When Does a Biblical Day Start?

Recently, I’ve had several inquiries as to when a biblical day starts, with those asking the question asserting that a biblical day begins in the morning, not in the evening as most Hebraic-minded people believe, and as the rabbinic Jews teach. I have answered this question before on this blog, but my previous response didn’t fully address all the main issue, so I have just written this present article to more properly address the issue. — Natan

The Hebrew Yom (Day) Defined

To help us to understand when the biblical day begins, let’s first define the Hebrew word for day which is yom. This will give us a clearer, contextual understanding of how the biblical writers use this word and what its many meanings are and how, and if, it relates to the 24-hour period we normally think of as a day.

According to the The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (or The TWOT), the primary meaning of yom is “day, time, year.” Yom can represent a point of time and a sphere of time. It can represent (a) a period of light in contrast to a period of darkness, (c) a period of 24 hours, (c) a general vague time (e.g. time in general, a long time, a season of time, “the day of the Lord,” or years of time), (d) a point of time, (e) a year or years. Reflecting these various meanings, we find yom translated in Scripture (the KJV) using the following English expression:

  • today
  • when
  • in the time of
  • as long as
  • day
  • continually

The TWOT goes on to note that other Hebrew words sometimes translated in Scripture as day include the Hebrew word ohr meaning “light” as well as boqer (or boker) meaning “morning.” Conversely, antonyms of yom include layila meaning “night,” and erev meaning “evening.” The TWOT also notes that the Bible reveals that the day can start in the evening (Est 4:16; Dan 8:14) as well as in the morning (Deut 28:66). This fact adds confusion to the question as to when a biblical day actually begins. We will discuss this below. So, what does this all have to do with the biblical definition of a day? It is important to know this, for how else are we to know when to observe the biblical Sabbath and feast days? 

Does a Biblical Day Begin at Sunset or Sunrise?

The Creation Model

At the creation, Elohim defined a day as beginning in the evening (Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). Each of the six days of creation follow this model. Although the phrase “And the evening and the morning were the [first, second, etc.] day” is not found in reference to the seventh day Sabbath (Gen 2:1ff), the parallel linguistic construction of the first six days beginning at evening strongly suggests or hints (a remez) that the same pattern for delineating the beginning point of the seventh day would continue over into the Sabbath. Some argue that daylight or morning begins the day since light was the first thing that Elohim created. While spiritual light (not physical light [i.e. the sun, moon and stars] were created on day four) is what was created on the first day, this in no way nullifies how Scripture defines a physical day in the same creation account. All attempts to say that because spiritual light was created first as proof that the day begins in the morning overlook the plain (or pashat) meaning of the text, which says that “the evening and the morning were the [first, second, etc.] day.” We will discuss this point further below.

The Model of the Biblical Feasts

The fact that evening begins the day in Scripture—a pattern that is clearly laid out in the Genesis chapter one account—is transmitted into the starting times of several of the biblical feasts as well.  

Exodus 12:6—Passover

In this verse we find the command to keep the Passover. We read,

On the fourteenth day of the first month in the evening  [Heb. beyn ha-er’va’im literally meaning “between the evening] is YHVH’s Passover. (adapted from KJV)

We see this same grammatical construction elsewhere (Lev 23:5 and Num 9:3, 5,1. ) plainly showing that the day of Passover is to be kept “between/beyn the evenings/ha-er’va’im,”  that is, between the setting of the sun of one day and the setting of the sun of the next day. This correlates with the Genesis one account that shows that the Bible reckons a day beginning at sunset and continuing until the sunset of the next day.

It must here be noted that confusion often occurs if the reader doesn’t understand that Scripture uses the word Passover to mean two different things. First, the word Passover can refer to the actually day of Passover, that is, the fourteenth day of the first month of the biblical year (Lev 23:5). But the word Passover can also refer the actual lamb that was slaughtered on Passover day (Exod 12:21). While it was slaughtered and roasted on the day of Passover (Exod 12:5–6), the Passover lamb was eaten after Passover day had passed and the next day (the fifteenth day of the first month) had begun the following evening after the daylight portion of the fourteenth day had ended (Exod 12:8). The point of this brief discussion is that just because the Israelites ate the Passover lamb in the evening, this was not the evening of Passover day, which occurred 24 hours earlier when that day begin. By the time they were eating the Passover lamb, Passover day had already ended and they were now eating the lamb at the beginning of the next day (the fifteenth day of the first month), which was the first high holy day (a Sabbath) of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Leviticus 23:32—The Day of Atonement

Another clear biblical passage that shows that the day begins in the evening is found in Leviticus 23:32.

