Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Six Days of Creation

Does the Bible teach that the universe was created a few thousand years ago? I know many people, both secular and religious, who believe that it does and, therefore, insist that the Bible is in conflict with the claims of Big Bang cosmology which require a universe that is about 13.8 billion years old. Of course the Bible does not say how old the universe is, so why do some people believe it teaches a "young" earth, only thousands of years old.  Such a claim is based on three propositions, all of which can be shown to be false, or at least not necessarily true. If the propositions are not correct, then there is no information in the Bible about the age of the universe. The propositions are (1) the genealogies in the Bible are basically complete, (2) the six days of creation in Genesis are consecutive 24 hour days, and (3) no time passes between the creation of the earth and the universe (as described in Genesis 1:1), and the subsequent six days of creation.

If proposition (1) were true, then we can trace the genealogies back to the six days of creation which would have then occurred about 4000 BC. I'll discuss why we know this proposition is not true in a later post because I want to focus only on proposition (2) for now. (I'll also discuss proposition (3) in a later post.)

The Bible clearly states that God prepared the earth for habitation and created all life on the earth in a period of six days. The Hebrew word yom is translated as the English word day. However, like the English word "day," yom has many meanings. If I say, "In George Washington's day the colonists fought against the British," the word "day" means a period of time.  If I say, "It is a beautiful day," the word "day" means "right now" because it might have been stormy just a few hours ago. In his study Bible, C.I. Scofield states, “The word ‘day’ is used in Scripture in four ways: (1) that part of the solar day of twenty-four hours which is light…; (2) a period of twenty-four hours… (3) a time set apart for some distinctive purpose, as ‘day of atonement’…; and (4) a longer period of time during which certain revealed purposes of God are to be accomplished…. Cp. Gen 2:4, where the word ‘day’ covers the entire work of creation.”

To help us determine the meaning of yom in regards to the six days of creation, let's first see how the author of Genesis, traditionally believed to be Moses, uses the word yom in the rest of Genesis 1 and 2.

Verse          Meaning of yom
Gen 1:5      Daylight
Gen 1:14    Daylight
Gen 1:14    Distinctive purpose days (plural)
Gen 1:16    Daylight
Gen 1:18    Daylight
Gen 2:4      A period of time (all six days of creation)
Gen 2:17    At the moment ("when")

Notice that in every case (except possibly for the six days of creation), the word yom is never used by the author to mean a 24 hour day. Do we have any reason then to require yom to mean 24 hours in regards to the six days of creation? No, we do not. In fact historically there has never been a unanimous consensus about the meaning of the days of creation. Here is short list of some of the possible interpretations of the days of creation posed by good biblical scholars:
  1. Framework day: the days serve as an outline with no chronology implied.
  2. 24 hour day: the days are six consecutive 24 hour days.
  3. Day-Age: each day is a long period of time.
  4. Analogical days: the creation days are analogous to our days of the week but different in length and composition.
  5. Days of revelation: the days are six consecutive 24 hour days that God revealed the creation to Moses but have no correlation with the length of time of the actual creation.
  6. Gap theory: the days are six consecutive 24 hours days after a long gap of time since the original creation.
  7. Relativity days: the days are six 24 hour periods from God's perspective but due to relativistic effects are long periods of time from our perspective.
There are many more ideas like Days of Divine fiat, Intermittent days, Days focused only on the creation of Palestine, and more. As you see, good scholars who understand the context and culture of the ancient Hebrews do not agree that the days are consecutive 24 hour days. In fact, one of the best scholars of ancient Hebrew, Gleason Archer writes, "On the basis of internal evidence, it is this writer‘s conviction that yom in Genesis one could not have been intended by the Hebrew author to mean a literal twenty-four-hour day."1 Notice that one of the most prominent scholars who understands the appropriate language and culture says that the days of creation are definitely not 24 hours. It should also be noted that while modern English has about one million words, ancient Hebrew has about 3000 words (apart from proper nouns). There is no word in ancient Hebrew that distinctively means "era" or "epoch." If the writer of Genesis wanted to say that God created the universe in six "epochs" the best, and only, word to use would be yom.

So why do some people then claim that the days of creation must be consecutive 24 hour long periods of time? When I ask this question I get three answers, (1) because each day is numbered (2) because each day has an evening and a morning, (3) because the book of Exodus refers to the creation days as patterns for the days of the week. But none of those criteria indicate that the day must be 24 hours. We can see this by examining other passages in the Bible.

In Zechariah 14:6-8 the phrase "one day" is used to mean a long period of time with both a summer and a winter. “And it shall come to pass, in that day, that the light shall not be clear, nor dark, but it shall be one day which shall be known to the Lord, not day, nor night; but it shall come to pass that, at evening time, it shall be light. And it shall be, in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea; in summer and in winter shall it be.” In Hosea 6:1-2 which says, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence,” the passage is not saying that the Lord will revive and restore the nation after two or three literal days. That is not what even happened historically. Instead, the passage is saying that in a short time the Lord will intervene to have a close relationship with his people. As these other scriptural passages indicate, the word yom associated with an ordinal does not have to mean that the length of the day is 24 hours.

