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The creation stories in Genesis

How long did creation take?

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Jews, conservative Christians, liberal Christians, Muslims, secularists and others are in general agreement with what the Bible says. However, they tend to disagree strongly about much of what the Bible means. Even within these groups, there is often little consensus over the interpretation of its text. These disagreements are particularly strong about origins -- of the Earth's life forms, the earth itself, and the rest of the universe.

Further complicating the topic of origins is that scientists have reached a near consensus that the universe started with a "big bang" approximately 14 billion years ago, and that the earth coalesced relatively recently -- about 4.5 billion years ago. Some Jews, Christians, and Muslims have difficulty harmonizing such an ancient Earth with the accounts of creation in Genesis, Exodus, and Job.

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There are many apparent references in the Bible to the creation process:

bullet The First Creation Story: In Genesis 1:1 to 2:3, the creation of:
bullet Light;

bullet The various species of plants, birds and other animals;

bullet The earth itself, composed of areas of land and water;

bullet The sun, moon and stars;

took six days. God is described as resting on the seventh day. The word translated as "day" is "yom" in Hebrew. It normally means a 24 hour day, but can also refer to an interval of indeterminate duration.

Various conservative religious groups and individuals have interpreted this passage in different ways. Some are quite creative:
bullet The six days covered six actual 24 hour time intervals for a total of 144 hours.

bullet Each "day" does not mean a 24 hour day. It can mean intervals lasting hundreds of millions of years.

bullet Creation took billions of years. However, God recreated a multi-media display of creation for the benefit of Moses, the author of Genesis. This show took six days of real time.

bullet The six days of creation each took a single 24 hour interval. However, one or more may have been separated from other days by a long interval of time.

bullet The "days" are of indeterminate length. They are to be interpreted like phases in a large construction project.

bullet The "days" are not human days. They are God's workdays which can be much longer.

bullet God took six normal days to verbally order the universe into existence. But it took much longer for God's orders to be implemented.

bullet God took billions of years to create the original earth, and to allow all of the species of life to evolve. In an operation similar to that of a editor program's cut and paste function, God copied that original earth and created a duplicate copy. The latter is the earth that we live on. The paste operation to took six days to complete. But it bears evidence of the other earth's multi-billion dollar history.

Various groups and individuals hold onto their beliefs with fierce determination, being firmly convinced that their view is the only correct one and that all others are in error. There appears to be no way to resolve this lack of consensus.

bulletThe Second Creation Story; Genesis 2:4 to 2:25: This is a different creation story concerning earth's life forms. There are some apparent inconsistencies between the two accounts.

Genesis 2:4 has been variously translated to imply that creation either took one day, or took a longer interval. Among those translations that imply a single-day creation are:
bullet The 21st Century King James Version: "These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens."

bullet Amplified Bible: "This is the history of the heavens and of the earth when they were created. In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens."

bullet English Standard Version: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

bullet King James Version (KJV): Identical to the 21st Century KJV.

bullet New American Standard Bible: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made earth and heaven.
bullet New King James Version: "This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens."

bullet Young's Literal Translation: "These [are] births of the heavens and of the earth in their being prepared, in the day of Jehovah God's making earth and heavens;"

Among those translations that imply a longer creation interval are:
bullet Holman Christian Standard Bible: "These are the records of the heavens and the earth, concerning their creation at the time  that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens.

bullet The Jerusalem Bible: "Such were the origins of heavens and earth when they were created."

bullet Living Bible: "Here is a summary of the events in the creation of the heavens and the earth which the Lord God has made."

bullet Modern Language: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth in their creation."

bullet New Century Version: "This is the story of the creation of the sky and the earth."

bullet New International Version: "This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created."

bullet New Living Translation: "This is the account of the creation of the heavens and the earth."

bullet New World Translation: "This is a history of  the heavens and the earth in the time of their being created.

bullet Revised Standard Version: "These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created."

bullet Exodus 20:11 and 31:17: Creation is described as taking six days.

bullet Job 38:4 to 38:7 The creation of the earth is described as occurring on a single morning "when the morning stars sang together."

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Gary Locklair, "Doctrine of Creation," 2004-JAN, at:
  2. David Beck, "The Bible: A true and accurate account of creation? Summary," Coalition for Excellence in Science and Math Education, 1998-APR-13, at:
  3. Tom Harpur, "Creationist arguments are damaging to Christianity," The Toronto Star, 2005-FEB-19, Page L11.
  4. H.C. Kee, et al, "The Cambridge Companion to the Bible", Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, (1997), Page 45 to 46

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Copyright 2005 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-FEB-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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