Morning has broken … but when?
The Creation movement has increasingly caused many to face up to the powerful, Biblical arguments for such things as:
- All living things were created (about 6,000 years ago) in six literal Earth-rotation days.
- There was no death, bloodshed or suffering before Adam’s Fall.
- Noah’s Flood covered the whole globe, and would have laid down a vast number of fossils.
However, many of the Christians who now accept the above points are still overawed by certain arguments from astronomy for billions of years. This seems to have compelled a number of writers to come up with novel ‘interpretations’ of the Bible to try to harmonize it with the idea that there were ‘billions of years’ before the creation of living things during the six days of Creation Week.
We are not talking here about the classical ‘gap’ (or ruin-reconstruction) theory, which has long been ‘on the ropes’.1 Rather, we are addressing recent books by Christian writers trying to find room in the Bible for vast ages, who say that the sun, moon and stars were all made long before Day 1.2
But what does the Bible actually say? God’s historical record in Genesis 1:1–5 reads:
‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 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 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. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.’
The first thing God tells us in the Bible is that there was a beginning. Not a beginning to God,3 but a beginning to time and to the Earth and to the space-time environment in which we live. These words assure us that, as linguist Charles Taylor says, ‘The universe was no accident, though many evolutionists think so, and some Eastern religions suggest so, with a near-eternal universe and gods emerging from it.’4
The first Hebrew word in Genesis 1:1 is bereshith; it occurs without the article and so is a proper noun, meaning ‘absolute beginning’. Why is this important?
Answer: Because the construction does not allow it to be translated ‘In the beginning of God’s creating’ or ‘When God began creating’,5 as some theistic long-agers would prefer. What does ‘God created the heaven(s) and the earth’ mean?
The description of day and night before the existence of the sun gives a stamp of authenticity to the Genesis account.
The phrase ‘heaven(s) and earth’ in Genesis 1:1 is an example of a Hebrew figure of speech called a merism, in which two opposites are combined into an all-encompassing single concept.6 Throughout the Bible (e.g. Genesis 14:19, 22; 2 Kings 19:15; Psalm 121:2) this means the totality of creation, not just the Earth and its atmosphere, or our solar system alone. It is used because Hebrew has no word for ‘the universe’ and can at best say ‘the all’.7
One of the words in this Hebrew figure of speech is the plural noun shamayim, which signifies the ‘upper regions’ and may be rendered ‘heaven’ or ‘heavens’, depending on the context.8 The essential meaning is everything in creation apart from the Earth. The word translated ‘the earth’ is erets, and here refers to the planet on which we now live.
The opening sentence of the Bible (‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’) is thus a summary statement (the details follow) that God made everything in the universe. The rest of Genesis 1 gives the details of how this happened over a period of six days.
Is this exegesis justified?
Answer: Yes, a summary statement can be either at the end of the list of happenings it summarizes, or at the commencement. Inspired by God, Moses put it first. By analogy we might say, ‘At the beginning of this year I built a garden shed. On the first day I laid the foundations. On the second day I erected the walls. On the third day I put the roof on. On the fourth day I installed the lights. On the fifth day I added some fish in a tank and some birds in a cage. On the sixth day I added some rabbits in a hutch. On the seventh day I rested.’
First, note that the Hebrew text does not allow there to be any gap in Genesis 1 between verses 1 and 2, i.e. before Day 1.10,11 Second, note that the Hebrew makes no mention of the greater light (sun), the lesser light (moon) and stars until Day 4. There is therefore no mandate for anyone to add these items to the text of Genesis 1:1.
Genesis 1:1 tells us that the totality of creation was ‘in the beginning’. Exodus 20:11 tells us that the totality of creation took six days.
When was ‘the beginning’?
The term ‘heaven(s) and earth’ is used by Moses in Exodus 20:11: ‘For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them.’ The Bible here unequivocally states that everything in the universe was created within a time period of six days (the same phrase ‘six days’ is used in an earlier part of the passage to refer to our working days), and thus nothing was created before these six days. Since Adam was created on Day 6, and we have the genealogies from Adam to Christ, this verse totally precludes ‘billions of years’.
