Dictionary Definition of yôm
The Hebrew word yom is used in many places throughout the Old Testament, including in Genesis 1. Vines Complete Expository Dictionary has this to say about the word (bold is not in the original).
Yôm has several meanings. The word represents the period of “daylight” as contrasted with nighttime: “While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease” (Gen. 8:22). The word denotes a period of twenty-four hours: “And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day . . .” (Gen. 39:10). Yôm can also signify a period of time of unspecified duration: “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made” (Gen. 2:3). In this verse, “day” refers to the entire period of God’s resting from creating this universe. This “day” began after He completed the creative acts of the seventh day and extends at least to the return of Christ. Compare Gen. 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day [ bᵉyôm ] that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. . . .” Here “day” refers to the entire period envisioned in the first six days of creation. Another nuance appears in Gen. 2:17, where the word represents a “point of time” or “a moment”: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day [ bᵉyôm ] that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” … The first biblical occurrence of yôm is found in Gen. 1:5: “And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.” The second use introduces one of the most debated occurrences of the word, which is the duration of the days of creation. Perhaps the most frequently heard explanations are that these “days” are 24 hours long, indefinitely long (i.e., eras of time), or logical rather than temporal categories (i.e., they depict theological categories rather than periods of time)…
Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Word Study) (pp. 54-55). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Yôm as a Long Period of Time
Other Biblical Passages that Support Yôm as a Long Period of Time
- In Daniel 8:26, most major translations (ESV, ASV, NASB, CEV, TNIV) translate the Hebrew word הָעֶ֧רֶב as evenings (note the plural) (Strongs 6153) and וְהַבֹּ֛קֶר as mornings (note the plural) (Strongs 1242). These are the same word roots (see Strongs numbers) that are used in describing the evenings and mornings in Genesis 1. The fact that the words can be used for evenings and mornings (versus evening and morning) would support the interpretation of many evenings and mornings for each period of Yôm.
- Another place where morning and evening are used figuratively is in Psalm 30:5 (ESV).
- For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
- A passage where time is declared to be different in God’s eyes versus man’s understanding is Psalm 90:4-6 (ESV). Note the mention of both years and evenings and mornings in the same context.
- For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning: in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.
- This sentiment of Psalm 90 is echoed in 2 Peter 3:8 (ESV)
- But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
The Evidence of the Ancient Descriptions of Modern Scientific Discoveries
Apart from the Biblical scholarship that would suggest that yôm could be translated as a period of time, now we also have an additional argument from science. The argument is presented succinctly on the first page of this website in the section “Why is This a Big Deal?”. To elaborate on this argument a bit here, we should point out how exceptional it is that the details of a document that was written over 3000 years ago would align with the sequence of events that science is discovering concerning our universe and earth’s formation. Most cultures have their origin stories. But none of them comes close to the story that science is now telling about the history of the earth. And that would make sense if all of these other origin stories were made up from the imagination of people trying to explain their origins. What else would we expect? But for an ancient document to get each of 6 sets of events in the correct order as now explained by science is extremely improbable from a statistical standpoint. This seems to be another of the acts of grace of our Creator, to make it very clear concerning the validity of the Bible.