Day One: Three Studies on the Biblical Usage of the Word and Concept of Day

By the Rev. Peter J. Wallace

January 27, 2001 (revised February 23, 2001)

1. The First Day and the Eighth Day

In a previous essay I have suggested that we need to understand the relationship between archetype and ectype ("The Archetypal Week"), original and derivative, pattern and image. Solomon's temple was a picture of the heavenly temple; David's throne was a picture of the heavenly throne; Moses' sacrifices were a picture of the heavenly sacrifice. And the earthly week is a picture of the heavenly week.

How long is the heavenly week? The silence of Gen 2:3 regarding the evening and morning of the seventh day is not accidental. The seventh day of creation is God's rest (Heb 4:3-4). Adam was called to enter that rest, but failed. Therefore there must be another Day (cf. Heb 3:13; 4:6-8). In other words, there must be an eighth day.

Circumcision, as the sign of entrance into God's rest, was performed on the eighth day. That was not an accident either. Why did God command circumcision on the eighth day? Seven is so frequently the "number of perfection," why not the seventh day? God entered his rest on the seventh day and man is commanded to rest on the seventh day, so it would seem obvious that circumcision should be on the seventh day! But man cannot enter God's rest on the seventh day.

The use of numbers in Genesis is very intentional. God commands circumcision on the eighth day as a sign that there must be another day in order for man to enter God's rest. Genesis 17 opens with the promise that God has made Abraham a father of nations (v5). In other words, the promise of the Seed of the Woman has become the promise of the Seed of Abraham. Likewise, God promises to Abraham that he will give the land of Canaan to his Seed as an everlasting possession. In other words, the promised Land is the place where man will finally enter God's rest (indeed, Deuteronomy 12:9-10 refers to the land as "the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you"). As the sign of this covenant, God demands that every male child must be circumcised on the eighth day. The sign of the promise of entering God's rest is sealed on the eighth day. In Adam, man failed to enter God's seventh-day rest. Therefore there must be another day.

There is a particular symbolism associated with the eighth day in Scripture. It starts with circumcision: Abraham and his descendents are commanded to administer the sign of the covenant on the eighth day after their sons are born. Entrance into covenant with God cannot happen on the seventh day. The blood of the covenant must be shed on the eighth day. The sacrificial system of the OT provides the same pattern.

Exodus 22:30 insists that the firstborn of the animals must be sacrificed to God on the eighth day after they are born. (Cf. Lev. 22:27)

Leviticus 8-9 sets forth the procedure for priestly consecration. They were to stay at the door of the tabernacle of meeting for seven days and seven nights, offering sacrifices for themselves. Only on the eighth day could the priests offer sacrifices for the people. Only on the eighth day could they enter the service of the tabernacle!

In the cleansing of lepers and other unclean persons, in Leviticus 14-15, (cf. Num 6) it was only on the eighth day that they could return to the camp. On the eighth day the blood of the sacrifice would restore them to fellowship.

In the feasts of Israel there is a similar emphasis on the day after the seventh day. The feast of Pentecost was always held on the day after the Sabbath (Sunday); Likewise the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated for seven days, with holy convocations held on the first day and the eighth day. As Leviticus 23:39 puts it:

"Also on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the fruit of the land, you shall keep the feast of the LORD for seven days; on the first day there shall be a sabbath-rest, and on the eighth day a sabbath-rest."

In all of these feasts, the focus is on entrance into God's rest. Passover only takes you to the seventh day-it is the feast of anticipation. After all, the Passover was instituted with Israel still in bondage. Therefore there is no eighth day in the feast of Passover. That eighth day is found in Pentecost, the feast of firstfruits. You counted Seven Sabbaths from Passover, and then had a holy convocation on the day AFTER the seventh Sabbath (the Jubilee year operated in the same way-Leviticus 25). This feast celebrated the fact that God had brought Israel into his rest (at least symbolically). Pentecost was to celebrate the firstfruits of the harvest, because God has brought his Israel out of bondage into rest. Pentecost therefore is the fulfillment of Passover. Tabernacles also focuses on the eighth day, because it is the celebration of the harvest: God has accomplished what he promised. Nehemiah 8:18 records the eighth-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles after the Restoration-the celebration of God's provision of rest.

Like the consecration of the priests, the dedication of Solomon's temple is completed in seven days, and 2 Chron. 7:9 records that they held a sacred assembly on the 8th day. (See also Ezekiel 43:27).

Consecration of priests, circumcision of sons, and entrance into God's rest is all associated with the eighth day. This particular grouping is not surprising, given God's identification of Israel as his "firstborn son" (Ex. 4:22) and a "kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6).

