Genesis 1:5 says that God ended the first creative day with the expression, "the evening and morning were the first day". Each successive day ends with the same expression. Does this indicate that the creative days were 24 hours in length?
There are two indications that the "days" of Gen 1 are literal 24-hour days:
- The regular repetition of formula, "and there was evening and morning, the nth day".
- The use of the specific numeral associated with the word "day", first day, second day, third day, etc.
The latter point needs further comment.
The Hebrew word "day" is יוֹם (yom). It is used in at least two distinct senses in the OT. (The BDB entry is too large to reproduce here so I will summarize).
- an indefinite period of time or a time past, eg, Gen 3;14, 17, 4:3, 14, 5:1, 11, 6:4, 9:29, 18:11, etc.
- When accompanied by a numeral, the word ALWAYS means a literal 24 hour period of time, eg, Gen 2:3, 7:4, 11, 12, 17, 8:3, 4, 12, 14, 17:12, etc.
In summarizing this situation,. it was Professor Barr (at Oxford) who wrote to to Mr David C C Watson in Illinois, dated 23 April 1984, who said -
“… probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience, the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story, Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.”
I agree. The writer of Genesis writes about literal 24 hour periods of time.
Nowhere in the Genesis account of creating the heavens and the earth does the phrase “24 hours” crop up. Only after God creates light, then makes a division between light (which he calls Day) and darkness (which he calls Night) do we get the statement, “And the evening and the morning were the first day.” Please note that Day One does not mention the planet we live on, which is called Earth. The Earth is mentioned in 1:1 – does this mean it was already created before Day One started? Some think so. The Hebrew word for that can also, equally, be translated as ‘land’ and it is not till verse 9 that we get the first use of the word ‘land’ where God causes land to arise as the waters covering the planet are “gathered together unto one place”.
I mention this because you specifically asked about creating the earth in SIX 24 hour days. But what if the Earth had already been created, and then days one to six began, God bringing light out of darkness, order out of chaos, and life out of lifelessness?
Naturally, mention of evening and morning (night and day) causes all readers to think of what we presently know as a full, 24 hour day. But have Earth days always been of 24 hour duration? Here is what Professor Bob White, Geophysicist (and a Christian), says in answer to the question 'Did God do all this within six 24-hour days?':
"The six days are a literary device of a week's hard work. In any case, as a geologist I find it amusing to reflect that when the Earth was created it was spinning much faster than it does now, so one day lasted only about five hours. Due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the tides, which absorb energy, the Earth's rotation has been slowing down ever since, so actually six 24-hour periods wouldn't fit either!" God, the Big Bang & bunsen burning issues, p150, Ed. Nigel Bovey (Authentic 2008)
To back that up, we know from lasers (one planted on the moon) that over thousands of years, interacting planets slow down. The moon's orbit continues to vary because Earth's rotation is slowing it down due to 'tidal braking'. And now I quote:
"Tidal bulges interact with the Moon's gravitation to produce a decelerating torque that slows the Earth's rotation, causing an increase in the length of the day.
The equal and opposite reaction is a torque exerted by the Earth on the Moon's orbit that increases its angular momentum. This is achieved by an increase in the distance between the Moon from the Earth, pushing it 1.25 inches farther away each year, and a decrease in the rotation rate of the Moon about the Earth, which increases the length of the month.
The Earth's rotation decelerates more rapidly than that of the Moon, so eventually the angular velocities of the Earth and the Moon will be equal, a condition called synchronous rotation. At that point, a billion or so years hence, an Earth day and month will be equal, at about 47 current Earth days, and the Moon's distance from the Earth will be 135 per cent of its current value. Then, for millions of years, one side of the Earth will face the Moon. Half the world will see the Moon, while the other half will never see it...
The Sun's tidal pull on Earth is only half as strong as the Moon's, so as the Moon departs, the Sun will grow relatively more influential. Ultimately, it will make Earth spin even slower, and the Moon will start falling toward us. It will break apart before it reaches 10,000 miles away because its silicate rocks are only half as dense as the Earth's heavier materials." Colin Francis, Cheltenham, Glos. UK in "Answers to Correspondents" in the Daily Mail newspaper, Monday 13 February 2012
Of course, God is sovereign, and we know he has promised that the present Earth and Heavens will be replaced with "a new Heavens and a new Earth, in which righteousness will dwell." (2 Peter 3:10-13)
When you look at the different meanings of the ancient Hebrew word for 'day', you see that the six days of creation need not be the usual meaning of an Earth day. In Gen. 2:4 (KJV) all six 'days' are called "in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." The six days become one day. And in verse 17 God warns Adam that "in the day you eat" (of the forbidden fruit) "you will surely die". But we know Adam lived for 930 years. Clearly a 'day' has various meanings. The Bible states that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years - that seems to fit Adam's dying before he reached 1,000 years - a day in God's sight.
