How long was the Creation Week of Genesis chapter 1? This article explores.
The length of time in the creation story1 is often used as a test of orthodoxy by people in the Christian word. If you don’t believe in a literal, week of seven 24 hour days then you are thought by many to be heretical.
The problem, of course, is finding a strong second reference somewhere else in the Bible that confirms the 24 hour days. No such reference exists. Using the long chronology developed for the Bible Time project it is 1) easy to show what the chronology for the creation week should be, and 2) where the confirming second Bible stories are found. The answer is surprising because the creation week story is likley pointing at God’s creation of mankind, even though he uses rather strange language.
The common literary feature of the creation week is that it is broken down into days. Different English translations have different styles in the English, but the main feature is the way the creation week is broken down into listed days. The following is the last verse in the first creation day.
5And god called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the 1st day.
Notice carefully how this first of the creation days ends with the words "day 1" or something similar.
This pattern happens at the end of each of the first six days in the creation week story. In effect the author of Genesis is counting off the days in the creation week, numbering each day in order. The numbers are provided at the end of each day after having listed the events that happened in that creative day.
By the seventh day, the last day in the creation week, the pattern changes dramatically. The seventh day does not end like the other days earlier in the week. The following is the text.
1Thus the skies and the land were finished, and all the host of them.
2And on the 6th day, god finished his works which he had made; and he rested on the 7th day from all his works which he had made.
3So god blessed the 7th day, and sanctified it; because on it he rested from all his works which god created and made.
This change in literary structure is important because it conveys an idea that is found in several other Bible stories: The seventh day is still continuing, it never ended.
The theology behind this change in literary structure is important. Mankind was created in day six, likely the last thing created in that day. Mankind then fell. God, in his mercy is at rest in this day of mankind’s fall, but he is working doing one thing: Rescuing fallen mankind.
Jesus editorializes this idea at several points in his public ministry. As an important public device in his Jesus had the habit of healing people on the Sabbath. This infuriated the Pharisees who felt this was breaking the Sabbath laws against working on what is supposed to be a day of rest.
This begs several questions, the first of which is this: Is healing work at all? Since God set the law in place, God does get to answer this question. But, at the heart of their issue, of course, is a question for God himself: Is it acceptable for God to be healing mankind generally on what should be His seventh day of rest?
Jesus explains the issue by asking a question after one such Sabbath day healing.
1And it came to pass, when he entered the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees to eat bread on a sabbath day, they watched him.
2And there was a man before him who had dropsy.
3And Joshua answered, saying to the scribes and Pharisees, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath?
4But they kept silent. So he took him and healed him and let him go.
5And he said to them, Which one of you, if his son or his ox should fall into a pit on the sabbath day, would not immediately pull and bring him out?
6And they could not answer him concerning this.
Jesus responds to the Pharisees criticism with a question that has a self evident answer. If an animal of significant value were to fall into a pit (the pit of hell) wouldn’t you pull it out? The answer of course is yes.
Jesus is healing on the Sabbath because God the Father is healing on his sabbath too. It is a day of rest, but rescuing someone in trouble is allowed on the Sabbath. Indeed, it appears to be the work of the Sabbath.
Hebrews continues this thought and links several other Bible stories together, completing the picture of God’s Sabbath day rest.
4For he said concerning the sabbath: God rested on the 7th day from all his works.
5And here again, he said: They will not enter into my rest.
The key point of this passage in Hebrews is that the generation who wandered in the wilderness for 40 years after leaving Egypt was not able to enter into God’s rest because of lack of faith. But, we as believers today have access to God’s rest, ie: we can be pulled out of the pit, through our response to Jesus. Unlike the generation in the wilderness, we can enter into God’s Sabbath day rest.
How so? By deciding to faithfully follow Jesus. When we do that we enter into God’s Sabbath rest. We have been rescued from Adam’s fall. We enter into the seventh day rest that is now going on everywhere except in fallen mankind.
This theological framework suggests an approach to the question of a chronology for the Creation Week. Since the seventh day has not ended, all of mankind’s history from Adam to the present has happened inside God’s creation week day seven. This precludes several possible lengths to the creation week:
At this point it should be obvious that the length of time in each day must be dramatically larger than anything considered in the popular Christian culture.
At the time of the Exodus from Egypt an annual calendar of holy days is given to Moses. The first event in that annual calendar happened in the middle of day 10, when the Passover Lamb is selected for sacrifice. That same lamb is slaughtered at twilight on day 14.
A review of the history of mankind shows than in the middle of "day" 10, the year 9501 from Adam, is when the Egyptian firstborn and army were slaughtered at the end of the plagues. This event marked Pharaoh’s Egyptian world as the sacrifice. (Of course those under the blood of Jesus are passed over in this event... remember the story.) Let me say this again: The plagues on Egypt marked Egypt as the Passover sacrifice for all those not under the substitutionary blood of the lamb. That was only a mark, an identification, of who God would totally wipe out eventually.
The world is now approaching the year 13001 from Adam, also known as twilight on day 14. Who gets slaughtered next? The rest of those who subscribe to Pharaoh’s world, all those people still not under the blood of Jesus.
These chronological stories suggest that each millennium in mankind’s history is a day in God’s dealing with the race and that God is following the holy schedule that he gave to Moses at the Exodus.
Days, of course, bunch into years. If 1 day is 1000 years long, then what length is 1 year? The simple answer is 360,000 Biblical years, though the Sabbath year would be 390,000 Biblical years long. Once this ratio is seen, it should also be obvious that the "days" or "epochs" of the creation week are also "years" by the standard day-for-a-year ratio used across the Bible. This is the next minimum possible length for the days in the creation week.
Since there were six days before the fall of Adam, each of those days is at least 360,000 years long. The first six days of the creation week turns out to be at least 6 * 360,000 or 2,160,000 Biblical years in length. Since we’re almost at 13,000 years into day 7, mankind is now about 2,173,000 Biblical years from the start of the creation week.
This is enough time for almost all of the earth’s physical evidence to have been formed. The only pieces outside of this window would be the astronomical evidence and that likely took place before the creation week ever began.
The creation week story, following the long chronology spelled out here, has a curious day-for-a-year confirmation.
The 2,160,000 Biblical years before Adam follow the standard day-for-a-year ratio seen at various times in history. They are years, of course, and thus would compress to days in a normal prophetic application.
Since Adam’s first year replays July 29, 1974, and that date is a day that matches the first day in God’s day seven, the earlier 2,160,000 days must play out chronologically before this date in 1974.
2,160,000 days is a very long time. Roughly speaking each set of 360,000 days is equivalent to a Biblical millennium, shorter by a few years because it does not include any leap months. This means that the various "days" in the creation week account are prophetic stories dealing with creating mankind since about 1 millennia past Noah’s flood.
By comparing the creation week stories for each day with the events known in mankind’s history across the same period this prophetic match can be easily shown.