Shedding Light on the Length of Pre-Sun Creation Days: A Text-Based Approach

by Ken Hamrick

In the ongoing debate over the Genesis creation account, one supposed problem that seems particularly troublesome for many is the question of the length of a day prior to the creation of the sun (on Day 4). Since the sun is the means by which a day is usually measured, then it is objected by Old-Earthers that we are left without any sure understanding of what God might possibly mean by the term, “day,” when it is used to describe the first three days of creation. Here’s the text:

Genesis 1 ESV
1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 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.

6 And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” 7 And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. 8 And God called the expanse Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

Notice in verses 4-5 that God defined the idea of a day before there was a sun: “…And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” God “separated” the light from the darkness. The introduction of light into a dark room does not separate the light from darkness but rather, it dispels the darkness. How then was the darkness separated from the light when God created the light? As it continues, the text informs us of the nature of this separation: “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.” The separation of light from darkness refers to the separation of day from night, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

It is that separation of light from darkness—of day from night—that marks off one day from the next. Thus, the account of God’s creating follows the pattern of creative activity during the period of light, followed by the period of darkness, which is followed by the dawning of the next day, which marks the completion of the previous day. The sentence, “And there was evening and there was morning, the first day,” does not mean that the morning was included in the first day; but rather, that the advent of morning ended the period of the first day. Each day is a chronological account of what happened on that day, with God’s creative activity happening during the daylight, followed by evening, and the full day ending with the appearance of the morning light.

In this way, what the text clearly displays for us is the repeating of day and night (together making one full day) asearth in space the earth rotates. In the description of the fourth day, we come to understand more precisely how light is separated from darkness in such a way as to separate day from night: “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night…’ …And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night… to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.” It is by these lights that the day is separated from the night—in particular, it is by the sun (whose light is reflected by the much-less-luminous moon) that the light and dark sides of the earth are separated, and because of which the rotating earth experiences both day and night. Without the sun, we would have no period of daylight—all would be the continual darkness of night; but with the sun shining on the earth from its place in space, the darkness of the dark side of the earth is separated from the daylight of the light side of the earth (and the rotation spins off one day after the next).

But does this really mean that before God created the sun to rule the day and separate the light from darkness, that there is no reasonable way for us to conclude that the length (or definition or nature) of “day” was the same as it was after the creation of the sun? In order to have a day of the same nature and definition, God would have needed only a light in space to shine on the earth, separating the light from the darkness on the earth—separating day from night—and of course, a rotating earth to move through the separated daylight and darkness to the dawning morning, repetitively. But, did God have this? What did God use to separate the light from the darkness prior to creating the sun? Look at verses 3 and 4: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness.” “And GOD separated the light from the darkness!” The text unequivocally puts GOD in the physical role that it later puts the sun in, that of separating the light from the darkness in such a way as to separate daytime from nighttime on the rotating earth. And the text goes on to declare that because God was separating the light from the darkness, then “there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” God Himself was the Source of light shining on the earth prior to the sun, enabling days to be experienced and incremented three times before there was any sun.

God as a light so great as to provide daylight? What other Biblical support is there for such an idea? Look at Rev. 21, describing the New Jerusalem:

Rev. 21 ESV
23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.

There will be no night there because the glory of God gives it light—no need of a sun to shine on it. This text affirms that God can indeed (and will one day) provide a great enough light to provide daylight itself. It describes the light of God providing daylight continually, without any period of darkness, because the source of the light—God—is present on the earth (in the New Jerusalem). In order for there to be daytime and nighttime, the earth would need to rotate in the face of the light standing apart from it in space and shining on it, like the sun. And if God is capable of the former, He certainly is capable of the latter!

Stand firmly on the Word of God!

Ken Hamrick, 2015

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9 comments

  1. parsonsmike

    Ken,
    A problem.
    Before the sun was created, why do you think the earth rotated?
    We think of darkness or night as the area of the earth that is away from the sun, the source of light that we have now. For the earth rotates and where there is dark now was once light, and where there is light now was once dark.
    Now put on your thinking cap, so to speak. God is creating not just on one side of the earth, but all around the earthly orb. If the earth is rotating and there is a fixed light source [but not yet the sun since it has yet to be created], then if God is only creating in the light, he is only creating on part of the earth that ‘faces’ the fixed light, and not on the ‘dark’ side. But obviously God is creating on all ‘sides’ at the same time.
    So the question becomes, how did God separate the light from the dark? One answer is by having a fixed light source and rotating the earth. But that means that some of the earth was in the dark and some of it was in the light. And yet you say he created only during the light.
    But of course He did not. He created before there was light for the earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters, and thus before there was light there was the formless and void earth and it was dark. Then He created the light as well. [And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.]
    Now my first thought was to have God outside of the earth and have Him be the light. So as the earth turned, or as He turned it, it would be light wherever it faced Him. And as the part turned to face Him, creation would happen. Think of a piece of pottery on a wheel. If you hold a brush dabbed with paint at a fixed a spot on the piece and spun the piece so as it turned, the brush would stay in contact with the clay, a line would appear, running around the circumference, as it rubbed against the brush.