To answer your question, then, the Bible does not say the Earth was created in six 24 hour Earth days, or even in one 24 hour Earth day.
When we interpret a text, we ask questions about the author’s intent. What happens if we ask a text for information that the author never intended to give us?
Ancient writers didn’t have a clear way to convey the idea of a “billion”, so we shouldn’t expect the expressions 13.7 billion or 4.6 billion to show up in Genesis. (note that this statement is true regardless of how old you believe the earth is). Even if the author believed the events described had an extremely long duration, they wouldn’t have been able to assign a number to it.
Ancient timekeepers didn’t measure days by machine; they used the sun. So we shouldn’t expect expressions like 24 hours or 1,440 minutes to show up in Genesis either. If the text is referring to literal days, they would be solar days, not 24-hour days.
What solar reference?
“Evening”, “morning”, and “day" in ancient times are usually references to the sun. The question ultimately asked by the OP is whether that is what they refer to in Genesis 1.
Verses 14-16 may too often be overlooked:
14 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:
15 And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.
16 And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.
Why should we interpret “evening”, “morning”, and “day” as solar references, when the sun wasn’t giving light to the earth prior to verse 15?
A lesson from learning another language – the power of metaphor
When you learn to speak another language you sometimes encounter a concept for which you do not know the word in the new language. What do you do? You talk around the word. You provide descriptors. You compare it to something.
When ancient writers sought to describe something they didn’t have the tools to explain, they often used metaphor. (Abraham’s seed would be as the sand of the sea, John’s scorpions, Nehemiah’s chariots, etc). And it’s not because they were unintelligent; you and I would do the same thing if we saw the technology thousands of years from now.
The 7 days of creation are explicitly a metaphor for the Jewish week, ending on the Sabbath. Should the temporal markers in this metaphor be taken literally? Perhaps not...because it's a metaphor. It says the creation took place in 6 steps.
Is it a bad thing if “day” is a metaphor here? I don’t think so. Why should it be any more concerning than the hundreds of other metaphors in the Bible? This is not to say that metaphor is our default assumption in interpreting a text. But since the common usage of the terms “evening”, “morning”, and “day”, don’t work with vs 15, we should consider metaphor. It’s certainly more charitable to the author than assuming they were ignorant or committed a major oversight.
Squeezing blood from a turnip
But what if we really want to know the duration of the creation!
A fascinating example can be found in Irenaeus of Lyons. He is our earliest surviving source who mentions all 4 Gospels by name. Those interested in the chronology of the Gospels have regularly scoured Irenaeus’ writings looking for chronological information. Although some of his writings about the Gospels have been interpreted as chronological statements, the Greek reference to time here is vague, and may not have been intended to say anything about chronology at all.
And so we’re left trying to squeeze chronological information out when perhaps none was put there to begin with. There’s a risk of doing the same thing with Genesis.
Why isn’t the author more specific?
Certainly, the concept of a long duration of time could have been communicated even without specifying a 13.7 billion year age of the universe, if supplying chronology was the intention. Since a long duration wasn’t specified, two options stand out to me as most interesting:
- The author did not know the duration of time (e.g. perhaps a vision of the Creation was given and the author was describing the vision)
- The duration of time was not considered to be of primary importance
What might the author be saying?
The writer appears to be interested in what happened and in what order; asking for a more precise chronology does not seem fair to the author’s intentions. We may well be asking the text for more chronological information than it was ever intended to convey.
Perhaps the author considered it more important to tell people they were made in the image of God, then to discuss the age of the earth. Which one is likely to have a greater effect on the way people live their lives?
The expression 'day' is defined within the context of the passage. The definition is 'the evening and the morning were the first day' and so on.
Thus 'day' means 'evening and morning'.
And therefore 'day' contains 'night' within it. The daytime brackets the night period.
That is to say, light contains the darkness. Light brackets the darkness. Light surrounds the darkness.
