by Richard Peachey

This article is, in large part, the result of an email interaction with David A. Sterchi, whose challenging and stimulating friendship I appreciate very much.

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Various Bible scholars have attempted to argue that the seventh day of the Genesis creation week was a long indefinite period of time (see Appendix A for examples). Their purpose, often, is to promote their interpretation of the Genesis 1 “days” as similarly indeterminate epochs — which can then be seen as compatible with the millions of years demanded by evolutionists.

The goal of this article is to examine the Scriptural data in order to counter the position that the seventh day can rightly be understood as a period of time longer than an ordinary day.

1. The word “day” in Genesis 1 is best understood as a normal-length (24-hour) day or the light portion thereof.

The word “day” first appears in Genesis 1 when God calls the light “day” (Genesis 1:5a), at the same time calling the darkness “night.” Thus the first usage of the word “day” is connected to the light portion of a day-night (or light-darkness) cycle.

The second occurrence of the word “day” is later in the same verse (Genesis 1:5b). But that appearance of the word follows the mention of “evening” and “morning.” The sequentially numbered days — “first day,” “second day,” etc. — are therefore typically understood as 24-hour days (see Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31).

Other references to “day” are found in God’s speech on the fourth creation day. The two great lights are “to separate the day from the night” (Genesis 1:14a, cf. 1:16,18), recalling the definition of “day” as the light portion of the day-night cycle in Genesis 1:5a. As well, the two great lights are to be “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14b), which could refer to either days of daylight or 24-hour days, but could not refer to long indefinite periods of time.

2. The term “seventh day” includes the word “day”; and that day is “seventh” in a series of numbered days.

As noted above, the meaning of the word “day” is established in Genesis 1 as either the daylight portion of a day-night cycle, or a 24-hour day that includes an “evening-morning” sequence. Neither of these meanings allows for “day” to represent a long indefinite period of time. Now, these six “days” of Genesis 1 are followed immediately by the “seventh” day (Genesis 2:1-3), which must accordingly be the same kind of “day” as the first six. Both the word “day” and the adjective “seventh” prevent us from thinking of the seventh day as anything but one more in a series of days of the kind seen in Genesis 1.

The Israelite work week given in Exodus 20:11; 31:15-17 (and clearly based on Genesis 1:1–2:3) included a seventh-day sabbath which was of the same length as each of the six days of work, not longer. This argues for an original Day 7 that was of the same length as the creation Days 1 to 6.

Besides those points, it is important to notice that the seventh day is not specifically described in Scripture as “eternal” or “unending” or “indeterminate” or any such thing. True, the end of the seventh day is not explicitly mentioned — but that omission does not entail that the seventh day never ended! Those who make such a claim are attempting to argue from silence, which is weak. (See point #7, below, for further discussion of this omission.)

3. If the original seventh day had never ended, then we would even now be experiencing only daylight, never evening or night.

The reality, of course, is that we do currently experience cycles of daylight and darkness. Therefore at some point in the past the seventh day must have been terminated with a period of darkness. In fact, this must have happened no later than Noah’s time, since God uses the word “night” in Genesis 7:4 (cf. 8:22). Furthermore, God told Adam, “cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days [plural] of your life” (Genesis 3:17) — so even in Adam’s time there was already a series of “days” occurring, not just one single long ongoing “day.” It is therefore clear that the seventh day ended long ago, and it cannot be continuing right now.

Someone might respond, “The unending seventh day is one of God’s days, rather than a day of the kind we experience on Earth.” But the first six days were all directly related to the Earth: They each included a “day-night” (light/darkness) cycle and an “evening-morning” sequence. Also note that all of God’s creative activity was done on the Earth, except for the lights of Day 4, which were made for the sake of the Earth. There is no clear Scriptural reason to treat the seventh day as of a different order than the other six.

4. The fact that God is continuing to rest from his work of creation is irrelevant to this debate.

God rested (i.e., ceased from working) on the seventh day (Genesis 2:2f.), and he continues to rest from his works of creation (Hebrews 4:3f.). But his continuing rest does not entail that the day on which he began to rest must also continue!

5. Psalm 95 and the book of Hebrews are irrelevant to this debate.

Hebrews 4:4-10 speaks of God’s rest, and of the seventh day and of the Sabbath. But that passage does not speak of an original Day 7 that is ongoing; nor does it use the seventh day’s omission of the “evening-morning” formula to argue for anything; nor does it assert that the seventh day has a different length from the earlier six days. As for Psalm 95 (quoted in Hebrews 3:7-11,15; 4:3,5,7), that text does not speak of the seventh day at all.

