You have a piece of fabric, and you want to measure off precisely a meter of it. You will most likely use a simple measurement procedure - putting a ruler to the fabric. Assume, however, that afterwards I take my own ruler and put it on the same piece of fabric, and it shows a quite different length now. Why? It is easy to make a guess: at best one ruler measures incorrectly (at worst, both do). It can go on forever, as we all use different rulers, and they all measure differently. Is there a way by which we can know which ruler is the correct one?
Nowadays it is common to use one of four different methods: (1) the authoritarian method: by asking a person with authority or with power what his opinion is, and what directions he can give; (2) the unification method: by declaring the average result of all as the only correct one; (3) the method of majority: by finding out which result meets the opinion of the majority at present; (4) the consensus method: by coming to an agreement about the correct result. Though any of the above methods can suggest some hint of the truth, we can be absolutely sure that we are right only by comparing our rulers with the standard, or the norm (in Greek - canon). It would make nonsense to argue about these things if there were no standard meter. In this case, no one would be surprised if tomorrow one meter were equal to four centimeters, as they were yesterday (if it had become convenient to the majority, or to the one who makes the decision).
Most of the time it works like this in politics. However, in the area of cognition of the universe, it is impossible to do without a standard, a reference point, a determined unit of measurement. In this area, if there is no standard, there is no knowledge. That is why a measuring system has always been considered so significant. Each state has a strictly organized department of weights and measures which conducts a regular check of all measuring devices and instruments. When God gave his commands to the people of Israel, they also included measuring requirements:
Do not have two differing weights in your bag - one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house - one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly (Deuteronomy 25:13-16); The Lord abhors dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his deight (Proverbs 11:1); You are to use accurate scales, an accurate ephah and an accurate bath (Ezekiel 45:10).
However, it was left to the people to determine how big any standard unit would be, to which all measurement units of this category would later conform: be it length, weight, volume, or something else. There is only one measurable unit which we are not free to choose according to Scripture. It is time. From the very first pages, Scripture gives us the reference point of time - "in the beginning"; Scripture also sets the measurement unit of time - a day; it also determines this unit - "and there was evening, and there was morning - day one" (NB! It is exactly "day one" in Hebrew, not "the first day": no day could be called "the first", unless another day came - second, third, etc. By this, the function of the first day is emphasized as the standard.) Scripture explicitly indicates the means of measurement of time ("lights in the expanse of the sky,.. as signs to mark seasons and days and years").
All of Scripture is presented to us as a sequential narrative of the God/man relationship ¾ from the very beginning to the very end of the created world. Scripture also indicates that the physical world is directly dependent upon the relationship between the Creator and the guardian of His creation. The time scale on this narration line shows us how the described events correlate with one another. It works on the same principle as a net in the eyepiece of binoculars, allowing several objects to be seen in relationship to one another.
Such a linear view of time stood in open contradiction to the philosophical beliefs of the Gentiles who surrounded God's people. The Gentiles visualized the physical world as formed of elements whose existence were self-reliant. For these elements, their extent in time and space was taken for the form of existence. As a rule, time itself was viewed as cyclical and repeatable. Time was visualized as a form of existence of matter; this belief allowed man himself to determine whatever means of measuring time, and any units of time measurement. This did not only deviate from the correct understanding of man in the created world, but also led to obvious contradictions, which were impossible to solve within this approach. These contradictions can be clearly seen in Zenon's story of Ahill, who was unable to catch up with a turtle (every time when he had run half of the distance between himself and the turtle, the turtle had already moved a bit farther. This could go on forever.) Another example of this contradiction is the idea that nothing can actually move (at any "elementary" moment in time an arrow "rests" on a particular point in space; therefore, the flight of the arrow is composed of the moments of its rest.)
Apologists of God's Word continually had to stand against Hellenic teachings, that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the principles (elements) of the world rather than on Christ (Colossians 2:8), as well as in the understanding of the essence of time. So, Basil the Great (IV cent.) wrote the following, in defense of the Biblical conception of time:
He [Eunomius] says that time is a qualitative motion of stars... What a childish way of thinking this is, to not know, that days, hours, months and years are only measurement units of time, but are never parts of time? Eunomius identifies stars as time-makers, since they move within time. In this way, according to the teaching of this wise man, since ground beetles move within time, so time can be determined as a qualitative motion of ground beetles. He really means that by what he says, except that he uses more important things in his examples than ground beetles.
