Please read these Bible passages before we get into Genesis 1:2-5:
1) And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters, and God said, “Let there come to be [“hayah,” היה] light,” and there came to be [“hayah,” היה] light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was [“hayah,” היה] evening and there was [“hayah,” היה] morning, the first day. –Genesis 1:2b-5
2) He has inscribed a circle on the face of the waters at the boundary between light and darkness. –Job 26:10
3) Because it is God who said, “Out of [ἐκ] darkness [σκότος] light shall shine,” who shone in our hearts to give the brightness of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. –2 Cor. 4:6
4) When He established the heavens, I was there; when He drew a circle on the face of the deep . . . –Prov. 8:27
Now, notice that in accordance with our previous understanding that the darkness was from the perspective of the surface, we see that the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. This reinforces the established point of perspective for what follows. The “light” coming to be was from the perspective of the surface of earth, as well. Our previous understand was that, according to Job 38:8, the cloud cover or thick, steamy atmosphere was what cause great darkness on earth. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the appearance of light from the surface was due to the thinning of the steamy atmosphere.
Genesis 1:2b-5 clearly allows for this to have been a process occurring in time, since the word “hayah” (היה), often meaning “to come to pass,” occurs here twice. Approximately 1 in 5 to 10 of the instances of this word is translated in the KJV as “it came to pass.” So, this is a perfectly valid and natural meaning of the word.
Here are the questions that naturally come up initially when looking at these Genesis verses for the first time. How was there light before the sun? What was this light? How was there day and night before the sun? What does it mean that God separated the light from the darkness? How was there evening and morning before the sun?
All of these questions are easily answered in the old earth view. The young earth view comes to the following conclusions—or something similar. The light was light either in outer space or from the shekinah glory from the Lord. The light could have been created by God without the sun. The light was similar to the light of the sun and illuminated only one side of the earth. The separation of the darkness and light is either (1) a reiteration of God making light for one side of the earth, or (2) the light being gathered together to one side of the earth. The light in outer space was sufficient to make evening and morning until Day 4. (Of course, if our view of the darkness coming from thick cloudiness is correct, then the whole idea of special light being made apart from the sun is unnecessary.)
To me, these answers are less than satisfactory. I never felt completely comfortable with these answers, even when I was convinced of a young earth position. However, the old earth view has much more appealing answers. The sun was around, but it was not visible and was obscured by cloud cover and probably pollution in the atmosphere. The light was from the sun. There was typical night and day as a result. God sovereignly intensified the light by diminishing the thickness and thus separated the light from the darkness through the process of time. So, the “separation” involved making the contrast between the light and darkness greater and greater over time. There are two words in Hebrew describing the “separation”, and they mean approximately: to divide or distinguish (“badal”, בּדל) and between (“beyn”, בּין). God was causing there to be a distinguishment between light and darkness. The verb aspect of the word “distinguish” (בּדל) is in the imperfect, which could indicate an ongoing process was taking place, as the old earth view requires.
How Long is a “Day”?
So, now let’s get down to business. What is a “day”? How can it possibly mean a long period of time, especially since it uses the language “evening and morning”? The answer is not simple, and I believe that this argument is one of the two hardest questions to answer that are presented by the young earth view.
Many young earth creationists play the statistics game with “yom” and subtly suggest that because it is almost always used to refer to a standard day that it must mean a normal day in Genesis 1. This is bad logic and bad exegesis. Arguing from the statistical usage of a word is not a proper way to determine the meaning of a particular text. It is unreasonable to argue this way, and I frankly have no respect for this type of argument. They also try to say that when “yom” is used in relation to “evening” and “morning” that it is should mean a standard 24-hour day. However, this argument lacks credibility since it is not always the case. Jos. 8:29 breaks this supposed rule, since it uses “yom” in the same way that we would say, “In our day, airplanes are the best way to travel.” Other passages of the 41 cases that break this so-called rule are: Prov. 7:9, Judges 19:8, Job 1:5, Amos 4:4 (where “days” means “years”). Therefore, 5 of 41, or about 12% of the passages break this “rule”.
