When it comes to discussions of the age of the earth, the first thing Christians appeal to is what Scripture says (which is expected of those who name the name of Christ). And yet, there are Christians, God-fearing and God-loving believers, on both side of the “Age of the Earth Debate.” There are believers who believe the earth is young and believers who believe the earth is old according to phenomena such as tree rings the dating of fossils discovered beneath the earth, and so on.
And yet, the age of the earth has little really to do with whether or not God created the world in six days. Take the birth of a child as an example: a child can be born within 5 minutes but go on to be 95 years old before he or she dies. The birth time of a child has little to do with the child’s age potential (only God knows how long that child will live). Similarly, whether the earth is young or old doesn’t dismiss the idea that God could create the world in six days.
But there are those who believe that Scripture tells us truth, that God can do anything. God could’ve created the world in six hours if He wanted to (or six minutes, for that matter), but He chose to create the world in six days. And Scripture has something to say on the matter. Before we go and examine evidence for the age of the earth, let’s start with what God says about the matter.
So, some seem to believe that the age of the earth indicates that God couldn’t have created the world in six literal days – that the six days must be a “shortcut” way of describing the years it took for the world to form. There are theistic evolutionists in the debate who argue that God set the processes of the earth in motion after saying “let there be,” and there are others who believe God did things in a much quicker fashion. And yet, if the Scriptures say that God created the world in six literal days, then who are we to dispute Scripture? Yes, there is scientific evidence and we should take it into consideration of our understanding of the world (scientists of old conducted science in order to learn more about God, the Intelligent Designer, of this world), but again, the age of the earth doesn’t dismiss six literal days. While we can talk about 2000 years since the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, perhaps ancient Hebrew history goes back much further than we could anticipate.
Some have asked the question, “what does it mean that the world was created in six literal days?” This question takes into account that “days” as we measure them may not be the same time measurement for the Jews back when the world was first created (spoiler: it isn’t). This is something we will also tackle when discussing the days of creation.
Let’s go ahead and dig into the question: Did God create the world in six literal days?
Genesis: Six Days of Creation
The Bible tells us that God created the world in six days, with details of how those six days unfolded in the Book of Genesis (called “the Book of Beginnings”).
In day 1, we read that the Lord separated the light (day) from the darkness (night):
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. So the evening and the morning were the first day. (Genesis 1:1-5)
God created lights in the firmament to distinguish day and night on the fourth day:
14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day. (Genesis 1:14-19)
Notice that first, there’s nothing but darkness (“darkness was upon the face of the deep,” Genesis 1:2), but God then speaks light into existence and it comes. The Lord doesn’t create darkness; instead, darkness was all there was, no earth, no foundation of the earth, nothing. And then, God brings light into the world. This is what John was getting at when he uses day and night imagery to describe the character of God:
5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)
On the fourth day, the Lord created “lesser lights” to rule the night, and put stars in the sky. Even at night, humans still need lights to see. What this tells us is that the Lord was more concerned with light than He was with darkness, that He only creates light and that, even in the darkness, the light shines.
Other passages of Scripture affirm that God created light because that’s who He is: He is light, He is a manifester, a revealer, He is one who shines in life and in the heart and mind:
21 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, darkness which may even be felt.” 22 So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days. 23 They did not see one another; nor did anyone rise from his place for three days. But all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings. (Exodus 10:21-23)
Even in Egypt, the children of Israel, God’s people, had light, because they had The Light among them.
In Nehemiah 9, Scripture recounts the Lord’s goodness to Israel in the wilderness:
10 You showed signs and wonders against Pharaoh,
Against all his servants,
And against all the people of his land.
For You knew that they acted proudly against them.
So You made a name for Yourself, as it is this day.
11 And You divided the sea before them,
So that they went through the midst of the sea on the dry land;
And their persecutors You threw into the deep,
As a stone into the mighty waters.
12 Moreover You led them by day with a cloudy pillar,
And by night with a pillar of fire,
To give them light on the road
Which they should travel. (Nehemiah 9:10-12)
“Even when they made a molded calf for themselves,
And said, ‘This is your god
That brought you up out of Egypt,’
And worked great provocations,
19 Yet in Your manifold mercies
You did not forsake them in the wilderness.
