Were the Days of Creation 24 Hours Long? An In-Depth Look at Genesis 1

were-the-days-of-creation-24-hours-long

Introduction:

The age of the earth, or more specifically how the findings of modern science relate to Genesis 1, remains a heated topic. Sadly, many believers who together affirm the core doctrines of the Christian faith, including the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture, have fiercely divided over this issue.  Accusations often fly both ways: old-earthers get blamed as “compromising liberals” while young-earthers get dismissed as “backward-thinking ignoramuses.” At times, the discussions aren’t pretty.

My heart in writing this series of articles is not to add more fuel to this fire. Rather, I want to provide tools to help explore and discuss these matters with greater understanding. I am not a scientist, nor the son of a scientist. My training is in biblical studies. Therefore, I am not going to engage with this on a scientific level but rather an exegetical one.

My primary desire in all of this is not simply to advocate for a particular view but to help us as the church hear the message God gave Moses in Genesis 1-2. Before we press this passage to give us an answer on this debate or approach it with the goal of proving a particular stance, we first need to sit under it—open and observant to what God wants to say to us through Moses. We need to follow the text’s cues and emphasis, allowing them to dictate how we understand the days of creation.

Were the Days of Creation 24 Hours?

And as we work through Genesis 1, I think we will be able to walk away with some resolve—at least to the question: Did Moses intend for his audience to read the days of creation as 24-hour periods of time? 

Personally, I do not think he had 24-hour days in mind. I find that insisting on a 24-hour-day interpretation is to go beyond what Moses presents us with in the text.

If this seems new or surprising to you, I invite you to follow along with me in this series of articles. Even if you remain convinced of the 24-hour interpretation, I believe you will still find this series beneficial for two reasons. First, I think it will enrich your personal engagement with Genesis 1-2, at least this has been the case for me as I have worked through this material. Second, it will help you better understand why some believers who deeply value Scripture and desire to submit to it as God’s Word are led to an old earth interpretation.

And if you are a fellow old-earther but have only vaguely explored this on a biblical level, I think this series will give you greater clarity and help you better articulate this view in discussions with others.  

Regardless of how you enter into this study, my prayer is that it will lead you to love, worship, and delight in our Creator like never before.

Go Deeper

9 Comments

  1. Robert G Cleveland on June 17, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Genesis 1:5: “God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night”. And there was an evening, and there was a morning — the first day”.

    The verses immediately following make similar references, using the word “day”. Since God is not the author of confusion, I conclude the word refers to a 24 hour period.

    • Rick Hipp on June 18, 2021 at 9:59 pm

      Robert, I personally believe the same as you. Nothing is impossible with our God.
      I also believe, tho not my own original thinking but another’s, that when God told Moses ‘I’ll let you see my hind parts but not my front parts’ He was not referring to anatomy but to past & future time from Moses point in time. After the time that he was upon the mountain of God, he wrote Genesis from the 1st person point of view just as he had physically/visibly seen it all happen just as John SAW and wrote in Revelations.
      I have no problem with 24 hour days or 6 days of Creation. God could have created in 6 hours, seconds, etc if He so desired.
      Scientist in our time update their own mistakes constantly & quietly. They have in their minds that man in those days did not know how to do anything so he must have been just a little smarter than the animals.

    • Ms Ava on June 18, 2021 at 10:07 pm

      THINK About It: How could Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 be 24 Hour days when the Sun did not exist until Day 4? 🤔

    • John Ankerberg Show Staff on June 21, 2021 at 10:39 am

      Thanks for your comment, Robert! The 24-hour day interpretation has some strong arguments as you mention. However, there are a lot of details in the text that need to be followed to grasp what Moses is intending to communicate.

      As 21st century English speakers, we need to remember that we come to the text with a different set of assumptions and literary expectations. We engage with a translation. This means that our words do not always carry the same range of meaning as the words originally written. Our syntax follows different patterns and sometimes elements emphasized in one language cannot be perfectly depicted in another. Our mental frameworks and cultural setting are also very different than what was held by Moses and the Israelites thousands of years ago. We face different competing creation myths or theories of how life began. The list could go on.

      Now, by no means does this mean that we cannot understand what the author is communicating. It just means we need to be patient and all the more careful as we follow the text and consider what it meant within its original context. Once we grasp this, we can then reflect on the significance it continues to have for us today.

      With that said, stay tuned with this series as we will dive into this with much greater detail. Space here does not allow for an adequate response. But in the articles which follow, I hope to outline the exegetical considerations that have led me to an old-earth interpretation.

      And lastly, I think it may be helpful to comment on your mention of 1 Corinthians 14:33, “God is not the author of confusion” (KJV ) or as the NASB similarly puts it, “for God is not a God of confusion” (NASB – italics being original to the translation signifying that they added these words due to the requirements of English. Here is a little example of the complexities involved in translation.).