And the darkness, though it be present, does not prevent the morning breaking into a new day.
There is the closure of one phase, then a period of darkness. Then another period, a new phase, begins. This, all of this, is 'day'.
And the first three days cannot be measured in terms of time. There was no sun. There was no moon. And there was no observer on earth to observe the event.
It is impossible, under such circumstances, to state any calculated data whatsoever about the events. To do so, is just speculation.
"Does the Bible say the earth was created in six 24 hour days?"
If you mean in these explicit words, - the answer is NO, but the word Bible and Trinity are not in the Bible.
If you mean "Does the Bible teach a literal 6 day creation, and can we find corroborating evidence from scripture?, - then absolutely YES!
There are four common red herrings which are used to prop up the notion that the creation account doesn't mean what it plainly says. Let's break it down.
In every case - these fallacious arguments violate basic one or more rules of sound Hermeneutics.
- Take other verses out of context - specifically 2 Peter 3:8 "Thousand years is as a day."
- Ignore or disregard the literary context of Genesis
- Use the argument that Yom can be used to mean era, generation.
- Scripture interprets Scripture. They fail to cross-reference and look at the other clear passages which shed light on the Creation story.
"The first thing to note is that the context has nothing to do with the days of creation. Also, it is not defining a day because it doesn’t say ‘a day is a thousand years’. The correct understanding is derived from the context—the Apostle Peter’s readers should not lose heart because God seems slow at fulfilling His promises because He is patient, and also because He is not bound by time as we are. The text says ‘one day is like [or as] a thousand years’—the word ‘like’ (or ‘as’) shows that it is a figure of speech, called a simile, to teach that God is outside of time (because He is the Creator of time itself). In fact, the figure of speech is so effective in its intended aim precisely because the day is literal and contrasts so vividly with 1000 years—to the eternal Creator of time, a short period of time and a long period of time may as well be the same."
Secondly, those who suggest that the Creation account is symbolic, or intended to be a metaphor - not literal days, ignore the fact that Genesis is Historic Genre, and furthermore, even secular non-Christian scholars of Hebrew agree that the style of Genesis is not at all like poetry or wisdom literature, and is written in a historic narrative style, with specific events happening on specific days of the Hebrew calendar, and specific real geographical places and real historical leaders and kings. The Old Testament is divided into three groups or divisions, - Historical, Poetic or Wisdom and Prophets, and Genesis is in the Historical section.
Third, people often say that the word Yom, which is Hebrew for Day, is just like the English word day, and that it can mean era, or generation, as in the phrase "In George Washington's day, electric lights had not yet been invented" or "In Noah's day, sin was rampant on the earth."
While the word "Yom" can be translated to mean era or generation, - explicit passages always supercede or take priority over vague or less specific passages.
In the Genesis account, each day is marked by having an evening and a morning, and this is significant because Hebrew days go from sunset to sunset, unlike our day, which starts at midnight, but we count starting from the daylight period.
Additionally, every time the word day is preceded with an ordinal number, like first day, second, third day, 12th day or 40th day etc, it is always a literal day, never an era or generation.
Fourth - and most importantly, those who say that the days are 1000 years, or even worse - unknown, indefinite periods of time, even millions of years totally undermine and destroy the Biblical doctrine of the Sabbath.
The entire doctrine of a Sabbath day is six days of work, followed by a 7th day of rest. God modeled this and illustrated this with the creation week.
The notion of man working for six years and then not working for another year is patently absurd, and even grows more ludicrous with longer periods.
Man should work for sixty years non-stop, and then rest for ten years.
The problem is even compounded when you realize the conundrum that is presented for those who say that the days were 1000 year periods, because it's impossible to explain how plants and animals could live for 4000 years without the sun.
Furthermore, even secular Macro-evolutionists agree that mutations are at least 100x more harmful to a species than helpful.
It's the same logic that by inbreeding, once in a while it produces a child-prodigy with genius level intelligence. This is in fact true, but no one wants to actually encourage their sons or daughters or loved ones to do this, because we know that the mutations are far more harmful than the one-in-ten-thousand type odds that it will produce a Bionic Einstein baby.
This is the classic example of Occam's Razor - the most straightforward answer is usually the correct one.
The doctrine of marriage, sabbath, Salvation, end times, and many others have their foundation in Genesis, and when you undermine the foundation, the entire structure is compromised.