© Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938
The Length of the Days of Genesis 1
By Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.
Any attempt to deny a process of creation involving a series of successive divine fiats stretching out over a period limited to six literal days is manifestly contrary to the plain, historical sense of Scripture. This may be demonstrated from a variety of angles. The Hebrew word yom ("day") in the Genesis 1 account of creation should be understood in a normal sense of a 24-hour period, for the following reasons:
(1) Argument from primary meaning. The preponderate usage of the word yom ("day") in the Old Testament is of a normal day as experienced regularly by man (though it may be limited to the hours of light, as per common understanding). The word occurs 1704 times in the Old Testament, the overwhelming majority of which have to do with the normal cycle of daily earth time. Preponderate usage of a term should be maintained in exegetical analysis unless contextual forces compel otherwise. This is particularly so in historical narrative.
R. L. Dabney points out that:
The narrative seems historical, and not symbolical; and hence the strong initial presumption is, that all its parts are to be taken in their obvious sense.... It is freely admitted that the word day is often used in the Greek Scriptures as well as the Hebrew (as in our common speech) for an epoch, a season, a time. But yet, this use is confessedly derivative. The natural day is its literal and primary meaning. Now, it is apprehended that in construing any document, while we are ready to adopt, at the demand of the context, the derived or tropical meaning, we revert to the primary one, when no such demand exists in the context." [Lectures in Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1878, rep. 1972), 254-5).
(2) Argument from explicit qualification. Moses carefully qualifies each of the six creative days with the phraseology: "evening and morning." The qualification is a deliberate defining of the concept of day. Outside of Genesis 1 the words "evening" and "morning" occur together in thirty-seven verses. In each instance it speaks of a normal day.
Examples from Moses include:
Exodus 18:13: And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening.
Exodus 27:21: In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the LORD.
R. L. Dabney argues that this evidence alone should compel adoption of a literal day view: "The sacred writer seems to shut us up to the literal interpretation, by describing the day as composed of its natural parts, 'morning and evening.'... It is hard to see what a writer can mean, by naming evening and morning as making a first, or a second 'day'; except that he meant us to understand that time which includes just one of each of these successive epochs: -- one beginning of night, and one beginning of day. These gentlemen cannot construe the expression at all. The plain reader has no trouble with it. When we have had one evening and one morning, we know we have just one civic day; for the intervening hours have made just that time" (Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 255).
(3) Argument from ordinal prefix. In the 119 cases in Moses's writings where the Hebrew word yom stands in conjunction with a numerical adjective (first, second, third, etc.), it never means anything other than a literal day. The same is true of the 357 instances outside of the Pentateuch, where numerical adjectives occur.
Leviticus 12:3: And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
Exodus 12:15: 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 24:16: Now the glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud.
The Genesis 1 account of creation consistently applies the ordinal prefix to the day descriptions, along with "evening and morning" qualifiers (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31).
(4) Argument from coherent usage. The word yom is used of the creative days of four, five, and six, which occur after the creation of the sun, which was expressly designated to "rule" the day/night pattern (Gen. 1:14). The identical word (yom) and phraseology ("evening and morning," numerical adjectives) associated with days four through six are employed of days one through three, which compel us to understand those days as normal earth days.
(5) Argument from divine exemplar. In Exodus 20:9-11 (the Fourth Commandment) God specifically patterns man's work week after His own original creational work week. Man's work week is expressly tied to God's: "for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth" (Exo. 20:11).
On two occasions in Moses’ writings this rationale is used:
Exodus 20:11 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.
Exodus 31:15-17 Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the LORD.... 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.
Dabney's comments are helpful: "In Gen. ii:2,3; Exod. xx:11, God's creating the world and its creatures in six days, and resting the seventh, is given as the ground of His sanctifying the Sabbath day. The latter is the natural day; why not the former? The evasions from this seem peculiarly weak" (Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 255).
(6) Argument from plural expression. In Exodus 20:11 God's creation week is spoken of as involving "six days" (yammim), plural. In the 608 instances of the plural "days" in the Old Testament, we never find any other meaning than normal days. Ages are never expressed as yammim.
(7) Argument from alternative idiom. Had Moses intended to express the notion that the creation covered eras, he could have employed the term olam. Even the resting of God on the "seventh day" does not express His eternal rest, for it would also imply not only His continual rest but also His continual blessing of creation, as if sin never intervened: Genesis 2:3 Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Any attempts to re-interpret Genesis 1 in order to allow for enormous stretches of time, are manifestly contra-Scriptural. If the Bible has any meaning at all, we who profess to believe it must acknowledge its clear teaching regarding creation in six twenty-four hour days.