‘In my father’s day … ’
To determine whether ‘day’ means a long period of time, the hours of daylight, or a 24-hour period, you need to look at the context
If you live in Canada, the USA or Australia, you might say this, “In my father’s day, it took six days to drive a car across this great country of ours, driving only during the day.”
Published: 26 March 2013 (GMT+10)
One argument often raised by people1 doubting that God created in six ordinary earth-rotation days is that ‘day’ can mean a period of time longer than 24 hours, i.e. a non-literal day.
“In my father’s day … ”, they say, and also point to Bible passages such as Genesis 2:4b (KJV)—“in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens”. They might also refer to Numbers 7:10 (KJV)—“in the day that it was anointed”—which refers to the twelve days of sacrifice at the dedication of the temple.2 (All Bible quotes in this article are from the KJV,3 unless otherwise indicated.) “See?”, they argue, “In those instances ‘day’ doesn’t mean a 24-hour day, but is clearly referring to an extended period, longer than a day.”
On that point, they’re absolutely right. ‘Day’ can sometimes mean something other than a 24-hour day. It can indeed refer to a longer period than 24 hours, as they say. Sometimes too it is shorter than 24 hours, i.e. referring only to the daylight hours. But often ‘day’ does mean an ordinary 24-hour day, and it’s the context that determines this.
For example, consider the three occurrences of the word ‘day’ in the following sentence:
In my father’s day, it took six days to drive a car across this great country of ours, driving only during the day.
The first instance of the word ‘day’—“In my father’s day … ”—is an indefinite period longer than 24 hours, most usually referring to the time or era when “my father” lived.
The third appearance of the word ‘day’, in the sentence’s closing caveat—“driving only during the day”—is a period restricted to the hours of daylight only, i.e. daytime.
But it’s the second occurrence of the word ‘day’ in the above statement—“it took six days”—that inescapably refers to a 24-hour period. The contextual key to this is the number that precedes the word ‘day’ here. “Six days” means six days. Six ordinary earth-rotation days. And the closing information re driving only in the daytime is additional confirmation—if any were needed.
Turning our attention now to the biblical account of creation, let us examine the context of Genesis days in light of the principles demonstrated above. We have deliberately chosen to quote from the KJV, as all three contexts of the English word ‘day’ are in evidence there, too.
‘Day’ in the Genesis Creation account
The word ‘day’ in Genesis 1 first appears in verse 5, where it is used twice:
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.
The context makes it clear that the first occurrence of the word ‘day’ (“God called the light Day”) is referring to daytime. The next occurrence is with a number, “the first day”. I.e. this is an ordinary day—and the other information re ‘evening’ and ‘morning’ is additional confirmation—if any were needed. In fact, “the evening and the morning were the first day” is a defining statement. (See box: “First Day” / “One Day”.) It defines the Jewish (evening-then-morning) ‘day’—e.g. as seen in the rush to take Jesus’ body down from the cross before sunset, the commencement of the Sabbath (John 19:31, cf. Deuteronomy 21:22–23 / Galatians 3:13).
And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.—Genesis 1:5
“Evening … morning … first day.” Similarly, this pattern of evening-morning-number-day is also evident for Day 2 of Creation in Genesis 1 (v. 8):
And the evening and the morning were the second day.
And for Day 3, too, evening-morning-number-day (v. 13):
And the evening and the morning were the third day.
And again for Days 4, 5 and 6:
And the evening and the morning were the fourth day. (v. 19)
And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. (v. 23)
And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. (v. 31)
The careful repetition of this evening-morning-number-day pattern for all six days of Creation Week leaves no room for any doubting that the six days were ordinary earth-rotation days.
So we see that the Creation Week account uses ‘day’ to mean ‘daytime’, i.e. less than a 24-hour day (Genesis 1:5a, also vv. 14a,16,18); and in other instances to mean an ordinary earth-rotation 24-hour day (Genesis 1:5b,8,13,19,23,31, 2:2,3); and finally in Genesis 2:4 we see ‘day’ in the KJV in line with the “in my father’s day” usage, i.e. a period longer than a 24-hour day:
These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens,
It is surely obvious that ‘day’ here in Genesis 2:4 of the KJV cannot refer to a literal 24-hour day, e.g. because the account up to this point has made it clear that there were six (literal) days of Creation. So, we see that even when just considering only the English rendering of the KJV, it’s the context that makes it evident whether ‘day’ is referring to an Earth-rotation day, daytime, or a period longer than 24 hours.
