What’s in a Day?



What’s in a day? That’s the big question when it comes to any interpretation of Genesis 1 that is not a literal, plain reading of the text.

Taken at plainest reading, there is little getting around the fact that the author of Genesis recounts the timeframe in which God created the entire universe. Turns out, that’s a week – six days, with a seventh day of rest.

Then, when we add up the genealogies (assuming they don’t skip generations at any point) we are given about 5,700 – 10,000 years of history from Adam to us. This six-day creation with a young earth are central to the idea of Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

Yet, there are many who argue that a plain reading of Genesis 1 actually does the text a disservice. They say that the earth is much older than 10,000 years because of scientific evidence. These folks typically subscribe to Old Earth Creationism (OEC), along with Intelligent Design (ID) and Theistic Evolution (TE).

So, how do these last three groups marry an old earth and universe with Genesis 1? Furthermore, how do YEC maintain their belief in a young earth despite scientific evidence?

Simply put, it all comes down to the meaning of day.


Both YEC and OEC agrees that when we read Genesis 1, we read a consistent pattern and rhythmic flow in the chronology of God’s creative work.

There was evening and morning, the first day, and it was good, and there was evening and morning, the second day, and it was good, and there was evening and morning… Well, you get the picture.

At the outset, it is important to remember that Hebrew uses the word day (יום) much in the same manner that English does. In English we have three specific ways we use the word day.

  1. To distinguish between daytime and nighttime
  2. To identify a 24-hour period of time
  3. To point back to an unspecific amount of time int he past

So, for example, we can see each of these three in everyday speech…

  1. “We should only travel by day since it will be dark at night.”
  2. “One day this week, we should get together.”
  3. “Back in my day, we didn’t have the internet.”

Hebrew does the same thing:

  1. “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” – Gn 1:5
  2. “In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out.” – Gn 8:14
  3. “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them.” – Gn 6:4
Hebrew English Example
12-hour daytime  (Gn 1:5) יום (yowm) “We should travel by day”
24-hour day  (Gn 8:14) יום (yowm) “One day this week…”
Unspecific amount of time in past  (Gn 6:14) יום (yowm) “Back in my day…”

Even the story of creation in Genesis itself gives us a hint that a day may not mean a literal 24-hour period of time. Gn 2:4 poetically transitions the creation story by recollecting the “day that the Lord God made the earth and heavens.”

This is similar to our modern English usage of the word day when we say that something occurred “back in the day.” Of course, we do not mean back in the literal 24-hour period of time, on a Wednesday, but rather we are referring back to a period of time when something occurred.

So, the OEC argument goes, simply because Genesis says day does not necessarily lock us into a literal 24-hour period of time. Obviously, we need context to help us know what the author means by day. Does he mean daytime, a 24-hour day, or an unspecific amount of time in the past?

This is where the conflict between Young and Old Earth Creationists comes to a head. YEC adamantly contends that the plainest reading of Genesis should lead us to a literal, 24-hour period of time, whereas OEC disagrees by pointing out that the third type of day lines up better with the rest of the creation story as well as scientific evidence.

Let’s look at two strong arguments on both side of the aisle in relation to the meaning of a day in Genesis.


First, scientific evidence has demonstrated that the earth is older than 10,000 years. Way older. In fact, it’s so old that it’s kind of hard to even fathom. By modern estimates, the earth is roughly 4.45 billion years old. Scientists have concluded this based on research from radiometric age dating of the oldest rocks and minerals that we can find on the planet.

If the earth is 4.45 billion years old, then is stands to reason that it, along with all its inhabitants and ecosystems, could not have been created in 144 hours just 10,000 years ago. Typically, this conclusion leads OEC to interpret the traditional reading of days in Genesis 1 as epochs or stages of earth’s development over unknown periods of time rather than literal 24-hour periods.

From being created, to naming all animal life, to getting married, Adam had a long day!

As we saw last week, such a reading lines up well with what science tells us occurred. Both Genesis and science claim that the first creative act was light, followed by the formation of land and sea, followed by the development of an atmosphere, then plants, then animals, and finally humans. The question isn’t over the creative order, it’s over the creative time.

