The Creation “Days” – Literal or Figurative?

This article attempts to determine the meaning of the term “days” in connection with the creation week.
By Wayne Jackson | Christian Courier

No narration available

Dr. George Wald of Harvard University was a militant proponent of the theory of evolution. He was, though, at least honest enough to admit that the theory was fraught with some very serious difficulties. These problems, however, in Wald’s view, were not insurmountable.

He solved some of the “impossibilities” by appealing to time. Time itself, he said, “performs the miracles.” He characterized time as the “hero” of the evolutionary plot (1954, 48).

Similarly, Robert Jastrow, an agnostic, and one of the most popular science writers of this era, has appealed to time as a means of explaining the theory of evolution. Jastrow wrote: “The key to Darwin’s explanation is time, and the passage of many generations” (1977, 112).

The Time Motive

But why is time such a vital element in the evolutionary scheme of things? The answer is quite simple: there is no evidence, based upon scientific data, which proves that all living creatures have evolved from primitive inorganic substances by means of natural processes.

Dr. Jastrow concedes the point: “What concrete evidence supports that remarkable [evolutionary] theory of the origin of life? There is none” (Ibid. 49). The solution to this riddle is to suggest that evolution occurs much too slowly to be observed by humans; it has progressed over vast eras of time. We are thus told that we must accept the theory “as an act of faith . . . without having concrete evidence to support that belief” (Ibid. 52). And so, we are constantly bombarded with propaganda about the vast ages that are supposed to characterize the universe.

According to evolutionary chronology, the universe came into being (as a result of the big bang explosion) some fifteen to twenty billion years ago. Our earth is said to have been born approximately 4.5 billion years ago. It is alleged that biological life was spontaneously generated about two to three billion years ago, and finally, Homo sapiens (true man) appeared about 3.5 million years back in the past. These figures are glibly thrown out as if there were some sort of ancient history book that records the dates. The fact of the matter is, there is no proof that these enormous figures have any validity at all (see Jackson, 1989).

Unfortunately, however, many have been intimidated by this aspect of evolutionary dogma. They have sought, therefore, in various ways, to accommodate the biblical record to this system of chronology. One of the methods of doing this is to suggest that the days of the creation week are not literal days at all. Rather, the term “day” is a mere figure of speech which represents millions of years.

The Popularity of the Day-Age Theory

The day-age theory has made its impact in the community of Christendom at large, and its effect is apparent within the churches of Christ as well. In the denominational world, Hugh Ross, a sectarian scientist-theologian of sorts, contends vigorously for the day-age concept, employing the same hackneyed arguments that have been answered scores of times across the years (1994, 45ff). It is sad that some within the brotherhood of Christ are giving favorable reviews of Ross’s writings.

Within the church, the day-age view has had a number of defenders and sympathizers:

  1. Jack Wood Sears, former chairman of the biology department at Harding University, has argued this position (see Jackson and Thompson 1992, 129).
  2. John Willis, a professor at Abilene Christian University, speculated that the “days” of Genesis 1 could have been simply six points of argument—“literary devices”—in the author’s outline of the creation events, with no chronological order or duration intended (1979, 83).
  3. Burton Coffman contended that the day-age theory does no injustice to the sacred record (1985, 29-31).
  4. Clem Thurman, editor of Gospel Minutes, wrote an article (April 4, 1986) responding to a reader’s question as to whether the “days” of Genesis 1 were literal or not. Thurman used eighty-four words to present possible reasons as to why the “days” might be viewed as literal. He used three times that amount arguing that the creation “days” might not be literal. He then suggested that the reader could draw his own conclusions as to the correct viewpoint. It was not difficult, however, to surmise where the editor’s sympathies lay. In reviewing this matter, one writer poignantly inquired: “Why not just be honest and openly advocate the day-age theory without going through all these machinations?”
  5. John N. Clayton of Southbend, Indiana has long preached that it is “totally inconsequential” as to the view one entertains relative to the length of the creation days, and so he can argue the case both ways—and does (see Jackson and Thompson, 83ff). In an issue of the Christian Chronicle, the editor opined that we just cannot “be sure” as to the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1 (Shipp 1994, 2).

It is quite unfortunate that these brothers have taken this compromising view of the clear text of Genesis 1. As well meaning as they may be in attempting to bring the Bible into harmony with what they perceive as good “science,” clearly, they have yielded to the influence of evolutionary chronology. And such capitulation is absolutely wrong.

Biblical Arguments for Literal Days

There are powerful arguments which absolutely force the knowledgeable Bible student to the position that the days of the creation week were ordinary days.

