Is it true that Genesis chapter 1 limits us to the view that the word “day” in this section of Scripture means a period of twenty-four hours?
The section of Scripture involved in Gen. 1—2:3. In this section the word “day” occurs seventeen times, once in each of the six limiting formulas “And the evening and the morning were the first, second, third day” etc., thrice in Gen. 1—2:3, and four times in the verses 14-18 (of chapter 1) a passage that reads: “And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.” The last three verses of this section (Gen. 2:1-3) read: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the hosts of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because that in it he rested from all his work which God created and made.”
To my mind it is indeed true that if interpreting this section we work with correct exegetical rules the only view that this section will yield is the one according to which the word “day” in all the places where it occurs in this section means a period of twenty-four hours.
Allow me to state the exegetical rule that here applies. It is this: The meaning of a word in a given scripture passage is the same in all the places where it occurs unless there is clear evidence in the text of the passage to the contrary.
It may be well for me to illustrate this rule. You say to me: A man came to my door yesterday. The man was poorly clad. The man was tired. The man was hungry. The man was old. In this collection of sentences the word man occurs four times. And certainly in each of these sentences the word must be taken to mean the same individual. For there is nothing within the compass of the total of these four sentences—no word or clause—revealing that the man of which you speak in sentence two or three is a different individual than the one of which you speak in the other of your four sentences.
Let us now turn to the section of Genesis in question and see what it tells us regarding the point at issue.
As we just saw, in the passage of the verses 14-18 the word “day” occurs four times. Now it is clear that in these verses the word “day” must be taken to mean a period of twenty-four hours. For it was a period that, according to verse 18, was ruled over by the sun and the moon and whose light was divided from its darkness by the sun.
Now what word or clause in the context is there to substantiate the view that the word “today” does not mean a period of twenty-four hours in all the other verses of this section containing this word. To my mind there is no such word or clause. I agree with the statement of Marcus Dod in the “Expositor’s Bible” that if the word “day” of this section does not mean a period of twenty-four hours the interpretation of the Scriptures is hopeless. And yet in the words of Delitsch, it is now the prevailing view among interpreter’s to understand the word “day” in this chapter to mean a period of indefinite length and not an ordinary day of twenty-four hours.
Let us examine some of the arguments of these interpreters.
1. Says one of their number: “It being the primary task of the interpreter to discover the meaning attached to the words of the original writer (of the Scriptures), we must believe that he did not intend to contradict himself. Yet in ver. 14 (of chap. 1) he (the author of Genesis) says that definite periods of time began with the appearance of the heavenly bodies and are measured by them . . . how then can we suppose him, (the author of Genesis) to have meant that the first three days were of such measurements?
Let us examine this reasoning. Certainly it is true that the author of Genesis (the Holy Spirit) did not mean to contradict himself. Nor does he contradict Himself. For let us take notice. He does not state in ver. 14 that definite periods of time began—mark you, began —with the appearance of the sun. What he, the author of Genesis actually says is this: “Let there be lights (sun and moon etc.) . . . and let them be for seasons, days and years, and (ver. 15) for rule over the day and for rule over the night, and (ver. 18) for dividing the light from the darkness.” Hence, so far as what the author (of Genesis) actually says in verse 14 is concerned, we may indeed suppose Him to have meant that the first three days were periods of twenty-four hours duration.
2. Another argument runs like this: the first three days could not have been periods of twenty-four hours, for there was not the sun to divide the light from the darkness. How then could the author of Genesis mean to be telling us that the remaining four days were periods of such length? Impossible. Either all or none were periods of such length.
But let us take notice that though there was not as yet the sun, the Lord was still dividing the light from the darkness already then. This is literally stated, is it not? “And the evening and the morning were the first, second etc. day.” Now certainly it does not follow from the fact that this division was not being made by the sun (instrumentally) that the first three days were not periods of twenty-four hours. Hence, the argument does not hold. What is more, it reacts to the establishing of the contrary view. For let us take notice. Since after the third day the sun was there to divide the light from the darkness, the remaining four days and therefore likewise the first three days were periods of twenty-four hours.
3. Still a third argument goes like this and I quote: “If we turn to the seventh day, we discover that the limiting formula (the evening and the morning were the first, second etc. day) is absent. Since the creation is finished and not resumed on the eighth day, we get the impression that the seventh day continues until the present time. Still it is called day.”
This is a strange reasoning (yet a favored one with this class of interpreters). For since the work of creation was finished, how can the fact that God did not resume creating have any weight as an argument in support of the view that the seventh day continued even to the present time, and accordingly was not a period of twenty-four hours? Besides, the argument reacts to the overthrowing of itself. For let us consider this. Never surely will God resume the work of the first creation, so that on the basis of this argument the conclusion is inescapable that the seventh day— the rest of creation—is without end, in a word, everlasting. But in this case it can as little as a period of indefinite length as a period of twenty-four hours. For a period of time has beginning and end. And fact is that the seventh day did end. For man fell and the Gospel of Christ was brought in and God began His new work of recreating all things in Christ.
4. Then there is the argument that the days of God were intended. And since with God a thousand years are but one day and vice versa the seven days of Gen. 1:1—2:3 were periods of a thousand years or more.
But this reasoning won’t do either, will it? For certainly the last of the seven days, being a sabbath, was man’s day indeed and for man. For it was a day on which he rested in the sense of his entering with His God into God’s finished work. And God blessed the seventh day implying that the light of His countenance was upon man and upon all creatures.
5. Finally there is the argument that if the days of creation are periods of twenty-four hours, the Genesis narrative of creation cannot possible be harmonized with the findings of science. Actually however the conflict is between the Genesis narrative and the speculations that science bases on its finding and not between the Genesis narrative and these findings as such. If so, why should we allow ourselves, to be disturbed even to the extent that we can no longer hear the Scriptures? The speculations of science is not the voice of God, is it? the voice of God contradicting the revelations of God in the Scriptures.
That the days of creation were periods of thousands and more thousands and even millions of years duration is just a theory that today is not as popular among the men of science as it used to be. During the last fifty years a number of books have been written which expose the fundamental faults in the teaching that the earth is millions of years old and that it has gone through a series of geologic ages.