“Run”, “take”, “break”, “turn”, and “set” are said to be the words in the English language which have most meanings. Many of our words have multiple meanings, but we usually aren’t confused by them. That’s because the other important element of language is context. In this post we look at the meanings of the word “day” in Genesis 1.
Days of creation
The Hebrew noun yom (Strongs #3117), occurs 14 times in Genesis 1:1 – 2:3. Six of these are the “days” of creation, which are listed below.
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day” (1:5NIV).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day” (1:8).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day” (1:13).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day” (1:19).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day” (1:23).
“And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day” (1:31).
The Hebrew word yom has several meanings, with the most appropriate one usually being indicated by the context. In this post we look at what the word yom in these verses meant to the ancient Hebrews. Our method includes a study of the text, the context and how Moses used this word.
Other instances of “day” in the first section of Genesis
We will begin by looking at the other instances of the word yom in the first section of Genesis (Gen. 1:1 – 2:3). As it describes events that occurred before the creation of humanity, this account came from God. But it may have been edited by Moses. The first instance is “God called the light ‘day’, and the darkness He called ‘night’” (1:5). Here yom means the daylight period of a 24-hour day (approximately 12-hours). The remainder of the 24-hour day is called “night”.
The next instances of yom are in this passage, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day (12 hours) from the night (12 hours), and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days (24 hours) and years (12 months), and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.’ And it was so. ‘God made two great lights—the greater light (sun) to govern the day (12 hours) and the lesser light (moon) to govern the night (12 hours). He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day (12 hours) and the night (12 hours), and to separate light from darkness” (1:14-18). The first instance of yom in this passage means the daylight period of a 24-hour day. While the second means “24-hours” because it’s associated with the word “years”. The remaining two instances of yom mean the daylight period of a 24-hour day.
The final instance of yom is in this passage, “By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done” (2:2-3). In this passage, the word yom is described by the adjective “seventh”. Previously each of the six days of creation was described by a numerical adjective, “one” to “six”. As this is the next “day” in a series of days, it has the same meaning that yom has in the other six days of creation, which is discussed below under the subheading “Interpretation of the days of creation” (See Appendix A).
So in this section of Genesis, the instances of the word yom apart from the days of creation can mean:
– a 12-hour period (sunrise to sunset), or
– a 24-hour period (sunset to next sunset).
Instances of “day” in the second section of Genesis
The instances of yom in the second section of Genesis (Gen. 2:4-4:26) are listed below. This section begins, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth (the universe) when they were created, when (in the day that) the Lord God made the earth and the heavens (the universe)” (2:4).
Adam is warned about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “when (in the day that) you eat from it you will certainly die” (2:17).
The serpent told Eve, “when (in the day that) you eat from it (the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5).
In these three instances, yom is used in the Hebrew idiom “in the day that”, which means “at the time that”, or “when”. It’s a time period of unspecified length. The time periods here are: the six days of creation, which are interpreted in the next section (2:4) and the time it takes to eat some fruit (say a few minutes) (2:17; 3:5).
After they sinned, Adam and Eve heard God “walking in the garden in the cool of the day (yom)” (3:8). This means either the daylight period of a 24-hour day or the whole 24-hour day. I favor the former.
The punishment given to the serpent and to Adam were for “all the days (yom) of your life” (3:14, 17). In this case, the plural version of yom means a 24-hour period, but the context adds “of your life” to give an expression meaning “a lifetime’. In this case yom has a figurative meaning which is a space of time defined by an associated term.
“In the course of time (yom)”, is used to describe the time period before Cain and Able brought offerings to God (4:3). The NET says that “The clause indicates the passing of a set period of time leading up to offering sacrifices”. The literal meaning is, “And it happened at the end of days”. It describes the time period when Cain and Abel grew to be adults. In this case, the plural version of yom means a 24-hour period, but the context adds “in the course of” to give an expression meaning “a portion of a lifetime’.
After being informed of his punishment, Cain told God, “Today (this yom) you are driving me from the land” (4:14). In this context, yom means a 24-hour day.
So in this section of Genesis the instances of the word yom can mean:
– a few minutes, or
– a 12-hour period (sunrise to sunset), or
– a 24-hour period (sunset to next sunset), or
– six days of creation (which are interpreted in the next section), or
– a portion of a lifetime (when yom is plural and accompanied with “in the course of”), or
– a lifetime (when yom is plural and accompanied with “of your life”).
So, here a phrase that includes the plural of version of yom can indicate a period of time period between 24 hours and a lifetime.
