"Day" and "Time" are two words that have well defined, but multiple meanings. Knowing those meanings unlocks numerous Bible passages.
Generally speaking the word "day" means a 24 hour day when applied to a person, year when applied to nations and a millennium when applied to God.
All such meanings can be recursive and applied again. Jesus uses these meanings extensively when he is giving his parables in the Gospels. There is a similar set of recursive meaning that come from time units below the hour. Those are covered better when looking at Passion Week.
The Bible provides a series of time conversions that it applies consistently across its pages. These transformations allow time quantities from individual passages to mean different things based on the various meanings of the passages themselves.
This is consistent with the rest of scripture and demonstrates a very high level of data compression within its pages. These time keys are also veils that must be lifted before any meaning can be drawn from some of the more difficult passages.
This is also the basis for multiple applications to be drawn from single passages. It is possible, for example, to apply a passage to someone’s life today, to a nation today, and to something God has done in history today, while at the same time looking at the passage in terms of a prophet in history, a nation in history, and perhaps even God in history.
There are a series of simple time transformations that all focus on the meaning of the word "day." These transformations allow the actual amount of time implied by the word to be scaled based on the application. Three meanings for the word "day" occur in scripture.
A Day is a Day -- For a person
When the Bible records something as having taken a day the clear meaning in most cases, one 24 hour Bible day, is the implied unit of time taken by the event. This should be obvious but we state it here at the beginning lest anyone miss the point that a day really is just a day.
Examples of this include the day counts given to the prophets. Ezekiel’s 390 days are just 390 days for Ezekiel. Same with Daniel’s 1260 days.
The transformations become more important as the application of these time intervals change.
A Day is a Year -- For a Nation
When the term "day" is applied to a nation it means a period of 1 calendar year. This is seen in at least two defining verses.
5I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. Ezekiel 4:5 NIV
5For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days: so shalt thou bear the iniquity of the house of Israel. Ezekiel 4:5 KJV
In this longer story Ezekiel is told to rest on his side one day (for him, a man) for each year of the sin of the nation. This defines the relationship, the prophetic ratio, of a standard Bible day to a calendar year. When the term "day" is used prophetically against a nation’s history, one day will equal 1 year just as it does here for Ezekiel.
Notice that in Ezekiel’s case he is to lie on his side for 390 days, which is also the number of days in a Sabbath or Jubilee year. Don’t let this confuse you. The nation that Ezekiel is representing here has sinned for 390 years which is a year of national days which is why Ezekiel is assigned these 390 days. He goes on to rest on his other side for 40 days, one for each year of national sin for Judah.
6"After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year. Ezekiel 4:6 NIV
6And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year.each…: Heb. a day for a year, a day for a year Ezekiel 4:6 KJV
In this case Ezekiel rests on his side for 40 days, one of his days for each year of national sin. Again, Ezekiel is showing the ratio, one day with a man is 1 year for the nation.
The same principle is seen at the time of the Exodus and the wandering in the wilderness. In this case the representative sample from the nation explores the land for 40 days and the nation as a whole spends 40 years wandering in the wilderness as punishment for their unbelief.
34For forty years -- one year for each of the forty days you explored the land -- you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.' Numbers 14:34 NIV
34After the number of the days in which ye searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall ye bear your iniquities, even forty years, and ye shall know my breach of promise.breach…: or, altering of my purpose Numbers 14:34 KJV
These two passages define the principle. Each time a nation is referenced in respect to the word "day" one calendar year is implied. Of course, like this example in Numbers, the indicated period may be modified in various ways. At this point the nation had already spent over a year in the wilderness and that year was credited to them for this 40 year period. Even when these modifiers exist the point is the same, one day for nation lasts 1 calendar year.
If the prophet had laid on his side for 7 days, how many years would the nation have been in sin... 7 days?, 210 days? or 2550 days?