And when we consider the original Hebrew, we see additionally that there is a completely different grammatical context in Genesis 2:4. Unlike the way יום (yôm—day) is used in Genesis 1:1–2:3 where it is a singular, absolute noun ‘day’, in Genesis 2:4 it is a singular, construct noun ‘day’ as it is prefixed by ב (bə) thus ביום (bəyôm). (For more on this see Does Genesis 2:4 refute literal creation days?)5 This is often an idiomatic (a more precise word than “figurative”) expression for “when”.
Hence those English versions such as the NIV6 which translate bəyôm in Genesis 2:47 as ‘when’ accurately mirror the Hebrew meaning. In fact, some Hebrew scholars rather bluntly describe the KJV’s “in the day that” rendering of bəyôm in Genesis 2:4 as “faulty translation”.8
A definitive ‘proof-text’ for 6-day Creation: Exodus 20:8–11
As well as using the faulty “in my father’s day” argument, people arguing against ordinary six-day creation often cite 2 Peter 3:8, “ … one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” They try to argue from this that the days of creation week could have been indefinite ‘God-days’. But from the context it’s clear that 2 Peter 3:8 has nothing to do with the days of creation. (Rather, it concerns the second coming of Christ.) Also it is not defining a ‘day’ as it does not say one day is a thousand years but rather one day is as a thousand years. It is teaching that God is not bound by time as we are (because He is the Creator of time itself). To the eternal Creator of time, a short period of time and a long period of time may as well be the same. Peter is likely referring to Psalm 90:4, which makes the same point: “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.” If one ‘day’ were really a thousand years, then so would be a three-hour ‘watch’ period! (Matthew 14:25). For more, see 2 Peter 3:8—“one day is like a thousand years” and “The days were ‘God’s days’ not ‘man’s days’”.
Probably, however, the most effective and definitive ‘proof-text’ for ordinary 6-day creation is Exodus 20:8–11 (the 4th Commandment). Certainly many proponents of ‘indefinite’ creation-days are often surprised when shown it (as if seeing it for the first time):
In Exodus 20:8–11, it’s explicit that the six days of creation were the same sorts of ‘days’ as the six days for human labour.
Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it.
In this passage, it’s explicit that the six days of creation were the same sorts of ‘days’ as the six days for human labour here on Earth. They were not ‘God-days’, or Martian days, or Venusian days.9 Venus, Mars, the stars and the other planets did not even exist until Day 4—cf. “the earth” is referred to specifically in Genesis 1:1,2. The days of creation in Genesis and in Exodus 20:8–11 are Earth-days. The universe was created in six consecutive, normal-length Earth-days, the same as those of the six-day working week defined by God in Exodus 20:8–11 (and 31:17).
Days before the Sun
Some people arguing for an old earth say that Days 1–3 could not have been literal because the sun wasn’t made until Day 4. They say that as the sun is necessary for the day-night cycle, none of the creation days are literal.
The sun was not created until Day 4, so how could the first three days have been ordinary days?
The creation of light before the sun was noted by early Church Fathers and the later Reformers without any problem, but some raise it today as if creationists had never thought of it. E.g. in AD 180, Theophilus of Antioch noted that it made nonsense of sun-worship because God made the plants before the sun, and Basil said the same [in the 4th century].10
The most basic definition of a day is the ‘time for Earth to make a complete rotation on its axis’. All we need for a day is the earth rotating. To demarcate the day with evening and morning, we then need a directional source of light so that the rotating earth causes the night and day cycle that is described for each day in Genesis 1. The Bible says that in the latter part of the first day, following the period of darkness (Genesis 1:1–2) God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light (v. 3). So we have a source of light and a rotating Earth and we have days happening: and there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Those who would claim that the first days had to be a different length have to suppose that God changed the speed of rotation of the earth on its axis, when he created the greater light as the light bearer (Genesis 1:14), which is hardly likely.
