse 1 and the rest of the chapter. Thus, there is no reason to try to place millions of years between any of the first three verses since they are all part of that first day.  Light was created on the first day, along with the very building blocks necessary for even the light to shine, which was energized by the movement of the Holy Spirit over the face of the deep.  There exists, therefore, no reason to believe that the length of the first day was any different than that of any other, nor was there a previous world that fell only to be recreated, nor was there even a geologic creation some billions of years earlier.  The first three verses of Genesis 1, the first day, all occurred within 24 hours just like the rest of the days as we shall see.

The Days in Genesis 1

The days in Genesis 1 should certainly be understood as literal, 24-hour days due to the usage of the limitation of the evening and the morning [13] found throughout Genesis 1 (the fact that the sun was not created until the fourth day is irrelevant since the rotation of the earth is what constitutes a day – the light source is immaterial).  Even though the evidence seems to point to literal, 24-hour days in Genesis one, the old-earth camp is still persuaded that these days are long periods of time rather than normal (24-hour) days.  They suggest that the usage of ordinal numbers (first, second, third, fourth etc.) rather than cardinals as noted previously, denotes different eras of time and thus the first era (day) is followed by the second era (day) etc. where each day equals an unknown but extremely long period of time in which the slow processes of evolution, with God’s help, had enough time according to Darwin’s model of slow change.

There are some fatal flaws to this theory, however, from a biblical perspective.  First of all, the first day of Genesis in the Hebrew is not actually defined as the first day, but rather as day one or yom echad יום אחד. The word echad is the cardinal number one and should not be understood as first ראשׁון rishon, but as in the series one, two, three, four, etc. We have seen previously that any time day occurs with a cardinal number, it always refers to a literal, 24-hour day.  So we can conclude that the first day of creation was 24 hours.

God Defines the Days for Us

The absolute solution to this puzzle of the length of the days in Genesis is given by God Himself.  After taking the children of Israel out of Egypt, God led them to a place called Mount Sinai where He gave them the law.  In Exodus chapter 20 verses 9 and 10, God states,

“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.”

There is no doubt whatsoever that God is talking about a regular workweek.  The people were to work six (literal) days and then they were to take a day off, something very different from the custom of the peoples around them, who generally didn’t take any days off.

In verse 11 of chapter 20 God gives the reason and history behind 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.

Here God unequivocally declares that He created everything in only six days.  As with the other times that a cardinal number appears before the word day (yom יום), here too it is used as a literal, 24-hour day.  So God makes perfectly clear how long he took to make the universe (just in case anyone should be confused).  If these days are not taken as literal days then neither can the Sabbath be taken as literal.  However, the fact that the Sabbath is a literal day starting at sunset Friday evening and lasting until the following Saturday evening goes back in Hebrew tradition as far back as Mount Sinai and is a very cherished day.  Since we know that the Sabbath has always been considered a literal span of 24 hours, we can safely conclude that the six days of creation are to be taken literally as well.

It would seem that God wanted to reiterate [14] the message for those that still didn’t get it.  In Exodus 31:15, 17 He says,

“Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death […] It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”

There is no way to circumvent this declaration: the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, observed for 24-hours every week, is a sign between the Jewish people and God.  Transgressing the covenant was punishable by death.  The Israelites knew exactly how long it was – for not knowing would cost them their life.  The Sabbath was/is 24 hours and therefore, so are all of the other days of the week, which is how long it took God to create the heavens and the earth. This is a far cry from an indefinite period of time.

The Days in Genesis 2

The claim is often made that the creation accounts of Genesis 1 (really 1:1 – 2:3) and Genesis 2 (really 2:4 – 2:25) are contradictory.  Thus, it is suggested that even if chapter 1 had been written with a literal intent, chapter 2, and its contradictions to chapter 1 renders a literal reading impossible.  The principal difference in the two chapters is that chapter 1 deals with creation from a panoramic view while chapter 2 is concerned specifically with the how of the creation of man and the what of man’s role in God’s creation.  The key passages that we need to consider are 2:4, 2:5-7, and 2:19.  Once we understand these correctly, the entire chapter neatly fits with chapter 1.

