The Meaning of the Word "Day" in Genesis 1

This thread is an extension of the ‘Reply to introduction of evolution’ thread. I thought it might be worth separating the various topics. Unfortunately I don’t know how to inport quotes from various posts into this one thread, so please forgive the non-standard way to quote.

(Incidentally, can anyone let me know why there’s only three days grace before the thread is closed. As I am busy with other things as well, I sometimes cannot get back to the thread within the time limit. If no one has replied, it will be closed.)

Mr.Molinist referring to a quote from JBWright:

Totally agree with this question. Why can’t the Hebrew word YOM in Genesis 1 be understood? I think it can. And I think it’s quite clear.

Why do you believe it’s a myth?

When an instance of some linguistic phenomenon within a similar context is repeated, it does usually mean the same thing.

To argue that the same linguistic phenomenon within a similar context is actually different is completely illogical and without foundation.

Quoted from ‘The Genesis Account’ by Jonathan D Sarfati with figures from Stambaugh, J.

Professor James Barr, Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford, has written:

These quotes obviously don’t prove that the meaning of the word “day” (the creation days) in Genesis 1 actually means ~24-hour days, but why have a different meaning to the word “day” here, when it obviously does mean that everywhere else as refferenced above. To argue otherwise denies the consistency of Scripture and in deed God.

The important questions are:

  1. What was the writer’s (Moses/God) intended meaning (as this would be the meaning intended by God)?

  2. What would the original reader understand from the plain reading of the text (again, as this would be the meaning intended by God)?

  3. If, as the evidence suggest, that the plain meaning of the word “day” was a 24-hour day, then do we just ignore the written word of God?


There is no way to know what the writer’s beliefs were outside the written words. However, using the term “plain meaning” is misleading and restrictive. It insults any interpretation except for the one wanted. It implies that an opponent must be twisting words.

The Hebrews used their word for day similar to the way Greek, Latin, and English does. That means, it generally refereed to the time it took to complete a day and night cycle. But it could also be used for shorter periods or longer periods, like “this day is hot” or “in Abraham’s day,” neither 24 hours. The context determines the length. The words translated evening and morning simply mean beginning and end, not a time of day. Their “plain meaning” requires context to translate them as evening and morning.

If the text is truly inspired by the Creator mentioned in the text, then what we find in nature should match the text. Many popular theologies reject what is found in nature because those discoveries do not support their beliefs of how to interpret the text. However, Genesis 1 DOES match standard science if nature is used as an interpreter of the text. Scientists have determined that the universe is old and took all that time to develop into the universe we see. It will continue to change until its end. A natural interpretation rejects a list of 24 hour days that can’t be verified or even timed until the 4th day. Instead it uses the concept of repetition as “poetic seasons” called days. However long it took to complete that segment was its length, and each part had an end and a beginning to the next part.

If the text does not match nature, then the text looses its ability to describe the Creator. If the Creator made the “Earth look old” then His creation lies to us and cannot tell us anything about Him. Either way Genesis 1 becomes a myth like any other ancient creation myth. A myth scenario does not build my faith in God.

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I’d like to see the context of Mr. Molinist’s statement, because I’ve read his papers on that topic and you clearly aren’t understanding his point.

Moreover, your insistence that there can only be ONE interpretation/meaning of a particular linguistic construction raises huge red flags for me. (I don’t think you have a background in the basics of linguistics, or you wouldn’t make such a bizarre claim.)

Besides, even in the text of the HMT there are two passages, if I recall, where an ordinal number is used with YOM and it is NOT a “literal 24-hour day”. Hosea 6:1-2 comes to mind.

I vaguely recall another in Joel. There may be one in Daniel, but I’m just shooting from the hip on this. However, NONE of these really matters because the underlying claim of a “rule of grammar” about “an ordinal number with YOM” has been debunked nearly every time some Young Earth Creationist has used it to demand that Genesis 1 refer to six 24hour days.

Of course, it is also irrelevant for other reasons: EVEN IF some rule demanded some “literal meaning” of YOM in Genesis 1, that wouldn’t prevent that literal meaning (i.e., the dictionary meaning) to be applied to a poetic structure/genre. Genesis is clearly structured as a “creation hymn” composed of a chiastic 3+3 YOM outline where the author communicates that for YHWH God, all of creation was created by him in something as modest a single human work-week. (“For God, it’s all in a day’s work. That is how powerful he is!”) And for each YOM of the work-week God trumps (and thereby dominates) a pagan god/goddess of the surrounding pagan cultures. That is, YHWH created the water and the land. YHWH created the animals of the land and fish of the sea and the birds of areas, each a DOMAIN which other neighboring religions attributed to some deity in a pantheon.