The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day,
To lead them on the road;
Nor the pillar of fire by night,
To show them light,
And the way they should go. (Nehemiah 9:18-19)
“Dominion and fear belong to Him;
He makes peace in His high places.
3 Is there any number to His armies?
Upon whom does His light not rise? (Job 25:2-3)
Again, this shows that the light of the earth rises upon everyone. No one lives in a place of complete darkness where the sun never shines. And the Lord tells us that He lets the sunshine come on the righteous as well as the unrighteous, the believer as well as the unbeliever:
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45)
Another reference to light comes with regard to the “new creation,” salvation in Christ. Paul makes the connection, which helps us understand the “old” creation (heavens and earth) and “new” creation, being redeemed and transformed in Christ:
Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we have received mercy, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced the hidden things of shame, not walking in craftiness nor handling the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)
The gospel, the glory of Christ (that which exalts Christ), is referred to as “the light” (2 Corinthians 4:4), and in 2 Corinthians 4:6 Paul connects the old creation and new creation: “For it is God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” This means that when God shines in our hearts, when the Lord comes to us in salvation, He “shines” in our hearts by giving us the knowledge of God’s glory — that is, the knowledge that we, like all, have sinned, and continually fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), and that Jesus Christ is the glory of God. The knowledge that Jesus Christ is God’s glory and that we can only please God by faith in Him, is the knowledge, the “light,” that illuminates our hearts and minds and gives us understanding (what Paul calls “the knowledge of the truth” in 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 3:7, and Hebrews 10:26. Paul calls salvation enlightenment in Hebrews 6:4.
These all point to the idea that the Scriptures have a favorable view of light, and that God is “light” rather than “darkness.” He is the “the light of the world,” and, as John says in his Johannine Prologue, Jesus is the light that shines in darkness:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. 8 He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. 9 That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world. (John 1:1-9)
The creation story of Genesis 1 tells us much about the God who made the world and all that is in it. And notice that at the end of Genesis 1, “the evening and the morning were the first day” is a statement that marks one full day. In Jewish culture, evening was the start of a new day and morning was the end of that same day; the following evening marked a new day. In fact, the priests in the temple had to light the lamps at the altar of the tabernacle of meeting:
20 “And you shall command the children of Israel that they bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually. 21 In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening until morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel. (Exodus 27:20-21)
As for me, I will call upon God,
And the Lord shall save me.
17 Evening and morning and at noon
I will pray, and cry aloud,
And He shall hear my voice. (Psalm 55:16-17)
What we will find is that, in Genesis 1, there will be this constant mention of “evening and morning is another day,” a refrain that tells us the Jews marked days by evening and morning, not morning and evening as we mark them today. We’ll also see more about the numerical hour measurements, too.
The second day is marked by the division of the waters beneath the earth from the waters above the earth:
6 Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus 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. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day. (Genesis 1:6-8)
The “firmament” or Greek στερέωμα refers to the sky or the heavens, so it says that the “sky” God called Heaven. In other words, the waters are divided to distinguish the waters of the sky from the waters on the ground. What’s interesting is that, in the Hebrew, the words “Heaven” and “waters” share a linguistic connection: the Hebrew word for “Heaven” is shamayim , while the word “waters” is mayim . As can be seen, mayim is present in shamayim , showing that the heavens contain water. This is why it rains from the sky, or, as Scripture says, the rain falls from heaven:
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. 12 And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12)
Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided. 2 The fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained. 3 And the waters receded continually from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. (Genesis 8:1-3)
As these few verses show, there’s water on the earth beneath the ground (“fountains of the great deep,” and “fountains of the deep”), and water above the earth (“the windows of heaven were opened,” Genesis 7:11; “the rain from heaven was restrained,” Genesis 8:2).
The second day of creation was devoted to creating heaven and dividing the waters above the earth (in heaven) from the waters beneath the earth. On day 3, the Lord separates the land from the waters beneath the heavens:
9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 So the evening and the morning were the third day. (Genesis 1:9-13)
In addition to gathering the ground waters together and calling them “Seas” (Genesis 1:10), God also brings grass, seed-yielding plants, and seed-yielding fruit trees. With the gathering of waters, the Lord allows trees and vegetation to grow that can benefit from the waters that were created on the second day (you can’t have seed-bearing plants without water, if you expect them to go). We see from this that God had a deliberate plan and strategy in how He created the world.
