Cosmology, the Study of Origins

A Subdivision of Anthropology, the Study of Man


"...And there was evening and there was morning, one day." Genesis 1:5

"...And there was evening and there was morning, one day."

Day One of Creation: How Long is a Day?

Genesis 1:5. "And there was evening and there was morning, one day".

And there was evening and there was morning, one day (Gen. 1:5b). There are some who have attempted to infer that this repeated phrase marks the genesis of the Semitic day beginning at evening. That is unlikely, for the reason that the phrase marks the completion, not the commencement of the activities on day one of creation

H. C. Leupold  (online commentary, section 1.55) translates this phrase, “Then came evening, then came morning – the first day.” What is clearly indicated here is a sequence of events following the illuminated portion of that first 24-hour day. God had created light, and then localized it. The earth was rotating on its axis in relation to that light. As the day wore on, sunset finally arrived. So evening came, and, after a period of time, morning came. That completed the cycle of Divine activity on Day One of creation.

Leupold (see at section 1.56)points out that some have attempted to make Gen. 1 the origin of the Semitic notion that a new day begins in the evening. But he does not believe that can be deduced from this passage. Here, he notes, the arrival of evening followed by morning came at the end of the first day’s activities, not its beginning. For the Jewish people, the concept of a day beginning at sunset is more likely related to the Divinely-specified protocol for the observance of the Jewish Sabbath (see Lev. 23:32).

In his comments on Gen. 1:5, C. F. Keil (Keil and Delitzsch) wrote, "It follows from this, that the days of creation are not reckoned from evening to evening, but from morning to morning. The first day does not fully terminate till the light returns after the darkness of night; it is not till the break of the new morning that the first interchange of light and darkness is completed ...."

Here then, is the sequence on the first day of creation: (1) God created the heavens. (2) God created the earth. (3) God created by command light. (4) As the earth rotated in relation to the fixed light source, evening came, and with it darkness. (5) The first 24-hour day was terminated by the arrival of the dawn, or morning.

one day Two questions are at stake here: (1) What is the nature of the word day (yom)? (2) What is the significance of the word one (Cchaddie) appearing in the cardinal, rather than the ordinal form?

(1) What is the nature of the word day 
(yom)? The word day is used in two different senses in Genesis 1:5. It is first used by God to denote the illuminated portion of existence upon earth as opposed to the darkened portion of existence. As the earth rotates on its axis, a given spot on the globe is alternately exposed to light and then to darkness. In English, it is appropriate to call the illuminated portion "day" or "daytime." In Hebrew it is yom.

In the second part of Gen. 1:5, day is used to denote a complete cycle
of daytime followed by nighttime. We now speak of a solar day, or a 24-hour day, but on Day One there was no sun in respect to which the earth rotated on its axis, but rather some other light source. We are not told what that light source was, but presumably, as suggested above, it was a visible display of the glory of God. In any event, the amount of time for a day-night cycle was essentially the same then as it is today, granting the entropy (decay) associated with six thousand years plus of the earth's existence.

According to Francis Humphrey, a third meaning of day (yom) is to be found in Genesis 2:4:
"Finally in Genesis 2:4, ym is part of an anarthrous 1 prepositional compound beym meaning not ‘in the day’ but simply ’when’."

There can be no doubt that, in the latter part of Genesis 1:5, by writing, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day," Moses was delineating a 24-hour day or what in three days could accurately be termed a solar day. The terms evening and morning must doubtless refer to a 24-hour day. This limiting context is stated first in Genesis 1:5, then repeated in
Gen. 1:8, 13, 19, 23, and 31. As Humphrey concludes, "…it is clearly preferable to read Gen. 1:5b as defining a ym for the following sequence of ordinals-namely one cycle of evening and morning, signifying a complete 24-hour day embracing both the period of darkness and the period of light.”

It should be noted that the day-night cycle of the first day was, by necessity, different than the succeeding days. Whereas each succeeding day began with daybreak or dawn, the first day began in utter darkness. In other words, when God created the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:1), it was pitch black (Gen. 1:2). How long it was dark we are not told. How long the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters before God created light (Gen. 1:3), we are not told. What we are told by God as recorded by Moses is that God created everything that came into existence in six days (Ex. 20:11). And God nowhere in Scripture indicated a chronological disparity between the first day and the succeeding days. We humans would be unwise unilaterally to impose a difference where none is stated to exist.