Interpretation of the days of creation
We have seen that the Hebrew noun “yom” can have several different meanings in the early chapters of Genesis. But in each day of creation, the word “yom” is singular. This rules out the meanings shown above that can be associated with the plural version of yom. So in this case that Hebrew text rules out “a lifetime” and “a portion of a lifetime”. This leaves the following possibilities:
– a few minutes, or
– a 12-hour period (sunrise to sunset), or
– a 24-hour period (sunset to next sunset).
And each of the six days of creation is associated with the statement, “And there was evening, and there was morning”. How does Moses use the words “evening” and “morning” elsewhere in Genesis? From appendices B and C it’s clear that “morning” usually means after sunrise and “evening” means after sunset. The only possible figurative meaning is in Genesis 49:27, which is poetic. But Genesis 1 isn’t poetic because it has no parallelism and isn’t type-set as poetry in most Bibles. It’s a numbered sequence of days like Numbers 7:12-89 and not a poem. So the meaning of these words in Genesis 1 should be “after sunrise” and “after sunset”. This seems to follow the Jewish order of reckoning time: from sunset to next sunset (rather than from midnight to next midnight). As “evening” and “morning” were part of each day of creation, the day seems to mean a 24-hour period rather than “at the time that” or “a 12-hour period”. This is supported by the Hebrew text associated with the first instance of “evening” and “morning”, which seems to indicate that having an evening and a morning amounts to having one full day (Appendix D).
It is instructive to see how God and Moses interpret the days of creation. The words of the fourth commandment were spoken by God (Ex. 20:1). These say, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Ex. 20:8-11).
Clearly the “six days” of labor in this passage are the same period of time as the “six days” of creation – they both use the plural yom with the adjective “six”. They both mean six 24-hour days. And the “seventh day” of Sabbath rest is the same period of time as the “seventh day” that God rested after creating the universe – they both use the singular yom. They both mean one 24-hour day.
Similarly, this is repeated when “the Lord said to Moses” (Ex. 31:12), “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it is to be put to death; those who do any work on that day must be cut off from their people. For six days work is to be done, but the seventh day is a day of sabbath rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death. The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant. It will be a sign between me and the Israelites forever, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’” (Ex. 31:14-17).
Clearly the “six days” of work in this passage are the same period of time as the “six days” of creation – they both use the plural yom with the adjective “six. They both mean six 24-hour days. And the “seventh day” of Sabbath rest is the same period of time as the “seventh day” that God rested after creating the universe – they both use the singular yom. They both mean one 24-hour day.
Can this “day” mean long periods of time?
Some people suppose that the “days” of creation in Genesis 1 are long eras of time. However, we have seen that the only meanings of yom in this section of Genesis are either a 12-hour period (sunrise to sunset), or a 24-hour period (sunset to next sunset).
We have also seen that in the second section of Genesis a phrase that includes the plural version of yom can indicate a period of time of up to a lifetime. But the occurrences of yom in Genesis 1 are singular, not plural. This is consistent with the NET Study Note that says, “The exegetical evidence suggests the word “day” in this chapter refers to a literal twenty-four hour day” (see Appendix E).
The other meanings of yom in the Old Testament are given in Appendix F.
Another explanation that is given for disregarding this interpretation of yom is to say that Genesis 1 is a symbolic or poetic genre rather than history or prose. This topic is addressed in a coming post on “Genesis 1-11: Fact or fiction”, which shows that Genesis 1 is not Hebrew poetry and it is not symbolic.
Can there be a day before the sun exists?
One objection to this interpretation is that 24-hour days can’t exist without the sun. The sun seems to be created on the fourth day of creation (Gen. 1:14-16). However, all a day requires is a light and a rotating earth. And the light doesn’t have to come from the sun. Was there a light on the first day? Yes (Gen. 5:4). Was there a rotating earth on the first day? We are not told specifically. But there is light and darkness and evening and morning. So we can’t rule out the possibility of a rotating earth on the first day of creation.
Why six days?
Why did God create the universe in six days and not in an instant or six seconds or six minutes or six hours or six weeks or six months or six years or six eras of time? The Israelites were told it was a pattern for the observance of their weekly Sabbath under the law of Moses (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:14-17). They were to work for six days and then observe the Sabbath on the seventh. As we are under the new covenant and not the law of Moses, we are not required to keep the laws of the Sabbath (they are not included in the New Testament commands to Christians). So God’s six days of creative work and one day of rest gives us the pattern of the seven-day week. There is no astronomical explanation for the week being seven days like there is for the length of a day (a rotation of the earth), a month (a rotation of the moon) or of a year (a rotation of the earth around the sun).
