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? Such an interpretation would give solace to Christians who try to harmonize long ages with Genesis.
It is true that the Hebrew word yom,translated "day," can have a variety of meanings. By far its most common is a literal day, but it can mean "age." The question is, what does it mean here? As always for a word with multiple possible meanings, we must let the Scriptural context take precedence in discerning its meaning for a particular usage.
Interestingly, the 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. There are no exceptions in Hebrew. Any uncertainty is resolved in the Ten Commandments as God commands us to work six days and rest one day just as He worked on the six creation days and rested on day seven (Exodus 20:11).
Now consider that each day in Genesis is modified by the term "evening and morning," both commonly used words in the Old Testament. Can they be referring to indefinite periods of time? Standard Bible study tools define the Hebrew word for "evening" (ereb) as meaning simply evening or night. It is derived from expressions connoting "the setting of the sun or sunset," and associated with evening sacrificial meal and rituals. Often mentioned is the "evening sacrifice" or "returning at evening." Likewise the word for "morning" (bôqer) literally means morning or dawn, the breaking through of daylight, and reference is made to "rising early in the morning" or keeping the fire burning until the morning. There is little possibility of translating the word pair as "the end of an age" and/or "the beginning of an age."
The job of both Bible student and expositor is to carefully determine what the Author of Scripture is communicating to the reader. We dare not impose on the straightforward Word of God our own bias. We must stand in submission to Him and His words. Remember, God is all wise and wants to reveal truth to us, things we might not know otherwise. He can also write clearly. He will help us understand even difficult passages if we value His thoughts above our own.
*Dr. John D. Morris is the President of the Institute for Creation Research.
Cite this article: Morris, J. 2007. Does the Phrase "Evening and Morning" Help Define "Day"? Acts & Facts. 36 (4).