For millennia, few questioned Moses' account of the origin of the universe, the earth, and life. Indeed, through the first roughly 1800 years of the church's existence, it was assumed that God created the cosmos and that he did it in six days. There were some allegorists, such as "Clement, Origen, and Augustine, [who] did not consider the days of creation as 24-hour days, but, even as old-earth advocate Davis Young states, neither did they see non-literal days conflicting with their young-earth view" (Davis A. Young, Christianity and the Age of the Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), p. 19 and 22, as quoted by James R. Mook, "The Church Fathers on Genesis, the Flood, and the Age of the Earth", p. 26 in Coming to Grips with Genesis). It was understood that a day meant a day. But with the advent of the theory of evolution, with its emphasis on geological uniformitarianism, a number of theologians and Hebrew scholars attempted to find new ways to interpret the account. Many tried to reconcile the Biblical account with the vast amounts of time demanded by the doctrine of evolution. Instead of allowing the clear teaching of Scripture to stand in judgment on on the atheistic, uniformitarian, anti-supernatural biases and presuppositions of the scientific community, the Christian community, led by Christian scholars, capitulated to the dogmas foisted upon them. But those who took the Bible seriously had to deal with the text of Gen. 1. So they resorted to non-literal methods of exegesis or ingenious manipulations of the Hebrew syntax to accommodate the scientific views. One way to do that was to assign vast periods of time to the account of the "days" of creation. Here is a brief list of the theories regarding the days of creation that have been concocted to satisfy the time parameters mandated by evolution:

Day-Age Theory. The days of creation are not literal days, as a straight-forward reading of Gen. 1 would lead one to believe. Instead they represent vast periods of time. This theory, unsupported by an exegesis of Gen. 1, was concocted to create the amount of time required by the uniformitarian presuppositions of the dogma of evolution. Specifically, for example, uniformitarian geology holds that the geologic strata found around the earth were laid down by natural processes over millions upon millions of years. But this is untrue. The geologic strata were not laid down gradually over millions of years by natural processes, but over a short period of time during the global, catastrophic geological devastation caused by the Flood of Noah (Gen. 6-8). Another term for this non-literal approach to the days of creation is Progressive Creationism. Astrophysicist Hugh Ross, Reasons to Believe, holds to Progressive Creationism. He also believes the Genesis Flood was local.

Framework Hypothesis. A non-literal hermeneutical stratagem to avoid the clear meaning of "day" (yom) in Genesis 1:1-2:3 in a failed attempt to harmonize the Biblical teaching of Creation with the Old-Earth implications of the theory of Evolution. In the Framework Hypothesis, God was not meaning to convey literal or scientific truth. Rather He sought to convey a theology of creation through a literary or symbolic framework of six days. Proponents of the Framework Hypothesis include Arie Noordtzij, Meredith Kline, Mark D. Futato, Lee Irons, Henri Blocher, Bruce Waltke, Gordon Wenham, Mark Throntveit, Ronald F. Youngblood, and W. Robert Godfrey (all referenced with their publications by Todd S. Beall, "Contemporary Hermeneutical Approaches to Gen. 1-11", footnote 11, pp. 151-152, Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth).

Intermittent Day Theory. This theory holds that there were vast quantities of time between the days of creation. No straightforward reading of the account in Gen. 1 would lead one to support this theory. It was concocted by Biblical scholars who have been cowed into believing that science demands an Old Earth. The evolutionary theory demands vast quantities of time. Old-Earth creationists, attempting to accommodate the Biblical account with Evolution, keep searching for ways to insert more time into Genesis. Inevitably, they violate a normal reading of the passage.

Other Theories that Insert Time into the Genesis Record

In addition to theories regarding the days of creation, other theories have been created to insert more time into the Creation Account of Genesis:

Gap Theory. There is an enormous gap of time between Gen. 1:1 and Gen. 1:2. According to some who hold this theory, God created an initial pristine universe as described in Genesis 1:1. But something ruined it. What or who ruined it? Why it was Satan and his angels, who fell. So God had to judge the world with a global cataclysm. This accounts for the trillions of fossils scattered throughout the geological ages. Genesis 1:2 then, according to these theorists, describes the condition of the earth after God judged it. It was utterly dark, without form, void, and covered with water. Genesis 1:3-31 accounts for God's recreation of the cosmos. The Gap Theory is also known as the "Ruin and Reconstruction" Theory. By whatever name, this theory is untenable theologically, because it makes God say that everything He had created was "good" (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25) and "very good" (Gen. 1:31) even though the re-created world was littered with the fossils of animals that had died and lay buried in the geologic strata that everywhere around the globe testify of a cataclysmic judgment. Furthermore, it diametrically opposes the clear statement that it was by one man, Adam, that sin entered the world, and death through sin (Romans 5:12-14). Though it never used the words "gap theory", the Scofield Reference Bible popularized this unbiblical concept and helped spread it through scores of otherwise conservative Bible colleges and seminaries. Here are the words of the 1917 edition commenting on the phrase "without form and void" in Genesis 1:2:

