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24-hour days vs. apparent age of Creation

A typical question, concerning the time frame of the creation process, is this:  In the account of Creation in the first chapter of Genesis, do the references to “day” imply that each one is a literal 24-hour period of time, or can each “day” encompass ages of time (that is, be thought of as an “age-day”)?

Josh McDowell and John Stewart cite an argument concerning the usage of yom (or yowm), the Hebrew word for “day,” in Genesis 1:

Regarding the meaning of “yom,” those who oppose the age-day theory point out that when “yom” is used with a specific number, in this case six days, it always means a 24-hour day.  Examples of this would be the 40 days Moses was on Mt. Sinai and the three days Jonah was inside the great fish.

Additional evidence is that Exodus 20:11 refers to the six days of creation apparently as 24-hour days.  More than 700 times in the Old Testament, the plural of “yom” is used and always has 24-hour days in view. (14)

McDowell and Stewart also point to a popular “apparent age” theory as a possible alternative.  This theory expresses the idea that everything was created with the illusion of age—that is, “...that God created everything at full maturity, with the appearance of having gone through the normal development stages.” (15)  If this were true, it would imply that all the modern measurements of the ages of the universe and the earth are wrong; the universe and the earth would appear to be billions of years old when actually they would be only thousands of years old.

“age-days” of Creation

The Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text (hereafter referred to as the “Masoretic Text”) version of the Bible states,

These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven (Gen. 2:4—Masoretic Text).

The King James and Revised Standard versions also have a similar description, including both of the words “generations” and “day.”

According to Ross,

This verse, a summary statement for the creation account, in the literal Hebrew reads, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day of their making....”  Here, the word day refers to all six creation days (and the creation events prior to the first creative day).  Obviously, then, it refers to a period longer than 24 hours.  Hebrew lexicons verify that the word for generation (toledah) refers to the time it takes a baby to become a parent or to a time period arbitrarily longer.  In Genesis 2:4 the plural form, generations, is used, indicating that multiple generations have passed. (16)

In addition, Ross argues,

The Hebrew word yowm, translated day, may be used (and is) within the Bible, as it is in English, to indicate any of four time periods: a) from sunrise to sunset, b) from sunset to sunset, c) a segment of time without any reference to solar days (usually several years), and d) an age or epoch. ...

Some have argued for 24-hour days on the basis that yowm, when attached to an ordinal (second, third, fourth, etc.) elsewhere in the Bible always refers to a 24-hour period.  This argument is inconclusive.  The Bible, after all, has no other occasion to enumerate epochs of time.  More importantly, no rule of Hebrew grammar states that yowm attached to an ordinal must refer to 24-hour days. (17)

A number of added reasons supporting the interpretation of God’s creation days as long periods of time (“age-days”)—favoring arguments against a young universe, and verifying the results of four methods measuring the age of the universe (averaging about 16 billion years)—may be found in Ross’ The Fingerprint of God. (18)

Certainly, I do believe that it was indubitably possible for the Almighty God to have spoken the universe, earth, and all life into being in a sequence of six 24-hour days (or even in a moment of time, for that matter).  However, considering how extremely patient God is with us (2 Pet. 3:9b), and how important of a virtue within us He considers patience to be (Prov. 19:11; Rom. 8:25; 1 Tim. 6:11; James 1:4), it seems more credible to me (especially after contemplating the aforementioned reasons and arguments) that God Himself would take His time in His creation activity—paying infinite attention to perfect, absolute detail and, therefore, showing us how the virtue of patience “pays off.”

If God can wait billions of years after creating the universe (with a “Big Bang” out of nothing) to form the earth, and then a few more billion years after that to create life, then we should be able to wait a couple of minutes in line at a checkout stand or 30 seconds for a stop light without becoming “unglued.”  God does not expect us to do anything good or to adopt any positive quality without our first seeing His example of how and why to do it.

the “Big Bang”

The idea of a “Big Bang” origin of the universe (that of a tremendous explosion outward from a single point, in a moment of time, of all the matter in the universe), interestingly, has had opponents in both the scientific and theological arenas.  Many atheistic scientists have challenged it because, if true, it would indicate that the universe has a point of beginning—and, therefore, a Beginner.  Many creationists have resisted the concept because of its implication that the universe and earth are billions of years old, as opposed to only a few thousand years old, thus seeming to give credence to the idea of a gradual evolution of life rather than a sudden creation of life within six literal, 24-hour days.  In fact, a “Big Bang” model of creation does point to a great God causing the event to occur; but it by no means stipulates that plants and animals evolved from existing species and into new species (particularly, man from apes).

From February to April, 1992, six historically momentous discoveries verified conclusively that the existence of the universe can, indeed, be traced to a “Big Bang” of some type, though not the model originally presented.  It was as if six essential pieces had been placed into a giant jigsaw puzzle.  The announcement in the news media was that the “existence of God” unquestionably had been confirmed.

The notion of a basic “Big Bang” had been questioned ever since the discovery within the past few years that galaxies are not evenly distributed within the universe but, rather, that there is a great deal of galaxy “clumping.”  Because ordinary matter reacts strongly with radiation, it should also follow that the background radiation of the universe would be very clumpy.  However, short-term observations by the COBE (Cosmic Background Explorer) satellite, providing data since early 1990, had been showing this background radiation to be perfectly smooth.  Many assumed that this nullified the entire “Big Bang” theory.

After further measurements, however, small irregularities or “ripples” in the background radiation were discovered by COBE, and the news was released to the media on April 24, 1992.  Other observations (by instruments such as the Hubble Space Telescope), culminating around this same time, confirmed that “exotic” matter, unlike the ordinary matter with which we are familiar, explains the clumping of galaxies.  “Exotic” matter—including particles such as axions, neutrinos, MACHOs (massive compact halo objects), and WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles)—is much more prevalent than ordinary matter and reacts very little with radiation; therefore, it can clump while the background radiation remains relatively smooth. (19)  As “exotic” matter clumps, ordinary matter is attracted to it by gravitation and also clumps.  These and other discoveries reinforce the “Big Bang” concept of the origin of the universe, and they are allowing scientists to get closer to discovering which “Big Bang” model is correct.

frame of reference

There is yet another possibility concerning the amount of time it took God to create the universe.  Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicts certain things about matter, space, and time.  For instance, the faster something moves, the slower time passes relative to it.  This fact actually has been proven by setting two identical atomic clocks at exactly the same time, placing one on a spacecraft orbiting the earth, and leaving the other one behind.  When the one that had been traveling at a high rate of speed returned, it was discovered that it had been running slower than the one that had remained stationary.  That is, less time had passed relative to the moving clock when compared to the fixed clock.

Now, consider the tremendous amount of mass in the universe and the extraordinarily high velocities at which matter traveled for a time after the powerfully explosive “Big Bang.”  It may be that the absolute period during which God created everything was very short (say, six 24-hour days) relative to Him, as He can move infinitely fast.  Yet, looking backward in time, this same period seems to have been very long (say, billions of years) relative to us, as we are stationary observers on the earth traveling through space at a greatly reduced velocity.  If true, both theories (six-literal-day and six-age-day) could be correct, depending upon one’s frame of reference or point of observation.  Additional aspects of the importance of observation will be stressed in the next part.

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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery, O.D.  Most rights reserved.