The “Creation Hymn” even provides an obvious CHORUS for each day of that workweek: “And the evening and the morning was the Nth YOM.” That would be a tiresome repetition in a prose narrative of an historical event. But it makes complete sense in a Creation Hymn honoring the God of Israel. (Indeed, that is why it introduces the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses. The history of God’s people must begin with a preface, a basic background to the central “character” of the Torah: YHWH, the Creator God of Israel.)

When Carl Sagan used the “Cosmic Calendar” to explain the history of the universe and the relative time-scales involved, he chose to use the analogy of a single year of 12 months and 365 days. He used the words “year”, “months” and “days” exactly as their literal definitions in the dictionary would demand. But the “Cosmic Calendar” uses “literal definitions” of the time words to explain by analogy something much bigger. When Sagan said that life on earth began in September, he used words which all had “literal meanings”, but the audience understood that he was saying “If we are living at midnight following December 31 and the Big Bang began on January 1 at 12:00:00 in the morning, then dinosaurs ruled the earth on Christmas Day.” Was Sagan referring to the “literal meaning” of Christmas Day? Yes, in the sense that one MUST understand the literal meaning of Christmas Day to know that most dinosaurs lived around the 361st day of the world’s calendar. (“Literal” refers to a major definition of a word found in the dictionary. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be applied in higher level structures of communication.)

Matt, I understand where you are coming from because I come from a Young Earth Creationist background. But as a young professor, I had no idea the diverse ways in which various cultures convey their views and explanations of history. Indeed, the ancient Hebrews had far less interest in chronology than we do. It seems obvious to you that Genesis 1 is “Here is exactly what happened in a 144-hour period long ago when God made everything.” but those with different cultural backgrounds would be baffled and say, “What??? Why do you think this text is a history of a single week containing a rigid chronology of God’s deeds? It is obvious to me that Genesis 1 is mainly saying ‘God made everything’ and 'Each of six spheres that the gods of the pagan nations around Israel governed, GOD RULES THEM ALL because he has no equal and isn’t part of a pantheon. God supercedes all other gods you’ve heard people mention!”

I do understand how hard to believe this idea can be. Not until I had a lot of experience in ancient texts and religious studies did I realize that what I thought was obvious in the text (due to my exposure to rigid traditions) was not so obvious at all. Accordingly, if I could travel back in time, I doubt that I could convince my 1965 self (a cocky, sure-of-himself professor) of his ignorance and that some day he would be aware of far more evidence that would force him to realize that the ancients may have had far different intentions for GENESIS 1 than what I assumed at that time.


The infamous James Barr quote is much beloved by Ken Ham (who uses it regularly in debates with non-YEC Christians) and somewhat of an embarrassment for which the late Dr. Barr’s career should not be judged. I don’t know if Barr was resorting to hyperbole of some sort or what, because if he ever made such a claim at an SBL or ETS conference session, his audience would have been literally filled with scholars he full well knew would deny such an absurd statement—and who would have laughed aloud! How about Gleason Archer? Bruce Waltke? David Noel Freedman? Walter Kaiser? Emanuel Tov would certainly hit the ceiling over such a position being attributed to him! Or was Barr defining “world-class university” in some extremely selective way?

Of course whenever someone ignores the peer-reviewed scholarship on such a matter and pretends that just one individual (in his case the late Dr. Barr) is the first and final authority on such a matter and tries to pretend that nobody in the academy holds any other view is just plain lame. There is no way that Barr could have believed anything so absurd. Jim Barr knew his academic peers well and so I find it impossible that he could have been unaware of dozens of scholars at prestigious universities who strongly disagreed with him on the meaning of YOM in Genesis 1. (I don’t remember when Dr. Barr retired. He died around 2005 or so, I think? I honestly can’t remember when I’d last spoken with him at an SBL meeting, but I may have retired before he did.) Perhaps the quotation came from early in his career. I can’t recall tracking it down to determine when it was written.)

Yes, one can always find some scholar who agrees with you on some issue. For Dr. Barr to think he had YOM pinned down properly is fine. But to pretend that Barr is the one and only authority that matters—and nobody disagreed with him—is silly.

