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Don Stewart :: What Is the Age/day Theory?

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Don Stewart
Though many Bible scholars believe that the days spoken of in the first chapter of Genesis were solar days, there are other qualified scholars that feel that the days are not to be taken as literal but are representative of long periods of time, perhaps millions of years. Many who hold this view are known as progressive creationists because they believe that creation was accomplished by God's power through a series of creative acts separated by vast periods of time. Each period of creation was not necessary of the same length but they were longer than twenty-four hours. This is known as the age-day theory. The arguments for the age-day theory are as follows:

1.The Word Day In The Genesis Creation Account

As we have mentioned, the Hebrew word for day (yom), does not strictly translate into the literal twenty-four hour sense of day. Within the context of the first two chapters of Genesis we find the word day used in three different ways.

(1) A solar day (1:14)

Daylight as opposed to night (1:5,14,16)

The entire creative period (2:4)

Hence, the context does not demand that we take the word day in a strict literal sense of twenty-four hours.

2.Metaphorical Uses In The Old Testament

The word day is used metaphorically a number of times in the Old Testament.

A flood will carry off his house, rushing waters on the day of God's wrath (Job 20:28).

Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death. (Proverbs 11:4).

(The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD. Proverbs 21:31).

If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength being small (Proverbs 24:10).

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them (Ecclesiastes 7:14).

All of these passages use the Hebrew word yom for day.

3.Other Biblical Texts

The word day (Hebrew yom) is used in other biblical texts for a long period of time. The psalmist said:

For a thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night (Psalm 90:4).

In addition, Simon Peter wrote:

With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Peter 3:8).

Also, the future day of the Lord that the Bible talks about is not one day, but a long period of time.

Context Must Determine

The word day in Genesis must be understood by its context - not how it is usually or normally used. Since the term day has a secondary usage of a long period of time in Scripture, it is possible that it means this in Genesis 1. The context must be the determining factor.

4.Modern Science

If the context of Genesis allows the word day the word day to be understood as an indefinite period of time, then evidence from science confirms this.

For many, modern science has ruled out the possibility of a recent creation of the earth. With the great majority of scientists accepting the idea that the earth is at least four billion years old, it seems that long periods of time are required to harmonize the Bible with modern geology.

Those who hold the age/day theory make other observations.

5.Animal Death

Before God created humanity, He certainly could have created an animal kingdom that was subject to death. There was death in the plant world since Adam and Eve ate plants. If there was no death in the animal kingdom, then we must believe they would reproduce and live forever. If this is the case, then the earth would soon be overcrowded.

Warnings To Adam

The warning to Adam is that he would die, not that animals would begin to die.

but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die (Genesis 2:17).

Romans 5:12 refers to human beings, not plants and animals. Animal death before the Fall is biblically possible.

6.The Seventh Day

Proponents of the age/day theory point out that there is no use of the term evening and morning with regard to the seventh day. It merely says God rested.

And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation (Genesis 2:2-3).

They contend that the seventh day is something that has not been completed. The first six ages of creation have been finished while the seventh remains incomplete. God is still resting from His creation.

Cannot Be Solar Days

Therefore, the six days cannot be solar days because the seventh day is not. If the seventh day is ongoing, then God's rest from creation has gone on for thousands of years, up until the present. Thus, from the length of the seventh day we have a clue to the age of the earth.

7.Events Of The Sixth Day

The events of the sixth day of creation do not seem to be able to be fit into a twenty-four hour period. The Bible says the following things happened upon the sixth day.

God created all the land animals and then created Adam. After He created Adam God put him into the Garden of Eden to keep it, and then him gave directions about the tree of good and evil. God then brought all of the animals to Adam to be named. After naming the animals, Adam realized that he was alone without a helper. God then put Adam into a deep sleep and then created Eve.

Even a human being in an unfallen state could not have named all the animals in a few short hours of one day. Would a normal reading of this passage cause the reader to assume that all this happened in one day? It seems logical to believe that a normal reading of this passage would cause the reader to assume that all these events took place in more than one day. If the sixth days was not limited to twenty-four hours in length, then neither were the other days.

8.Evidence From Scripture Of Antiquity

It is also pointed out that Scripture speaks of the earth being very old. The prophet Habakkuk wrote:

He stood and measured the earth; He looked and startled the nations. And the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting (Habakkuk 3:6).