We’ve discussed the fourth day when we referred to God creating light in the darkness on the first day.
20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” 21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 So the evening and the morning were the fifth day. (Genesis 1:20-23)
When we read of the fifth day, we see that the Lord allowed the sea and sky to bring forth creatures. The Lord already separated the heavens from the earth in day four, so now He’s populating the heavens (sky) and the earth (the waters below the heavens, separate from the ground dirt, of course). In verse 22, the Lord tells the animals to “be fruitful and multiply,” which comprises the same language the Lord told Adam and Eve in Genesis 1:22. In totality, though, the Lord says this phrase (“be fruitful and multiply”) some six times in Genesis:
22 And God blessed them, saying, “ Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “ Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)
17 Bring out with you every living thing of all flesh that is with you: birds and cattle and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth, so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.” (Genesis 8:17)
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “ Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. (Genesis 9:1)
“Whoever sheds man’s blood,
By man his blood shall be shed;
For in the image of God
He made man.
7 And as for you, be fruitful and multiply;
Bring forth abundantly in the earth
And multiply in it.” (Genesis 9:6-7)
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
26 Then God said, “ Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
29 And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. 30 Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. 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 1:24-31)
The Lord created the cattle, field beasts, and mankind, all on the sixth day, with mankind being the last of God’s creation made on that day. The Lord tells man that he has seed-bearing fruit to eat, but notice that there’s no mention of man eating the animals or eating meat. That doesn’t come until later:
So God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be on every beast of the earth, on every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea. They are given into your hand. 3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs. 4 But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood. 5 Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. (Genesis 9:1-5)
Here in Genesis 9, the Lord gives mankind the right to eat animals “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs” (Genesis 9:3). Why are the green herbs mentioned here? Because God only gave seed-bearing fruit in the beginning to mankind, but green herbs to the cattle and beasts of the field. Now, he’s giving the animals, the cattle and beasts as he’s given the green herbs to mankind. God’s original command to man was to eat fruit and vegetation, but He has now given mankind cattle and beasts (meat). Perhaps the Lord gives it here because he has allowed animals to be slaughtered starting with the Fall of mankind in Genesis 3. There, the Lord “made tunics of skin” for the human couple after their transgression of the divine law (Genesis 3:21). After the fall of mankind, Abel gives the first of his fat lambs in Genesis 4 as an offering to the Lord (with which the Lord is pleased). By the time we reach Genesis 8, after the Flood, Noah offers two of every creature that comes out of the Ark as an offering of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord to atone for the sin that brought about the Flood in the first place. By Genesis 9, we see that, whereas the humans and animals were not to eat each other in the original commands, God now allows humans to eat of the cattle, beasts, and creeping creatures. Man cannot eat the animal with its blood still within it though, for “its life” is “its blood.”
After “evening and morning” as the daytime unit mentioned for six days straight, the Lord concludes His work on the seventh day:
Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished. 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. 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. (Genesis 2:1-3)
The seventh day concluded creation, was the end of the creation work as Genesis 1 displayed. God rested, He “ended His work,” and “He rested.” And God not only rested on the seventh day, but He “blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” (Genesis 2:3). He made the day holy, set the day apart from all others (after all, that’s what it means to sanctify the day or “make it holy”). So creation lasted six days, after which the Lord rested. What Scripture means by “rested” here is that God ceased the act of creating the sun, moon, stars, natural phenomena. This “rest” shouldn’t be taken to mean that the Lord is no longer active in His creation. He is; but He is no longer creating the world, the sea, sea creatures, flying birds, creeping things, and so on.
Scripture tells us that God, having ceased the creation activity, is still working in His creation:
God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:1-3)
The word for “upholding” is the Greek word φέρων, an active verb that refers to someone bearing the weight of something by holding it up in the air or on his or her shoulders, such as bearing the Ark of the Covenant, or how Simon of Cyrene beared the weight of the Cross as he carried it for Jesus up to Golgatha, “the place of the skull.” That is what the Lord is doing: bearing up everything in the world, from the trees, to the rivers, ground, sun, sky, clouds, etc. It’s all being done as though the Lord Jesus is carrying the weight of it all on His shoulders.