Jeremiah 4:23-27 ; Isaiah 24:1; 45:18 clearly indicate that the earth had undergone a cataclysmic change as the result of divine judgment. The face of the earth bears everywhere the marks of such a catastrophe. There are not wanting imitations (sic - the word is intimations) which connect it with a previous testing and fall of angels.
See Ezekiel 28:12-15 ; Isaiah 14:9-14 which certainly go beyond the kings of Tyre and Babylon.

The 1917 edition stated the concept of the Gap Theory in its note on the phrase "without form and void" as found in Jeremiah 4:23:

Cf. Genesis 1:2 . "Without form and void" describes the condition of the earth as the result of judgment ; Jeremiah 4:24-26 ; Isaiah 24:1 which overthrew the primal order of Genesis 1:1 .

The 1917 edition gave three options for defining the word "day" in Genesis 1:5:

The word "day" is used in Scripture in three ways:

(1) that part of the solar day of twenty-four hours which is light Genesis 1:5; Genesis 1:14 ; John 9:4; 11:9.

(2) such a day, set apart for some distinctive purpose, as, "day of atonement" ( Leviticus 23:27 ); "day of judgment" Matthew 10:15 .

(3) a period of time, long or short, during which certain revealed purposes of God are to be accomplished, as "day of the Lord."

The 1917 edition also revealed its bias toward the Day-Age Theory in its notes on the word "evening"  in Genesis 1:5:

The use of "evening" and "morning" may be held to limit "day" to the solar day; but the frequent parabolic use of natural phenomena may warrant the conclusion that each creative "day" was a period of time marked off by a beginning and ending.

Some who hold to the Gap Theory even posit a race of pre-Adamic men, of which the Bible never speaks. To the contrary it affirms that God made every nation of men from one (my translation, emphasis mine. See Acts 17:26). All truly human fossils found are descendants of Adam. If they are buried in strata, they almost inevitably died during the Flood of Noah. There is no fossil record of pre-Adamic men, for there are none.

Chaos Theory of Origins.
This is the interpretation that the earth as described in Genesis 1:2 was chaotic, cursed, under God's judgment, and even evil. As such it needed to be redeemed. It is my view that otherwise conservative scholars who hold to this view have felt compelled to adjust their exegesis of Scripture to accommodate the prounouncements of evolutionists and their view of an ancient earth. Young Earth Creationists have withstood this pressure. Allen P. Ross and Bruce Waltke hold to some version of this view. 

Allen Ross, (The Bible Knowledge Commentary on Genesis, p. 28) for example, holds that Satan ruined the original heavens and earth, which God had created at some point in the dateless past. What this amounts to is a more sophisticated version of the Gap Theory. People who hold to this view import from elsewhere in Scripture elements of sin and cursing and judgment into Genesis 1:2 that are not found in the text of Gen. 1. The earth as described in Genesis 1:2 was neither chaotic, nor sinful, nor evil, nor under judgment. It was simply unorganized and unproductive, uninhabited, aqueous, and dark. It was all that God intended it to be at this stage of God's creation on Day 1. (See my word study on tohu wabohu, particularly the conclusion at the end of tohu and the conclusion at the end of bohu.)

I end this discussion of the nature of the word day (yom) with the following statement by Francis Humphrey in his article "The meaning of ym in Genesis 1:1-2:4."

The fact that for the bulk of the passage [Genesis 1:1-2:4], the word ym is accompanied by sequential numerical denotation and the language of ‘evening and morning’ gives a prima facie case that regular 24-hour days are in view.

(2) What is the significance of the word one (echad) appearing in the cardinal, rather than the ordinal form? The careful Hebrew scholar notes that Moses used the cardinal one (echad) in reference to the initial day of creation (Gen. 1:5), but thereafter used the ordinals second, third, fourth, fifthsixth, and seventh in the succeeding days (Gen. 1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31; 2:2-3). Why?

