How Long Are the ‘Days’ of Genesis 1? -- By: David Livingston

Journal: Bible and Spade (Second Run)
Volume: BSPADE 00:0 (Autumn 1987)
Article: How Long Are the ‘Days’ of Genesis 1?
Author: David Livingston

How Long Are the ‘Days’ of Genesis 1?

David Livingston

We recognize that there is considerable difference of opinion on this subject even among evangelical Christians. Without going into the variety of interpretations, we feel there are some basic “givens” that must be taken into account when deciding how long a day was in the Creation Account.

1. The definition of a “day.” Hebrew yom, in this passage is “evening and morning.” Even in our time, this is the Hebrew concept of a “day.” It is measured from sundown to sundown. And it is used this way more than 100 times in the Old Testament - always meaning 24 hours. If the writer of Genesis 1 wanted to convey the impression of 6 literal days, would he have worded it differently? If he meant long ages for each day, he could have used another word -olam.

2. Each new day in Genesis 1 is designated with an ordinal number “first,” “second,” etc. Ordinal numbers are used as a limiting factor in determining the length of a day. They are used to indicate a 24 hour day over 200 times in the Old Testament, 100 times in the Pentateuch (five books of Moses) alone!

3. The basic meaning of yom which can be found in any Hebrew lexicon is a normal day. 95% of the time it is used this way; 1200 times in the singular, 700 times in the plural.

In only 5% of the cases (65 times), it is used for an indefinite period of time. An example would be “the day of the Lord,” which clearly does not mean a normal day. Usually, there are words added to clarify the meaning, like yom tab which means a “long time.” Again, the usual meaning is a normal day in almost all cases. When it does not mean a normal day, the wording is such that it clearly has another meaning.

4. The “Sabbath Day” of rest, the seventh day, must have been literal! Genesis 1:31–2:3 says God “rested,” not “is resting” (to this day). It was meant to be a precedent, later described in Exodus 20, where a seven day work-week is compared with the Creation Week. The rest day is meant to be ordy a normal day, or there would be a lot of lazy Israelitesl

One other interesting passage is Exodus 31:12–17. Keeping the Sabbath (a tradition unique to Isreal in the ancient Near East), was to be their witness to the world that they were committed to following YHWH — the Creator. That is, to the miracle-working God who made

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