The creation week is the seven days described in the Bible during which God created the universe, including the day of rest. The length of time that people believe creation week to take is a good test of orthodoxy.
Length of the days
The Bible does not of course say that each day was 24 hours, because hours are a later human invention, but there is sufficient reason for believing the days to be normal days. These reasons include:
- The Hebrew word yom (day) must mean a normal day in the context of Genesis 1. In Genesis 1, each day is numbered and used with the words "morning and evening".
- Yom only ever means a normal day when used with a number.
- Yom only ever means a normal day when used with "morning".
- Yom only ever means a normal day when used with "evening".
- God used the seven days of creation as a basis for keeping the sabbath every seven days, in the Ten Commandments.
- Each day is defined as comprising a morning and an evening.
That the passage describes normal days is the consensus of the experts. Professor James Barr, former Oriel Professor of the interpretation of the Holy Scripture at Oxford University, wrote:
...probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1–11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that: ... creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience ... Or, to put it negatively, the apologetic arguments which suppose the "days" of creation to be long eras of time ... are not taken seriously by any such professors, as far as I know.
Narrative or poetry?
Since the rise in popularity of ideas that the Earth is much older than would be indicated by a straightforward reading of Genesis, many people have proposed that the creation account is poetry rather than literal history. However, there are a number of reasons to reject this proposal.
The quote from James Barr (above), points out that the language indicates that the writer intended it to be understood as actual history. The style of writing does not conform to the distinctive style of Hebrew poetry, which includes, among other characteristics, parallelism of thoughts. A statistical analysis of the verbs used in the Old Testament shows that percentage of preterite verbs in narrative accounts have a median value of 52%, whilst the percentage in poetic passages have a median value of 4%. The creation account in Genesis has a preterite verb percentage of about 65%.
The Sabbath Rest
The common literary feature of the creation week is that it is broken down into days. Different English translations have different styles in the English, but the main feature is the way the creation week is broken down into listed days. The following is the last verse in the first creation account.
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:1-3 (NIV)
This change in literary structure is considered important by some, who claim, despite the past tense, that it conveys an idea that is found in several other Bible stories: The seventh day is still continuing, it never ended.
Mankind was created in day six, likely the last thing created in that day. According to this idea, mankind then fell. God, in his mercy is at rest in this day of mankind's fall, but he is working doing one thing: Rescuing fallen mankind.
Despite the arguments listed above, some Christians try to harmonise the biblical account with naturalistic science, usually by interpreting the days to be long periods of time, figurative days, days of revelation of the account, or other explanations.
Some do this by claiming that there was a "gap" of millions or even billions of years between the events of Gen1:1 and Gen 1:2, into which the billions of years of naturalistic science and the fossils are placed. Others do this by reference to Theistic evolution or Guided evolution.