How long are God’s ‘days’ in Genesis? Are they 24 hours? Or 1,000 years each? Or 7,000 years each? Or an undetermined length?
Christians known as Creationists believe that God created the heavens and the earth in six literal earth days (144 hours), and therefore read Genesis 1 as literally describing 24-hour creative days. However, when they read Genesis 2:4, which talks about “the day” that God created the heavens and the earth, they assume that the same word is now figurative, meaning the entire period of time, that is, all six days together.
Therefore, while we will agree that we would trust the Bible’s chronology over the modern dating methods used by archaeologists, it does seem as though the creationist position is at least a little inconsistent.
Some Christians believe that the days were 1,000 years long from reading 2 Peter 3:8, which says:
‘But loved ones: Don’t overlook the fact that one day to Yahweh is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day.’
This is a paraphrase of Moses’ words at Psalm 90:4, which says:
‘Why, a thousand years in Your eyes, O Yahweh, Are like yesterday, after they’ve passed… They’re like a watch in the night.’
However, neither the Moses nor Peter was saying that God’s days are 1,000 years long. Indeed, in the Greek texts of both verses, the word used (hos) means ‘like’. In other words, it’s just pointing out that time isn’t relevant to God, since He lives in a realm where time doesn’t exist.
Back in the late 1800s, some theologians known as Adventists decided that each of the creative ‘days’ of Genesis 1 must be 7,000 years long. Why?
Well, they had miscalculated Bible chronology and came to believe that Adam was created nearly 6,000 years ago. Then, being sure that Jesus was soon to come, they concluded that Christ’s millennium (from Revelation) must begin at the 6,000 year mark – and once that was over, human history would add up to a nice round 7,000 years.
Further, since other scriptures talk of God’s ‘rest,’ and Genesis says that God rested on the 7th day, they concluded that this 7th ‘day’ must be still continuing, and has continued ever since Adam’s creation. Therefore, the ‘7th day’ of Genesis must be 7,000 years long... And, if the 7th day is 7,000 years long, then all the other ‘days’ in Genesis must be 7,000 years long too.
Unfortunately, the entire basis for this was flawed, since they used the incorrect chronology of the Hebrew Masoretic Text. They didn’t realize that according to the much more reliable Greek Septuagint text, Genesis originally said that Adam was actually created about 7,500 years before today. This demolishes the entire theory.
An undetermined length?
From our point of view, as translators, it seems more likely that the days are of an undetermined length, because Genesis 1:1 to 2:3 was originally an ancient poem or song.
You can probably see this for yourself if you pay attention to the opening words of each phrase, and observe the length of the sentences and the cadence of the words that follow.
So are we saying that the Genesis creation account is just a nursery-rhyme or a fable?
Hardly! The order of events described in the song is remarkably correct in accordance with how modern science describes the emergence of life on our planet:
- Clear skies
- Sea life and birds
- Land animals
It is easy to see inspiration in the song, since the chance of ancient humans getting everything in the right order is very unlikely. It’s also in stark contrast to how other ancient religions described creation, such as the universe starting with a bull – yes, even before there’s any grass, air, or planet.
So, our conclusion is that the days in Genesis 1 are probably of an undetermined length, written in simplistic poetry, in a way that could easily be remembered and understood by ancient peoples who had no understanding of the vastness of time or space.
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