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Did the Genesis 1 ‘days’ vary in length?

Published: 1 August 2020 (GMT+10)
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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 $12.00
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The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
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Six-Day Creation
by Robert Gurney
US $8.00
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15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History
by Dr Don Batten, Dr Jonathan D Sarfati
US $3.50
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