The creation period described in the Book of Genesis is of great interest to many Christians. As a result, much discussion occurs within Christianity related to the nature of the creation account and the length of time over which God acted to create our world. Many Christians in America hold to a creation period wherein the universe was formed over the course of six 24-hours periods; other Christians believe the period of creation to be much longer, perhaps even millions of years.
One of the central questions related to this issue comes down to the use of the Hebrew word “yom” in the opening lines of Genesis. Translations of this word into English use the word “day” in place of “yom,” so that the biblical passages indicate acts of creation on six consecutive days (as in, exact 24-hours periods). This plain reading of the word is simple and concise, likely one of the reasons a large number (likely the majority) of Christians today hold to a 24-hour interpretation.
A 24-hour period would seem the most reasonable interpretation absent some good reason to read a different meaning. The 24-hour interpretation allows the Christian to read the language of Genesis and interpret the language in its most basic terms. To hold a 24-hour view does not require the “wrestling” with scripture which other Christians may have to engage in, thus, a Christian holding this view can have a sense of defending the authority of scripture in maintaining their plain interpretation.
Christians who hold to a longer creation period interpret “yom” in a different way. These Christians point to the use of “yom” to mean a period of time other than 24-hours. The Bible does use “yom” in several other ways throughout its text, such as to mean “day” (as in daytime rather than nighttime) in Numbers 9:21, an unspecified period (“day of the Lord”) in Amos 5:18, and as a general time frame in Deuteronomy 16:3.
While the 24-hour position is often considered the default or traditional view in the eyes of those who hold it, the discussion surrounding interpretation of the creation account is longstanding; some ancient Christians held to an “old-earth” view which allowed for a longer creation period, such as Augustine, Origen, and St. Thomas Aquinas. These ancient Christians did not have modern science to influence their perspective but rather held their views on the basis of the text of scripture alone.
Scientific discoveries, as they are interpreted today, have resulted in some Christians holding to a longer creation period. Modern scientists largely believe the universe is billions of years old and Christians who are persuaded by their discoveries believe that millions of years transpired between the events of the “first day” in Genesis and the time in which humanity was created on the “sixth day.”
The length of the creation periods is an “in-house” debate. Christians on both sides of this discussion are just that: Christians. A robust creation theology regarding every minor detail of the timeline is not an essential element to the Christian faith (even while belief in a creator is a central tenant). The length of creation is not a universally held position in the church, it is not explicitly required by the text of scripture (due to the various interpretations of “yom” described above), it was not universally agreed upon by early Christians, and appears in no Christian creed.
The length of the creation periods is an “in-house” debate. Christians on both sides of this discussion are just that: Christians.
This is an issue for brothers and sisters to enjoy debating, but not an issue we ought to divide over.
Although of interest to the believer, the question of time with regards to creation may not carry the same weight to a skeptic or non-believer. While either position may be acceptable for the Christian, that does not mean each view is equally practical when talking to a specific skeptic. In an encounter with a skeptic who holds firmly an alternative view it may not be a wise tactical decision to attempt to rid them of their beliefs (even if it conflicts with the Christian’s personal understanding of creation).
As an apologetic method, spending time arguing with a skeptic over the length of creation may not be fruitful. A factually accurate view of the length of creation is not necessary for the skeptic’s salvation, but a correct view of Jesus Christ is. Conceding a skeptic or non-believer’s point about the length of creation does not disqualify them from finding God, but it may remove one more distraction on their road to finding the Lord.