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This site is for Christians wanting to learn how to answer the hard questions doubters and unbelievers are asking today
MICRO TOPIC 1.2.1

Bible creation 'day' is longer than 24 hours

Study the original Hebrew text
PURPOSE: Helping Christians engage in intelligent and persuasive conversations with doubters and unbelievers
Bible creation questions

QUESTIONS

discussed on this page

Tough questions people are asking about God's six-day creation:

A god making the whole universe relatively recently in less than a week sounds like a fairy tale. How can any well-educated person in the modern world possibly believe that? How can anyone put confidence in a book that says that?

What exactly does the Bible say about age of the earth and universe?

Doesn't it diminish God to think that it took Him billions of years to create a universe that an Almighty could have been created in days?

If the Bible is proved to be wrong about origin (which can be tested), how can it be trusted for destiny (which is all by faith)?

Does a person have to make a choice between believing settled science (universe is billions of years old) or believing what most church-going Christians say (God created everything recently in six 24-hour days)?

How can a Christian give an intelligent and compelling biblical answer to people who think that Christians – and the Bible – are flat-out wrong in saying that nothing on earth is older than about 6,000 years (time of Adam)?

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WHY THIS MATTERS

Bible credibility and Christian witness

Time measurements now verified

Dating events that happened ages ago is no longer a matter of opinion but is now a science that can be cross-verified by many modern testing methods.

Getting it right about geological time is important because it affects the credibility of the Bible in the minds of educated people.

If the Bible is wrong about when life began, they reason it's probably wrong about other matters, too.

If the Bible isn't trustworthy regarding our origin, it's not trustworthy regarding our destiny either.

There are two ways God reveals the truth about origin to us: Nature (general revelation) and the Bible (special revelation).

What God reveals in nature cannot contradict what He reveals in Scripture, and vice versa, because God does not contradict Himself.

Here we encounter the word 'day' (of creation), which for many people causes a major contradiction between science and the Bible. Either (a) science is wrong or (b) the Bible is wrong, or (c) our interpretation of the Bible is wrong.

Which is it? Must the word 'day' in English translations of the Bible be understood definitely to mean 24 hours, or can it sometimes mean a long indefinite period of time, depending upon the context of the verse and surrounding verses?

The purpose of this study is to find the answer to this question. This is a supplement to the broader Bible creation 'days' study on this site.

ONE WORD CAUSES BIG PROBLEMS

translation of Hebrew yō·wm

It's all about the original Hebrew word

This study examines how the Hebrew word yō·wm (translated 'day' in English) is used in the Bible creation story (pronounced YOME, like HOME).

The Genesis account itself helps us understand how we should understand this term of time measurement.

Historically, most Christians have believed that the entire universe was created in six literal days in approximately BC 4000, but only because yō·wm has been translated as 'day' in English versions of the Bible.

This is not an incorrect translation, but yō·wm, like day, its English equivalent, can have two meanings: (1) 24 hours or (2) a long indefinite time.

In the Hebrew language, yō·wm is used the same as we sometimes use 'day' in English, as 'This is the day of social media.' or 'In his day ...' The reader knows by the context what is meant.

Another example is the way yō·wm is used in Micah 7:11: 'The day of building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries. In that day people will come to you from Assyria and the cities of Egypt ...' Obviously, 'day' in this context means more than 24 hours.

Tap HERE to see the Hebrew>English Interlinear Bible showing the word usage in Genesis 1.

Tap HERE to see the Hebrew>English Interlinear Bible showing the word usage in Micah 7.

The same Hebrew word yō·wm is used in both passages, clearly meaning more than 24 hours in our modern calendar.

The Bible is its own best interpreter. A rule of translation is that if a word or phrase has two or more meanings, select the one that best fits the context of the surrounding passages.

Another example is Genesis 3:6 in the creation story, referring to Eve: 'She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked ...' We know from the context that they were not blind and that the phrase 'eyes were opened' means that they received new mental and spiritual understanding.

Bible does not compel a six-day interpretation

In this study, we see that the Bible does not compel a six-day interpretation. One person studying the Bible can conclude that God created the universe in six 24-hour days. Another person studying the Bible can conclude that God created the universe over billions of years.

The Bible's description of creation is broad enough to accommodate both interpretations. These are just differences in method and timing. The important thing is that GOD DID IT!

This site takes the view that God created the universe according to a master plan in stages over a very long period of time. This view is preferable because it is confirmed by modern science and eliminates push-back from unbelievers.

Conversations with unbelievers should make it clear that one does not have to believe a six-day creation to be a Christian.