The Lord Jesus also says that both He and the Father are still active in the world:
16 For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working.” (John 5:16-17)
The context of John 5 is that there was a man at the Pool of Bethesda who’d been there for 38 years. Everyone else was getting healed in the therapeutic waters, but the man couldn’t roll over in time before someone else would jump in the waters in front of him. Jesus comes by and sees the man and asks him, “Do you want to be healed?” That was enough for the man to say “yes,” and Jesus heals him without him jumping into the pool. He takes up his mat and walks, and the Pharisees (our Mosaic Law legalists), once again, find something of which to accuse Jesus. So when Jesus says “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working,” Jesus is attempting to communicate to the Pharisees that the Sabbath is not a day of rest in that one doesn’t do anything; rather, since the creation of the world has ended and He “rested,” both He and God the Father have still been working . In other words, they didn’t stop and cease from all activity when they ceased from creating the world; after creating the world, their word must uphold it — hence the statement in Hebrews 1:3 that Jesus is upholding all things by the word of His power. Even on the Sabbath and after the first “Sabbath,” there still remains work to be done. The Lord has rested from one creative activity, but He is still using His creative activity and power to govern the world. God is not deist; He doesn’t sit back and let the world self-maintain while He “goes off to do other things,” some would say.
The “six” days of creation: What do we mean by “days”?
We’ve examined the days of creation and seen the repeated mantra of “there was evening and morning” (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). But the question of “Did God create the world in six literal days?” begs the question, “what we do we mean by days?”
Some assume that six literal days of creation refers to 24-hour periods of time, which would mean that the Jews had time units and a day structure similar to our own. It appears as though the Jews had concepts of a day, for example, because the Lord told Abraham that every male in his family was to be circumcised eight days after birth. When Jacob works for his wife Rachel, he works for his uncle Laban to have Rachel as his wife for seven years (Genesis 29:20-21). The Jews also believed in designations of months, days, weeks, and years, as can be seen by way of the genealogy of mankind in Genesis 5 (a certain person lived so many years, etc.).
Let’s tackle this in more detail below.
The Bible’s time measurements
The Bible’s use of “days”
The Bible mentions the word “day” or “days” quite a bit throughout Scripture, but the word is not always used the same. “Day” can refer to a unit of time (“the evening and the morning were the third day,” for example, as found in Genesis 1), or “day” can refer to an era, a different period of time than what we’re currently in. When the Lord tells Adam to not eat the fruit, for “in the day you eat it, you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17), He’s referring to an exact moment, not necessarily an entire day’s worth of moments.
We will now encounter the Bible’s use of the “day” or “days” measurement:
27 So all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred and sixty-nine years; and he died. (Genesis 5:27)
In Genesis 5:27, the designation for the lifetime of an individual was in “years.” We see here that Methuselah lived so many years, which seems to match current lifetime measurements of years.
3 And the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” 4 There were giants on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. (Genesis 6:3-4)
In Genesis 6:3-4, the word “days” is used twice, once to refer to the lifetime of an individual (in years), while the use of “days” in Genesis 6:4 refers to an era of history where giants roamed on the earth. Again, the use of “days” for the lifetime of man, and the use of days for the era of the giants, wouldn’t have been the same. It’s highly probable that the giants lived on the earth longer than the days of man (120 years).
11 In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. 12 And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12)
Here we see “year,” “month,” “day of the month,” and “forty days and forty nights,” with its day and night designations. All these units are found in current worldwide divisions of time. The “second month” shows that there are multiple months to the Jewish calendar, even when Genesis was written, which matches our own. Of course, Jewish calendar months weren’t named “January, February, March, April, May, etc.,” but the use of the ordering word “second” shows that the Jews had multiple months and use ordinal descriptions to compare and contrast them. The “forty days and forty nights” refers to day divisions of time, as part of the day is called “daytime,” while the other part of the day is called “night” or nighttime. As God said it in Genesis, the sun ruled the daylight, while the moon and stars ruled the night (Genesis 1:5, 14, 16, 18).
