Question: "What is the Day-Age Theory?"
Answer: Although Moses wrote the book of Genesis approximately 3,400 years ago, it has been in just the last few centuries when serious debate over the nature and date of the original creation has developed. Consequently, there are now several creation theories, one of which is the Day-Age Theory. In short, this is a belief that the “days” spoken of in the first chapter of Genesis are sequential periods and not literal, 24-hour days. Each day, therefore, is thought to represent a much longer, albeit undefined, period of time, such as a million or more years. This is rooted in an effort to harmonize our understanding of the Bible with what appears to be overwhelming scientific evidence of an “old” earth.
Science has a habit of disproving interpretations of certain views, but it has never contradicted anything explicitly taught in the Bible. God’s Word is our supreme source of truth, but that does not mean everything it says is easy to understand or immediately clear (see 2 Peter 3:16; Colossians 1:26). It’s important to point out that Day-Age theorists are not attempting to remove God. Some alternative views, such as atheistic evolution, do just that. Rather, Day-Age Theory seeks to harmonize faithful interpretation of the Bible with a modern understanding of science.
Needless to say, any approach to interpreting the Bible should be handled with caution. One consequence of questioning the fundamental truths of the book of Genesis is the temptation to re-interpret any doctrine that does not agree with our preferences. However, preference is not a valid reason to reject the inerrancy of the Word of God. At the same time, suggesting a different interpretation is not at all the same thing as questioning the inspiration of the Bible.
Adherents of Day-Age Theory often point out that the word used for “day” in Hebrew, yom, sometimes refers to a period of time that is longer than a literal, 24-hour day. In fact, this happens in the creation account itself, in Genesis 2:4. There, the entire explanation is described as “the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven” (NASB). This is also seen in God’s warning in Genesis 2:17, where He warns that man will die “in the day” he eats from the tree.
Each day in the first chapter of Genesis is described as having an evening and a morning. Indeed, these two words—evening and morning—are used extensively in the Old Testament, and in most circumstances they refer to normal days. Speaking from the perspective of language, opponents of Day-Age Theory note that, if Moses wanted to convey a longer period of time, he could have used clear terms such as olam or qedem in place of yom. Day-Age proponents, in response, note that this does not change the possibility of a symbolic use of yom, especially since it’s clearly used symbolically in those very passages by Moses.
Another reason given for a metaphorical “day” as postulated by the Day-Age Theory is that the sun was not created until day four. Given this, how could there have been conventional, 24-hour days (i.e., day and night) before day four? Opponents of the Day-Age Theory would contend that, technically, the sun itself is not needed for a day and night. What is needed is light and a rotating Earth. The “evening and morning” indicates a rotating Earth, and, as far as light is concerned, God’s very first command was “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:3), prior to there being a sun. Separating the light from the darkness was the very first thing our Creator did.
A major sticking point for some Christians about Day-Age Theory is the implication that disease, suffering, and death must have existed before the fall of man. Careless application of Day-Age Theory could possibly contradict the concept of the fall of man and, by extension, the doctrine of the atonement. Scripture clearly indicates that “sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin” (Romans 5:12). Day-Age creationists would agree there was no human death prior to Adam’s sin. They note the primary effects of the fall were relational and spiritual and did not result in immediate fatality to Adam or Eve. In other words, it is entirely reasonable to suggest that some kind of death existed in the world—but not necessarily in man—prior to the fall.
As with many such issues, the Bible is not especially clear about the exact nature of creation. There are arguments and evidence for many different views, though not all of these are truly biblical. The Day-Age Theory, in and of itself, is like any other possible interpretation of the Word of God. It has strengths and weaknesses and should be treated with cautious deliberation.