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How Long Were the Days of Creation?

How Long Were the Days of Creation?

ApoloThink, now taking questions

We have invited our subscribers to ask any questions they would like to be answered in a post. With our current audience size, we made it our goal to answer every question from our subscribers. I (Tim) will be answering the first series of questions from Dale who asked,

 

How long was a "day" in the days of Creation as described in Genesis 1?

How long was a day when Moses wrote, "In six days, the Lord created the heavens and the earth, and rested on the seventh?"

 

How long was a day when the Israelites marched around the city of Jericho before the seventh day when it fell?

 

How long was a day when Jonah was in the belly of the great fish?

How long was a day when Jesus was 3 days and 3 nights in the grave?

 

 

 

 

The first two questions both refer to the days of creation so I would answer them in the same way.

 

In short, I believe these days were 24-hour days.

 

There have been entire books devoted to debating this subject so I’m not going to claim to make the decisive case for 24-hours days, however, I believe I can provide some powerful argumentation in defense of 24-hour days with some brief points.

 

1)    The Hebrew word for “day”, yôm, meant a 24-hour day the vast majority of the time. Whenever a word is used overwhelmingly in one way, the burden of proof is upon those who would claim it should be used differently.

 

2)    Some would counter the first point saying that the plural form of yôm has been used to denote a long period of time such as hundreds or a couple thousands of years. This is true but there are still significant problems with that. Let’s say the semantic range of word yôm includes a single day on the short end and 3,000 years on the long end. The semantic range still does not include an example of yôm being used to describe millions or billions of years. If the days in creation were meant to describe millions or billions of years, that would be the only time the word has ever been used in that way.

 

3)    Whenever the word yôm is attached to a number, it is understood to be a 24-hour day. The next point is similar.

 

4)    Whenever the word yôm is involved with the words “morning” or “evening” it always denotes a 24-hour day. Since we see both “morning” and “evening” used in the days of creation, there are strong reasons to believe yôm means a 24-hour day. In this passage, if yôm means anything other than a 24-hour day, then it is completely unique in its usage.

 

5)    Additionally, the presence of the words “morning” and “evening” on their own are problematic for anything other than a 24-hour day. If yôm meant one-million years, then what does “morning” and “evening” mean? 500,000 years? If one believes the days to be a long period of time, they not only need to prove a completely unique usage for the word “day” they must also prove a unique usage for the words “morning” and “evening.”

 

With these points in mind, I think it is completely sensible to believe that the days of creation were 24-hour days. There is a strong burden of proof on those who would claim otherwise. I’m open to the possibility that they could have meant a long period of time, but after a fair amount of research, I haven’t seen nearly strong enough argumentation to convince me to interpret these passages differently.

 

I also want to clarify something that stands a little outside of Dale's question. Right now, there are vigorous debates happening over how to correctly interpret the creation story. I think it is safe to say that the most “popular” positions would be young earth creationism (YEC), old earth creationism (OEC), and theistic evolution (TE). I believe that holding to 24-hour days in creation lends itself to YEC, and is even compatible with OEC. However, 24-hour days are not compatible with TE.

 

To read a fair survey of the usage of the word yôm, see this article from creation.com. I believe that even those who disagree with the author’s conclusion will find a great resource for researching the word yôm.

 

 

 

 

How long was a day when the Israelites marched around the city of Jericho before the seventh day when it fell?

 

I believe these were 24 hour days and they marched on a total of 7 different days.

 

 

 

 

How long was a day when Jonah was in the belly of the great fish?

How long was a day when Jesus was 3 days and 3 nights in the grave?

 

These two questions are interesting because of the “Sign of Jonah” passage in Matthew 12:40 which says,

"For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

 

It seems like an apparent contradiction because Jonah was said to have been in the whale for 3 days and 3 nights in Jonah 1:17. However, Jesus was raised on the 3rd day.

 

The simple explanation for this is that while “after 3 days” and “on the third day” are distinctly different phrases in our usage today, the Greeks commonly interchanged these phrases as meaning the same thing. Additionally, Greeks often referred to parts of days as whole days.

 

I believe there was a slight time difference between Jonah’s time in the whale and Jesus’ time being dead, but for the typological or symbolic purposes of Matthew, it is completely appropriate to see a connection between the two events.

 

For a more detailed response, there was a great article published in 2001 that answers this question. 

 

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