As to Jonathan Sarfati, he’s neither a Biblical Studies scholar nor a Hebrew lexicography. Obviously, he’s not an academic from a relevant field of scholarship so I’m far more interested in those scholars who publish in peer-reviewed journals. Needless to say, Sarfati’s academic CV is not particularly weighty for these topics. Lots of people who are competent in reading the Torah are not experienced scholars of Hebrew lexicography and exegesis and that’s why nobody in the academy looks to Sarfati on this topic. Frankly, the fact that Sarfati has published very little peer-reviewed material even in his own Ph.D. field has tended to marginalize him in such discussions.


I believe that YOM means in the case of Genesis 1 an age of time. As I understand, our solar system has a “day”, therefore, I must believe that it means more than twenty-four hours. It does not mean necessarily earth time either. :laughing: Oh, I am thankful that my eyes are getting much better. Thank God for medical science. No matter what you believe, I hope you wish me all the best. I wish to add something to my statement. I believe that Professor Old Timer may agree on this issue. I am calling him professor out of respect. I also know that he is a scholar. In my opinion, It does not hurt my faith to accept either progressive creationism-common ancestry or non-common ancestry, nor does it hurt me to accept theistic evolution. Dr. Hugh Ross has said that before there was life on earth that our days may have been twenty-three hours. He also states in a millennium they could be twenty-five hours. Were the Priestly writers of Genesis 1 thinking of earth time or time with the entire cosmos or with God’s eternity. Only God knows that since they were inspired by His Holy Spirit. I do not believe we should be so dogmatic about the word “Yom.” Our Lord has revealed himself in the Bible as well as science. Christians should support “revealed science.” There is no sin in that. Also I do not believe that this is myth, even though I believe the Holy Spirit used old science to explain the creation to an ancient civilization. Romans 10 states that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord Jesus shall be saved. That is all that is important. We all can have differences of opinion, can’t we? Also, some scholars do not use the term “myth” in the same way others do.

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Because I have shelves full of Hebrew lexicography and Hebrew grammar books and none discuss this imaginary “rule” of Hebrew. Secondly, EVEN IF some construction were observed to always work in a certain way within the Hebrew Masoretic Text, that does not mean that a “rule of grammar” was involved. Indeed, there are many complexities of Hebrew usage which appear in other Semitic literature outside of the Bible but which never happen to appear in the Biblical text.

Obviously, if the example were from the English language, nobody would foolishly claim that the Bible contains every grammatical construction or lexicon definition example within its corpus.


You can navigate around the forum with an open reply box and select quotes from various threads. If you hit “reply” from a different thread than the one you started on, the system will ask you which thread you want to post the reply on, so you just have to remember where you started.

If a thread is closed before you are done discussing it, you can still use the “reply as linked topic” option that shows up in blue if you hover over the right side bar of any post. Give the thread a name that tells people its a continuation of the old thread. It will automatically pull in as a quote whatever part of the post you hit reply next to, and it will automatically put a link to the original thread in the sidebar of the new thread.

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I agree with you about the linguistic evidence. I thought it was usually Old Earth believers seeking a concordist reading who insist that yom can mean anything other than a 24 hour day. John Walton assumes the 24-hour sense in Lost World of Genesis, for example. But you can read the sense as 24-hours without coming to the conclusion that the passage is describing the historical material creation of the world.

It is wrong to say that any given word must have only one sense. I don’t think that is what the OP claimed. It is also wrong to say that in any given context, a word/construction can have multiple senses intended by the speaker. (This is only the case when we are talking about an intentional double entendre or play on words where the speaker purposely appeals to contrasting senses in one utterance for humor or irony.) We can posit multiple interpretations based on different hypotheses about which sense of a word a speaker intended, but the speaker can only intend one sense in a given context. There are solid linguistic arguments for the idea that “day” in Genesis 1-2 was being used in the sense of a 24 hour day. Other meanings are derived from idiomatic constructions that include other words or require the word occur in a certain position in a clause. You can’t remove a single word from an idiomatic construction and put it in a different construction and expect it to maintain the sense derived from the idiomatic use as a whole.

Good morning,

As a fellow linguist, have you considered the possibility that the Holy Spirit through the priestly writer means YOM based on some other passage of time, e.g., a day of the universe or solar system other than the earth? I do respect your view as a linguist too; however, why can’t a different period be meant in relation to God? Remember 2 Peter 3: 8? The priestly writer may have meant in his time a 24 hour period; however, the progressive revelation of God through the New Testament may mean a greater time than a 24 hour day. Linguistics may indicate one thing in an earlier document of faith; however, progressive revelation may indicate more as in 2 Peter 3:8. Please respond. Have a blessed day in our LORD. Also I wish to say that I do respect Dr. Walton at Wheaton; however, I do not totally accept his view of Genesis. I would be more in line with the Roman Catholic Church.

