Genesis: Days, or Ages?

Finding Answers in Genesis 1:  Two Major “Views”

Today Christians tend to gravitate toward one of two interpretations of the Genesis 1 creation account:

  • The “Calendar-Day” interpretation, in which Genesis 1 is interpreted to mean that God literally created the heavens and the earth in six 24 hour “days” (a total of 144 hours), resting on the 7th day
  • The “Day-Age” interpretation, which interprets Genesis 1 to mean that God literally created the heavens and the earth in six “day” ages of time, now resting on the seventh day


Why Understanding Genesis is Important for Christians

The view that the Lord created the entire universe, including all the stars, galaxies, and the earth and all of its life-forms, in six 24 days, is held by about half of Bible-believing Christians (according to recent polls). Yet this seems to run counter to scientific discoveries of the past several hundred years.  Discoveries that provide hard evidence that the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old, and the earth 4.5 billions years of age.  This scientific evidence for an ancient earth and universe is overwhelming, and includes ….

  • Astronomical evidence – from telescopic observations
  • Mathematical proofs – the well established general theory of relativity, among others
  • Geological evidence – as seen in the earth’s physical appearance
  • Planetary science evidence
  • Astrophysical evidence
  • Evidence from various dating methodologies

The argument over this issue has divided Christians into two camps, causing them to channel their energies into defending their respective positives – instead of proclaiming the good news of the gospel to a needy world.

Many Christians, lacking the tools and knowledge to examine the issue effectively and resolve for themselves, remain distressed and confused about what to believe and what to do.  Many times their children, who have just learned in school about the ancient age of the universe, ask them how they reconcile their teacher’s remarks with what they were taught in Sunday school. Due to the opposing views being promulgated, 
they conclude their is a conflict between science and the Bible, and that one or the other must be wrong.  

If Christians accept an interpretation that everything was created in144 hours (six 24 days), they are confronted with a dilemma - how are they to address the mountains of scientific evidence for an old universe and earth, and reconcile it with their interpretation of scripture?  Would God give us one set of facts in scripture, and another in nature?  Why would God deceive us by presenting a universe and earth that has the appearance of being very old? – the claims of science must be bogus, as they are in opposition to scripture.

Unfortunately, many Christians end up choosing the literal “24 hour day” interpretation and rejecting science, labeling Christians who entertain scientific evidence as “those who have compromised with the world”.  This need not be, if in fact one examines the evidence and the original wording of Genesis 1 carefully.

Why Genesis 1 is Also Important For Those Searching

How one reads and understands Genesis 1 is critical for a number of very important reasons:

  • The interpretation that God created the heavens and the earth about 6,000 – 10,000 years ago, in six 24 days has effectively inoculated many intellectuals, university students, and scientists from taking the Christian message seriously.
  • In view of the mountains of hard scientific evidence gathered over the past few centuries that the universe is some 13.7 billions years old, and the earth about 4.6 billion years in age, they question how Christians can really believe that God created “the heavens and the earth” in the space of 144 hours (six 24 hour days).

The unwarranted emphasis by the Christian community on a literal “24 hour day” interpretation of Genesis is effectively keeping many from examining the claims of Christ.  They figure if Christians interpret Genesis this way, why examine the rest of the Bible?  This barrier to belief need not be – a careful examination of the facts demonstrates that the God who wrote the Bible is also the same God who created the laws of science, and that there is in fact no contradiction between Genesis 1 and true science.  We shouldn’t expect there to be, if the true God is the author of both.

Let’s look at what the essential elements of the two views…

A Summary of the Two Genesis Interpretations

The “24 hour view” or the Calendar-Day interpretation:

  • Views Genesis 1 as a literal, historical record of the creation activities
  • Asserts these creative acts occurred in chronological fashion over the space of six, 24 hour “days“, followed by a 24 hour “Sabbath”
  • Believes that Genesis 1 cannot be reconciled with the established record of nature.
  • States that just as Adam and Eve were created as mature adults by their Maker, so also was the rest of creation
  • Is skeptical of scientific claims, and asserts astronomers are deceiving the public
  • Views the literal 24 hour day understanding of the creation account as the “normal” interpretation and asserts this is the most commonly held view in Jewish and Christian history

The “Day-Age” Interpretation …

  • Also asserts that Genesis 1 is a literal, historical record, but interprets the Hebrew meaning of word for “day” as a space of time or age [“Yom” – can mean sunrise to sunset; sunset to sunset; a space of time; an age; or a time or period (without any reference to solar days)]
  • Basing this interpretation of “day” on similar uses of the word throughout scripture, the Day-Age view maintains that the six “days” of creation were six indeterminate periods of time(not six literal 24 hour “days).
  • The six “days” are taken as sequential, but overlapping and perhaps merging into one another
  • Recognizes that perspective is KEY when interpreting Genesis 1.  Interprets the creative activities of Genesis 1 from the vantage point of one standing on the earth (note that Genesis 1:2 indicates that God the Holy Spirit was on the surface, “hovering” over the waters), viewing God’s creative acts as they occur.
  • The Day-Age interpretation honors the general sequence of events as they are portrayed in Genesis 1
  • It also reviews and examines the claims of science, and asserts that Genesis 1 can in fact be reconciled with the established record of nature.
  • It also recognizes that since the days of the early church, many Bible scholars have noted that the word “day” as used in Genesis 1 can very well mean an “age” or extended period of time

Now let’s examine the issue more closely, starting with how the word “day” is used in Scripture.

Can the Word “Day” (Yom) Only Mean a 24 Hour Period?

A primary source of confusion for how the word “yom” is to be translated comes from the English translation of the Hebrew word used in Genesis 1 (and 2).  The author of Genesis uses the word “”Yom”, or “day”, to mark the six periods of God’s creative work.  Upon examination of the Hebrew word, we learn that the word “Yom” can have several possible meanings.

Meanings of the Word “Day” [“Yom”] Can Vary

The Hebrew word for “day” is “Yom”, and is used in Hebrew, as in English, to mean several things:

  • Sunrise to sunset (12 hour period)
  • Sunset to sunset (24 hour period)
  • A segment of time without any reference to solar days (could be weeks, years, or an age or epoch)

Other examples in scripture of the same word Day or “Yom”, Where the Same Word is Intended to Mean a Period of Time

  • Genesis 4:3:  “And in the process of time [word used is “Yom”] it came to pass…”
  • Genesis 30:14:  “Now Reuben went in the days [Yom] of wheat harvest…”
  • Joshua 24:7: “..Then you dwelt in the wilderness a [word used is “Yom”] long time.”
  • Isaiah 11:10-11: “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.  And it shall come to pass in that day, [that] the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people,..”

Adam was told He Would Die “On the Day” He Ate the Fruit

In the second chapter of Genesis, God gave one commandment which, in Adam’s day, was all the law that existed:

“Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” – Genesis 2:16, 17, K.J.V.

Most of us have heard from people we trust that Adam died spiritually rather than physically in the day he sinned.   But further examination shows us that Scripture teaches that Adam’s sin brought physical death upon mankind and that Jesus had to die physically to atone for it. Because Adam’s death was physical “in that day”, so Christ’s death had to be physical.  There was no way for the Cross to be avoided.  Whatever spiritual aspects might be involved, and regardless of their importance, other Scriptural references confirm the physical aspect of God’s pronouncement.

The correct way to interpret Genesis 2:17 is that Adam was to die a literal physical death “in the day he ate the fruit”. It is an accepted rule of interpretation that the literal meaning of a word in scripture should be preferred over a spiritual, figurative or symbolic one whenever possible – especially when closely related scripture confirms the literal meaning.

The problem is, Adam did not die physically until long after he sinned. Yet God’s command places the execution of judgment within the same “day” as the act of disobedience. Might we be misunderstanding the word “day” if we assume that day to be 24 hours?7  The more logical conclusion is that “day” as used in this context meant a period of indefinite length.

God’s “Day” vs. Our 24 Hour Day:  Not Necessarily the Same!

Moses, thee same author of Genesis, wrote in Psalm 90:4:

“For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch [four hours] in the night.”  

Moses seems to be saying here that just as Gods ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:9), so too God’s days are not our days.

Peter, the Apostle of the Lord, wrote the  in 2 Peter 3:8 to remind Christians that God marks time differently – and that God’s “days” are not our days:

“But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord, one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Genesis 2:4 Summarizes the Entire Span of Six Days as “a Day”!

This verse follows Chapter 1, and is intended to be a summary of the events depicted in Genesis 1.  The verse states

“This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”

Notice that here the word “day” refers to all six creation days(and the creative process that rendered the universe beforehand).


Did The Early Church Subscribe to 24 Hour Genesis Days?

Is it true that the church always believed in a creation account of 6 literal days of 24 hour periods?  No.  The fact is, many of the early church fathers took the position that God’s “days” may not have been the same as our “days” at all.  Here are some of the perspectives of early church “fathers” regarding Genesis 1:

  • Justin Martyr (c 100-166) and Irenaeus (c AD 130-200) both referred to Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 to support their views that the creation “days” in Genesis 1 were not 24 hours long, but a “thousand years” in duration.
  • Clement of Alexandria (c AD 150-220)  believed that the creation “days” spoken of in Genesis were not literal 24 hour days as we know them. In his view, the purpose of using the six days was to communicate the order and priority of creation – not the time frames involved.
  • Origen (c AD 185-254) taught that in approaching certain sections of scripture we should seek a spiritual meaning at times, and not always a literal one.  In the case of Genesis 1, he claims that “days” as we know them did not exist until the “fourth day” of Genesis 1.  Thus in Origen’s view, the first three “days” of Genesis could not possibly have been 24 hour “days” as we know them.
  • St. Augustine, (c AD 354-430) one of the greatest Christian theologians of all time,  in his work “The City of God” states in connection with the days of Genesis 1,

“What kind of days these were is extremely difficult,or perhaps impossible for us to conceive.

In his work “The Literal Meaning of Genesis”, Augustine adds:

But at least we know that it [the Genesis creation “day”] is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar”.

Bottom line, many of the early church fathers interpreted Genesis 1 in a figurative sense, and subscribed to the notion that that the “days” referred to in Genesis 1 were probably not literal 24 hour days.
God’s Dual Revelation:  The Bible and His Creation

The Bible itself tells us that God revels Himself not only in His Written Word, but also in His creation that is all around us. In the book of Psalms, David writes…

The Heavens declare the glory of God; the heavens proclaim His handiwork.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  Their is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their word the the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

Paul the Apostle also writes in Romans 1:20 that God has spoken to us through His creation, and that as a result, man is without excuse if he does not acknowledge Him:

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even His eternal power and divine nature, so that they are without excuse.”

In addition to His written Word, the Bible, God’s creation testifies to each of us about His glory and majesty.

A reasonable conclusion then is that God’s revelation is two fold: general revelation about His existence, power, wisdom and care for His creation is available to all through the witness of nature; and special revelation through His written word (the Bible).  God reveals Himself through both – scripture and His creation (as we should expect Him to).

And because God is Truth, and does not lie, true science cannot by definition be in conflict with the truth as revealed in scripture.  As pointed out so aptly by Dr. Hugh Ross in his book “Creation and Time”:

“When science appears to be in conflict with theology, we have no reason to reject either the facts of nature or the Bible’s words.  Rather, we have reason to re-examine our interpretation of these facts and words because sound science and sound biblical exegesis will always be in harmony.”

Sound advice to anyone examining scripture or the facts of nature.


Does the Bible Give Clues About an Old Earth?  Yes!

Those that espouse the 24 hour day interpretation fail to note that there are many passages throughout the Bible that refer to an “ancient” creation.  Why would these passages exist in God’s Word if the heavens and the earth were created recently, in just six 24 hour days?

Some examples:

Moses – the same author as Genesis – writes in Deut 33:13-15 about the “ancient mountains”, and the “everlasting hills”:

“Blessed of the LORD is his land, with the precious things of heaven, with the dew, and the deep lying beneath, with the precious fruits of the sun, with the precious produce of the months, with the best things of the ancient mountains, with the precious things of the everlasting hills…”

These expressions make sense given that Moses was writing about “days” in Genesis as six long periods of development.  If was writing about six 24 days, why would he describe the mountains as “ancient” here?

Psalm 102:25 talks about how God laid the foundations “of old”:

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

2 Peter 3:5 states that “he heavens were of old”:

“For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water…”

A Look at the Six “Days” of Genesis:  Two Views

“Calendar-Day” adherents contend there is a contradiction between the order of events as portrayed in Genesis, and what science tell us.  But is there? Lets look at the six “days” or periods of creation, see what the “young earth” and “old earth” views says, and how they fit with what science tells us today of its discoveries.


Genesis: Day 1

What the Bible Says:

Gen 1:1:  “In the beginning God created [bara] the heavens and the earth.
 
Gen 1:2 “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness [was] upon the face of the deep. “And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

Gen 1:3 “And God said, Let there be  [hayah] light: and there was light.

Gen 1:4 “And God saw the light, that [it was] good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Gen 1:5 “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.”

Young Earth View:

Interprets Gen 1:1 as a summary statement of the entire creation week.  Gen 1:2 is the start of day 1, with the earth being created fully formed by God within the first 24 hours of creation.  The problem with this contention is that the Hebrew used between verse 1 and 2 involves the use of a conjunction: “and”.  This is also used several times in verses 1-5, illustrating how that the activities involved are related and connected – not that verse 1 is a summary, while verse 2 starts with specifics. 

According to the young earth view of Gen 1:2, the earth was first alone in the universe, while the sun, moon and stars came later – on the fourth day!  This of course is in conflict with established facts of science, which provide strong evidence that the earth was formed about 4.6 billion years ago, and the universe about 13.7 billion years ago.

They interpret Gen 1:3 to mean that God “created” light in an instant to shine upon the earth, and that this was a special type of light that came from God – not the sun.  The problem with this interpretation is that the words used with respect to light are “let there be” [hayah]not “create” [bara].  Thus the Hebrew words support the notion that the light pre-existed, and was not “created” at that moment. 

Gen 1:5 ends the 1st “day” with the first of a series of repetitive statements that conclude the activities of each successive “day”: “And the evening and the morning were the nth day”.  Young earth proponents point to this phrase, which employs “evening” and “morning, and “day”, as proof that the author was speaking of 24 hour days.  The problems with this are several:

  • According to scholars, the KJV is not the best translation of this phrase.  The KJV combines the two events into a “day”, whereas the Hebrew speaks of these as two activities, followed by a number (n day).  Scholars maintain that the NASB ore accurately translates the phrase as “And there was evening, and there was morning, the nth day.”  The more literal translation indicates an ending activity, a beginning activity, followed by a number.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Hebrew words for “evening” (ereb) and “morning” (boquer) can have several meanings:ereb:  “sunset”, “night”, “at the turn of the evening” meaning a gradual diminishing of activity
    boquer: “dawn”, “daybreak”, “beginning of day”, or “the point at which night is changing to day” or start of a new creative activity
  • Thus, neither of these words restrict the meaning of “day” to a 24 hour period.  Its interesting to note that in Psalm 90, Moses, the same author of Genesis, uses the same words morning and evening to signify the beginning and ending of long periods of time – the life of men:

Psalm 90:5-6 “In the morning they are like grass which grows up:
In the morning it flourishes and grows up;
In the evening it is cut down and withers.”

Old Earth View:

Interprets Gen 1:1 to mean that in the beginning God created the entire universe of galaxies, stars, planets, including the earth – out of nothing between 10 and 20 billion years ago.  This notion is supported by the meaning of the Hebrew words used.  The word “bara” in the Hebrew means to do something totally and radically new.  The Hebrew words for “heavens and earth” [hashamayim we ha ‘erets] mean the entire cosmos – all of the stars, galaxies, and planets – including the earth. 

Where does science stand?  Gen 1:1 is in fact supported by the  “big bang” theory, one of the most accepted theories in science- which states that all time, space and matter did not always exist, but in fact had a “beginning” some 13.7 billion years ago, in an instant. 

Old earth creationists do not view Gen 1:1 as a “summary” of the “days” of creation, as young earth advocates do.  Rather, they view Gen 1:1 as describing the creative activity that preceded the six “days” of creation.  Gen 1:2 is viewed as continuing the process of creation, but with the focus on the earth.  This interpretation is supported by the Hebrew “perfect” tense of the verb create (bara), and also by the use of the conjunction “and” that is employed between verses 1 and 2.  Note also that the Bible does not say how God created, or how long it took to create – so God could have taken an instant, or could well have taken 13.7 billion years to create “the heavens and the earth” described in verse 1.  The Bible does not preclude this, and recall that God is outside of space & time – so “one day with Him is as a thousand years”. 

Old earth proponents also maintain that there is a shift in perspective between verses 1 and 2.  During the initial creation of “the heavens and the earth” in verse 1, the perspective is a view from space; in Gen 2, the perspective shifts to a view from the surface of the earth, when the Spirit was “hovering” above the waters. The perspective for the balance of creativities in Genesis 1 is from the surface of the earth – not from far out in space.  This is important to realize to properly understand what occurs in the rest of the story.

Gen 1:2 states that “And the earth was without form and void..”  Thus old earth proponents believe that the earth existed on this first day, but was without form, and ‘void’ [not able to support life].  Waters existed, with the Spirit ‘hovering’ over them ready to initiate creative activity.  This of course is consistent with scientific findings, which state that the early earth was a hostile environment, with an atmosphere of methane, dust and hot gases.  The verse further states “And darkness was upon the face of the deep”.  Why was the earth “dark”?  Old earth proponents affirm that initially a dense cloud cover blanketed the earth, preventing light from breaking through.  Again, this is consistent with modern scientific evidence about the early earth.

Old earth proponents interpret Gen 1:3 to mean that God merely“let” that pre-existing light break through a dark blanket of clouds by causing the opaque atmosphere, over time, to become more translucent – allowing the light to eventually shine through to the surface.

Thus, as Gen 1:4 states, “God divided the light from the darkness”, and the cycle of day & night began.

As to the interpretation of the “evening and morning cycle” of Gen 1:5 and later repetitions, old earth proponents interpret this phrase to mean that God had a “diminishing of the creative process” and a “starting up of new activity” on each “day” – and that each “day” was a stage in the process of creation, an  indeterminate but long period of time.  While young earth creationists maintain that God repeats Himself to underscore that these were 24 hour literal days, old earth proponents maintain that there is nothing in the text which demands these to be literal evenings and mornings of 24 hour periods – what God is emphasizing is that there were six periods of creative activity, each of which had a winding up and a winding down.


Genesis: Day 2

What the Bible Says:

Gen 1:6 “And God said, Let there be [“Hayah”: become; cause to appear or arise] a firmament [Raqiya: visible dome of the sky] in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.”

Gen 1:7 “And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which [were] under the firmament from the waters which [were] above the firmament: and it was so.”

Gen 1:8 “And God called the firmament Heaven [Shamayim: visible dome of the sky above in which the clouds move; the realm in which celestial bodies move; the spiritual realm] . And the evening and the morning were the second day.”

Young Earth View:

Contend that God created the atmosphere and separated the waters above (the clouds, atmosphere) from the waters below (the sea), all in the space of a 24 hour day.

Old Earth View:

Old earth adherents have a similar view, except they believe that God did not suddenly “create” the atmosphere – He let it appear over a long period time (rather than a 24 hour day). This is supported by the Hebrew wording: “Let there be”, which is Hayah [to become, cause to appear]. Also note the discussion in Psalm 104:3-6, where God is separating the watery clouds of heaven above from the waters of the earth below.


Genesis: Day 3

What the Bible Says:

Gen 1:9  And God said, “Let [“Hayah”: become; cause to appear or arise] the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let[“Hayah”: become; cause to appear or arise] dry ground appear.” And it was so.

Gen 1:10  God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Gen 1:11  Then God said, “Let the land produce [“Dasha”: to bring forth herbage; to spout; bring forth]vegetation [“Deshe”: new vegetation; young plants: seed [Zera: embryos of plants] -bearing plants and trees [“Ets” – any large plant containing woody fiber] on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so.

Gen 1:12  The land produced [Yatsa: germinate, bring forth;produce; to cause to come forth] vegetation [“Deshe”: new vegetation; young plants: plants bearing seed according to theirkinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Gen 1:13  And there was evening, and there was morning–the third day.

Young Earth View:

Young earth proponents assert that all of these creative activities occurred “instantaneously”, and all within a literal 24 hour “day”:

  • Dry land arising out of the watery earth
  • Fully grown, mature plant life and trees, springing forth fully-grown and mature from the earth
  • Plants and trees already mature, with seed already in them!

And since the sun, moon and stars are believed NOT to be created yet (they are created on Day Four), the light for sustaining all of these plants and trees is coming from a non-solar source specially created by God for this purpose!

This view obviously presents some conflicts with the findings of science, as the science of geology and plate-tectonics presents strong evidence that the continents originated out of a watery covered earth over millions of years. 

Some young earth creationists claim that God instantaneously created fully mature plants and trees.  However, the text does not support this view – the word for “create” (Bara), is not used here.  Rather, it is the ground that is causing to “bring forth” vegetation and trees.  We also know from science (and observation) that it takes much longer than a 24 hour day for seed-bearing plants and vegetation to grow to maturity.  If you adhere to a 24 hour day interpretation, you are forced into an unreasonable interpretation, and conflict with natural processes and the facts of science.  They day-age view however presents no such conflict.

Old Earth View:

The Old Earth interpretation presents no conflict with science, and is consistent with the meaning of the original Hebrew . Scientific evidence exists to support the notion that at after a period of cooling, the earth was relatively flat, without mountains and canyons, and covered by water.

The sciences of geology and plate tectonics also tell us that about half-way through the earth’s history 4.6 billion year history there arose through this watery surface a single continent or land mass.  Over time, the dynamics of plate tectonics, and other natural processes, resulted in the single continent separating into the multiple continents we see today, along with mountains, valleys, etc.

According to an article posted on the Reasons.org web site, a British research team confirmed in 2007 that the most dramatic growth of continental landmasses occurred at about the halfway point in life’s history on Earth”, vindicating the Genesis author Moses.  Bottom line:  the latest scientific findings support a past period of aggressive continental landmass growth occurring midway in the earth’s 6 “day” creation history – , or on creation day three.

The other point to note is that the Hebrew text does not say that God created [“Bara”] mature plants and trees.  It refers to “the land” producing or causing to spring forth seed, plants and vegetation.  It also does not speak about this occurring instantaneously, so the production of seed-bearing plants, vegetation and trees could well have happened over months, years or longer – certainly longer than 24 hours.

Skeptics have challenged the Bible’s account that “plants and trees” could have sprouted as early as day 3 in the Genesis chronology. However, a team of 
paleobiologists have discovered that an extinct plant, Archaeopteris qualifies for the Hebrew definition of “tree.” as listed in Genesis.  According to findings, this early tree dates back 370 million years – more than a hundred million years before the first dinosaurs! (see Reasons.org).  The fact that Archaeopteris became well established worldwide by the late Devonian era (390,000,000 years ago) supports the accuracy of Genesis 1:11 in describing Day Three events: “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees”.

Note also the words used:  (1) “Dasha” means “to bring forth”, representing an incomplete action, and indeed, one that may have taken some time to complete in the future.  2(2) the wording “and it was so” can also be translated “and it did come to pass”, implying that a delayed completion was necessary.  Hence there is no need to assume that these events took place instantaneously, or with a literal “24 hour day”.

Its interesting to note that the expression “after their kind” is used several times in this passage.  It seems Genesis is telling us that God set the boundaries for classes of living things – but what mechanism did He use to accomplish the orderly regulation of living things?  DNA programming.  One of the strongest proofs for the existence and involvement of a Designer in the creative process is the existence of DNA in every living thing – from the simplest organism to man.  DNA is highly complex, specific programming, and naturalistic evolution cannot explain the origin or existence of DNA – “God’s programming”. 


Genesis: Day 4

What the Bible Says:

Gen 1:14  And God said, “Let there be [“Hayah”: become; cause to appear or arise]lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years,

Gen 1:15  and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.

Gen 1:16  God made [“Asah” – produce; manufacture; fabricate]two great lights–the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made [“Asah” ] the stars.

Gen 1:17  God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth,
Gen 1:18  to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.
Gen 1:19  And there was evening, and there was morning–the fourth day.

Young Earth View:

Focusing on the English translation of the words, young earth creationists assume the sun, moon and stars were created in an instant by God on the fourth day.  Previous to this (during days 1 – 3), a supernatural “non-solar” light created by God sustained the earth, and allowed plants and trees to spring forth.

Old Earth View:

In contrast, the old earth view asserts that the sun, moon and stars were created “in the beginning”, as discussed in Gen 1:1 (prior to Day 1). They became finally visible on the 4th “day” when the atmosphere became translucent enough to permit “the lights” that God had created to be clearly seen.   Why?  To “govern the day and the night”, and “to serve as signs to mark seasons, days and years”.  The point is that during Day 4 the atmosphere became transparent enough to allow the sun, moon and stars to serve their intended purposes. The focus in day four is to make clear the purpose of the celestial bodies – not their origin.  They are their to separate light from darkness, to govern the day and night, and to mark seasons, days and years.

The original language supports this interpretation.  The phrase“Let there be …  is the Hebrew verb “Hayah” - meaning to become, or cause to appear.  There is no textual support for the notion that God is suddenly “creating” the sun, moon and stars on the 4th day. Also, when the text states that “God made two great lights”, the Hebrew word for made – “Asah” – refers to an action completed in the past.  Thus a more proper rendering of these verses would be “He had made two great lights..”, and “He also had made the stars” (the stars having been created [“Bara”] back in verse 1, in the beginning).


Genesis: Day 5

What the Bible Says:

Gen 1:20  And God said, “Let the water teem [swarm with living creatures] with living creatures [small and minute animals], andlet birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.”  

Gen 1:21  So God created [“Bara”] the great creatures [large sea animals] of the sea and every living and moving thing [“Nephesh” – vital animals that manifest “soulish attributes”] with which the water teems, according to their kinds[species/life form], and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

Gen 1:22  God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”

Gen 1:23  And there was evening, and there was morning–the fifth day.

Young Earth View:

The young earth view assets that God suddenly created all sea life and flying creates on the fifth day – all within 24 literal hours. They claim that all the various forms of sea life, large and small, as well as all of the various species of birds, were created within the 24 hour span that is the 5th day.

Old Earth View:

The old earth interpretation asserts that God created sea life and flying creatures on the fifth day, but they hold that this creative process took place over long ages of time - not suddenly or instantaneously, or within 24 literal hours.

The text does not speak to “all” sea and flying creatures, as young earth creationists assume.  The term “living creature” in Hebrew is the word “Nephesh Khayya“, which means “living animated being” or “air breathing creature”.  According the scholars, this term implies specifically to that which harbors “soulish life” - mind, will and emotion, in contrast to simply organic life.  Possibly God is referring to the pinnacle of His sea faring creatures – the great whales, dolphins, and other great sea creatures now extinct.

In terms of “winged birds”, the Hebrew word used is “Op”, which means “flying thing” or “a thing that flies”.  Thus the language could encompass not just birds, but also insects, and even bats.

Old earth creationists also note that the Hebrew term “bara” is used in connection with these “living creatures”, meaning that God “created” entirely new and distinct “kinds” of sea and flying creatures during this fifth day period – and then caused each to proliferate after “its kind” as time progressed.


Genesis: Day 6

What the Bible Says:

Gen 1:24  And God said, “Let the land produce [“Yatsa” – means to germinate, bring forth, issue out, proceed] living creatures[“Nephesh” – vital animals that manifest “soulish attributes”]according to their kinds: livestock,[Behemowth”, or large land quadrapeds]creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so.

Gen 1:25  God made the wild animals [“Chay” – wild mammals]according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Gen 1:26  Then God said, “Let us make [“Asah” – produce; manufacture; fabricate] man [“Adam” – human being; the human race; animals that clearly manifest spirit attributes] in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

Gen 1:27  So God created [“Bara” – bring forth something radically new] man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Gen 1:28  God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Gen 1:29  Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.

Gen 1:30  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it–I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

Gen 1:31  God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.

Young Earth View:

The 24 hour interpretation asserts that God created all of the myriad of land animals, along with the first humans – Adam and Eve – in a literal 24 hour period!

The phrase “And God said … and it was so.” is interpreted to mean that God spoke things into existence, and immediately they appeared.

Old Earth View:

Old earth proponents take the position that God created all of the land animals, as well as humans, during a sixth “day age” - and that this creative process did not all occur within 24 literal hours, but over a span of ages (beginning hundreds of millions of years ago). 

The human race began with the special creation of Adam and Eve, the first of the human species, about 50,000 years ago. Old earth proponents also take the position that other biped hominids, such as the Neanderthals, were not human beings, having preceded the creation of Adam and Eve.

The notion that that the phrase “and it was so” means immediate creation is contested.  According the Biblical Hebrew, verbs have no tense, and thus cannot tell you “when” an action was done - only that it was completed at some point.  So the young earth interpretation that God spoke and immediately things were created is not supported by a fair reading of the text.

Old earth creationists also argue that “24 hours” is simply not enough time for all of the activities of day six to be accomplished – especially if you factor in the extrapolation of activities that is discussed in Genesis 2.  To summarize, the activities of day six included ..

  • God created all the land animals
  • He then created man in His image
  • God planted a garden eastward in Eden (Gen 2:8)
  • God put the man in the garden (Gen 2:8)
  • He caused trees to grow in the garden (Gen 2:9)
  • God brings creatures to Adam to name then (Gen 2:19)
  • Adam names all the creatures in the garden (Gen 2:19-20)
  • God builds a woman from Adam’s rib (Gen 2:21-22)

To believe that all of these activities were accomplished in a literal 24 hour “day” strains credulity to say the least.  To believe this, you have to resort to everything being accomplished in “fast-forward” mode.  And you have to stretch the interpretation of Genesis 2 – which implies that time was taken to prepare a garden, place the man there, accomplish the naming of all the creatures, and to then fashion a woman to keep the man company.

Comparing and contrasting the Genesis 2 account with Genesis 1 builds an even stronger case that the word for “day” used in Genesis 1 is not a literal 24 hour day.


What All Christians Can Agree On About Genesis

While these all differ in many respects, one can be a Christian no matter which interpretation you choose.  It’s important to realize this, and respect the views of others when examining the Genesis account.  God has seen fit to allow for multiple forms on interpretation, and we should respect His approach, and realize that despite different interpretations, ALL Christians can and should agree on the central teachings of Genesis:

  • That there was in fact a beginning to all of creation.  In other words, the “cosmos” did not always exist, but it had a start in time and space.
  • That God was the intentional and purposeful Creator of the universe (it did not happen by accident, or create itself)
  • That there was a phased process involved in the creation
  • That the creative process happened over periods of time
  • That mankind was the final pinnacle of God’s creative handiwork, endowed with the “image” of his Creator

It is important that neither side be dogmatic in this discussion. Rather, we should look to the evidence and investigate what a clear reading of Scripture is telling us.  Is the only Biblically viable position that God created the heavens and the earth in six literal 24 hour days?  Or, based on the evidence, is it more likely that God created the heavens and the earth in six “days of ages”.  We should examine the evidence, then base our conclusion on the most reasonable explanation.

Which is the More Reasonable Genesis Interpretation?

To subscribe to the Calendar-Day interpretation, you must:

  • Reject mountains of scientific evidence from astronomy, geology, paleontology, physics, and mathematics, that the universe – and the earth – are billions of years old
  • Exclude any other interpretation of the Hebrew word for “day” other than a literal 24 hour day interpretation
  • Literally interpret Genesis 1 so as to believe that the heavens and the earth were created in six days of 24 hours (144 hours), contrary to many well established facts of science that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old, and the earth 4.6 years old.
  • Also subscribe to the notion that God is a deceiver, having made many of the geologic strata with the “appearance of age“, when – if He created the earth in 144 hours – they are really not old at all.  Such a position runs counter to many passages of Scripture which state God does not lie, or deceive.

To subscribe to the Day-Age Interpretation, you ..

  • Can fully accept the creation story of Genesis 1that God created the Heavens and the Earth – and be excited about the fact that science in fact supports this passage, with its assertion that out of nothing some 13.7 billion years ago the entire known universe, all matter, time and space was created from a single point by a “first Cause”.
  • Can reasonably conclude, based on good Biblical evidence, that the word “yom”, translated “day” in English, was intended by Moses to mean a span of time – not a literal 24 hour day.  This does not detract at all from the intent of Genesis 1, that God created the heavens and the earth, and all living things in six periods of creation activity.  Furthermore, that He established “a pattern” with this process, for man to work 6 days, and rest of the seventh.
  • Do not need to reject the mountains of scientific data from astronomy, paleontology, physics, mathematics and other branches of science. Rather, you can rejoice in the fact that the God of the Bible is also the same God that reveals Himself in “the heavens”, in nature, and through scientific discoveries.
  • Can be consistent, with no need to deny the Biblical account or the observable facts of science. You can give glory to God for revealing Himself in His written word, as well as in His creation.

Conclusion: “God’s Days Are Not Our Days”

Based on the evidence, we submit:

  • That the Day-Age interpretation is the more reasonable interpretation
  • That when one properly reads Genesis 1, going back to the original language, one find no contradiction with the findings of modern science.  In face, one finds confirmation of the Biblical record in modern scientific findings!
  • That one can fully accept from a literal perspective the Genesis 1 record, accept the proofs from science of an old universe and old earth, and still be consistent in their beliefs about God and science

Consistency between the Bible and science is what we should expect.  For if the Creator of the heavens and the earth also inspired the writers who penned the words of the Bible, why shouldn’t we expect the discoveries of science to support the Bible?  It would be surprising if they did not.

To learn more, please check out the resources and links below.

Resources on the Genesis Account

“The City of God”, St. Augustine - Book 11, chap.7, emphasis added.

“Privileged Planet”, by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards.  Regency Publishing. http://www.privilegedplanet.com/

“Four Views of the Biblical Creation Account”, compiled by Reasons to Believe:  www.reasons.org

“Does Old-Earth Creationism Contradict Genesis 1?”, by Greg Moore – visit www.reasons.org 

“Creation and Time”, by Dr. Hugh Ross

Dr. J.P. Morland: “The Age of the Earth”

Westminster Theological Seminary:  “Westminster Theological Seminary and The Days of Creation

Greg Moore:  “Old Earth Creationism:  A Heretical Belief?

Wikipedia:  “Young Earth Creationism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Young_Earth_creationism

Wikipedia:  “Day-Age Creationism”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Day-Age_Creationism

Answers in Creation,  a creation science ministry believing in an inerrant Word of God, a literal interpretation of Genesis, and a billions of years old earth:  http://www.answersincreation.org/

“Is There Really Scientific Evidence for a Young Earth?”, by Matthew S. Tiscareno  Seehttp://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/yeclaims.html

“A New Look at an Old Earth”, a new online book by Don Stoner:http://answers.org/newlook/NEWLOOK.HTM

“The Days of Creation: A Closer Look at Scripture”, by Jon W. Greene.  Visit www.reasons.org for a download of this in-depth article on the issue.

2 thoughts on “Genesis: Days, or Ages?

  1. Early in the history of the solar system the earth was still molten and had yet to develope its gravity but still turned on its at very extremely slow turns.during this time the eqivalent of millions of years cosmic time passed as the earth turned on its axis only 6 times when Life appeared.

    • Hi Gregory. I am fairly certain that the age of the early has little to do with its gravity – rather, mass is the driving factor behind this. I am also not aware of any evidence that is times past the earth rotated more slowly. In face, the opposite is probably true based on current evidence. In any event, God bless you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s