7 Days. Incorrect. 7 days for the prophet is 7 years for the nation.
210 Days. Incorrect. 7 days for Jesus in ministry is 210 years, but not for a prophet.
2550 Days. Correct. 7 years for a prophet is 7 * 360 + 30 = 2550 days for the nation.
If the prophet had laid on his side for 1 month, how many years would the nation have been in sin... 1 day?, 30 days? or 30 years?
1 Day. Incorrect.
30 Days. Incorrect.
30 Years. Correct. The nation would have been in sin for 30 years. The statement of the time length must be reduced to days and then converted into years. Use of the term 1 month is a trick. It could have been said 30 days, it means the same.
If the prophet had laid on his side for 1 year, how many years would the nation have been in sin... 1 day?, 30 days? or 360 days?
1 day. Incorrect
30 days. Incorrect.
360 days. Correct. If the prophet had laid on his side for 1 year, or 360 days, then the nation would have been in sin for 360 years. Stated as 1 year, the number of years is slightly ambiguous, and could have been 390 years.
If the prophet had been told the sin was for 7 years, how many years would the nation have been in punishment... 7 days?, 7 years? or 2550 years?
7 days. Incorrect.
7 years. Incorrect.
2550 years. Correct. If the prophet had been told the sin was for 7 years, then there would have been 7 * 360 + 30 = 2550 years when the nation was in trouble with God. This interval matters to establishing modern dates.
A Day is 1000 Years -- For God
The scale of time seen with God is much longer than that seen with either man or nations. In the case of God, his days are 1000 years long. Two places define this in the Bible:
4For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. Psalms 90:4 NIV
4For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.when…: or, when he hath passed them Psalms 90:4 KJV
And from the New Testament:
8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. S. Peter 3:8 NIV
8But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. S. Peter 3:8 KJV
Notice that the Psalm reference also defines a watch in the night as being 1000 years long. Jesus references this verse in his discussion of watches in the night.
This principle has several applications, but the first point to understand is that whenever days are applied to God, or his actions, then 1000 calendar years will pass for each day so indicated, 20 complete Jubilee cycles.
If Jesus takes 2 days do do something, how much time is implied? 2 Days?, 2 Years? or 2000 Years?
2 Days. Incorrect.
2 Years. Incorrect. If Jesus was only a prophet, this would have been the answer. The difference is the divine voice amplifies the answer.
2000 Years. Correct. If Jesus takes 1 day in a parable or other story, or even in what appears as simple narrative, then 1000 years is needed to unpack the parable.
When Jesus uses 2 days in a parable, then 2000 years are used in the application.
Since counts of anything are also references to time, counts like 2000 pigs also become 2000 years.
If Jesus takes 6 days for something to happen, how much time is implied? 6 Days? or 6000 Years?
6 Days. Incorrect.
6000 Years. Correct. When Jesus takes 6 days in a story or parable, then 6000 years are implied by his parable. The clue is the divine voice.
If God says there will be 7 days until something happens, how much time is implied? 7 Days? or 7000 Years?
7 Days. Incorrect. Though there could be an application to a person at 7 days, the prophetic application is not 7 days.
7000 Years. Correct. When God announces 7 days until something will happen, then the interval implied is 7000 years. The clue is the divine voice.
A Week is 7 -- of Anything
The word "week" is often changed by translators to "7." This sometimes called a "translator’s choice" word selection. The meaning of week is any 7 units of time, with a rather recursive definition. Of course this means 7 regular days, a "week" as we know it now in the common English word. It can also mean 7 units of time, where those units are any other units, most notably years and Sabbaths. The following lists these meanings:
- 7 regular days. A week as we know it now.
- 7 years. A Sabbath cycle from the annual calendar. This works out to be 2550 regular Bible days.
- 7 Sabbath years. Seven Sabbath year cycles include the 50th Jubilee year as each year in a Sabbath cycle is 50 years from repeating again. This is 18,240 days.
These definitions are usually seen in relation to Daniel’s seventy "sevens." All of these meanings have direct application from Daniel’s seventy "sevens" discourse to the overall history of mankind, though beyond the scope of this article.
