The length of time represented by the ‘days’ of creation in Genesis has been a controversial subject among evangelicals for at least 150 years. During this time, ‘eisegesis has been as common as exegesis.’1 Some have examined the history of the interpretation of the ‘days’ of Genesis 1;2,3 others have studied the variety of definitions for the Hebrew word yôm, translated ‘day’.4,5 To avoid the trap of eisegesis, this study will present a semantic analysis of the word yôm in the Old Testament. However, before discussing the meaning of any single word, it is wise to understand the purpose behind the words which are used in the Bible, and specifically in Genesis 1.

I. The Bible and words

1. The Bible as communication
Why did the authors of the Bible write the specific words they did? The answer to this question reaches to the very nature and purpose of the Bible itself. Carl Henry, and most evangelicals, have observed that the purpose of the Bible is to communicate God’s message to mankind. This is accomplished by employing human language, comprised of words in a specific context, which is ‘serviceable as a means of God’s revelation to man and of man’s communication with God; it can and does convey an informed interpretation of divine reality.’6 John Feinberg says that for any possibility of accurate communication to take place, words, as a component of language, must contain extra-linguistic referents.7 These referents operate by tying language, which is a description of the perceived or actual reality, and the physical (or the spiritual) world together into a unified whole. Feinberg illustrates his point:

’For example, if meaning is determined in terms of use and convention alone without also some definite ontological tie to the world, then it would seem that if I want to warn my friend that he is about to be bitten by a snake, I can do so just as easily by saying, “It’s a beautiful day for a walk in the park!” (or even “Glippity glop is glipping!”) as I can by saying “Be careful! There is a snake near your foot!” However, this seems to leave open the possibility, ontologically speaking, that there actually might not be any snake nor any foot. My utterance might be nothing more than a reflection of what is going on in my mind, but not a reflection of what is happening in the world.’8

Another example of an extra-linguistic referent is the word ‘sunny’. This word denotes the physical reality of light and warmth coming from the sun; however, it can be used figuratively for an emotional light or warmth which exists in one’s personality (e.g. ‘You have a sunny disposition.’). When used in this context, however, it assumes knowledge of the physical reality of sunshine. It is this extra-linguistic factor which provides a means for checking whether the verbal statements are understood in the same manner in which the author intended.9 When God spoke, through the human author, He intended that the words used in the biblical text were meant to communicate something about the entire reality which surrounds us. The result is that mankind, created in His image, is able to comprehend what His words were meant to communicate. When approaching the Bible, the reader must comprehend the extra-linguistic referents so he can be reasonably certain that his understanding of God’s message is correct….

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