Justin Taylor has stirred the pot recently with a post on Creation in Genesis 1-2 and whether or not the days referred to in Genesis 1-2 are actual 24-hr days, or just indefinite periods of time. Justin’s post reminded me of an article that I had read a few months ago by Robert McCabe that I think is worth summarizing his main points with my own comments.
The context of Genesis 1 indicates a 24-hr day.
Its true that day (yom) can refer to periods of time, like in the phrase “Day of the Lord.” But in Genesis 1, day is modified by “evening and morning” and also used in opposition to night. These are clear signals from the context of Genesis 1 that these are normal days with a normal sequence of day and night rotations.
When yom is modified by a number, it always refers to a literal 24-hr period.
It should also be noted that when yom stands absolutely (i.e., not in a phrase or construct relationship) it means a literal 24-hr day. This point is further strengthened by the fact that throughout Scripture, when an ordinal number modifies “day” (i.e., first, second, third, etc.) it refers to a literal 24-hr day.
Comparing the creation account with other passages of Scripture indicates that Scripture views Genesis 1-2 as literal 24-hr days.
In Exod 20:8-11 God commands the Israelites:
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. 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.
In other words, the Israelites were to follow the pattern established at Creation. The Israelites were to observe 6 literal days of labor, followed by a literal day of rest—just as God did in creating the world.
What about Genesis 2:4?
Some are quick to point to Genesis 2:4 as evidence for a non-literal day in Genesis 1-2: “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.”
It is true that this is not a 24-hr day being referred to here, but there are valid, obvious reasons for that.
- The context shows this is a summary statement which is obviously referring to a period of time encasing all of creation.
- Grammatically, the construction of this phrase is a prepositional phrase + infinitive which need not refer to a non-literal day in Hebrew (this observation supports #1-2 above).
This post is not an attempt to be exhaustive by any means. However, I think it is important to recognize that the biblical evidence is that each day in Genesis 1 was a literal 24-hr day and not an unidentified period of time.
[Check out McCabe’s article as well. It is quite thorough].