For this they willfully forget: that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of water and in the water (2 Peter 3:5).

These passages speak of the earth being very ancient, not merely a few thousand years of age.

9.Evening And Morning

Although the phrase evening and morning implies a solar day, it may simply mean the end of one creative period and the beginning of another. It could signify the end of a period of time - not necessarily a solar day.

In addition, this particular phrase is used nowhere else in the Old Testament. Therefore it was not a common way of speaking of a solar day.

10.No Sun

If the sun was not created until the fourth day, there could not have been evening and morning in the normal sense of the term. Therefore the days were not normal days.

11.Exodus Does Not Solve The Issue

While it is true that Exodus 20:10 speaks of six literal days that people are to work based upon a six day plus one pattern in Genesis, it does not necessarily follow that God's days are the same as ours. Remember that there was no human observer when God created the heavens and the earth in six days.

12.They Understood Many Meanings Of Yom

While it is true that there were other, more specific, Hebrew words available for the author to use if he wanted to indicate a long period of time, if his original readers knew that yom could also have this meaning, then it would be appropriate to use it in Genesis. This is particularly true because of the emphasis of the six successive periods of work and then a time of rest. This six plus one pattern was set for the people to work six days and then rest on the seventh.

Permits Reading

We, therefore, see from the context of Genesis, and the common usage of yom, that the term could mean something other than a literal day.


The word Hebrew word translated day does mean period of time in parts of the Old Testament. This includes the context of Genesis. Since science has shown the earth and universe to be billions of years of age, this is the best way to understand the term in Genesis 1.

These arguments have convinced many that the best way to look at the days in Genesis are long periods of time, not solar days. They believe creation took millions of years, not 144 hours of one week.

Difficulties With The Age Day Theory

The arguments for the age/day theory have met with strong opposition among those who hold other views as to the meaning of the days of Genesis.

1.Not Natural Reading

Proponents of the literal day theory are always quick to point out that the age/day view has to be read into the text. It is not the natural way to read Genesis 1 nor the statements in Exodus that God created the world in six days. If God wanted to inform us that the creation occurred long ages ago, there are a number of ways in which He might have clearly said it.

Furthermore those who hold that the days in Genesis represent ages admit that the traditional view has been that of solar days. Davis Young, an advocate of the old earth viewpoint, acknowledges:

Until the eighteenth century, Christians were virtually unanimous in the belief that the Earth was about six thousand years old according to the teaching of Scripture. However, increased scientific study . . . brought pressure to bear upon Christian thinkers to reevaluate the question of the age of the Earth (Davis Young, Christianity And The Age Of The Earth, (Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, 1982, p. 13).

The age/day theory became popular in the 19th century when the science of geology argued for an old earth, it was not because of further study of the Bible.
Although the term day can indicate a long period of time, it should not be understood that way unless the context makes it clear. There is nothing in the context that would hint that the days are anything other than twenty-four hours.

2.Long Period In 2:4?

There is also the issue of making the term (yom) day in Genesis 2:4 referring to the entire creative period in chapter one. The great Hebraic scholar C.D. Ginsburg comments on the use of the term in chapter one and two of Genesis.

There is nothing in the first chapter of Genesis to justify the spiritualisation of the expression day. On the contrary the definition in verse 5 of the word in question demands that yom . . . should be understood in the same sense as we understand the word day in common parlance, i.e. a natural day. . .
The arguments generally produced by those who ascribe to the word day here an unlimited duration of time are untenable. They say that the word day is not to be taken here in its literal meaning is evident from chapter 2:4, for the portion of time spoken of in the first chapter of Genesis as six days is spoken of in the second chapter as one day. But the word used in the first six days is the simple noun, whereas in chapter 2:4 it is a compound of the day of with the preposition in. which, according to the genius of the Hebrew language, makes it an adverb, and must be translated, when, at the time of , after (C.D. Ginsburg, cited by P. J. Wiseman, Clues To Creation In Genesis, London, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1977, p. 123).

The New International Version brings this out in its translation.

This is the account of the heavens and earth when they were created. When the Lord God made the earth and the heavens (Genesis 2:4 New International Version).

We see the same Hebrew phrase used in 2:17.

But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die (Genesis 2:17).