Concerning the phrase "evening and morning" note two things. First, there is one passage of scripture written by Moses other than the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), Psalm 90, in which Moses writes, "You turn men back to dust, saying ‘Return to dust, O sons of men.’ For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning—though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered." (Psalm 90:3-6) Notice how Moses is using the evening and morning as metaphors for the beginning and ending of a human life. (Grass does not literally sprout in the morning and die in the evening.) Just as we use the English word “dawn” to mean “beginning” when we say “the dawn of a new age”, or we use the word “twilight” to mean “ending” as “a person in the twilight of his life,” so the terms “morning” and “evening” are used by Moses to mean “beginning” and “ending.” In Psalm 90 he is discussing the beginning and ending of a person’s life while in Genesis 1 he is discussing the beginning and ending of six periods of creation. Isn't it interesting that God inspired Moses to write one passage other than the Pentateuch and in that passage he clearly uses evening and morning in a metaphoric way? Could that be primarily to elucidate the meaning in Genesis 1? Dr. Scofield acknowledges that the phrase “evening and morning” can simply mean beginning and ending of any period of time when he writes about Genesis 1, “The frequent parabolic use of natural phenomena may warrant the conclusion that it simply means that each creative day was a period of time marked off by a beginning and ending.” Second, the seventh day, which is God's day of rest, does not have an evening and morning. If all days were consecutive 24 hour days, then it seems reasonable that the seventh day should have an evening and morning. But if evening and morning indicate "beginning and ending," then the seventh day is a long period of time without a beginning and ending since it is continuing until now because God has ceased from the same kind of creative activity he did in the first six days and is still in his day of rest. So the phrase "evening and morning" does not indicate a 24 hour day.

Finally Exodus 20:9-11 states, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God…. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” This is clearly an analogy. It does not require that the days of creation are identical to the days of the week. We see the analogy repeated three chapters later where God employs the same pattern when pertaining to years, not days. Exodus 23:10-12 says, “And you shall sow your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow…. Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor….” In Genesis, God sets up a pattern of six periods of work followed by one period of rest. He then applies that pattern to the days of the week and the years of sowing. It is a general pattern that does not require the days of Genesis to be 24 hours. An analogy does not require the two analogous things to be identical.

There is absolutely no compelling biblical or textual reason to demand that the six days of creation be six consecutive 24 hour days. Consequently, the Bible does not say the universe is only a few thousand years old! The bottom line from scripture and ancient Hebrew is that we do not know the length of the days of Genesis, and consequently, we do not know when the universe was created based on the biblical account alone. In the words of C. I. Scofield from his reference Bible, “Scripture gives no data for determining how long ago the universe was created."

It is time that skeptics and believers alike quit making the incorrect statement that the biblical timeline of creation is in disagreement with the Big Bang timeline of creation. That is demonstrably false. 

1Gleason Archer, A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1994), p. 199.


  1. Are you kidding?

    1. All comments on this blog are first screened by me before being published. Despite the fact that this comment adds little value to the conversation, I have published it. This comment illustrates that those who believe the Bible teaches a young earth are often unwilling to consider any alternatives despite clearly presented facts. I have shown from the Bible itself that the arguments in these two articles above are not valid since the arguments in the articles repeat exactly what I have said about yom with a number, evening and morning, etc. (In addition, the Hebrew word olam means "from eternity" and not a finite long period of time like an epoch, despite what the above articles claim.) I grew up believing the Bible taught the earth was young and I changed my mind exactly because the supposed biblical reasons for a young earth could so easily be refuted from within the Bible itself as I have done. Mr. Mackirdy, did you read my article and see that yom with an ordinal does not mean 24 hours within the Bible itself and that Moses himself uses evening and morning in a metaphorical way to mean beginning and ending? Those claims by the young earth proponents are very easily refuted by Scripture itself. If the Bible contradicts those claims why do you still hold on to them? You don't have to believe me, just go read the scriptural passages I have pointed to for yourself. Also, I encourage you to read other good evangelical scholars of ancient Hebrew who disagree with the view. There are many of them and their biblical case is very strong and convincing. This is all based on good biblical exegesis and is not influenced by scientific observations.

    2. "I grew up believing the Bible taught the earth was young and I changed my mind exactly because the supposed biblical reasons for a young earth could so easily be refuted from within the Bible itself as I have done."

      I will bet the real reason you stopped believing in a young earth was that you obtained an education, and once educated, you were deeply conflicted between the scientific evidence and a holy book you believe to be inerrant. To resolve this cognitive dissonance, you reinterpreted the Bible to make it congruent with modern scientific evidence.

      Do you ever go onto Mormon websites and see how they defend the literal interpretation of their holy book which states that ancient Hebrews settled in North America, long before the Spanish, bringing horses with them? The problem for Mormons is that when Joseph Smith wrote his book, he did not know that horses did not exist in North America prior to the Spanish. So how do the Mormons cope with this apparent contradiction? Answer: They reinterpret the text!

      And Muslims do the same for their holy book. Go on Muslim websites and see for yourself.