When you move to talking about the Holy Spirit and the mechanics of inspiration, you’ve left the discipline of linguistics.

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That is 100% true; however, as people of faith we need to consider all options. Every subject of the liberal arts and sciences are related to one another. Remember that Isaac Newton and Joseph Priestly were both scientists and philosophers . Many scientists started out as philosophers. Perhaps this is a subject that could go on forever. I do recognize the validity of your interpretation and your statement about the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we will not really know the answer until we reach the new heaven and new earth.

Perhaps I have said enough; however, I agree with your reasoning too. I feel that your reasoning is logical. In relation to Christy’s comment to me, I must admit that she is correct in the sense that I left linguistics to support this argument. However, I did mention that all the liberal arts and sciences are interrelated. Many scientists were originally philosophers and theologians. Examples are Isaac Newton and Joseph Priestly. The Rev. Priestly was a Unitarian minister. You may ask: what is he saying? All subjects of academia are related to each other and should be considered when reading a text. Perhaps matter will not be resolved until we are in heaven. This subject could go on forever in this world. You have a right to your opinion just as the others have a right to theirs. May Yahweh Elohim in Yeshua bless everyone here as we learn from each other through the Holy Spirit.

Henry, I love reading your posts. They are just so gentile. God’s love is evident. I am glad medicine has helped your eyes. It would be sad to loose your perspective in posts.

I agree that all things are related, especially in accumulated knowledge. Funny though, “all things related” is what Gen 1-11 is about. God made one universe, one earth. On it life evolve, each individual related to the first, related to the Big Bang, related to the Creator. One of those life lineages became human. All humans are related to that lineage. We are all siblings, related to One Father. To reject that relationship is very sad. Knowledge is the same. If we reject the relationships that built knowledge our knowledge ends up skewed or just foolishness. Faith is the same.

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May bless you and may your faith grow more everyday. May God bless you and love you and your family.

Your friend and brother in Christ,


I think the Holy Spirit can “speak through” the text of the Bible in his role as our Comforter, Teacher, and Guide. So if someone said, “I had just lost my job and I read Jeremiah 29:11 and the Holy Spirit reminded me that God had a good plan for me,” or if someone said, “I was praying about whether or not I should take a volunteer stint at a clinic in Africa and I read Isaiah 6:8 and felt the Holy Spirit telling me I should go,” I would not argue with the person and say, “Well obviously the intended meaning of Jeremiah 29:11 only applies to the Israelites at a certain point in their history and means the exile will result in a restoration” or “the intended meaning of Isaiah 6:8 is a poetic historical narrative of the life of the prophet Isaiah and does not apply to you.” But if the person were to claim that the “real meaning” of Jeremiah 29:11, the one the Holy Spirit put in there from the beginning, unbeknownst to the original authors or audience, is that “Joe Schmoe will get a new and better job because God has plans for him” and the “real meaning” of Isaiah 6:8 is that “Joe Schmoe should go to Africa,” then I would say that is terrible exegesis.

When I hear people trying to read advanced scientific “real meaning” into ancient Scriptures, I think they are doing something similar, and it’s also bad exegesis. There are prophesies in Scripture, but they are about the coming Messiah and the role of the people of God as it relates to God’s plan, they aren’t about scientific discoveries. If the Holy Spirit is infusing extra meaning into passages of the Bible, meaning that wasn’t there for the original audience, it seems to me it is so we can be encouraged and motivated to live Christ-like, godly lives, not so we can get special insight into the secrets of the universe.

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I see what you are saying; however, even though I am Protestant, I still believe that Genesis 1 does show the process of Theistic Evolution, I agree that Adam and Eve did exist. Therefore, I agree with the concept held by the Roman Catholic Church. Let me ask you a few questions. If the Bible is sitting on a table and no one is reading it, is it still the Word of God or is it only a book of past revelatory experiences and only becomes the Word of God when we open it and God uses it? I will give you a hint: Karl Barth, Albert Schweitzer, Emil Brunner, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and W.D. Davies? What is the Bible when no one is reading it? Can any book become a revelation of God, e.g., Gone With The Wind? I also thought of another question. How do you interpret 2 Corinthians 5:1-10. If you are curious why I am asking these questions, I am trying to determine your theological stance. I know them all. :laughing: Also, the Roman Catholic Church is doing bad exegesis on its interpretation of Adam and Eve and Theistic Evolution? One more thing. Your first college alma mater accepts theistic evolution and a literal Adam and Eve. The professors have to sign a statement that they do. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: Do you now Dr. Raymond Lewis? He is a nice guy. We discussed the Biology Department of Wheaton about three years ago.