How many years is 7 weeks? 7? or 50?
7 Years. Incorrect.
The question is ambiguous. 7 weeks is either 7 Sabbaths a Jubilee of 50 years, or else it is 7 Jubilees or 350 years.
How many years is in 70 weeks? 70?, 490? or 3500?
70 Years. Incorrect.
490 Years. Correct. But... This question is ambiguous. 70 weeks is either 70 Sabbaths a period of 70 * 7 = 490 years OR 70 Jubilees or 70 * 50 years = 3500 years. Because the calendar is cyclic on 50 years, the 490 year total is itself ambiguous, with different possible day counts.
3500 Years. Correct. But... This question is ambiguous. 70 weeks is either 70 Sabbaths a period of 70 * 7 = 490 years OR 70 Jubilees or 70 * 50 years = 3500 years. Because the calendar is cyclic on 50 years, the 490 year total is itself ambiguous, with different possible day counts.
The simple time transformations are complimented by two other issues. The first is the use of the word "time." This word is sometimes translated out by the various teams doing English language translations. It shows up in expressions like "a time, two times and half a time." Which is sometimes rendered as "a year, two years and half a year." When this is done the translators are rendering the normal meaning for this word, but the time interval may yet be subject to further transformations. The reason are the rules given above are sometimes applied recursively.
As we saw earlier with Ezekiel’s year long job, the period of sin was 390 years and the punishment was 390 days, one year.
Similarly the expression for 3 and a half times can mean three and a half simple days, or 3 and a half years or 3 and a half days-of-years of days, or 1260 calendar days. It can also be 3.5 of God’s millennium days, or 3500 years. It is still using the simple day-for-year transformation but the period is getting to be much longer.
Probably the most important of these is found in Leviticus.  Here where God spells out the specific chronological components to the covenant he is instigating with the Hebrews he uses the expression "seven times." By this he means 7 years, but more specifically, seven years of days where a day is defined as always as a year in the life of the nation. This period of punishment is thus 2550 calendar years.
Understanding these various transformation types and the various ways they apply is key to understanding the way the Bible deals with time.
This is the same level and type of understanding as knowing that, say, Purple is a biblical sign of royalty, or silver means vindication, or gold means covenant. The Bible is full of symbols and time units are symbolic, and themselves rich in double and multiple meanings.
There are other transforms not needed to establish the chronology, but which are common and needed for a complete study of the Bible. So students don’t leave this article thinking they know all the transforms, a review of other key transforms is in order. (Not given here with defense, those will come in later articles.)
Days are months When Jesus is in his public ministry each day is running 30 days from his life, itself 30 years from world history. He is using a ratio of 30 to 1. Each day in a prophet’s actions can thus work out to months and using the standard day-for-a-year ratio it can then be sets of 30 years. This ratio is used extensively, including in Noah’s flood and the Gospels.
Hours are weeks When Jesus is in Passion Week, each hour that goes by is reflecting 1 week in his ministry. Hours break down into 7 major divisions so the word "week" as given above is also a reference to "hour." His ministry itself was already a highly compressed replay, at 30 years to the day. An hour is thus also prophetically equal to 210 years. This is the unit of years is most commonly used in Revelation, though an hour can also mean 210 days.
With multiple possible ratios, time references like 6 days are fundamentally ambiguous. What possible intervals are implied? View Answer
6 days in the Gospel narratives are 6 days. They are also either 6 * 1000 = 6000 years OR they can be 6 * 30 days = 180 days OR they can be 6 * 30 years = 180 years.
How does a reader of the Gospels know which ratio to apply? View Answer
Context must be used. The stories surrounding the time reference will pin to stories in history separated by the prophetically implied time amount. It is also possible that all values are active at once.
This article provided an introduction to the key time transforms given and used in the Bible. Understanding these transforms is key to a proper understanding of the Bible itself. These transforms are key for understanding how God is dealing with mankind.
1. Daniel 9:1
2. Leviticus 26:1