Evening and Morning

When Genesis 1 describes each day of creation as evening and morning, does this restrict the interpretation of “day” to a calendar day? Or could it rule out this interpretation?

“And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.” In the last post, I analyzed the word used for “day” and found that it does not necessarily indicate a 24-hour time period. However, only in a 24-hour period is there a literal evening and a literal morning. Therefore, it seems that the most plausible interpretation of this sentence is that it describes a 24-hour day, defined as one evening and one morning.

crescent earth

Earth as seen from Apollo 11, showing both night and day

But there is more to it than this. We must consider whether a day defined as one evening and one morning is consistent with what the Bible says God did on those days. As the earth spins on its axis, part of the earth is dark while the other part is light. As a result, morning on one side of the earth is evening on the other side. (It may argued that on the first three days, the earth was lit by a light that did not emanate from a particular source and that, as a result, the entire earth may have experienced morning and evening together. However, this argument cannot apply to day 4 and beyond, when the sun was put in the sky for the purpose of marking days. The earth clearly was lit by the sun on days 4, 5, and 6.)

So if we must stick with the interpretation that God created for a 24-hour period and that this period included first evening and then morning, then it follows that God could only have created across a relatively narrow range of longitudes. If he had simultaneously created on the other side of the earth, then morning would have preceded evening for that day. On a different part of the earth, the day would have encompassed part of a morning, then the evening, then another part of a morning. The same 24-hour period cannot generically be described as evening and then morning for the entire world.

Now the scripture does not say, “There was evening and then there was morning.” It only says, “And there was evening, and there was morning.” That is, it does not explicitly say that the evening preceded the morning on each day. However, using this phrase as evidence for 24-hour creation days requires the interpretation that a day is defined as evening and morning. A period of time that encompasses parts of two evenings or parts of two mornings does not fit this definition, and so it follows that the sentence “And there was evening, and there was morning” cannot serve as proof that the creation periods were 24-hour days defined by evening and morning.

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License by Matt Shalvatis

Ephemeral grasses in the Sinai Desert

So what else could evening and morning possibly mean? Consider Psalm 90:5–6, which says, “Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.” In these verses, Moses speaks of the short lifespans of people, comparing them to grass that springs up and dies shortly afterward.

Although the ground in many climates has grass throughout the year, the ground in the Sinai Desert does not. In this area, rainfall during the winter and early spring produces short-lived grasses. These grasses wither and die during the hot summer season1. In this context, Moses’ analogy makes perfect sense. However, the grass does not literally sprout and then wither within a day. Moses uses the words “morning” and “evening” in a figurative sense to refer to the beginning and ending of the life of the grass. We see, then, that there is precedent in scripture (and even in the writings of Moses) for the figurative use of the words “morning” and “evening.” Now don’t get me wrong; this certainly does not prove that these words should be interpreted figuratively when they appear in Genesis 1. However, it does make it plausible that these words could simply be used to indicate the end and the beginning of the respective periods of creation.

In summary, the words “evening” and “morning” in their context in the first chapter of Genesis do not present a particularly good case for either interpretation of the lengths of the creation days. On the one hand, their most straightforward and literal meaning implies that they describe the actual evening and morning of a single day. On the other hand, given the manner in which we know evening and morning to occur on the earth, it does not make logical sense for God to perform works of creation all around the earth in a 24-hour period that is defined by evening and morning. So we will continue studying the records of scripture and of nature to determine what else they have to say about the issue.

[1] Warner, T. T. (2004). Desert Meterology. Cambridge University Press.

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6 thoughts on “Evening and Morning

  1. I disagree with your statement, “if we must stick with the interpretation that God created for a 24-hour period and that this period included first evening and then morning, then it follows that God could only have created across a relatively narrow range of longitudes.”
    At any given time around 50% of the earth’s surface is in the light of the sun and similarly 50% is in night. That is not a “narrow” portion of the earth.
    Are you trying to say that God needed to be on Earth experiencing evening and then morning for the idea of a 24-hour/6day timeline to be accurate? Consider from our modern perspective an international air flight starting in New York, NY in the evening and heading West. Any passenger on that flight would be able to travel around the entire globe (if fuel wasn’t an issue) and experience evening and then morning within one 24-hour day. Then include in your thought process the words from Genesis 1:2 “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” I feel it’s reasonable from the Biblical text to imagine God moving around the globe crossing time zone after time zone in his creative path (not necessarily in a strait line) yet operating only one 24-hour day still within the evening to morning pattern.

    • I was not trying to say that 50% of the earth is a narrow range of latitudes. My point was that most of that 50% will experience parts of two days or parts of two nights in the following 24 hours. Only the portion where it is just getting dark will truly experience just a single night and day.

      I understand that you’re suggesting that God could have circled the globe, in a sense, as he created. Or that he focused his creative work, for instance, on the side of the earth facing the sun as the earth spun. This way, he could have created over a 24-hour period but at the same time of day all around the earth. I suppose this interpretation works, except that the 24-hour time period still does not correspond to a single evening and a single morning everywhere on the globe.

  2. In Jewish thought, the 24-hour day began in the evening and still does. Their Sabbath begins at sundown. So “evening and morning” is a set expression meaning a whole 24-hour day no matter how it’s sliced.
    Another thought on having “evening and morning” in the days before the sun was created: It’s possible that this expression is used proleptically in reference to those three days, similarly to how the name Bethel is used to designate a place where Abraham went in Genesis 12:8 many years before Jacob actually gave that name to that place. The writer, Moses, living after these things happened (both the creation and the stories of the patriarchs), could use these terms to describe things from his perspective even though those very words might not have been used at the actual time when those events took place.

    • I’m not exactly a Hebrew scholar, but I can’t seem to find the construction “evening and morning” used anywhere else in scripture to refer to a 24-hour day. What I do see used repeatedly for this purpose is “days and nights.” For example, during the flood it rained for forty days and forty nights. Moses was up on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. David was given directions by an Egyptian slave who had not eaten for three days and three nights. Job’s friends sat with him without speaking for seven days and seven nights. Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights. Yet nowhere does the Bible say that God created the earth in six days and six nights.

  3. However the creation story was related to the writer, generally assumed to be Moses, it came from God and since He did it without the help of humans, I suspect the “days” were exactly how long God wanted them to be.

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