Genesis 2:4

It has been suggested that Genesis 2:4 supports the theory that the days of the Genesis creation account long vast ages.  The verse reads:

This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens

Progressive Creation advocate Hugh Ross states concerning this verse,

This verse, a summary statement for the creation account, in the literal Hebrew reads, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day of their making….”  Here, the word day refers to all six-creation days (and the creation events prior to the first creative day).  Obviously, then, it refers to a period longer than 24 hours.  Hebrew lexicons verify that the word for generation (toledah) refers to the time it takes a baby to become a parent or to a time period arbitrarily longer.  In Genesis 2:4 the plural form, generations, is used, indicating that multiple generations have passed. (Ross 1991: 52)

Ross here asserts things about Hebrew, which are not accurate.  The problem with getting the literal reading of a passage with the aid of lexicons is that the idioms as defined by the context are often overlooked.  Consider for example the English word bow – this could mean many different things depending on its context.  One meaning is a weapon, another is the front of a ship, still another is the decoration on a gift, and the fourth is to bend at the waist.  Not only are the definitions radically different, but it can also be used as a noun and as a verb.  Without context we don’t know what it means nor can we even pronounce it correctly!

Dr. Ross has failed to recognize the idiom behind the words in the day (that the LORD God) made.  The Hebrew expression עשׂות ביום (b’yom asot) actually carries the force of when.  The letter ב (beth) in Hebrew often designates a temporal aspect.  Joüon &. Muraoka note in A Grammar of Biblical Hebrew “With the infinitive ב is used in the temporal sense”.  This explains why the letter beth in בהבראם (b’hibaram) is translated when they were created, a fact also supported by both the Brown Driver Briggs Lexicon, and Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar [15] .  B’yom is part of a three-word construct chain and it is used in relation to the infinitive asot (making) which again carries the force of when. What is important not to overlook here, however, is that when yom is used in conjunction with the preposition beth it may be understood as a less precise expression than the 24-hour day. [16] When yom is used with a number, it always refers to a literal, 24-hour day.

Ross also misunderstands the full range of meaning of the word תולדות (toledoth), which often means generations, but is in many places better translated as account or history. [17] Thus, owning a Hebrew lexicon is not enough to fully capture the nuances of the language.

Genesis 2:5 – 2:7

before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground;

but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

A casual reading of 2:5 to 2:7 in English would seem to indicate that man was created before plants and shrubs.  The question that we must consider is exactly which plants and shrubs.  Is this referring to all of the vegetation on the entire planet or is it more defined?  The vegetation referred to is designated by the word field, which appears twice in the text.  שׂיח השׂדה (siach hasadeh) plant of the field and עשׂב השׂדה (esev hasadeh) herb of the field are the technical terms that we must not overlook.  Both of them are in the construct state, which simply means that two nouns are considered one unit.  It is very similar in English where bicycle tire is not referring to bicycle and tire, but a type of tire, that is, the tire of a bicycle.  So too, we could just as well translate these as field plant and field herb – two specific items.  Reputed Bible Commentators Keil & Delitzsch note,

The creation of the plants is not alluded to here at all, but simply the planting of the garden in Eden. The growing of the shrubs and sprouting of the herbs is different from the creation or first production of the vegetable kingdom, and relates to the growing and sprouting of the plants and germs which were called into existence by the creation, the natural development of the plants as it had steadily proceeded ever since the creation. This was dependent upon rain and human culture; their creation was not. Moreover, the shrub and herb of the field do not embrace the whole of the vegetable productions of the earth. It is not a fact that the field is used in the second section in the same sense as the earth in the first. שׂדה [sadeh] is not ‘the widespread plain of the earth, the broad expanse of land,’ but a field of arable land, soil fit for cultivation, which forms only a part of the “earth” or “ground.” Keil & Delitzsch 1866: Genesis 2:5-2:7)

Genesis 2:19

Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name.