Another argument is that when “yom” is used with an ordinal like “one” or “two” it is always referring to a standard day. This is highly debatable, however. Passages that seem to be possible violations of this idea are: 1 Samuel 27:1, Isaiah 9:14, Hosea 6:2, Zech. 14:7. Let me focus in on Hosea 6:2: “After two days will He revive us: in the third day [yom] He will raise us up, and we shall live in His sight.” A common interpretation of this is that these days are periods of time—perhaps a thousand years each. There is no reason to believe that these are literal 24-hour days. Zechariah 14:7 says, “But it shall be one day [yom] which shall be known to the LORD, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.” The words “one day” are identical and their order is the same as those of Genesis 1:5. The whole of Zechariah 14 mentions “in that day” eight times and seems to be speaking of the “day of the Lord,” and a whole time period. Few commentators would dispute that this “day” could be longer than 24 hours. In fact, most scholars would argue that it is a “day” (period) that is longer than 24 hours.
The word “day” (“yom,” יום) means according to Strong’s Concordance: “From an unused root meaning to be hot; a day . . . whether literally . . . or figuratively (a space of time defined by an associated term), (often used adverbially).” As you can see from the last part, this word is not guaranteed to be any particular length of time, and can represent a long period in the figurative usage. Vine’s Expository Dictionary says much more bluntly, “Yom can also signify a period of time of unspecified duration . . .”
As to it being “defined by an associated term,” this does not appear to always be the case, looking at how the word is used in the Old Testament. The word is translated various ways in the KJV, and is sometimes used as a “time” that is not defined as in Gen. 30:33 and 1 Sam. 14:18. These examples can be easily demonstrated to be periods of time longer than 24 hours, even though the Hebrew word is singular in the listed examples.
Also, as we’ve already noted, Genesis 2:4 (“. . . in the day [yom] that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens . . .”) seems to use the singular word “yom” to indicate a period of at least two 24-hour days. Some well-known and respected commentators such as John Gill state quite unequivocally that this is a longer period of time than a single standard 24-hour day: “meaning not any particular day, not the first day, in which the heavens and the earth were created; but referring to the whole time of the six days, in which everything in them, and relating to them, were made.” Matthew Poole says of the “day”, “not strictly [a day] so called, but largely taken for the time, as it is Gen 2:17, Ruth 4:5, Luke 19:42, 2 Cor. 6:2.” Neither of these Bible scholars had any belief in long ages in Genesis 1 for the days. The best evidence that Genesis 2:4 is talking about more than a single 24-hour period is the whole context:
These were the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens: and no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up--for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground . . . –vv. 4-6
Notice what it says, carefully. This phrase “in the day” appears quite clearly to be talking about when God had made the “earth and the heavens” and also when the solid ground had been created. It is being called a single day. The “heavens and earth” were made on or before Day 1, and the ground was created on Day 3. Even if you take “heavens” to be just the “sky,” you still have a minimum of more than a single 24-hour creation day, because the “sky” was made during Day 2 and the “land” was made during Day 3. (Looking at how the land was formed, it appears to have been a process, and wasn’t an instantaneous creation. The time taken to creation the whole of the sky and land was probably at least 30 hours taking “day” to be a standard day. The creation of the sky and land happened on two separate days and not in a single “day.”) With this in mind, we see clearly that “yom” as used in the creation account is not always a 24-hour period. Genesis 1-2 attests to the ability of “yom” to mean a longer period.
I would also quickly note that “the generations” seems more appropriate for six ages than for six days. Why doesn’t it say, “This was the week of the heavens and the earth when they were created”? The word for “generations” is elsewhere always used of human lineage and descent, and it would normally be speaking of a much longer period of time than a week.