Are the days just a literary device?
It has been suggested that the seven “days” in the first section of Genesis (1:1-2:4a) is just a list of events or categories and not a chronological sequence. In this case the number and ordering of the “days” were chosen for literary or thematic reasons. They are a metaphorical framework that God used to describe the creative process. By looking at three foundations of this interpretation, we will see that it would not have been understood this way by the ancient Hebrews.
First, it is assumed that similarities between day 1 and day 4 (both mention light or lights), mean that these are two different ways of describing the same event. So the events described on day 4 add more detail to those described on day 1. Likewise for days 2 and 5 (both mention water and atmosphere), and days 3 and 6 (both mention land and vegetation). Therefore, Genesis 1 describes three events in no particular sequence. But water was created in day 1, so in this respect day 1 is also similar to day 5. And the heavens in which the sun and moon were placed were made on day 2, so in this respect day 2 is also similar to day 4. And the sea is mentioned in days 3 and 5, so in this respect day 3 is also similar to day 5. So the parallels are selective and other parallels are ignored! Obviously, water, land and the atmosphere needed to be created before creatures could inhabit these. That’s common sense, and not a literary technique!
Second, if the seventh day is still continuing, then the other six days are metaphors and not 24-hour periods. But we have seen that the seventh day isn’t a long period of time (Appendix A).
The third justification for the framework approach is that 24-hour days don’t make sense if is assumed that God used natural processes to create and not miraculous means. This is based on the presupposition that as miracles are not observed today, they have never happened. And so the events attributed to each day couldn’t be achieved in 24-hours. An interpretation of Genesis 2:5-6 is used to claim that God used natural means during the creation period and not supernatural ones. But Genesis 2:5 is in a section that describes what happened on day 6 in more detail, and it refers to cultivated plants, not those created on day 3. And the psalmist says this about creation, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth … Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere Him. For He spoke, and it came to be; He commanded, and it stood firm” (Ps. 33:6-9). And this is also what the writers of the New Testament believed, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (Heb. 11:3). So the process of creation didn’t take a long period of time; God spoke and it was done. His creation was miraculous. And there are other nature miracles in the Bible like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and the Jordan river on “dry ground” (Ex. 14:21-22; Josh. 3:15-17).
If we apply the framework hypothesis to Genesis 1, what stops this approach being applied to Genesis 3 (with a talking snake), Genesis 6-8 (with a global flood), Christ’s miracles and Christ’s resurrection? Nothing! So, it finishes up saying that most of the Bible is metaphorical; it doesn’t mean what it seems to mean. But the prophets and apostles didn’t devote their lives to metaphors. Their preaching was based on historical facts, not metaphors. Many of them died as martyrs. And they wouldn’t have been willing to give up their life if the Biblical account was mainly metaphors.
Some consider Genesis 1 to be an illustration to teach the theology of six days work plus the Sabbath. But this is back to front – the Sabbath was based on the historical events of Genesis 1, not vice-versa (Ex. 20:8-11).
Our study of the text and context indicates that the ancient Hebrews would have understood each “day” of creation to mean the 24-hours from sunset to next sunset. And they would have understood that the sequence of seven days comprised one week, which was the model for 6 days work and one day Sabbath rest. So the framework hypothesis is extra-biblical.
What about the rest of the Bible?
We have looked at what the word yom in Genesis 1 meant to the ancient Hebrews who took part in the exodus. But the Bible is a progressive revelation. Truth gets added as we move from the beginning to the end. What do the scriptures that were written after the Pentateuch say about this topic?
Did any of the other authors of the Old Testament mention the creation? Yes they did, but none of them specifically mention how long it took. Instead they seem to assume that it’s already known from the Pentateuch.
Did any of the authors of the New Testament mention the creation? Yes they did, but none of them mention specifically how long it took. Instead they seem to assume that it’s already known from the Pentateuch. But one author does refer to it implicitly.
The writer of Hebrews quotes from Genesis 2:2, “For somewhere He (God) has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all His works’” (Heb. 4:4). In this verse the Greek noun hemera (Strongs #2250) is translated “day”. This singular word is also used seven other times in the book of Hebrews. In these instances it means:
– “In the day” (or “during the time”) of testing in the wilderness in 3:8. This was a period of about 38 years.
– “Every day” (or “daily”) in 3:13; 7:27; and 10:11. These are 24-hour days.
