Evening, Morning, and the Days of Creation
The singular and plural forms of the Hebrew word for day (yom and yammim) appear in the Old Testament over 2,300 times, making it the fifth most common noun in the Old Testament (Saebo, 1990, 6:13-14). The term is used in three basic ways. The first two ways are defined and limited: “Day” (yom) can refer to a 24-hour period (e.g., Genesis 50:3), and it can refer to the part of the 24-hour period that is “light” (in contrast to the darkness/night; Genesis 1:3-5). Day is also used in an extended way to refer to longer, less-defined periods of time in the past, present, or future (e.g., “the day of the Lord,” Zechariah 14:1).
Just as most people who speak English can—rather effortlessly—understand how the English word “day” is used in a variety of contexts, most Bible readers can easily and quickly understand how the inspired writers used yom (day) throughout the Bible. Most people clearly comprehend if the word “day” is used in a defined manner (as a part of or an entire 24 hours) or in an undefined manner (e.g., “in the day of the Lord”). After the Flood, the Lord said, “While the earth remains…, winter and summer, day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). “Day” is obviously used here in reference to a defined time period—the part of a 24-hour period that is light (cf. Genesis 7:4; 29:7; Exodus 24:18). During the Flood, “the waters prevailed on the earth one hundred and fifty days” (Genesis 7:24). Once again, “days” (yammim) is used in a defined sense, though instead of referring to the light period of the day(s), the emphasis is on the total 24-hour period(s)—specifically, 150 24-hour periods. In Deuteronomy 31:17, the Lord foretold how the Israelites would break His covenant, and “in that day” many troubles would come upon them. The emphasis here is on a less defined period of time—in the future, when the Israelites would begin worshiping the idols of the pagan nations around them.
As with most terms, the word “day” cannot be defined accurately without considering the context in which it is found. However, inspired penmen nearly always provided various indicators within a given passage of Scripture so that readers can understand the text rather easily—including accurately interpreting how the word “day” is used hundreds of times in a limited, defined sense.
One of the indicators throughout the literal, non-prophetic language of Scripture that yom refers either to a limited, defined time of 24 hours or less [i.e., whether it is used to refer to (a) daylight hours of a 24-hour period or (b) the 24-hour period itself], is if the words “morning” and/or “evening” are used to describe the particular day. The words “morning” (boqer) and “evening” (‘ereb) appear 348 times in the Old Testament. (Boqer appears 214 times and ‘ereb 134 times; Konkel, 1997, 1:711,716.) Again and again throughout the Old Testament these words are used in reference to specific, defined portions of regular 24-hour days.
Noah “waited yet another seven days, and again he sent the dove out from the ark. Then the dove came to him in the evening” (Genesis 8:10-11).
Moses judged Israel “on the next day…and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening” (Exodus 18:13).
The Lord instructed Aaron and his sons in the book of Leviticus about the various offerings, including the laws concerning peace offerings. According to Leviticus 7:15, “The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning.”
During the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness, God caused a cloud to remain over the tabernacle “from evening until morning: when the cloud was taken up in the morning, then they would journey; whether by day or by night” (Number 9:21).
The only instances where evening and morning may not refer to defined portions of a 24-hour day are the relatively few times they are used in prophetic or figurative language (e.g., Genesis 49:27; Habakkuk 1:8). Otherwise, the evidence is overwhelming: when “morning” and/or “evening” are used in reference to a period of time (in literal, non-prophetic language) they always refer to regular, 24-hour days (or parts thereof). [NOTE: For a clear distinction between the literal, narrative, non-prophetic language of Scripture and the figurative, prophetic language of the Bible, compare the narrative of Joseph in Genesis 37-48 with what Jacob prophesies will happen to Joseph, his brothers, and their descendents in Genesis 49:1-27. For more information on the literal, historical nature of Genesis 1-2, see Thompson, 2000, pp. 133-161 and DeYoung, 2005, pp. 157-170.]
So what does this have to do with Creation? Many evolutionary sympathizers contend that the days of Creation were (or at least could have been) long periods of evolutionary geologic time (where each “day” was millions or billions of years long). One of the main problems (among others; see Lyons, 2012) with this bizarre interpretation, however, is that each day of the Creation was said to have one evening and one morning.
“So the evening and the morning were the first day” (Genesis 1:5).
“So the evening and the morning were the second day” (Genesis 1:8).
“So the evening and the morning were the third day” (Genesis 1:13).
“So the evening and the morning were the fourth day” (Genesis 1:19).
“So the evening and the morning were the fifth day” (Genesis 1:23).
“So the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31).
Just as God spoke of limited, defined periods of days using the terms “evening” and “morning” hundreds of times throughout the Old Testament, He did so six times in the Creation account. If everywhere else in the literal, non-prophetic language of the Old Testament these words are used to refer to regular 24-hour days, why is it that some contend the days of the literal, non-prophetic Genesis account of Creation were undefined, vast periods of evolutionary time? Because their loyalty to the assumption-based, unproven theory of evolution means more to them than a serious, consistent, logical interpretation of the Bible.
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
DeYoung, Donald (2005), Thousands…Not Billions (Green Forest, AR: Master Books).
Konkel, A.H. (1997), boqer, New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Lyons, Eric (2012), “Numbers…and the Use of the Word ‘Day,’” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=9&article=3526&topic=327.
Saebo, M. (1990), yom, Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, ed. G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Thompson, Bert (2000), Creation Compromises (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).