    So the Spirit hovers over the earth, and as it turns, the creative word of God transforms that void and formless orb into the place God wanted it to be.
    So while it turned, there would be a part of it that was away from the hovering Spirit which would be in the dark, away from the light. The length of the day then would depend on the speed of the rotation, even as it does today. A day equals one full rotation around as the earth orbits a fixed light source.

    Nothing in the text indicates how long it took to rotate once fully except the idea of what a day is to both the original readers and all subsequent ones.
    But consider this, –from Genesis 2: When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground.– What we see there is that the plants created on the third day were sustained by a mist that rose from the ground. But no ~new~ plants had “yet sprung up”, tells us that the length of time and the reality of that time could not support a very long day. But then that is using science to determine a young earth! Haha. Certainly God could keep the plants alive a long time in that one day -if that day was a lot longer than a 24 hour day.
    But such an idea leaves no room for OEC. Even the idea that Days 1 and 2 and 3 were longer than 24 hours does not give room for OEC. For there were no animals or bugs or hominoids roaming the earth in those ~possibly-longer-than-24-hour-days~ 1 and 2 and 3. Thus no long periods of time to allow for fossil records of tribophytes or whatever those supposedly ancient critters are called.

    So the question then becomes, why bother doubting the God inspired record and speculate that what God calls a day was not just a 24 hour day? Even in those first three days before the sun and moon, there were no animals nor bugs, nor plants reproducing after their own kind. It seems far wiser to just take God at His Word than imagining plants that live for a thousand years or more simply by a mist that springs up from the earth.

    So lets just take Him at His Word.

    mike

    • Ken Hamrick

      Mike,

      You asked, “Before the sun was created, why do you think the earth rotated?” I think a more appropriate, text-based question is, What indication does the text give us that there was any change in the rotation that causes the daily cycle that is universally experienced on earth? All that the text indicates is that the light source changed when the sun was created—there is no indication whatsoever that the speed of rotation changed or that a static earth began to rotate. I’ve already given you the textual basis for why I think the earth rotated. It is because the darkness was “separated” from the light, and not merely dispelled, indicating the separation between the light and dark sides of the earth. Also, it is because the text, after stating that the light was separated from the darkness, tells us that there was evening and there was morning—changes that accord only with rotation in the face of a light standing apart from the earth in space. And finally, it is because we know that the earth rotates in the face of the sun and that is why we there is a change from night to day and day to night, and nothing in the text indicates any deviation from what the writer and readers would have understood to have been the DAILY experience of the length of a day.

      Remember, too, that the objection from Old-Earth skeptics is that there is no reasonable justification for thinking that the text conveys the idea of 24-hour days prior to a sun. Therefore, it is not our burden to disprove every imaginable explanation, but only to establish that there is a reasonable justification for preferring the plain, straightforward reading of 24-hour days.

      You said:

      …So the question becomes, how did God separate the light from the dark? One answer is by having a fixed light source and rotating the earth. But that means that some of the earth was in the dark and some of it was in the light. And yet you say he created only during the light…

      I didn’t mean that God only created during the light from God’s perspective. God is using a human author to write to men. Of course, to God even the darkness is as noonday. In order to record for men the periods of time in which God created, He needed to use familiar (and accurate) ideas of days, etc. Since God is present on all the earth and beholds it all at the same time, He would necessarily have to choose a reference point on the earth in order to mark off the time in a way that humans would understand. I suppose He could have just written, “The earth rotated once, the first day,” but how long would it be before anyone understood what that meant? So He chose to communicate the account as if He had been focused on a single reference point on the earth, so that as that place of reference experienced evening and morning, God communicated that evening and morning had passed. While it’s true that it’s always evening or morning somewhere on the globe, it’s just as true that no matter where on the globe, it’s only evening or morning once per day.

