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The question about the duration of the creation days arises frequently. I believe it can be shown from a biblical and scientific viewpoint that one can have full confidence in the biblical account.
A while back, there was a panel discussion in Bremen, Germany, on creation/evolution. The invited participants were a geologist, a palaeontologist, a Catholic priest, a protestant minister, and myself as an information scientist. Before long, the moderator asked, “How long did creation take?” The palaeontologist and the geologist were quickly unanimous—millions of years. When the clergy were asked, both were very definite that, nowadays, theology had no problem with millions of years. Even billions of years could be effortlessly interpreted into the creation days. Finally the moderator asked me for my opinion. I answered as follows:
For me, as an information scientist, the key question is the source of information. Regarding the length of the creation days, there is only one information source, and that is the Bible. In the Bible, God tells us that He created everything in six days.
Since no one else could nominate a source for their opinion, this part of the discussion stopped dead in its tracks.
The question of the length of the creation days has aroused much passion. Adherents to theistic evolution try to interpret the creation account to allow for long timespans. There have been many attempts to arrive at “long creation days.” Here are four examples.
The “day-age” theory: The expression “day” is interpreted as actually meaning a long period of time. “Ages,” “periods,” or “epochs” of time are referred to. Psalm 90:4 is frequently used for justification: “
For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday [i.e., one day]
when it is past.”
The “days-of-revelation” theory: The days of Genesis are not viewed as days of creation, but as days of revelation. This assumes that the various statements in this account were progressively revealed to the writer in six consecutive days. The motive is clearly to avoid the idea that creation actually took place within these 24-hour periods.
The “movie” theory: Originating with Hans Rohrbach, this concept tries to explain the creation account as if it were time-lapse cinematography of a process which “in reality” took a long period of time. He writes that “It is as if the prophet is seeing a film, in which the mighty process of creation, compressed using time-lapse photography, is screened in front of him. He sees movement, a happening and becoming, hears God speaking; he observes the earth becoming clothed in the green of plant life, and sees everything graphically, like a modern 3-D widescreen film in sound and color.”2
The “literary-days” theory: This maintains that the creation days are merely a literary device, in order to establish a thematic structure. According to this concept, the individual “creation days” are to be regarded like the chapters of a book.
There is a widespread opinion that the creation account is only concerned with communicating “the fact that God actually created.”There is a widespread opinion that the creation account is only concerned with communicating “the fact that God actually created.” However, this it totally implausible in light of the numerous precise statements contained in Genesis. If God had only wanted to tell us that He was behind everything, then the first verse of Genesis would be enough. However, the many particulars in the account make it quite clear that God wants to give us much more information than that. In the account of creation we have not only conveyed to us matters relevant to faith and belief, but also a range of facts which have scientific significance. These facts are so foundational to a true understanding of this world that they immediately distinguish themselves from all other beliefs, from the cosmologies of ancient people and from the imaginings of today’s natural philosophy.
The creation account of the Bible stands alone in its declarations. Here we find none of the ancient mythical imaginings of the world and its origin, but here rather we find the living God communicating reality, the truth about origins. The course of correct or false biblical exposition is firmly set, according to the expositor’s convictions, on the first page of the Bible. Separating “faith” from “science” (widely practiced in the Western world), has frequently driven Christians into the ghetto of a contemplative inner piety, which fails to achieve any penetrating effect upon their surroundings, while science is driven into the wasteland of godless ideologies and philosophical systems.
As a result, it has been widely presupposed that biblical statements about the origin of the universe, life, and in particular mankind (as well as nations and languages) are not scientifically trustworthy. This has had grave consequences. Alexander Evertz bemoaned the rampant worldwide spiritual decline as follows:
Belief in the Creator is now largely only a display piece in the glass case of dogmatics. It resembles the stuffed birds one sees perching on rods in a museum.3
We should be thankful for the details God has seen fit to reveal to us in Genesis, this brief glimpse at the origin of this world and life. Thus, we note that God created everything in six days. That they were really 24-hour days, that is solar days or calendar days, should be settled by way of several arguments.
