Tag Archives: creation of light

Genesis 1:3-5 – The First Day of Creation

The past few weeks have been spent figuring out Sailhamer and Walton’s views of Genesis 1:1-2.

  • Today we begin our exploration of the 6 days of creation.
  • We will hash out how they see the six days and how their views differ from other views.


Observation Time:

Genesis 1:3–5 (ESV) — 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

Where did this light event take place – globally or locally?

Does the text say or do we just assume?


What was created?

Why does it say, “be light” instead of “created” light?

Was God “letting” something He already created?


What does it mean for the light to be good?

Does that mean that waters and darkness from verse 2 were not good?


Does verse 5 mean that “night” is different from the “darkness” of verse 2?

And why would God call the light “Day”?

Is light different from the “Day”?


Finally, are we dealing with a literal 24-hour day?


Moses’ Message:

It is important to know that just below the surface of our text is its foundational significance.


Moses tells us:

  • God said
  • God saw
  • God separated
  • God called


God transcends His creation and controls His creation as He sees fit.

  • In a polemic against other ANE views, Moses shows us that all of creation is “utterly dependent” on God – Waltke.
  • He speaks and His creation responds.
  • Is it any wonder that Jesus said in Luke 19:40, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.


And God’s actions to create and shape creation aren’t arbitrary.

  • Among other things, creation is a triune act of love to establish fellowship with God’s image bearers.
  • By God’s spoken creative word, Adam and Eve are called out, Abram is called out, Moses is called out, Israel is called out and the church is called out to participate in this triune fellowship.


And the light itself illuminates another thing that is most important in our text – God’s presence.

  • Victor Hamilton reminds us that all of “creation” takes place in this light.
    • BTW – this includes the regeneration of the heart.
  • The light “is indicative of the presence of God both at creation and among his people Israel…” – Mathews.
  • Exodus 13:21 (ESV) — 21 And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night.
  • John 1:4–5 (ESV) — 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:5–6 (ESV) — 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.


John Sailhamer speaks of the light this way:

“After God created the universe, the land lay empty, dark, and barren. It awaited God’s call to light and life. Just as the light of the sun broke in upon the primeval darkness, heralding the dawn of God’s first blessing (1:3), so also the prophets and the apostles mark the beginning of the new kingdom age of salvation with the light that breaks through the darkness (Isaiah 8:22–9:2; Matthew 4:13–17; John 1:5, 8–9)” – John Sailhamer.


Are the above truths of Moses’ Message jeopardized by an old earth?

  • Are they jeopardized if the days are not a literal 24-hour days?



Verse 3:

Kenneth Mathews captures the typical view held on verse 3 as follows:

  • “The first step in remedying the dark earth was God’s command to bring forth light” – Mathews.
  • In other words, the primal earth was covered with water and surrounded by darkness.
  • It was floating along in the vast heavens alone – nothing else existed at this time.
  • And then God created light.


Gordon Wenham, Bruce Waltke, Victor Hamilton also agree.

  • Light was created on this first day.


Interestingly, the word used here is “haya” – not “bara” or “asah”.

  • The lexicons tell us this Hebrew word means, “to be, become, exist, happen”.
  • The Hebrew actually reads, God said “hyh or w hyh or”
  • Because of this word, there is apparently room here for a view that holds that God was calling out something that already existed to “be” or “happen” on the “eretz”.
  • We will see this with Sailhamer.


Interestingly, Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe says:

“God created physical light, that is, electromagnetic radiation, ‘in the beginning,’ [verse 1] when He brought the cosmos into existence. The matter and energy of the cosmos included light. Indeed, light is the dominant form of energy for both the primordial and present-day universe.”

  • For him, this means – with Walton and Sailhamer – that physical light already existed.
  • What the text is telling us, then, is that God let the light penetrate the primal atmosphere of a dark, water covered global earth.
  • As we will see, this is somewhat similar to Sailhamer’s view.


BTW – How is there day and night without the earth rotating around the sun (YEC view holds no other heavenly bodies existed yet)?

  • The explanation is that God created some kind of light (not the sun), or was Himself the source of light that illuminated the darkness.
  • It seems this could lead to all sorts of ad hoc explanations.
  • For example, if God was the source of light, how was there still darkness?
  • Did God need light to see what He was doing?
  • Did God cease shining for a number of hours everyday so that there was night?
  • Was the earth circling and spinning yet?



Verse 4:

What does it mean to call something good?

  • Gordon Wenham captures the typical view of the phrase “it was good”.
  • “This account of creation is a hymn to the creator: creation itself bears witness to the greatness and goodness of God” and “His goodness is reflected in His works” – Gordon Wenham.
  • Similarly Mathews says, “Here ‘light’ is declared ‘good’ because it accomplishes its purpose of dispelling the ‘darkness’ that had characterized the earth” – Kenneth Mathews.
  • In other words, it is good because it is from God and accomplishes His purpose.