It shall be unto you a Sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from evening unto evening, shall you celebrate your Sabbath.

Although this scripture is a reference to the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), the same word for Sabbath is used here as is used in elsewhere in the biblical references to the weekly Sabbath. From this we learn that Scripture defines Sabbath as being from evening to evening, not morning to morning. Therefore, holy day Sabbaths and weekly Sabbaths are both kept during the same time period, that is, from sunset to sunset, not sunrise to sunrise.

Deuteronomy 16:4—The Feast of Unleavened Bread

In this passage we find another clear reference that the Bible reckons a day as starting in the evening and not for one day, but for the entire seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

And there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy coast seven days; neither shall there any thing of the flesh, which thou sacrificedst the first day at even [in the evening], remain all night until the morning.

Nehemiah on When the Sabbath Begins

In the book of Nehemiah, we find one of the clearest Bible scriptures that tells not only when the day begins, but also when Sabbath begins.  

 So it was, at the gates of Jerusalem, as it began to be dark before the Sabbath, that I commanded the gates to be shut, and charged that they must not be opened till after the Sabbath. Then I posted some of my servants at the gates, so that no burdens would be brought in on the Sabbath day. Now the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. Then I warned them, and said to them, “Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!” From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath. And I commanded the Levites that they should cleanse themselves, and that they should go and guard the gates, to sanctify the Sabbath day. (Neh 13:19–22)

This passage clearly shows that as soon as the evening shadows began to fall, Nehemiah had the city gates shut, so that no one could enter into the city to buy or sell, which is a violation of the Sabbath law. They shut the gates at this time, since they knew that the Sabbath was coming. If the Sabbath began in the morning, why would they shut the gates twelve hours early?

Some folks who promote a sunrise to sunrise day will counter by saying, “They closed the gates the night before because who wants to get up at sunrise and shut the gates?” or “They closed the gates the night before because there were hedge laws enacted by that time such that the gates were closed well before the Sabbath to ensure that no one would violated the Sabbath law.” But where in Scripture does it say that they were shutting the gates for these reasons? It doesn’t. To assume this is adding to Scripture something that isn’t there, and adding to the Word of Elohim is a serious sin (Deut 4:2; 12:32; Rev 22:18–19).

The Work Day Began in the Morning and Went Until the Evening

Although the Bible gives us many examples of the work day beginning in the morning, this doesn’t mean that the 24 hour period, which the Bible calls a day (Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31), begins in the daylight portion of that 24 hour period.

For example, Moses’ work of judging Israel began in the morning (Heb. boqer, Lev 18:13, 14), but this doesn’t prove that the 24 hour period that Scripture the Genesis one creation account calls “a day” began at this time.

Similarly, YHVH provided manna for the children of Israel in the morning and instructed them to collect it then (Exod 16:4–5, 7, 16, 21, 26). The sixth day was a work day, a day of preparation for the Israelites for the Sabbath (v. 5). The Israelites stored the manna until the Sabbath morning and ate it then. But the Bible doesn’t say that the Sabbath began in the morning (Exod 16:24–25).

Moreover, even though the Israelites began gathering manna in the morning and finished by gathering quail in the evening (Exod 16:8, 12), this doesn’t prove that the day began in the morning. It only proves that they started their work in the morning and finished it in the evening. That’s all, and nothing more, so let’s leave it there and not attempt to cherry pick a verse out of context and then to make a doctrine out of something that isn’t there. This is called cramming it to fit and painting it to match. As the saying goes, “That boat don’t float!”

Another example of morning activities include Moses’ work of building a stone altar beginning early in the morning (Exod 34:4), as well travelling, warfare and other work activities that all began in the morning (Num 14:40; 22:13, 21; Josh 3:1). However, these activities don’t prove that this is when the 24-hour day began. To say it does is equivalent to saying that because most people in our day go to work in the morning this begins the day, even though the day really starts at midnight. 