Scripture gives no hint that the days were any different: the same formula applies for Days 2 and 3 as for Days 4 and 5 (there was evening and there was morning, a second/third/fourth/fifth day).
Only 3 days, no ‘years’, before Day 4
On Day 1 of Creation week, God creates light, then separates the light (daytime) from darkness (night)—Genesis 1:3–5. But from Day 4, God institutes the sun and the moon to separate (“divide”) daytime from night—Genesis 1:14–18:
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth, And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good.
Note that the sun and moon are to function not only as ‘lights’ but also “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years” (Genesis 1:14b). Once more in the creation account we have ‘days’ used to mean ordinary days—it would be nonsensical for anyone to translate this “for signs, and for seasons, and for vast geological ages, and years”. So, from Day 4, one rotation of the Earth on its axis relative to the sun equals one day (cf. relative to the previous interim light source God provided on Days 1–3), and one orbit around the sun equals a year. Since the very beginning of the universe, Earth has orbited the sun about 6,000 times (see How does the Bible teach 6,000 years? and the responses to critics of this article, 6,000 years of biblical history: Questions and answers), It was a thousands-of-years timeline, not millions-of-years, that Jesus believed, too—see Jesus and the age of the earth. So any clutching at “In my father’s day … ”-type arguments for an old earth have no scriptural justification whatsoever.
“First Day” / “One Day”
And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
Which of these English renderings—“first day” or “one day”—most closely mirrors the Hebrew text?
Cardinal versus Ordinal numbers in the original Hebrew of Genesis 1
The numeric for Days 2–6 in the Creation Week account in Genesis is in the Hebrew form of an ordinal number,12,13—i.e. the days are numbered second (שני shenicirc;), third (שלשי shlîshî), fourth (רביעי rveiyi), fifth (חמישי chamîshî) and sixth (ישש shishi).
But there’s a key difference with Day 1 of Creation Week. That’s because Genesis 1:5 in Hebrew does not say “first day” (which would be יום ראשון yôm ri’shon)—i.e. day with an ordinal number—but instead “one day”, (יום אחד yôm echad)—i.e. day with a cardinal number. This is the first moment in recorded history that anyone has spoken the word ‘day’ with a numeric—and so the cardinal number rendering in the NASB is apt.
Note that a day can be only a “first” if there are other days that follow. At the beginning of Creation Week, there was only that one day. Also, God himself in Genesis 1:5 is defining what a day is: a darkness (night) and light (daytime) cycle, “there was evening and there was morning, one day”. One rotation of the earth equals one day. The whole creation was completed in the time it took for the earth to rotate just six times. Six ordinary earth-rotation days.14
The great theologian Basil (AD 329–379) pointed this out long ago in a homily on Creation Week:
“Why does Scripture say ‘one day’ not ‘the first day’? Before speaking to us of the second, the third, and the fourth days, would it not have been more natural to call that one the first which began the series? If it therefore says ‘one day’, it is from a wish to determine the measure of day and night, and to combine the time that they contain. Now 24 hours fill up the space of one day—we mean of a day and of a night; and if, at the time of the solstices, they have not both an equal length, the time marked by Scripture does not the less circumscribe their duration. It is as though it said: 24 hours measure the space of a day, or that, in reality a day is the time that the heavens starting from one point take to return there.”15
- E.g. followers of the Watchtower Society, known more widely as “Jehovah’s Witnesses”, who deny the deity of Christ. See How to talk creation with a Jehovah’s witness. Return to text.
- Numbers 7:12,18,24,30,36,42,48,54,60,66,72,78. Return to text.
- KJV= King James Version (also known as the ‘Authorized Version’). Return to text.
- Some people wrongly think that the seventh day is continuing. See Is the seventh day an eternal day? Return to text.
- Theologian: Genesis means what it says!—Jonathan Sarfati interviews Old Testament scholar Dr Robert McCabe, Creation 32(3):16–19, 2010. Also see Sarfati, J., Refuting Compromise (Updated and Expanded), Creation Book Publishers, 2011, pp. 70–71. Return to text.
- New International Version 1984. Return to text.
- And also in Genesis 2:17, 3:5, 5:1, 5:2 and Numbers 7:10, 84. Return to text.
