The lyrics of a popular song remind us, “What a difference a day makes—24 little hours.” Nowhere is this observation more profoundly true than in our proper understanding of the Hebrew word for day (yom) which occurs over 2,000 times in the Old Testament. Like our English word “day,” yom can be used to mean an ordinary 24-hour day or an indefinite period of time (such as “in the day of Abraham”). In both English and Hebrew, the intended meaning of “day” is generally obvious by the context in which it is used. For example, in over 100 instances where the phrase “evening and morning” accompany the word yom in the Old Testament (as it does in the days of Creation in Genesis), it always refers to an ordinary 24-hour day. Also, in all the places in Scripture where the word yom is preceded by a number (as it is in the days of Creation), it always means a 24-hour day. Despite these simple and quite obvious rules governing its use, interpretation of the Hebrew word yom in the Creation week of Genesis has become one of the most contested issues among professing Christians and Jews. How could this be, and is it really important?
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