Science in Christian Perspective
A BRIEF NOTE ON THE TRANSLATION OF THE
WORD "DAY" IN GENESIS I
By John R. Howitt
From: JASA 5 (March 1953):
Since the objective of the A. S. A. is primarily to reconcile the facts of science with the Holy Scriptures it is imperative that in the first place we should know exactly what the Bible says. This should be, as far as possible, a matter of translation rather than interpretation. If we believe, as we profess to do, that the Bible is the Word of God, then we must seek to discover the correct translation of the Word itself.
At the last two conventions of the A. S. A. there was a good deal of informal discussion about the first chapter of Genesis and some Fellows and Members referred to various alleged Hebrew scholars as their authority for a number of different translations and interpretations of the first two verses of Genesis. Some of these translations and interpretations were quite original and amazing.
As a result of these discussions the writer decided to discover, if possible, the truth or otherwise of some of the translations and interpretations which were discussed. A letter was therefore written to the Professor of Oriental Languages at nine different universities representing the highest authorities in England, the U. S. A. and Canada. These universities were Oxford, Cambridge, London, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Toronto, McGill and Manitoba. It may reasonably be assumed that none of those who answered the questionnaire was a fundamentalist and therefore there could be no bias towards the conservative position in any of the replies received.
The question asked was, "Do you consider the Hebrew word "Yom" (day) as used in Genesis I accompanied by a numeral should be properly translated
No reply was received from Oxford or Cambridge Universities but the remaining seven who replied gave the answer in each instance as "a day as commonly understood." One of those who replied, Prof. Robert H. Pfeiffer of Harvard University, added the word "of 24 hours" to his answer.
Since the last convention of the A. S. A. in South Dakota the new Revised Standard Version of the Bible has been published. This translation has been widely publicized and since the board of revision was composed entirely of modernists it may reasonably be assumed that there was no bias on the part of the editors towards the Affidknentalist position. This translation is supposed to reflect all the accumulated wealth of scholarship since the King James Version was first published. In this translation the meaning of the word "day" in the first chapter of Genesis would also appear to be that of a 24 hour period, eg., Gen. 1:8, where we read, "And there was evening and there was morning, a second day". If there had been any possibility of translating the word "Yom" as an age it is most probable that the editor would have so translated the word or at least have added the alternative rendering as a foot note.
From the, foregoing observations it is clear that the use of the word "day" in the first chapter of Genesis means a period of 24 hours and nothing else. This is in accord with the teaching of conservative scholarship since the days of the primitive Church. Any attempt to change the meaning of the word "day" into geological ages is simply a distortion of the Scriptures and from the context it is obvious that the statement regarding the time in each instance refers to the day's work recorded in the preceding lines.
It would appear, therefore, that in all our thinking we must recognize that the days of Genesis were periods of 24 hours each. We cannot escape this conclusion in view of the clear meaning of the text in the Hebrew. In Gen. 2:4 the word "Yom" appears in the Hebrew text without any qualifying numeral and the word may therefore be considered in this case as having a wider application, which is obviously implied in the context.
To reconcile the geological record with the days of Genesis should be one of supreme interest and priority to the Fellows and Members of the A. S. A., but in seeking to find a solution to this problem we dare not diverge from the revealed truth of the Word of God.