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

Also posted at SBC Open Forum.

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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