- Graves, D., … when Yahweh God made the earth and the heavens,”—a proposal for the right translation of כְּיוֹם [bəyôm] in Genesis 2:4, Journal of Creation 23(3):119–122, 2009. Return to text.
- Mars rotates on its axis a little more slowly than Earth, so a Martian day is slightly longer than a day on Earth. Venus, however, rotates much more slowly: a day on Venus lasts 243 Earth-days! In fact, a day on Venus is longer than a Venusian year (the time it takes for Venus to orbit the Sun). See also Venus: cauldron of Fire and Mars: the red planet. Return to text.
- Theophilus, To Autolycus 2:15, Basil, Hexaëmeron 6:2. Return to text.
- NASB = New American Standard Bible. Return to text.
- Ordinal numbers are used to refer, for example, to the order of runners finishing a race—first, second, third, etc., as opposed to cardinal numbers: one, two, three, etc. Return to text.
- Just as it is with all of the numbered days of the temple sacrifice in the Numbers chapter 7 passage (see vv. 12,18,24,30,36,42,48,54,60,66,72,78) referred to at the start of this article. Return to text.
- And this numbering pattern, including the deliberate use of the definite article for Day 6 (and Day 7 in Genesis 2:2–3, as well as for all the days in the Numbers passage) further emphasizes this. Sarfati, J., The numbering pattern of Genesis, Journal of Creation 17(2):60–61, 2003; creation.com/numbering—after Steinmann, A., אחד as an ordinal number and the meaning of Genesis 1:5, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) 45(4):577–584, 2002. Return to text.
- Basil, Hexaëmeron 2:8, AD 370, newadvent.org/fathers/32012.htm; see also Genesis means what it says: Basil (AD 329–379), Creation 16(4):23–53, September 1994; creation.com/basil. Return to text.
I do like that sentence where you used the word “day”; three times and each one had a slightly different meaning, but one thing to point out is that neither of the three usages of the word “day” never meant an unspecified time period. The first one is talking of a time past when his father was younger. The second one is clear that the time period is a 24 hour period of which we are told there were six of them. The final usage clearly is demonstrating a period where the sun is shining. Clearly from the way we use the word “day” it has never been used for unspecified time period. We have to invent that meaning into the word, not because it ever meant that.
I get it now. “Day” or era/time can refer to the past i.e. “back in the day” (historical)...
“This is the history of the heavens and the earth … in the day …” Genesis 2:4
“Now these are the records of Aaron and Moses in the day that the Lord spoke …” Numbers 3:1
“… of the Lord your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly …” Deut 18:16
“… as in the day when she [Israel] came up from the land of Egypt.” Hosea 2:15
“… in the day of temptation … and saw my works forty years.” Hebrews 3:8, 9
It can refer to the present …”
“...Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.” John 8:56
… or it can refer to the future (prophesy).
It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall …” Isaiah 11:11 and Amos 8:9, 13
“In my fathers day … is a very good article. Thanks.”
Thanks Dr. Sarfati for your response. I guess I was a bit vague; the meaning of “day” in Genesis 1:1–2:4 is crystal clear, absolutely, because the context makes its meaning plain. The point I was making was just that many words in general (day included) have a varying number of meanings, and this can often be helpful given God must have regularly had to adapt to human finitude in order to ensure His Word made sense to all men for all time, since our knowledge is (and will always be) puny in comparison to His. Sadly, day-agers misuse this equivocality in their eagerness to compromise with the naturalistic historical stories (while theistic evolutionists misuse it even worse so as to claim that the creation account is just a fairy-tale only fit for "pre-scientific" ignoramuses). But if you interpret the world with the Bible rather than interpret the Bible with the world you’re always on the right track. That’s the message CMI constantly preaches so brilliantly.
I’ve thought all this myself before how people can be unaware of the fact that the word “day”\yom (just like ruach, shamayim and eretz too by the way) has several different possible meanings, decided on by context, is beyond me. Seems God (as the Creator of language) deliberately made it equivocal (never more masterfully demonstrated than with the raqiya‘\expanse) in order to foil those who, of course, He knew would one day accuse Him of error.
