Day in Genesis

Recently, Kevin DeYoung said that the most important thing for Christians in debate is to actually open up the Bible and work through the text. Don’t settle for vague impressions or general ideas. What does the Bible actually say? I put this idea to work by looking at the use of the word “day” in the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy). 

The impression is often given by Old Earth Creationists that the Hebrew word for “day” (yom) is a flexible word that has a broad range of meaning. This idea has been used over and over again by men to create enough elasticity in Genesis 1 so that one can put billions of years in the creation account. But is it true that this word is as flexible as OEC would like it to be? I decided to open up the text and see for myself. . I went through and looked at all the uses of the word day in Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy to determine if what the OEC men claim to be true is actually true. This was tedious and it makes for tedious reading. But the point I want to make is that when one reads the word “day” in the Bible it almost always means a typical 24 hour day. 

This study is based on the ESV translation. I do not have the ability to search in Hebrew, but I can read Hebrew and I have several Hebrew word study helps as well as a Hebrew Old Testament. I checked the words to see if they were really “yom.” They almost always were. Occasionally you will find the word “day” supplied where it is not in the Hebrew (i.e. Leviticus 23:5, 27). It is clear in those places that “day” is implied though not specifically written. Also sometimes instead of the word being “yom” it is the word “yomam,” which means “daily/daytime” (i.e. Numbers 14:14). Often the ESV translates “yomam” as “day.” The words are clearly connected. I have not purposely included the plural use of “yom” though if it showed up in my search I kept it.

I have divided these up into three categories: All the uses of day with a number, all the uses of day which in context mean a typical 24 hour day, and any uses of day which could mean a long period of time. 

All uses of Day with a Number (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.)
(Gen 7:11)  In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep burst forth, and the windows of the heavens were opened.
(Gen 8:4)  and in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.
(Gen 8:5)  And the waters continued to abate until the tenth month; in the tenth month, on the first day of the month, the tops of the mountains were seen.
(Gen 8:13)  In the six hundred and first year, in the first month, the first day of the month, the waters were dried from off the earth. And Noah removed the covering of the ark and looked, and behold, the face of the ground was dry.
(Gen 8:14)  In the second month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, the earth had dried out.
(Gen 22:4)  On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place from afar.
(Gen 27:45)  until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him. Then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereft of you both in one day?
(Gen 31:22)  When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled,
(Gen 33:13)  But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are frail, and that the nursing flocks and herds are a care to me. If they are driven hard for one day, all the flocks will die.
(Gen 34:25)  On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males.
(Gen 39:11)  But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house,
 (Gen 40:20)  On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants.
(Gen 42:18)  On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God:
Uses of Day Which Are in Context, Typical 24 Hour Days

(Gen 3:8)  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
(Gen 7:13)  On the very same day Noah and his sons, Shem and Ham and Japheth, and Noah’s wife and the three wives of his sons with them entered the ark,
(Gen 8:22)  While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
(Gen 15:18)  On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates,
(Gen 17:23)  Then Abraham took Ishmael his son and all those born in his house or bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and he circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very day, as God had said to him.
(Gen 17:26)  That very day Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised.
(Gen 18:1)  And the LORD appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day.
(Gen 19:34)  The next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Behold, I lay last night with my father. Let us make him drink wine tonight also. Then you go in and lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.”
(Gen 19:37)  The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day.
(Gen 19:38)  The younger also bore a son and called his name Ben-ammi. He is the father of the Ammonites to this day.
 (Gen 21:8)  And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.
(Gen 22:14)  So Abraham called the name of that place, “The LORD will provide”; as it is said to this day, “On the mount of the LORD it shall be provided.”
(Gen 26:32)  That same day Isaac’s servants came and told him about the well that they had dug and said to him, “We have found water.”
(Gen 26:33)  He called it Shibah; therefore the name of the city is Beersheba to this day.
(Gen 27:2)  He said, “Behold, I am old; I do not know the day of my death.
 (Gen 29:7)  He said, “Behold, it is still high day; it is not time for the livestock to be gathered together. Water the sheep and go, pasture them.”
(Gen 30:35)  But that day Laban removed the male goats that were striped and spotted, and all the female goats that were speckled and spotted, every one that had white on it, and every lamb that was black, and put them in the charge of his sons.
(Gen 31:39)  What was torn by wild beasts I did not bring to you. I bore the loss of it myself. From my hand you required it, whether stolen by day or stolen by night.
(Gen 31:40)  There I was: by day the heat consumed me, and the cold by night, and my sleep fled from my eyes.
(Gen 31:43)  Then Laban answered and said to Jacob, “The daughters are my daughters, the children are my children, the flocks are my flocks, and all that you see is mine. But what can I do this day for these my daughters or for their children whom they have borne?
(Gen 32:24)  And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day.
(Gen 32:26)  Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
(Gen 32:32)  Therefore to this day the people of Israel do not eat the sinew of the thigh that is on the hip socket, because he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip on the sinew of the thigh.
(Gen 33:16)  So Esau returned that day on his way to Seir.
(Gen 35:3)  Then let us arise and go up to Bethel, so that I may make there an altar to the God who answers me in the day of my distress and has been with me wherever I have gone.”
(Gen 35:20)  and Jacob set up a pillar over her tomb. It is the pillar of Rachel’s tomb, which is there to this day.
(Gen 39:10)  And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
(Gen 42:13)  And they said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan, and behold, the youngest is this day with our father, and one is no more.”
 (Gen 42:32)  We are twelve brothers, sons of our father. One is no more, and the youngest is this day with our father in the land of Canaan.’
(Gen 47:23)  Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land.
(Gen 47:26)  So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s.
 (Gen 48:15)  And he blessed Joseph and said, “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,
(Gen 48:20)  So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you Israel will pronounce blessings, saying, ‘God make you as Ephraim and as Manasseh.'” Thus he put Ephraim before Manasseh.

Places Where Day Can Mean a Long Period of Time
There are no texts in Genesis 3-50 where day can mean a long period of time.

The research shows the following:
Every time in Genesis 3-50 the word day is used with a number it means a 24 hour day.
When it is not used with the number it still points to a specific day in the past, present, or future. 
Nowhere in Genesis 3-50 is the word day ever used to mean a long period of time. 

In the future I will look more closely at the word day in Genesis 1-2.