The question of when a day starts according to the Bible is an interesting one that has implications for understanding biblical passages about the Sabbath, holy days, and timing of events. In this comprehensive blog post, we will examine the evidence from Scripture about when a day starts and provide key takeaways for application.
For many Christians, the understanding is that a day starts at midnight and ends 24 hours later at the next midnight. This view sees the day starting at 12:00 AM and ending at 11:59 PM. But is this understanding actually biblical? When we examine the Scripture closely, we find evidence that a day may start not at midnight, but at sunset or evening. This has important implications for Sabbath keeping and biblical holy days which are defined from sundown to sundown.
As we dive into this topic, we will look at the creation account, Jewish reckoning of days, New Testament evidence, and biblical words used for time. Our goal is to understand how Scripture defines a day so we can better apply biblical principles. What emerges from a close study is that days in the Bible likely followed an evening-to-evening or sunset-to-sunset pattern.
- The creation account suggests a day starts at evening
- Jewish practice has long reckoned days from sunset to sunset
- New Testament evidence points to days starting at sundown
- Biblical terms imply an evening beginning of days
- Understanding biblical days helps apply Sabbath and holy day commands
The Creation Account
Our starting point is the creation account in Genesis 1. This passage gives insight into what constitutes a day according to God:
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:5)
Each day in the creation week is bounded by “evening” and “morning.” In the Jewish reckoning, evening starts the new day followed by morning. This cycle repeats for each of the six creation days:
And there was evening and there was morning, the second day. (Genesis 1:8)
And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Genesis 1:13)
The pattern culminates in day seven with God resting:
By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)
Here the seventh day’s boundaries are not defined as “evening and morning” since God’s Sabbath rest continues. But the prior six days clearly follow an evening-to-morning pattern. This suggests Scripture defines a day as starting at evening, not midnight.
Jewish Reckoning of Days
Beyond the creation account, we find Jewish practice has long reckoned days from sunset to sunset.Jewish holidays begin at sundown the day before. For example, Passover starts at nightfall rather than sunrise:
“In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening.” (Exodus 12:18 NKJV)
Likewise, publications from Jewish rabbis and scholars explain how their calendar marks days:
“A Jewish ‘day’ runs from sunset to the next sunset, rather than from midnight to midnight… Jewish festivals all begin at sunset the day before the date given on most calendars.” (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel)
So Jewish practice from ancient times to today sees days transitioning at sunset rather than midnight. This view comes directly from Genesis and Exodus as we have seen.
New Testament Evidence
The New Testament also contains hints that days start at evening rather than midnight. We see this in the Gospels’ accounts of Jesus’ last Passover meal with his disciples:
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover must be killed. And he sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat it.” (Luke 22:7-8 NKJV)
Preparing the meal after sunset would be common practice, since Passover starts at evening. By the Jewish reckoning, Passover is eaten on the start of Nisan 15 after sunset, so the preparation takes place at the end of Nisan 14.
We find further potential evidence in Mark’s account of Jesus’ arrest:
Now when evening had come, because it was the Preparation Day, that is, the day before the Sabbath… (Mark 15:42 NKJV)
The day is identified as both evening and the preparation day before the Sabbath. This suggests days leading up to Sabbath were transitioning at sunset. Additional New Testament support comes from timing of the resurrection, where Jesus rises early on the first day when it was still dark (John 20:1). This likely refers to darkness before dawn at the start of Sunday, implying Saturday had already ended at sunset.
Overall, the New Testament hints at a pattern of days starting and ending at sundown rather than midnight. This aligns with Genesis and Jewish practice.
Biblical Terms About Time
Looking at the original Hebrew words used in Scripture also provides insight into how biblical days functioned. The Hebrew word yom is commonly translated “day” but literally means the “warmth of the sun” or daylight period. A full yom spans both evening and morning as seen in Genesis 1.
Likewise, ereb translated “evening” marks the transition from light to darkness at sunset. Boker or “morning” is sunrise to noon. Thus in Hebrew reckoning, evening starts a new calendar day followed by morning. Scripture also utilized watches or shifts of nighttime (Judges 7:19) that imply calendar days transitioning at sunset.
Examining these original terms supports an evening beginning for biblical days rather than midnight. This matches the long-standing Jewish practice derived from Scripture.
Implications for Application
Understanding that Scripture reckons days from evening to evening rather than midnight to midnight has profound implications for applying biblical principles. Here are some key applications:
- Observing Sabbath rest on seventh day, not Sunday – Exodus 20:8-11 commands Sabbath observance on the seventh day, which would be sunset Friday to sunset Saturday. The Sabbath was not moved to Sunday in Scripture.
- Keeping biblical holy days according to Hebrew calendar – Passover, Tabernacles, and other appointed times start at sundown rather than midnight following the biblical model.
- Regulating times of work and sleep – Biblical days affect scheduled times of work and sleep. We don’t have to work until midnight if the day ends at sunset.
- Fulfilling religious obligations – Offerings, sacrifices, and rituals were done according to timing of biblical days starting at evening. We should fulfill spiritual duties accordingly.
As disciples of Jesus, carefully understanding when a biblical day starts helps us apply God’s commands properly. Whether for Sabbath, festivals, work, or worship, Scripture models a day from evening to evening.
Our investigation of when a day starts biblically leads to an important conclusion – days in Scripture likely operated from sunset to sunset. We saw this in the creation account, Jewish practice, New Testament hints, and examination of Hebrew terms. While modern society reckons from midnight to midnight, Scripture points to days starting and ending at sundown.
This paradigm for biblical days impacts how we apply God’s instructions. As Christians seeking to walk in truth, we would do well to understand God’s intended rhythm of evening and morning. Whether for rest, worship, or remembrance, honoring the biblical reckoning of days honors the Lord who created those days. As we strive to walk in step with the Spirit, learning Scripture’s definition of a day keeps us in alignment with God’s design.