By the way, Dean D.: hope you’ve read about the Wiseman tablet theory. Seems most doubtful that Genesis 1:1–2:4 was just the Holy Spirit dictating to Moses - that is, that no human in the 2,500 years before Moses knew the creation account. Far more likely that Moses was copying the contents of a clay tablet—a clay tablet whom I myself suspect the inaugural copy of was probably engraved by God the Father Himself, most likely during the second week of Earth’s existence. I suspect the creation account of Genesis 1:1–2:4 has been available, as Holy Scripture, to all God-revering humans from Adam and Eve onwards. Wiseman’s theory explains so much and it's such a shame more Christians apparently haven’t heard of it.
I agree that Moses was the editor of Genesis (compare Did Moses really write Genesis?), using much older source documents. I have a different view from Wiseman’s about the toledoths though, since they seem to be transitional statements explaining what arose from the main result of the previous section. (I’ll explain in a future work.)
“In translating Genesis 1:5 from the original Hebrew …”
A little scholarly humility is called for here. You have no way of knowing in what language these passages were first written, nor how many times they may have been translated or edited. The oldest available copies are in Hebrew, but it is quite likely that even Hebrew itself changed substantially over the centuries before these copies were made, most languages do just that.
If you are fluent in more than one language you must have noted how often verses of scripture vary in nuanced meaning when read in different languages.
It is acceptable to say “I firmly believe this” but the claim “my knowledge of God’s purpose on this question is complete and accurate” is always suspect.
I would refer you to True versus false humility: The Incarnation, Creation and evolution, where I am quoted saying:
Humility and grace is an admirable goal, but not when it is a feigned humility used as an excuse for disbelieving what the Bible clearly teaches.
The evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Septuagint, and New Testament quotations show that the Masoretic Hebrew is very close to the original. You have a problem especially if you disagree with what Jesus and the New Testament writers thought about Genesis.
In any case, if you disagree, then the onus is on you to produce any older manuscripts and show that they are substantially different.
Thanks for the helpful refs re poetry in Gen etc. Just a thought about MJ of Sweden—I think it was Paul Simon who sang the song The Boxer in which an interesting line is, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest … of course the Bible puts it far more succinctly than that: 1 Corinthians 2:14.
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (my emphasis)
CMI, please keep on putting out the true word, it is what everyone needs to hear.
Loved this article. I have heard all the arguments mentioned and I am always amazed at how the idea of a literal six day creation period throws people off base. Reactions can vary from “are you crazy?” to down right rage. Thanks for all the great resources.
There are no Hebrew words for the days of the week. Where we speak of “Tuesday”, the Hebrew equivalent (referring to the daylight hours, as the Hebrew day of course begins at sunset) is yom shleeshee which literally translates as “third day”. “I'll see you Tuesday” becomes “I’ll see you the third day". This can be confirmed in a English/Hebrew holiday guide.
Thus Genesis 1:13 “And there was evening and there was morning, the third day” could equally well be “And there was evening and there was morning—Tuesday” in the English idiom. Couldn't it? The Hebrew letters in Genesis and in the Hebrew/English holiday guide are the same!
Indeed, Hebrew just has numbered days, e.g. Sunday = Yom Rishon = first day.
English mostly names the days after Saxon god(desse)s, except for Sunday and Saturday (after the Roman god Saturn).
Thanks again, you make it so clear. I’ve read these reasonings before, they’re very helpful … but when using these to explain the recent 6 day creation to theistic ev’s and other compromisers, they often resort to saying that they believe Gen 1 is poetry, as a red herring to get me off the plain (literal) 6 day view. Please tell me, what are hallmarks of Hebrew (ancient) poetry, or where can I read about it in sufficient detail? (so next time I can answer them). Does Gen 1 use poetry?
Hebrew poetry uses parallelism—see Psalm 104:1–9 for what Genesis 1 would look like as a poem. Genesis has all the earmarks of history such as starting with a qatal verb then continuing with vav-consecutive verbs. See this short piece from an Old Testament scholar Is Genesis Poetry? and this more detailed paper The meaning of yôm in Genesis 1:1–2:4.
Excellent article. It’s almost as if the Holy Spirit knew when giving these words to Moses man would later try reinterpret and change the length of time creation took.
What difference does it make for a Christian to believe creation week being literal or not?
Jonathan Sarfati responds: But this is akin to asking, “What difference does it make for a Christian to take God at His word?” Thought about this way, and it’s much harder for Christians to be so blasé about it.
