It is popular today to say that the day in Genesis 1 (1:1 – 2:4) can mean an indefinite period of time. But what do you find if you do a word study of this Hebrew word for day?
Day in Genesis
The Hebrew word for day is yom. It comes from an unused root meaning to be hot.
This word occurs 2,287 times in 1,931 verses in the King James Version. The Blue Letter Bible broke this down by book of the Bible so I reviewed it to see where it was most popular. Many of the historical and prophetic books had on average more than two verses per chapter, for example, Deuteronomy (146), Genesis (139), 1 Samuel (131), Jeremiah (122) and Zechariah (36), i.e. the word occurs frequently in the historical and prophetic books. The genre or literary type that showed the smallest use of it was the poetry section, for example Psalms (107 out of 150 chapters) and Proverbs (29). On reflection, this is a significant observation on its usage in and of itself.
Rather than look out all 2,287 occurrences, I decided to start off by looking at the ones in Genesis (152 occurrences in 139 verses).
Here are the main usages I found:
- A day as a 24 hour period or calendar day, for example, a specific number of days (Gen 7:10), unto this day (Gen 26:33), this day/this very day (Gen 17:26) . Altogether, this category accounted for about 80 out of the 152 occurrences.
- The light portion of the day as opposed to the night, 12 occurrences, e.g. Gen 7:4, 12 (compare with verse 17).
- Days or lifetime, 33 occurrences. This was used quite a lot especially in the genealogies but not exclusively, e.g. Genesis 5:4 – 31 and Genesis 26:1 (this could also fit in the next category below).
- Time or period, 21 occurrences e.g., Genesis 27:2 or Genesis 10:25.
After going through these occurrences in Genesis, I reflected on the process that I was going through. I found myself using normal, commonsense methods of understanding each usage or meaning of this word based on its context. This is the same method I apply to any text, whether in the Bible or elsewhere, or in everyday conversation.
So what does this mean for the days in Genesis 1?
If I read that there was an evening and morning, a nth day, then I am going to think that there was an evening and a morning and that what is being talked about is a literal calendar day. They are strong contextual clues that a normal 24-hour/calendar day is being talked about. Why would I think anything different based on the text alone? (Putting aside the fact that other passages in the Bible also support this interpretation.)
Furthermore, elsewhere in Genesis when numbers are used with the Hebrew word yom, it is either very clear that it is the day part in contrast to the night, or it is very clear that it is a day as a unit of time representing one calendar day or one rotation of the earth on its axis.
The Trustworthiness of Scripture
If you are going to interpret Genesis 1 as talking about long ages rather than calendar days, i.e. abandon the normal commonsense approach of understanding words from their context and/or being strongly influenced by ideas and thinking outside of the Bible, and you were to apply this same method to other passages of Scripture, then you could very well end up thinking things like no miracle ever occurred, that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, and that the Bible can’t really be trusted on any matter. The sad reality is that this is precisely what has happened IN THE CHURCH today. People, especially church leaders, are dismissing the importance of what you believe about Genesis, not realising that this impacts the whole trustworthiness of Scripture and this is what our faith is based on.
If you can’t trust the Bible when it speaks plainly in Genesis, then where do you draw the line about where you start trusting it? We are people of the Book, but if we throw the Book out then our faith is in vain! Christianity is not about going to church or belonging to a special club; it is not about music or worship; it is not about having good feelings and experiences; it is not about making God answer our requests. It is about having a right standing before God at judgement day based on faith in the historical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who paid the penalty for the things that we have done wrong, a faith that then motivates us to obey and live a holy and righteous life right now (Romans 1), and a faith that is based on the trustworthiness of the Bible.
The good news is that the Bible can be trusted. Furthermore, you don’t need to worry about things from the science side. Even in this anti-Bible, evolutionary culture, the plain truth is out there. An excellent overview is found in the 2014 book and DVD put out by Creation Ministries International, Evolution’s Achilles’ Heels. The issue is not the Bible nor the science but people’s beliefs and the strong cultural pressure to conform to a secular (i.e. atheistic) belief system.