Six Days Of Creation: Twenty-four Hours Or Billions Of Years?

One of the questions I routinely get asked as a pastor is; are the six days of creation literal twenty-four hour days or billions of years (modern science suggests the earth is 4.6 billion years old)? I am not even going to pretend that I am an expert in the science and physics behind the beginning of the universe and the beautiful planet we call home. However, I am trained in the exegesis of the Bible, which is the understanding of what the Bible seeks to convey in its original meaning of the Hebrew and context of Genesis 1. It is this question that I will attempt to answer; what does the Hebrew language of Genesis tell us about how long it took for God to create the universe and the earth?

1) First, it is clear that the universe and our earth are not self-creating as some modern thinkers believe today.

It is explicitly stated that, “In the beginning God created the heavens (the universe) and the earth (Gen. 1:1).” This is an explanation that satisfies the law of cause and effect; that which has a beginning must first have a cause. It also satisfies the logic that only a rational, omniscient and omnipotent creator God could cause such order, complexity and beauty that we find in our universe and all life on earth. Nothing of complexity ever appears in our universe without a rational mind at work. At this point, if God is intelligent and powerful enough to bring all life into existence, then He is certainly powerful enough to do it all in only six days and doesn’t need to use 4.6 billion years.

2) Secondly, it is also clear from the language of Genesis that the Hebrew intends for the six days of creation to mean literal twenty-four hour days and not periods of time.

Let me explain. The first principle that is helpful to understanding the Bible is “scripture interprets scripture.” In Exodus 20:9-11 (referenced below), God explains why He gave human beings a six day work week and one day to rest. God uses a rational argument that it is a reflection of how God created the world in six literal days of work and rested on the seventh literal day. This passage quotes Genesis 1 as six literal twenty-four hour days. Some may also use this principle to suggest that 2 Peter 3:8 should also apply to Genesis 1, which states, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” While tempting, this passage’s context is not addressing the six days of creation, but how the plan of God’s salvation seems slow, because it has literally taken thousands of years to unfold. Hence, Peter is using a metaphor to explain how God is not slow to act.

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” -Exodus 20:9-11

3) Thirdly, the Hebrew word for “day” is יוֹם, which is pronounced yom, must be translated as a twenty-four hour period in Genesis 1.

It is true that the word for day in Hebrew can be used for a period of time greater than twenty-four hours, but in Genesis 1 this is not the case.  This is where our second principle for understanding the Bible comes into play; “context is king.” The context of the word “day” is used with the words evening, morning and the number of the day, such as “it was evening and morning, the first day (Gen. 1:5).” The word “day” appears 61 times with the word(s) evening and morning outside of Genesis 1 and every time it means twenty-four hours. Also, the word “day” is used with a number 410 times outside of Genesis 1 and again, it means twenty-four hours every time. Every time the word “day” is used in the Old Testament Hebrew in combination with the word evening, morning or a number, it always means a twenty-four hour period of time. There are no exceptions! It would be an exegetical mistake to translate Genesis 1 in any other way as well. Yes, the Bible means to say that God created the universe, the earth and all life within it in six literal twenty-four hour days. Again, I am only trying to convey to you the original meaning and intent of the Hebrew language and context of Genesis 1.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel