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Creation Passages: “Day” with an Ordinal Number


In this study we continue to examine the use of the term "day" in describing the Biblical creation. Specifically, we seek to determine whether the "days" of creation refer to literal 24-hour days or to long periods of time (averaging 700 million years each, so as to agree with the modern time scale adopted by evolutionists).

To see a more thorough statement of the issue, please read my previous article on the significance of the word "days" (plural) in creation passages (see www.gospelway.com/creation/). We will not repeat the statement of the issue here but will proceed with further evidence.

While the word "day" is occasionally used to refer to periods of time longer than 24 hours, such instances are a small fraction of the total. To know what a Bible word means in any particular passage, we must examine its use in context and then compare such usage to other similar contexts.

In this study we seek to examine creation passages that use the word "day" in connection with an ordinal number.

An "ordinal" number is distinguished from a "cardinal" number. A "cardinal" number simply indicates how many items are referred to ("one," "two," "three," etc.). An "ordinal" number also indicates the order of the items ("first," "second," "third," etc.).

The following ten passages refer to creation using the word "day" in connection with an ordinal number:

Genesis 1:8 -- And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.

Genesis 1:13 -- So the evening and the morning were the third day.

Genesis 1:19 -- So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.

Genesis 1:23 -- So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.

Genesis 1:31 -- Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

Genesis 2:2 -- And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.

Genesis 2:3 -- Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Exodus 20:11 -- For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Exodus 31:17 -- 'It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'"

Hebrews 4:4 -- For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"

Note: Although Gen. 1:5 refers to "the first day" of creation, I have not included it in this list, because the original language uses a cardinal number, rather than an ordinal number. For further notes on this, see my related study on the word "day" used with cardinal numbers.

As explained in our study on cardinal numbers, we may occasionally use the word "day" in a vaguely defined sense. However, we would not be likely to refer to a specific number of days (such as "six days") in such an undefined sense. The use of a specific number would imply that the intended meaning is precise, specific, or exact.

Now I observe further that the use of an ordinal number is even more specific, precise, or exact than the use of a cardinal number. This is so because an ordinal number not only defines a number of items, but it also defines an order of items. So, reference to the "sixth" item tells you more than a reference to "six" items. The ordinal number not only tells you that there are six items, but it tells you that you are referring to the sixth in the sequence.

The purpose of this study is to determine whether "day" with an ordinal number refers to an undefined period of time or whether it refers specifically to literal days. In particular, is it used in a way that could comprehend vast ages lasting many millions of years?

I have listed below what is, to my knowledge, a complete list of every passage in the Bible using an ordinal number with the Hebrew word for "day" (YOM or YOWM - Strong's number H3117) or the Greek word for "day" (HEMERA - G2250). This list was compiled from a computer word search of Strong's Hebrew/Greek text. (References to "numbers" from here on refer to ordinal numbers.)

In the list, I have indicated which verses might possibly involve a meaning significantly longer than a literal day. They are preceded by ????. I have also categorized the verses according to the nature of the books (books of law or history as compared to prophecy, etc.). And I have summarized the results by whether they are literal days or could be longer ages. I have also indicated how many could refer to ages lasting hundreds of millions of years.

Here is a summary of the results:

Type of book Total verses Literal days Long ages?? Millions of years
OT Law 112 all none none
OT History 55 all none none
OT Poetry 0 --- none none
OT Prophecy 14 13 1(??) none
Total OT 181 180 1(??) none
NT History 20 all none none
NT Epistles 4 all none none
NT Prophecy 0 --- none none
Total NT 24 all none none
Bible Total 205 204 1(??) none

Observations about the results:

(1) Again the writings of Moses (Old Testament law) constitute the Bible section that most frequently uses "day" with an ordinal number. Moses uses it in well over 100 verses, and every time, without exception, he uses it to refer to literal days. Never - not once - does he use it to refer to longer periods! Since nine of the verses we are studying were in the writing of Moses, it would seem highly unlikely that all nine of them refer to long periods of time, when such a usage is never found anywhere else in Moses' writings. (The one passage that some folks claim to be an exception is not really valid, as we will note later).

(2) Further, the same is true with all writings that have the nature of history, law, or doctrine. Always, without exception, references to "day" with an ordinal number refer to literal days, never to longer periods.

Genesis 1 is clearly intended to be history and doctrinal instruction, as are Exodus 20 and 31 and Hebrews 4. This would only be denied by liberals and modernists, never by those who believe the Bible is the infallible, verbally inspired word of God. But the Bible contains over 90 verses of history or doctrine that include "day" with an ordinal number. Every one of them refers to literal days. Why would anyone think the days of creation are not literal days?

(3) Only one verse in all the Bible uses "day" with an ordinal number in a way that may refer to periods longer than a literal day. One! And that verse is prophecy, not history or doctrine. Since prophecy commonly uses words in symbolic and non-literal ways, we would expect it to use "day" symbolically. But this proves absolutely nothing about how the word is used in historical or doctrinal contexts.