6. The use of the Hebrew word yom (“day”) in Genesis 2:4 is irrelevant to this debate.

Some attempt to argue that Genesis 2:4 uses “day” in a sense of a longer period of time. But in that verse yom is found within a bound idiomatic expression that is not related to the usage of the word in Genesis 1. See my detailed explanation here.

7. The seventh day’s omission of the concluding formula is irrelevant to this debate.

The seventh day is unlike the earlier six in that it omits a concluding formula, “And there was evening, and there was morning, the seventh day.” Therefore, some argue, the seventh day may not have ended, as did the other six days in the series.

But there are good reasons for the seventh day to omit such a concluding formula. First, it was not a day of creation as were days one to six. Accordingly, it omits not only the “evening-morning” expression but also other formulaic wording, including fiat (“And God said, ‘Let there be. . . .’ “), fulfilment (“And it was so.”), and evaluation (“And God saw that it was good.”)

Furthermore, one function of the concluding formula in days one to six is to usher in the following day — which would be unsuitable for Day 7 since Day 8 is not part of the account.

C. John Collins writes, “The refrain, after each work period, marks the coming of evening, and then of morning, which brings that day to a close and prepares us for the next one.” (“The refrain in Genesis 1: A critical review of its rendering in the English Bible.The Bible Translator, Vol. 60, No. 3, July 2009, p.129)

Robert McCabe says, “Second, the evening and morning conclusion has another rhetorical function that is to mark a transition from a concluding day to the following day. If the first week was completed, there was no need to use the evening-morning formula for transitional purposes.” (“A Critique of the Framework interpretation of the Creation Account, Part 2 of 2.Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, Vol. 11, 2006, p. 110)

Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. notes: “The phrase ‘evening and morning’ links the day that is concluding with the next day. For example the morning that marks the end of day one also marks the beginning of day two. Thus, we do not find the formula at the end of the seventh day, since the week of creation is completed.” (in Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. and David W. Hall [eds.], Did God Create in Six Days? [Taylors, SC: Southern Presbyterian Press, 1999], p. 168)

Appendix A: Bible scholars who view the “seventh day” as an extended period of time

Gerhard Charles Aalders, Bible Student’s Commentary: Genesis, Vol. 1 [trans. William Heynen] (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), pp. 75f.

It would be difficult to conceive of this “seventh day” as an ordinary 24-hour day, as many claim, or as a day from sunup to sundown. This immediately raises the problem of whether God’s rest continued for only one 24-hour day. Certainly, we must consider the possibility that this rest of God continues. For us humans a day of rest is always followed by another series of work days. But this is not the case with God’s creation days. With Him we have six days of creation and then one day of rest. But His day of rest is then not followed by more days of creation work. Our attention should also be called to the omission of any reference to “evening” and “morning” with respect to this day of rest. In the light of what has been said above, this is understandable. This seventh day began with a morning but it had no evening because it still continues.

Clare Amos, The Book of Genesis [Epworth Commentaries] (Peterborough, UK: Epworth Press, 2004), p. 14.

These few verses about the seventh day [i.e., Genesis 2:1-3] do not follow the ordered structural pattern of the previous six days. That is deliberate. Genesis will be a book in which patterns and order will be important. But it will be precisely the individuals and the events that flout the moulds which will be highlighted and give meaning to the whole. The seventh day is a foretaste of this. And this seventh day is a day without end.

Clyde T. Francisco, “Genesis” in Clifton J. Allen (ed.), The Broadman Bible Commentary, Vol. 1 [revised] (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1973), p. 126.

The formula that closes each day (“there was evening and there was morning”) does not occur in reference to the seventh day. With unusual discernment the writer of the book of Hebrews concludes from this that the seventh day has never ended (4:1-7). Since creation God has been in his day of rest. By faith we may join him.

R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), p. 43.

[On Genesis 2:1-3, referring to the seventh day:] This blessed and holy day has no end. There is no morning and evening. It has existed from the completion of creation and still is. God still rests after the great event.

Kenneth A. Mathews, The New American Commentary, Vol. 1A (Genesis 1–11:26) (USA: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), p. 181.