The Ambiguity Cleared Up

The New International Version clears up the ambiguity by correctly translating the Hebrew for when you eat of it, you will surely die. There is no thought here of any indefinite lengthy period of time. On the contrary, it refers to a momentary point in time. Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden immediately after they sinned.

Phrase Repeated

The same phrase in the day that is also repeated in Genesis 5:1.

This is the book of the genealogy of Adam. In the day that God created, He made Him in the likeness of God (Genesis 5:1).

Scripture has already indicated that God made Adam on one specific day (day 6). This does not compass a number of days but refers to one specific day. Hence the same phrase here does not refer to the entire creation period.

Genesis 2:4

Finally if we continue reading from Genesis 2:4 to the next verse, we find a simple solution to the use of this phrase translated in the day that or when. In Genesis 2:4,5 the author restates that God made the heavens and the earth before any plant of the field was in the earth or any herb of the field had grown. This refers back to day three of creation (Genesis 1:11). It seems the author is simply reminding us what was mentioned in chapter one. At the time God made the heavens and the earth He had not yet made the plants and herbs. This allows him to go back to the creation account and add further details not previously mentioned. It is not to be understood as referring to the entire six days of creation but rather a specific period of time between the creation of the heaven and the earth and before the plants and herbs were created.

Therefore, in the creation narrative, the word day is not clearly used for a period of time longer than a normal day.


Furthermore, there are many who hold to an old earth who admit that the term yom cannot be stretched to mean a long period of time. Bernard Ramm writes:

The problem of the meaning of yom is not fully decided as to whether it can mean period or not. The word is one which has many uses, as we have already indicated. We are not at present persuaded that it can be stretched so as to mean a period or epoch or age, as such terms are used in geology. Though not closing the door on the age-day interpretation of the word yom, we do not feel that the lexicography of the Hebrew language will as yet permit it (Bernard Ramm, A Christian View Of Science And Scripture, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1954, p. 151).

4.Plant Kingdom

Another problem with the age/day theory concerns the plant kingdom. If the plant kingdom was created on the third day, it would have existed for a long time until the sun was created on the fourth day (if the sun was created on the fourth day). How could the plants have existed for thousands, or millions of years without light from the sun? In addition, what about the symbiotic relationships between plants, (created on the third day), birds (created on the fifth day), and insects (created on the sixth day)?

Not Necessarily Chronological

Those who hold the age/day interpretation respond in several different ways. Some believe that the days in Genesis are not in chronological order but are given topically. This will explain why the sun, moon and stars are not supposedly created until the fourth day as well as the problems with plants and animals.

However, once you change the chronology and make days overlap, then the text tells us nothing about the age of the earth.

The sun may have been in existence before the fourth day. If not, the earth still could have been rotating on its axis at a fixed speed anticipating the creation of the sun. Another source, perhaps, God Himself, could have been the light source for the first three days.

5.Earth Millions Of Years Old?

The testimony of Scripture that the earth is ancient does not mean it is millions of years old. Old to the Hebrew mind could well be hundreds or thousands of years, not necessarily millions. To appeal to Scripture as to the ancient age of the earth meaning millions of years is assuming what you should be proving.

6.Thousand Year Days?

Scripture does not say that the Lord's days last a thousand years each. A day with the Lord is as a thousand years. It is a statement of the power of God, not the length of a day according to Scripture. The reference to God's years only make sense if the days are used in their normal sense.


The statement in Second Peter 3:8 should not be considered as a mathematical formula. The context is the Second Coming of Christ. Although Jesus had promised to come quickly, He had not returned by the time Peter wrote his second letter. There were people ridiculing the idea of His return. Peter encouraged his readers that the coming of Christ was certain. He used the analogy of God's perspective of time compared to ours - one day to the Lord is the same as one thousand years. He will come in His own time.

Once we understand the context of Peter's statement we understand that this verse says nothing about the time of the days in the Book of Genesis - this is not the subject under discussion.

Still Not Enough Time

Even if we grant the days in Genesis 1 were one thousand years in length, it is still not enough time for the Genesis account to fit with the modern time scale. Six thousand years from creation to Adam is does not allow the Bible to harmonize with present-day estimates of the age of the earth.

7.Normal Sense Of Days

In the Old Testament, time references with respect to the Lord are always used in the normal sense. The psalmist said.

I said, O my God, do not take me away in the midst of my days; your years are throughout every generation . . . But you are the same, and your years will have no end (Psalm 102:24,27).