SCHOLARLY DEFINITIONS

meaning of Hebrew yō·wm

Ancient Hebrew Research Center: 'The Hebrew word yō·wm means a 'day,' but not specifically a twenty-four hour period, but instead more generically like in 'a day that something occurs.'
Strong's Exhaustive Concordance for yō·wm: '1) day, time, year 1a) day (as opposed to night) 1b) day (24 hour period) 1b1) as defined by evening and morning in Genesis 1 1b2) as a division of time 1b2a) a working day, a day's journey 1c) days, lifetime (pl.) 1d) time, period (general) 1e) year 1f) temporal references 1f1) today 1f2) yesterday 1f3) tomorrow.'
Generally, ancient languages did not have huge vocabularies and were not as precise and nuanced as modern languages. Word meanings were often defined by the context in which they were used.
Except for the correct but misleading way the word yō·wm in ancient Hebrew is translated 'day' in contemporary English, there is nothing in the Bible or in science to even suggest that each of God's six major creative processes was a time span equal to 24 hours in our modern calendar.

'EVENING' AND 'MORNING'

doesn't compel 24-hour day

Meaning of the repetitive phrase

'And there was evening and there was morning – the [number] day' is the concluding phrase for each of the Genesis six days of creation.

If that phrase is interpreted in its most strict and literal sense, it often doesn't make sense when applied in context. For example:

Then God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds. And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day'. (Genesis 1:11-13).

A strict literal reading of evening-and-morning into that passage would lead us to believe that the seeds from all the different kinds of plants and trees produced abundant vegetation between evening and morning of one particular day. Obviously, this is not a sensible interpretation because we know that seeds do not germinate, grow and produce vegetation overnight.

'Evening' meant started, 'Morning' meant finished

In the modern world, a full 24-hour day is thought to be from sunrise to sunrise, but in ancient Israel, it was from sunset to sunset. We say morning to evening; they said evening to morning.

The repeated phrase 'And there was evening' was a Hebrew way of saying that something new was started. When used together with the phrase 'and there was morning' it was a Hebrew way of saying that it was started and it was finished. The full phrase marked time from the beginning of something to the end of something, which may or may not have been 24-hours, depending on the context.

It's like when we say, 'With young people leaving in vast numbers, it's a new day for the church ...' or 'That day is gone ...' or 'At end of the day, the investigation will show who was right.' We know from the context that these statements obviously mean a time longer than 24 hours.

No calendar days until Day 4

Furthermore, the phrase was used for Days one, two, and three, even though 24-hour time as we know it did not even exist until Day 4 when celestial orbits stabilized and earth's dense cloud cover dissipated so the sun was visible. 'And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to make seasons and days and years ... And there was evening, and there was morning – the fourth day' (Genesis 1:14).

Therefore, the phrase 'and there was morning and there was evening' – used in all six days of creation – does not compel a 24-hour interpretation for the Hebrew word yō·wm.

Day is like a thousand years

'But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day' (2 Peter 3:8).

The Bible teaches that God's timing is not on the same scale as our timing. It is much larger! We should not try to squeeze God's majestic unfolding creation over the ages into our puny time frame.

Real age, not apparent age

Some Christians say that the earth is not actually old but 'just looks old,' that it was created relatively recently with built-in apparent age.

They say that God created mature mountains and trees and created Adam as a full-grown man ... everything at various stages of its life cycle ... and therefore scientific dating methods mean nothing.

The theory is incompatible with God's character. God is not deceptive. See discussion here about flaws in the 'apparent age' theory.

EMOTIONAL RESPONSE

time makes God bigger, not smaller

Altering the Bible

Many Christians are so indoctrinated by tradition that they think any interpretation of 'day' meaning more than 24-hours is altering the Bible. It rarely occurs to them that maybe it's the traditional interpretation that has done the altering and that re-interpreting will do the correction. It's not heresy to re-interpret a word in the original Hebrew text based on better evidence because today we know more.

Longer time does not diminish God's power

Some Christians have a strong adverse reaction to the idea that God created the universe over millions or billions of years. They have an instinctive emotional response that tries to protect God. They seem to think that if God takes more time, He has less power, as though time has something to do with His capacity for work.

Time has nothing to do with God's power. God can speak anything into existence in any form in an instant. The question is not about how much power God has to accomplish something within a particular time frame but rather how God uses time.

Actually, the power and majesty of God is shown to be greater in a creation that unfolds with precision over ages of time than a creation that pops into existence all at once in static form.

A rose is an example

A rose is an example of how God uses time in His design plan for the universe.

God could speak a fully-formed rose into existence in a nanosecond. But that's not the way He creates a rose. His method is slower and more awesome.

Instead, the rose begins as a seed and slowly grows to becomes a bush. In time, a bud appears on a branch and grows into a flower, opening slowly, revealing petals of intricate beauty.

The wonder of the rose is not just how it looks but the incredible design that makes it all happen with majestic precision over time.

Failure to fully acknowledge God's amazing time and unfolding design actually diminishes and dishonors Him.