“Day” in Genesis 1 as translated in the Septuagint is a Greek word that also easily means a period of time when used figuratively and is not always referring to a strict 24-hour period. This is significant especially when you refer to Hebrews 4:4, where the author appears to quote from the Septuagint and uses this word (‘hemera,’ ἡμέρα). And, yes, there is a Greek word that does mean a strict, night-and-day cycle of exactly 24-hours.
Finally, in the same context of Genesis, God told Adam that he would die “in the day” that he ate of the forbidden Tree of Knowledge (Gen. 2:17). Though Adam may have indeed died spiritually the same day he rebelled against God, it is hard to believe that God did not also intend physical death as well—and primarily so. However, Adam did not die until about a thousand years later! It follows that the “yom” that God was talking about was a period of time rather than a 24-hour day. I doubt that Adam and Eve were under any illusions that God had lied.
One other point that needs to be made is that the usage of “day” is definitely not incidental or pointless. It is fair to ask, “Why did God use the word ‘yom’ when He could have used ‘generation/age’ (‘dor,’ דּור) or some other word which could more easily mean an epoch of time?” My answer to that is simple, though perhaps not fully satisfactory for some: God was intentionally presenting the Creation as a week for a pattern for mankind. Moses, by inspiration from God, was presenting the creation account as a week with the seventh day being a day of rest, in order to demonstrate the importance of keeping a weekly cycle and the Sabbath. Every word choice is significant.
Evening and Morning
So, what about the “evening and morning” phrase? We reiterate that Genesis does use some poetic language at times. I will freely and openly admit that “evening and morning” is a kind of poetic flourish with a figurative meaning; it could mean “the ending of this ‘day’ came and another ‘day’ began.” The words “evening” and “morning” are flexible enough in their definitions to allow for this interpretation. “Evening” means most naturally “dusk,” and “morning” most naturally means “dawn.” The Hebrew uses “evening” and “morning” figuratively in Psalm 90:6, “In the morning it [the grass] flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” Clearly, this isn’t saying that grass dies in a single day, since grass has a longer lifespan than a day. Even in English we use these kinds of words metaphorically, and speak of the “dawn of a new age,” or the “the sun set on the Roman empire,” or the “twilight of his life.”
If “evening and morning” are taken literally, then you do not have a 24-hour day, but no more than 16 hours. Evening typically lasts from about 4PM to 12AM at the longest, and morning from 4AM to 12PM at the longest. When we use the “dawn” and “dusk” literal meanings, the combined time is even shorter, making no more than a few hours. Evening was started at around sunset in Hebrew culture. Morning would never typically run through the afternoon until evening.
The only place that seems to use evening and morning to refer to a 24-hour period is Daniel 8:14, and in that place it says literally, “Until evening-morning 2300 . . .” In this case, there are no conjugate words such as “and”. It is just “evening-morning,” both being singular. Genesis 1 uses a phrase that literally means, “There was [or became] evening and there was [or became] morning . . .” There is little similarity between these two verses.
Genesis 1 should have said something like, “So evening-morning was day X,” or at least “evening and morning were day X,” rather than saying, “There was evening. . .” The language is unusual. The literal translation of the phrase “evening and morning were the nth day” is actually, “It became evening and it became morning; day X.” It appears forced upon the text to translate it as “evening and morning were the nth day.” The meaning does not seem to be that the day was comprised of the “evening and morning” as most young earth proponents will argue, but rather just that evening and morning came. What I am saying is that the wording in Genesis could easily have been more clearly saying that evening and morning composed a day period. The word “hayah” (היה) meaning to “come to pass” does not belong in the phrase if the young-earth view were right. The “Day X” seems, rather, to be a marker for the preceding description of the events within the epoch, much the same way that a modern writer would write the following:
Day 1— Such and such happened . . .
Day 2— Such and such happened . . .