Interestingly, what does this say about the darkness?

  • Wenham says, “God is, as it were, prejudiced in favor of light” – Wenham.
  • Certainly possible, however Genesis 1:31 says something different.
  • Genesis 1:31 (ESV) — 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.


Kenneth Mathews rightly says:

“There is no place in Hebrew thought for material being evil in itself. Whereas pagan cosmogonies depicted the primal matter as threatening, v. 31 confirms that all of God’s created order is ‘very good.’ An ascetic lifestyle predicated upon the notion of an evil body or material world is inconsistent with the Old Testament’s affirmation of the goodness of God’s world, its bounty, and the joy it brings the heart (e.g., Ps 104:15; Eccl 3:12–13; Jer 31:10–14). It is thus an insult to the ‘Creator of heaven and earth’ (Gen 14:19, 22)” – Kenneth Mathews.

  • This has huge implications for resurrection and eschatology.


What is meant by God’s separation of darkness and light?

  • Answering this question demands some creativity.
  • This is because, if looked at materially, darkness and light can’t co-exist.
  • So interestingly, answers to this question begin to reveal the value of Walton’s approach, as we will soon see.


Wenham seems to say (he isn’t clear at all) that the concept of separation points to the need for discernment among the Hebrews to know the difference between light/dark, clean/unclean and holy/profane.

  • I really don’t find this helpful.
  • Victor Hamilton calls this “more fanciful and imaginative than exegetical”.


Victor Hamilton says, “separated means here not to pull apart, but to assign each part to its respective sphere and slot” – Victor Hamilton.

  • In other words, we have changed gears from the physical to the functional.
    • Though he uses the phrase “separation toward order”.
  • This means what is being described here is the functional creation of time.


Bruce Waltke takes the same approach.

  • The separation is to bring order – again functional language.
  • “When everything keeps to its allotted place and does not transgress its limits, there is order, not chaos” – Bruce Waltke.


It is odd that those that hold to both a physical view of creation in general, and see day one as creation of light, revert to a functional view of creation to explain the separation of darkness from light.

  • More on this when we get to Walton.



Verse 5:

There is little disagreement over the meaning of God’s calling.

“God showed his superiority over both the light and the darkness by naming them ‘day’ and ‘night.’ The act of naming is an important feature in the creation account, indicating the existence (‘being’) of the element named and also God’s authority over his creation. This divine prerogative of ‘naming’ is extended to the first man, who names the animals and his companion ‘woman’ (2:19, 23; 3:20)” – Kenneth Mathews.



Is this a 24 hour day?

  • Wenham, Mathews, Waltke and Hamilton all say no.
  • I won’t dwell on their opinions here.
  • Interestingly, however, both Sailhamer and Walton say we are dealing with literal 24-hour days.


Time to deal with Sailhamer and Walton.



Sailhamer’s Take:

Remember, for Sailhamer, verse 1 clearly means to convey that the total universe was created in Genesis 1:1.

  • This includes all the heavenly bodies and time.

“The whole of the universe, including the sun, moon, and stars, were created ‘in the beginning.’ The ‘one day’ of Genesis 1:3–5 was not the first day of God’s creating the universe; rather, it was the first day of the week during which God prepared the promised land for the man and woman” – John Sailhamer.


For Sailhamer, this means a number of things.

  • (1) He believes we are to take the days and week to be a literal 24-hour day and seven day week.
  • (2) He believes that what Moses is describing here is a sunrise over Eden/Promised Land.
  • “On this day, God called forth the sun to cast its bright light upon the land He was about ‘to make’ for man” – John Sailhamer.
  • The first day “describes the sunlight breaking through the darkness on the morning of the first day of the week. It is merely a description of the sunrise on the first day of the week” – John Sailhamer.
    • Yet, importantly, he says this literal week is unlike any other in the history of the world.
  • (3) The separation means, similarly to Hugh Ross, that God ordained that the sun penetrate the darkness – a dense atmosphere/fog over the waters that “covered” Eden.
    • This is why it was called good.
  • (4) The perspective of the six days of creation is that of a person in Eden/Promised Land.
    • A local perspective instead of a global perspective.
    • A narrowing of the global perspective of verse 1.


Why does Sailhamer believe the text makes this claim that the first day is a sunrise over Eden?

  • One reason is that, “Elsewhere in the Bible, this same phrase [Hebrew text] is used to describe the sunrise (see Exodus 10:23; Nehemiah 8:3; Genesis 44:3)” – John Sailhamer.
  • Exodus 10:23 (ESV) — 23 They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light [hyh or] where they lived.
  • Nehemiah 8:3 (ESV) — 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning [ha or] until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
  • Genesis 44:3 (ESV) — 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys.