TEN REASONS

why 'day' is more than 24 hours

✓ REASON 1. 'Evening' and 'morning' are Hebrew markers for start and finish
GENESIS 1: 5, 8, 13, 19, 23 and 31. In the modern world, a 24-hour day is measured from sunrise to sunrise, but in ancient Israel a day was measured from sunset to sunset. The repeated phrase 'And there was evening' means the start of something. Used together with the phrase 'and there was morning' means that it was started and completed.
In ancient Hebrew, these phrases were the markers for the beginning of something and the completion of something. Day (yō·wm) does not always mean a 24-hour time period.
✓ REASON 2. Takes longer than 24 hours to produce vegetation
GENESIS 1:11-12. At beginning of Day 3, God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day.'
It takes more than 24 hours for land to produce vegetation and bear fruit. This passage alone is proof enough that a day (yō·wm) as used here is more than a calendar day.
✓ REASON 3. No 24-hour time until Day 4
GENESIS 1:14-19. The phrase 'And there was evening, and there was morning – the [number] day' is the closing statement for Days 1, 2 and 3. But the sun and moon didn't come (accretion and visibility) until Day 4, for purpose of 'signs and seasons, and for days and years.' The movements of the sun and moon are the determinants for our 24-hour day, so in context yō·wm cannot mean a literal 24-hour day as we know it.
The concept of a 24-hour day came AFTER yō·wm time was already used in previous verses to express events prior to Day 4, the day the sun was 'made' (accretion, core formation; gigantic rock chunks, dust and gas pulled together by gravity). We now know from science that the sun and earth were shaped into their present forms about 4.5 billion years ago.

It took a long time to develop a cohesive core, constant gravitation and stable orbits. There was already light (through dense cloud cover) but in this fourth day the sun was made visible and reliable for purposes of measuring 'days and years;' therefore, calendar measurement (24-hour days) did not even exist for the first three days.
✓ REASON 4. Seventh Day still open and longer than 24 hours
GENESIS 2:2. The phrase 'And there was evening, and there was morning – the [number] day' is the closing statement for each of the six days of creation but not for the seventh day of rest (pause in new creations).
The seventh day is still open because the closing statement is not used; therefore, since more than 24 hours have already passed, day (yō·wm) as used here is more than 24 hours. We are now living in the seventh day – God's sabbath day of rest – so obviously 'day' means an undefined period of time. This passage alone is proof enough that a day (yō·wm) as used here is more than a calendar day.
✓ REASON 5. Day is used as both singular and plural
GENESIS 2.4*. This verse says, 'This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day the Lord God made earth and heaven.' The previous chapter says God made earth and heaven in six separate days.
As a closing statement, this verse uses the word day (singular) to express everything that happened in the preceding six days (plural). Day (yō·wm) in this verse means the SUM of six days; therefore, day must mean an indefinite period of time, more than 24 hours.
✓ REASON 6. Too much animal reproduction for 24 hours
GENESIS 1:24 and 2:19. 'And God said, Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind. And it was so. ... Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature was its name.'
In Day 6, God used the land to produce living creatures, and then he brought the animals to Adam. It would have taken a long time for the land to produce so many animals; therefore, day (yō·wm) means more than 24 hours. This passage alone is proof enough that a day (yō·wm) as used here is more than a calendar day.
✓ REASON 7. Adam did not die that 'day'
GENESIS 2:16*. God said Adam must not eat the fruit from a particular tree, 'for in the day you eat from it you will surely die.' He ate the fruit but did not die within 24 hours.
Some people say that this warning to Adam meant 'spiritual death,' but that concept would be completely meaningless to him in his first day of life. And he did not die that day. Adam lived a long earthly life before physical death; therefore, day (yō·wm) must mean more than 24 hours.
✓ REASON 8. Interpretation consistency
GENESIS 3:7. 'Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked.'
The narrowest interpretation of this passage would lead us to believe that Adam and Eve were blind until they sinned, but we understand that this is a figure of speech which can be used in different ways. Similarly, an earlier passage says that God breathed into man the breath of life, even though God is spirit and doesn't have lungs. So if eyes and breath do not need to be interpreted in the narrowest way, then neither does 'yō·wm.'
✓ REASON 9. Science confirms that 'day' is same as an 'age'
In the scientific community, it is a proven fact that the universe has aged over a long period of time – billions of years – not six calendar days.
that When Christians say all creation happened recently in a week's time, this shows ignorance of science and undermines credibility of the Bible.
✓ REASON 10. Honors God
A universe that unfolds majestically with precision over billions of years is even more marvelous than one put together in static form in a week.
It diminishes God's creation by saying it is less amazing than it really is.
* The New International Version (NIV) is the only major translation that omits the English word 'day' in these two passages, but the Hebrew word yō·wm is written in the original text.
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