SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
The Age of the Earth
Part 5: The Meaning of yom
By Steve Webb
Greetings in Christ! This is the fifth in a series of blog articles that deal with the age of the Earth from a Christian perspective. I am a Christian geologist who has been working in this field of science for 38 years. I take the Bible as the accurate inspired word of God, as I have done since my youth. As explained in a prior introductory blog, I believe the Earth is considerably older than 6000 years and I do not believe that this conflicts with Scripture. The immensity of this subject is more than book length. In fact it would require many books, particularly to explain to those with limited science backgrounds. Due to the fact that my time and energy for writing on this subject is limited, all I can do is bite off a single small piece of this at a time. There are not many areas that I can speak with true authority, but this is one of them. I know my geology. I hope you will give me audience.
The single topic I am going to address in this short blog is the way that the word "day" (yom in Hebrew) is used in the Bible, and most specifically in Genesis. While I have read almost everything I can find on this subject, I freely admit that I am not a Hebrew scholar. I must trust the scholarship of others. Thus, the following information is heavily taken from other sources with editing by me for brevity. I have provided a couple of links at the bottom that are not exhaustive but are a good start for those wanting to chase this subject further.
With respect to use of the Hebrew word yom (day) it is demonstrably true that most often it means "24 hours" in the Bible but it is not always used that way. By analogy, in English we sometimes use the word day in a colloquial manner, such as "day of reckoning," "save for a rainy day,'"or "day of the dinosaur," when we have no intention of strictly meaning 24 hours. One needs to look no further for such an example of this in the Bible than in the Creation story in Genesis 2:4 where yom is used to refer the whole six days of creation as in "the day (yom) when all things were created." In Daniel 8:14 "evenings and mornings" refer to a period of 2,300 days. Indeed, often in the Old Testament the phrase is used as a figure of speech meaning "continually" (Exodus 18:13; 27:21; Leviticus 24:3; Job 4:20). Thus the meaning of day is not determined by a majority vote, as some apparently think, but by the context in which it is used.
It has sometimes been claimed that when days are numbered in a series in the Bible that they must refer to 24-hour days; however this is without basis as there is no such rule in the Hebrew language. More to the point, there is a specific example in the Old Testament of a numbered series of days that are not twenty-four-hour days. Hosea 6:1-2 reads: "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us that we may live in his presence." It is thus clear that the prophet is not speaking of 24-hour "days," but of longer periods of time in the future, and he uses numbered days in a series.
The fact that the phrase "evening and morning" is often used in connection with 24-hour days does not mean it must always be used in this way, as some claim. If one is going to take everything in Genesis 1 in a strictly literal way, then the phrase "evening and morning" does not encompass all of a 24-hour day, but only the late afternoon of one day and the early morning of another. This is considerably less than twenty-four-hours. In fact, technically, the text does not say the "day" was composed of "evening and morning"; rather, it simply says, "And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day" (Gen. 1:5). The phrase may simply be a figure of speech indicating a beginning and end to a definite period of time, just as we see in phrases like "the dawn of world history" or the "sunset years of one's life."
If every day in the series of seven days is Genesis 1 is to be taken as 24-hours, why is the phrase "evening and morning" not used with one of the days (the seventh)? In fact, as we shall describe further below, the seventh day is not 24-hours, and thus there is no necessity to take the other days as 24-hours, since all of them alike use the same word (yom) and have a series of numbers with them.
It is true that the creation week is compared with a workweek in Exodus 20:11; however, it is not uncommon in the Old Testament to make unit-to-unit comparisons rather than hour-for-hour ones. For example, God appointed 40 years of wandering for 40 days of disobedience (Num. 14:34). And, in Daniel 9, 490 days equals 490 years (cf. 9:24-27). Moreover, we know the seventh day is more than 24 hours, since according to Hebrews 4 the seventh day is still on-going. Genesis says that "on the seventh day God rested" (Gen. 2:2), but Hebrews informs us that God is still in that Sabbath rest unto which He entered after He created: "There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God's rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his" (Heb. 4:10).
In Genesis 2:15-17 we read, "Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die." Yet we know that Adam proceeded to live 930 years. Without this direct scriptural knowledge of his lifespan we would have undoubtedly misinterpreted the manner in which day was being used. From this we see how the word day, as used in the Bible, does not necessarily have its most obvious interpretation.
The point of all of this is that there are legitimate grounds for being cautious as to how we interpret the word day as it is used in Genesis. It is dangerous and arrogant to immediately assume we know how to interpreted Genesis 1 without considering all possibilities. The Scriptures are inerrant but our ability to interpret them is far from inerrant. There is such a thing as good theology and bad theology. Martin Luther, along with many other Christians in the past, believed that the sun rotated around the Earth because of the many references to the sun rising and setting, and to the sun standing still in Joshua 10:13. They were wrong. I likewise believe Christians are wrong when they try to scientifically support a 6000-year age of the Earth based on the Bible.
I fully realize that what I have written is a superficial summary. I am trying to cover a lot of ground in a few words that I know will not be very convincing to many, but I do it from a broad perspective of having both a belief in Scripture and an understanding of the scientific evidence. The Earth simply looks older than 6000 years. I have absolutely no incentive to say this if I did not believe it.
Blessings and keep the faith!
Please note, as a ministry, GotQuestions.org officially holds to Young Earth Creationism. We truly and fully believe that Young Earth Creationism best fits with the biblical account of creation. However, we recognize that Old Earth Creationism is a valid viewpoint that a Christian can hold. In no sense is Old Earth Creationism heresy and in no sense should Old Earth Creationists be shunned as not being brothers and sisters in Christ. We thought it would be worthwhile to have some articles that positively present Old Earth Creationism, as it is always good for our viewpoints to be challenged, motivating us to further search the Scriptures to make sure our beliefs are biblically sound.
For more on the definition of yom, see: "The Meaning of yôm in Genesis 1:1–2:4" and "How long were the days of Genesis 1?"
Age of the Earth: The SeriesPart 1: Introduction
Part 2: Radiometric Age-Dating
Part 3: Dinosaurs
Part 4: Tree Rings
Part 5: The Meaning of Yom
Part 6: Other Scriptural Difficulties
Part 7: Noah's Flood
Part 8: Hebrew-Judaeo Worldview
Part 9: Who were the Cavemen?
Part 10: The Garden of Eden
Part 11: Bible Genealogies
Tags: Controversial-Issues | Current-Issues | Science-Creation
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