In order to describe physical processes quantitatively, one needs a method of measuring and a corresponding unit. The Bible repeatedly uses technical parameters of measurement in describing the length, area, or volume of something. The units are generally taken from nature or daily life, e.g., the cubit represents the distance from elbow to fingertips. The span is the spread of the fingers of one hand. An acre is that area able to be plowed with a yoke of oxen in one day. One of the most important units is that of time. It is the first unit defined in the Bible. In Genesis 1:14 this takes place at the same time as the other purposes of the heavenly bodies are stated. Their function is as light bearers and to divide day from night. Also, to define the time-units “day,” “year,” and “seasons” and as signs pointing to particular happenings (e.g., Matt. 24:29 regarding the end times).
With the definition of day and year, mankind is given reproducible units. These enable us to quantify statements about the age of something, the distance by which two occurrences are separated in time, or the duration of a process. Thus the unit “day” is utilized to inform us of the duration of the work of creation: “
For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is” (Exod. 20:11).
So we should trust God’s Word, because “
God is not a man, that he should lie” (Num. 23:19). If God really took billions of years in order to create everything, why does He then tell us it was only a matter of days?
The word “day” occurs in the Bible 2,182 times4 and is used overwhelmingly in the literal sense. Just as in English, German, and many other languages, the word “day” (Hebrew yom) can have two meanings. The first is a time period of (roughly) 24 hours, which also includes the night. This is how calendar days are measured. The second meaning would be the daylight portion of a calendar day (e.g., Gen. 1:5, 8:22; Josh. 1:8). In the creation account, the words “day and night” (Gen. 1:5, 14–18) occur nine times in the sense of referring only to the light or dark portion of a normal 24-hour day.
In exceptional cases, which are always clearly identifiable by the context, “day” means not a physically or astronomically definable span of time, but specially designated occurrences such as “
the day of the Lord,” “
the day of Judgment,” and “
the day of Salvation.” In John 9:4, “
I must work the works of Him that sent me, while it is day; the night cometh, when no man can work,” the word “day” is immediately recognizable from the context as referring to a nonphysical timespan in which it is possible to work. In over 95 percent of cases, the word for day indicates 24 hours.
The word “day,” associated with a numeral, occurs in the Old Testament over 200 times. In all of these cases, a 24-hour day is indicated. At the end of the account concerning each of the six creation days, we read (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), “
And there was evening, and there was morning the first [to sixth] day.” So here we always have the grammatical construction “numeral in connection with day.”
The fact that each of the intervals of creation is bounded by “evening and morning” is a further indication that the creation days were ordinary 24-hour days. The word “evening” occurs 49 times and the word “morning” 187 times, always in the literal sense. If “day” were supposed to mean a long epoch of time, it would not be bounded by such precisely-named descriptions of times of day. The Old Testament consistently observes the same sequence of these times of day, i.e., evening followed by morning (e.g., Ps. 55:17; Dan. 8:14, 8:26). A new day starts with evening (sundown) and ends with the beginning of the evening on the following day. With this definition of a day, the sequential flow of these times of day is “evening-morning.” Thus, we read literally (Elberf. translation): “And it became evening, and it became morning: first day.”
The works of creation demonstrate the omnipotence of God and His mighty power (Rom. 1:20), the outworking of which is not tied to long periods of time. Throughout the Bible there are countless instances of acts of creation, which take place without any passage of time. The creation miracles of Jesus in the New Testament (wine at the wedding in Cana, loaves and fishes at the feeding of the 5,000) took place instantly. Psalm 33:9 also testifies to the rapid nature of God’s creative acts: “For He spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.” This is exactly the same impression conveyed by the creation account itself through the repeated use of the constructions: “And God said … and it was so.” “And God said … and God saw” (that which had just been created).
If we were to here arbitrarily insert the oft-cited millions of years, we would rob God of the honor which is His due. The total testimony of the Bible, in all manner of ways, is that of instant results in response to the commands of God. Whatever the situation, this principle is valid—a command of the Lord is sufficient, and spontaneously the created Word is fulfilled: the blind immediately see, the dumb instantly speak, the lame take up their bed and walk, lepers become clean, and the dead rise without delay.
The Bible emphatically testifies that man was not created over a long period of time, but on a very particular day: “
In the day, that God created Adam, He made him in the likeness of God; male and female He created them, and He blessed them and gave them the name ‘mankind,’ in the day, that they were created” (Gen. 5:1–2; Elberf. translation).
The question about the duration of the creation days arises frequently. I believe it can be shown from a biblical and scientific viewpoint that one can have full confidence in the biblical account of a creation in six ordinary days.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.