How long were the days of Genesis 1?

Hebrew words

What did God intend us to understand from the words He used?

by Russell Grigg

Were the days of Creation Week of 24 hours duration or were they long periods of time? This article will discuss the Hebrew ‘time’ words which the author had available to him and what meaning he intended to convey by his choice of the specific words he used.

When Moses, under the inspiration of God, compiled the account of creation in Genesis 1, he used the Hebrew word yôm for ‘day’. He combined yôm with numbers (‘first day’, ‘second day’, ‘third day’, etc.) and with the words ‘evening and morning’, and the first time he employed it he carefully defined the meaning of yôm (used in this way) as being one night/day cycle (Genesis 1:5). Thereafter, throughout the Bible, yôm used in this way always refers to a normal 24–hour day. There is thus a prima facie case that, when God used the word yôm in this way, He intended to convey that the days of creation were 24 hours long.

Let us now consider what other words God could have used, if He had wanted to convey a much longer period of time than 24 hours.

There are several Hebrew words which refer to a long period of time. These include qedem which is the main one–word term for ‘ancient’ and is sometimes translated ‘of old’; olam means ‘everlasting’ or ‘eternity’ and is translated ‘perpetual’, ‘of old’ or ‘for ever’; dor means ‘a revolution of time’ or ‘an age’ and is sometimes translated ‘generations’; tamid means ‘continually’ or ‘for ever’; ad means ‘unlimited time’ or ‘for ever’; orek when used with yôm is translated ‘length of days’; shanah means ‘a year’ or ‘a revolution of time’ (from the change of seasons); netsach means ‘for ever’. Words for a shorter time span include eth (a general term for time); and moed, meaning ‘seasons’ or ‘festivals’. Let us consider how some of these could have been used…

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