What is “good” for Sailhamer?

“The phrase ‘and God saw that it was good’ is the author’s way of saying that what God made was beneficial for mankind. The whole creation account is oriented toward God’s creation of the man and the woman on the sixth day. That which is ‘good’ in Genesis 1 is that which will benefit the man and woman” – John Sailhamer.


So using his textual approach Sailhamer affirms, like YEC’s, that we are dealing with literal 24-hour days.

  • However, unlike YEC’s, he says the textual approach leads him to affirm that we are not dealing with the creation of light on the first day.
  • What we have is a picture of an uninhabitable Eden, the local perspective, with the sun rising over it and penetrating its darkness.
  • This first day is preparatory for the creation of Adam and Eve and so is “good”.


Sailhamer’s view, as does Walton’s, raises questions about what is happening on day three.

  • But, obviously, he has a response to those questions.
  • We will see them in a few weeks.


Yet, under his view, the problem of reconciling the light of verse 1 with the creation of the sun on the third day goes away.

“When we understand the phrase ‘sky and land’ to include the sun, one of the most intransigent problems of Genesis 1 is resolved. The light in Genesis 1:3 is simply the sunlight” – John Sailhamer.



Walton’s Take:

Like Sailhamer, Walton also says we are not dealing with the creation of light in our text.

  • Remember, Walton believes physical creation happened in the “preface” of Genesis.
  • Genesis itself deals with the assigning of purpose, order and function to material – functional creation.


As hinted at earlier, Walton found traction for his functional view when struggling with what to do with the light and darkness questions we raised.

  • We saw that the physical creationists revert to a functional view to explain what is going on when God separates and names darkness and light.


This is because, as Walton also points out…

“…this statement [separation of light from dark] does not make any sense if light and/or darkness are viewed as material objects. They cannot logically be separated, because by definition they cannot exist together in any meaningful scientific or material way” – John Walton.

  • What he just said bears repeating.
  • Separation makes no sense if they are viewed as material objects.
  • As we saw, everybody seems to recognize this.


Is there another way to view light?

  • “…it should be observed that light is never treated as a material object in the ancient Near East, despite our modern physics. It is rather thought of as a condition, just as darkness is” – John Walton.


Walton then explains…

“In this case then, the author intends for us to understand the word ‘light’ to mean a period of light. Otherwise the verse would not make sense. As a result, ‘God called the period of light ‘day’ and the period of darkness he called ‘night’’ – John Walton.


In other words darkness and light already existed.

  • What God is doing is assigning function to them from the standpoint of his image-bearers.
  • He is “creating” time not light.


Walton sums up this way:

“Now comes the clincher. If ‘light’ refers to a period of light in verse 5 and in verse 4, consistency demands that we extend the same understanding to verse 3, and here is where the ‘aha!’ moment occurs. We are compelled by the demands of verses 4 and 5 to translate verse 3 as ‘God said, ‘Let there be a period of light.’’ If we had previously been inclined to treat this as an act of material creation, we can no longer sustain that opinion” – John Walton.

  • In other words, along with his event-centered approach (ANE context) he is saying that the text itself supports his functional creation view.


Like Sailhamer, Walton also says his view solves the light/sun problem.

  • Because we are dealing with functions and not material, each instance of light/sun is referring to assigning a different purpose or function.
  • So day one and three concern different functions.


Importantly, God’s description of the light and separation as good means this…

  • “…throughout Genesis 1 the refrain ‘it was good’ expressed the functional readiness of the cosmos for human beings” – John Walton.
  • In other words, the material in question came into “existence” by being assigned its function.


Walton says there is textual evidence for this view as well.

  • He says Genesis tells us exactly what “good” means in context.
  • Genesis 2:18 (ESV) — 18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
  • Walton says, “This verse has nothing to do with moral perfection or quality of workmanship” – John Walton.


But why is a functional definition made clear here?

  • Because it shows that “The human condition is not functionally complete without the woman” – John Walton.


What is Walton’s view on the length of the days?

  • “These are seven twenty-four-hour days. This has always been the best reading of the Hebrew text” – John Walton.
  • He goes on to say, “Those who have tried to alleviate the tension for the age of the earth commonly suggested that the days should be understood as long eras (the day-age view). This has never been convincing” – John Walton.


BTW – It needs to be noted, however, that given Walton and Sailhamer’s views of physical creation, endorsing a literal 24-hour day in Genesis 1 has nothing to say about the age of the earth.



We have attempted to provide possible answers for the questions we raised.

  • Once again, in Sailhamer and Walton, we have found views that challenge the typical YEC view of what the author of Genesis is meaning to convey.
  • But, importantly, we have seen that Moses’ Message undergirds everything in our text.