The New Moon

The biblical month begins in the evening at the first visible sighting of the sliver of the new moon (we have proven this point in other articles that we have written on this subject available at www.hoshanarabbah.org). The evening marks not only the beginning of a biblical month, but also the beginning of the first day of that month. It all begins in the evening. If the day begins in the morning, and the Sabbath begins in the morning, then this is incongruous with the pattern of the month beginning in the evening with the sighting of the new moon. For example, if the Sabbath begins in the morning, what happens to the remaining twelve hour portion of the day after the close of the sixth day (ending at evening) while waiting for the Sabbath to supposedly begin the next morning? Is that twelve hours a part of the sixth or seventh day? This is a anomaly that makes no sense if one begins the day, including the Sabbath, in the morning.   

The Burial of Yeshua

Those responsible for interring Yeshua after his death were attempting to have the task completed by the end of the Passover and just before the setting of the sun marking the beginning of the first Sabbath of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 

The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31)

This shows that the righteous disciples of Yeshua were hurriedly attempting to get Yeshua in the tomb before the setting of the sun, since this began the next day—a high holy day Sabbath day.

Your Sabbaths

YHVH declares that he hates it when men tamper with his appointed times and substitute them with man-made religious celebrations on the wrong day.

Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts (moedim) my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.(Isa 1:15–14)

I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. (Amos 5:21)

He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations. (Isa 66:3)

Addressing Arguments for a Morning (Boqer) to Morning (Boqer) Day and Sabbath

Genesis Chapter One

This is the creation account. It is true that light was the first thing that was created. It is also true that this light was not the light of the sun, moon or stars, which were created on the fourth day. It is also true that this divine light was the Word of Elohim, who later became Yeshua the Messiah who is the light of the world (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:46), and that this same supernatural light will light the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:23. But just because Yeshua was the light that shone for the first three days of creation, this doesn’t prove that this is how the Bible determines the beginning of days. True, light shone in the darkness of the world, but the darkness of this world still pre-existed the light (Gen 1:3–5), for obviously it was there before the light shone into it. The Bible reveals that the same pattern of light shining into the darkness of this world would go on to set the pattern of night preceding daylight. This we see when in Genesis 1:5 we read,

So the evening and the morning were the first day.

As we have already noted, this same phrase is repeated five additional times in the creation story (Gen 1:8, 13, 19, 23, 31). What is the spiritual lesson here for us? Simply this. Into the darkness of man’s spiritual lostness and sinfulness, the light of YHVH’s Word and Truth will shine and light the way to him. It’s really that simple!

Other Scriptures Used to “Prove” That Morning and Not Night Begins a Hebrew Yom

Genesis 1:18, This verse says “day…night” and “light…darkness,” and so seems to indicate that the morning begins the day. However, the next verse specifically states the opposite, that is, that “the evening and the morning were the fourth day.” So this verse can’t be used to prove the biblical yom begins in the morning.

Genesis 19:34, Does the fact that in this verse day is mentioned before night prove that the biblical day begins in the morning? Not all. This verse simply list events as they occurred in a chronological, time line order. Something happened in the daylight time and something else happened the next evening. Nothing more can be made of this than that. This verse, threfore, in no way proves a hard fast, broadly applicable rule that a biblical day begins in the morning.

Exodus 10:13, Again, in this passage, day is listed as preceding night, but does this prove that the biblical day begins in the morning? Not at all. This passage is listing events as they occurred chronologically. First the wind started blowing in during the day and continued that night. It doesn’t say that they these time periods were the same day. To say that they were is reading into Scripture something that it doesn’t state. This is faulty biblical interpretation that leads to erroneous conclusions, false teaching and false doctrines. Such interpretive methods are how heresies and doctrines of men are started. YHVH will hold false teachers accountable on the day of judgment (Jas 3:1; 2 Pet 2:1)! 

