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Why is CMI so dogmatic on 24-hour creation days?

Published: 11 October 2008 (GMT+10)
Photo by Luc Viatour, Wikimedia Commons Centurion

André of New South Wales asks about our alleged dogmatic insistence on 24-hour creation days. His questions are already answered in our articles and books, particularly Refuting Compromise (RC). But as André is a sincere inquirer who has supported this ministry, RC’s author, Dr Jonathan Sarfati, responds below.

I’ve read through your site many times and enjoy the articles.

Thank you.

One thing that is really bugging me is the dogmatic approach you are adopting towards the length of the creations days. Why MUST the day be 24 hours long?

Note that we use ‘24-hour day’ to mean a day of normal length. Today, 24 hours is the average ‘solar day’, or the time between two successive noons, where the sun is at its highest point in the sky. The sidereal day is the period of earth’s rotation about its axis, and is a bit shorter: 23 h 56 m 4.1’s. This is because the earth has moved around the sun by ~1/365.25, so must rotate a little more than a full rotation for the sun to reach its highest point.

I’ve read your article on this but it does not justify such an adamant stance. We know that Strong’s Concordance has many meanings for this word yom.

And we point out that the meanings can be determined by context.

You assume many things about what God would have or should have done regarding His wording if it was not 24 hours long,

No, our primary aim is to accept what He says, and build models consistent with this, and show problems with denying this. We don’t place any models on the same level as Scripture—see Hanging Loose : What should we defend?

but who knows the mind of God, or who can figure out His ways?

No one—except what He has revealed to us. That’s why He wrote Scripture, and why we should trust what He has revealed. As I say in RC about a similar argument:

The days were ‘God’s days’ not ‘man’s days’

Some critics claim that the Days of Creation Week were ‘God’s days’, and chide creationists for thinking that they are the same length as ‘man’s days’. So, despite the overwhelming evidence from the rest of Scripture that the context of Genesis 1 indicates ordinary-length days, they still assert that Creation Days are a special case, and so don’t have the normal meaning. [Hugh] Ross himself has made such a claim, which also impinges on the previous section (Creation and Time p. 45):

‘The same author of Genesis (Moses) wrote in Psalm 90:4, ‘For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch [4 hours] in the night.’

Moses seems to state that just as God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:9), God’s days are not our days.’

But God wrote the Bible to teach (2 Timothy 3:15–17), so He wrote to be understood. Scripture would have no ability to communicate if words didn’t mean the same to God and man. A reductio ad absurdum of this idea is to consider any other word in Scripture. Perhaps what God meant by ‘steal’ or ‘murder’ in the Decalogue isn’t what man means either? After all, this was a ‘special case’ where God wrote with His own finger. And since Jesus is God and He was in the grave for three days, were these days not literal either? This whole approach is existentialist nonsense.

Also, as mentioned, the point of Psalm 90:4 is that God is outside of time, so He doesn’t experience time as we do. So what is ‘God’s day’ supposed to mean? To take another example, 1 Kings 2:11:

‘And the time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.’

Did God experience the seven and 33 years in the same way David did? No! Were those still ordinary years? Yes!

Therefore, when He said ‘day’, in the context of Genesis, He meant day from our perspective, since we are the creatures in the created space-time dimension who experience time. He even told us that they were ordinary days by the comparison in Exodus 20:8–11 in the same Decalogue.

What about the meaning of the word ‘night’: ‘properly a twist (away of the light), that is, night; figuratively adversity:—([mid-]) night (season).’

What about it? The mention of night shows that the day-night cycle had already been instituted, so it is strong reinforcement for normal-length days.

Bishop Ussher mentions that in Hebrew the use of ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ can refer to seasons.

