How long is a day in Scripture?

Hello. I have a question. Before I ask this question I should have you know I do believe the opposite of what I’m opposing.
How do we know for sure that Genesis 1 was literal 24 hour days and not millions to billions of years?

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It’s ironic that the one place in the Bible where the word “day” should be the least controversial, it turns out to be the most controversial. It’s almost as if God foresaw this, and so He took extra measures to eliminate controversy - or perhaps to make man accountable for any manufactured controversy.

Here’s what I mean. There is no other place in the Bible that I’m aware of where the meaning of the word day causes controversy as it does in Genesis 1. Everyone tends to agree that expressions like “day of the Lord” do not mean a literal day, while phrases like “three days and three nights” do. And no special qualifiers like “the evening and the morning” were a day are needed to see this.

But in the only place where God does specify that the evening and the morning were the first day, second and so on - the one place where He makes, as it were, an extra effort to nail down the meaning - a controversy still erupts. And as far as I can tell, there’s no reason within the Bible itself for this controversy to exist. It appears to be coming primarily from outside the Bible - from a secular view of the universe, and an attempt on the part of Christians to make an allowance for this secular view.

Now, some will say that there have always been those who did not take Genesis 1 literally, even before Darwin. And that is true. There have long been certain allegorical schools of interpretation that view virtually everything in the Bible as symbolic of some deeper meaning.

But I think it would be silly to pretend that Darwinism has not had any impact on how Christians have approached Genesis 1. Obviously it has, and I think that is unfortunate.

So, I look at all of this and I wonder: if adding a phrase like “the evening and the morning” could not convince people that God meant these days really were evenings and mornings, then is there any other wording that could have? And, sadly, I think probably not - else surely He would have used it.


I start with that I have great respect for the position that in Genesis 1 the 6 days each with evening and morning are 6 24-hour days. And I whole heartedly agree that all of creation could take place in such a time frame or any time frame God would chose. However, I have another view of the whole revelation of Genesis 1-3 concerning creation.

I respect the view of @jlyons, but I also do not agree with his interpretation. First I would point out that in Scripture there are no chapters and verses; these were added for the convenience of reference. This understood I believe that revelation of Scripture concerning Origins is divided into 3 Revelations that is:

  1. Gen 1:1 The Revelation that God created everything that was and is created
  2. Gen 1:2-2:3 The Revelation of the order in which God created and the fact God is a God of Order
  3. Gen 2:4-3:24 The Revelation of how Man was uniquely created originally and how Man became as he is today due to the impact of sin.

Gen 1:2-2:3 speaks of 7 days not just 6 and the 7th day is not given an ending in Scripture. The first 6 days have both evening and morning but not the 7th. Additionally, the Hebrew word for day in these Scriptures can be and is used in Scripture to mean both a literal 24-hour day and as era. Thus, the use of day in English translations is a limited translation as the Scripture use of the word can mean either a 24-hour day, era, or it could even mean both. The primary revelation of Gen 1:2-2:3 is not the time that God took to create the physical earth and universe but the order in which it was done. Consequently, discussion about whether it took 6 literal days, or 6 eras, is a distraction from the primary purpose of this section of Scripture. God could create everything instantly or over billions of years; it is His Choice. My understanding of the account of Creation stated in Genesis 1:3 to Genesis 2:3 is as follows