8.Evenings And Mornings

Another problem concerns the phrase evenings and mornings. Advocates of the age/day theory have not come up with any convincing explanation why these terms should not be used in anything but their normal sense. The same phrase appears in Daniel 8:26 where it simply cannot refer to long, indefinite periods of time.

9.What About The Nights

If the days are assumed to be millions of years what about the nights? Was each night as long as the geological day? Was each night without any light whatsoever? An evening and a morning are the natural way to separate one day from the next. It seems most unnatural to use the phrase to separate one geological age from the next.

10.Adam Could Have Named The Animals

The events of the sixth day could have occurred in twenty-four hours. We can make the following observations.

The creation of the animals could have happened instantaneously. We should not assume that God needed any time to accomplish this.

Adam's creation could have taken place directly after that of the animals.

Adam was created as a fully-functioning human being. He did not have to learn a language. When God gave Adam commandments he immediately understood.

Adam's mind was at a place where it was not affected by sin or any genetic defect - it was operating at its full capacity. His extreme intelligence would have allowed him to quickly name the animals.

The purpose of naming the animals was to show Adam of his need for a helper - it was not merely to give them particular names.

Adam would not have required much time to realize the need for a helper. Seeing just a few of the animals would show him his need.

All of this could have happened in a short period of time.

11.Adam Created At Extreme End

Adam lived 930 years according to Genesis 5:5. If he were created in an age-day (thousands or millions of years in duration), he would have had to have been created at the extreme edge of the sixth day to still be living in that age. This appears to be out of harmony with the fact that man was the highlight of the creative acts of God.

12.Length Of Seventh Day

The length of the seventh day, if it is understood to be a period of time, argues against the days in Genesis of being long ages. If the first six days are interpreted to be millions of years the seventh day certainly has not lasted an equivalent amount of time. At most it is only a few thousand years old.

13.Sabbath Day

Exodus 20:8-10 speaks of humans working six days and then resting on the seventh day or Sabbath. The reason for this is God worked six days and then rested. If the Sabbath day were an indefinite period of time this commandment would have been meaningless to the Hebrews as C.D. Ginsburg notes:

The institution of the sabbath on the seventh day, which if understood as an indefinite period would have no meaning for man, and the constant usage of this expression in Scripture to denote an ordinary day, with the few exceptions of poetical or oratorical diction, and the literal meaning which all commentators and Bible readers have assigned to it till within the last century, are additional proofs that the primitive record purports to intimate the expression yom as a natural day (C.D. Ginsburg, cited by P. J. Wiseman, Clues To Creation In Genesis, London, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1977, p. 122,123).

14.God Is Not Resting Now

Though God has ceased creating, He is not resting - He is still working.

But Jesus answered them, My Father is still working, and I also am working. (John 5:17).

15.Unfair Comparison

The days in Genesis cannot be compared to the uses of the word day in prophetical passages of the Old Testament. The prophetical passages in which day is used for a long period of time are in an entirely different context; they speak of future events, not of past history. The account in Genesis is clearly a narrative of past history.

16.Geologic Time Scale

The age/day theory does not fit the geologic time scale. The creation of the sun, moon, and stars follows creation of light by three ages. The fish and birds are created on day five, reptiles on day six. Current scientific theory has birds later than reptiles. Therefore the scientific evidence contradicts the age/day interpretation.

17.Hebrews Had Words To Express Ages

The Hebrews had words they could use that would express periods longer than a day. Moses, the writer of Genesis through Deuteronomy, used these words on other occasions.

There is the Hebrew word moed translated seasons in Genesis 1:14.

And God said, Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years (Genesis 1:14).

The word olam is translated forever in Genesis 6:3.

Then the LORD said, My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is mortal; his days will be a hundred and twenty years. (Genesis 6:3) .

The phrase olam dor is translated as all generations in Genesis 9:12.

And God said, This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: (Genesis 9:12).

Tamid is rendered continually in Leviticus 24:2.

Command the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light so that the lamps may be kept burning continually (Leviticus 24:2).

The Hebrew word ad is translated forever in Numbers 24:20.

Then he looked on Amalek, and uttered his oracle, saying: First among the nations was Amalek, but its end is to perish forever. (Numbers 24:20).

The phrase yom orek means the length of days in Deuteronomy 30:20.

loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (Deuteronomy 30:20).