But this is not the usual meaning, especially when connected with the word ‘day’. That’s why Ussher had no doubt that the days were normal-length days. From RC:

Evening and morning (‘ereb and boqer ) plus yôm = 24-hour day

The two words, ‘evening’ (‘ereb ערב) and ‘morning’ (boqer בקר), are combined with יום (yôm) 19 times each outside of Genesis 1 (three times these words share the same reference―Numbers 9:15, Deuteronomy 16:4 and Daniel 8:26). Every time, they clearly mean that particular literal part of a 24-hour day, regardless of the literary genre or context. Also, even when ‘morning’ and ‘evening’ occur together without yôm (38 times outside of Genesis 1, including 25 in historical narrative), it always, without exception, designates a 24-hour day. All the instances of yôm in the Genesis 1 account are qualified by the statement ויהי ערב ויהי בקר (wayehî ‘ereb wayehi boqer)—‘and there was evening, and there was morning’, which by comparing with other Scripture, must denote a 24-hour day.

God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.’ Notice the ‘let the earth bring forth’, was all vegetation brought forth in 24 hours? Was ‘and it was so’ referring to the fact that ‘the earth did bring forth the vegetation in only 24 hours’, or is it rather referring to ‘it was so that the earth would do the actual bringing forth of the vegetation at normal biological speed’?

Indeed, Jesus as Creator gives us an indication of how God would have created in Genesis. A striking feature of His miracles was the speed. For example, He instantly turned water into wine, whereas fermentation normally takes months (of course, the miracle also required creation of new carbon atoms to form the other molecular components of wine, for example). The faithful centurion that Jesus commended understood this (Matthew 8:5–13):

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.’ Jesus said to him, ‘I will go and heal him.’ The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come”, and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’ … Then Jesus said to the centurion, ‘Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.’ And his servant was healed at that very hour.

As the centurion realized, even his own orders were obeyed immediately and without question. Therefore, he realized, how much more would the commands of the Lord of Creation be obeyed.

Genesis tells us that God spoke things into existence; God speaks and things happen. As it says in Psalm 33:9,

‘He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast.’
In Genesis, we likewise have with the days of creation:

  1. Command: ‘And God said, “Let there be … ’
  2. Fulfilment: ‘And it was so.’
  3. Assessment: ‘God saw that it was good.’
  4. Closure of the day: ‘There was evening, there was morning, Day X.’

That is, God’s commands were fulfilled and even assessed within each 24-hour day. Attempts to avoid the clear historical time frame of Genesis destroy the connection between God’s commands and the response of His creation to His commands, making Genesis inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, and with His revelation in Christ, the ‘exact representation of God’ (Hebrews 1:3).

So it’s no wonder that the early church taught that God created instantaneously—indeed, a burning question for them was why did God take so long (answer: to give a pattern for our week). As I wrote in RC:

Time for tree growth?

Genesis 2:9 says:

‘And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.’
Image Basil of Caesarea
Basil of Caesarea, otherwise known as Basil the Great

This doesn’t say that the trees needed time to grow. God is as capable of making trees grow at the same rate as He turned water into wine and multiplied the loaves and fishes―instantaneously. A number of the Church Fathers believed that God caused instantaneous growth, e.g. Basil the Great:

‘“Let the earth bring forth grass.” In a moment earth began by germination to obey the laws of the Creator, completed every stage of growth, and brought germs to perfection. …

‘At this command every copse was thickly planted; all the trees, fir, cedar, cypress, pine, rose to their greatest height, the shrubs were straightway clothed with thick foliage. The plants called crown-plants, roses, myrtles, laurels, did not exist; in one moment they came into being, each one with its distinctive peculiarities. Most marked differences separated them from other plants, and each one was distinguished by a character of its own. …

‘“Let the earth bring forth.” This short command was in a moment a vast nature, an elaborate system. Swifter than thought it produced the countless qualities of plants. It is this command which, still at this day, is imposed on the earth, and in the course of each year displays all the strength of its power to produce herbs, seeds and trees. Like tops, which after the first impulse, continue their evolutions, turning upon themselves when once fixed in their centre; thus nature, receiving the impulse of this first command, follows without interruption the course of ages, until the consummation of all things.’1

Actually there is nothing to suggest that the Hebrew can’t simply mean that the trees were created as growing, as long as they were still mature enough to produce seeds.