Then God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the animals that were with him in the ark. And God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters subsided. 2 The fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained. 3 And the waters receded continually from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters decreased. 4 Then the ark rested in the seventh month, the seventeenth day of the month, on the mountains of Ararat. 5 And the waters decreased continually until the tenth month. In the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
6 So it came to pass, at the end of forty days, that Noah opened the window of the ark which he had made. 7 Then he sent out a raven, which kept going to and fro until the waters had dried up from the earth. 8 He also sent out from himself a dove, to see if the waters had receded from the face of the ground. 9 But the dove found no resting place for the sole of her foot, and she returned into the ark to him, for the waters were on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took her, and drew her into the ark to himself. 10 And he waited yet another seven days, and again he sent the dove out from the ark. 11 Then the dove came to him in the evening, and behold, a freshly plucked olive leaf was in her mouth; and Noah knew that the waters had receded from the earth. 12 So he waited yet another seven days and sent out the dove, which did not return again to him anymore.
13 And it came to pass in the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, that the waters were dried up from the earth; and Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and indeed the surface of the ground was dry. 14 And in the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth was dried. (Genesis 8:1-14)
Here in Genesis 8, we see that the waters receded after 150 days, that Noah sent out a dove two weeks before the waters had fully receded. In Genesis 8:13, the “six hundred and first year” refers to Noah’s age, as he was 600 years old in Genesis 7:11. We can know from this age designation that between the events of Genesis 7 and Genesis 8 when the waters recede, nearly a year had passed.
9 And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. (Genesis 17:9-12)
Every male child was to be circumcised in their foreskin eight days after birth. This eight days would have meant that the child would have been labeled a newborn. So, this circumcision would’ve taken place a little over a week after the child’s birth. We can conceive of 8 days because we measure units of time according to the number of days “since” something happened, for example.
As we’ve seen, “day” can refer to the actual moment something happens, the entire 24-hour period in which it happens, or an era of time in history. Context has to determine it, though, so our small study of “day” in Genesis isn’t enough to determine what is meant in Genesis 1 by the six days of creation. We’ll have to dig into a more distinct measurement of time, the “hour,” to see if there’s more to uncover.
The Bible’s use of “hour”
What does the Bible mean by “hour”? Again, it’s all too easy to think of hour as “sixty minutes of time in a 24-hour day,” but that’s assuming a scientific definition that the Scriptures may not grant. To find out what the Jews would’ve meant by an “hour” of time, we have to examine the Scriptures and take context into account. The study of the word “hour” is important because it could help us understand the use of “evening and morning” and the six days of creation.
The hour measurement as discussed below comes from mostly the New Testament, as the Old Testament seems to have next to nothing to say about the hour time measurement. There are two references to “hour” in the Old Testament, and we’ll cover those.
“Hour” in the Old Testament: Daniel
The word “hour” is only mentioned twice in the Old Testament, both in the Book of Daniel:
19 Then Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, was astonished for a time, and his thoughts troubled him. So the king spoke, and said, “Belteshazzar, do not let the dream or its interpretation trouble you.” Belteshazzar answered and said, “My lord, may the dream concern those who hate you, and its interpretation concern your enemies!
20 “The tree that you saw, which grew and became strong, whose height reached to the heavens and which could beseen by all the earth, 21 whose leaves were lovely and its fruit abundant, in which was food for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt, and in whose branches the birds of the heaven had their home— 22 it is you, O king, who have grown and become strong; for your greatness has grown and reaches to the heavens, and your dominion to the end of the earth.
23 “And inasmuch as the king saw a watcher, a holy one, coming down from heaven and saying, ‘Chop down the tree and destroy it, but leave its stump and roots in the earth, bound with a band of iron and bronze in the tender grass of the field; let it be wet with the dew of heaven, and let him graze with the beasts of the field, till seven times pass over him’; 24 this is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree of the Most High, which has come upon my lord the king: 25 They shall drive you from men, your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field, and they shall make you eat grass like oxen. They shall wet you with the dew of heaven, and seven times shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.
26 “And inasmuch as they gave the command to leave the stump and roots of the tree, your kingdom shall be assured to you, after you come to know that Heaven rules. 27 Therefore, O king, let my advice be acceptable to you; break off your sins by being righteous, and your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor. Perhaps there may be a lengthening of your prosperity.”