      The Mayans believe that the world was created when the god, Huracan, planted a Ceiba tree that separated the earth from the sky and allowed animals and humans space to live.

      So which is more probable, dear educated Reader: the earth was created by Huracan planting a tree, or by Yahweh creating a garden for humans to romp around naked with lions, tigers, and bears?

    3. Actually, the meaning of the days of Genesis has been debated for millennia. This is not a "reinterpretation" at all. Gary, please check your facts before making claims or I just won't publish your comments.. As I have pointed out over and over again, in many cases, archeological evidence has shown the Bible to be accurate. I have given multitudes of examples. Just the opposite has happened with the Book of Mormon. Surely, you must know this. Your statement that the earth was created when Yahweh created a garden is a gross misrepresentation of what Genesis 1 actually says. I would appreciate it if you would post informed, substantiative dialogue.

    4. Ok, please briefly explain how the archeological and geological evidence supports the (two) Creation story (ies) in Genesis chapters one and two.

    5. Gary, Mr. Strauss did not say that archeology supported the Creation story, but that much of the Bible history has been supported by archeology, as opposed to the Book of Mormon, for example.

    6. tjsf is correct about what I did and did not claim. And as I already said in my comment below I see no incompatible discrepancies between the accounts of creation in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. Rather than repeat how easily these two accounts can be reconciled, I'll let the interested reader simply do an internet search.

  2. I've heard some argue that the numbering convention of the genesis days are the reason they should be interpreted as 24 hour periods. To this however, there is no other passage that uses the same convention, thus we can't use the text to prove the text in this capacity.

  3. Excellent explanation of a difficult subject. The time associated with creating life and the basic kinds even the long lives of the patriarchs may well be subject to the same sort of analysis.

  4. One thing I don't think a lot of Christians think to do is to compare the Hebrew Creation story (the one in the Christian Bible) with the creation stories of other cultures. If you do this you will see that every ancient culture had a story of "the beginning". Every story is very colorful and full of magic. Most Creation stories defy the laws of nature, yet, if one tries hard enough, one COULD make each of these stories compatible with modern scientific evidence IF the reader does not insist on a LITERAL interpretation of the text.

    Here is the Creation story of the Cherokee Indians:

    "The earth is a great island floating in a sea of water, and suspended at each of the four cardinal points by a cord hanging down from the sky vault, which is of solid rock. When the world grows old and worn out, the people will die and the cords will break and let the earth sink down into the ocean, and all will be water again. The Indians are afraid of this.

    When all was water, the animals were above in Gälûñ’lätï, beyond the arch; but it was very much crowded, and they were wanting more room. They wondered what was below the water, and at last Dâyuni’sï, “Beaver’s Grandchild,” the little Water-beetle, offered to go and see if it could learn. It darted in every direction over the surface of the water, but could find no firm place to rest. Then it dived to the bottom and came up with some soft mud, which began to grow and spread on every side until it became the island which we call the earth. It was afterward fastened to the sky with four cords, but no one remembers who did this."

    "Four cords fastened to the sky"? Sounds silly and ignorant, doesn't it? The Hebrew Creation story in other passages of the OT talks about the "four pillars" of the earth. There is even a "firmament" (a dome) above the earth upon which Yahweh has hung the stars. Literally, this is nonsense, just as, literally, it is nonsense that a beaver created the first dry land on earth. But if one really wants to believe one's Creation Story, one can simply change the literal interpretation of the text to a metaphorical interpretation until it conforms to modern scientific evidence. Try it with the Mayan Creation story and the Cherokee Creation story. If you try hard enough, both stories can be made compatible with the overwhelming evidence of evolution.

    So is the Hebrew Creation story just an ancient folk myth, no different from the hundreds of other Creation stories on earth? I believe that the evidence indicates it is. To prove my point, one only has to compare Genesis chapters one and two. There is NO WAY these two chapters describe the same creation if one reads them as literal stories. However, if one accepts that this was an ancient folk myth, then one comprehends that the two stories are very likely two different versions of the same folk myth. Perhaps one of the chapters describes the version of the Hebrew Creation story told in northern Israel while the other version describes the version told in the Judean foothills. We don't know, but no one should get worked up over the discrepancies in these two chapters AS LONG AS one recognizes that these are two versions of an ancient Creation myth. Only when someone tries to force the stories to be an actual description of how the universe came into being is there a problem.

    1. I entirely disagree that the OT account is like other creation myths. The OT account of creation has a transcendent being speaking and creating the universe. There are no beings fighting and dying (like Babylonian myths), or pre-existing beavers. I'm kind of shocked that you see these stories as the same genre. As far as Genesis 1 and 2, you are making the logical fallacy that a difference is a contradiction. Gary, your thinking here is very sloppy. If my wife and I go to a concert where band A is the warm-up band and band B is the main attraction and she says we say band A and I say we saw band B that is a difference but not a logical contradiction. The supposed discrepancies in the Bible are not logical contradictions but differences. It is very lazy thinking that considers a difference to be a contradiction. There are many accounts on the internet of how Genesis 1 and 2 describe the same event without contradiction. I'll let you surf the web and find those, but if you are unable to, I'll be happy to point some out.