There is a difference between 1) believing the Bible is authoritative and there are interpretations of Genesis that don’t rule out accepting theistic evolution and 2) believing the Bible speaks about theistic evolution. I don’t see how anyone construes anything in Genesis to be speaking about evolution.

If a man says something in a forest, and his wife isn’t there to argue with him, is he still wrong?

I like Barth’s doctrine of Scripture and the whole Trinitarian “revealer, revelation, and revealedness” idea. I’m still waiting for Michael Bird to make his I read Karl Barth and I Liked It Katy Perry parody video.

“a revelation” or “revelation”? All truth is God’s truth (Augustine) but the Bible is special revelation.

This material, physical world is not the only reality or our final destiny. There will be a resurrection and we will face judgment.

I think the RCC, like Evangelicals, is committed to fitting modern science into their existing theology and it gets squishy for them at times.

Yeah, the first part is debatable. Certainly some professors and students do, and some professors and students employ a bit of semantic creativity to their personal interpretation of the historic Adam and Eve part of the Statement of Faith. I’m not so sure the administration and board of trustees are too thrilled about that though. There have been several professors over the last decade who have not gotten tenure for being too vocal in their support of evolution. (Or at least that is what some people claim.)

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Dr. Raymond Lewis wrote a three page letter about Wheaton College in Illinois. Nothing is debatable here. What I said came from Professor Lewis at your Alma Mater. It is true. Professors only have to accept a literal Adam and Eve. Also, what I have said about the Roman Catholic Church is true. They accept Theistic Evolution of the body, but the human soul is directly created by God. They believe that Adam and Eve were the first human parents. As you told me, look it up on Google. Look up your old school and see who Ray Lewis is. Ray Lewis wrote to me a three page email concerning the view. I suggest that you read Chapter 12 of the Drs. Haarmas’ book on Origins. It mentions the following as possible views that one can accept. BioLogos may have changed, but when first contacted them, I was told I could accept anyview I wanted to in regard to Adam and Eve. I am sure you have read the book; therefore, you know what I am talking about.

Adam and Eve----recent ancestors
recent representatives
a pair of ancient ancestors
a group of ancient representatives

The Roman Church accepts recent ancestors. I can accept recent ancestors or recent representatives. I absolutely cannot accept the symbolic view. Circular arguments lead to nothing. Why is it important which view I accept? That is puzzling.

I also have recent Roman Catholic articles from the Church explaining their position. In any case, I see no reason for us to discuss this subject further. I am going to accept what I wish to and you may believe in another view. There is nothing wrong with that. Have a nice day and God bless you. Also, no one should be trying to fight the Civil War here. People should be nice to each other in spite of differences of opinion.

Charles E. Miller, BA in German; MA in Theology; Abschlussurkunde in Biblische Studien

All I was saying is that “Wheaton College” is not a person or an entity that holds a single view on this and there are people associated with the college that do not accept theistic evolution, particularly in the administration.

Well of course you can, it’s a free country, and you are not employed by Wheaton College :wink:

I hope you don’t think I was intentionally trying to be mean or tell you what to think. I wasn’t. I was just trying to answer the questions you directed at me.

To avoid any confusion, I should clarify my use of the term “myth”. I could draw an analogy to the word “theory” in how the general public and the academy use a term in two different ways. When the average person hears the word “myth”, they may assume “a story or claim that is false”, but in a great many academic fields, the word “myth” refers to a traditional story which explains the origin or meaning of some phenomenon or practice. Thus, Genesis 1 is viewed as a myth explaining how the world came to exist. In the Dept of Religious Studies, Dept of Folklore, Dept of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, and Dept. of Anthropology, we discuss myths without any focus on whether or not a given myth is true or false. It is a traditional story that explains something, even though some of us consider it much more important and true than various other myths from the same period.

Of course, when I say “true”, I probably don’t mean that it is truthful in exactly the same ways the average Young Earth Creationist would say Genesis 1 is true. For that matter, many YECs would be incensed that I would dare call Genesis 1 myth. Yet, I would reassure them that a myth can be inspired by God to convey truth to us, even if there are many other ancient myths lacking inspiration and the same truth values.