In the Hebrew, “Day X” markers seem to be placed at the end rather than the beginning, like this:
Such and such happened . . . –Day 1
Such and such happened . . . –Day 2
The young earth view also runs into trouble with assuming literal evening and morning, since a standard day with evening and morning requires the existence of the earth, night, day, and light. How could Day 1 of creation have begun before God made the earth and spoke light into existence and made day and night? Therefore, even the young earth position has to address the question of how much time elapsed between the beginning of time and when the earth was made or when light was made. The Genesis 1 passage does not indicate how much time passed before God made the earth or light. The Gap Theory, that says there was an indefinite amount of time between v.1 and v.2 of Genesis 1, actually makes some sense. There is no way to quantify that time interval. It could have been a minute or billions of years.
The Bible says that God made everything in six days (Exodus 20:11), but even the young earth position would seem to require six days plus however much time there was before the earth (or light) was made. Considering that “evening” is the beginning of the day, we would need light to exist, unless it is talking about the day beginning in pure darkness which isn’t properly “dusk”. If that is the case, then when light was made, you would need the light made for only the “other” side of the earth—the side where the Spirit of God was not hovering—otherwise you’d have sudden daytime, which would break the “evening and morning” cycle. If you couldn’t follow all that, then I’m not surprised. The young earth view becomes highly awkward to fit with the first day: (a) being 24-hours, (b) starting when the universe was first being stretched out, and (c) fitting the phrase of “evening and morning were the first day”. I believe the better way to resolve this supposed contradiction is to realize that “day” does not mean a 24-hour period in the creation account.
The old earth view makes better sense of all the words within the phrase, “There was dusk and there was dawn; Day X.” In the young earth view, this phrase is literally backing up in time, since “dusk” was at beginning of the day that was described. The old earth view makes this phrase chronologically consistent with the whole passage, since it indicates the ending of the current epoch and the starting of a new epoch. The phrase seems to mean, “The current epoch ended and a new epoch began. This was Epoch X.”
Other Passages Giving Witness
Now, it came to my attention that 2 Corinthians 4:6, referring to Genesis 1:3, says literally, “. . . God who said, ‘Out of [ἐκ] darkness [σκότος] light shall shine.’” This is used as a picture of what happens to the unbeliever when they are saved. This picture is best fit by the old earth view. The light was already in existence and started penetrating through the dark cloudy atmosphere. Similarly, the light of God, already existing, shines through the darkness of a person’s heart and lights it up when they believe. The Greek word for “out of” (ἐκ) indicates a source from which something is coming. The Greek word for “darkness” (σκότος) also indicates obscurity or shadiness. So, the phrase could be interpreted as saying that light would shine from the thick darkness. Scientifically, this is accurate, since light from the sun would get diffused in the atmosphere and then be coming from the once dark atmosphere rather than the sun. The young earth view would turn this analogy into light appearing from nowhere in our hearts. In fact, 2 Cor. 4:4 elaborates on the analogy like this: “. . . the god of this age has blinded the thoughts of the unbelieving, so that the brightness of the gospel of the glory of Christ . . . should not dawn on them.” Therefore, the light of the gospel is shining, but for the unbelieving, they are blinded such that they cannot see the light. It is as though there is a cloud of darkness in their hearts that prevents them from seeing the light of the glory of Christ. This beautifully fits the old earth view of the early earth with a thick, dark cloud about it, and then the light coming to penetrate through this dark atmosphere. But, on the other hand, perhaps it’s just a weak analogy and not everything fits.
Job 26:10 and Proverbs 8:27 also become somewhat paradoxical in the young earth view. They are clearly talking about what scientists refer to as the terminator—the grey line or twilight zone around the circumference of earth at the edge between night and day, and between light and darkness, that forms a near perfect circle. The words for “inscribed” (‘chug,’ חוּג) and “drew” (‘chaqaq,’ חקק) in these two passages would typically denote a process of formation through time. Now, if light instantly appeared in space and illuminated half of the earth, as the young earth view suggests, the terminator would have been created in a single instant. The old earth perspective, however, fits better with the idea of a circle being inscribed, since it would have taken time for the terminator to become well defined at the surface of the earth. Yes, we could easily chalk it up to poetic language. Job and Proverbs are poetic books, after all.