This is why the children of Israel had to be circumcised before they could take possession of the promised Land (Joshua 5:2-9). In order to enter God's rest, they must be circumcised. This was why circumcision was commanded to be done on the eighth day. And while the Lord gave Israel rest in a temporary sense through Joshua (Joshua 11:23; 14:15; 21:44), Hebrews 4:8 makes it clear that "if Joshua had given them rest, then [God] would not afterward have spoken of another day."

Psalm 95 declares that this Day ("Today") is the day of salvation. The "day of trial in the wilderness" participated in Adam's rebellion. The wilderness generation refused to obey God, therefore God swore in His wrath, "They shall not enter My rest" (Psalm 95:7-11). In the land, Israel had a typological rest. But the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews recognized that the proclamation of "Today" was a proclamation of another Day. This is obviously not a literal day, but is an eschatological Day. Indeed, this is the Day of Salvation, the Day of the Lord, in which God's people will finally and fully enter His rest.

And this, as the sacrament of circumcision suggested, can only happen if there is an eighth day, a new "Day One" of a New Creation. This is supported by the Gospel accounts which record the resurrection of Christ as occurring on the first day of the week.

Jesus assumed that the Jews understood that God's seventh day has continued to the present in his defense of his own labors on the Sabbath in John 5. When he is accused of breaking the Sabbath by healing a man, Jesus says, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working" (John 5:17). Here Jesus assumes that the Jews understand that God has been resting since the completion of the creation. But if God does not break his sabbath-rest by working through providence, then neither does Jesus break the Sabbath by healing this man.

John's gospel highlights the importance of the first/eighth day of the week. In the Gospel of John, every event occurs on some feast or Sabbath. John 20 is no exception. John 20:1 records that Mary came to the tomb on the first day of the week. Then in verse 19 he mentions that Jesus appeared to the disciples "the same day at evening" and in case you didn't remember what day that was, he adds, "being the first day of the week." Finally, to put the icing on the cake, in verse 26, it says that "after eight days" Jesus appeared to the disciples again-this time with Thomas present. John does not say that Jesus appeared after seven days, but after eight days. Since John connects every major event in his Gospel with some feast or sabbath, the reader familiar with the liturgical calendar of Israel should instantly see that John is connecting the resurrection of Christ with the eighth day holy convocations of Israel. It would be inappropriate (and indeed, absurd) to connect Jesus with the seventh day after his resurrection. As the one who himself was circumcised-in the language of the apostle Paul (Colossians 2:11)-Jesus has now been raised from the dead on the first day of the New Creation week, which becomes the "another day" of Hebrews 4:8. Because he has been raised from the dead and has entered God's rest, there is now another day. There is, as it were, an eighth day in which man may enter God's seventh-day rest.

Incidentally, the language of the eighth day was a commonplace for the early Fathers. Irenaeus, Barnabas, Hilary of Poitiers, and Augustine of Hippo all use this image of the eighth day in order to explain the transition from the seventh-day Sabbath to the eighth-day Lord's Day (see chapter 14 of Jean Danielou, The Theology of Jewish Christianity. London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1964). Perhaps it is not surprising that those who were more familiar with the Old Testament would see these connections more quickly than most modern Christians.

Luke 23:56 even records that the disciples of Christ "rested on the Sabbath according to the commandment." Why does Luke mention this? Why does he emphasize the fact that while Jesus was in the tomb, the disciples were resting on the Sabbath? Is it not in order to heighten the contrast between the seventh day of the old creation week and the first day of the New Creation week? The very next verse emphasizes that it was on the first day of the week that Jesus rose from the dead. Indeed all of the resurrection appearances of Jesus in Luke's gospel occur on that same first day of the week.

There is another aspect to the Sabbath that may also help us understand what is going on. Moses taught us that the Sabbath is a day of rest and worship. The Westminster Divines spoke of "duties of necessity and mercy" as deeds that are required on the Sabbath. We often speak of them as exceptions--as things almost questionable. Perhaps there is a better phrase than "duties of necessity and mercy." Perhaps we should say that on the Sabbath we are required to give rest to others (Deuteronomy 5:12-15 brings this out, and Deuteronomy 15-16 expounds this in Moses' exposition of the fourth commandment).

What does this have to do with the days of creation? Turn to the Gospels and watch how Jesus treats the Sabbath. People do not usually come to him on the Sabbath and ask him to heal--they understand that they are not to require someone else to work on the Sabbath. But Jesus gives rest to others, healing them as a sign of the healing virtue that will flow from his cross (Matthew 12:12). This is intimately bound up (especially in the synoptic gospels) with the death of Christ. Jesus' greatest work is performed on the Sabbath--the Seventh Day. For on that last Sabbath--that last Seventh Day--Jesus does not rest, but gives rest to his people by defeating the power of sin, death and the devil. This is why all the Gospel writers insist that Jesus rises on the day after the Sabbath. Again, this is not accidental. It wasn't a "coincidence" that Jesus rose on the eighth day (the first day of the week). The first day of the week is the beginning of the new creation. The old creation has ended. The first creation week is over, and now the Second Adam has brought his people into God's rest.

God entered his rest on the Seventh Day of creation; but for man, there must be another day. The Seventh Day offered hope before Christ came. The Seventh Day had not ended--therefore it was still possible for man to enter God's rest. Therefore the Sabbath pointed Israel back to creation, and forward to the new creation. Now that Christ has come, the Sabbath (as the Seventh Day) is irrelevant (Col 2:16). We do not celebrate the seventh day because the Eighth Day has dawned; the first day of the new creation, in which man now enters God's rest (Heb 4).

The implication should be clear. If the seventh day is not 24 hours, on what ground can we affirm that the first six are? Is the heavenly temple made out of stone, gold, and precious wood? Is the heavenly sacrifice constituted of the blood of bulls and goats? No more is the heavenly week to be seen in terms of earthly time.

I believe that the 24-hour folks are correct to draw our attention to the phrase "evening and morning, an nth day". They simply neglect the absence of that phrase for the seventh day--assuming that this particular silence of Scripture is irrelevant. Hence they wind up with a truncated understanding of creation and neglect the focus on the new creation that can be found even in the first two chapters of Genesis. A more comprehensive biblical theology of creation/new creation is desperately needed.

2. Day and Light

The definition of "day" in Gen 1-2 has primarily to do with light and says nothing regarding the duration of those days. There is no indication that time is a major factor in the creation account.

In Genesis 1:3 God says "Let there be light." In verse 5, "God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night." Hence each day of creation is a manifestation of light-a revelation of the glory of God as he speaks forth his Word and brings order out of chaos.

This understanding of the relationship between "day" and "light" is continued throughout Scripture. Several passages echo the language of Genesis 1:5. In no case do they focus on the duration of "day" but upon the connection with light.

Psalm 74:16-"The day is yours, the night also is yours;

You have prepared the light and the sun"

Psalm 139:11-12-"If I say, 'Surely the darkness shall fall on me,'

Even the night shall be light about me.

Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from you,

but the night shines as the day;

The darkness and the light are both alike."

2 Corinthians 4:6-"For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."

John 1:5-"And the light shines in the darkness..."

John 9:4-5--"I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

1 Thessalonians 5:5-"You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness."

So "light" and "day" are intimately associated in Scripture. Certainly in Genesis 1:3-5 there is a much stronger association between light and day, than between day and time. Given the way in which the Psalms, our Lord, and his apostles interpret Gen 1:5, I would have to say that the "light" association is exclusively what they think of. I cannot find a single instance of reflection on Gen 1:3-5 that takes a different angle.

And notice how the word "day" is used in these passages. In several cases, "Day" refers to an eschatological day, while none refer to "ordinary days."

Hence, there is some reason to see the six Days of creation as the six manifestations of God's own Glory/Light. Our glory/light (darkened by sin, but now recreated in Christ who is the Light of the world) is to be manifested in the same pattern of six plus one. The analogy works regardless of differences between the creation Days and our days--just like the analogy works between the earthly temple and the Heavenly Temple despite the radical difference between them.

3. "Day One"

It has frequently been said that the word "yom" with the ordinal is always used to refer to a literal 24-hour day. This is not actually the case. First of all, there are actually three different grammatical formations of numbers with the word "day" in Genesis 1. Unless we wish to say that these are random differences with no meaning, we must understand that the author is using these differences intentionally.

The first formation is found for "day one" (yom echad), in which the word day is used with a numeral. Throughout Scripture the phrase "yom echad" frequently refers to non-literal days. There are 26 instances of the phrase "yom echad." In two cases it is properly translated "the same day" (Leviticus 22:18; 1 Samuel 2:34; ), in one case it refers to "the day before" (1 Samuel 9:15), in one case it is best translated "each day" (Nehemiah 5:18), and in twelve cases it plainly refers to a single 24-hour day (Numbers 11:19; 1 Kings 5:2; 2 Chronicles 28:6; Ezra 3:6; 10:13, 16, 17; Nehemiah 8:2; Esther 3:13, 8:12; Jonah 3:4; Haggai 1:1), many of which refer to "the first day of the X month," a formula not found in the book of Genesis. There are nine uses, however, that appear more figurative:

1). In Genesis 27:44-45 Rebekah asks Jacob, "Why should I be bereaved also of you both in one day [yom echad]?" This is a figure of speech. If Esau had killed Jacob, it is highly unlikely that Esau would have been captured and killed on the same day.

2). In Genesis 33:13 Jacob insists that if the herds "are driven hard just one day, all the animals will die." One day of exertion is not likely to kill every single animal. Jacob is using a figure of speech.

3). Likewise, David says in 1 Samuel 27:1, "Now I shall perish someday [yom echad] by the hand of Saul." This also is not a reference to a 24-hour day, but is a figure of speech.

4-7). Isaiah 9:14 states that "The LORD will cut off head and tail from Israel, palm branch and bulrush in one day [yom echad]." (Cf. Isaiah 10:17; 47:9; 66:8) Each of these passages uses the term "yom echad" to refer to climactic judgment or blessing, but the events of that "one day" are the very events of "the Day of the Lord," suggesting that "one day" is being used in a similar fashion.

8-9). Zechariah 3:9-10 shows the usage of this figure of speech: "And I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day [yom echad]. In that day," says the Lord of hosts, "Everyone will invite his neighbor under his vine and under his fig tree." Here the language of "day one" is used to refer to the Day of the Lord. Zechariah uses the same language in 14:6-9-"It shall come to pass in that day that there will be no light; the lights will diminish. It shall be one day which is known to the LORD-neither day nor night. But at evening time it shall happen that it will be light. And in that day it shall be that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur. And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be-'The LORD is one,' and His name one." Which is it? Is it one day, or is it "both summer and winter"? This "one day" occurs throughout both summer and winter. The term yom echad is being used in a figurative sense.

Hence when we examine the way in which "yom echad" functions in Genesis 1, we must recognize that "one day" has a range of meaning which corresponds very closely the similar range of English usage.

The second grammatical formation is found for days 2-5, in which the word day [yom] is used with an ordinal but without the article ["a second day...a third day...a fourth day...a fifth day"]. The lack of the definite article suggests that the language of "a second day" means that the second day is a second day like the first. "Day One" is a day unlike all other days-except the six that follow it. It is ironic that the modern 24-hour exponents wish to make the usage of days two through six determinative for day one, because the text sets forth day one as the pattern for days two through five.

The final formation is found in days 6-7 in which the word day [yom] is used with an ordinal with the article ["the sixth day...the seventh day"]. The fact that days six and seven receive a different construction than days two through five indicates that the author wishes us to understand that something important and unique is being described here. The sixth day and the seventh day are special. They mark the conclusion of creation and blessing of man (the sixth day) and the entrance of God into his rest and blessing of the sabbath (the seventh day).

While most constructions of the word "day" together with the ordinal refer to 24-hour days, that is because most of these usages refer to the X day of the Y month, or to a certain number of days. Neither of these constructions are present in Genesis 1. But for the sake of those who wish for an example of a figurative usage of "day" with an ordinal, Hosea 6:1-2 provides a clear instance. Hosea calls out to Israel, "Come, let us return to the LORD. He has torn us in pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence." While this plainly points us to the death and resurrection of Christ, the immediate context makes it clear that Hosea is speaking to Israel-not Judah. He is speaking to sinners-and our Lord Jesus Christ never sinned. (For other examples, see Daniel 12:11-13 and the very literal sounding description of the required sacrifices at the non-literal temple in Ezekiel 43:22-27).

Another example of the word "day" with an ordinal that does not refer to a 24-hour day is Genesis 2:2-3. The seventh day is not a 24-hour day. As Hebrews 4:3-8 says:

"For we who have believed enter that rest, as he has said, "As I swore in my wrath, They shall never enter my rest,'" although his works were finished from the foundation of the world. For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way, "And God rested on the seventh day from all his works." And again in this place he said, "They shall never enter my rest." Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he sets a certain day, "Today," saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, "Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day."

God's seventh day rest has not ended. Therefore the seventh day is not a 24-hour day. Verse 4 cites Genesis 2:2 and declares that the rest referred to in Psalm 95 is the same as that which God entered on the seventh day. If Scripture is the proper interpreter of Scripture, then we must affirm that the seventh day has lasted since the end of creation.

Therefore since "day one" is frequently used in Scripture to refer to non-literal days, and since the seventh day is explicitly affirmed to continue from the creation of the world, we may properly understand the days of creation to be non-literal days.