It often has been suggested that perhaps the days discussed in Genesis 1 were not literal 24-hour periods. Maybe they were long eons of time during which evolution could have taken place. After all, the word translated “day” in Genesis 1 can have up to seven different meanings, and on rare occasions it can refer to a period of time longer than 24 hours. How long were the days of the creation week, really? Could it be the case the creation week was seven long eons of time that consisted of millions or billions of years each?
No. The author of Genesis wanted his readers to understand, in no uncertain terms, that the six days of creation were literal, 24-hour periods. Here are the reasons we know this to be true. First, the author defined the word “day” (Hebrew yōm) for the reader by saying that it was composed of “an evening and a morning” (Genesis 1:5). The exact rotation of the Earth is described by this phrase, which was the common way for Hebrews to describe a literal day.
Second, whenever a number comes before the word “day” in the Old Testament in non-prophetical literature like Genesis 1, it always means a literal, 24-hour period. Third, whenever the word “day” appears in the plural form (yamim) in non-prophetical literature, it always means a literal day. In fact, over 700 times the Old Testament uses the word yamim in such a manner, and it always means a literal day in its non-prophetic uses. Therefore, when Exodus 20:11 states: “For in six days (yamim) the Lord made the heavens and the earth,” there can be absolutely no doubt that the text means six literal days.
Fourth, the author of Genesis had other ways to indicate to the reader that the “days” were long eons of time. He could have used the Hebrew word dôr, which means long periods of time. But he did not; instead he used the word day, modified it with the phrase “evening and morning,” put numerals before it, and in Exodus 20:11 and Exodus 31:17 made it plural. He used practically every means at his disposal to show that the days were not long periods of time, but instead were literal, 24-hour periods. Thus, the idea that the billions of years needed for evolution occurred during creation week simply cannot be defended.
But what about 2 Peter 3:8 which states that “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” Isn’t this New Testament passage teaching that to God, a day could be a very long time? No, it is not. Let us consider the passage in its appropriate context. In 2 Peter 3:8, the apostle’s discussion has nothing to do with the length of the days in Genesis 1. Rather, he is discussing the “last days” (3:3; i.e., the Christian dispensation) and Christ’s Second Coming. Some, said Peter, would suggest that since Christ had not returned already, then He was not going to return—ever! But Peter reminded his readers that God is not bound by time. He can do more in one day than humans can do in a thousand years, or, conversely, He may wait a thousand years to do what humans wish He would do in a day. Nevertheless, God keeps His promises (3:9). It is interesting to note that, from a reading of the text, God Himself recognizes the difference between an earthly day and an earthly thousand years. It also is interesting to note that Peter did not say that a day is a thousand years or a thousand years is a day, but that a day is “as” a thousand years and a thousand years is “as” a day. God always has recognized the difference between an earthly day, month, and year. The passage in 2 Peter 3:8 proves that He is able to communicate the difference to human beings. What did He say the time periods in Genesis 1 were? Days!
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