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The Significance of “Days” (plural) in Creation

The Bible clearly teaches, in several passages, that God created the heaven and the earth and everything in them in six days, then rested the seventh day. Controversy exists, however, regarding the length of these days. Modern “scientific” theory argues that the earth has existed for 4 or 5 billion years. Although this claim has not been proved, some have tried to harmonize the Bible account of creation with this theory.

One way some have attempted this reconciliation is by claiming that the days of creation were not literal, consecutive days.

Some say the days were long ages. Others say that long ages occurred between the days. In order to justify this approach, it is claimed that the word “day” in the Bible is not always a literal day, but can refer to a more extended period of time. However, please note that, in order to span a period of 4 to 5 billion years, the “days” of creation must have lasted an average of 700 million years each (or periods that long must have occurred between the days). What evidence is there that the word “day” in the Bible can ever comprehend time periods that long?

In an overwhelming majority of cases, the word “day” in the Bible refers either to the literal 24-hour day or to the period of daylight in contrast to night. The instances where the word refers to a longer period are a very small minority of cases (generally estimated at less than five percent). This means the chances are very slim that the Bible days of creation refer to long periods.

In fact, to my knowledge, no one has ever proved that the word “day” in the Bible ever referred to a period of many thousands of years, let alone to any longer period. The claim that the days refer to periods that average 700 million years each appears incredible and frankly unscriptural. No one would ever reach such a conclusion from reading the Bible. The only possible way to reach such a conclusion is to read into the Bible that which clearly is not there.

When Bible words can have various meanings, proper Bible study requires that we consider the usage of those words in their context.

Then we must compare the usage to other passages using the word. This shows us the proper meaning to apply.

Two passages that refer to creation plainly state that God created all things “in six days.”

Exodus 20:11 — For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.

Exodus 31:17 — … for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.

These passages use the word “days” (plural). This expression would seem to state the time period more specifically and definitely. One may use the word “day” in a vaguely defined sense that might include a number of literal days, such as: “In my day children were required to respect their elders.” But we would not be likely to use “days” plural in such an undefined sense. “Days” would seem to be a more precise usage.

The purpose of this study is to examine the word “days” in the plural in the Bible.

We seek to determine whether it carries a vague meaning of an undefined period of time, or whether it is more specific in referring to a plurality of literal days. In particular, is it ever used in a way that could comprehend vast ages lasting many millions of years?

I have listed below what is, to my knowledge, a complete list of every passage where the NKJV translation uses the word “days” plural (from the Hebrew YOM or YOWM – Strong’s number H3117 – or from the Greek word HEMERA – G2250). This list was compiled from a computer word search of Strong’s Hebrew/Greek text. The results show that “days” (plural) is used a total of 694 times in 632 Old Testament verses and 152 times in 142 New Testament verses.

In the list, I have indicated which verses might possibly involve a usage of “days” which means something significantly longer than a literal day. They are preceded by ????. I have also categorized the verses according to the nature of the books (books of law or history as compared to prophecy, etc.). And I have summarized the results by whether they are literal days or could be longer ages. I have also indicated how many could refer to ages lasting hundreds of millions of years.

Here is a summary of the results:

Type of book Total verses Literal days Long ages?? Millions of years
OT Law 191 all none none
OT History 187 all none none
OT Poetry 86 all none none
OT Prophecy 168 162 6(??) none
Total OT 632 626 6(??) none
NT History 116 all none none
NT Epistles 17 all none none
NT Prophecy 9 4 5(??) none
Total NT 142 137 5(??) none
Bible Total 774 763 11(??) none

Observations about the results:

(1) First, it should be clear on the surface that the claim that the days of creation are long periods, not literal days, is highly unlikely to be correct. On the average, less than one verse in 70 would be expected to carry such a meaning.

