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ORIGIN 1.2.1

Meaning of Bible 'day'

God's time is
not our time
Seeking answer to this question:
Did God create everything in six 24-hour calendar days?
The Bible is its own best interpreter. As much as possible, other portions of the Bible – and particularly surrounding portions – should interpret the meaning of any word that is ambiguous.
This study examines how the Hebrew word 'yom' (translated 'day' in English) is used in context in the Bible creation story. The Genesis account itself tells us how we should understand that term of time measurement.
DEEP BIBLE STUDY
Genesis Chapters 1 and 2
It's all about 'yom'

The Hebrew word for 'day' in the Genesis account is 'yom,' which like the english word 'day,' usually means a 24 hour period but can also mean a long indefinite period, like we say this is the day of social media.

BIBLE INTERPRETS 'DAY'
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. Therefore, the phrase 'And there was evening' means that this was the start of something. Used together with the phrase 'and there was morning' means that this is completion of something.
In ancient Hebrew, these phrases were the markers for the beginning of something and the end of something; therefore, day ('yom') does not necessarily mean a 24-hour period.
GENESIS 1: 5, 8, 13, 19, 23 and 31. Nothing in these verses suggest that it took an exact equal amount of time for each of these six stages of creation. For example, from what we now know from science, Day 1 (cooling of the earth) took much longer than Day 6 (animals and humans). See 1.3.1.
It is possible, but highly unlikely, that each creation stage would take the exact equal amount of time; therefore, day ('yom') in each instance can be presumed to be a long indefinite period of time rather than a fixed 24 hours.
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; therefore, day ('yom') is more than 24 hours.
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 didn't come until Day 4, for purpose of 'signs and seasons, and for days and years.'
The concept of a 24-hour day came AFTER yom time had already been used to express events prior to Day 4 when the sun itself was created. These verses say that the sun was created for measuring 'days and years;' therefore, calendar measurement did not even exist for days prior to the sun.
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 passed, day ('yom') is more than 24 hours.
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 ('yom') in this verse means the sum of six days; therefore, day is more than 24 hours.
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.
It is disingenuous to say that this warning to Adam meant 'spiritual death' because that concept would be completely meaningless to him. He could comprehend the concept of a 24 hour day, but he did not die that day. Adam was denied eternal life (Tree of Life) but lived a long earthly life before death (see 3.5.1); therefore, day ('yom') is more than 24 hours.
GENESIS 2:18-20. This passage says that God gave Adam the assignment of naming every living creature ... that 'It is not good that the man should be alone' ... and that 'there was not found a helper as his partner.'  
It is highly unlikely that completion of the assignment to name every living creature and Adam's loneliness and need for a helper would all occur within the first 24 hours of his life; therefore, day ('yom') is more than 24 hours.
* The New International Version (NIV) is the only major translation that, erroneously and for no apparent reason, omits the English word day in these two passages, but the Hebrew word yom is written in the original text.

Creation 'day' was more than 24 hours

Except for the way 'yom' in Hebrew was translated 'day' in English – totally a translation issue – there is nothing in these verses that even suggests that each of God's creative processes was a time span equal to 24 hours in our modern calendar.
Scholarly definitions of 'yom'
Ancient Hebrew Research Center: 'The Hebrew word yom 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 / Hebrew #3117 for yom: '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'
THE REAL PROBLEM

Theologians and clergy, not the Bible

The real problem with the age-of-earth dispute – which is eroding credibility of the Bible – is not the Bible itself. As shown in the verses above, the Bible and science are compatible in saying that the earth is very old (much older than 10,000 years).

A new Gallup Poll (see it) shows that most church-going people believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old. Where do they get that idea? Not from scientists ... not direct from the Bible ... but from theologians and clergy who say the earth was created relatively recently in six calendar days.

After centuries of teaching this, it is now difficult for theologians and clergy to change position. It seems like admitting to a mistake. Actually, it's not a mistake. It's just learning from new discoveries. Failure to change position now with conclusive scientific evidence for an old earth is to further destroy credibility of the Bible and to be disingenuous in interpreting it.

Domino effect on other doctrines

But changing position regarding age of the earth is much more than just assenting to a certain range of years. Changing positions on age undermines other doctrines firmly entrenched in the traditions of most churches.

For example, most churches teach that the earth was a perfect paradise before Adam ate forbidden fruit, that there had not been any death on earth before Adam sinned. But when we say that the earth is billions of years old, there had to be death before Adam ... therefore, death is not caused by sin (contradicting the paradise doctrine of most churches).

Calculation of Bible genealogies (see 1.3.3) show that Adam lived about 6,000 years ago. If we believe that the earth is very old and that archaeological discoveries and dating of uncovered civilizations is correct, there were people and cities long before Adam ... therefore, Adam was not the first human being (contradicting the Adam-first doctrine of most churches).

Most churches teach that every human being is born with 'original sin' (Adam's sin and guilt inherited by us, see 1.4.3). But how could every human being have original sin if people had been living and dying for thousands of years before Adam sinned?

These and other challenges to traditional belief arise when we say that the earth is very old. It's much easier to say simply that the earth is young ... but people today are very smart and deserve better answers from Christians.

Bible studies on this site

For people who think deeply about it, shifting from a young earth view to an old earth view is a challenge to many other long-held traditional beliefs, and some beliefs might fall like dominos. This is a grave threat to many traditional Christians who will fight all re-thinking, even when based on thorough Bible study.

Actually, new thinking is good if it comes from new information and deeper study. It is especially good if it removes stumbling blocks to faith and enables us to be more effective in fulfilling our commission to make more disciples.

The initial topics on this site discuss six traditional church doctrines that are challenged by a new perspective on time:
Most Christians just believe these doctrines because that's what they have been told, from generation to generation without serious questioning, for hundreds of years, never engaging in a deep personal study of the actual words of the Bible.

In this site, all relevant portions of scripture on each topic are laid out for you so you can read with your own eyes and reach your own conclusions. Many old conflicts will melt away.

Summary
A careful reading and study of the above passages from the Genesis creation account, shows that the Hebrew word 'yom'  – translated as 'day' in English versions – means a long indefinite period of time, not 24 hours.
  • Historically, most Christians have believed that the entire universe was created in six days in approximately 4000 BC, but only because 'yom' has been translated as 'day' in English versions of the Bible. This is not an incorrect translation, but yom, like day, its English equivalent, can have two meanings: (1) 24 hours or (2) long indefinite period of time.
  • A rule of translation is that if a word has two or more meanings, select the one that is most in accord with surrounding passages and common knowledge.
  • Most Christians have never carefully studied Genesis 1 and 2. They just say without question what has been said by rote for centuries – since the King James version in 1611 and before – that the whole universe was created in six 'days' (presumably calendar days).
  • By reading and studying all of the above passages together, it becomes obvious that the writer of Genesis was referring to a creative process that spanned more than six calendar days.
  • There is no inherent time conflict with science.
Return to surface level: Bible creation 'days'
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