– “A certain day” (or a certain “time”) in 4:7.
– “Another day” (or “another time”) in 4:8
– “When” in 8:9.
So the singular noun hemera has several meanings in this book, but none of them means a long period of time. Could “the seventh day” in 4:4 have any of these meanings? Yes, it could be a 24-hour day that is referred to as “the seventh”. That’s the only one that makes sense in conjunction with the adjective “seventh”. Therefore, in Hebrews 4:4 “the seventh day” means a 24-hour day, like the 24-hour days described in Hebrews 3:13; 7:27; and 10:11. The adjective “seventh” implies that “the seventh day” followed six other 24-hour days (which were the six days of creation). By the way, there is no suggestion in this passage that “the seventh day” was a long period of time.
Did Jesus mention the creation? Yes He did, but He didn’t specifically mention how long it took. But Jesus showed that He accepted the Pentateuch as describing historical events. For example, in Matthew 19:4–6 He quotes from Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24, which are the chapters of the Bible that describe the six days of creation.
Jesus told the Jews that they must accept the words of Moses (Jn. 5:45-47). At that time faithful Jews believed that the Pentateuch was factual because it was the foundation of their faith. And in it Moses wrote that God created the universe in six days (Ex. 20:11). This was a fundamental belief of faithful Jews, including Jesus and the apostles.
What about the fact that Christians are under a different covenant and no longer under the Old Testament law of Moses? Like Genesis 1-11, the six days of creation occurred before God’s promise were given to Abraham and the old covenant was given to Moses. So, the new covenant through Jesus doesn’t affect how God created the universe. But through Jesus we can anticipate God’s new creation (Rev. 21:1-22:5).
What about 2 Peter 3:8?
When writing to Christians in about AD 66, Peter warned them not to forget the promise that Christ would return to judge the world. As they were in danger of forgetting this promise which had been given about 35 years earlier, he wrote, “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” (2 Pt. 3:8). 1,000 years is 365,000 days, which would be a long period of time for people living in Peter’s time. So the verse says that for God a short period of time is like a long period of time and a long period of time is like a short period of time. It’s two conflicting similes that doesn’t make sense unless time is irrelevant to God. Comparing 1,000 years with one day may have been a Hebrew idiom for comparing long and short periods of time (Ps. 90:4). From God’s eternal perspective, there’s no significant difference between one day (a short period of time) and 1,000 years (a long period of time). Just because there had been a time delay, didn’t mean that God had forgotten to keep His promise.
Some people use this verse to say that in the Bible one day can symbolize 1,000 years or a long period of time. But if this is the case, the verse also says that 1,000 years or a long period of time can symbolize one day or a short period of time. This doesn’t make sense because these have opposite meanings. Instead, the word “day” in this verse is used in two similes which together indicate that God doesn’t experience time like us. This makes sense because God crested time.
What about billions of years?
How do scientists calculate the age of the universe and the time it took to form? Three methods have been used. One is based on assumptions about stellar evolution. Another is based on assumptions of an expanding universe and the Big Bang theory. And a third is based on Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. They all seem to use the size and rate of expansion of the universe; parameters whose magnitudes are inferred because they can’t be measured directly. Instead they are measured by remote sensing. And they all use mathematical models that assume what happened in the universe over billions of years because it can’t be measured directly. And they assume the existence of entities like dark energy and dark matter. If the assumptions are wrong, then their estimate is wrong. It’s a circular method because the answer is based on their presuppositions.
The Bible says that God created the universe is six 24-hours days, but scientists claim that it formed naturally over about 14 billion years. The difference between these two periods of time is huge. Orders of magnitude are used to compare very large differences between numbers. It this case the difference is expressed as the power of 10. For example, 1,000 is one order of magnitude greater than 100, two orders of magnitude greater than 10, and three orders of magnitude greater than 1. In this case, 14 billion years is about 12 orders of magnitude greater than 6 days. This is a factor of 1012, which is 10 with 12 zeros after it! Or 10,000,000,000,000 times greater!
The 14 billion years comes from the naturalistic assumption that the present is the key to the past. But history goes forwards, not backwards. And causes go before their consequences (or effects) and not after them. It’s more accurate to say that the past is the key to the present. Scientists can only observe the present. As any statements they make about the past are based on assumptions, their accuracy is based on the accuracy of their assumptions. Because of this, there is a huge uncertainty in their estimation of the age of the universe.
