How Long was a Day During Creation?

 Were the six days of creation literal 24 hour days?

It can be very risky to attempt to reconcile the age of the Earth according to secular science and what creationists believe. If the Bible is the inerrant word of God, then we should accept what it teaches us. In the Bible, the Book of Genesis tells us God took six days to create the heavens and the earth, and then rested on the seventh day. End of story, no reason to question anything? Unfortunately scripture is not as clear on this subject as some believers claim. Were these days of creation what we would call a standard day of 24 hours? or did they last hundreds of millions of years? or were they perhaps a combination of both? There are very convincing arguments to be made that scripture is telling us the days were more than 24 hours, but just how accurate and convincing are these arguments?

Many creationist believe the six days were indeed 24 hour days and the earth is approximately 6,000 years old. Secular science tells us the earth is as much as five billion years old. Trying to bring these two together is more than a bit difficult. The people who believe in a young earth will often say you are dishonoring God when you say it took billions of years to create the earth. If you believe in God you must admit God certainly had the power to create the earth in six 24 hour days, but he could have also done it in a single moment. We must remember that while God understands time, it has no effect on Him. It is not as if God was on a deadline and had to finished creation in just six days. The credit for creation belongs to God, regardless if the process took a single moment, six days, or five billion years.

The question we must answer is what the scriptures mean when they speak of six days. Some have pointed out that since the sun was not created until day 4, the 24 hour day did not exists for the first three days, so how could there have been an evening and a morning of a 24 hour day? The Bible mentions the earth was surrounded by a thick mist. Some believe this mist is what allowed the rapid growth of vegetation and for dinosaurs to grow so enormous. During this time, they claim the sun was actually there, it was simply blocked from view by the mist. On the fourth day the mist dissipated and the sun and moon were placed in the sky, became visible. Other scholars believe the problem of the 24 hour day can be resolved with what they believe is the proper translation of a single word, in this instance the word is, day.

In the Hebrew language the word for day is pronounced Yome. The term Yome is properly translated as day in the Bible, but things are not that simple. Like its English counterpart, Yome can have multiple meanings. Day can be a specific period of time of 24 hours, but it can also be used in reference to a much longer and indefinite period of time. This is true in modern times as well as when the Bible was written. The reference for a single 24 hour day is obvious, but what about the indefinite period of time? One example can be seen in the Book of Micah.

"It will be a day for building your walls. On that day your boundary will be extended. It will be a day when they will come to you from Assyria and the cities of Egypt." Micah 7:11-12 

Obviously the term day in this instance does not represent a 24 hour day, but a longer period of time. The meaning must be taken from the context of the situation. Saying I spent a day doing research indicates a 24 hour day. If I say, 'In my day..." it would be understood to represent more than 24 hours. Many believe the context of the creation story indicates the term 'day' indicates an indefinite period of time. Many people of faith believe that God continues the rest He began on the 7th day since He has ceased from creation. If this is the case, the 7th day is much longer than 24 hours.

Genesis gives us the order in which God created all the various elements of the heavens and the earth.

  1. Light was created
  2. Sky was created (heaven)
  3. Dry lands, sea, plants and trees
  4. Sun, moon and stars
  5. Creatures that live in the sea and fly
  6. Animals that live on land - man
  7. God rested.
Is it strange that the order of creation listed in Genesis very closely matches what secular science tells us about the formation of earth? The vegetation would have developed first, then followed by life beginning in the oceans. After a time life began on dry land and eventually man appears. The theory of evolution is based on the fossil record, but that record has massive holes and gaps. A clear evolutionary line does not exist for any major groups of creatures. These groups, such as vertebrae animals, appear suddenly at different periods in time, completely formed with no evolutionary predecessor. Could this be because God created these different groups of creatures at different times? 

If we look at each creation day we can see there is a possible indication the reference was to more than a 24 hour day. An example is day three when God created vegetation.

"Then God said, Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit according to their kind with seed in them; and it was so. The earth produced vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, according to their kind; and God saw it that is was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day." - Genesis 1:11-13

Did the plants grow to maturity and produce fruit all in one day? While it is certainly within God's power to do this, is that what the passage is telling us? The passage also contains a phrase that is repeated throughout the creation story, 'there was evening and there was morning'.  We generally understand a new day begins in the morning and ends in the evening. Why does the Bible put evening first? In the Hebrew world a day goes from sunset to sunset, not sunrise to sunset, so this might explain the passage, but is there even more to this simple phrase?

In the Hebrew language using the term 'and there was evening' is a way of saying something new was started. When combined with, 'and there was morning', it is saying it was finished. Something new, in this case the creation of vegetation through the power of God, was started and it was completed. This phrase marks out a period of time in which something was accomplished. It could be 24 hours, or it could refer to a longer or even shorter period of time. Again, when the term 'day' is used we must remember it could have multiple meanings, just as it does in modern day.

There is another possibility some creationist believe. Some will argue that God created the earth to appear old. Fossils and what appear to be ancient geological formations were created as a type of back story, for appearances only. These things were created old. In this scenario it would be possible to say dinosaurs never actually lived, God just scattered their fossils about to make the earth look older. Others argue this type of creation would have been dishonest, deceptive, making things appear to be something they are not. This type of creation is not something they believe God would do, and furthermore, God would have no need to. 

As believers we should not feel the need to make holy scripture fit neatly with secular science. At the same time, we are not called on to ignore facts. Many parts of scripture are open to interpretation and must be looked at based on the context of the writings. We must always consider the intention of the various authors. As an example, the four gospel accounts were all written with a different audiences in mind. Matthew wrote his gospel to a Jewish audience, Mark was trying to reach a Roman audience, Luke wrote from a historian's point of view, and John's gospel was a personal story of how each of us can have a relationship with Jesus. As we read and study these we should take these facts into account as it most certainly affects the context and meaning of the narrative. 

The story of creation was meant to show God is responsibly for creating everything we see, everything there is, both seen and unseen. As with many parts of the Bible, including the gospels, an exact chronological and historical order was not intended and should not be implied. Scripture gives you the facts and information you need to live by, while accurate, it is not an exact history. God certainly had the power to complete creation in six days, or perhaps scripture is telling us He took longer, perhaps because it pleased Him to do so. As believers we should not fight among ourselves over how long God took to create the earth. The actual amount of time required for creation is  not as important as our understanding that all things come from God. How long did it take God to create the universe? The exact amount of time He intended.

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