As we know from God’s Word, God created the universe in six days. We are told in Genesis chapter 1 what was created on each day. We are also given a summary in the Shorter Catechism: “The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good” (answer 9).
People who believe that the universe evolved purely by chance deny that God created the universe. There are some other people who do believe that God created all things but not in six days. They say that God took a long time to create the world and that the word day just represents millions, or even billions, of years. The reason for this is that they are trying to match up what the Bible teaches with what most scientists believe – that the universe is billions of years old.
In our language the word day can have different meanings. For instance, you could say, “During Queen Victoria’s day . . . “, meaning a period of time covering the reign of Queen Victoria. Another way that day can be used is: “My Dad works at night and sleeps during the day”, meaning the portion of time associated with daylight. Another use is: “In four days’ time it will be my birthday”; here day means a period of 24 hours. So when the word day is used in Genesis chapter 1, what meaning does it have?
If we look at the word day as it is used in Genesis 1, the original Hebrew word is yom (yowm). This word has a variety of meanings, just like day can have in our language. It may mean: the period of time associated with daylight hours, a 24-hour period, or some space of time. Just as, in our language, we get clues for what the word day means from the words around it – the context – so we have to look at the context of this word as it is used in Genesis 1.
The word yom is used, with a number, 410 times in other places in the Bible, and in each of these places it means a normal day. Here are two examples from the 410 similar uses of the word: “Upon the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar” (Esther 8:12), “And it came to pass that on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread” (Exodus 16:22). This leads us to conclude that, when this word is used with a number in Genesis 1, it also means a normal day.
If we read the actual words in Genesis 1, each day of creation is numbered, and mentioned along with the words “evening and morning” – again emphasising that a normal day, lasting 24 hours, is meant. For example: “And the evening and the morning were the fourth day” (Genesis 1:19). In the other places in the Bible where the word yom is used, it appears with the words morning and evening 23 times. Also, evening and morning appear together without the word yom 38 times. This makes a total of 61 times in other places in the Bible when evening and morning are used to describe a normal day of 24 hours. This strongly suggests to us that, when these words are used in Genesis 1, they also refer to a normal 24-hour day. It is important to note that there are other Hebrew words which are used in different places in the Bible to refer to long periods of unspecified time. None of these is used in Genesis 1.
But what is the problem in not believing literally what God has told us in Genesis 1? God has given us His Word and He has put it into a context to help us learn the truth. It is dangerous to try to understand God’s Word without paying attention to the context He has put it into; otherwise we are trying to make it fit in with the ideas we already have. If we go wrong like this, our view of the meaning of God’s Word will change, depending on what ideas are in fashion at the time.
If we say that God actually took billions of years to create the world, this means that some creatures died before Adam was created. This is contrary to what the Bible teaches about death, suffering and disease coming as a result of Adam’s first sin. When He had finished creating the world, God declared that “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). He would not have done so if millions of animals had already died and death had polluted His perfect creation. If the account of six-day creation is not accepted as truth, the account of Adam’s first sin will not be taken as truth; and so begins a course of questioning the truth and reality of everything in the Word of God.
It is most accurate to interpret God’s Word by contrasting and comparing it to other parts of His Word and by looking at its context. In doing so we should strive to be like the people of Berea, who “received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
God created the universe in six days. “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested on the seventh day” (Genesis 2:2). Does this mean God rested for billions of years? Of course it does not. God was establishing the pattern of a seven-day week which mankind has followed from the beginning of time. God explicitly affirmed six-day creation when He delivered the Fourth Commandment to Moses on Mount Sinai: “In six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11).
The way that time is measured in days, months and years can be traced back to natural cycles such as the moon rotating around the earth and the earth rotating round the sun. Changes have been made to the calendar as different civilisations have tried to impose the structure they felt was best. However, there is no astronomical basis for the seven-day week, and the best explanation is that it follows the pattern of the creation week. It is interesting to note that attempts to change the length of week have failed. At the end of the eighteenth century, during the French Revolution, there was an attempt to make it longer, and the Soviet Union tried to shorten it in the 1930s, but in both cases the seven-day week was brought back.
S M Campbell
[This article was first published in the December 2005 issue of The Young People’s Magazine, as the third part of a series entitled “How Did it all Begin?” The second article, entitled Evolution, can be found at this link.]