How Long Were the 6 Days of Creation?

By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” Psalm 33:6

Although the majority of Christians believe in creation, yet there are still many theories advocated which contradict biblical evidence. In this article we will evaluate the claim that the days in Genesis chapter 1 are not literal days of 24 hours. When an enquiry is made to bring forth the evidence, many expediently hide behind man-made suppositions instead of proving whether their claims pass the biblical test.

It should be noted that all English translations of the Hebrew text alone are limited in answering the above case. This is because there are different words in Hebrew which are simply translated as “day” in English.

Which word did Moses use in Genesis chapter 1 for “day”?

The text consistently uses ‘yowm’ for day throughout the first chapter of Genesis.

When this word is used with numbers, or day and night, it must be taken literal. Bible students know that, in order to understand the meaning of any biblical word or concept which is unclear, one should always seek to find its first occurrence in the Bible. In this case we should look at the very first instance where ‘yowm’ was applied in the Bible, and also examine the text if it implied any symbolic application or not. [1]

In Genesis 1:5 we read, “And God called the light Day [yowm], and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day [yowm].” From this text we have a combination of words and phrases which make void the symbolic application. “The evening and the morning” is the first one to dispel doubt on a literal meaning. It is the first explanation for what God meant by “day”. It should be noted that it is the presence of the “light” which God had already made, instead of the sun which was not yet made, which allows for a demarcation of day and night which when combined, form our literal 24-hour day referred to as ‘yowm’. When ‘yowm’ is used together with the demarcation of day and night, demands a literal application. [2]

The second phrase that denies the symbolic exegesis is “it was the first day” and its subsequent siblings (“second day”, “third day”, etc.) The Hebrew word ‘yowm’ used alongside any number gains specificity and thereby eliminate any vagueness with regards to its meaning. Used with numbers, ‘yowm’ always refers to a normal day yielded through the typical rotation of our planet on its own axis.

Some suppose that Moses had a limited vocabulary to draw from, that the Hebrew language confined him to use the literal day ‘yowm’ meanwhile he wanted to express symbolic time. Is this claim true?

Biblical evidence forbids such a claim. The Hebrew text cannot be used as a scapegoat in this matter, for it contains a large variety of words and expressions for symbolic or indefinite time. If God wanted us to deduce a symbolic meaning to the six days of creation, He could have done that by eliminating numbers and phrases that render ‘yowm’ a specific. Besides, there are other words God could have used. The nearest could have been ‘yamin’ the plural of ‘yowm’. Used with or without “evening and morning,” ‘yamin could refer to indefinite time consisting of days and nights. Surely the word would qualify the theory of a punctuated creation week. For nobody would be able to tell how many “days and nights” were there in the ‘yamin’ concept. Instead Moses was inspired to carefully choose those expressions and words that eliminate doubt so we could be established in the truth.  Besides ‘yamin’, ‘olam’ and ‘qedem’ would suit the scenario of indefinite time in the past if Moses wasn’t sure of the duration. They both carry the general notion of “ages past” or “eternity past.” [3] Nonetheless God bypassed those words.

The most common assertion is that time continues until now; that there was no termination of the days of creation. This allegation is falsely construed from the words of our Lord when He said “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work” John 5:17. This text is supposed to support the idea that God never ended His work of creation, although it is said of the same God that “on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made” Genesis 2:2. He thus rested not because He was tired, for “the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary” Isaiah 40:28.

If God wanted us to take the creation week a continuous work until now He could have easily employed suitable words for such. God could have used “yowm rab” or ‘yowm  arak’ which denote a long day or a long season. This phrase appears three times in the Pentateuch (Genesis 26:8; Numbers 20:15; Deuteronomy 20:19; and if Moses was impressed that the creation week was composed rather of unusual “long days” or “seasons”, he had the vocabulary to go back and rewrite his maiden chapter of Genesis, but he didn’t since that first chapter was in accordance with the will of God. There are still other words which were of common expression to the Hebrews such as ‘ad’, ‘tamid’, ‘dor’, ‘shanah’, etc. which could have been used if God wanted us to embrace the “long day” supposition. Instead God ignored all those words.  

Conclusion

Does it matter? Does it make any difference? Isn’t it enough just believing that God made the world regardless of how long it took? The answer is an affirmative yes. It matters. A misguided understanding of Creation in Genesis renders the whole theological structure brittle. For example, without going too far, one cannot understand the Bible teaching of Genesis that God rested on the seventh day if they hold the erroneous idea that the days of creation were symbolic. It would therefore make the seventh day Sabbath commandment impossible to keep. Thus it is important to reevaluate one’s stand on the Genesis account to see if it stands the Bible test. For nothing but the truth should be our rule of faith.  “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” John 8:32”

 

[1] The Hebrew words, anglicized spellings can be viewed online on http://www.blueletterbible.org/Bible.cfm?b=Gen&c=1&v=1&t=KJV#conc/5  

[2] M. Saebo, in his Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament 6:22, says that yôm is: ‘the fundamental word for the division of time according to the fixed natural alternation of day and night, on which are based all the other units of time (as well as the calendar).’ Cited from Ref. 1, p. 72.

[3] NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries. Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation