The 24-Hour Days Of Genesis
Author: Paul Bartz
Note: Creation Moments exists to provide Biblically sound materials to the Church in the area of Bible and science relationships. This Bible study may be reproduced for group use.
While the claim that the seven days of the creation week in Genesis are not literal 24-hour days is historically fairly new, the idea has become more and more popular as more people have accepted evolution. This acceptance of evolution within the church is usually the result of ignorance that there is an intelligent alternative to evolution. The purpose of this Bible study is to examine the Scriptural reasons why we, along with most believers of all ages, accept the seven days of the Genesis creation account as literal 24-hour days.
While there is no scientific reason whatsoever to believe that the days of creation week had to be long ages, we are here going to concentrate on Scriptural reasons for that view. Our working principle for understanding the intended sense of the Scripture is: “Scripture interprets Scripture.” No human being is intelligent enough, no matter how much training, to interpret Scripture, so we will let the Holy Spirit, who has given Scripture, explain by His own writings just what He means. This is our only safe path since “all of Scripture is given to make us wise unto salvation.” The heart of the Scripture is Christ and His saving work, and as we learn in John chapter 1, the Biblical teaching on creation is part of the Biblical teaching on the person of Christ. Therefore we can conclude that if we misunderstand the creation account, we will also be misunderstanding part of the Biblical teaching about the person of Christ, our Savior. So this is no unimportant matter!
As we read Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3, the first thing we notice is that the days are carefully counted off, with the events of each day carefully described in some detail. This feature all by itself leads us to believe that we are here working with literal days. Also note that the text talks about “the evening and the morning” (verses 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31). While this is the normal progression for a 24-hour day, it is not a normal reference to any sort of a long age. The importance of the fact that these are normal days is stressed by God Himself as He includes this phrase in the text for each creative day, even though in normal discourse it would have been unnecessary. We can conclude that the text itself is as clear as possible on the point that these days are normal, 24-hour days. In other words, if it is up to the text, we must accept the creation days as twenty-four hours in length.
The Hebrew word for “day” which is used in these verses is yom. Those who want to understand these creation days as long ages suggest that this word could be understood to mean “long ages.” But a study of the more than 1,200 times the word yom is used in the Bible shows us how important our principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture” really is. The word yom is found in so many different contexts and has so many different usages in Scripture that no one would say that it must always mean the same thing. So we can either let the text decide the meaning of yom in each case for us, or we can arbitrarily make it mean whatever fits our own ideas. Obviously this last choice is not very scholarly, nor is it fair to Scripture.
Those who would like us to understand yom in Genesis 1 to mean some longer period of time than a day often point to verses like Genesis 2:4 or Psalm 102:2 where yom could be understood to mean more than a 24-hour day. The first thing to notice is that no usage of yom in Scripture could possibly be understood to mean a long period of time like a hundred or a thousand years. It is never used even figuratively with that meaning. So this tactic does not provide the time needed to accept evolution in the first place. But more importantly, some objective rules for understanding the word yom can be learned from the study of the many places this word is used in Scripture. After comparing the usage of yom in Genesis 2:4 and Psalm 102:2 with Genesis 1, go on to compare us the usage of yom in the following texts: Genesis 7:11; 27:45; Exodus 20:10; Levitcus 22:27; Numbers 7:24, 30, 36, 42, 48, 54, 60, 66, 72, 78; Psalm 88:1; 139: 12; and Ecclesiastes 8:16. These verses illustrate an unfailing principle found in every use of the word yom. Whenever yom is modified by a number, or whenever yom is used in conjunction with the idea of day and night, or light and darkness, it always means a normal, 24-hour day. If we apply this to Genesis 1 we see that not only does every usage of yom fall into one of these categories, but every division of a day falls into both of these categories at the same time. The Holy Spirit could not have made it any clearer that the days of creation are literal 24-hour days!
While this is enough to completely make the case, we can also add that Genesis becomes nonsense if we understand yom to mean a great age. If death did not come into the world until after the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3: 19), then all of the creatures who lived for millions of years until Adam and Eve came along would still have to be alive when they lived. If, on the other hand, sin was not the cause of death, then the Gospel is nonsense. Or, if the creation days are millions of years, or even thousands, and Adam was created on the sixth, and lived through the seventh, why would Scripture say that he was only 930 years old when he died (Genesis 5:5)? Or, if the plants were created on the third day (Genesis 1:11-13) and the sun was created on the fourth day (1:14-19), and these days are great ages, how did the plants survive for millions of years without sun? (If the “light” before the sun was bright enough for them, why did God bother to make the sun, and why do plants so like the sun today?)
The text of Scripture itself insists, in every way possible, that the creation days of creation week are normal days as we know them today. To allow, or insist, that these days are long ages is to impose something on the text which requires changing the entire sense of the first several chapters of Genesis, as well as other entire sections of Scripture. If it were permissible to arbitrarily change the meaning of words in Scripture in this fashion, it would have been pointless for God to have given us the Scriptural revelation since we could take the words and make anything we wanted out of them. If we could decide for ourselves what the words of Scripture are saying, then even the Gospel could not stand, since we could make whatever we wanted out of the Biblical witness of the Gospel and no one, not even God, could say that we were wrong.
The tragedy of this is that this is exactly what many people, including “Bible teachers,” have done. It begins by imposing new meanings on Genesis in order to fit preconceived ideas and ends up imposing new meanings on the Gospel in order to fit preconceived ideas. In this system the Gospel becomes lost, because without the objective meaning of Scripture, Christianity degenerates to a religion of works – “do your best to please God as you see it” – rather than the revelation of God’s grace in Christ Jesus who won our salvation for us because our works can never stand before God.
The concern for understanding the days of creation as literal 24-hour days is ultimately a concern for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through Whom everything was created, through Whom we are made acceptable to God, and Whom we have been sent to proclaim for the salvation of mankind!
Copyright © 1983 Bible Science Newsletter, Pastor Paul Bartz. Creation Moments, Inc. PO Box 839 Foley, MN 56329 800-422-4253 www.creationmoments.com