Thus theistic evolutionist and progressive creationists are painting a false picture of our infinite Creator, by having him as the author of a slow and gradual process with many false starts.

‘And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed in itself, after his kind’.

Could this narration be referring to what happened in the year(s)/season(s) that followed this particular ‘yom’?

No. As I said, all was fulfilled by the close of Day 3, so the cycle of life was ready to go.

What Hebrew language law requires that ‘yom’ MUST always refer to a 24-hour day? Surely these ‘yoms’ could be various lengths of time through the creation age? We know there are ages past and ages to come in God’s perfect plan.

We have explained that the word ‘yôm’ when referring to the creation days has a numeric and evening and morning, so must be ordinary days. We point out in 15 Reasons to Take Genesis as History:

The strongest structural parallel of Gen. 1 is Num. 7:10–84. Both are structured accounts, both contain the Hebrew word for day (yôm) with a numeric—indeed both are numbered sequences of days. In Num. 7, each of the 12 tribes brought an offering on the different days:

  • The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon, son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah. …
  • On the second day Nethanel son of Zuar, the leader of Issachar, brought his offering. …
  • On the third day, Eliab son of Helon, the leader of the people of Zebulun, brought his offering. …
  • On the twelfth day Ahira son of Enan, the leader of the people of Naphtali, brought his offering. …

The parallel is even stronger when we note that Num. 7 not only has each day (יום yôm) numbered, but also opens and closes (vs 10 and 84 NASB) with ‘in the day that’ to refer collectively to all the ordinary days of the sequence. In spite of the use of ‘in the day that’, no one doubts that the numbered day sequence in Num. 7 is anything but ordinary-length days, because these days lack a preposition like ‘in’. This refutes the claim by some critics that ‘in the day that’ (ביום beyôm2 ) in Gen. 2:4, summarizing Creation Week, shows that the Gen. 1 days are not normal-length. This is a Hebrew idiom for ‘when’ (see NASB, NIV Gen. 2:4).3

In this structured narrative (Num. 7) with a sequence of numbered days, no one claims that it is merely a poetic framework for teaching something theological and that it is not history. No one doubts that the days in Num. 7 are ordinary days, so there simply is no grammatical basis for denying the same for the Gen. 1 days. That is, Gen. 1 is straightforward history.

Hebrew scholars concur that Genesis was written as history. For example, the Oxford Hebrew scholar James Barr wrote:

‘ … probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:
  1. creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience
  2. the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
  3. Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.’4

Barr, consistent with his neo-orthodox views, does not believe Genesis, but he understood what the Hebrew writer clearly taught. Some sceptics criticize the use of the Barr quote, because he does not believe in the historicity of Genesis. That is precisely why we use his statement: he is a hostile witness. With no need to try to harmonize Genesis with anything, because he does not see it as carrying any authority, Barr is free to state the clear intention of the author. This contrasts with some ‘evangelical’ theologians who try to retain some sense of authority without actually believing it says anything about history.

Other Hebrew scholars who support literal creation days include:

  • Dr Andrew Steinmann, Associate Professor of Theology and Hebrew at Concordia University in Illinois.5
  • Dr Robert McCabe, Professor of Old Testament at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, MI.
  • Dr Ting Wang, lecturer in biblical Hebrew at Stanford University.6

Why does God say, ‘And coming is it to be evening and coming to be morning, day one’, then, ‘And coming is it to be evening and coming to be morning, the second day’, third day, etc, etc in the literal translation. Why ‘day one’, then ‘second day’, ‘third day’, etc?

Good pickup about the cardinal (Day One) followed by the ordinals (2nd, 3rd) We have a detailed article on this, The numbering pattern of Genesis: Does it mean the days are non-literal?.

If there is no Hebrew language law for yom only referring to a 24 hour day, and these words can have other meanings, why the insistence of six 24-hr days?

