The Meaning of “Day”

Creation of Light, by Gustave Doré. The engrav...

Creation of Light, by Gustave Doré. The engraving depicts a literal representation of Genesis 1:1. (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Genesis 1:5 (ESV) reads “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” The interpretive question that must be answered here is “Does “day” mean a 24-hour period or ages?”  

According to Robert V. McCabe, the word “day” in Hebrew refers to literal, 24-hour days, as we know them presently. In his essay, he has presented a couple of potential theories (framework hypothesis) in favor of the opposition in order to refute them and prove the “days” as literal. Looking at just one of these theories (simply due to word restraints), McCabe pens the theory in which it is suggested that Day 1 and Day 4 of creation are the same day. McCabe says the theory suggests “Since God creates light on the first day and the source of light on the fourth day, the days must be identical.” He is quick to point out that there is not biblical justification to equate these days because there is biblical justification to disprove this theory. Day 4 advances from the first. “On the fourth day, God’s creation of the sun, moon, and stars, along with the necessary transitional light, are direct acts of creation; however, once this creative activity of God is finished, the luminaries operate as they normally would in providence. God specifically states his purposes for the creation of the luminaries. The luminaries are created for the function of separating “the day from the night,” for “signs and for seasons and for days and years” (Gen 1:14), and as “lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth.” McCabe further suggests, seeing that the waw consecutive is primarily used sequentially as a preterite in narrative literature, the waw consecutive at the head of v. 14 suggests sequence not recapitulation. To further his point, McCabe says the numbering of the days are significant as days 2, 3 and their differences separate the days into individual time periods. The waw consecutive is used to advance the days and a closing phrase is used to effectively end the day.

In H.W. Magoun’s essay, he states that the Hebrew word Yom does not have an exact English equivalent which is problematic for the person that interprets Yom as a literal 24 hour day. Actually, Magoun’s position on what “day” means in Genesis 1:5 is that it cannot and does not mean a literal 24-hour day, as we know it presently. Magoun believes this is to be interpreted as “ages.” Magoun begins to justify his claim by defining the word “day”: “’Day’ has seven well defined meanings: (1) daytime; (2) light; (3) twenty-four hours; (4) some special day (bill day); (5) time (in six different senses); (6) space time (day’s journey); (7) event, or issue, time (won the day).” He uses other verses of Scripture to try and illustrate his reasoning. “Yôm is used in yet another way. Thus we read (Jer. 46:10), “that day is a day of the Lord, the Lord of hosts, a day of vengeance, and the sword shall devour and shall drink its fill,” etc. “A day of the Lord” cannot be a daylight day or a twenty-four-hour day. Here, it is a time of vengeance, of dreadful war of uncertain length.” Magoun says the Hebrew word used for the first day in Genesis 1:5 is also the same word used for the “day” of the Lord. Because of this those days must be divine days, not such days, as we know. It therefore appears that entirely apart from all geological considerations, six epochs—yôm would have to be used to say that.

In John MacArthur’s essay, Creation: Believe it or not, he states that the days mentioned in the Creation account are literal 24-hour days. In this essay he refutes the idea of the Creation account being symbolic or metaphorical, a method employed by naturalists and liberal scientists. These naturalists and scientists suggest that the “days” are long ages and that the chronological order of creation is flexible. MacArthur attributes this misinterpretation as a result of fault hermeneutics by people who lack the skill or training in consistent, biblical interpretation. He says that the people who say the “days” are long ages are trying to rationalize an old-earth that is billions of years into existence. By doing this, the Creation in Genesis becomes a literary device. MacArthur poses the questions: “But if the Lord wanted to teach us that creation took place in six literal days, how could He have stated it more plainly than Genesis does? The length of the days is defined by periods of day and night that are governed after day four by the sun and moon. The week itself defines the pattern of human labor and rest. The days are marked by the passage of morning and evening. How could these not signify the chronological progression of God’s creative work?” MacArthur suggests the only way to interpret the word “day” in the creation account is to do so literally. The creation account makes no sense to us if the seven days of God’s creative work is not parallel to a normal, human workweek.

In my opinion, I believe the word “day” is a literal 24-hour day that we currently experience. I agree with Robert McCabe and John MacArthur with their conclusions on the matter. I believe the Bible advances the Creation account in a precise manner with waw consecutives to show sequence of the events. I believe by symbolizing the meaning of the word “day,” we risk misinterpreting and therefore symbolizing much if not the entire Bible due to inconsistency in hermeneutics. I also agree with MacArthur in that the length of days is defined by periods of day and night, which in my thinking, help us more clearly define a “day.” God spoke all things into existence, and all things have been consistent and working properly since God spoke them into creation. If we live in 24-hour days, why should we think that the days of Genesis were any different? I believe it is not different and therefore those days in the creation account are 24-hour days.


MacArthur, John F. “Creation: Believe It or Not.” Masters Seminary Journal (Galaxie Software Electronic Publishing via EBSCOhost) TSMJ, no. 13:1 (2002): 6-32.

Magoun, H.W. “The Content of Hebrew “Yom”.” Bibliotheca Sacra (Galaxie Software Electronic Publishing via EBSCOhost) BSAC 86, no. 343 (1929): 339-342.

McCabe, Robert V. “A critique of the Framework Interpretation of the Creation Account (Part 1 of 2).” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal (Galaxie Software Electronic Publishing via EBSCOhost) DSBJ 10, no. 1 (2005): 20-67.


4 thoughts on “The Meaning of “Day”

  1. Do you believe that all things are possible with God? Whether he chose to make the world in seven x 24 hours or 7 times (period he chose) makes no difference since 1 day may be 1000 literal years. He is God the potter. Shall not the judge of all the earth do RIGHT? We want to believe that the earth took millions or billions of years for whose reason? We are more comfortable with a long time PROCESS, when slow slow revolution and evolution made this glorious ball wherein complexity made by no one worked it way out of simplicity and became visible. We give glory to the process of what became created instead of glory to the CREATOR.

    • I believe the periods in which God made the earth were 24 hour days. However, I am not as concerned with arguing whether the earth is young (6,000) or whether it is old. I heard an old-earth interpretation that I lean towards: God created everything in verses 1 and 2 in literal 24 hour periods, however long ago that was, and that the rest of chapters 1-2 are just detailing how God had done it. This keeps the days understood as literal days as we have them today and also allows for His creation to be old. The reason I cannot accept 1 day as 1000 years is because: 1) for the reasons I mentioned in the post (speaking to the word “day” in Hebrew) and 2) I think the passages like Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8 are figurative: this one day is LIKE a thousand years in the eyes of God, not that they ARE a thousand years to Him. God is outside of time: He is not constrained to how we count time. Also, I never suggested that God would do wrong, nor could He do wrong. And I think what “we want to believe” is irrelevant. What is important is not what we wish to believe but rather what the truth is and that we believe it, whether its what we want to believe or not. Lastly, the glory goes to God. Without Him, nothing would be made (John 1:3).

  2. Dustin, your interpretation is reasonable to me. When I said, “we want to believe that the earth took millions of years” is the belief of many who believe that the “days” were “extremely extended periods of time.” I believe that if God could speak and in that process, form matter, literally nothing is impossible for Him to do. In the language of Paul to the Ephesians, He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or THINK. He is the boss and glory be to HIM!

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