Exodus 16:22–27, To those who advocate the idea that the day including the Sabbath begins in the morning, this is supposedly one of the clearest scriptural passages to prove their point. Yet does this passage really prove that the Sabbath starts in the morning? Does it say, “Sabbath starts in the morning and concludes in the evening”? Not at all. This verse simply says that the daylight portion of this 24-hour period is the Sabbath and that the Israelites were to gather manna on the sixth day, keep it through the night and then eat it on the daylight portion of the Sabbath. This verse neither says nor implies that the daylight portion of the Sabbath begins the Sabbath.

Exodus 18:13, Here Moses judged the people from morning until evening. Does this prove that the biblical day begins in the morning? Not at all. It only states that Moses worked during the daylight hours of the day, which is a standard work day—the time when most people are working.

Exodus 32:5–6, When Aaron says, “Tomorrow is a feast to YHVH, Then they rose early on the next day [Heb. mochorâth]…,” does this prove that the daylight begins the biblical day? Not at all. The word day in verse six is the Hebrew word mochorâth, which simply means “tomorrow” or “the next day.” This in no way proves that the  morning begins the day. Again this passage is simply the listing of chronological events as they occur with no reference to which calendric date they are occurring on. 

Leviticus 6:20, This verse states that the priests were to offer half of the grain offering in the morning and half of it in the evening. Does this prove that the morning begins the day? Not at all. It only proves that the priests were working during the daylight portions of the 24-hour period Scripture refers to as a day (Heb. yom), and that they performed part of their priestly service at the beginning of the work day and the rest of it at the end of the work day.

Leviticus 7:15

The flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offering for thanksgiving shall be eaten the same day [Heb. yom] it is offered. He shall not leave any of it until morning.

For some boqer to boqer dayadvocates, Leviticus 7:15 is one of clearest scriptures proving their argument. But does this passage really prove that the biblical day, including the weekly Sabbath, is from sunrise to sunrise? Not at all. This verse merely states that the offering shall not be left until the (next) morning (of the next day). It doesn’t say that the (next) morning is part of the same day. It may be, but it also may not be, but this scripture doesn’t tell us one way or the other, and to say that it does is imposing our own meaning into this passage, which is neither acceptable nor logical biblical exegesis. So this verse can’t be used as a proof for the morning to morning biblical day or Sabbath.

We have already seen above that on occasion the Bible seems to suggest that the day can begin at sunrise (e.g. Deut 28:66), but this is not the general rule as laid out in Genesis chapter one where Elohim in six places (Gen 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31) lays out the pattern the 24 hour period called day as starting in the night. Similarly, the Bible clearly states that the biblical new year begins in the spring 14 days before Passover (Exod 12:2), yet Scripture elsewhere indicates that the new year begins in the fall at the time of the Feast of  Tabernacles as well (Exod 23:16; 34:22). From this, the rabbinic Jews derive the idea of Rosh Hashanah being the start of the new year. At the same time, the Jews recognize that the religious year begins in the spring, while the civil year begins after the fall harvest season. Similarly, in our current culture the new year begins on January one, but businesses often have civil years that begin at other times of the year for accounting purposes. However, the general rule for the world is that the new year begins on January one. The same is true of the day and the year in the Hebrew Scriptures. The general rule is that the day begins at sundown and the year begins in the spring, but there are several specific exceptions to this rule that in no way negate the primary rule.

Morning to morning day advocates give many other similar Scripture passages in their attempt to prove their point (e.g. Gen 8:22;  Num 11:32; Josh 7:6–13; Judg 19:9; 1 Sam 9:19–26; 19:10–11; 28:8–19; 30:17; 2 Sam 24:13–15; Lam 3:22; Jon 4:6–7; Zech 14:7; Matt 28:1; Mark 16:2; Luke 24:1; John 20:1; 16:16–22; Acts 4:3; 16:9–11; 23:31–32 cp. John 8:12; 9:4; 11:9–10; 12:35; 1 Thess 5:5 ). What can we make of this? Nothing, except they’re interpreting the Bible in an incorrect, illogical and eisegetical way. What is eisegesis? We’ll explain that next.

A Faulty Pattern of Biblical Interpretation

As we have just seen above, in numerous places the Scriptures list chronological events occurring one after the other. Often you will find verses that contain phrases such as “day…night” or “morning…evening.” Does the juxtapositioning of these terms prove that the morning starts the biblical day? Emphatically, NO!