28 All this came upon King Nebuchadnezzar. 29 At the end of the twelve months he was walking about the royal palace of Babylon. 30 The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?”
31 While the word was still in the king’s mouth, a voice fell from heaven: “King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: the kingdom has departed from you! 32 And they shall drive you from men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. They shall make you eat grass like oxen; and seven times shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, and gives it to whomever He chooses.”
33 That very hour the word was fulfilled concerning Nebuchadnezzar; he was driven from men and ate grass like oxen; his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair had grown like eagles’ feathers and his nails like birds’ claws.(Daniel 4:19-33)
There are two measurements of time being mentioned here: first, 12 months, a designation that compares Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream with the time in which he is to see God’s punishment over him and his glorying in himself over his kingdom. The “very hour” of Daniel 4:33 refers to the same unit of time in which Nebuchadnezzar heard the voice from heaven in Daniel 4:31. It refers to a connected unit of time — which tells us that the voice from heaven speaking and Nebuchadnezzar’s transformation from a human to a beast didn’t occur too far apart in terms of time. With little time between them, perhaps minutes here if we assume the standard hour measurement in our time, Nebuchadnezzar suffers the punishment of God because he gives glory to himself rather than ascribing it to the Almighty God.
In Daniel 5, the “handwriting on the wall” passage, we see the word “hour” used as well:
Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand. 2 While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. 3 Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.
5 In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. 6 Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other. 7 The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation. 9 Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were astonished. (Daniel 5:1-9)
“In the same hour,” a phrase mentioned in Daniel 5:5, is a reference to the feasting of the king and his men and their praising false gods. In the “same” measurement of time, which tells us that it is around the same time as the feast, the handwriting on the wall comes. While the phrase is designed to give an approximation relation to the idol feast, it shows us that not much time passed between the eating and the handwriting that arrives mysteriously. “Not much time had passed,” the writer seems to say here.
“Hour” in the New Testament
5 Now when Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to Him, pleading with Him, 6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented.”
7 And Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.”
8 The centurion answered and said, “Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof. But only speak a word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it. ”
10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel! 11 And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go your way; and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” And his servant was healed that same hour. (Matthew 8:5-13)
The centurion’s servant was healed “that same hour.” The same hour as what, we may ask? The same hour as Jesus promised the man he would be healed. In other words, in an approximate, close timeframe as Jesus and the centurion had been speaking, the centurion’s servant was healed. It wasn’t long after the conversation that the servant was healed. “Not afar off,” is the impression behind the use of “same.” The word “same” implies that both the conversation and the healing took place in the same umbrella of time, close proximity to one another, minutes apart.
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. 17 But beware of men, for they will deliver you up to councils and scourge you in their synagogues. 18 You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (Matthew 10:16-20)
Two phrases of Matthew 10:16-20 have been emboldened: first, “when they deliver you up” (verse 19a) and “it will be given to you in that hour” (v.19b). The “hour” in which you will be given the words to say are the time that you are delivered up. When is that time? No one knows but God, but the point is that the word “hour” here doesn’t necessarily refer to 60 minutes, or 60 minutes after you’re arrested. It may very well mean that during the timeframe of your arrest, the Spirit will give you the words to say. “In that hour” could very well mean “at that time,” with the time being undesignated and not precisely defined as “60 minutes.”
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. 5 Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ 7 They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’
8 “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them theirwages, beginning with the last to the first.’ (Matthew 20:1-8)
“The third hour” (v.3), “sixth and ninth hour” (v.5), and “eleventh hour” (v.6) refer to time measurements by which Jesus discusses hiring laborers in the vineyard: 9am (third), 12 noon (sixth), 3pm (ninth), and 5pm (eleventh). Of course, these measurements presume that the morning for Jews began at 6AM. Now, if these weren’t time units, why would Jesus mention them? Interestingly enough, we only get the eleventh hour mentioned, no twelfth, thirteenth, or fifteenth hours of the day, for example. This lets us know that the Jewish time structure could have been twelve hours, though we’ll need more information to be sure.
What we do know, however, is that the workers, those employed in the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours, are all paid a denarius — a day’s wage, as if they worked the entire day when they did not. The problem with the workers in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20) is that they presumed that they would receive “exact” pay: if they worked more hours than another, if they worked three more hours than others, they would receive three hours’ better wages. And yet, Jesus gave them all the same pay, the day wage, whether they worked one hour, three hours, or six hours.
