According to a well-known biblical tale from Genesis told to me when I was a child, God created the world in six days, then took a rest on the seventh day. Now that I am an adult, I can't help wondering what this six days even means. What does 'time' mean to someone like God? How long were those six days if there is no way for anyone to measure it? Also, time is defined in terms of physical processes which are regular, e.g. the current definition physicists use is

The second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom.

It seems to me that time not only can't be measured, but has no meaning before the universe was created. How should we interpret this tale of creation?

  • 4
    God must, of necessity, condescend to our timeliness in order to communicate with us, and we should not assume that this is somehow impossible for the Creator of time. Also, this question is probably not appropriate for this forum. There are Christians who will answer quite differently on this topic. It is also a truth question, which is also not appropriate here. If you restricted the question to a particular tradition, perhaps Young Earth Creationists, and ask how they explain this, that would be better.
    – Narnian
    Jul 8, 2013 at 12:03
  • I'm not looking for truth with a capital T here. Being raised a Catholic, I just never received an answer that made any sense. I was hoping people skilled in theology can answer what I perceive to be a legitimate question and give their views on how this tale is to be interpreted. Jul 8, 2013 at 12:11
  • I completely understand, and that is why the question needs to be reworded.
    – Narnian
    Jul 8, 2013 at 12:16
  • I like the answers to this question. Early man would not have been able to comprehend billions of years, so they may have just tried to explain it as best as they could (in days). Jul 8, 2013 at 13:13
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    @user1477388 Hinduism accounts for much longer than 4 billion years. That's also the oldest religion. Thinking the Earth is very, very ancient is not a new thing. Scientifically measuring things to deduce an age for the Earth is, but that is an entirely different and unrelated thing.
    – user3961
    Jul 16, 2014 at 18:25

2 Answers 2


Accepting the creation tale as literal 6 days, here are some facts.

The Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, meaning that months are based on lunar months, but years are based on solar years. A day in Hebrew calendar is counted from sunset to the next sunset. Sunset is the starting point for a new day but night time is considered as the transition period between the two days , therefore, morning (sunrise) is mostly called as the start of a day.

Genesis 1:1-5 (NIV) In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

As we see in Genesis 1:3-5, light was the first thing that God created, which means that the sun was the first creation. This made it possible to start counting the time based on the sun. That is why the creation of the sun (light) was marked as the first day, and literally, the first day on this earth. Here we have to remember that the earth itself was already there but it was without light. The creation of light could also mean that the sun was already there but was not visible from earth. Therefore, the moment there was light on the surface of the earth, the counting of time based on the sun was also started. On the first day, the sun might not be clearly visible yet from the earth but the sunlight could penetrate the atmosphere and it was possible to start counting the days based on evening and morning. God is not controlled by any time measurement but since the book of Genesis was written for human and since it is about the creation of this world, it is more likely that human time measurement was used for narrating the creation story.

Genesis 1:31 (NIV) God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

After creating the sun, God continued to create land, animals and lastly, human. God finished his work on the sixth day, which is here again counted based on evening and morning.

If we take the scripture literally as it is, then we can say that God created the world in six days.

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    the sun was not created until later in the creation week
    – warren
    Jul 8, 2013 at 14:54
  • IMO, it sounds to me more like a bunch of epicycles
    – Greg Bala
    Jul 8, 2013 at 18:14
  • @warren That depends on how you interpret it. Though "greater light" is mentioned on the fourth day, I cannot simply assert that it was the sun. What if the sun was created on the first day or prior to it? The fourth day simply was a greater light, which could mean that the sun became clearly visible on the fourth day, though it was already there.
    – Mawia
    Jul 9, 2013 at 4:22
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    @Mawia - the greater light was created to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night. What other light could it be referring to?
    – warren
    Jul 9, 2013 at 13:44

"How should we interpret this tale of creation?"

THIS WAY (Catholic perspective) : God created the world. It was a purposeful creation, both the world and Man. Not an accident. The world and man has a purpose in the eyes of god. That is the essential message.

Do not look to the Genesis for historical events. These are myths of profound truth. They are meant to tell us essential information about US, about man. It is inconsequential what the "day" actually means. On the other hand, it is important that world was created in logical manner and genesis could very well be a figurative description of the actual development of the cosmos. Still, was day = 1 day, a millennia or a fraction of a second, not really what Genesis's account of creation is concerned with

  • Without sourcing your directives, this comes off as presenting personal opinion as truth. There are a great many Christians who DO "look to the Genesis for historical events" [sic], Jesus being one of them
    – warren
    Jul 8, 2013 at 14:55
  • some catholics would agree with the initial statement you made. However, no one disagrees that Genesis is not an account of Jesus: as a man, He did not come to be for another 4000 years. However, I have heard NO ONE ever claim that the gospels are "NOT historical accounts" - that is precisely what they are.
    – warren
    Jul 8, 2013 at 16:31
  • @warren to clarify - what I said before was misleading as I was not choosing my words carefully so previous comments deleted. So, this was a catholic perspective as I understand it, not my opinion. Genesis is not history or historical but mythical. Gospels, as not "history" in strict sense but are a historical accounts of historical event but with primary purpose of proclaiming the good news so are not "history", in the sense that they may not, for example, show accurate chronology.
    – Greg Bala
    Jul 8, 2013 at 18:09
  • that's still not a universal catholic perspective: the synoptic gospels (at the least), along with Genesis through Esther, Job, Acts, and others are all presented as historical narrative. Deciding they are not merely because it doesn't fit with a preconceived notion is dangerous.
    – warren
    Jul 8, 2013 at 18:53
  • @warren well, there are few "universal" catholic perspectives. Catechism speaks remarkable little on such questions. However, if you believe that the Pope speaks for the Catholic Church, then JPII very clearly look at genesis as mythical. "Deciding they are not merely because it doesn't fit with a preconceived notion is dangerous." - Agreed.
    – Greg Bala
    Jul 8, 2013 at 21:49

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