Elsewhere I have shown how history trumps science when dealing with the past. This is because a reliable eyewitness is superior to forensic science in the investigation of crime. Consequently, reliable history is better than ancient forensic science in investigating what happened in ancient times.
Can the Hebrew language express long periods of time?
If the creation of the universe took much longer than six days, what Hebrew words are available to communicate this?
“Years” is mentioned in Genesis 1:14 and a “thousand” is mentioned in Genesis 20:16. The Hebrew word eleph (Strongs #505), translated “thousand” occurs 505 times in the Old Testament. And the Hebrew word shanah (Strongs #8141), translated “years” occurs 876 times in the Old Testament. The largest number mentioned specifically in the Old testament is Jeroboam’s 800,000 troops (2 Chron. 13:3). Olam (Strongs #5769) can mean “long duration”, but it usually seems to mean “forever” or everlasting”.
A characteristic of the natural world can also be used in a simile to convey a large number. For example, God told Abraham, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Gen. 22:17). And He told Jacob “I will surely make you prosper and will make your descendants like the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted” (Gen. 32:12).
So the Hebrew language can express long periods of time.
A mature creation
One of the reasons why the Hebrew account didn’t need to mention long periods of time, was that God created a mature universe. Adam and Eve began life as adults, not babies. The fruit trees were already producing fruit. All natural processes and cycles were operating in equilibrium, not in their initial phases. Stars and galaxies were positioned in the universe. This happened in six days. There is no mention of matter being concentrated in a dense ball as is assumed by the Big Bang Model. And there is no need for evolutionary development from the simple to the complex. It’s easy for God to create complexity. He can do it instantly.
A study of the text and context indicates that the ancient Hebrews would have understood the noun yom in each “day” of creation to mean the 24 hours from sunset to next sunset. The idea that these could be large periods of time is extra-biblical and is not based on exegesis of the Hebrew text.
All of the authors of the Old Testament and the New Testament, and Jesus Christ, would have also believed that God created the universe in six days, each of which were 24-hours long. This trumps extra-biblical opinions. And God’s six days of creative work followed by one day of rest seems to be the source for the 7-day week in our calendar.
Because of the way it’s calculated, I’m skeptical of the claim that it took about 14 billion years to create the universe. It’s a huge amount of time. But the real uncertainty in this number is also huge.
Appendix A: Length of the seventh day
The entry for “Day” in Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon includes:
“2. Day as a division of time:
d. day as defined by evening and morning Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31 (compare further בֹּקֶר, עֶרֶב); see also Genesis 2:2 (twice in verse); Genesis 2:3, Exodus 20:11 (twice in verse), Exodus 31:17 (twice in verse).”
This lexicon associates the seventh day with the other six days, which is the case for Exodus, 20:11; 31:17. Remembering the Sabbath every week is consistent with the day of rest being 24-hours like the other days of creation and not a month or a year or some other length of time.
Because it was not a day of creation, the seventh day is described differently. It lacks the command (“God said”), fulfilment (“and it was so”), assessment (“God saw that it was good”) and conclusion (“there was evening, and there was morning”) of the other six days. Instead, the conclusion to day seven is “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created” (Gen. 2:4a).
On the other hand Vine thinks that in Genesis 2:3 yom refers to the entire period of God’s resting from creating the universe, at least until the return of Christ. When the Jewish leaders criticized Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath, “In His defense Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I too am working’” (Jn. 5:17). It is clear from the context that Jesus is referring to God’s providential and redemptive work and not to His creative work.
And some use Hebrews 4 to claim that the seventh day is unending. But this is poor exegesis. Hebrews 3:7-4:13 warns against unbelief. That’s the context. The writer uses two illustrations. One is the Israelites who rebelled against God during the exodus and so they never entered God’s rest – “They shall never enter my rest” (Heb. 4:3b, 5), which is quoted from Psalm 95:11. Psalm 95:7-11 is also a warning against unbelief. The other illustration is God’s rest after the six days of creation – “And yet His (God’s) works (of creation) have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere (Gen. 2:2) He (God) has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all His works’” (Heb. 4:3c-4). The writer wants unbelievers (who never enter God’s spiritual rest) to become believers (who have entered God’s spiritual rest). He says, “we (believers) who have believed enter that rest” (Heb. 4:3a). So the spiritual “rest” he is addressing is different to the “rest” from creating mentioned in Genesis 2:2-3.
Appendix B: Occurrence of the word “evening” in Genesis 2-49
The Hebrew noun ereb (Strongs #6153) means “evening”. It occurs in the following passages of Genesis 2-49.
