In the context of discussing the length of days in the Genesis creation account, have you ever been told: “Well, the Bible says that a day to God can be a thousand years.”?
Does the Bible actually say this?
The Hebrew word for day (“yom”) functions just like the English word for day. It can and does take a variety of meanings: a literal 24-hour period, just the daytime portion of the day, an era, etc. This can easily be confirmed by consulting the Strong’s Concordance entry for “yom.” Just as in English, the context determines which usage is intended. In the creation account the author goes above and beyond to articulate just what type of day he is referring to by consistently using the word day (“yom”) with other defining language such as, “evening and morning,” and the use of cardinal numbers for each day (i.e., first day, second day, etc…)
2 Peter 3
The Scripture cited to support the idea that the days in Genesis were long ages of time rather than literal, 24-hour periods of time is 2 Peter 3:8, which reads in the ESV:
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
However, rule number one of proper interpretation is to read the text in its appropriate context. Context is key! In order to do this, let’s look at 2 Peter 3, verses 1-13 (ESV):
This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
But do not overlook this one fact, beloved. That with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
It is quite clear that in context, Peter’s statement has nothing to do with the creation days of Genesis being long ages rather than 24-hr periods. Rather, he’s offering encouragement to believers struggling to understand why Jesus has not yet returned. Non-believers are making fun of them for believing that Jesus will return when everything has been continuing on just the way it always has. Peter explains that Jesus’s delay is due to His abundance of patience in giving all an opportunity to repent.
2 Peter 3 Actually Corroborates the Creation Account as Literal and Historical
Peter actually confirms both the creation account and the global Flood in verses 5 and 6. This is significant because many proponents of the Day-Age interpretation reject a literal, global flood on the grounds that modern science doesn’t support that such an event ever occurred. Not only that, the passage actually employs the historicity of the creation event and the Flood to give us prophetic information regarding the future literal judgment and demise of this existing world.
The Day-Age Interpretation Doesn’t Reconcile the Bible to Modern Science
Adding long ages of time for each creation day accomplishes adding in billions of years of time to the creation account, but it does nothing to reconcile the creation account to the conclusions of modern science. Why? Because the order of creation days is also opposed by modern science, not merely the time frames.
The well-respected philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig summarized this point well in his Genesis Defenders series episode on the Day-Age Interpretation:
…insofar as those who adopt the Day-Age Interpretation are motivated by modern science to embrace it, it really doesn’t fit that well with what modern science says in many respects… Evidence does not support the view that certain forms of life didn’t appear on the scene until the previous age was over. According to the scientific evidence, terrestrial life appeared long before birds appeared on the scene. But in the Genesis text birds are created during the age prior to the creation of land animals.
After Craig opened the lecture up to questions, one member of the audience noted that Craig seemed to have altered his pattern for discussion of the Day-Age interpretation as opposed to other theories he had reviewed. Usually Craig defines the view, provides the supporting arguments from the Biblical text, then gives his assessment and critique. This commenter mentioned that Craig seemed to have “glossed over” the assessment and support sections and went straight to the critique. Craig jovially responds that he didn’t skip that section. He just doesn’t find any support for it.
Comparing Passages in Context
Both Exodus 20:8-11 and 31: 12-17 discuss the creation days in a context that matches the Genesis account. Let’s compare the specific verses in each passage that refer to the creation days of Genesis:
Exodus 20:11 (ESV):
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
Exodus 31:17 (ESV):
It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested and was refreshed.
Note that if we attempt to insert the 2 Peter 3 meaning of a day as a thousand years, this passage would become nonsensical. In fact, even though Craig is a foe of the YEC interpretation, of these two passages in Exodus he states:
These verses…are some of the best evidence in favor of a literalist interpretation of Genesis 1 because…this is the Pentateuchal author’s own comment on the Genesis creation narrative and he says, “God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh.”…there you have the Pentateuchal author’s own reflections upon this narrative in Genesis 1.
2 Peter 3 fails the context test. Peter’s use of day in this passage cannot be imported to the creation account, the text of which Moses set down for an entirely different purpose: to relate the historical origin of the universe, earth, and all that is in them.