  1. Day 1: It is speaking of all creation both spiritual and physical. God creates Light and this Light is both Spiritual and Physical. Further, where this Light from God does not exist, there is darkness that is both Spiritual and Physical.
  2. Day 2: It is still speaking of all creation and God separates the Spiritual Realm and the Physical Realm. The word heaven here is also translated in the NIV as Vault which we see in Day 4 means at a minimum as all of Space.
  3. Day 3: It is speaking of all the physical universe, not just the earth and its solar system. That is water is separated from land and plants are created throughout all the physical universe.
  4. Day 4: It is speaking of the Physical Universe and more specifically for the first time in the revelation of the Earth and its Solar System. It is here that God creates and places the Sun, Moon and Stars and puts them into The Vault separating the Spiritual and Physical Universe. God also sets the season, years and days (introduction of the 24-hour day) according to the movement within the physical universe of all the stars and planets. It is here that the creation of time as we know it is created.
  5. Day 5: It is speaking specifically of the Earth. God creates all marine animals and birds of the air on the earth. God commands these creatures to multiply according to their kind
  6. Day 6: It again is speaking specifically of the Earth. God creates all the land animals. And God creates Man uniquely both male and female. God gives authority to Man over all living things on the Earth. God commands Man to be fruitful and multiple and subdue the Earth.
  7. Day 7: It returns again to all Creation. God rests and for the first time there is no evening and morning of this particular day. This indicates that it is ongoing even now.

The fact that Day 7 of Creation is used in the same context as Days 1-6 is a strong indicator that Scripture is not using the 7 days as a means of time, but rather as means of describing process or steps. I believe it is an error to ascribe any time frame to any of the 7 days, whether it is nanoseconds or billions of years, as it takes from the primary purpose of the Revelation. That is that God is revealing order to Creation. It is my understanding that the genealogies given in the rest of Scripture are revealing the time from the fall of Adam and Eve not the creation of Adam and Eve because, while time existed before the fall, it was not relevant to Man before The Fall as Man was immortal before The Fall.

I know this is a long response but I believe it is necessary in order to have an understanding of my interpretation of Scripture. Last note: My wife had the same view as @jlyons concerning creation being 6 literal 24-hour days so you can imagine the dinner table discussions that took place.


Thanks for sharing that. Very helpful. Sounds like some interesting dinner talk!

Yes…@dan0647 thank you for sharing! I have never considered the fact that immortality in the Garden of Eden would in any way impact the difference in time and human comprehension. Certainly thought-provoking.

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@ccgerber When people ask me am I proponent of Young Earth or Old Earth Creation. I respond that I am both. I absolutely believe that Adam and Eve existed and left Eden approximately 4000 BC, but I also believe that the 7 days of Creation are not speaking of 7 24-hour days as I explained before.
Two interesting notes concerning History.

  1. Most historians, both secular and non-secular, believe that written human history and agriculture began approximately 4000 BC.
  2. If you do a mathematical regression on population starting with say 7 billion people in 2020, and make a reasonable assumption concerning growth say 0.5% per year. Then do the math you end up with about 13 people in 2000 BC which is the time of the flood. This is just a fun fact that there can and will be many objections to.
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Very nice descriptions from Dan and James. I find this a fascinating topic but it in no way has anything to do with our salvation, and as long as it is discussed in a thoughtful and friendly manner (it often isn’t) it is very interesting.

I’d like to make 3 points, one related to what Dan said and two others.

Point 1: Something Dan points out seem to be very pertinent here. On Day 4 is the first time that time as we know it comes into existence. What is our definition of a day? What is a day when there is no Earth or sun? We have no way to conceptualize time without the mosaic God put here for us to use to measure against. So how can the duration of the Day 1 event be measured? The yardstick for measuring hasn’t come into existence yet.

Point 2: As the equipment and techniques we have for measuring and calculating get better and better, they tend to point more and more to a universe in the neighborhood of 13.8 billion years old. We can age date fossils to eras where the earth went through different periods of supporting life, and make sense out of these things. There are very compelling arguments linking a lot of this stuff together.

I suppose (but not sure) it would have been possible for God to have created the universe with all the appearances of things old, and then given us the mental capacity to calculate the age of those things, knowing none of it is really the way it appears to be. But that would beg the question why would He do it that way rather than simply, say, put oil in the ground without the existence of dinosaurs or make the universe stationary rather than expanding?