Here too there is considered to be a contradiction to the first chapter since it would seem that God first formed Adam and then the animals.  The word formed is the Hebrew word ויצר (vayitzer) and is in the past tense.  This form, however, can potentially express a simple past tense and the past of the past, known grammatically as the past perfect [18].  The past perfect is used to express any action that happened prior to another, both occurring in the past.  For example, Johnny had eaten three hamburgers before he ordered dessert.  The past perfect, had eaten was finished before the action of ordering.

Thus the word vayitzer can signify either the simple past or past perfect.  What that means practically is that formed could just as well have been translated as had formed. [19] The Hebrew supports either which would then yield a plausible translation, “Out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam…”  The use of the past perfect here, grammatically speaking, clears up the order of creation events perfectly: God first created the animals (on day five), then created man (on day six) and then brought the animals that He had created to man to see what he would call them (on day six).

A Final Objection

In Peter’s second letter, he writes to fellow believers who were suffering all kinds of trials and persecutions on account of their belief in Jesus.  His words are to comfort them and remind them that God’s perspective is different from ours.  He writes, “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).  This verse has been used to supposedly prove that time and numbers in the Bible do not have concrete value and therefore the days in Genesis 1 could have lasted one thousand years or perhaps even one million.  But is Peter really saying that one day is equal to one thousand years?  Looking at the verse again carefully we note that there are two important keys to a correct understanding.

With The Lord

The first key is “with the Lord”.  Peter here is describing God’s perspective to time and not man’s.  This cannot be overlooked.  Peter is not saying that one thousand years is equal to one day.  He is saying that in God’s economy, time is radically different and that when we think that the Lord is “slack” we should think again. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).  Peter wants to make clear that God’s timetable is different from ours.

A Little Word with Big Meaning

The other important key is the little word as (hos) ὡς.  Although small, it plays an important function in that it tells us that two things are similar but not exact in nature.  It is no different than when we make such statements as “Johnny is like his father” or “In Johnny’s eyes, his father is as Hercules.”  Both statements are merely stating that one is like or similar to another but not the same as the other.  So too, Peter is saying that in the eyes of God, a day is similar to one thousand years and vice versa, one thousand years is like a day.  This verse simply confirms that God is not bound by time.  Peter gives us another example of the use of this little word in his first epistle where he says, “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass” (1 Peter 1:24).  Certainly, he is not saying we are actually grass growing on the field.  He merely says that we are in many ways similar to grass.  Just as grass has a short life, so too are our lives short when compared with the eternal God and so too will our glory fade away faster than we think.  Thus, to God a day and a thousand years are the same.

Psalm 90:4

This truth was first stated in the Old Testament, which Peter more than likely drew from:  “For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night” (Psalm 90:4).  Here too, the writer is simply stating things from God’s point of view – that is, time has no bearing on God.  He is not bound by time and hence whether it is a day or one thousand years, it is the same to Him.  We are not to conclude, however, that time is irrelevant for us.  Again and again, we see that people in the Bible lived real lives for a specific amount of time.  The Bible treats the lifespan of the lives of Adam (930 years), Noah (950 years), Abraham (175 years), Sarah (127 years), Jacob (147 years) and Moses (120 years) as all real and definite (See Genesis 5:5, 9:29, 25:7, 23:1, 47:28, and Deuteronomy 34:7, respectively).  Notice that Adam and Noah lived close to one thousand years. Their lifetime was like a single day in the eyes of the Lord, but nevertheless, they lived a specific number of years.  Jacob, in giving an overview of his years, in no way intimated that they passed by as if they were just a day:

“And Jacob said to Pharaoh, ‘The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage.’” (Genesis 47:9)

Summary of the Days in Genesis 1 and 2

In summary, we have seen that sometimes the word day (yom יום) carries a meaning of more than just a 24-hour period.  However, every time the word is used in conjunction with a cardinal or ordinal number, the meaning is always and without exception limited to the period of a regular and literal day – that is, a period of 24 hours.  God Himself reiterates that He created the heavens and the earth in six days, which is why He instructs man to work six days and then to take the seventh off.  We know from history that the Hebrews have always taken the six-day workweek literally and have considered the seventh day to be a day of rest.  Because God tells us twice in Exodus (20:11 and 31:17) that those were literal days, our only plausible conclusion regarding the six (plus one) days in Genesis is that they are to be taken as literal, 24-hour days.  We need not and cannot conclude that they were six indefinite periods of time, at least not if we are to take everything else in the Bible seriously.