(2) Much more significant, however, is the fact that all the possible examples of long periods are found in prophecy, never in books of history or doctrine (law or epistles), nor even in poetry. This is of great significance. Bible students are aware that prophecy commonly uses words in symbolic and non-literal ways. This is even done with words that are generally understood elsewhere to be highly literal. The fact such is done with the word “days” should not be surprising. But it proves absolutely nothing about how the word is used in historical or doctrinal contexts. People who use such examples to try to prove the word “days” is non-literal in Gen. 1 have simply misused the Scriptures.

Specifically, besides the two references to creation, the book of Exodus uses the word “days” in 30 other references. Every one of them is literal. None refer to vague or undefined longer ages. Further, the writings of Moses use the word “days” a total of 191 times. Again, they are all literal, without exception. Never does Moses use the word to refer to vague or undefined longer ages. Why would anyone conclude that he uses the word to refer to long ages in Gen. 1, when out of nearly 200 other instances he never once uses it with that meaning?

Furthermore, Genesis 1 and 2 are clearly intended to be history and doctrinal instruction. The rest of the book of Genesis is clearly intended to be history and doctrine. Only liberals and modernists who disrespect Scripture would attempt to say these accounts are symbolic or mythical accounts. People who believe the Bible is the infallible, verbally inspired word of God would never make such claims. And no one to my knowledge would attempt to say the accounts are prophecy!

Yet the word “days” is used nearly 600 times in books of history, doctrine, and poetry, always without exception referring to literal days. It never is used to refer to undefined periods longer than literal days. To claim that such a meaning prevails in Ex. 20 and 31 is to speak absolutely without any reasonable Bible precedent.

(3) And finally, no Bible passage – not even prophecy – uses the word “days” in a way that could reasonably be taken to refer to ages of many hundreds of millions of years. There simply is no Bible authority whatever for such a conclusion. It can only be an invention born of a desire to accommodate an unproved theory of “science,” a theory which has been popularized by people who do not really believe the Bible and are generally determined to find an alternative to its teaching.

“Days” translated “age” or “time”

The above comments refer to “days” (plural) when translated “days.” However, there are six verses in which YOM is translated “age.” In every case, YOM is plural. There are over sixty verses in which YOM is translated “time.” In the majority of these YOM is plural. While these verses are not included in the chart above, nevertheless, they do not in any way conflict with the results but completely harmonize with them.

Some have claimed that “age” or “time” is the proper meaning of YOM, rather than “day.” In other words, they say YOM is a generic word referring indefinitely to time. However, YOM is used in over 1900 verses, yet it is translated “age” or “time” in only about 70 instances. The almost overwhelming translation is “day” or “days.” Are we are ready to accept that the translators of all major English translations are overwhelmingly wrong? The examples listed with this study show that “day(s)” is clearly valid. I conclude that those who argue that YOM means “age” or “time” are simply seeking to avoid the force of the Scriptures by changing a word from its specific meaning to make it generic.

Furthermore, when “time” or “age” is translated from YOM plural, the meaning is compatible with “days” (plural). The “time” or “age” simply consists of (many) days. There is no evidence that “days” when plural means long time periods (plural). The term is indefinite in length, not because the “days” are not literal, but simply because the context does not tell how many days are included.

We are not here concerned with those few instances where YOM singular is translated “time.” We have acknowledged that YOM in the singular can occasionally refer to something other than a literal day. It is interesting, however, that generally when the time period is long, the text uses “days” (plural). This implies then a period consisting of days. Generally when the time referred to is a more specific time or point in time, it is singular. In any case, the translation “time” for days plural does not prove the days are long ages. The time is long only because it consists of many days.

YOM in the plural is also rarely translated “year” (or “yearly”), “season,” “life,” or “space.” But again, since YOM is plural, the idea is that the year or season or life or space consists of (many) days. There is still no evidence that “days” (plural) means long ages (plural). YOM (plural) is also rarely translated a few other ways, all irrelevant to our study.

This study is the just one of several such studies that I hope to make available about the days of creation. The conclusion is strengthened as different aspects are examined and the evidence accumulates. Please examine the other articles on my web site at /creation/.

Click here to see the detailed list of passages in this study of "days" (plural).

(C) Copyright 2000, David E. Pratte
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.

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