“When the dove returned to him in the evening” (8:11).
“The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening” (19:1).
“it was toward evening, the time the women go out to draw water” (24:11).
“He went out to the field one evening to meditate” (24:63).
“But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her” (29:23).
“So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening” (30:16).
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder” (49:27). This is metaphoric language in a poem.
Appendix C: Occurrence of the word “morning” in Genesis 2-49
The Hebrew noun boqer (Strongs #1242) means morning. It occurs in the following passages of Genesis 2-49.
“Early the next morning Abraham got up” (19:27).
“Early the next morning Abimelek summoned all his officials” (20:8).
“Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water” (21:14).
“Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey” (22:3).
“When they got up the next morning” (24:54).
“Early the next morning the men swore an oath to each other” (26:31).
“Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head” (28:18).
“When morning came, there was Leah!” (29:25).
“Early the next morning Laban kissed his grandchildren and his daughters” (31:55).
“When Joseph came to them the next morning” (40:6).
“In the morning his mind was troubled” (41:8).
“As morning dawned, the men were sent on their way with their donkeys” (44:3).
“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf; in the morning he devours the prey, in the evening he divides the plunder” (49:27). This is metaphoric language in a poem.
Appendix D: Is the “day” defined in Genesis 1:5?
Numbers can be cardinal or ordinal. A cardinal number indicates a quantity, such as one, two, three, four, five. It’s used for counting things. An ordinal number indicates position, such as 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th. It’s used for putting things in order. In the first section of Genesis (Gen. 1:1-2:4a), in the Hebrew language the number associated with yom is cardinal for day 1 (ehad, Strongs #259, meaning “one”) and ordinal for the remaining days 2-7 (Steinmann, 2002). Is this defining what a “day” is for the rest of the creation week? Steinmann found that in the Pentateuch ehad is only used as an ordinal number for numbering units of time to designate the day of a month (Gen.8:5, 13; Ex. 40:2, 17; Lev. 23:24; Num. 1:1, 18; 29:1; 33:38; Dt. 1:3). All other units of time are numbered using ordinals. Therefore, in Genesis 1 ehad should be translated as “one” and not “the first” (Gen. 1:5). This is the meaning given in Green (1985). The NASB translates it this way, “And there was evening and there was morning, one day”. And the NET says that an alternative version of this sentence is “There was night and then there was day, one day”. This statement is equivalent to saying that one rotation of the earth equals one day.
According to Steinmann, “Genesis 1:5 begins the cycle of the day. With the creation of light it is now possible to have a cycle of light and darkness, which God labels “day” and “night.” Evening is the transition from light/day to darkness/night. Morning is the transition from darkness/night to light/day. Having an evening and a morning amounts to having one full day. Hence the following equation is what Genesis 1:5 expresses: Evening + morning = one day.”
Appendix E: NET Study Note on the days of creation in Genesis 1
“The exegetical evidence suggests the word “day” in this chapter refers to a literal twenty-four hour day. It is true that the word can refer to a longer period of time (see Isa. 61:2, or the idiom in Gen. 2:4, “in the day,” that is, “when”). But this chapter uses “day,” “night,” “morning,” “evening,” “years,” and “seasons.” Consistency would require sorting out how all these terms could be used to express ages. Also, when the Hebrew word יוֹם (yom) is used with a numerical adjective, it refers to a literal day. Furthermore, the commandment to keep the Sabbath clearly favors this interpretation. One is to work for six days and then rest on the seventh, just as God did when He worked at creation.”
Appendix F: “Day” in Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon
The Hebrew noun yom is used in the following ways in the Old Testament.
- Day, opposed to night
- Day as division of time
- Day of the Lord (coming in judgment)
- Plural, days of anyone
- Phrases, without preposition and with, are
Green J. P., (1985) “The interlinear Bible, Hebrew-Greek-English”, Hendrickson Publishers.
Steinmann, A., (2002) “Echad as an Ordinal Number and the Meaning of Genesis 1:5”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 45(4):577–584.
Written, May 2018
In March 2016 the NSW Environment Protection Authority served notice requiring a company to conduct a mandatory environmental audit of its waste oil processing facility near Maitland. This followed a pattern of environmental non-compliance at the facility, including serious breaches involving air emissions and water discharges. The audit of site practices and procedures includes assessment of testing waste products, operation and maintenance of pollution control equipment, bunding and spill management, and potential impacts on groundwater. In this post we carry out an audit of the naturalistic explanation of the origin of life.
