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NOW DEEPER
ORIGIN 1.2.1

Meaning of Bible 'day'

How do we know that a creation 'day' was longer than 24 hours?

The Bible says so!

The Bible is its own best interpreter. As much as possible we should let other portions of the Bible – and particularly surrounding portions – interpret the meaning of any word that is ambiguous.
Here we examine how the word 'yom' (translated 'day' in English) is used throughout the Bible creation story.
  1. YOM. The Hebrew word for 'day' in the Genesis account is 'yom,' which like the english word 'day,' usually means a 24 hour period but can also mean a long indefinite period, like we say this is the day of social media.
  2. GENESIS 1:11-12. At beginning of Day 3, God said, 'Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their kinds. And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning – the third day.' It takes more than 24 hours for land to produce and reproduce vegetation and bear fruit.
  3. GENESIS 1: 5, 8, 13. In these verses concluding Days 1-3, the phrase 'And there was evening, and there was morning' means beginning of period and end of period (Jewish days started at sundown) rather than 24 hours BECAUSE the 24-hour day – our concept of time – was not established until Day 4 when dense cloud cover had condensed enough to reveal the sun and moon to 'serve as signs to mark days and years.'
  4. GENESIS 1: 5, 8, 13, 19, 23 and 31. The phrase 'And there was evening, and there was morning – the [number] day' is the closing statement for each of the six days of creation but not for the seventh day of rest. Therefore, the seventh day is still open and thus the word day obviously means more than 24 hours.
  5. GENESIS 1: 5, 8, 13, 19, 23 and 31. The phrase 'And there was evening, and there was morning – the [number] day' is the closing statement for Days 1, 2 and 3. But the sun didn't come until Day 4, for purpose of signs and seasons, and for days and years. The concept of a 24-hour day came AFTER yom was already in use to specify beginning of something and end of something.
  6. GENESIS 2.4*. This verse says, 'This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day the Lord God made earth and heaven.' The previous chapter says God made earth and heaven in six separate days. Therefore, this use of the word day (singular) is more than 24 hours because it is the sum of six days (plural).
  7. GENESIS 2:16*. God said Adam must not eat the fruit from a particular tree, 'for in the day you eat from it you will surely die.' He ate the fruit but did not die within 24 hours. Therefore the use of the word day here must mean a future period of time.
  8. GENESIS 2:18-20. This passage says that God gave Adam the assignment of naming every living creature ... that 'It is not good that the man should be alone' ... and that 'there was not found a a helper as his partner.' It is unlikely that completion of this assignment and Adam's loneliness would all occur within the first 24 hours of his life. The word day here seems to mean a longer period of time.
  9. NO OTHER REASON. Other than for use of the word 'day' in translation from Hebrew to English, there is nothing in these verses that even suggests that each of God's creative processes must be limited to 24 hours.
* The New International Version (NIV) is the only major translation that, erroneously and for no apparent reason, omits the word day in these two passages as it is written in the original Hebrew text.
God's time
'With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and thousand years are like a day.'
(2 Peter 3:8)
This does not mean that one 24-hour period is equal to 1,000 years (actually much more!!) This is obviously a figure of speech, a simile, to say that we should not try to squeeze God's huge time scale into our small time scale.
SUMMARY
Based on a careful reading and study of the above passages from the Genesis creation account, it appears that the Hebrew word 'yom'  – translated as 'day' in English versions – means a long indefinite period of time, not 24 hours.
  • Historically, most Christians have believed that the entire universe was created in six days in approximately 4000 BC, but only because 'yom' has been translated as 'day' in English versions of the Bible. This is a correct translation, but yom, like day, its English equivalent, can have two meanings: (1) 24 hours or (2) long indefinite period of time.
  • A rule of translation is that if a word has two or more meanings, select the one that is most in accord with surrounding passages and common knowledge.
  • Most Christians have never carefully studied Genesis 1 and 2. They just say without question what has been said by rote for centuries – since the King James version in 1611 or before – that the whole universe was created in six days (presumably calendar days).
  • By reading and studying all of the above passages together, it becomes obvious that the writer was referring to a creative process that spanned more than six calendar days.
CONCLUSION
YES
'Day' is long period
An age, long indefinite period of time
NO
'Day' is 24 hours
A single 24-hour calendar day
SCIENCE. Interpreting the Hebrew word 'yom' as 24 hours would cause serious and irreconcilable conflicts with the discoveries of modern science, but interpreting 'yom' as a long indefinite period is compatible with abundant astronomical, geological, biological and archaeological findings. There is now overwhelming scientific evidence that God's creative processes occurred over a very long period of time.
IMPORTANCE. Whether a person believes – or doesn't believe – in the Big Bang and an old earth doesn't have anything to do with Christianity. With regard to sin, salvation and eternal life, it really doesn't matter when God created the universe. The only reason why getting it right is important is because it reflects on credibility of the Bible in conversation with well-educated people. They will think that if the Bible is wrong about age of earth, then the Bible is probably wrong about other things, too.