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.
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.
➤ 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.
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.
'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.
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.
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.
'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.
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.
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.
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 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.