      Quite ironically, I think the translations above are themselves confusing. As a result, this verse is often misapplied to other contexts. Let me explain. The original word Paul uses for “confusion” is not primarily related to mental confusion or misunderstanding – as we most naturally read it in the translations above. Rather, the word depicts instability, disorder, disturbance, commotion, upheaval. Look at how it is used the 4 other times it occurs in the New Testament. I will mark in {} where this word is used.

      Luke 21:9

      “And when you hear of wars and {revolts}, do not be alarmed; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately” (these are all from the NASB).

      2 Corinthians 6:5

      “4 but in everything commending ourselves as servants of God, in much endurance, in afflictions, in hardships, in difficulties, 5 in beatings, in imprisonments, in {mob attacks}, in labors, in sleeplessness, in hunger”

      2 Corinthians 12:20

      “For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish, and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps there will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, selfishness, slanders, gossip, arrogance, {disturbances}”

      James 3:16

      For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is {disorder} and every evil thing.

      As you can see, the “confusion” in 1 Corinthians 14:33 does not pertain to misunderstanding but rather to disorder, commotion, upheaval. Paul goes on to present the opposite of this word as “peace” (rather than something like knowledge). In light of this, more recent translations (like the NIV, NLT, CSB) are beginning to use the word “disorder” rather than “confusion.” I think this is a more helpful translation.

      Along with clarifying what the original word for “confusion” conveys, consider Jesus’ teaching and ministry. He was repeatedly misunderstood. Many were confused about who He was and what He was up to. Jesus was misunderstood not only by the Pharisees, who also failed to grasp the heart of the law and the prophecies about their Messiah, but even by His closest disciples while He was with them on earth.

      Another example that comes to mind is Matthew 13:10-17. Here Jesus tells His disciples that the whole reason He taught in parables was so that people would hear but not understand – a judgment like the one pronounced in Isaiah 6. Not everything God says or does is without confusion.

      Even in our own experience, not every passage of Scripture is immediately understandable. The Bible never implies that it will always be perfectly understood. The Bible contains many perplexing sections that continue to be debated by those who care deeply about faithfully following what it says. We are edified as we allow these discussions to draw us deeper into the text. As we do so, we discover more of God’s heart, character, and glory and learn His will for our lives. My prayer is that this will be the case with this series.

  2. Dale Cummings on June 18, 2021 at 10:04 pm

    According to Gessenius, when the word “the” is preceded by the noun “Yom” -“day” one must oblige the 24 hour day. It is to be taken as a literal 24 hour period. As a geologist, I have concerns; as a Hebrew grammarian, I have no concerns. The 24 hour period is to be taken literal; if not, how does one debate the Sabbath?

    The laws of hermeneutics and exegesis still apply.( Cf. H. Morris’ “The Genesis Flood”). Dale Cummings

  3. Mark Sudwischer on June 19, 2021 at 10:29 am

    While I understand that confusion Reigns in these Bible translations all mighty God is capable perfectly capable of doing it either way and maybe this is one thing I’ll have to wait till I see him and ask him I personally believe that God did a God thing in seven literal 24 hour days just to let us know who he is

  4. Nancy on June 19, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    2 Peter 3:8

    8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day

    Could there have been “a thousand years” from one “day” to the next….?

  5. Margaret Ellen Meerabux on June 19, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    Whenever the word day with a number before it is used in the O.T. it always refers to a twenty-four hour day. This does not exclude an old earth. For this refer to Ariel’s Bible Commentary, The Book of Genesis by Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum Th.M, Ph.D., and the relevant information is in the Prologue, Introductory Material, The Views of Genesis 1:1-3 Verse one is an independent narrative sentence describing the original perfect creation out of nothing. Reasons are given. Between v. 1 and 2, there is a gap of time in which Satan and other angels fell, resulting in divine judgement of the earth. V. 2 is an independent narrative sentence which describes the earth that resulted from the fall of Satan. Reasons are given. V. 3 is an independent narrative sentence describing the first step of the reconstruction and the reformation of a judged earth. The six days of creation begin with verse 3. Verses 1 and 2 are not part of the first day of creation; verse 3 describes the first day of creation.

  6. M. L. Tucker on June 21, 2021 at 10:20 am

    To quote Dr. James Barr, Oriel Professor of the interpretation of the Holy Scripture, Oxford University, England, in a letter to David C.C. Watson, 23 April 1984. Barr (consistent with his neo-orthodox views, does not believe Genesis):
    “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 Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:

    (A) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience

    (B) 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

    (C) Noah’s flood was understood to be world-wide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark.

    Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the “days” of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological, and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know”

    Obviously, he believed this is what Moses intended to convey to his readers.

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