45 Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:45-46)
If the day lasted 24 hours, then Jesus would’ve died around somewhere around 6am-9am. Jesus doesn’t die until the sixth hour of the day, meaning that the time would have been after 9am (which doesn’t fit our notion of 24-hour days). Jesus dies in the middle of the day, before Friday at sunset (which was the start of Shavat , or Sabbath). If the morning started at 6am, then the sixth hour of the day would place the time at 12 noon, with Jesus dying at 3pm (ninth hour).
Conclusion: Did God create the world in six literal days?
Having examined a number of passages on the “day” and “hour,” we can conclude that there are some similar time measurements to our own. We have ideas of what a day and hour are like, as well as months, weeks, and years, so we seem right at home with reading the biblical text.
And this comfort we have has often been used to argue that the six literal days of creation are 24-hour periods. And yet, there are some things that complicate the thought. First, there is the designation of “evening and morning” in Genesis 1. Our days begin with morning and stretch until midnight, which is longer than the evening and morning designation of Genesis.
We know this because of the words of our Lord in John about the length of a day:
Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick. 3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.”
4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when He heard that he was sick, He stayed two more days in the place where He was. 7 Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”
8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”
9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. (John 11:1-9)
Jesus tells us in John 11:9 that there are twelve hours in the day. What this means is that 12 hours count as the measurement of a Jewish day, not the 24 hours we live by in the Gentile world. For every Jewish day, there are two Gentile days. This explains why our time measurements, despite the 24-hour day, are broken into two 12-hour periods (12 midnight until 12 noon, 12 noon until 12 midnight, which we designate through the use of “AM” and “PM”). The 12-hour divisions of the day that we have shows that we’ve borrowed influence from the Jewish hour/day standard. And yet, our days are longer: while the Jewish days are twelve hours, standard time measurements are 24 (from 12AM to 12AM). There’s more to say, but this alone shows that the six literal days of creation were not six, 24-hour periods of time.
Revisiting Genesis 1 and “evening and morning”
We’re now in a position to revisit “evening and morning” in Genesis. Remember we said that Jesus states in John 11:9 that there are twelve hours in a day. If we take this to be true, then perhaps we can shed light on the death of our Lord. Jesus told the disciples and the crowds that He would be killed and rise in three days. And yet, Jesus goes down in the tomb on Friday evening right before sunset (which started the Sabbath), and then rises early Sunday morning after a few hours of the day. If sunset starts Friday at 6PM, and Jesus rose early in the morning on Sunday (before 8AM, let’s say), then Jesus was only in the grave for 2.5 days. And yet, 2.5 days is not 3 days — or is it?
The answer can be found in the fact that the Jews did not have the precise measurements of time that we do today. Today, we measure 3 days as 72 hours (24 hours a day x 3 days); the Jews measured 3 days as any action that touched any part of the three days. Let’s take an example of someone working on the Sabbath. The Jews were told on the Sabbath not to leave their homes, but if someone left their home and worked an hour on the Sabbath (or “thirty minutes,” with our precise time measurements), then that person was guilty of having worked the entire Sabbath. Similarly, Jesus having died on Friday, if only three hours before the end of the day, counted as Jesus having been dead the entire day. He could have been dead for three hours of Friday, but He was considered to have been dead for the entire 12-hour day. 3 hours dead = 12 hours dead, according to Jewish time measurement. That doesn’t sit well with our precise sensibilities and scientific mindset, but the Jews were not as technologically or scientifically advanced as our current culture. One cannot bring modern-day assumptions and place them onto the ancient text. To do so would lead to a misinterpretation of the Word of God, not only the authorial intent of the writers but also the authorial intent of the Holy Spirit Himself. It would also be anachronistic, placing current time measurement onto a text for a time that didn’t have those same measurements. However you see it, to assume our precise, scientific measurements of time back on the Bible would mean that we’d fail to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
When we arrive at the six literal days question, we must take all this into account. Jesus has already told us that there are only twelve hours in a day, so we can’t just assume twenty-four hours. So when Moses writes in Genesis 1 that “there was evening and morning,” for each day, is he referring to 24-hour days? No. He’s referring to the Jewish twelve-hour day. Christians can think of the 12-hour creation day within our 24-hour paradigm as follows: God creates on the first day, twelve hours, then stops (morning ends the first day). But morning to evening is another twelve hours, yet God only creates “evening and morning.” Thus, there are twelve hours, a day in-between, where God does not create. Evening to evening makes twenty-four hours, but God only creates from evening to morning (not to the next evening). So in-between all the “days” of creation, there is a twelve-hour rest period where God refrains from creative activity. Evening and morning mark a 12-hour day where God creates, and it appears as though one could count twelve hours from sunset to tell you when the old day ended and the new day begun. Thus, when the biblical text says that God made the world in six days, “six days” is not literally, 144 hours, 24-hour days for 6 days. Instead, six days represents the fact that on six different days, God created during twelve-hour Jewish day designations.