A recent defender of the view that God created the stars and planet Earth long before the six days of Genesis 1 argues that ‘the heavens’, in Exodus 20:11, means the atmosphere.12 But this overlooks the context—that ‘heavens’ is not used in isolation but is combined with ‘earth’. As said above, this combination is a term for the entire creation. Also, the ‘heavens’ of Exodus 20:11 is the same Hebrew term that he elsewhere tries to make mean the sun and the stars when it occurs in Genesis 1:1—since Exodus 20:8–11 is clearly referring to Genesis 1, ‘heaven(s) and earth’ must mean the same thing in both passages.
Genesis 1:1 tells us that the totality of creation was ‘in the beginning’. Exodus 20:11 tells us that the totality of creation took six days. Genesis 1:14–19 tells us that the sun, moon and stars were created on the fourth of these six days.
Those who promote the long-age view often claim that there is a radical difference between the meaning of the Hebrew words bara (‘create out of nothing’ in Genesis 1:1) and asah (‘make’ in Exodus 20:11 and Genesis 1:16). They say that therefore, the latter refers to an appearing of the sun on Day 4, when dark clouds surrounding the Earth dissipated. However:
- Asah and bara are often used interchangeably, as in Genesis 2:4: ‘These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created [bara] in the day that the Lord God made [asah] the earth and the heavens.’
- Asah means ‘make’, not ‘appear’, throughout Genesis 1.
- In Genesis 1:9, when ‘appear’ is meant, a different word is used, i.e. ra’ah.
The creation of light
Genesis 1:3 reads: ‘And God said, Let there be light. And there was light.’ This verse alone should be sufficient to undermine the various ‘billions of years’ scenarios. If the sun, moon and stars were all created (and so shining) prior to Genesis 1:2, why was it necessary for God to create light, as recorded in verse 3?
Some long-agers invoke Job 38:4,9: ‘When I laid the foundation of the earth … I made clouds the garment and thick darkness its swaddling band’ to say that the sun shone on an opaque Earth until God commanded light to penetrate the blanket of darkness. However, this is using a Hebrew poetic expression (in Job), and putting a twist on it to justify changes to the plain meaning of the Genesis 1 text regarding both the creation of light on Day 1 and of the sun, moon and stars on Day 4.
Long-agers overlook the words of Jesus in Mark 10:6, ‘But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.’ The Lord Himself obviously did not envisage any ‘billions of years’ prior to the creation of Adam and Eve.
The whole concept of the need to allow for ‘billions of years’ shows ‘wrong-way-round’ thinking. It is the outcome of Christians’ using humanistic evolutionary scientific opinions to determine the meaning of the Bible, rather than vice versa.
Light before the sun?
Genesis 1:3 reads: ‘And God said, Let there be light. And there was light.’ This light source must have been independent of the sun, which was not made until Day 4.1
Sceptics and long-agers like to ask how there could have been light before the sun. The Bible provides at least four other examples of events involving non-solar light and God:
- Exodus 14:19–20: when the Israelites were fleeing from Egypt a ‘pillar of cloud’, which brought darkness to one side and ‘gave light by night’ to the other, stood between them and the Egyptian forces.
- Luke 2:9: when an angel announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds at night, ‘the glory of the Lord shone around them’.
- Matthew 17:2: during the transfiguration of Jesus, ‘His face shone as the sun, and His clothing was white as the light.’
- Revelation 21:3: ‘the city [the New Jerusalem] had no need of the sun, nor of the moon, that they might shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it, and its lamp is the Lamb [i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ, cf. John 1:29]’.
We therefore conclude that the first light that illuminated the Earth was an act of God quite in keeping with His several other acts, recorded in the Bible, involving light without the sun. Day 1 is described as involving an evening and a morning, so we conclude that the Earth was now rotating. Also, that the light was coming from one direction in relation to the Earth, thereby giving it a night/day cycle.2 Presumably on Day 4, when God created the sun, this first light source ceased.
