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Did the Genesis 1 ‘days’ vary in length?

Published: 1 August 2020 (GMT+10)

D.J. from the United States writes:

I just listened to the creation video discussing the word day. I can understand the context argument if we add that God created the earth with age, much like the creation of Adam. But, you can’t simply add that day mean 24 hours given the fact that the sun and moon were created in day 4. Remove the moon and the earth spins every 6hrs. Remove both and the rotation could be … eons? Chapter 2 in the day the Lord created …

My point is the rotation of the earth does not have to be restricted to a relative time table to be faithful to the text. Second, the earth indicates some level of age, whether hrs or ions—Yosemite Valley, Yellowstone. Both can reflect God in creation.

It has always seemed like the 24hr day forces an unnecessary issue.

CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:

Dear D.,

Thanks for writing in.

Let’s say that we grant that, absent the Sun and Moon, the first three day-night cycles of ‘Creation Week’ can be of any duration we like. That still doesn’t help reconcile the Bible and the mainstream ‘billions of years’ scheme. So many people make the mistake that the absolute age of the Earth and/or universe are the only conflicts we need to be concerned about between the Bible and the mainstream ‘billions of years’ scheme. They are not.

For instance, the biblical account of Creation still has plants (Day 3), the sea (Day 2), and the earth (Day 1) created before the sun (Day 4), according to Genesis 1. Moreover, to be compatible with the absolute timescale of the billions of years schema, your idea would imply that there were only (a maximum of) six rotations of the Earth on its axis in an absolute timescale equivalent to billions of our years. But that conflicts with deep time, since they believe the Earth has indeed revolved around the Sun billions of times, and that it has rotated fully on its axis more than a trillion times. And these are just two of the many reasons why the Bible and the mainstream ‘billions of years’ scheme are incompatible.

But maybe you’re not concerned about reconciling the Bible and the whole deep time schema. Maybe it is just the absolute ages that bothers you. If so, then you must still admit that, even if your project succeeds, the Bible remains hopelessly at odds with ‘mainstream science’. Such a picture is nothing like the one long-agers paint, even if it is identical in duration.

But there’s another problem: there are good reasons to be skeptical that the Genesis ‘days’ were any longer than ordinary days. For instance, the ‘light’ and ‘darkness’ on Day 1 were called ‘day’ and ‘night’, and together constituted one day. Those terms were understandable to the audience, and the timeframes implicit in them would not have been construed as anything substantially different from the day-night cycles they experience.

Moreover, Exodus 20:8–11 emphasizes that Israel’s work week is identical in timespan to God’s work week. Indeed, it was deemed so important for Israel to copy God’s work week that dishonouring the Sabbath was a capital offence (Exodus 31:15). And even if we say Genesis 1 pictures God as a workman to represent His creative work in a way that was easy to understand for Israel, that doesn’t change the fact they were commanded to copy God’s timeframe for working in Exodus 20:8–11 (Ancient cosmology and the timescale of Genesis 1). We can’t copy a person if they’ve never done what we’re supposed to copy. Thus, God did indeed create in the space of six ordinary (i.e. 24-hour) days.

One of the stranger things about this is that there is no reason from the text to expect that the first three Creation days were any different in duration than the last three. The Sun and Moon being made on Day 4 is no reason. As your comment demonstrates, it’s only through an illicit imposition of modern science onto a text that’s clearly describing a series of miracles that we can even think that this is of any relevance. Is physics the final determinant of how fast the Earth spins on its axis, especially during Creation Week? Of course not. God doesn’t need the Sun and Moon to make three day-night cycles correspond in duration to the ordinary 24-hour days we’re all familiar with. God, and not the sun and moon, is the supreme Lord of the day and night.

For more information, please see Genesis 1: YÔM ≠ eon, How long were the days of Genesis 1?, The meaning of yôm in Genesis 1:1–2:4, and our resource Refuting Compromise. On ‘apparent age’, please see God created with functional maturity, not ‘appearance of age’.

Kind regards,
Shaun Doyle
Creation Ministries International

Helpful Resources

Refuting Compromise, updated & expanded
by Dr Jonathan Sarfati
US $17.00
Soft Cover
The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
Hard Cover
Six-Day Creation
by Robert Gurney
US $6.00
Soft Cover
15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50
Soft Cover

Readers’ comments

Grahame G.
In response to Dave G. who says "The first mention of duration signals is on day 4. Therefore there was no signaling of days passing prior to that."

What about light? So God was lying when He said time was passing with night and day, darkness and light, evening and morning?

What astoundingly foolish thinking. God says time is passing in numerous ways. You reject that and demand that there be physical signals, like an atheist would. Pagan thinking!

