What is the meaning of the “days” of creation? Are we to understand the days of Genesis 1 as literal 24-hour periods?
Godly followers of Christ throughout church history have understood the days of Genesis 1 in different ways. But one’s position on this issue should not be a litmus test of orthodoxy and evangelical commitment.
Many Bible believers maintain that the “days” are actually “ages,” long periods of time that might range from years to even millions of years. And it is possible for the word “day” to mean a period of time and not a 24-hour revolution around the sun. For example, in Genesis 2:4, the entire six-day period of creation is literally called the “day” or “when the Lord God made the earth and heavens.” Also, the prophets use the phrase “the day of the Lord” to describe the entire period of the end times.
But one of several problems in adopting this “day-age” view is that death only entered the world with Adam and Eve’s sin (Gen. 2:17; 3:3). A “day-age” interpretation would require death in each of the ages, so that the fittest could survive and evolve, before Adam and Eve’s fall. It would be surprising for fossils, which indicate dead animals, to exist before the fall of humanity.
Alternatively, it is possible to interpret the creation account as referring to six 24-hour days. This would likely mean that the earth is relatively young. The 24-hour day interpretation is supported by the simplest, most normal reading of the passage. The text does not indicate that Moses was referring to an age when he used the word “day.” Moreover, the repetition of the phrase, “and there was evening, and there was morning” (Gen. 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31) seems to refer to a 24-hour period.
This interpretation seems to contradict the evidence of an old earth as well as the fossil record. Yet, it is not impossible to hold to a young earth for two reasons. First, God may have created the earth with apparent age. Just as Adam and Eve did not look like infants but adults when they were created, so God could very well have created the earth with seeming age.
Second, the fossil record could be explained by a vast, worldwide catastrophe rather than a long period of time. For example, when Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, a huge forest was cast into Spirit Lake below. The trees became water-logged and floated to the bottom. Since the roots had the most water, the trees settled in an upright fashion. Thirty-five years after the eruption, a petrified forest is now at the bottom of the lake. Any person seeing it would assume that it took millions of years. But it was caused by a catastrophe in 1980.
Whichever view one chooses to explain the word “day,” what is most important is to recognize God as the Creator of the world in His infinite power and wisdom. It is through the Lord Jesus the Messiah that “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible . . . all things have been created through him and for him” (Col. 1:16). We must bow before the Lord Jesus, our Creator and Redeemer.