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 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.
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; creation.com/gap. And Ref. 1. Return to text.
- Ref. 9, p. 52. Return to text.
I can hardly begin to express my respect and admiration for Dr. Safarti. I have read nearly everything he has written on evolution, and the recent "Genesis Account". He is as impressive in person as he is in print, as I discovered at Myrtle Beach last summer. His value to the defense of the Christian faith is inestimable. With respect to Relativity Theory, he and I will have to agree to disagree. I find that compromise with Relativity to be dangerous for the believer, and hope to convince Christian scientists of this in the future. However, this is not the place to argue the issue in depth.
Wow. That's pretty mind-bending to think that Adam stars that were billions of light years away because the farther away from Earth the faster time runs. I don't even know if I said that right, but it still makes you realize that we probably will never figure out how everything works in our universe.
When you say that all things were created about 6000 years ago, how do you account for the fact (evidenced by carbon dating) that there were thriving civilisations in China (along the Yellow River), India (along the Ganges River), Egypt (along the Nile River) and along the Euphrates River as long ago as 9000 years
When you say that you trust carbon dating, how do you account for the fact that C14 is found in diamonds, coal, and dinosaur bones, proving that they are not millions let alone billions of years old? See also What about carbon dating? which discusses:
- How does the carbon ‘clock’ work? Is it reliable?
- What does carbon dating really show?
- What about other radiometric dating methods?
- Is there evidence that the earth is young?
'God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all'. Thank you for yet another fine article.
God would not only have had the MEANS to bring distant starlight to the earth for Adam to see (being omnipotent), He would also have had a MOTIVE - he wanted us to be able to see the stars he had made without our having to wait thousands and millions of years (a somewhat impractical idea).
Hence, although we may not yet know quite how He did it, combining those two above factors (means and motive) can give us confidence that He did.
It would be extremely arrogant of us to say (as some seem to) that because we can't see how He could have done it, then He couldn't have done it, and that proves He doesn't exist. What nonsense!
It is quite simple to understand the motives of unbelievers who wish to kill God off, or those who have an agnostic view, of some sort of lengthy creation period with gaps and very long days by a creator we cannot know. However, the true believer, who has the Holy Spirit and hears only the truth promised by Jesus Christ that this "Holy Ghost will teach you all things": (John 16:13), has no problem understanding the absolute unlimited majestical abilities of YHWH.
It therefore takes a willing student to listen to God in these matters, i.e. light from stars. The Creator has no restrictions of time or distances. He speaks, there's light. He calls for darkness, there is nothing darker. We can, scientifically, determine certain aspects of our existence. We cannot place God in the box that we dwell in. Time and distance are nothing to Him. We ask silly questions such as, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
Answer: the chicken, as in, "fowl of the air."
Eggs don't fly.
Likewise, when God created the stars, they were lit to shine on the exact spots He designated. From minute one. And every one of them were precisely placed and He knows them by name. (Ps. 147:4).
Listen. There's a class in session as we speak.
IMHO plain reading of Gen.1 doesn't support the idea that v1 is a summary. (And one is in a better YEC position to reject it.) 7 points to support this: 1)Throughout ch.1, heavens/earth are referred to as *elements* of creation, not "the all." It would be confusing if they referred to both. 2)Olam or tevel could have been used instead to express "the all." 3)"The beginning" fits better being "the very beginning of creation" instead of being "the whole process of creation." 4) The idea of sequence is emphasized throughout ch.1 and also 2:4a. Thus v1 fits better as the beginning of the sequence. 5)v2 seems to continue v1 explaining that the earth of v1 was unfinished which doesn't fit the idea that v1 was a summary of the finished creation. 6). 2:4 looks more like the summary than 1:1 and it's listed after completion (see 2:1-2). 7) When was the *element* earth created? If "the beginning" of v1 just refers to the creation week then on which day? Since it was already there on day 1, then, in this view, it must have been created before the creation week, before "the beginning"!?
If v1 was in the (very) beginning then it's not a merism. It's a contrast between the intangible space (heavens) and the more tangible matter (earth). v2 instead is the merism, all terms there referring to the same element identified in v1 as earth but now presented as raw, unfinished, primordial matter/supply. From this then God created land and seas on one side of the expanse and celestial bodies on the other.
The bara/asah distinction is no longer a problem. One may refer to creation ex nihilo (v1). The other (v16, etc) to creation from some already existing raw matter (created in v1).
One day per week, we publish classic articles on our front page that were very important for their time, and still have valuable teaching points. CMI's current understanding of this passage is as follows, from our new Genesis commentary The Genesis Account:
Heavens and earth
Now we come to the subject of God’s creative act, the heavens and the earth. In Hebrew, this is hashāmayîm (shāmayîm שמים with the article ha, ‘the’), and hā’ārets (‘erets ארץ with the article). This is very much a declaration that God is the universal Creator and ruler. In the Old Testament Hebrew, whenever the words ‘heaven(s) and earth’ are conjoined, it is a figure of speech called a merism, in which two opposites are combined into an all-encompassing single concept. This figure of speech is common in English too. For example, a shop that is ‘open day and night’. This doesn’t simply mean during sunlight and darkness but not dusk; rather, ‘day and night’ means the whole 24-hour day-night cycle. Other examples are ‘far and near’ and ‘hill and vale’.