The seventh day has no closing refrain “evening” and “morning”; the seventh day has no end and therefore is viewed as eternal. Whereas the human workweek recurs after each Sabbath, the sabbath rest of God is eternal since creation’s work is finished. Sabbath is taken up by the New Testament and interpreted in the context of the “new Moses.” The theology of this perpetual rest was expounded by the writer to the Hebrews, who spoke of a sabbath rest that yet awaits those who are in Christ Jesus (4:3-11). He bound together the two motifs of Canaan’s land of rest (3:7-19), drawing on Ps 95:7b-11, and of creation’s sabbath rest, quoting Gen 2:2 (4:3-11). Just as Moses’ generation had failed to possess their promised rest, the writer forewarned his readers not to commit the same failure through disbelief in Christ.

Russell R. Reno, Genesis [Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible] (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press [Baker], 2010), p. 60.

The account of the seventh day does not end with the formula “and there was evening and there was morning.” The new “work” of rest takes place on a day that has a beginning, but no ending. The seventh day, it seems, stretches forward and beyond the counting of days. In this sense, the seven-day account of Gen. 1 does not simply provide us with a beginning. It extends to the end of the ages. The seventh day contains within itself the fullness of time. Creation is finished, but the story of God’s strategy for blessing and sanctifying still needs to be told. The entire sweep of scripture from this point onward tells us what happens so that the seventh day can be brought to completion.

Hugh Ross, A Matter of Days: Resolving a Creation Controversy [1st edition] (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), p. 228.

In my first reading of Genesis 1, I saw indications that the Genesis creation days were long time periods. Simple textual observations—the timing of Eve’s creation, the lack of an evening and morning for the seventh day, and the Genesis 2:4 usage of the word ‘day’ in reference to the entire creation week—convinced me.

Hugh Ross and Gleason L. Archer, “The Day-Age View” in David G. Hagopian (ed.), The Genesis Debate: Three Views on the Days of Creation (Mission Viejo, CA: Crux Press, 2001), pp. 145f.

The Continuation of the Seventh Day

Moses wrote of the first six creation days, “There was evening, and there was morning—the [X]th day.” This wording provides a pattern, a framework (to borrow a word), for the events of each of the first six creation days. Each had a starting time and an ending time. However, no such wording is attached to the seventh day, neither in Genesis nor anywhere else in the Bible. Given the parallel structure marking the creation days, this distinct change in the pattern for narrating the seventh day strongly suggests that this day had (or has) not yet ended.
Further information about the seventh day is given in Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4. in these passages, we learn that God’s day of rest continues. The Hebrews writer describes it thus:

For somewhere [God] has spoken about the seventh day in these words “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” . . . It still remains that some will enter that rest. . . . There remains, then, a Sabbath rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest. (4:4-11)

According to this passage, the seventh day of the creation week carries on through the centuries from Adam and Eve, through Israel’s development as a nation, through the time of Christ’s earthly ministry, through the early days of the apostolic Church, and on into future years. In Psalm 95:7-11, King David also refers to God’s seventh day of rest as ongoing.

From these passages, we gather that the seventh day of Genesis 1–2 represents a minimum of several thousand years and a maximum that is open-ended (but finite). Given the parallelism of the Genesis creation account, it seems reasonable to conclude that the first six days may also have been long time periods.

Justin Taylor, “Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods.” The Gospel Coalition blog, Jan. 28, 2015.

The Seventh “Day” Is Not 24 Hours Long

In Genesis 2:2-3 where we are told that “on the seventh day [yom] God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day [yom] from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day [yom] and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.” The question we have to ask here is: was God’s creation “rest” limited to a 24-hour period? On the contrary, Psalm 95 and Hebrews 4 teach that God’s Sabbath rest “remains” and that we can enter into it or be prevented from entering it.

Miles Van Pelt observes:

In Exod 20:11, the command for the people of God to remember the Sabbath day is grounded in God’s pattern of work and rest during the creation week. The people of God are to work for six solar days (Exod 20:9) and then rest on the seventh solar day (Exod 20:10). If, therefore, it can be maintained that God’s seventh day rest in Gen 2 extends beyond the scope of a single solar day, then the correspondence between the “day” of God’s rest and our “day” of observance would be analogical, not identical. In other words, if day seven is an unending day, still in progress, then our weekly recognition of that day is not temporally identical. As such, there is no reason to maintain that the same could not be true for the previous six days, especially if the internal, exegetical evidence from Genesis 1 and 2 supports this reality.

[Taylor does not provide a reference for his Van Pelt quote. For refutations of Taylor’s article, see Lita Cosner, “Biblical reasons to affirm the creation days Were 24 hour periods.” Creation Ministries International, Feb. 3, 2015; Terry Mortenson, “A Response to a Gospel Coalition Blog on the Age of the Earth.” Answers in Genesis, Apr. 22, 2015.]