The only reason to conclude that the six days of creation were long periods of time is if we seek to harmonize the Bible with the model of (geological, chemical and biological) evolution.  However, if we simply seek to allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, then the interpretation of Genesis 1 is clear: God created the heavens and the earth in six literal, 24-hour days and rested on the seventh.  We therefore conclude from biblical evidence that God made the heavens and the earth in six, literal days.  There is no room for a biblical interpretation which includes an evolutionary process of billions of years during creation; God emphatically declares to have done it in six, literal days.

Order the book The First Six Days: Confronting the God-Plus-Evolution Myth


[1] The selected verses in Genesis 1 and in Numbers 29 are identical with the exception of the definite article ה (he – the). Genesis 1: יום שׁני (yom sheni).  Numbers 29: יום השׁני (yom hasheni).

[2] International Standard Bible Encyclopedia “World”

[3] This is not to overlook the speculation that there may be parallel universes.  However, by definition the word universe should encompass all that exists in the dimension of time and space.

[4] For further discussion see: Weston W. Fields, (1976) Unformed and Unfilled p. 58.

[5] For a further discussion on the copulative clause see: Kautzsch and Cowley, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p. 484, section 154a, footnote 1.

[6] Joüon, P., & T. Muraoka, (2003; 2005: electronic version, Logos Software) note the use of the copulative clause (also known as the vav explicativum):

On the other hand, a nominal or verbal clause with Waw forms a sort of parenthesis and precedes the main clause as in Gn 13.2 ואברהם כָּבֵד מאד now Abraham was very rich … ; 24.16 now the young girl was very beautiful…; Jon 3.3 now Nineveh was an enormous city; Gn 48.10 וְעֵינֵי ישׂראל כָּֽבְדוּ מִ ֫זֹּקֶן now the eyes of Israel were heavy because of old age; Josh 4.10 “whilst the priests … stood (עֹמְדִים) in the middle of the Jordan … the people hurriedly crossed over (וַיְמַהֲרוּ וַיַּעֲבֹ֫רוּ).” This same type of clause is also found used in an independent fashion: 1Kg 1.1 (at the very beginning of a narrative) now King David was old, advanced in age; Gn 37.3 now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons.

[7] “In almost all primitive creation stories in Egypt, the eternal substance that existed in the beginning and whose origin is not explained is water, the primeval ocean, Nun.”  (Redford 1992: 398)

[8] See Humphreys 2000: Appendix C, section 15 for a detailed, mathematical explanation of the physics involved.

He also notes that he based “a theory about the origin of the planetary magnetic fields on the possibility that the earth and other bodies in the solar system were originally created as pure water” (Humphreys 2004: 73).  He remarks that his theory has been extremely successful in predicting measurements of the magnetic fields of Uranus and Neptune.

[9] The word is in the Pa’al form in Jeremiah 23:9.

[10] Keil and Delitzsch confirm this “The creative Spirit of God, the principle of all life (Psalm 33:6; Psalm 104:30), which worked upon the formless, lifeless mass, separating, quickening, and preparing the living forms, which were called into being by the creative words that followed. רחף in the Piel is applied to the hovering and brooding of a bird over its young, to warm them, and develop their vital powers (Deuteronomy 32:11). In such a way as this the Spirit of God moved upon the deep, which had received at its creation the germs of all life, to fill them with vital energy by His breath of life.” (K&D 1866 Genesis 1:2)

[11] Dr. Randall Buth notes “in telling stories, the past tense is used with a special word order to grammatically signal events as a break in the flow of the story.  It marks a discontinuity.  That is, something is put in front of the verb […]  This is done when the author wants to break the time flow of the story, or when the author wants to mark a boundary of unity […]”  (Buth 2005:52).   There could be no better way to indicate that Genesis 1:1 is an absolutely new and dramatic event than by using the simple past tense (also commonly referred to as the perfect or qatal tense).