(Collected Works, St. Petersburg, 1911, p. 480-481).
While the Biblical conception of time was spread with Christianity it made a considerable contribution in forming the understanding of cause/effect connections (causality), which led to the conception of the "law of nature" and to the formation of contemporary methods of empirical science. Nevertheless, since materialism penetrated this science in the last centuries, so the scientific world again began to believe that time was a form of the existence of matter, not the observance of matter (because the latter implies an observer of some kind.)
The view of time was getting farther and farther from the Biblical understanding. It could be most clearly seen in the questions concerning the days of creation. Since the days of creation were preceded by ordinal numbers, so, according to the rules of grammar, it means they were days in the literal sense of the word. Almost everyone used to believe that the days of creation were literal days: theologians, as well as naturalists - starting with Justin the Martyr, Irenaeus, Augustine, Basil, Ambrose, Theophilus of Antioch (probably, with the only obvious exceptions being from the school of Alexandria - Philo, Clement and Origen), and up to Luther, Calvin, Ussher, Kepler and Newton. It did not embarrass anyone then, (nowadays people do not often get embarrassed by things either) that the conception of a "day" could have existed before the sun was created. By the way, even children know that a physical day has nothing to do with the sun - a day is the revolution period of the Earth around its axis, or (since motion is relevant, there is no difference) the circulation period of the Universe around the Earth.
There were other non-literal ways of understanding of the day of Creation ¾ that some said could have taken one thousand years and up (if one day for God is like a thousand years, so maybe one day for man could be equal to one million or one billion years). These different views of a "day" of Creation immediately caused insoluble exegetical problems. For instance, how long did Adam live? Scripture says - 930 years. However, this must include a part of the sixth "day" and the seventh "day." Otherwise, how shall we understand the following instructions: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work. … For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11)? The same word "day" is used six times (and is implied once) in one sentence, and obviously, it must denote the same concept. Are we supposed to work for six thousand years or six indeterminately long periods of time?
Does all the above mean that the "days" of creation were ordinary 24 hour days? I am afraid that the very way in which the question is posed does not give us a chance to answer it correctly. The days of creation, according to the definition, could not be ordinary days. On the other hand, according to the definition, they couldn't be anything other than 24 hour days.
Judge for yourself: can you call it an "ordinary" day, when all the processes which take place on that day, are absolutely opposite to those we observe in the world of today (which is already created and has already gone into the slavery of decay). Neither the first, nor the second law of thermodynamics existed then; and everything that existed came into being ex nihilo ("from nothing"); and instead of natural decay there reigned the supernatural process of creation? If we tried now to time the processes of creation by those methods we use today, we would get absurd negative results. The reason of this is because our methods of measurement are based upon the processes of decay (increase of entropy) - e.g., when a wound-up spring is released or the charge of a battery dissipates, or when the sand level or water level gets low, etc. Whichever means we use in this fallen world, it can not be applied to the circumstances we are talking about.
On the other hand, what is an hour? An hour is 1/24th of a day. This is the way it was originally defined; therefore, there is no way for a day to be other than 24 hours. If a day gets longer (or shorter), an hour gets longer (shorter) accordingly. By asserting that a day can be other than 24 hours, we assume that there exists another canonical way of measuring time. In essence, we have by now gone away from the set system. We have switched to an atomic standard of time, which has nothing to do with the processes of planetary revolution. The best evidence for this is the periodic announcements from the international time service about adjustments to the "standard." That is why we need to remember that time according to the atomic clock does not necessarily correspond to time "by the sun," which was the means that the authors of the chronicles used to determine time, and which was the standard given in Scripture.
What is time, anyway? This is not an easy question to answer. Just during the last few centuries, people of science have changed their opinion on this several times, as well as on many other things. How can we be sure that, out of a myriad of opinions, our judgment corresponds to the truth? There is only one way to check it - it is to verify our opinion with the absolute standard or canon - the Word of Him Who created time, space and ourselves.
Christan Center for Science and Apologetics, 1998. Pamphlet ¹ 40
Translated from Russian
by N. Klochko. Edited by J. Hesler.