We don’t claim that yôm can refer only to a 24-hour day, but that the context of the Creation Week in Genesis 1 demands it, as does the Fourth Commandment of Exodus 20:8–11 that is based on Creation Week, and that this is reinforced by the sequence of numbered days in Numbers 7.

After some interaction with my colleague Andrew Lamb, André continued

Thank you for your reply. I have re-read the articles you gave me in the links, however my opinion is still the same.

Firstly, I am not a theistic evolutionist, and have in the past been a financial supporter of CMI for a few years.

Thank you. We very much appreciate any financial support; this enables our further outreach.

Secondly, I feel this insistence on a literal 24 hour creation day is out of fear of approving or supporting of the ‘evolutionary timeframe’, and hence giving the argument for biological evolution credit. In my opinion this fear is unfounded, as empirical science has destroyed the argument for biological evolution.

As RC points out:

‘Fear of the Millions’

[Hugh] Ross claims that a main motivation of those opposing billions of years is fear that it would make evolution possible, hence the above subheading in The Genesis Question p. 92. As usual, Ross’s claim betrays a willing ignorance of creationist literature as well as ignorance of evolution/variation, as shown above. Many years before Ross wrote any of his books, leading creationists like Dr Duane Gish made it very clear that they believed the earth was only thousands of years old, on both biblical and scientific grounds. But Gish also strongly pointed out that evolution would be impossible even if billions of years were granted, e.g.:

‘Therefore, whether the earth is ten thousand, ten million, or ten billion years old, the fossil record does not support the general theory of evolution.’ 7

‘Considering an enzyme, then, of 100 amino acids, there would be no possibility whatever that a single molecule could have arisen by pure chance on earth in five billion years.’8

Further, the information-losing processes that creationists have repeatedly shown to characterize the inherited changes in living things would make things worse for evolution, not better, if more time were available. The accumulation of mutational copying errors, and the culling of information by natural selection, leads populations ever closer to extinction, not to uphill evolution. So if we are promoting matters that logically imply that vast ages are the enemy of evolution, how can we be said to be afraid of billions of years because they aid evolution?

I have a few questions:

1) If the age of the earth is really about 6 thousand yeas old, then all the scientific dating methods are wrong, and those scientists have wasted their time and money.

Who says it’s their money? Much evolutionary research is performed using money coerced from taxpayers. Note also, as above: long ages are certainly not sufficient for evolution, but they are necessary. And without evolution, it would be impossible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist (Dawkins).

What scientific dating methods do YEC scientists use to date the age of the earth and universe, and what are their results? Are their results congruent?

See Q&A young-earth evidence. Some notable ones are C-14 in diamonds, helium in zircons, and blood vessels and cells in dino bones. And remember that age cannot be measured.

We also noted the incongruence of evolutionary radiometric dates, e.g. from Refuting Evolution:

Another problem is the conflicting dates between different methods. If two methods disagree, then at least one of them must be wrong. For example, in Australia, some wood was buried by a basalt lava flow, as can be seen from the charring. The wood was ‘dated’ by radiocarbon (14C) analysis at about 45,000 years old, but the basalt was ‘dated’ by the K-Ar method at 45 million years old!9 Other fossil wood from Upper Permian rock layers has been found with 14 C still present. Detectable 14 C would have all disintegrated if the wood were really older than 50,000 years, let alone the 250 million years that evolutionists assign to these Upper Permian rock layers.10

2) If the creations days are so obviously 24 hours long, why then the need for God to use ‘and it became evening and it became morning’? It should go without saying.

It is this ‘and it became evening and it became morning’ that stresses the point and makes it incontrovertible.

3) We have the very first definition of what a literal day is in Genesis 1:5.

Interesting that the Hebrew-Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament by Koehler and Baumgartner indicates Gen 1:5 (And the evening and the morning were the first day) as a ‘day of twenty-four hours’.

God called the light ‘day’ [yom], hence a literal day [yom] is the light, therefore light=day. God called the dark 12 hours night.

