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When is a Day More Than a Day? Thinking Through Genesis 1

Sunrise over the Rocky Mountains, photo credit: Pat Mingarelli

[Originally published as Point #7 in Defending a Young Earth: A Response to Tyler Vela (Part 2)]

Creationist claim: Yom plus an ordinal or cardinal number in the Hebrew always refers to a literal solar day.

Tyler Vela, a Christian apologist who is not a young earth creationist states:
“This again is simply a false statement about Hebrew, and yet it is probably one of the most oft repeated truisms of the YEC movement. Countless books, articles, blogs, debates and lectures assert this truism, apparently without ever checking to see if it is true or not.”

There is a sense in which I both agree and disagree with Tyler’s point on this. Allow me to explain:

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Properly stated, the argument should read that wherever “yom” plus an ordinal number is used, the context always refers to ordinary solar days. No creationists (at least none that I’ve seen) argue that this distinction is shared by cardinal numbers.

Tyler gives four specific examples, only one of which references “yom” plus an ordinal, and three of which reference “yom” plus a cardinal. I’m going to dismiss Vela’s argument (with one caveat) in respect to the cardinal numbers because I don’t think you’ll find an informed recent creationist arguing that view.

However, the ordinal passage Tyler argues for is unique. It should be stated up front that in the entire Old Testament, the passage Tyler mentions is the only one that could even be contested, and I think there is good reason to think he could be mistaken.

To understand the significance of this, consider this helpful list of every single time the word “yom” is used with an ordinal number in the Old Testament. I would also encourage you to click here for the analysis based on that list. The results of the analysis indicate that only one of the passages Tyler mentions is in question.

Of the Deuteronomy passage, the writer indicates, “The fact is that YOM is here translated “time,” not “day.” This is true of the NKJV, KJV, ASV, and NASB, as well as other translations. The reason it is so translated is that the word used here is not singular, but plural! Literally, it says “the first days”!”

With this understanding in mind, it seems clear this particular example does not allow for the possibility of a long-age interpretation of Genesis — and it certainly would not necessitate it.

Tyler also makes mention of a favorite passage used in refutation of young age creationism, Hosea 6:2. He mistakenly says, “This is a non-literal usage of yom even though it is twice paired with a cardinal number.” But in this case, we actually have “yom” paired with both an ordinal and a cardinal, not two cardinals!

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To show that I have no intention of being disingenuous, I am not going to skim over this distinction. This is the only other passage that could even remotely be used to show that the pairing of “yom” plus an ordinal could mean something other than an ordinary day. Careful creationists should be clear that there is a single passage in which it is disputed. In that vein, I recommend that if creationists are going to use this argument, adjust their phraseology accordingly.

Nevertheless, I think there is more to the story. As the writer above points out, “That verse is prophecy, not history or doctrine. Since prophecy commonly uses words in symbolic and non-literal ways, we would expect it to use ‘day’ symbolically. But this proves absolutely nothing about how the word is used in historical or doctrinal contexts. When the Bible uses ‘day’ with an ordinal number, the fact remains that the usage is always literal, except in one instance of symbolic prophecy. Since Bible descriptions of the days of creation are not prophecy, the only fair conclusion is that the days of creation are literal.”

Dr. James Allman, professor of Old Testament at Dallas Theological Seminary, argues in this video, beginning at 18:17, that the context demands these days be taken literally. He also makes the point we’ve been making all along about “yom” plus an ordinal, without reference to the Hosea passage, suggesting he didn’t think it posed a problem for the view.2 If you’ll watch/listen through 23:53, Dr. Allman also argues a similar point to my own above about the Sabbath, wherein I point out that God actually wrote this down — not Moses.

I’ll go one step further, to make the problem “worse.” In a refutation of the literal view, Dr. William Lane Craig makes the following point:

In any case, showing that the word yom means a 24-hour day really doesn’t even begin to address the question of whether or not a 24-hour day might be used as a metaphor for something else. And we looked at the example of the world [sic] “arm.” Even if in every Hebrew passage you can find in the Old Testament the word “arm” refers to a limb or an appendage rather than to a weapon that doesn’t mean that when the Scripture says “the arm of the Lord was with the people of Israel” that it means that God has literal appendages or has literal limbs. Rather, the word “arm” isn’t being used in the sense of a weapon; it is being used in the sense of a limb. It means limb, but the limb is used as a metaphor for God’s power and strength and might that accompanies Israel. So even if it were true that the word yom means 24-hour period of time [sic], that doesn’t even begin to address the literary question of whether or not a 24-hour day might not be used as a literary metaphor for something else.

Of course, he is arguing that no matter what any Scripture or literary reference using a particular combination of words says, the immediate context always determines meaning. I agree! And I think the context of Genesis 1 is inescapably clear, as hopefully, you’ve also concluded watching Dr. Allman’s video above.3

To underscore this, consider a question asked of Craig during the above-mentioned teaching: “There are 38 “morning and evening” without yom that are all 24-hour days. There are 19 places with “morning and evening” with yom and are all 24-hour days. I think what you have to do is you have to look at not just the word yom but its context and the other words that are used around it.”

Craig’s answer? “That is a very good point. I want to absolutely affirm what you are saying. You cannot do simple dictionary word studies and exegete a passage. Context is everything. And I hope to have done that here; that is what I was trying to do.”

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In sum, there is certainly much more nuance to this objection, and sadly, this is another area where both recent creationists and those with other views falter in understanding each other’s views and getting across what they mean to say. Hopefully, the work I’ve done here to clarify this objection makes you think twice, no matter which side of the issue you are on.


  1. This point was also brought to bear in Tyler’s debate with fellow young age creationist, Jason Mullet.
  2. By the way, I don’t believe Dr. Allman is even a recent creationist, though I don’t know this for sure. This means he is a “hostile witness.”
  3. In full disclosure, should one watch the video, one would find that Dr. Allman suggests Genesis uses “allegorical language that is sufficiently like the literal.” He does not mean to speculate on the age of the earth at all. I merely mean to show by referencing his video that the context does not allow for a non-literal rendering of the Genesis days, nor a stretching of them.
    I think the only way to render that position and not affirm a young earth would be to affirm some rendition of the Gap Theory, which he spends quite some time arguing against, despite mentioning his mentor holding that view. So, in this case, we have an influential scholar who does not want to affirm a young earth (at least based on the text of Genesis 1 alone) and yet holds a view about Genesis 1 that all but necessitates it.

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Written by Steve Schramm

Steve is an author, speaker, and Bible teacher with a heart for exploring God’s Word and God’s world. He trains Christians to become confident, passionate servants of Jesus, so they can grow in their walk with God and share their faith more persuasively. Enroll in Steve's FREE email course, The Battle for the Beginning, by going to

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