I have a question regarding the time frame in Genesis 1. I know you believe that the earth is billions of years old, yes? And that the bible is speaking figuratively when it describes how long creation took, I hope I am not assuming this. As I was researching I realized that the word for day in (Genesis 1:5, 5:5, etc…) in the Hebrew was “yowm” (meaning 24 hours). Should we not take that literally? If not, why not? And how are we to understand Exodus 20:9-11 which speaks of working 6 days and resting on the seventh (yowm). I have a hard time understanding why there are a couple schools of thought on such issues and I’m wondering if you can make it clear to me why you believe what you believe, I would greatly appreciate it. I know you address such things in your book and when I have some extra cash I would like to read it. Until then I’m hoping you can give me a brief synopsis.
I go into this in quite a bit of detail in my book “Is There a God?” (available at www.ipibooks.com). I do not “believe” that the earth is billions of years old, but it is a fact that the physical evidence all points to this conclusion. A scientific conclusion does not amount to a belief. What I would say is that, based on the physical evidence, the earth appears to be about 4.5 billion years old. This does not eliminate the possibility that God created the earth with an appearance of age. Ever since the ancient Jews, there have been a number of views of Genesis 1. Philo, a Jewish scholar of the first century assumed that the days of Genesis 1 were symbolic of periods of time over which God worked. Origen and Augustine, arguably the most influential theologians in the early Christian church agreed that the “days” were not literal 24-hour periods. By the way, others did interpret the days literally, so I do not want to create the false impression that this was the only view.
The word yom does have the common literal meaning day, but I am sure you are aware that the English word day can be taken figuratively. “In our day, things were better.” When we say this, we mean that in our period of time not in any particular 24 hour period. The word day does not mean 24 hours, although it can mean that. The same is true of the word yom. Depending on the context, it is translated a number of different ways. Even when it is translated as “day” in English, the meaning, like in the sentence above, is not a literal twenty-four hours. Here is a list of the ways yom is translated in the NIV:
1181 times as “day” (but with several different connotations
of the word, some not being literal)
67 times as “time”
30 times as “today”
18 times as “forever”
10 times as “continuously”
6 times as “age”
4 times as “life”
2 times as “perpetually”
One could write English sentences using the English word day with each of the connotations above.
As for Exodus 20:9-11, as with any writing, the meaning of a word is determined by the context. As far as I know, there is no one who interprets Exodus 20:9-11 other than to imply six literal days. The context of Exodus 20 is quite different from Genesis 1, as I am sure you can recognize. When we first realize that words in Greek, Hebrew and English have a wide range of meaning, it can be disconcerting, but once we get used to it, the actual meaning of words in context is generally rather easily decided. It just so happens that Genesis 1 is one of those rare exceptions in which honest, sincere, Bible-believing scholarly people differ as to the meaning, with the interpretation being affected to some extent by the preconceptions of those who study the passage.