What utter disrespect to God's word.
Rod T.
I believe in six day creation
The land and sea were separated in one day but it took 150 or so days for the flood to disperse...
What do you suggest I read to explain this
Rod T.
Shaun Doyle
I suggest reading How do miracles happen? and ‘Natural law’ in the Creation Week? for a framework to understand this question. Fundamentally, I'd suggest that looking for a natural cause-and-effect narrative for how the land appeared on Day 3 is a mistake. I do however think that it was a process that may have left behind physical traces that we can investigate, and perhaps we can even use such traces to characterize some of the events and sequences of what happened. But it was a global-scale miracle during the Creation Week, in which we would expect miracles to be commonplace. Our ability to characterize the sequence of events that took place to produce the land above the sea is probably always going to be incomplete.

In Noah's Flood, however, I would suggest that the receding of the Flood waters from the continents was the natural consequence of other actions God took during the Flood, like how water flow from a dam spillway occurs according to natural law, but results from an intelligent imposition of special conditions for the system. See also The Flood—a designed catastrophe?
Pratha S.
The Bible is clear -- God created everything in 6 days. We ALL know what 'a day' is -- a 24-hour period. Even children know what 'a day' is.If children know what a day is,then surely adults do -- or SHOULD know! The problem, as it's ALWAYS been, is NOT God's Word -- it's that people don't want to believe it! The earth has ALWAYS taken 24 hours to revolve around the sun -- that has NEVER changed! A lot of people too want to try to 'figure it all out' -- and can't! There's always something they miss or just may not know of. It's simple -- just go by God's Word! After all,that's what God will go by -- His Word! Remember -- it's not God that has a 'communication problem' -- people do! They just can't or don't want to believe God's Word! Man doesn't have all the answers -- but God does! As I said, it's simple -- just BELIEVE God's Word! That's what God will go by -- and we should too!
Joseph H.
It is interesting that i had never really given that any thought, the fact that Israel’s work week is identical in timespan to God’s work week. They would rest on the Sabbath. To me this is more then enough proof that it was a literal work week of 6 24 hour days, with 1 days rest, even making it one of the 10 commandments. I gather that the gentiles were not under Mosaic law, and this why we do not follow the Sabbath today, and the fact that Jesus died on the cross, releasing us from this, but i still wonder how the sabbath fits into todays world, even for Jewish people, we changed calendars and as such do not really follow it anymore.
Clive W.
The idea of 'days' being when God worked is at the heart of there being 'days' like our days. Identical. God shows that days are for our occupation as stewards of the creation to be actively involved with the creation...as God was actively involved in creating the creation. As Shaun says, the point of Sabbath and its importance is that it reflects the way the world was created and keeps us in step with God who created in 6 days and withdrew from creation on d7. So the Israelites were to confirm the covenent that bound them to God's love by work in the creation for 6 days and withdraw to God's rest (by worship of him) for the Sabbath.
David G.
The first mention of duration signals is on day 4. Therefore there was no signaling of days passing prior to that.
The days are calibrated as 'evening and morning' type days, so varying lighting conditions or earth spin are irrelevant. The calibration has established what sort of days are being talked about. The same as those we experience.
There is a very important theological point to this. God acting in our time denominated finitude puts him in our 'life-world'. He is not the deist or pagan god: distant, inaccessible, not relatable; but he is God who is directly active in his creation. He demonstrates that the creation is the place of real fellowship as God acts in the same time bounds that we are constrained by. The 'days' are not decoration or arbitrary or to give a backward justification for the Sabbath, they are the great declaration of God's being in real fellowship with those he made in his image and he is present in his infinitude in the place of our finitude showing the reality of fellowship and the accessibility of God to his creation.
Shaun Doyle
Please see Evenings and mornings.
Lassi P.
I think it is one thing to remove the sun and moon now, and a different thing to not have the sun and moon in the first few days. I'm not a theoretical physicist, so perhaps I'm just being ignorant, but it at least appears different to me.
It by the way seems quite obvious that D.J. hasn't followed the feedback rules. Why nobody seems to follow them?
Grahame G.
Excellent answer, Shaun. There is no indication in the text that God is using words differently for the first three days to the second set of three days, in fact, the opposite.

God defines the word "day" on Day One. God is quite specific about each day having an evening and morning (which seems to clearly be synonymous with the darkness ("Night") and light ("Day") portion of each day). Yes, there are two definitions of the word "day" there, but you can handle it in English every day, so you'll survive.

Then Exodus 20:11 commands a six day working week for the Israelites based on God's six day working week.

There is zero reason to see "day" as having different meanings on different days, except a commitment to trying to impose anti-biblical views of origins on the text of scripture.

Martin Luther: “When Moses writes that God created heaven and earth and whatever is in them in six days, then let this period continue to have been six days, and do not venture to devise any comment according to which six days were one day [or any other contortion of the plain meaning of the text]. But if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are. For you are to deal with Scripture in such a way that you bear in mind that God Himself says what is written. But since God is speaking, it is not fitting for you wantonly to turn His Word in the direction you wish to go.”

Note "But if you cannot understand how this could have been done in six days, then grant the Holy Spirit the honor of being more learned than you are."

Source: https://creation.com/luther-on-creation-days

As with all contention regarding scripture, the issue is humility. Will we submit to God's word, or rebel against it?

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