      You stated:

      Now my first thought was to have God outside of the earth and have Him be the light. So as the earth turned, or as He turned it, it would be light wherever it faced Him. And as the part turned to face Him, creation would happen. Think of a piece of pottery on a wheel. If you hold a brush dabbed with paint at a fixed a spot on the piece and spun the piece so as it turned, the brush would stay in contact with the clay, a line would appear, running around the circumference, as it rubbed against the brush…

      The light of God’s glory could shine from a single point in space, but God Himself is at all places on earth and in the universe.

      You stated:

      But consider this, –from Genesis 2: When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground.– What we see there is that the plants created on the third day were sustained by a mist that rose from the ground. But no ~new~ plants had “yet sprung up”, tells us that the length of time and the reality of that time could not support a very long day. But then that is using science to determine a young earth! Haha. Certainly God could keep the plants alive a long time in that one day -if that day was a lot longer than a 24 hour day.
      But such an idea leaves no room for OEC. Even the idea that Days 1 and 2 and 3 were longer than 24 hours does not give room for OEC. For there were no animals or bugs or hominoids roaming the earth in those ~possibly-longer-than-24-hour-days~ 1 and 2 and 3. Thus no long periods of time to allow for fossil records of tribophytes or whatever those supposedly ancient critters are called.

      Good points! You also said:

      So the question then becomes, why bother doubting the God inspired record and speculate that what God calls a day was not just a 24 hour day? Even in those first three days before the sun and moon, there were no animals nor bugs, nor plants reproducing after their own kind. It seems far wiser to just take God at His Word than imagining plants that live for a thousand years or more simply by a mist that springs up from the earth.

      So lets just take Him at His Word.

      Amen!
      Ken

  2. jimpemberton

    Ken, good points here. Many people fail to see greater understanding of light and dark in this passage because of the focus on the debate. That is to say that people misinterpret the figurative nature of “day” as meaning “indeterminate periods of time” in which some act of creation came about. In a way, it falls into the Alexandrian mystical allegory, not that it has some uber-spiritual meaning, but that it’s used to import some idea not implicit in the text. Instead there is more of an Antiochian literalistic figure of speech that recognizes a point to revealing who God is in this account in the day/night, light/dark language that necessarily rests on the real thing happening in the account. In other words, if there weren’t real 24-hour days, there wouldn’t be a light/dark pattern to tell us that God not only reveals truth like the light, but that he created the truth to be revealed to us in the first place.

    • Ken Hamrick

      Thanks, Jim. You’re way ahead of me. I never would have thought of the Alexandrian/Antiochian comparison. We’re blessed to have you here, and I look forward to the next article in your series, “Of Science and Faith.”

      • jimpemberton

        Hopefully I’ll have the next one up soon. I have an exam this week in the the history of hermeneutics, so Alexandria and Antioch were on my mind when I read your article here. It was a connection I hadn’t made before, but it seemed appropriate to apply what I’ve been studying to this oft-debated topic. I’ve often referenced that applying a good hermeneutic of Genesis 1 results in 24-hour days, but you made the case well today.

  3. parsonsmike

    Oh so right.
    If the ‘day’ lasted 1000 or a million years, then what does the idea of dark mean? or the idea of morning and evening mean? Certainly to the Mosaic Jew, these things signified one day or morning to morning period, basically 24 hours. What then, from the text, or even in further Biblical readings, is there to justify any other interpretation? As far as I know, none has been offered by Christians with either a OEC view or theistic evolutionists.

  4. Christiane Smith

    one of the very first Christian hymns extant sacred Scripture was called the ‘Phos Hilaron’ and celebrated Christ as the ‘Light’ with these words:

    ‘Gentle Light of the Holy Glory of the Immortal and Heavenly Father,
    Holy and Blessed, O Jesus Christ,
    Having come to the setting of the sun, beholding the Light of evening,
    We sing to the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit – God,
    Thou art worthy at every moment to be praised in hymns by reverent voices,
    O Son of God, Giver of Life, all the world glorifies Thee’

    At sunset, the early Christians gathered at the empty tomb and there they lit fires to carry out and to light candles that would be taken through the city into the homes of Christians as reminders that Christ had risen from the dead and that after their own earthly deaths, He, the Giver of Life, would receive them eternally into the light that has no ending

    Truly, the way the early Christians thought of Christ as ‘the Uncreated Light’, other thoughts about the ‘light’ must have paled in comparison

  5. Pingback: Justin Taylor’s Doubts About 24-Hour Days of Creation – In Retrospect | SBC Open Forum
  6. Pingback: Shedding Light on the Length of Pre-Sun Creation Days: A Text-Based Approach – Ken Hamrick

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