That’s another meaning of ‘day’, just as in English, as CMI has long pointed out.

Dark=night can be concluded from this. Therefore a literal day according to God is not 24 hours, but 12 hours. We have a second scriptural witness to this: John 11:9, Jesus asks’ ‘Are there not twelve hours in a day?’ Implying that, yes there are only twelve hours in a literal day, the part that is the light. The Father and His Son are in agreement on this definition of a literal day. So according to CMI’s insistence on God creating in 6 24-hour ‘literal’ days, God actually created in 12 hours, while it was light, no creating was done while it was dark. No creating was done for the entire duration of the 24 hours for each of the 6 days. God only created for 12 hours/day. Does CMI agree with this 12 hours/day creating?

CMI has never disputed that ‘day’ can mean the daylight hours. It wouldn’t affect the time frame at all, so what’s the deal? We still maintain, following Ex. 20:8–11, that God’s creative acts spanned Creation Week of 6x24hr periods. We are not dogmatic about whether God created during the light portions of those 24-hour days, since this is not a question at dispute when it comes to age.

4) There is no mention of ‘and it became evening, and it became morning’, for the seventh day, why?

As explained in RC:

Does the seventh day continue?

Ross claims (C&T:48–49):

‘Of the first six creation days Moses wrote: “There was evening, and there was morning, the Xth day [not exactly so, as shown in RC pp. 76–78 [and as discussed above]].” This wording indicates that each of the first six creation days had a beginning and an ending. However, no such wording is attached to the seventh creation day, neither in Genesis 1–2 nor anywhere else in the Bible. Given the parallel structure marking this distinct change in form for the seventh day strongly suggests that this day has (or had) not yet ended.’

However, the evening and morning mark the beginning and end of a day respectively. So if Ross thinks the absence of both means the seventh day has not ended, to be consistent, it would follow that the seventh day had not begun either!11

In any case, from his above tenuous thread, Ross hangs the conclusion that the other Creation Days could be long ages. However, systematic theologian Dr Douglas Kelly responded to Ross’s argument as follows (Creation and Change:111):

‘To say the least, this places a great deal of theological weight on a very narrow and thin exegetical bridge! Is it not more concordant with the patent sense of the context of Genesis 2 (and Exodus 20) to infer that because the Sabbath differed in quality (though not—from anything we can learn out of the text itself—in quantity), a slightly different concluding formula was appended to indicate a qualitative difference (six days involved work; one day involved rest)? The formula employed to show the termination of that first sabbath: “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made” (Gen. 2:2) seems just as definite as that of “and the evening and the morning were the first day”.’

Another possible reason for leaving off the refrain about evening and morning was to further emphasize that God’s creation work was completed, as Genesis 2:1-3 says so clearly. Certainly, John 5:17 says, ‘But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I am working.”’ But in context Jesus is referring to God’s providential and redemptive work, not creative work. The Father still works, but He is not creating, in the Genesis 1 sense of the word. He is resting from all that He made.

Ross also argues that Hebrews 4:1–11 teaches ‘that the seventh creation day began after the creation of Adam and Eve, continues through the present, and extends into the future’ (The Genesis Question p. 64). … Hebrews 4 never says that the seventh day of creation is continuing to the present; it merely says that God’s rest is continuing. If someone says on Monday that he rested on Saturday and is still resting, it in no way implies that Saturday lasted until Monday.12 Kulikovsky carefully analyzes the grammar of Hebrews 4 and concludes:

‘The “rest” of Hebrews 4 clearly refers to the Kingdom of God. This type of rest was alluded to right back at the time of creation, as well as at the time of the Exodus. Nowhere in the text is it equated with the seventh day of creation, nor is there any grammatical or contextual data suggesting any such equation. Thus, the progressive creationists’ claim that the seventh day of creation is still continuing is without any exegetical foundation whatsoever, making it a worthless argument for non-literal creation days.’13

Your statement:

‘If the days of Genesis were long ages, then the sequence of events related in Genesis must be wrong, because many plants, created on Day 3, cannot reproduce without insects to pollinate them, and insects were not created until a few days later.’