In 1999 New Holland published a book, ‘In six days: why 50 scientists choose to believe in creation’. The editor, Dr John Aston, noted in the preface that:
‘Why would educated scientists still believe in creation? Why wouldn’t they prefer to believe in Darwinian evolution or even theistic evolution, where an all-powerful intelligence is seen as directing the evolutionary processes? Could scientists believe that life on earth is probably less than 10,000 years old? How would they deal with the evidence from the fossil record and the ages suggested by the radioactive dating of rocks as millions and billions of years old?’
‘During the past century, the biblical story of Genesis was relegated to the status of a religious myth and it was widely held that only those uneducated in science or scientific methods would seriously believe such a myth. However, my experience in organizing this book, is that there is a growing number of highly educated critically thinking scientists who have serious doubts about evidence for Darwinian evolution and who have chosen to believe in the biblical version of Creation.’
The scientists gave their personal response to the question: ‘Why do you believe in a literal six-day biblical Creation as the origin of life on earth?’ The responses were divided into two categories ‘Science and Origins’ (dealing with the scientific critique of evolution as well as the scientific basis for creation) and ‘Religion and Origins’ (dealing with a more philosophical approach to the question of evolution and creation). My contribution was in the latter section (p.322-327).
There are two main views about the origin of the universe and the origin of life: those based on naturalism and those based on an intelligent Creator. As these events occurred long ago and are not subject to direct observation or experimental tests, both of these perspectives are mainly philosophical beliefs based on certain assumptions about the physical world.
This fact is ignored or distorted in most modern treatments of the topic of origins. For example, the March 1998 issue of National Geographic included an article titled, ‘The rise of life on earth’. The editor of the magazine wrote concerning this article on the origin of life: ‘Science is the study of testable, observable phenomena’, and religious faith is ‘an unshakeable belief in the unseen’. This ‘straw man argument’ diverts the discussion away from the issues of science and logic to the separate topic of science versus religious faith. It also ignores the fact that there are no obvious ‘testable, observable phenomena’ on the origin of life. Furthermore, the language used in the article demonstrates that naturalism also relies on faith in the unseen.
The naturalistic view of origins is that everything that exists can be explained by physical and chemical processes alone. This differs from the view that matter, energy, physical and chemical processes and life were established by a Creator as revealed in the Holy Bible.
Searching for truth
An environmental auditor relies on two main factors: objective evidence and agreed standards. The outcome of each part of an audit depends on comparing the observable evidence against the relevant standard. Of course, environmental standards change in time and space across the world. Similarly, any explanation of origins should be consistent with the body of ‘observable evidence’ and any relevant ‘standards’. This is complicated by the fact that the evidence is viewed today, a long time after the beginning of the universe and life. Also, in a changing world, it is not immediately obvious which standards are relevant. The Bible is the only reliable and consistent source of truth; it is like a fixed frame of reference. Other authorities, such as science and logic, are not sufficient, as they may change in time and space; they are like a changing frame of reference.
The laws of physics and chemistry are examples of the relative standards of science, which change with time as knowledge develops. They were developed under present conditions and assume that the universe already exists. Two of these fundamental laws are that life always comes from earlier life and that mass/energy is conserved. Applying them to the origin of life assumes that all these conditions were true at that time. To say; then, that naturalism explains the origin of life is ‘circular reasoning’, as the outcome is largely determined by the assumptions made. Although these laws may describe the present world, it would be a gross assumption to extrapolate them back to the unobserved initial conditions. Yet this is done frequently by those with a naturalistic viewpoint, without acknowledgement of the uncertainties involved and the limitations of the scientific method.
The assumptions of both naturalism and biblical creation and the principles of the scientific method are stated clearly in W Gitt’s ‘Did God Use Evolution?’ 1993, CLV Christliche Literatur-Verbreitung e. V.
The Bible is a source of ‘absolute’ truth that has stood the test of time much longer than any other document or philosophy. Of course, as in the case of any literature, it requires interpretation as to what is historical and what is metaphorical or symbolic. Besides obvious literary techniques, the most reliable method is to use the whole message of the Bible to interpret any particular passage. Otherwise, an interpretation may not be consistent with the rest of the Bible.
The Bible contains three clear tests for determining whether a belief, teaching or philosophy is true or false. To be true it must pass each of the three tests:
The Jesus test: This test states that, ‘Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist … This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood’ (1 Jn. 4:2-6NIV). The question to be answered in this test is: What does it say about Jesus Christ? The Bible teaches that Christ was unique: divine and human, sinless, eternal and the Creator. It is false to deny that Christ was the divine Son of God. Beliefs that fail this test usually claim that Christ was, at best, a great teacher or a prophet. They may even encourage the view that Christ and other events in the Bible are mythical.
