What Can You Tell Me About the Hebrew Word for Day (Yom) Used in the Genesis 1 Creation Account? What Is the Proof for it Being a Literal Day?

You asked about the use of the Hebrew word for day—yom. First, let’s go back and list a few hermeneutical principles, then apply them: God communicates through language. Human language is made up of words used in a specific context that relate to the world around us. When Jesus and the New Testament writers referenced Old Testament passages, they employed what is often referred to as the Literal Principle (we also routinely use this method in our everyday conversations)1: Seek the ordinary meaning of the language. Identify type of language: Poetry or prose; figurative or literal. Begin by assuming that the writer is saying something to be taken in its literal meaning. Seek a single meaning of the text. The structure of a narrative is the single greatest tool the writer has to convey his central message. We observe what a writer selects and how he arranges his material to best discover the central message.

When we apply these principles to Genesis 1, there aren’t a lot of possible literal interpretations. In fact, I don’t think that God, through Moses, could have more clearly indicated seven ordinary days. Let me explain:

  • First of all, Genesis 1 is clearly historical narrative.2
  • Yom (day) used with a numeric adjective (day 1, second day, etc.) always means an ordinary day everywhere else in Scripture.3
  • “Evening and morning” together always means an ordinary day everywhere else in Scripture.
  • “Evening” used by itself with yom always means an ordinary day everywhere else in Scripture.
  • “Morning” used by itself with yom always means an ordinary day everywhere else in Scripture.
  • The word night (Genesis 1:5), when used by itself in context with yom, always means an ordinary day everywhere else in Scripture.
  • Even the use of the word “light” in Genesis 1:5 indicates an ordinary day.
  • There are plenty of other words in biblical Hebrew that could have been used for communicating long periods of time, or indefinite time. Yet these words were not selected.4

To quote Tim Chaffey and Jason Lisle, “Any one of these contextual clues would be sufficient to indicate that the days of creation are ordinary days. Yet Genesis 1 uses all of them. It seems as if God really stressed this fact to make sure we understand the days are literal, ordinary days.”5

Other biblical passages strongly support that the first six days in Genesis 1 cannot be made to mean or allow for deep time or epochs:

  • Exodus 20:11 and 31:12-17 confirm that the days of creation were ordinary days.
  • Jesus said that Adam and Eve were from the beginning of creation (Matt 19:4; Mark 10:6). If the days of Genesis 1 were epochs or referring to deep time, then Adam and Eve came at the end, not the beginning of creation.
  • Jesus also said that the blood of Abel was shed “from the foundation of the world” (Luke 11:50-51), indicating that Abel was the very first martyred prophet. This places Abel near the creation, not billions of years later.
  • Similarly, Rom 1:20 declares that God’s attributes have been clearly seen and understood by people (angels wouldn’t fit the context) ever since the creation of the world – therefore people are without excuse.
  • Adam was created on day 6, lived through day 7, then died when he was 930 years old. If days 6 and 7 were epochs, this would make no sense.

It is important to remember that the Christian’s ultimate authority is God and His Word. We would never bring a naturalistic worldview to interpret Christ’s resurrection. The two worldviews are opposites – you really can’t fit a supernatural event into a naturalistic worldview. The same is true for interpreting Genesis 1. We should never put man’s fallible and naturalistic “scientific” assumptions and interpretations in authority over God’s clear communication.

All this to say, when we take a literal approach to the Genesis 1 creation account, I don’t think it is possible for yom to mean anything but ordinary days without violating the clear meaning of the text. Let’s be willing to believe that God created exactly as He said He did.


1. McQuilkin, R., 1992. Understanding and Applying the Bible. Revised Edition. Chicago, IL:     Moody Press

2. Boyd, Steven W. 2005. “Statistical Determination of Genre in Biblical Hebrew: Evidence for   an Historical Reading of Genesis 1:1-2:3.” Web:  icr.org 11/01/05

3. Gentry, Jr., Kenneth L. 2016. As It Is Written. Green Forest, AR:  MasterBooks

4. Sarfati, Jonathan. 2017. Refuting Compromise. Powder Springs, GA: Creation Book     Publishers

5. Chaffey, Tim and Jason Lisle. 2008. Old-Earth Creationism on Trial. Green Forest, AR:              MasterBooks