Since the main debate is over thousands v billions, it is reasonable to point out that plants could not have survived without the sun or insects for millions of years.

The ‘days’ could very well be various lengths of time. In Genesis 1:11 it states, ‘And God said, Let grass come up [sprout] on the earth, and plants producing seed, and fruit-trees giving fruit, in which is their seed, after their sort: and it was so.’ Here we clearly see that there were already seeds in the vegetation, no pollination was required to get the vegetation reproducing initially, therefore the later part of ‘day’ 3 could be only several years long.

But why would one want this? It is not taught in the text, and in any case won’t impress those who believe in billions of years.

If we are to get real science and God’s creation to fit, we have to accept that the vegetation grew at its natural biological pace and through its natural biological processes, just as what occurs today.

Why must we restrict God to using the processes by which He now upholds His creation? This is assuming uniformitarianism and naturalism, whereas He has told us that He created rapidly by miraculous processes. See also Naturalism, Origins and Operational Science and Miracles and science.

After all, it was the earth [ground] that God commanded to sprout forth seed bearing vegetation, this is exactly what we observe with empirical science today, unlike biological evolution. We cannot get around this, the vegetation was only sprouting, and was sprouting out of the ground, the ground brought it forth.

Yes, instantaneously on God’s command.14

How can the ground sprout forth vegetation and fruit trees bearing fruit in just 24 hours?

Because God said ‘let this be done’? How did Jesus turn water into wine instantaneously?




Jonathan Sarfati

Update: see feedback on this article.


  1. Basil, Hexaëmeron 5:5,6,10, AD 370, . Return to text.
  2. Actually, in Numbers 7, the phrase is bayyôm, where the ‘a’ represents the definite article, ‘the’, meaning ‘on the day [xth]’, unlike beyôm, which lacks the article. Return to text.
  3. McCabe, R.V., A defense of literal days in the Creation Week, Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 5:97–123, Fall 2000. Return to text.
  4. Barr, J., Letter to David C.C. Watson, 23 April 1984. Return to text.
  5. Steinmann, A., אחד as an ordinal number and the meaning of Genesis 1:5, JETS 45(4):577–584, December 2002. Return to text.
  6. Sarfati, J., Hebrew scholar affirms that Genesis means what it says! Interview with Dr Ting Wang, Lecturer in Biblical Hebrew, Creation 27(4):48–51, 2005; . Return to text.
  7. Gish, D.T., Evolution: The Fossils Say No! Creation-Life Publishers, San Diego, CA, 2nd ed., p. 43, 1973. This book has been superseded by Evolution: The fossils STILL say NO!, Institute for Creation Research, El Cajon, CA, USA, 1995, but the 1973 book shows that Ross’s claim has no basis whatever. Return to text.
  8. Gish, D.T., The origin of life: theories on the origin of biological order, ICR Impact 37:iii, 1976. Return to text.
  9. Snelling, A.A., Radioactive ‘dating’ in conflict! Creation 20(1):24–27, December 1997–February 1998. Return to text.
  10. Snelling, A.A., Stumping old-age dogma, Creation 20(4):48–50, September–November 1998. Return to text.
  11. Maniguet, M., The Theological Method of Hugh Ross: An analysis and critique, M.Th. Thesis, Systematic Theology, p. 22, Baptist Bible Seminary, Clarks Summit, PA, May 2002. Return to text.
  12. Anon (based on research by Mike Kruger), Is the seventh day an eternal day? Creation 21(3):44–45, 1999. Return to text.
  13. Kulikovsky, A.S., God’s Rest in Hebrews 4:1–11, J. Creation 13(2): 61–62, 1999. Return to text.
  14. But see also Kruger, M.J., An understanding of Genesis 2:5, J. Creation 11(1):106–110, 1997. Return to text.