The Use of the Word Day
In reading through Genesis chapter 1, we see that there is a very orderly account of the chronology of creation. In this chronology, there appears a very distinct phrase separating the variety of things that were created via God’s omnipotence. That phrase is:
“And the evening and the morning were the _____ day”, where the blank is a different number in sequence of the Creation week.
There has been much debate about the word day. As a result of this debate, there have been various hypotheses that have been proposed for the meaning of this word. There really is a simple way to settle this debate—let us look to the context in which this word is used and determine based on that context, the meaning of the word. After all, it is by the context that we understand ALL words and their meanings. It is certainly true that the same word can be used in a variety of different ways. In English, the word day can take on a number of different meanings based on the context in which it is used. For example, I could say “In my grandfather’s day” referring to the time that my grandfather was alive on this earth. Or I could say “June 21 is the longest day of the year”, where I would then be discussing the portion of daylight that is available on a given calendar date. Or I could say “The first day of the week is Sunday” in which case I would be talking about a specific 24-hour period that begins each of our 52 weeks throughout the year. There is no issue with understanding how I am using the same word “day” to convey a variety of meanings based on the context of the word.
The word “day” in the original Hebrew language is the word “yom”. As we look at Genesis 1 and look at the context of this word, we see the following:
- First, the word “day” is used in conjunction with the phrase “evening and morning”. This phrase would indicate that the time frame being communicated is indeed an ordinary day—that is a 24-hour period with its normal pattern of light and darkness. In fact, if we look in the rest of the Bible outside of Genesis 1 at the places that evening is used with day, morning is used with day, or both evening and morning are used with day, in EVERY instance it refers to an ordinary day.
- Second, the word “day” is used with a sequential number preceding it. With this number, we see that there is a very definite sequence identifying the order in which the events of creation occurred, as well as an indication that these were consecutive ordinary days. Again, if we turn to instances apart from Genesis 1 and look for where a number is used with the word day or days, we see that there are 410 cases—and again in EVERY instance it refers to an ordinary 24-hour day.
Based on this context, the conclusion is quite obvious—namely that the use of the word “day” in Genesis 1 is referencing an ordinary day with a duration of 24 hours.
Answering Two Common Objections
At this point, I would like to discuss two common objections that are raised against the days of creation being literal 24-hour days. First, some have claimed that since the sun was not created until day 4 that the first three days of creation could not have been the same length as the days after God placed the sun in the firmament of the heavens. Let’s consider what is necessary to define an actual day. Today we measure a day as the time that is required in order for the earth to complete a total revolution on its axis. As observers on this earth, we can see the marching of time based on the location of the sun from our vantage point—but the sun itself is not required in order to define a day. Only an earth is needed to define an actual day. In looking at the creation account in Genesis, God created the earth on the first day of Creation Week according to Genesis 1:1. Furthermore, even though light is not required in order to define a day, light does serve as a concrete indication of the elapsing of time. On day 1, we see that light is also created by Almighty God and that this light is separated from the darkness. With the earth being all that is needed to define the passage of time and a source of light existing to serve as a point of reference for marking this time’s passing, there should be no question that the components required for defining an ordinary day are present on the very first day.
The second objection comes from a verse that is found in 2 Peter that references that “a day is like a thousand years”. Please turn with me to 2 Peter, chapter 3 because it is absolutely critical that you see the context of this verse in order to determine the validity of the claim that the days found in Genesis 1 are not ordinary days. Allow me to provide some background information on this passage. Peter is recording for us how there will be scoffers in the last days that will not believe in the second coming of Jesus because time continues to progress like normal without the occurrence of this incredible event. Let’s read at 2 Peter 3:7-9:
“By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 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. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
Based on this context, the message of this passage is that the Lord is patient and His patience cannot be measured by man’s timetable. The continued passing of time is a constant reminder of the grace and mercy of God, giving people the opportunity to come to Him in faith. These verses are in no way providing us any indication that the days on the earth in general or that the days of the account of creation in particular are indefinite periods of time. Anyone attempting to use this passage to justify that the days of creation are longer than 24-hour periods is simply taking the verse out of context. If any of us hear such a rationale, we should gently and firmly point them to the full context of the passage so that they can see what is really meant by the phrase that they are quoting.