How Long Were the Days of Creation?

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All of us feel the pressure that time places upon our lives.

In the words of Dr. Seuss, "How did it get so late so soon? It's night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?"

No wonder time feels like sand slipping through our fingers.

Marcus Aurelius said, "Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away."

But just when did "time" begin? Well, Genesis 1:1 states, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." I had always assumed that "time" began on the front end of that passage, as though God "started the clock," and then gave Himself 24 hours to make the heavens and the earth.

The first chapter of Genesis continues with these words: "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and He separated the light from the darkness. God called the light 'day,' and the darkness He called 'night.' And there was evening, and there was morning — the first day." (Genesis 1:2-5)

I would like you to notice something very interesting. It is not until the end of the fifth verse that God gives us the first parameter to measure "time." And this parameter is defined with the words, "the first day."

But even with that first marker in place, we still are not told exactly when the earth started rotating on its axis, making a complete rotation in a 24-hour period. Was it within the first couple days? Or perhaps not until after God created the sun and the moon on the fourth day? God spoke light into existence well before the fourth day, but that doesn't answer the question concerning the earth's first rotation.

No wonder so many committed Christians end up with different theories about the length of each "day" in Genesis. Which theory do you think is correct?

Personally, I no longer believe that "time" began on the front end of Genesis 1:1. Based upon Scripture, I now believe that God "started the clock" sometime between the beginning of the second day, and the end of the fourth day. At some point the earth made its first full rotation in a 24-hour period. But no one knows for sure when that happened. There is much mystery surrounding exactly when "time" began.

The Gospel of John begins with the same three words as the book of Genesis. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning .... the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us." (John 1:1,14)

This is hugely significant.

"In the beginning, Jesus "was." Likewise, "in the beginning," God created. Both passages point to eternity past. And so you are standing on solid biblical ground if you link the eternal nature of Christ "in the beginning" to the fact that God created the heavens and the earth "in the beginning." After all, the Holy Spirit intentionally used that same phrase in both passages.

Does the phrase, "in the beginning," deal with scientific evidence? No. Does it deal with truth and reality? Absolutely. Is it wise for a Christian to believe that "in the beginning" points to eternity past? Absolutely.

No one created God. He has always existed. He was there "in the beginning." And it was "in the beginning" that God created the heavens and the earth. Outside of time, before "time" began. It happened before we reach Genesis 1:5, which is where God placed the first marker. The "first day" was complete at that point, but we are not given a marker for exactly when the first day began.

Do you see the difference between how the first day began, and how it ended? It is open-ended on the front side, while there is a marker to signal when the first day was completed. Hence the biblical idea of what I call "Open-Ended Creationism."

Imagine a world where there is no night and no decay from sin, but only a multitude of immortal souls worshipping God. This thought gives us a small sense of what heaven will be like forever. And of course we will have a new body in paradise that is perfect, along with a sinless soul.

Now each one of us here on earth already has an immortal soul. This is a big reason we sense deep down that we are supposed to live forever. But in this world we have day and night over a 24-hour period, which we measure in minutes and hours. And we also have decay. Our earthly body is wearing out because of sin. But if you took away decay and 24-hour days, our sense of "time" would be far different.

When you stop and think about it, we currently reside on a big rotating ball out in the middle of a massive universe. Our existence is split between darkness and light. We use a calendar to measure days and years. Meanwhile, the ball keeps rotating. And your soul has been immortal from the moment God created you. Your soul will exist forever no matter what decisions you make here on earth before your body wears out.

Now if that reality check doesn't give you reason for pause and reflection, it should.

While the Bible gives no dates to suggest that the earth was created "billions of years ago," Genesis 1:1 does seem to teach that heaven and earth were created before "time" began. No wonder there appears to be contradictory evidence when it comes to the "age" of the earth. It's like trying to figure out the age of the angels. You can't do it. God has not revealed to us any measurements of "time" that exist outside of our earthly dimension. In the heavenly realm, there is only eternity past, present, and future. In other words, the eternal "now."

We simply don't have a way to identify the exact point God created the heavens and the earth, any more than we have a way to measure time in heaven. Genesis 1 gives us a starting point and an ending point for days two through six, but we are not given a starting point for the first day, or an ending point for the seventh day. Both of those days are left open-ended.

It is impossible for us to know exactly when "the beginning" began, or when the earth was created. So when did "time" begin? Well, the earth completes a rotation on its axis every 24 hours. This happens to be the measurement of time we use to identify the length of a day. And this is a good reason to believe that the fourth day was likely a 24-hour period.

What about the second day and third day? Were they 24-hour periods? It's certainly possible. After all, days two and three both have a starting point and an ending point. But did those two days have the same length as days four, five, and six? Only God knows for sure. He is the One who made the two great lights to "govern," or to "rule" the day and the night. God established this role for the sun and the moon on the fourth day. But we simply don't know for sure when the first 24-hour period began.

It is extremely significant that on the fourth day God made the sun and the moon to "serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years." (Genesis 1:14) So how were the earlier days marked before the sun and the moon were created? Were the second day and third day marked in hours, or did those days occur before "time" began?

No wonder Christians don't agree on the length of a "day" in Genesis 1. The answer to this difficult question is certainly far from conclusive.

Someone might object, "But now you've made it all relative. If everyone gets to define 'day' differently, then how can we believe that Genesis is to be taken literally?"

Easily. For example, take the numbers in Genesis literally, whether it be the age of men like Seth, Methuselah, or Noah; or the particular day on which something was created. Believe that God created exactly what he said He created, and believe that the events Genesis describes actually took place.

And take the word "day" in Genesis literally, whether you believe it to be a literal 24-hour period, or a literal indefinite period of time. Old Testament scholar and Hebrew linguist Gleason Archer was a strong advocate for the inerrancy of Scripture. Archer wrote, "On the basis of internal evidence, it is this writer's conviction that "yom" ("day") in Genesis could not have been intended by the Hebrew author to mean a literal 24-hour day." Meanwhile, other Bible scholars believe that "day" in Genesis does indeed refer to a 24-hour period.

You are not calling the authority and inspiration of God's Word into question simply because you are unsure about the length of each "day" in Genesis. God intentionally didn't get that specific in His revelation to man. Instead, God gave us parameters for days two through six. Starting points and ending points. Genesis does not state that each day of creation is 24 hours in length.

Many Christians believe in a young earth, while many other Christians believe in an old earth. And some like myself believe you cannot accurately put an age on the earth. And that's OK.

You are not sinning or dishonoring God by believing that some or all of the days in the first chapter of the Bible were 24-hour periods. Likewise, you are not sinning or dishonoring God by believing that some or all of the days cannot be measured in hours or minutes. Anyone who tells you otherwise has lost sight of the big picture, and has chosen to become contentious over a secondary issue.

Misplaced zeal over creationism can lead to fanaticism, unless we rightly discern the faithfulness of those committed Christians who don't hold to our particular theory regarding the earth's age. It's one thing to "agree to disagree." It's quite another to be disagreeable.

One approach honors the Lord and promotes love and unity among believers. The other approach touts a theory more than it celebrates the Savior. And so we must guard our heart against loving our theory more than we love our Christian brothers and sisters.

After all, it's not about winning an argument. It's about loving others as Christ first loved us. Why else would our Creator still have us living on planet earth?

(This article is taken from "Open-Ended Creationism," a Kindle ebook by Dan Delzell.)

Dan Delzell is the pastor of Wellspring Church in Papillion, Neb. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.