Second, we tend to think about the sixth day as the day when God created Adam, then called it quits to rest on the seventh day. However, a closer look at Gn 1:24 – 2:22 reveals that much more happened on the sixth day than we typically think about. In fact, it was quite a full day’s schedule as Dr. Travis Campbell points out.

On the sixth day, God…

  • Created a host of creatures to live and flourish on the land (Gn 1:24–25)
  • Created human beings (Gn 1:26–29) with the first man (Adam) out of the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7)
  • Planted the Garden of Eden (Gn 2:8)
  • Caused trees and plants to grow in the Garden of Eden (Gn 2:9; Gn 1:11–12, 2:5)
  • Placed Adam in the Garden to steward and keep it (Gn 2:15)
  • Made a covenant with Adam (Gn 2:16–17; Hs 6:7)
  • Recognized that Adam was alone (Gn 2:18)
  • Introduced Adam to the animals, instructed him to name them all (Gn 2:19–20)
  • Created Eve as Adam’s helper and wife (Gn 2:21–22)

From being created, to naming all animal life, to getting married, Adam had a long day! This is not to say that God couldn’t have done all these things in twenty-four hours, but it seems quite unlikely (especially if Adam needed to name all the animals and still receive Eve as his wife).

So, how does YEC contend that the plainest reading of Genesis should lead us to a literal, 24-hour period of time?


First, YEC argues that every time the word יום (yowm) is used with a number, or with the phrase “evening and morning,” anywhere in the Old Testament, it always means an ordinary day. This happens to be the case throughout Genesis 1.

Each of the creative acts that God performs is associated with a day that has an evening and a morning. This phrase, then, acts as a timestamp to draw our attention to the fact that the author did indeed mean to teach that God used all 24-hours per day.

Second, despite what OEC says about a reinterpretation of days in Genesis, many reputable Hebrew scholars point out that such a revision of the text is grammatically untenable with the original intent of the author.

He could have [created the universe] in six seconds. He is God, after all.

James Barr (Oxford University) summarized it like this – “So far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story.”[1]

Therefore, not only is a literal 24-hour day the plainest reading of the text, it is the plainest reading for a reason – the author meant it to be. Any scientific evidence that contradicts YEC, then, must either be incorrect or misinterpreted. After all, God could have created the earth in six days to appear as if it were 4.45 billion years old. He could have done it in six seconds. (He is God, after all.)

However, as Exodus 20:11 indicates, God specifically chose to use a six-day creation with a seventh day of rest to set an important rhythm for his creation.


So, what should we believe about the days in Genesis? I think that’s a very important question to answer for yourself through your personal investigation and research.

The most important thing to walk away from Genesis 1–3, though, is not how long it took God to create the universe but why God created the universe.

He didn’t do so because he was lonely or bored. Remember, he has perfect, eternal community within himself as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead, he created us out of love. And when we rebelled against him, he displayed that love by promising to reconcile us back to him.

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Gn 3:15).”

Who is God talking about when he says he shall bruise your (the enemy’s) head?


Right there immediately after the why of creation is the how of redemption. This is the most important part of why Genesis 1–3 was written. Not primarily to give us scientific insight into creation (although it does), but to answer the question of how things should be, why they are not, and how God is going to rescue us.

So long as both YEC and OEC keeps focus on the redemption of Genesis 3:15, the days of Genesis 1 can be discussed and debated with brotherly love.


[1] Letter from Professor James Barr to David C.C. Watson of the UK, dated April 23, 1984. (http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/barrlett.html)


Saturday Sunday School


Every Sunday across the globe, most Christians gather together in order to worship Jesus. That is, most Christians. A small group of Christians known as the Seventh-day Adventists maintain that all Christians should worship on Saturday in order to keep the Sabbath.

Adventism, a term from which the group derives its name, began in the 19th century America under the leadership of William Miller who taught the imminent return of Christ (or advent). Like most religious movements in the young American republic, Millerites sought to restore primitive, simple Christianity in response to centuries of European doctrine and dogma they viewed as an intrusion on true Christianity.

As a result, many Christians focused on what they believed was a plain reading of scripture in exchange for whole systems of theology derived from scripture. One of the unique ideas from this religious experiment was a return to observing the sabbath, since it was clearly given as a commandment in Exodus.

