Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

20. WERE THE CREATION DAYS 24 HOURS IN LENGTH?

The views of a few theologians, whose theological persuasions cover the entire spectrum of mainstream Christianity, are presented in this Section.  Surely, all these men can’t be accused of embracing liberal thinking in order to reconcile science and the Bible.

H. Orton Wiley:  “The Genesis account of creation is primarily a religious document. It cannot be considered a scientific statement, and yet it must not be regarded as contradictory to science. It is rather, a supreme illustration of the manner in which revealed truth indirectly sheds light upon scientific fields.  The Hebrew word yom which is translated “day” occurs no less than 1,480 times in the Old Testament, and is translated by something over fifty different words, including such terms as time, life, today, age, forever, continually and perpetually.  With such a flexible use of the original term, it is impossible to either dogmatize or to demand unswerving restriction to one only of those meanings.  It is frequently assumed that originally orthodox belief held to a solar day of twenty-four hours, and that the church altered her exegesis under the pressure of modern geological discoveries.  This as Dr. Shedd points out is one of the 'errors of ignorance.'  The best Hebrew exegesis has never regarded the days of Genesis as solar days, but as day-periods of indefinite duration.  The doctrine of an immense time prior to the six days of creation was a common view among the earlier fathers and the schoolmen.  Only with the scholastics of the middle-ages and the evangelical writers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was this idea current.  Previous to this a profounder view was taught by the acknowledged leaders of the church.  Thus Augustine says, ‘Our seven days resemble the seven days of the Genesis account in being a series, and in having the vicissitudes of morning and evening, but they are multum in pares.’  He calls them natures, and delays or solemn pauses.  Hence they are God-divided days in contradistinction to sun-divided days; they are ineffable days as in their true nature transcendent, while the sun-divided days are due merely to changes in planetary movements.  He affirms, therefore, that the word day does not apply to the duration of time, but to the boundaries of great periods.  Nor is this a metaphorical meaning of the word, but the original, which signifies ‘to put period to’ or to denote a self-completed time.  Origen, Irenaeus, Basil and Gregory Nazianzen taught the same doctrine during the patristic period, as did also many of the learned Jewish doctors outside the Christian Church.  Later writers holding this view are Hahn, Hensler, Knapp, Lee, Henry, More, Burnett and others.  Of the more recent writers we may mention Hodge, Pope, Miley, Cocker and Stearns."

Francis A. Schaeffer:  “What does day mean in the days of creation?  The answer must be held with some openness.  In Genesis 5:2 we read: ‘Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.’  As it is clear that Adam and Eve were not created simultaneously, day in Genesis 5:2 does not mean a period of twenty-four hours….In other places in the Old Testament, the Hebrew word day refers to an era, just as it often does in English.  See, for example, Isaiah 2:11, 12, 17 for such a usage.  The simple fact is that day in Hebrew (just as in English) is used in three separate senses, to mean: (1) twenty-four hours, (2) the period of light during the twenty-four hours, and (3) an indeterminate period of time.  Therefore, we must leave open the exact length of time indicated by day in Genesis.”

James Oliver Buswell:  “When we say that the word day is used figuratively, we mean that it represents a period of time of undesignated length and unspecified boundaries, merging into other days or periods….The figurative use of the word day is very common in the Scripture.  The day of the Lord and that day are expressions commonly used by the prophets to point to complexes of events covering a considerable period of time….In Genesis 2:4 we read, ‘These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.’  The only possible way in which six days can be referred to as one day is the figurative use of the word day….The fourth commandment, Exodus 20:8-11, is brought forward as evidence against the figurative interpretation of the word day in the first chapter of Genesis.  The Scripture says, ‘Six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God…for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day, wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.’  If we had no other example of Moses’ language, this passage might be taken as evidence for a twenty-four hour creative day, but we have Scriptural evidence that Moses made a radical distinction between God’s attitude toward time and the attitude of man.  What Moses is saying, in the total Scriptural context, must be understood as teaching that man should observe a periodicity in the ratio of work to rest, of six days to one day, because God in the creation set an example of an analogous periodicity of six and one of his kind of days.

Thomas C. Oden:  “The word day (yom) has several levels of meaning.  It is used in biblical Hebrew to mean not only a twenty-four-hour day but also a time of divine visitation or judgment, or an indefinite period of time, as in Psalms 110:5, Isaiah 2:11, 12, and Jeremiah 11:4-7, 17:16.  To insist on a twenty-four-hour day as the word’s only meaning is to intrude upon the text and to disallow the poetic, metaphorical, and symbolic speech of Scripture….The creative activity of God is viewed in a pattern of six days or periods…”

Charles Hodge:  " ....the word day is used in Scripture in many different senses; sometimes for the time the sun is above the horizon; sometimes for a period of twenty-four hours; sometimes for a year, as in Lev 25:29, Judges 17:10 and elsewhere; sometimes for an indefinite period, as in the phrases 'the day of your calamity, the day of salvation, the day of the Lord and the day of judgment.'  And in this account of creation it is used for the period of light in antithesis to night; for the separate periods in the progress of creation; and then for the whole period (Genesis 2:4): 'In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens'....if the word day be taken in the sense of 'an indefinite period of time,' a sense which it undoubtedly has in other parts of Scripture, there is not only no discrepancy between the Mosaic account of the creation and the assumed facts of geology, but there is a most marvelous coincidence between them."