When the Bible uses "day" with an ordinal number, the fact remains that the usage is always literal, except in one instance of symbolic prophecy. Since Bible descriptions of the days of creation are not prophecy, the only fair conclusion is that the days of creation are literal.

(4) Furthermore, according to my observation of the examples, when "day" is used with an ordinal number, the days are always consecutive days. I can find no exceptions, either in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Hence, the references to "day" with an ordinal number not only disprove the argument that the days of creation are long ages, they also disprove the argument that long ages occurred between the days.

(6) And finally, no Bible passage - not even prophecy - uses the word "day" in a way that could reasonably be taken to refer to ages of many hundreds of millions of years. There simply is no Bible authority whatever for such a conclusion.

Notes on Deuteronomy 10:10

This passage says:

Deuteronomy 10:10 - As at the first time, I stayed in the mountain forty days and forty nights; the LORD also heard me at that time, and the LORD chose not to destroy you.

"The first time" refers to when Moses went upon Mt. Sinai to receive the tables of the law, which he later broke. Then he went up to receive them again later, as described here. "Time" is from the Hebrew YOM. But when Moses was on the mountain the first "time," he was there for forty days. So those who claim the days of creation are long ages frequently list this passage as using "day" with an ordinal number but not referring to a literal day.

Now if "day" here did refer to forty days, that would hardly prove that "day" can refer to thousands of years, let alone 700 million years, as the day-age theory requires. But even more important, I have included Deuteronomy 10:10 in the list above as referring to literal days. Please consider the evidence.

The fact is that YOM is here translated "time," not "day." This is true of the NKJV, KJV, ASV, and NASB, as well as other less reliable translations. The reason it is so translated is that the word used here is not singular, but plural! Literally, it says "the first days"!

I am not a Hebrew scholar, but I can use some basic Hebrew reference works. Here is what I found on this expression:

Davidson's Analytical Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament says on page 377, that the word translated "time" (as used in Deut. 10:10) is plural, absolute, masculine. The same source on page 218, states that the word "first" (as used in Deut. 10:10) is likewise masculine plural.

Further, my copy of Gesenius' Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, on page 752, defines the word for "first" (Heb. RISHON). It happens to list Deut. 10:10 as an example, saying: "former days, former times, Deu. 10:10..."

Now if some Hebrew scholar can teach me something different, I am open to new information. If I am mistaken, I will openly correct myself. But the above evidence makes quite clear to me that YOM in Deut. 10:10 is plural. It is literally "days," as Gesenius says. Hence, when it refers to the forty days Moses was previously on Mt. Sinai, it is completely literal. The "first days" were the forty days he was there. Deut. 10:10 is not an example of YOM with an ordinal number having a non-literal usage. Those who so claim are simply mistaken. Actually, Deut. 10:10 simply confirms the evidence that YOM with an ordinal number is literal.

I repeat that all examples of "day" with an ordinal number are literal except perhaps one, and it is prophecy.

Sequences of days with ordinal numbers

Consider now some additional further evidence from the examples of "day" used with an ordinal number. Several examples refer to two or more days in sequence. That is, they describe what happened on a day with an ordinal number, then what happened on the next sequential day (such as "first day," "second day," etc.). This, of course, is what happens in Genesis 1, so such instances are of special significance because of the similarity.

Here is a list of the examples (the reader can examine the specific verses in the list of passages): Genesis 1:8-2:3; Exodus 14:9,10; Numbers 6:9,10; Numbers 7:12-78; Numbers 28:16,17; Numbers 29:17-35; Joshua 6:14,15; Judges 19:5-8; Judges 20:22-30; Esther 9:17; Esther 9:18; Esther 9:21; Ezekiel 45:21-25.

The Bible contains a total of thirteen such examples. Examine for yourself and you will see that every case is a case of consecutive literal 24-hour days! There is not one exception. Now, if the other instances are all consecutive, literal days, who could possibly argue logically that the days of creation are anything but consecutive, literal days?

Of special interest are the four instances of long sequences of days with ordinal numbers (longer than just two days). Please notice them:

Genesis 1&2 - The six days of creation followed by the day of rest are described sequentially.

Numbers 7:12-78 - When the altar was dedicated, the offerings of the leaders of Israel are described sequentially through twelve days.

Numbers 29:12-35 - Offerings are described sequentially through eight days of the Feast of Tabernacles.

Judges 20:22-30 - Events of a battle are described sequentially through three days.

These sequences of days with ordinal numbers unquestionably all describe consecutive literal 24-hour days. No one would even dream of any other meaning for any of the other descriptions. Genesis 1&2 clearly must have the same intended meaning.

So a study of the language of Scripture confirms that the original intent of the inspired writer was to state that creation occurred in six consecutive, literal days. The clear intent of Scripture is violated by all attempts to find long ages in creation.

This conclusion is strengthened as different aspects are examined and the evidence accumulates. Please examine the other articles on my web site at www.gospelway.com/creation/.

Click here to see the detailed list of passages in this study of "days" with an ordinal number.

(C) Copyright 2000, David E. Pratte
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.

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