The timeline of creation may have been debated ever since the beginning of time. Skeptics live up to their name when asked to consider a literal six days of creation. Even believers within Christianity fall along a wide spectrum of belief when it comes to the length of time covered in the creation account of Genesis 1.

But the Bible pulls no punches. Where we often want to introduce complexity, the Bible speaks clearly:

“And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:3–5).

This pattern continues for a total of six days as God creates more and more until he creates His crowning achievement, man and woman.

What Does a Day Mean in the Bible?

Many Christians want to argue that “day” in these verses means something more nebulous. They may cite 2 Peter 3:8, “that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years.” Or they may insist that it’s closer to saying, “Well, back in Abraham’s day,” where “day” holds a vague length. Some may call this day a year, a thousand years, or a billion years based on various interpretative measures.

But if there’s one tenet of Bible study I could stress to you as loudly and often as possible, it’s this: if you’re going to understand the Bible, let the Bible interpret itself.

The Hebrew word used for “day” in these verses is yom, and yom can also mean “age,” which could give credence to those who believe “day” means something other than a twenty-four-hour day. But if you allow the Bible to interpret itself, you’ll soon realize that this yom can only mean one day. Why?

The Definition of “Day” in the Bible

The Bible makes itself apparent on this issue in two ways. First, the yom of Genesis 1 has an evening and a morning. If this yom was an indeterminate amount of time, how could it have an evening and a morning? At best, it would have evenings and mornings, but an age couldn’t have a singular evening and a singular morning. And for those who might want to argue the definitions of evening and morning, the Bible uses those terms in the same exact way every time they’re mentioned. “Evening” is used 134 times; “morning” is used 214 times. To change the definition of either word to suit a reader’s belief about the story of creation would necessitate changing that definition for its every usage in the Bible, and that would result in some very strange verses indeed.

Psalm 55:17 is unequivocal in its meaning and intent: “Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” The Psalmist won’t be praying during vague, formless times over the course of his life. Rather, he’ll be praying “evening, and morning, and at noon” every day. Even today, the Jewish people have prescribed times and methods for prayer. Now, as then, the words for morning and evening in the Bible are always used literally. Even when these words are translated or interpreted into rather figurative speech, like “the sunset” or “the West,” those terms still refer to a specific moment in time.

Furthermore, you won’t be able to locate a place in the Bible where a number is attached to yom and it doesn’t mean a literal twenty-four-hour day. Did Joshua and his troops march around Jericho for seven billion years, or seven ages, or seven weeks? Of course not! They marched around the city for seven days, Joshua blew his horn, and the walls came a tumblin’ down.

Secondly, Genesis 1:3–5 underscores this separation of morning and evening as a separation of light and dark, denoting the passage of time. For both ancient and contemporary Jews, the day begins at sunset and ends at sunset the next day. Thus, one day equals one evening plus one morning. Put another way, one day equals one dark part and one light part.

God Made the World in 6 Days

The rest of Genesis 1 reveals that God used six of these yoms to create the world, all of the animals, and the parents of humanity. He used six time periods that were each comprised of a day and a night. Consequently, God created the world in six literal days. He then rested on the seventh day, so while that could be considered part of the creation narrative, technically no creating happened on that last day.

Presented as a presuppositional truth, the author of Genesis presents this “news” as fact, and it is never disputed throughout the entirety of the Bible. Thus, to be a true student of the Word, you must agree that the created order came about by a preexistent God of multiple persons who made everything out of nothing in six calendar days.

Does it matter?

A few say, “who cares how long it took Him, I just believe He did it!” In a sense, this sounds noble. But in a stronger sense, this is assinine. It says, “I believe the whole but not the parts,” which is an illogical statement. Those who claim a long-period of time for creation simply deny the meaning of words that don’t fit their preconceived notion.

As for me, I think words matter, and the Word of God is sure.

The preceding post is an adapted excerpt from my upcoming book, 30 Things You Need to Know 
about Your Bible (If You Claim to Know Your Bible).