Are the creation days literal 24 hours? by Fr. Gabriel Wissa

February 12, 2020

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, Amen. Many viewers requested a video on the literality of the creation days in Genesis 1. But, to be completely honest, I am making this video as a concession as I understand that this is a standard follow-up question to the video we have recently done on the Big Bang theory; however, I strongly believe that a scientific approach to Genesis 1 is an oversight of the fundamental message conveyed by the author. The language in the first chapters of Genesis is semi-poetic in nature. And, it is not meant to be read through a scientific lens. So, I will present in a future video, how a Christian ought to properly approach Genesis 1; but in the meantime, I will answer the question of the literality of the days for the sake of those who need an answer.


As you know one twenty-four-hour day is a complete rotation of the earth around itself in the presence of the sun. Those who choose to approach the text literally, without proper understanding of its poetic nature, usually, would use the popular biblical translations available (show translations), who render the Hebrew word ‘tohu’ as ‘without form.’ In following their method of interpretation, the only conclusion is that the earth was indeed without form. Hence, the earth was not a sphere. And, if it was not yet a sphere; then, how could it rotate around itself? Again, I am answering this question from the perspective of those who insist oapproaching the text literally without appreciating its poetic genre. Personally, I think a better rendering of the Hebrew word ‘tohu’ would be ‘wasted’ or ‘desolate.’ But, from their point of view, the earth is formless and, therefore not a sphere. In addition, the sun is only created on day 4. How can the earth then rotate around itself in the presence of the sun? Pondering on that same question, the scholar Origen, in the third century, said the following: “For who that has understanding will suppose that the first, and second, and third day, and the evening and the morning, existed without a sun, and moon, and stars? and that the first day was, as it were, also without a sky?  I do not suppose that anyone doubts that these things figuratively indicate certain mysteries...” The Late HH Pope Shenouda III of blessed memory also agreed that these days are not to be taken as twenty-fourhour days. It is clear then that, as a minimum, days 1 to 3, cannot be literal daysIn additionthe text never clarifies when the earth actually becomes a sphere. This is simply because it is not the purpose of the text at all as we shall see in the next video on the subjectAnother point to consider is the fact that the text does not differentiate between the first 3 days from the remainder, with the exception of day seven, which we will get to in a moment. In other words, the text is very systematic in its handling of each of the first six days. For instance, each day starts with the phrase “Then God said…” and ends with So the evening and the morning were the xth day. And there is no indication, in the text, that we must deal with the latter days any differently thawith the first ones. If so, one must assume that, days four to six must be dealt with similarly to days one to three and, therefore, cannot be twenty-four-hour days either. In addition, the seventh day is only different in the sense that it is still ongoing. This is due to the fact that the phrase so the evening and the morning were the 7th day is absent from the text, implying its continuation till today. Therefore, day seven is not twenty-fourhour day eitherIn additionGenesis 2:4 says: “This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens…” These same heavens and earth that are referenced in Genesis 1:1, which are created in seven days, are created in only one day in Genesis 2:4Obviously, the meaning of day, here, is not literal. 


The second point to consider is the several meanings used for the Hebrew word yom; which is rendered in English as ‘day’ in the first chapter of GenesisThis same word ‘yom’ has many diverse renderings throughout the Old Testament. Here are a few examples you can see on the screen. In Genesis 4, verse 3, the word ‘yom’ is rendered as the English word ‘time’—not ‘day.’ In 1st Kings, chapter 1, verse 1, it is rendered as the English word ‘years.’ In Genesis 40, verse 4, it is rendered as ‘season.’ In addition, the word yom in other passages of the Old Testament is rendered to mean ‘ago’, ‘always’, ‘continuance’, ‘ever’, ‘age’ among other renderingsHowever, the difference with Genesis 1 is that the first six days do end with the phrase so the evening and the morning were the xth day, which could lead one to imaginthat these are meant to be twenty-four-hour days since there is an evening and a morning. However, this phrase is used due to the semi-poetic nature of the text and has an ulterior meaning beyond the scope of this videoA meaning that is properly understood when taking into consideration the culture of the time. Again, scientifically speaking, these days cannot be taken literally since the suwas not yet created. As Origen says: how could there be an evening and morning without the sun?  


As a reaction to the evidence discussed, those who still choose to stick to a literal interpretation attempt to use Exodus 20:11, as a counter-argumentExodus 20 says: 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.” This is problematic for many reasons. First, if this was the case, then, it leaves many fundamental questions unanswered as we already sawSecondly, there is an assumption that is made here. The assumption is the duration of the commemoration of an event equates the actual duration of the event itself. So, since the Sabbath commemoration is twenty-four hours, then, the seventh day was also twenty-four hours. This is clearly a false assumption. For example, there is a significant gap between the forty years of the Israelites wondering in the desert and the duration of the commemoration of these forty years, which are celebrated in only eight days during the Feast of Tabernacles. The duration of a commemoration is therefore not necessarily representative of the duration of the event itself. Exodus 20 simply makes a parallel between the seven days of creation and the Sabbath. Equating the time between the actual event and the celebration is a false assumption. Finally, I must emphasize again, that this scientific analysis of Genesis 1 is an incorrect approach to this chapter of Holy Scripture and, God willing, we will provide you with the correct approach in a future video.  

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