(1) A general rule of Bible interpretation demands that words be viewed literally unless there is a compelling reason for giving them a figurative sense. The term “day” is employed in Genesis 1 both of a twenty-four hour period (v. 5, 8, 13, etc.) and of the “light” portion of that span (v. 5). Obviously the word was used by Moses in precisely the same way we use it today.

It is ludicrous to contend that there is anything within that context which would suggest a day consisting of millions of years. Marcus Dods, not a conservative scholar, conceded: “[If] the word ‘day’ in these chapters, does not mean a period of twenty-four hours, the interpretation of Scripture is hopeless” (1903, 5).

(2) The expressions “first day,” “second day,” etc. (v. 5, 8) indicate ordinary days, just as similar language does regarding the rotation of offerings on certain days under the Mosaic economy, e.g., “first day,” “second day,” etc. (see Numbers 7:12, 18). Would one ever conclude that the “days” of Numbers 7 represented eons of time? Of course not. There is no motive to manipulate that context!

(3) The days of the creation week were of the same type as the ordinary Hebrew work week. Note:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath unto Jehovah thy God . . . for in six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is" (Exodus 20:11).

Notice the comparison between the “six days” of the Jewish work week and the “six days” of the creation week. Is anyone so obtuse as to believe that the Hebrew work week consisted of six ages consisting of millions of years? Did Moses really mean to say: “Remember the Sabbath age to keep it holy . . . for in six eons Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is”?

(4) The inspired writer clearly distinguished between days and years in Genesis 1:14. It is quite obvious that Moses was not employing the term “day” in some extraordinary sense. However, if the “days” of Genesis 1 signify years, then what does the term “years” mean?

Common Sense Arguments for Literal Days

In addition to solid arguments based upon the biblical text, there are some plain, common-sense points that buttress the case for twenty-four hour days.

(1) There are logical reasons to explain why we measure time in certain ways. For example, the earth revolves around the sun every 365 days. This determines our year. The moon circles the earth each thirty days. This marks the month. The earth completes one rotation on its axis each twenty-four hours, which constitutes our day.

The baffling question is: why do we have weeks? There is no astronomical phenomenon to explain this. Campbell observed that “nothing on earth or in heaven, can be assigned as an argument for the week, aside from the fact that the heavens and the earth were created in six days of twenty-four hours each” (1958, 96). The fact is, the Hebrew word for week means “that which is divided into seven” (Young 1964, 78).

(2) Each “day” of Genesis 1 was equally divided into periods of light and darkness. If the day represented millions of years, then there were obviously corresponding epochs of darkness. The vegetation which was brought into existence on the third day could never have survived those alternating periods of darkness.

Keil commented:

If the days of creation are regulated by the recurring interchange of light and darkness, they must not be regarded as periods of time of incalculable duration, of years or thousands of years, but simply as earthly days (1980, 51).

(3) As indicated above, the world of plants came into existence on the third day of the creation week. Living creatures (e.g., fish, birds, insects, and animals) were not created until the fifth and sixth days. Some plants are pollinated solely by insects. Clover is pollinated by bees and the yucca plant has the pronuba moth as its only means of pollination. How did these plants reproduce during the millions of years of that alleged fourth day-age?

There is neither biblical basis nor scientific reason for contending that the creation days were vast ages. This view is merely a subtle compromise with evolution. We simply must not attempt to manipulate the plain meaning of the bilbical text for the sake of placating unbelievers. “Science” has yet to catch up with the Scriptures!

  • Campbell, Alexander. 1958. Familiar Lectures on the Pentateuch. Rosemead, CA: Old Paths Book Club.
  • Coffman, Burton. 1985. Genesis. Austin, TX: ACU Press.
  • Dods, Marcus. 1903. Genesis. An Exposition of the Bible. Hartford, CT: S. S. Scranton Co.
  • Jackson, Wayne. 1989. Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth. Stockton, CA: Courier Publications.
  • Jackson, Wayne and B. Thompson. 1992. In the Shadow of Darwin – A Review of the Teachings of John N. Clayton. Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press.
  • Jastrow, Robert. 1977. Until the Sun Dies. New York, NY: Warner.
  • Keil, C. F. 1980. The Pentateuch. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  • Ross, Hugh. 1994. Creation and Time. Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress.
  • Shipp, Glover. 1994. The Christian Chronicle, December.
  • Wald, George. 1954. Scientific American, August.
  • Willis, John. 1979. Genesis. Austin, TX: Sweet Publishing Co.
  • Young, E. J. 1964. Studies in Genesis One. Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian & Reformed.