The juxtapositioning of such Scripture verses proves only one thing, namely this: event A happened at a certain time followed by event B which happened subsequently. Nothing more or less can be inferred from such Scripture passages than this. To say otherwise is to read into Scripture something that it doesn’t say. This is called eisegesis, which is defined as “the process of interpreting a text in such a way as to introduce one’s own presuppositions, agendas or biases. It is commonly referred to as reading into the text” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eisegesis). The opposite of eisegesis is exegesis which is “the critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture” (New Oxford American Dictionary) whereby one let’s a scripture speak out what is it truly saying instead of imposing onto the text something it is not saying. An eisegetal interpretation of Scripture tends to lead one to a wrong conclusion about something.

To determine when a biblical day starts, we have to go back to Genesis chapter one which clearly state several times that “the evening  and the morning were the firsts…second…third [and so on]…day” as we discussed earlier. To say otherwise is to add or subtract from the Scripture, the divinely revealed and immutable Word of YHVH Elohim.

Extrabiblical Sources on When the Biblical Day Begins

The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906)

The term “day” is used also to denote a period of twenty-four hours (Ex. xxi. 21).… The day is reckoned from evening to evening—i.e., night and day—except in reference to sacrifices, where daytime and the night following constitute one day (Lev. vii. 15).  (The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906 in the article entitled “Day”).

The International Standard Bible Dictionary

The astronomical day was reckoned by the Hebrews form evening to evening (Gen 1; Exod 12:18; Lev 23:27, 32); i.e., the day began at sunset and ended at sunset (cf. Lev 22:6f.; Deut 16:16; Neh 13:19; Ps 55:17 [MT 18]; Est 4:16; Isa 34:10; Jer 27:3; Matt 28:1; Luke 23:54; Mark 16:1f.; Acts 20:7; 2 Cor 11:25) or in the evening. In the creation account of Genesis one appears the repeated phrase “and there was evening and there was morning…day” (vv. 5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). This formula indicates (1) that “evening and morning” should be understood alike in all six days, (2) that the day begins with evening, (3) that each day is a real twenty-four hour day, and (4) that thus the daily rhythm of time has a beginning. The creation day is understood as a normal twenty-four hour day (Exod 20:8–11; 31:15, 17). The Hebrew compound evening-morning (erev-boqer) in Daniel 8:14 is a circumlocution for day. It is the equivalent of the expression “there was evening  and there was morning”—and emphasizes again that evening or sunset is the beginning of the twenty-four hour calendar day in the OT and NT (cf. Mark 4:27; Luke 2:37; Acts 20:31; 26:7). In antiquity the Babylonians began the day likewise with the sunset, but the Egyptians with sunrise. The custom of beginning the day at midnight derives from the Romans. (The International Standard Bible Dictionary, vol. 1, p. 877; 1979 edition, article entitled “Day”)

Smith’s Bible Dictionary

The Hebrews reckoned  the day from evening (Lev 23:32), deriving it from Genesis 1:5, “the evening and the morning  were the first day.”  The Jews are supposed, like the modern Arabs, to have adopted from an early period minute specifications of he parts of the natural day. Roughly, indeed, they were content to divide it into “morning, evening and noonday,” (Ps 55:17); but when they wished for greater accuracy they pointed to six unequal parts, each of which as again subdivided. These are  held to have been—1. “The dawn.” 2. “Sunrise.” 3. “Heat of the day” about 9 o’clock. 4. “The two noons,” Gen 43:16; Deut 28:29. 5. “The cool (lit. wind) of the day. 6. Evening.” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, by William Smith, 2002 edition, p. 140 under the article entitled “Day”)

The ArtScroll Tanach Series Bereishis/Genesis Commentary

In the halachic reckoning [i.e. according to Jewish law] of time, the day begins with the preceding evening (see Mishnah Chullin 5:5). Thus the Sabbaths and festivals begin in the evening— “from evening unto evening” (Lev 23:32). The exception to this rule is the eating of Kadashim, the flesh of offerings (Lev 7:15) where the day begins with the following night.  (Bereishis/Genesis Commentary,vol. 1, p. 45; commentary on Genesis 1:5)

 

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