Those Millerites who held this view became known as Seventh-day Adventists. Today, the group contends that Christians should worship on Saturday in order to maintain the Sabbath (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, worship included).

So, is this something Christians should consider? Are the Seventh-day Adventists on to something that they rest of Christianity is missing? Should Christians keep the sabbath and worship on Saturday instead?


The short answer is, “No for salvation, Yes if they’d like to.” The sabbath is no longer a requirement for Christians to follow, although it is certainly something Christians can practice.

Usually, the confusion over sabbath is simply a confusion over covenants. Under the old covenant, Adventists would have a great point. Christians should keep the sabbath because it is a commandment. However, because of Jesus’ person and work, we’re in the new covenant in which the sabbath is a continual rest found in Christ rather than a mandatory twenty-four hour period of rest.

With that in mind, we should always remember that all but one of the of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament – keeping the sabbath. This is because the sabbath was meant to foreshadow the eternal rest we find in Christ, which is why Jesus declares himself “Lord of the Sabbath” in Matthew 12:8.

Because of Jesus, we don’t obey the law for rest, we rest from the law.

Moreover, the Old Testament requirement of keeping the sabbath was satisfied in Christ. Our justification (salvation) in no way depends on our ability to keep the sabbath law. Instead of obeying the law in order to have rest, we now rest from the law in Christ.

All this leads to how the New Testament church treated and wrote about the sabbath. The best places to see this is in Acts 20:7 and Romans 14:5–6. In Acts 20:7, we see the first evidence of Christians worshipping on a Sunday in celebration of the resurrection.

“On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” – Acts 20:7

The first day of the week for first century Jews was the day we know as Sunday. So, here we have Christians gathering on Sunday, not Saturday, to here Paul preach until midnight. (And you thought sermons at your church were long…)


We also have extra-biblical evidence that points to Christians exchanging the sabbath for worship on Sunday, which they called the Lord’s Day.

  • “But every Lord’s day…gather yourselves together and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned” (Didache, ca. 70CE).
  • “We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead.” (Letter of Barnabas, 74CE).
  • “[T]hose who were brought up in the ancient order of things [the Jews] have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s day, on which also our life has sprung up again by him and by his death.” (Letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius, 110CE).

Furthermore, Romans 14:5–6 seems to give a closed-cased against the Adventist position, and the reason why many Christians reject their argument.

“One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
– Romans 14:5–6

Paul is basically arguing that it doesn’t matter when we worship. If one person is convinced that they should worship on Sunday, then that’s fine. If another person is connived they they should worship on Saturday, then that’s fine as well. If a third person is convicted that they should worship at 3:30AM on alternating Wednesdays, it’s weird but it’s also okay.

So, you could say, evangelicals esteem Sunday over Saturday but Adventists esteem Saturday over Sunday, which is completely acceptable.


With all that said, there is a danger in believing we must worship on Saturday in order to observe the sabbath – if Adventists desire to keep the Sabbath as apart of their salvation, then they must keep the entire law. (This is an if, since not all Adventists may hold this belief.)

Paul makes a similar point with a different kind of law-keeping in Galatians 5:1–6. He states that if you get circumcised in order to earn your justification, then you must keep the whole law, which is impossible since by attempting to keep the law you’ve fallen away from grace.

The same could be said about sabbath. If you keep the sabbath in order to earn your justification, then you must keep the whole law.

If we keep the Sabbath, we must keep the whole law.

This is why Christians should fiercely reject the Adventist position if they maintain that the sabbath must be kept in order to receive salvation. If, however, they worship on Saturday in order to maintain the Sabbath knowing that it has nothing to do with salvation but simply preference, then there really isn’t anything wrong.

At the end of the day, Christians are free to worship any day of the week because Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. We continually enjoy sabbath rest in him, since we are no longer under the law. If we want to worship on Saturday, that’s fine according to Romans 14:5–6. However, if we believe that we must worship on Saturday to keep the sabbath as a part of our salvation, then we must also keep the whole law.

Editorial note: Previously, the article was written to reflect that Adventism practices sabbath rest on Sunday. After a wonderfully insightful comment by a reader (Kristine), the article as been edited to better reflect Seventh-day Adventist beliefs. Thanks for the catch, Kristine!