[12] This is commonly known in Hebrew grammar as the vayyiqtol tense.

[13] Numbers chapter 28 verses 3 and 4 show that a literal day was comprised of morning and evening.  “This is the offering made by fire which you shall offer to the LORD:[…] day by day (ליום), as a regular burnt offering. The one lamb you shall offer in the morning, the other lamb you shall offer in the evening […]” (Numbers 28:3- 4, emphasis mine).

[14] Interestingly Deuteronomy 19:15 says that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.”  Perhaps God has repeated Himself to assure us of the certainty of the statement.

[15] “Followed by an inf. c., בְּ forms a periphrasis for the gerund, though in English it is commonly to be rendered by a verb and conj., viz.: 1. as a temporal conj., as בְּהבראם in their being created = when they were created” BDB.  “This use of the infinitive construct is especially frequent in connection with be or ke to express time-determinations (in English resolved into a temporal clause.” Gesenius’ (1910)

[16] Thanks to Dr. Bill Gallagher for helping me word that correctly (personal communication October 20, 2006)

[17] According to BDB, the word toledoth means: 1) descendants, results, proceedings, generations, genealogies; 1a) account of men and their descendants; 1a1) genealogical list of one’s descendants; 1a2) one’s contemporaries; 1a3) course of history (of creation etc); 1b) begetting or account of heaven (metaphorically)

[18] There has been considerable discussion concerning this particular form of the wayyiqtol as past perfect (pluperfect).  Some have skillfully argued that this form of the verb cannot be translated with the pluperfect (see Buth: 1994).  Others, such as C. John Collins make a strong case in favor of the wayyiqtol as a pluperfect.  In his article, The Wayyiqtol As ‘Pluperfect’: When And Why (1995), he examines the possibility that the wayyiqtol verb form, without a previous perfect, may denote a pluperfect tense. He concludes that there is an unmarked pluperfect usage of the wayyiqtol verb form which is present in particular in Genesis 2:19.  The position regarding the use of the wayyiqtol, pluperfect tense in Genesis 2:19, is held by many Bible commentators including the renowned Hebrew scholars Keil and Delitsch as well as John Gill.  The possible use of the pluperfect is also given as an alternative translation in the ESV, NRS (parallel to verse 7).  The NIV, on the other hand, translates vayitzer as “had formed”.

[19] Dr. Joseph Pipa argued in a 1998 article “In Genesis 2:19, it communicates the idea of logically anterior circumstances. Waltke and O’Connor list pluperfect as a sub variety of epexegetical use. After interacting with Driver, they say, “Moreover, wayyqtl in the received text, the object of our grammatical investigation, must be understood to represent the pluperfect.” They offer two examples of this usage from the Pentateuch (Num.1:47-49; Exod.4:11-12,18). Moses, in fact, uses the waw consecutive for logically anterior acts or as a pluperfect throughout Pentateuchal narrative. For example, in Exodus 11:1 Moses inserts a waw consecutive as a pluperfect into a sequential narrative in order to introduce a revelation previously given to Moses: “Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘One more plague I will bring on Pharaoh and on Egypt…'” This section begins with the waw consecutive, but Moses introduces it in the middle of his last interview with Pharaoh (Exodus 10:24-11:8). As such 11:1-3 serves as a backdrop, a flashback so-to-speak, for his message to Pharaoh. The NIV translates Exodus 11:1 in the same way as it does Gen.2:19, “Now the Lord had said to Moses,…” For the sake of emphasis, Moses would use the waw consecutive as a pluperfect and then resume the chronological sequence of his narrative.”

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