What is a…

Today, in most all societies, days begin and end at midnight. This was not true of the Jews. Their days begin and end at sunset (Leviticus 23:32).

The Jewish day was originally divided into 3 parts—evening and morning and noon (Psalm 55:17).

“The heat of the day” (1 Samuel 11:11; Neh. 7:3) was at our 9 o’clock.

“The cool of the day” just before sunset (Genesis 3:8)


Prior to the Captivity, the Jews divided the night into 3 watches:

  1. from sunset to midnight (Lam. 2:19)
  2. from midnight till the cock-crowing (Judges 7:19)
  3. from the cock-crowing till sunrise (Exodus 14:24)

In the New Testament, the division of the Greeks and Romans into 4 watches was adopted (Mark 13:35). (See WATCHES.)


The division of the day by hours is first mentioned in Dan. 3:6, 15; 4:19; 5:5. This system of time-keeping was borrowed from the Chaldeans. Sunrise to sunset was divided into 12 hours, and the hours were of variable length depending on the length of sunlight (John 11:9).

“Day” as an indefinite amount of time

The word “day” can sometimes signify an indefinite time (Genesis 2:4; Isaiah 22:5; Hebrews 3:8, etc.). In Job 3:1 it indicates a birthday, and in Isaiah 2:12, Acts 17:31, and 2 Tim. 1:18, the great day of final judgment.

The 6 days of Creation and 1 day of rest

Although the Hebrew word for day (yom) can have several different meanings. The meaning in the Bible is always clear when read in context. The first reference to “day” in the Bible is in the context of a full rotation of the Earth, a full cycle of light and dark,

“And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day” —NASB, see Genesis 1

When the word “day” (yom) is used with a number, such as day one, day two, etc., it always refers to a literal, 24 hour type day. This is true 100% of the time. This holds true all 359 times that “day” is used with an ordinal modifier (number) outside of Genesis chapter 1.

There is no biblical indication that “day” is used differently in the beginning chapter of Genesis than it is throughout the rest of the book, or the rest of the Old Testament.

The “days” in Genesis 1 are always used specifically in connection with the words “evening and morning.” This phrase is used with “day” 38 times in the Old Testament, not counting Genesis chapter 1. Each time, without exception, the phrase refers to a normal 24 hour type day. It is also important to note that this phrase is never used in the Old Testament in a manner which is obviously metaphoric.

Author: Paul S. Taylor, Mark Van Bebber and Matthew G. Easton.

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Article Version: October 11, 2017