Seems if He could create the appearance of old age, He could also have created the appearance of brief or actual age. In fact, if we can’t take age at face value based on our best abilities (that He gave us) to determine this stuff, how to we know that the earth isn’t just, say, 100 years old and no one really existed before that time other than in our memories which He put there in everyone at that moment of creation?

We assume He created Adam and Eve as adults because there would have been no one to raise them as babies. This is a plausible assumption. Whether they had bruises and scars and age related maladies upon creation is not something we can know. But at least there was a reason for having created them older that makes sense.

But for what reason would He have gone out of His way to create the universe and earth to have the strong appearance of age when they really aren’t? I’ve never heard a good reason for this, which brings me to my last point.

Point 3: It is a daunting challenge to convince a non-believer to actually start believing. This is typically an effort that spans long periods of time and long discussions. But the case for the existence of a Deity and the existence of Jesus and His rising from the dead can be backed up with a lot of empirical as well as logical data, some of which is derived from the many fields of science.

However if along the way the questioner hits on this topic, the entire argument is thrown into limbo to have to tell them to forget about all the scientific reasoning we have been using thus far because we have now entered a realm where all the science is just wrong.

Point 3 here is certainly not an argument for an old earth, but is a byproduct of a young earth that cannot be ignored.

Anyway that’s my 2 cents. I certainly respect differing opinions, but these are the conclusions I have reached after quite a bit of thought.

I would add to your Point 2 that God does not lie or deceive. It is simply not in His Nature to do so. That said I have heard many explanations that attempt to harmonize Revelation with Science. That is a grave mistake particularly when the Revelation of Scripture is a constant and is also Truth. This is not so with Science which is always changing and growing in knowledge. Science is a collection of theories with very few absolutes if any. This is one major reason why you cannot and should not try to harmonize these two sources of knowledge. The example of The Church insisting that the universe was Earth Centric and the resultant impediment to man understanding nature is a classic example of why The Church should not use Revelation to speak to Science. Even more The Church should not use Science to speak to Revelation.

Finally I disagree about your belief that understanding Origins has nothing to do with Salvation. There are 2 reasons for this disagreement.

  1. The whole Revelation of Creation in Genesis 1-3 is fundamental to understanding who Man is and Man’s relationship to God. While the Fall in Genesis 3 is focused on when it comes to Salvation, Genesis 1:1 is so important that The Holy Spirit inspired John to repeat its statement even more clearly in the beginning of John’s Gospel as an introduction. Further understanding that the Revelation of the 7 day Creation Process show that God is a God of Order is important as well. Further, the 7th Day not having an ending is a Revelation that we are in a time of God’s Rest and this Day has not ended.
  2. I believe that Scripture can be divided into 3 parts: 1) The Old Testament which is The Revelation of God leading to Christ; 2) The Gospels which are The Revelation of the Life of Christ; 3) The rest of the New Testament which is The Revelation of the results of The Life of Christ and this includes The Revelation of the End of the Age which is also perhaps The End of The 7th Day.

Just some things to put in your back pocket to think about :slightly_smiling_face:

Thanks for the thoughts Dan. I have studied these things for some time and spent countless hours mulling these things over.

The conclusion that makes the most sense to me is that while many facets of science are in flux, some are pretty solid. The physics of air flow over a wing for example is pretty well understood. Our ability to date stuff also seems to be very mature. An indication of this is that when new methods or techniques are developed, they have tended to fine tune the results of the last method, not throw them out completely. I am actually a believer that science and the Bible comport very nicely, and not bothered at all about applying scientific principles, when they are very well understood, to Biblical tenets. These aging techniques seem to be very accurate and paint a very understandable picture of the creation event.

Here is why I made the comment about salvation. The New Testament is replete with references on what we have to do to be saved, and it is quite simple. Particular beliefs in the age of the earth or universe is never one of them. I am confident that both old earth and young earth believers are sharing their places in Heaven right now. Paul even lectures against dwelling on meaningless genealogies.

That is the genesis of my thoughts. Thanks for your feedback and ideas.