A “Day” in Genesis 1

Keith Relf – September, 2002

It appears that in discussing a number of Scriptural issues, a clear understanding of the use of the word “day” is often lacking or is glossed over.  This is so in Genesis 1 dealing with the Creation as well as in instances quoted to support the changing of the Sabbath.

Referring to the Hebrew or Greek is not always satisfactory as similar words take on different meanings in their context and so we must understand the subject and to some extent the culture of those speaking and the manner in which they would naturally express themselves.

In Genesis, a day (Hebrew YOM) has 3 meanings.  In Gen 1:5 it is the "light" period, 12 hours, more or less. “God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night.” As also in verses 14,16,18.  Then in the same verse (and 6 others respectively) the writer comments, “So the evening and the morning were the (first, etc.) day.”  Here possibly meaning the whole 24 hour period or else the period in which the scribe (Moses?) acquired the knowledge which was then written down for our instruction.  Later, after creation is fully described, the whole period of whatever length suits your theology, is called a “day”. Gen 2:4, “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.”  Clearly meaning the whole creation period.

The fact that the Genesis record uses the wording “So the evening and the morning were the first (and so forth)  day.” suggests a 24 hour “day” which commenced at sun down in Hebrew practice.  Eminently sensible as how does one determine midnight without some pretty sophisticated equipment to establish a 24 hour clock?

As I believe, the 'views' of Creation as recorded in Genesis were conveyed to our scribe, in a series of six visions it seems reasonable to suppose that these visions were received in the night period, explaining the footnote to each vision being “So the evening and the morning, etc.”  The daylight hours could have been spent in making a “hard copy” - just a thought!.

The use of the word “day” in connection with the changing of the Sabbath is of more doubtful pedigree as we shall see in the verse often quoted in support of a first day Sabbath.  In Acts 20:7 “Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight.”  It appears here that the translators theology got in the way of accuracy as the Greek actually says “and one of the Sabbaths”.  Now as the story predates Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church, who changed the Sabbath, it can only mean a Biblical Sabbath according to God’s commandments.  We notice, Paul planned to travel “the next day”, he would not ordinarily travel on a Sabbath day. [See Note below.]

Another interesting point in this verse is the use of the term “midnight”, here clearly meaning the “middle of the night” which started at Sundown.  When, in our society, we say “midnight”, it is actually the beginning of a new day, technically, “morning” by our Western calendar.  One might say it is morning but still dark.  “The wee hours of the morning”.  In common parlance, our morning is 12 hours long but the afternoon is about half that because we have evenings and nights not very clearly defined.  Such is the flexibility of language in common usage.

So, before we get too dogmatic over a word, let us be sure to understand it, in it’s cultural and textual context and the purpose for which it is used.

NOTE: Here are 2 more instances of the “First Day” idea being added to or interpreted, from what the Scripture actually says.

John 20:19 “Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, . . .”      The Greek says,  “It then being evening – day the first of the Sabbaths”

1Corinthians 16:2 “On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come.”     The Greek says,  “Every one of a week, each of you . . .”   Surely better translated “Every week, each of you . . .” or “once a week . . .”.  A clear case of translation 'to order'.

Remember, there is no suggestion anywhere in the New Testament that the believers revered any weekly Sabbath other then the Seventh Day and Jesus, looking through history to the end times must have also believed that the faithful would be still keeping the same day because he said in Matthew 24:20 "And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath".


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