Yom olam is translated days of old in Deuteronomy 32:7.

Remember the days of old, consider the years long past; ask your father, and he will inform you; your elders, and they will tell you (Deuteronomy 30:20).

If ages were meant in the Genesis creation account, why was the word yom used rather than the Hebrew words which could indicate long periods of time?

18.Why Delay?

What purpose would it serve for God to delay His creation? We know that He has the power to speak and then things immediately appear. Why would He wait thousands or millions of years to create Adam and Eve?

19.Contradicts Promise Of Future Blessing

The main problem with the age/day theory is that it is hard to reconcile with the Biblical promise of a future, ideal age. The Bible promises a future restoration of all things.

who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets. (Acts 3:21).

The Bible says that in the future the animals will all be vegetarians.

The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent - its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD (Isaiah 65:25).

This is restoration to the original perfection not to some world that contained animal death.

Summary On Age/Day Theory

The strength of the age/day theory is that it harmonizes Genesis and modern science. The weakness is that it is a forced interpretation of the text, not something that is obviously there. The words of Professor Dickey concerning the age/day theory are highly instructive.

The theory was widely held that the six days of creation meant six extended periods of time. It commended itself among others to Augustine . . . but neither Augustine nor modern harmonisers of Genesis and science get the theory, whether true or false, from Scripture. There is nothing in the Bible even to suggest it. On the contrary it has always been read into the Bible from without, on scientific or quasi-scientific grounds (Professor Dickey in The Organism of Christian Truth, cited by P.J. Wiseman, Clues To Creation In Genesis, London, Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1977, p. 122).

Victor P. Hamilton concurs.

It is highly debatable whether the interpretation of Genesis' days as metaphorical for geological ages can be sustained. For one thing, it allows for the concerns of establishing concord with science (ever changing in its conclusions) to override an understanding of a Hebrew word based on its contextual usage. Furthermore, one would have to take extreme liberty with the phrase there was evening and there was morning - the x day. Lastly, how would one possibly take in stride scientifically a major stage in the creation process that has an epoch which brings about vegetation precede an epoch which brings about the sun and the stars? (Victor P. Hamilton, Genesis, 1-17, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1990, p. 54).

Ronald Youngblood observed.

Many late-nineteenth - and early-twentieth century geologists within the church taught and popularized this theory. But geologic ages tend to overlap with each other and are not capable of the sort of rigid division implied by the words And there was evening, and there was morning - the first day (Gen 1:5; see also 1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31). Also, while it is true that the Hebrew word for day is somewhat elastic, we should probably not press it to denote so lengthy a period of time (Ronald Youngblood, The Book of Genesis, Second Edition, Baker Book House, 1991, p. 46).

Professor James Barr, when he was Regius Professor of Hebrew at the University of Oxford, wrote the following.

Probably, so far as I know, there is no university professor in Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Gen. 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the idea that (a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience (b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story
. . . Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the 'days' of creation to be long eras of time, the figures of years not to be chronological and the flood to be a merely local Mesopotamian flood, are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know (James Barr in a personal letter to David Watson).

The age/day theory stems from the desire to harmonize Genesis and geology rather than from a close study of the text.

Slippery Slope?

Many feel that a departure from a literal understanding of Genesis will ultimately cause problems. Theologian John Klotz writes of the issues associated with adopting a non-literal view.

Probably the earliest suggestion in an attempt at reconciliation was the suggestion that the days of Genesis be regarded as long periods of time, comparable to geologic ages . . .
It is apparent that this was the first step in moving away from the view that the Genesis record was historical. Once it was admitted that the days of Genesis might not be ordinary days but could be understood as long periods of time, it was difficult to maintain the historicity and the literal interpretation of other aspects of the creation account. . .
It was not long until there were those who suggested that these first chapters of Genesis were saga. They were indeed based on historical events, but they were not to be understood as history in our usual sense of the term. Rather they were a 'beefed-up' account of what actually happened . . . From the viewpoint that this account was a saga, it was but a few steps to regarding it as a myth; that is, it was viewed as totally ahistorical, a series of stories - parables or allegories - intending to convey some great truth (John Klotz, Studies in Creation, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985, p. 85, 86).

Though the age/day theory does not necessarily lead one down the path to deny the historical truth of Genesis, it can be the first step toward that direction.

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