The gospel test: The Bible warns about those promoting a different gospel, ‘If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!’ (Gal.1:9). The question to be answered in this test is: What is its gospel? In other words: what is the core belief or hope? The Bible says that the root cause of all our problems is that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s requirements—resulting in death. The only means of rescue is salvation by faith in Christ. ‘Different gospels’ are those that differ from this. They either add to it or take away from it. There is a warning against adding to or taking away from the words of the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). Broader aspects of the gospel include the original creation and the ultimate restoration of all things (Rev. 4:11; 21:1-22:6). We need to be careful when applying this test because a ‘different gospel’ may deceive by using words similar to the true gospel but give them different meanings.
The fruit test: Jesus Christ warned, ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them’ (Mt. 7:15-20). The question to be answered in this test is: What kind of fruit is evident? In other words, what type of attitudes and behavior does it encourage? Is the divine nature or the sinful nature most evident? The former is characterised by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The sinful nature may involve: idolatry, sexual immorality, selfish ambition, pride, hostility, quarrelling and outbursts of anger (Gal. 5:19-23).
These tests will now be used to assess the naturalistic view of origins.
The Jesus test: As naturalism means that nature is all there is, it is associated with atheism. For example, the American Association of Biology Teachers states, that; ‘The diversity of life on earth is the outcome of evolution: an unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable and natural process of temporal descent with genetic modification that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.’
This view of origins has no need for a Creator or the divine, and so is consistent with a belief that Jesus Christ was only a human being and not divine. Naturalism clearly fails the Jesus test.
The gospel test: As naturalism assumes there is no God, it accepts no absolute standards of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and rejects the existence of ‘sin’ in the sense of falling short of God’s standard. Therefore, it teaches that there is no need of a savior. Its gospel is that nature has made itself and the Genesis account of origins is not true. A biblical consequence of this is that if there was no paradise at the beginning as described in Genesis, then there can be no hope for a future paradise (Acts 3:21). In fact, naturalism rejects all the basic biblical truths, such as: creation, the beginning of evil, the need for salvation and the ultimate destiny of human beings. So, naturalism fails the gospel test.
The fruit test: Naturalism supports and is associated with: materialism, humanism (humanity is self-sufficient, capable of solving all their difficulties) and pantheism (‘nature’ replaces God). Its acceptance leads to: less value on human life (practices such as abortion and euthanasia are more acceptable). Another example from the past is racism; less value on family life (biblical marriage is less important; divorce is more acceptable); less value on morals (truth is now relative, not absolute); a ‘might is right’ attitude that supports the strong, but not the weak (survival of the fittest; a competitive world; compassion involves saving ‘weak genes’). As these are opposite to the values of the Bible, naturalism fails the fruit test.
It is clear from this that the viewpoint of naturalism fails all the three biblical tests for determining what is true. Therefore, it is false and is not consistent with the overall message of the Bible.
Due to the influence of the above philosophies, claims are often made in the name of ‘science’ that go far beyond the available evidence, and some aspects of modern science have become increasingly tenuous and speculative. In fact, the everyday use of the word ‘science’ has changed from dealing with things that are observable and testable to meaning ‘naturalism’ and so includes conjecture and dubious hypotheses.
Although we live in a ‘cause-and-effect’ universe, ultimate causes, such as origins, are outside the realm of reliable science. Science can only reliably deal with the present world; it cannot reliably deal with the past (such as origins) or the future (such as ultimate destinies), as it cannot directly observe these. I believe all scientists should be wary of their assumptions, as these can largely determine their findings. They should also be wary of extrapolations outside the range of observation. The further the extrapolation, the less reliable the prediction. Changes in the assumptions will change the prediction. This applies in particular to boundary conditions, such as those involving initial conditions (or origins). Therefore, scientists can only speculate, imagine and guess about the origin of life.
Dr Hawke is a Senior Environmental Consultant with an electricity supply company in Sydney, Australia. He holds a BSc with first class honors in Physics from the University of Sydney, and PhD in Air Pollution Meteorology from Macquarie University. Over the past 22 years, Dr Hawke has worked as an environmental scientist and environmental consultant for a state government regulatory authority and the electrical power industry. He is also a Certified Environmental Auditor with the Quality Society of Australasia.
Published in 1999