”Remember a day with the Lord is as a thousand years.” We often hear this cited as an argument against a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2 with 6, 24 hours days. This phrase comes from 2 Peter chapter 3. But is that the true meaning of the text? Are we to take this text as to mean that since a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, then we can’t Genesis 1 and 2 literally? Is this sound hermeneutics (biblical interpretation)? Let’s look at the verse in context and see.
2 Peter 3:4-10 “They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” (5) For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, (6) and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. (7) But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (8) But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (9) The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.”
What was Peter’s point, in the context of this passage, by saying that a day with the Lord is as a thousand years? Was he suggesting to his audience that any time you read historical narrative in the Bible any given day could be interpreted as not a literal day but a thousand years? No of course not. He was using an illustration to encourage his audience to be faithful until the end, to not be discouraged though it may seem like the return of the Lord Jesus tarries. God will fulfill his promise, and so we ought to live every day in the anticipation of that day. He was reminding them of the implications of that truth (i.e. the urgency of missions, the pursuit of holiness, etc), for the Lord will indeed come and he will come when we least expect it.
Just to be sure, let’s see what kind of exegetical fallacies are necessary in order to make 2 Peter 3:8 mean what some have twisted it to mean; which is you can’t take Genesis 1 &2 as literal, historical narrative. First of all we are going to lift a phrase out of context from the NT that serves not as a commentary on how to read the word “day” in historical narrative in the OT, but as an illustration to a broader point on living in the anticipation of the return of Christ. Next, we are going to change how that phrase is used and make it so that it is in fact, supposed to inform us how we read the word “day” in historical narrative in the OT. Finally, having changed the meaning of this text and lifted it out of context for our own purposes, we then must place it pro forma on top of Genesis 1 and 2 and suggest that the days mentioned in Genesis could be not literal days but a 1000 years or more.
So if this is the hermeneutic we are using here, my next question is very simple: Why stop with Genesis 1 and 2? Do you see where I am going with this? When Noah was on the ark, did it rain for 40 days and 40 nights, or did it rain for 40,000 years? Was Lazarus in the tomb for 4 days or 4,000 years? Did Jesus rise from the dead on the third day or the 3000th year? Was Jonah in the belly of the great fish 3 days or 3,000 years? Did the Israelites march around Jericho for 7 days or 7,000 years? Did they wander in the wilderness for 40 years or 40 millennia?
If we are going to take 2 Peter 3:8 and twist it around to make it mean that we can’t know how long the days were in Genesis 1 and 2, that they could be thousands of years or more; then we have to be consistent and apply the same flawed hermeneutic to other passages of historical narrative, and we have to concede that we don’t know how long Noah was on the ark, how long Lazarus was in the tomb, how long it was until Jesus rose from the dead, how long Jonah was in the belly of the fish, or how long the Israelites marched around Jericho or how long they wandered in the wilderness. But of course we wouldn’t do that because that would be silly.