What is a day? Inventing a timepiece requires intelligent design,1 and the "day" is no exception. From the very beginning, Genesis 1:14 reveals, days were invented to measure time.
Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years.
A day, literally speaking, is the time it takes for the earth to rotate on its axis exactly one time. All of our historic and scientific sources inform us that 24 hours is the time it takes for one such rotation. So, that is what a "day" is. Before any use of metaphoric speaking can be "figuratively" stretched from that, the underlying literal meaning must be accurately recognized.
This issue is not merely historical. The use of the word day (Hebrew yôm) in Genesis 1 is part of the current debate about the earth's age. In 2007, Dr. John Morris wrote:
The length of the days of Genesis 1 has been much debated. Are the days of Genesis 1 regular solar days, referring to the rotation of the earth on its axis, or could each day be a long, indefinite period of time, equivalent in total to the vast time spans of geology?... [T]he very first time the word is used, in Genesis 1:5, it is strictly defined as the light portion of a light/dark cycle as the earth rotated underneath a directional light source, producing day and night. It is also true that whenever "day" is modified by a number, like second day or six days, it can only mean a true solar day.2
Although the debate about the earth's age is still quite current, ICR is no sensational "Johnny-come-lately" to the discussion of what the word "day" means in Genesis 1. Dr. Henry Morris addressed this issue in 1954 ("Creation and Deluge," His Magazine), and again in 1961 (The Genesis Flood, with Dr. John Whitcomb), and frequently thereafter.
If the reader asks himself this question: "Suppose the writer of Genesis wished to teach his readers that all things were created and made in six literal days, then what words would he use to best convey this thought?" he would have to answer that the writer would have used the actual words in Genesis 1. If he wished to convey the idea of long geological ages, however, he could have surely done it far more clearly and effectively in other words than in those which he selected. It was clearly his intent to teach creation in six literal days.3
The understandability (what theologians like to call "perspicuity") of the Scriptures is a foundational issue for Christian doctrine. Many men and women--before, during, and after the Reformation--suffered persecution and even death to bring and teach the Scriptures to common people in their own languages so they could hear and study God's Word for themselves. William Tyndale, when challenged by a fellow priest regarding the supremacy of the Pope, stated, "I defy the Pope, and all his laws; and if God spares my life, I will cause the boy that drives the plow in England to know more of the Scriptures than you!"4 Even plow-boys can understand the word "day."
More debate on what "day" means can be expected. The "Emergent Church," like Pilate, skeptically asks, "What is truth?" The Bible, however, reveals our Creator as the God of truth. So consider this: Which meaning of the word "day" matches the demonstrated intent of our truth-loving God to provide His creatures with true, non-misleading, understandable information?
- Cooper, B. 1997. Paley's Watchmaker. Chichester, UK: New Wine Press, 16-17.
- Morris, J. D. 2007. Does the Phrase "Evening and Morning" Help Define "Day"? Acts & Facts. 36 (4). See also Morris, J. D. 2006. When is a Day Not a Day? Acts & Facts. 35 (5).
- Morris, H. M. 1976. The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 54, citing Exodus 20:11's clear meaning as confirmation. See also Matthew 5:18 and Luke 16:31.
- Foxe's Book of Martyrs, chapter 12.
* Dr. Johnson is Special Counsel at ICR.
Cite this article: Johnson, J. J. S. 2009. What a Difference a Day Makes. Acts & Facts. 38 (3): 13.