MJ: John the revelator told us he found himself “in the Lords day” which clearly was far more than a literal day.
JS: So is “in my father’s day”. It really doesn't look like you read the article that explains the difference in context.
MJ: You don’t seem very spirit-minded to me at all.
JS: The way to be “spirit-minded” is to believe and follow the Scriptures which the Holy Spirit inspired (2 Timothy 3:15–15, 2 Peter 1:20–21).
MJ: Is this question essential for salvation? Hardly not.
JS: See Can Christians believe evolution? It would help if you read what we actually say before reacting to a few isolated words in an article.
MJ: Besides, you also believe in a literal “Hell” which is outrageous to me as a Christian.
JS: Nice change of subject (which seems to be your real beef against us), but you evidently want us to be more Christian than Jesus, who did believe in a literal Hell. See Why would a loving God send people to Hell? and Hell questions answered (responses to critics of previous article).
Genesis 2:4 “… in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”
To me this simply reads as, "the day that the earth and the heavens were finished and completed.” As it says three verses earlier in verse 1, “Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.”
The ‘day’ in verse 4 is day seven. “And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had done …” verse 2
We stand by our explanation that “in the day” was a Hebrew idiom for “when”. On the seventh day, there was no creating or making; God rested or ceased from His work.
There are instances when a day can indicate a year.
"According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection." Num.14:34.
"And when you have completed them, lie again on your right side; then you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days. I have laid on you a day for each year." Ez.4:6.
But it is the context that reveals the meaning. Here a day is an example of prophetic time not literal time.
Hence "And he said to me, “For two thousand three hundred days;then the sanctuary shall be cleansed.” Dan. 8:14 is to indicate a prophetic period of 2300 years.
In such cases, we always see clear indications in Scripture that the days represent years, e.g. “for each day you shall bear your guilt one year”. This is of course absent from Genesis 1, and making Creation Week 6 years long would not solve anything anyway!
I’ve had an interesting argument with a Rabbi. He believes all celestial objects, including the Sun were created on day 1, then the Sun was re-positioned on day 4 to make it visible here on earth. What a lot of nonsense. The Bible clearly state the Sun, Moon and stars were made on day 4, not moved, or as the JWs believe, appeared as the clouds or whatever cleared in the skies. Note the word used in Hebrew was that for “made” not “created” or “appeared”. So, it’s possible God made them out of the raw matter that was created (out of nothing) on day 1. “Made” often means something is brought into existence out of something else, such as a sculptor making a statue out of clay, as distinct from creating something out of nothing, which is what God did on day 1. In any case, I don’t think it matters whether God created the Sun on day 4 either out of nothing or out of something else. The point is the Sun was not created/made on day 1 but on day 4 as you rightly say. I was surprised to see how a Rabbi misread the scriptures too given he ought to know Hebrew better than anyone else.
Indeed, there is a very different word for “appeared”. If God had meant “appeared”, then He presumably would have used the Hebrew word for appear (ראה ra’ah), as when the dry land ‘appeared’ as the waters gathered in one place on Day 3 (Genesis 1:9).
Note that the words “created” and “made”, while not exact synonyms, they have a considerable overlap in semantic range, as we have documented (using the lemma or basic form of the Hebrew verbs found in a lexicon):
Genesis 2:4: “These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created (bārā’ ברא) in the day that the Lord God made (‘asah עשה) the earth and the heavens.”
Isaiah 43:7: “Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created (bārā’ ברא) for my glory, whom I formed (yatsar יצר) and made (‘asah עשה).”
See more at Gap theory revisited.
But bārā’ is only used of God’s creative acts; never of man’s. Leupold says:
This verb is correctly defined as expressing the origination of something great, new and “epoch-making”, as only God can do it, whether it be in the realm of the physical or of the spiritual.
However, as a word in itself, bārā’ is not restricted to creation ex nihilo, if the context requires it. The word is also used of the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:27; Genesis 5:1–2), although Adam was formed from the ground and Eve from Adam’s rib. But clearly these special creations in God’s image were something God especially created, so fit the description of “something great, new and ‘epoch-making’”. This also applies to God creating grace (Exodus 34:10; Psalm 51:10, etc.).