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Creation: Days or Ages? Literal History or Symbolic Myth?

The Days of Creation:
Literal Days or Long Ages?

What does the word "day" mean in the Bible account of creation? Does it refer to literal days or long ages? Are there long ages between the days? Consider this brief summary.

Are the days of creation literal days or long ages ("Progressive Creation")? Is the Genesis account of creation literal history and fact, or is it symbol, myth, and legend?  Can the Bible teaching about creation be harmonized with the claims of evolution and many "scientists" that the earth and life developed gradually over billions of years? Does it really matter? Consider the evidence in the Bible itself.

This is a very brief summary of this subject. Click below for more detailed studies:

The Days of Creation: Literal Days or Long Ages? (Non-technical) 
A Detailed Analysis of the Length of the Days of Creation

Should we view the "days" of Genesis 1 as long periods to harmonize with evolutionary "science," or are they literal, consecutive days? To weaken the doctrine about the days of creation is to weaken the doctrine of creation itself, which in turn undermines faith in God and the Bible as God’s word. (Note that "day" must have the same meaning for each of the "days" of creation.) Here is a brief summary of the evidence in the Bible.

(1) Some say "a day is as a thousand years with God." But "science" requires periods of billions of years, not thousands. No Bible verse uses the word "day" for periods that long!

(2) Study of context shows that, in about 95% of cases, YOM ("day") refers either to a literal 24-hour day or to the period of daylight (in contrast to night). So "day" is the normal meaning; and in a historical context, the normal use should be accepted unless context proves otherwise.

(3) Two passages say God created all things in six "days": Exodus 20:11; 31:17. "Days" (plural) occurs almost 600 times in Bible history, doctrine, and poetry. In every case, "days" is literal. Moses himself uses "days" 191 times. All are literal; none refer to long ages.

(4) Three passages refer to days of creation using a cardinal number ("one," "two," etc.): Exodus 20:11; 31:17; Genesis 1:5. A total of at least Bible 235 verses of history or doctrine contain "day" with a cardinal number. Every one of them refers to literal days. Moses uses "day" with a cardinal number over 100 times. Always it refers to literal days, never to longer periods!

(5) Ten verses refer to creation using "day" with an ordinal number ("first," "second," etc.): Gen. 1:8,13,19,23,31; 2:2,3; Exo. 20:11; 31:17; Heb. 4:4. In all, Moses uses "day" with an ordinal number over 100 times. It always mean literal days, never longer periods! Further, when "day" is used with an ordinal number, the days are always consecutive, without exception.

(6) The Bible contains thirteen examples in which "day" with an ordinal number refers to two or more days in sequence (a "first day," "second day," etc.). Every one of these cases describes consecutive literal 24-hour days! 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.

(7) Two passages state that God made everything "in six days": Exodus 20:11; 31:17. The expression "in X days" in the Bible always means literal consecutive, sequential days.

(8) The "days" of creation are defined to consist of "evening and morning." Wherever these words are found together in Bible history, law, or poetry they describe literal days.

(9) Genesis 1:5 - Here darkness was called "night" and was separated from the light, which is called "day." Day/light and night/darkness are so closely associated with evening and morning that they appear to define the terms and thereby define a day!

(10) Genesis 1:14-19 - On the fourth day the heavenly bodies were designated to measure "days," distinguished from "years." It follows that the fourth "day" is the kind of "day" that those heavenly bodies measure. (But remember that all the days of creation must mean the same.)

(11) The last day of creation was the seventh day on which God rested (Gen. 2:2,3). This later became the basis of the Sabbath command (Exodus 20:9-11; 31:17; Heb. 4:4). What God blessed and sanctified was the seventh day on which He rested – Gen. 2:3. But what God later blessed and hallowed was the Sabbath day – Ex 20:11. But the Sabbath day was a literal 24-hour day. Therefore, the seventh day on which God rested at creation was a literal day! Surely this means the six days of work were also literal days!

(12) Nature involves highly-integrated interdependence which would have made life impossible if the days were millions of years long. Plants were made the 3rd day, but no animals till the 5th and 6th days. How could plants survive millions of years without animals? How could life survive "evenings" of millions of years of darkness?

(13) There is no way evolution can be harmonized with the Bible or with science, even if we take the view the days were long periods. So why compromise?

Note: For a more detailed study of the days of creation, see our free Bible study articles at www.gospelway.com/creation

(C) Copyright 2012, David E. Pratte
Local churches and individuals may, within limits, distribute this Bible study guide for free, but not for sale.  Web sites may link to this page but not reproduce it. For details click here for our copyright guidelines.

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Topics for further Bible study

The Significance of Creation
Creation as a Miracle
The Consequences of Evolution
Creation as Evidence for God
Humanism, Atheism, & Evolution
A List of Bible References about Creation
The Importance of the Length of the Days

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