1b) Gen 1:3–5: Moses arranged the first chapter of Genesis thematically, rather than in chronological order.[1] It moves from an inoperative condition of chaos into an established functional pattern.[2]

The first three days consist of the creation of kingdoms/habitations with a second set of  three days in which God made their kings/inhabitants.[3]

Thus, the first day corresponds to the fourth, the second to the fifth, and the third to the sixth.[4]

This format combated Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) mythologies, which worshiped creation and its creatures instead of the creator on whom they ultimately depended.[5]

In all of the ANE creation stories, the world arose in at least one of these four ways: 1) as the work of God or gods; 2) due to the spoken word; 3) from conflict with opposing forces; or 4) by self-reproduction and birth. Genesis depicts only the first two of these categories.[6]

In God’s first recorded act in the biblical narrative, he fabricated the entire universe though his sovereign decree (Heb 11:3).[7]

Likewise, the Egyptian god Ptah envisioned creation in his mind and then spoke it into being.[8]

People in the ANE believed that things did not exist, nor were they given their function, until they were named.[9]

Therefore, by naming and assigning purpose to creation, God demonstrated his power and authority over all he made.

A similar concept occurs in the tablet of destinies maintained by the gods in Enuma Elish.[10] In the midst of the primordial chaos, as they were brought forth and named, “Then it was that the gods were formed.”[11]

This idea parallels the Lord’s creation of light.[12] However, Moses did not deify the forces of nature but cited their obedience to God’s commands.[13]

Since the people of Egypt and nearby nations routinely worshiped the sun and moon as gods,[14] Moses sought to prevent idolatry by calling them simply “lights” created by God (Gen 1:14–16).

Light signifies life, salvation, the Lord’s presence, and even his commands (Ps 56:13; Isa 9:2; Exod 10:22–23; Prov 6:23).[15]

People in the ANE considered the sun only one source of light in addition to the stars and moon, which all made light of their own. After all, daylight appears before the sun rises and remains visible after it sets.[16]

By not describing the creation of the sun until “a fourth day,” Moses conveyed the idea that God is the ultimate source of light.[17]

“And God saw the light, that it was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.”

The Lord delighted in his handiwork.[18] One of the nuances of “separated” is being set apart for a particular function,[19] a concept we see repeated in Gen 1:6–7, 14, 18.[20]

Light and darkness not only cannot reside together, each serves a different purpose.[21] They appear in alternating periods of time, rather than being restricted to distinct spheres.[22]

Moses continued, “And God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness he called ‘night.’”

In the ANE, to give something or someone a name signified one’s authority (2 Ki 23:34).[23]

By naming the light and the darkness, the Lord in effect dethroned the pagan celestial deities whom the Israelites had seen people worship in Egypt.[24]

The creation of the sun and moon on “a fourth day” highlights the difficulty of a precise definition for the term “day,” as light had been present since “a first day.” In addition, the Hebrew word “yom” often loses the specific meaning “day,” [25] becoming a vague term for “time” or “moment.”[26]

On each of the first five days, no definite article occurs before the number of each day (e.g. “a second day”). In Hebrew grammar, authors employed the word “the” to denote a particular person or thing.[27]

Consequently, the syntax of Genesis 1 permits a range of ideas in the length of time during which God created.[28]

The lack of a definite article also permitted Moses to depict the events of days one through five in a sequence other than their chronological order for literary purposes.[29]

Presenting the process in a series of “days” accommodates the finite thinking of human minds.[30]

Using the same formula to conclude the account of each day, Moses wrote, “And there was evening and there was morning, a first day.”[31]

On “a first day” God created time,[32] alternating periods of darkness and light. He listed evening first because darkness was the preexisting condition.[33]

Image via Wikimedia Commons


Read Gen 1:3–5. Why did Moses call what God created on the first day “light” when the sun would not be created until the fourth day? What features of Genesis 1 make a precise definition of the word “day” extremely difficult? How can “day” be interpreted here?




Go to In the Beginning was the Word


[Related posts include (Gen 1:14–19); The Light Shines in Darkness (John 1:3–5); Greater and Lesser Lights; and Ancient Literature]


[Click here to go to Chapter 1: God Establishes His Cosmic Temple through Creation (Genesis 1:1–13)]


[1]Kline, Kingdom Prologue: Genesis Foundations for a Covenantal Worldview, 25.

[2]Walton, Genesis, 84.

[3]Meredith G. Kline, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony,” PSCF 48, no. 1 (March 1996): 2–15. http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1996/PSCF3-96Kline.html.

[4]James W. Skillen, “The Seven Days of Creation,” CTJ 46, no. 1 (4 January 2011): 111–39, 124.

[5]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[6]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 119.

[7]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[8]John A. Wilson, trans., “Theology of Memphis,” in ANET, lines 53–4, 4–6. https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n29/mode/2up.

[9]Walton, Genesis, 86.

[10]Walton, Genesis, 71–2.

[11]“Enuma Elish (The Creation Epic),” ANET, 1:9, 61. https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n85/mode/2up.

[12]Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, 107.

[13]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 60.

[14]John A. Wilson, trans., “A Hymn to Amon-Re,” in ANET, 365–7. https://archive.org/stream/Pritchard1950ANET_20160815/Pritchard_1950_ANET#page/n389/mode/2up.

[15]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[16]Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (IVPBBCOT) (Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2000), Gen 1:5–8.

[17]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[18]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[19]Swanson, James, “בדל” (badhal), Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Hebrew (Old Testament) (DBLSDH) (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), 976. https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/94/mode/2up.

[20]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 18.

[21]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[22]Walton, Genesis, 79.

[23]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 19.

[24]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3 (ed. Martin Rüter, Ilse Tödt, and John W. De Gruchy; trans. Douglas Stephen Bax; DBW; Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2004), 48.

[25] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, “יֹום” (yom),  BDB, 398–401, https://archive.org/stream/hebrewenglishlex00browuoft#page/398/mode/2up.

[26]Holladay, “יֹום” (yom), CHALOT, 529.

[27]Gesenius, GKC, 407, https://archive.org/stream/geseniushebrewgr00geseuoft#page/406/mode/2up.

[28]Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall: A Theological Exposition of Genesis 1–3, 49.

[29]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 77.

[30]Waltke and Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary, 61.

[31]Wenham, Genesis 1–15, 19.

[32]Walton, Genesis, 84.

[33]Matthews, Chavalas, and Walton, IVPBBCOT, Gen 1:5.