Andrew Steinmann has written a definitive article on the use of echad in Genesis 1:5. It is entitled, "Echad as an Ordinal Number and the Meaning of Genesis 1:5." Here is a list of the topics Steinmann discusses:

1. "Echad as an ordinal number in numbering units of time" (p. 577). His conclusion (p. 580): "Echad may be used in place of the ordinal rishon when enumerating time periods, but only in two special idioms. One of these designates the day of a month, the other the year of a reign of a king. In all other cases of periods of time (days, months or years) the ordinal number is used."

2. "Countables" (p. 581). The cardinal number echad can serve as an ordinal number to count the first of a small number of things. Examples include:

Gen 2:11: “the first [river]” (of four rivers)
Gen 4:19: “the name of the first [wife] was Adah” (of two wives)
Exod 26:4, 5; 36:11: “the first curtain” (of two curtains)
Exod 28:17; 39:10: “the first row” (of four rows)
Exod 29:40; Num 28:7: “for the first lamb” (of two lambs)
1 Kgs 6:24: “the first cherub” (of two cherubs)
Job 42:14: “the name of the first [he called] Jemimah (of three daughters)
Ezek 10:14: “the face of the first [creature] was the face of a cherub (of four creatures)

3. "Echad in Genesis 1:5" (p. 582). In this regard Steinmann states,

If this means, as most translators and commentators understand it, “There was an evening and a morning, the first day,” we can find no precedent for the use of echad here. It cannot be the use of a cardinal number as an ordinal to enumerate a time period, since this only applies to days of a month or the years of a king’s reign. Neither of these is the case here, despite the references to the use of echad as an ordinal to denote a first day by some commentators.
    Moreover, this cannot be the typical use of echad to begin a list of countables. First, the lack of an article on both echad and yom is unattested elsewhere in the OT for a list of countables. Secondly, none of the following ordinal numbers for the second through fifth days has an article, nor is there an article with yom (Gen 1:8, 13, 19, 23). This, again, is unattested elsewhere in the OT.

What is Steinmann's conclusion?

It would appear as if the text is very carefully crafted so that an alert reader cannot read it as “the first day.” Instead, by omission of the article it must be read as “one day,” thereby defining a day as something akin to a twenty-four hour solar period with light and darkness and transitions between day and night, even though there is no sun until the fourth day. This would then explain the lack of articles on the second through fifth days (p. 583).

Yom, like the English word “day,” can take on a variety of meanings. It does not in and of itself mean a twenty-four hour day. This alone has made the length of the days in Gen. 1 a perennially controversial subject. However, the use of echad in Gen 1:5 and the following unique uses of the ordinal numbers on the other days demonstrates that the text itself indicates that these are regular solar days (p. 584).

Humphrey concludes,

In light of the preceding, it is clearly preferable to read Gen. 1:5b as defining a ym for the following sequence of ordinals - namely one cycle of evening and morning, signifying a complete 24-hour day embracing both the period of darkness and the period of light. Having used the cardinal echad to establish that definition of ym, the chapter then goes on in the expected ordinal sequence.

It is clear that both Humphrey and Steinmann concur that echad, in Genesis 1:5, is not being used as an ordinal, but as a cardinal number in order to define what a day is in the context of Genesis 1:1-2:3: A day is a 24-hour period equivalent to a solar day. Day (yom) cannot be stretched into a lengthy period of time.

I agree with their conclusions.

Humphrey ends his entire article with the following observation, with which I concur:

It has been my experience that those who question the normal historical narrative reading of Genesis 1:1–2:4 tend to be my fellow evangelicals. Theological liberals recognize the text as saying that God created the universe in six 24-hour days. They see evangelicals who adopt alternative readings of the text as engaged in a form of suspect apologetics. I believe the liberal critique to be accurate. Where I differ from them, however, is that I believe the text is correct in what it is teaching. A more effective apologetic therefore lies in simply admitting what the text proclaims and showing that it has far more explanatory power than many people think. In that light, I am excited by the kind of research being conducted by CMI and likeminded creation science organizations. God means what He says and He did it just as Genesis says he did!

I.e. lacking the definite article. If the definite article were present (represented by the vowel marking pathach under the beth) then it would signify ‘in the day’. Its lack signifies an idiomatic use meaning ‘when’ as in the NIV translation. Return to text.

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(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.)

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Updated February 9, 2022