How Long Were the “Days” in Genesis 1?

Some believe the days in Genesis 1 were not literal 24-hour periods. Did God create using a process of evolution? How long were the days of creation?

Was each day of creation 24 hours?

Yes, the days of creation were literal days of 24 hours each.

Since in the Bible the same word “day” can sometimes refer to a less defined period of time (for example, “in that day,” “day of salvation,” etc.), some contend that the “days” in the biblical creation account are actually much longer periods of time. However, Genesis 1 clarifies each day as being an “evening” and a “morning.” For this division of a day to be relevant, the day cannot refer to millions of years.

Genesis, the book of beginnings, begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). We are told in the New Testament that the visible universe was made from invisible things by the One who became Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2;11:3).

So the Bible tells us that God, who is eternal and all-powerful, created the entire physical universe.

How long ago did the creation of matter take place? Many believe that according to the Bible the creation of the physical universe was only about 6,000 years ago. However, the text allows for a different interpretation. A close examination of the Scriptures reveals that there could have been a gap of time between the original creation of the earth and the re-creation of all that was on it described in Genesis 1:3-31. For more on this, see the article “The Gap Theory.”

Exactly when the original creation took place is not clear. But what we can see from the Bible is that humanity has only been on this earth for around 6,000 years.

The days of creation in the first chapter of Genesis describe the preparation of the earth for the creation of mankind. This renewal (Psalm 104:30) was needed since “the earth was [or “became”] without form, and void [Hebrew tohu and bohu—“chaotic and confused” or “barren and waste”]; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2, emphasis added throughout).

Cleaning up and preparation

When God creates, it is done beautifully. The Bible says the angels rejoiced in the perfection of God’s creation (Job 38:4-11). The design and interdependence are awesome!

When sin enters the picture, however, beauty can become ugly. We find that a beautiful angelic being, an anointed cherub who served near God’s throne, chose to let pride develop into rebellion. Lucifer became Satan, an enemy of God and His purpose (Ezekiel 28:11-17; Isaiah 14:12-15).

Jesus Christ tells us He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven (Luke 10:17-18). Satan was cast to earth and restricted here with his cohorts, now called demons. We can only imagine his fury and speculate about the destruction he might have caused as a result of his sin.

But God’s purpose stands, and Satan’s rebellion did not halt the creation of man in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26). God says, “I have made the earth, and created man on it. I—My hands—stretched out the heavens, and all their host I have commanded.’ … For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens, who is God, who formed the earth and made it, who has established it, who did not create it in vain [Hebrew, tohu], who formed it to be inhabited: ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other’” (Isaiah 45:12, 18).

God did not create the earth in vain. After it became that way, He set about to renew it.

Refashioning and replenishing

From Genesis 1:3 through 2:3 we find various acts of creation by God. Note that a “day” is referred to as an “evening” and a “morning.” The days are defined by light and darkness, so for this division of a day to be relevant, the day cannot refer to millions of years—as we will see in our examination of each day.

Let’s look at each of the days as God prepared the earth for man’s habitation. It seems the description in Genesis 1 is given from the perspective of the surface of the earth.

Day 1: God divides light from darkness (verses 3-5). Where did the light called “day” originate? The sun had been created earlier (verse 1); but it seems, from the perspective of the earth, it had been hidden behind gases so thick that no light was getting through. God now made this light visible.

Day 2: God parts clouds from oceans (verses 6-8). Apparently water vapor had filled the atmosphere like perpetual thick fog. God now separated the oceans from the water-laden clouds above and put the weather systems in place to sustain the earth with moisture.

Day 3: God causes the dry land to appear and creates grass, herbs and trees (verses 9-13). God readied the ecosystems for the creation and sustaining of sea and land creatures. To do this, God first made plants and trees. (God knew these would need sunlight for photosynthesis and insects for pollination, which He provided on days 4 and 5. Note that these steps cannot be separated by thousands or millions of years.)

Day 4: God makes the sun, moon and stars visible (verses 14-19). The light-giving sun and moon had already been created and placed in the heavens to divide light from darkness (verses 1, 3-5, 16-18). God now ensured the cloud cover would break to provide light and warmth from the sun. He also signifies that they are for “signs and seasons” and for “days and years” (verse 14). The Hebrew word oth, translated “signs,” is also used in Ezekiel 20:12, 20, where the keeping of God’s sacred days are a “sign” to God of His people. “Seasons” is translated from the word mo’adim, which means “appointed times” and is used for “festivals.” From the beginning of the age of man, God created the lights in the firmament for identifying appointed times for us to keep in recognition of His plan.

Day 5: God creates sea creatures and birds (verses 20-23). On the fifth day the oceans and air teemed with creatures God created and blessed. He told them to multiply; but as with the grasses, herbs and fruit trees, they reproduce only within their “kind.” God created potential for variety to develop to fit different environments, but there is a genetic boundary that cannot be crossed.

Day 6: God creates land creatures, then man and woman (verses 24-31). God brought the land animals to life, each one designed to reproduce and develop within a narrow range called a “kind.” He then created a man and, from his rib, a woman. They were created in God’s image and likeness, by implication a part of the God kind (verses 26-27). The potential for development of God’s nature was implanted with a spiritual component called “the spirit in man” (1 Corinthians 2:11), which gave mankind the ability to create, reflect, plan and design. The physical creation was now finished, but the spiritual instruction was about to begin.

Day 7: God creates the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2-3). God created the Sabbath on the seventh day by resting and blessing the seventh day, separating it as holy.

We see that these seven days culminate in the creation of the Sabbath day, designed to give us 24 hours each week to develop a deeper relationship with God.

Mention of the evening and morning for each of the first six days ensures we understand these are literal days, not thousands of years or epochs.

God does not need evolution

The all-powerful, supremely intelligent Creator God did not need macroevolution to help Him in creating. He tells us He created the first man directly from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7), not through a long series of evolutionary changes.

Christians need not feel that their beliefs are threatened by the apparent global acceptance of the theory of evolution. There are explanations for the fossils, strata and other evidence of an ancient world that are compatible with the Bible.

Be sure to read our article “Can Christians Believe in Evolution?” This article explores what Jesus and the apostles taught and understood about Genesis. A follower of Christ will believe what Christ taught.

Knowing and believing the Creator God is an incredible blessing. The Bible tells us God is working out a great plan to add children of God to His family. That plan gives us real hope and purpose. Evolution, on the other hand, offers no plan and no hope.

Genesis is accurate

The book of Genesis is accurate. The “days” in Genesis 1 are literal days involving the same type of evenings and mornings as we experience today.

Read more about the creation and our great Creator in the other articles in this section on “Is There a God?

About the Author

Peter Hawkins

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