It would seem that we’re done with the first day. But, there’s one more detail I want to highlight1. It’s easy to miss, but the word translated “one” in Genesis 1:5 is a cardinal number, not an ordinal number. Days two through seven all use ordinal numbers, but here on day one, it’s a cardinal number.
Ordinal numbers are used to order things. Cardinal numbers are just numbers. That’s a big difference in word usage, so there must be a reason.
Note also that on the first day, there is no article (“a” or “the”). It’s just “one day”. But, the second day is stated as “a second day”, including the indefinite article “a”. The same is true for days three through five. Days six and seven use the definite article “the”, but we’ll cover those when we get there.
Returning to that first day, perhaps I shouldn’t use the phrase “first day”, since God doesn’t in the text. But, it sure is an odd way to phrase it … or is it? Let’s digress into movies with sequels for a moment. For example, we could speak of the first, second, and third Back to the Future movies. If we are counting them out, the words first, second, and third are appropriate, because we’re talking about three movies.
But, what about in 1985, when the first Back to the Future movie was the only one in the series. Or, in 1977 when the first Star Wars movie came out. We wouldn’t have called it “the first” movie of the series, because there weren’t any sequels yet. At that time, we would simply refer to it as Back to the Future or Star Wars. That’s what’s going on here in Genesis 1. The first day couldn’t be called the first day while it was still the only day. In fact, before the statement, we can’t even call it a “day” yet, because there’s no definition for a day at that time. We can’t refer to something in an order of things unless there are more than one of those things, in this case days.
Consider Genesis 1:5b “And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” This is actually defining “one day” for us, in addition to marking the end of that day. One day is defined as “evening” and “morning”. Now, go back to my previous post, In the Beginning , where I point out that the big ball of water was rotating. This does NOT specify 24-hour days by itself, for many reasons. But, it DOES specify that a “day” is to be taken as one rotation of the (Hebrew) ‘erets, or earth . Now, was it 24 hours? Probably not, but also probably, close to it. The earth’s rotation is gradually slowing down, although one needs highly precise scientific instruments to even notice it. So, a day could have been (say) 23 ½ hours. Or, if something goofy happened to the earth’s rotation due to an event (like the Flood of Noah), it could also have been altered slightly. But, no matter how one slices it, it MUST mean one calendar day, consisting of an evening and a morning.
The first time I saw this, I didn’t realize that it makes all models which postulate long ages of time for the seven creation days impossible. If a “day” during the creation week were, say, a million years long, then around half of that “day” (~500,000 years) would be spent in darkness. One side of the earth would be freezing — really freezing — around -200 degrees. And, the other side would be hot enough to melt lead. That’s not exactly a friendly place for the living things God will create on the upcoming days.
So, if you were ever curious about why the first day says one day, while the other six days use Nth days, now you know: it is the definition of a day. And this definition comes from God Himself, because He was the only person there at the time.
- Actually, there’s another thing I want to discuss, but it doesn’t fit here. Check out my post on the Gap Theory for details.