The description of day and night before the existence of the sun gives a stamp of authenticity to the Genesis account. There was no way that a secular Jewish writer would have proposed a night/day cycle without the sun.
The ancients worshipped the sun as the source of light, warmth and life. Moses was brought up in all the wisdom of the Egyptians (Acts 7:22), who revered the sun god Re (or Ra). Nevertheless, Moses rejected this pagan notion of the deity of the sun and, inspired by God, wrote that God created light before He made the sun.
See also ‘Light, life and the glory of God’ Creation 24(1):38–39
- Visible light is a small segment of the electromagnetic spectrum, which includes X-rays, ultraviolet radiation, visible light, infrared radiation, microwaves and radio waves. It is therefore probable that when God said, ‘Let there be light’, the whole electromagnetic spectrum came into existence.
- Moses not only defined the term ‘day’ (Hebrew yôm) the first time he used it by the words ‘evening and morning’ and a number, he defined it similarly every time he used it (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31). It cannot therefore, here, refer to an age or a succession of ages.
Can stars be billions of lightyears away in a young universe?
Just because our finite minds may not yet have worked out a definitive answer to this question does not mean that the universe has to be billions of years old.
The answer to this mystery is probably not that God created light ‘on its way’, as then we would be seeing things that never really happened (e.g. a star exploding ‘a million years ago’). And possibly not that light allegedly decreased in speed in the recent past, as those who propose this idea have not been able to answer all the problems it poses.
It may be provided in a new creationist cosmology developed by Dr Russell Humphreys within the laws of general relativity, for a finite and bounded universe, with Earth near the centre. This uses the concept that gravity distorts time, and would mean that Adam could have looked up on the sixth Earth-day at stars actually many millions of lightyears away.1
References and notes
- Batten, D., ed., The Creation Answers Book, chap. 3, Creation Ministries International, Brisbane, Australia, 2006. Return to text.
- E.g. Gorman Gray, John Sailhamer. Return to text.
- The Bible does not set out to prove the existence of God—in the beginning no-one doubted God. Instead the Bible observes: ‘The fool has said in his heart, There is no God!’ (Psalm 14:1). Romans 1:20–21 says that the evidence for God can be plainly seen, but is deliberately rejected. Return to text.
- Taylor, C., The First 100 Words, Good Book Co., Gosford, Australia, p. 1, 1996. Return to text.
- Or ‘In the beginning of creation’ as in The New English Bible. Return to text.
- English equivalents would be ‘far and near’, ‘hill and vale’. Return to text.
- See Leupold, H.C., Exposition of Genesis, 1:41, Baker Book House, Michigan, 1942, who cites similar usage in Jeremiah 10:16; Isaiah 44:24; Psalm 103:19, 119:91; and Ecclesiastes 11:5. Return to text.
- ‘The word could hardly mean the place where God lives, because He was presumably there already’ Ref. 4, p. 4. Return to text.
- E.g. Gray, G., The Age of the Universe: What Are the Biblical Limits?, Morning Star Publications, Washington, pp. 18 ff, 2000. Return to text.
- Genesis 1:2 begins with the Hebrew waw which can mean ‘and’, ‘now’, ‘but’, ‘then’, etc. Wherever waw precedes a noun (as in v.2 waw ‘and’ + erets ‘the earth’) it has the meaning of an explanation (called a waw disjunctive or waw explicativum, i.e. explanatory waw). It is not a sequence of events such as ‘then the earth became’ (which would require a waw consecutive, where waw precedes a verb). It compares with the old English expression ‘to wit’; it could be translated by ‘Now’ or even with the use of parentheses as follows: ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth (the earth was without form and empty …).’ Moses used the two waw constructions very deliberately in Genesis 1. Verse 2 has the only waw disjunctive. All 28 other verses beginning with ‘And’ have the waw consecutive. Return to text.
- For a fuller treatment see Grigg, R., From the beginning of the creation: Does Genesis have a gap?, Creation 19(2):35–38, 1997. And Ref. 1. Return to text.
- Ref. 9, p. 52. Return to text.