There is “evening and morning,” but in the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard in Matthew 20, Jesus discusses hiring workers in the morning and paying them in the evening — which means that the “evening and morning” designation in Genesis 1 is twelve hours; the other half of our standard day would be from morning to evening, the remaining twelve hours. Thus, the six days of creation are not six days as we think of them, but rather, six days of creation with 12-hour delays between them. The “days” of creation are not consecutive days, as we would think of them. Thus, if six literal days is interpreted as “24-hour consecutive days,” then the answer to the question “Did God create the world in six literal days?” is a resounding “No.”
Now, here’s where some would argue with this and point to Scripture to do so: “What about the Lord’s words to work six days and rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath?”
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. 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 20:8-11)
The Jews were to work six days and rest on the seventh, the Sabbath, doing no work. Why? Because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. I’d agree with that — and yet, where does it say that God created the world in “six, consecutive days”? It doesn’t. Even if the days of creation are not six consecutive days, Exodus 20:8-11 can still be obeyed because God created the world in only six days. The 12-hour periods in-between where God does not create are days He rested. When He rested from creation, it means that He didn’t create vegetation right away after creating light, for example. The 7 days of creation could be 14 days on our calendar, instead of 7 literal, back-to-back days.
Now, there’s no way to confirm that this is true, but if we’re reading the text right, it says “evening and morning, the first day.” Does “evening and morning” mark the first day? If so, then the “days” of creation are not our normal “days” of human existence. That’s not a problem with some believers, though others who believe this text is literal and bring twenty-first century lenses to it will find this interpretation distasteful.
There are those who will take the events of Genesis literally in the sense that they believe the six days are 24-hour, consecutive units of time. Based on Exodus 20 above, there are those that will argue that the Lord tells the Jews to honor the 6-day workweek because He created the world in six days. Again, if one assumes that the Jews take this “literally,” then one must understand that this statement for the Jews referred to 12-hour days. And then, if Jesus’ death shows us anything, it’s that the Lord didn’t have to create all day on those six days; He could’ve created living things three hours out of each of those six days and they would’ve still counted as six days.
Six days is six days, no matter how you slice it, but we must keep in mind that a twelve-hour Jewish day, the twelve-hour Jewish day standard, doesn’t match with our 24-hour day period. We have twelve hours of day and twelve hours of night, and the Lord created “day” and “night” in Genesis 1 for a reason. Obviously, the night is important, but in the Jewish calendar, evening and morning comprise a day.
And finally, as for the age of the Earth, we have to put the Bible in context. Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, the Torah, and that means that the time between the events of Genesis 1 and the life of Moses (when Moses wrote the Books) means that at least 1,500 years had transpired by that time. The age of the earth would be much older than the written record of Scripture because, prior to that time, the Israelites only had the Law of God on tablets of stone (which is why God gave the Israelites tablets in the first place).
Did God create the world in six literal days? The answer depends on what you mean by “literal,” and what you mean by “six” (whether consecutive or detached and separate). Those who hold to the Jewish day of twelve hours can affirm that the six days in question are detached – while still viewing God as the Almighty and holding to sound doctrine. Sound interpretations of Scripture and context don’t allow Gentile believers to view the Sabbath as Sunday when the Jews celebrated Sabbath starting Friday evening at sunset. In the same vein, why affirm 24-hour days when the Jews held to twelve-hour days?