Does “day” mean a 24 hour period or ages?
5 God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning —the first day. Genesis 1:5 NIV
Today, when someone thinks of a day it normally consists of 12am to 11:59pm as a day. Many people keep up with their days by their jobs. They know when they go to bed at night they will wake up to a new morning or day. This word seems so simple, yet so many people begin to confuse its meaning when they begin to study the Bible. How hard is it to understand the word “day”? You almost need a Theologian to get the wrong meaning from the word. I will go over some of the stances of my sources and what they have to say about the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1:5, while also capping it up with what I believe about the topic as well. There is nothing about the word to give the impression of the wrong message. As I began to read Genesis 1:5, I kept in mind this simple meaning of the word “day”. Just to make sure that I understood exactly what was being referred to as a day I looked into a few resources to guide me.
My first resource of the topic was an interesting scholarly book called Across the Spectrum by Gregory Boyd and Paul Eddy. There is a whole section and chapter that were dedicated to this very subject. Because this book was based on many of the issues in today’s Evangelical theological debates, it included the debate over the word “day” as it is used in Genesis 1. On page 71 Mr. Boyd goes on to explain “There are at least a dozen theories concerning the nature of “days” in Genesis 1”. All, but one compromise what the Bible has to say about how the earth was created and became what it is today. Many believe Theological principles which were added and not discussed in the book of Genesis. The book continues on to explain that there should only be one proper answer to this debate. That is that the Bible’s definition of day in Genesis 1 was actually a physical day, not age or gap as many have been led to think.
The second resource was edited by one of my favorite authors, Mr. Walter Elwell. It is the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. It is amazing to see all of man’s explanations and definitions of the word “day” in Genesis 1, but Mr. Elwell believes there is only one answer to this question. That is that the word was referring to an actual 24 hour period. He defines it by its natural meaning through hours of daylight such as, “ Any given day between dawn and dusk”(p.24). From dawn until dusk was what Jews considered a full day. It was a 24 hour period just like ours. Today, we just list our day markers by the 12’s on the clock. Every time the hour hand passes 12, it has been 12 hours. What that results in is when the hour hand hits 12 twice, it has been a day. This time strategy was not needed for the Jews during this time period because they had consistent daylight hours, but for someone who lives in upper Alaska, the new method of marking days is better. It’s still the same period of hours, but different markers for hours. This way it never changes and leaves no room for error. Therefore Mr. Elwell explains the “day” referred to in Genesis as an actual 24 hour day.
The last two resources I looked to was actually to seek the definition of the word “day” as it was used in Genesis 1:5. Sometimes the best way to understand something is to actually reflect on what its purpose is and what it really means. It’s hard to do this without first understanding where it came from and context it is in. To do this I found myself going into the Bible’s original language that it was translated from while also finding out the definition of the word as it is used today. Britannica defines day as this, “day, time required for a celestial body to turn once on its axis; especially the period of the Earth’s rotation.” This is exactly how we define “day” into today’s terms. This has always been an actual 24 hour period of time. History shows that this rotation of the earth remains the same and hasn’t changed. After seeing this I wanted to know what term the original language of the Bible used for “day” also. My concordance defined the “day” in Genesis 1:5 as, “ yom, day (24 hours), daytime. Therefore, the word used for “day” in Genesis 1:5 is a literal 24 hour day.
Even before reviewing these resources I already had made my mind up regarding this question. I believe that the word of God is inerrant and therefore never changing or altering the truth. This is also a topic that I have had to debate amongst the Muslim community in the prison system where I work as well as the Atheist inmates. Once it was found out that my personal religion was Christianity they began to debate with me over this subject. It’s hard to argue with the truth, especially when you have definitions and resources to back you. No one can deny that the definition for the word “day” as used in Genesis 1:5 is not what is defined in this scholarly resources. These are actual definitions of the word “yom” in Hebrew which describes a 24 hour period of time. If they deny this then they are just making an uneducated guess. For me, there is no debate here. It’s purely just fact that you have to know how to point out. We may not always have the answers as Christians to prove our faith on the tips of our tongues, but we do have resources to help guide us along. How effective we are at reaching out to others will be measure by how well we can prove our own faith to ourselves. It’s hard to remember your faith in God is real if you never reflect on why it is relevant today. The authority and authorship of our Holy Bible is impossible to duplicate or create.
Boyd, Gregory A. & Paul R. Eddy. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. 2d ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009.
Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 17 Feb. 2012.
Elwell, Walter A. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Second Edition. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 2001. Baker Academic.
Goodrick, Edward W., and John R. Kohlenberger. The Strongest NIV Exhaustive Concordance. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.