Back to the phrase ‘heaven(s) and earth’; 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. Currid points out:
The Hebrews had no single word to describe the universe. When they wanted to express the concept of all reality, they spoke of ‘the heavens and the earth’. Thus, when Melchizedek blessed Abram in the name of the sovereign God of the universe, he said, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth” (14:19). The expression ‘the heavens and the earth’ is a merism—two opposites that are all inclusive. So when Melchizedek described God as the owner of heaven and earth, he meant not only the places themselves, but also everything in heaven and on earth. Likewise, when the writer of Genesis stated that God created ‘the heavens and the earth’, he was saying that God fashioned the entire universe.
While Kulikovsky disagrees with ‘heavens and earth’ as meaning “‘universe’ as conceived by modern writers,” he continues:
[I]t does appear to carry the idea that God has created every physical and invisible thing, and the following circumstantial clauses in verse 2 describe the initial state of all these physical and invisible things on the earth and in the heavens above, both seen and unseen.[]
Further on in the Bible, we see an even more emphatic declaration of God’s universal creation. The Sabbath command of Exodus 20:8–11 is based on God’s creation of the “heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them” in six ordinary days. This reinforces the merism of totality by going even further: including the sea as well as the contents of everything. (See Ch. 11 comments on Day 7).
Is v. 1 a summary statement (or heading)?
The universality of this first verse means that it seems to function well as a summary of the Creation Week, or if you like, a heading for what follows. But there are problems with limiting it to those functions.
First, as stated in Ch. 2: Hebrew grammar affirms that Genesis is historical narrative, and the verb bārā’ is just the sort of verb form, qal perfect, that begins Hebrew narratives. If the first verse was meant to be a heading disconnected from the rest of the chapter, with the narrative starting after this verse, then this narrative would lack its usual beginning.
Second, the verse is connected via an ‘and’ to the next verse, which singles out the ‘earth’ for further description. Kulikovsky, with good justification, argues that instead of using the term ‘merism’ as the figure of speech, this would be better described using the term of the Anglican clergyman and theologian Ethelbert William Bullinger (1837–1913): anadiplosis, although the terms are probably not mutually exclusive. Bullinger claims that this is the first figure of speech in the Bible, and explains that this anadiplosis:
… is used to call our attention to, and emphasize, the fact that, while the first statement refers to two things, ‘the heavens and the earth’; the following statement proceeds to speak of only one of them, leaving the other entirely out of consideration.
Leupold summarizes the problems:
Now is this first verse a heading or a title? By no means; for how could the second verse attach itself to a heading by an ‘and’? Or is this first verse a summary statement akin to a title, after the Hebrew manner of narrative which likes to present a summary account like a newspaper heading, giving the gist of the entire event? Again, no. For if creation began with light and then with the organizing of existing material, the question would crowd persistently to the forefront: but how did this original material come into being? For v. 1 could not be a record of its origin, because it would be counted as a summary account of the things unfolded throughout the rest of the chapter. Verse one is the record of the first part of the work brought into being on the first day: first the heavens and the earth in a basic form as to their material, then light. These two things constitute what God created on the first day. The Hebrew style of narrative just referred to may or may not be employed on occasion, depending on the author’s choice. Here it does not happen to be used.
. Currid, J.D., A Study Commentary on Genesis—Volume 1: Genesis 1:1–25:18, p. 59, 2003.
. This concept appears to be affirmed by Paul in his letter to the Colossians (1:16): “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
. Kulikovsky, A.S., Creation, Fall, Restoration, p. 107, 2009.
. Kulikovsky, Ref. 44.
. Bullinger, E.W., Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, p. 251, 1898/1968.
. Leupold, H.C., Exposition of Genesis 1:42, 1942.
The statement "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".Has not Dr John Hartnet in his book "STARLIGHT, TIME and NEW PHYISICS", in chapters 6&7 explain starlight today by expanding the universe on day four.
To be fair, this article was published a number of years before Dr Hartnett wrote that book. One day per week, we publish classic articles that were very important for their time, and still have valuable teaching points, but it is also good to be familiar with more recent material, as you evidently are.
There is a serious issue with Humphrey's (or any similar) theory which accepts Einstein's Relativity Theory. This is a compromise that is as unacceptable to me as a Christian as is the compromise with Evolutionary naturalism. The theological reasons can be adumbrated here: for one thing Einstein's denial of absolute time and space relativizes all temporal and spacial reference frames with the result that observer A's "local time" is no more valid than the local time of observer B. When one of the observers is God himself, this places Him, epistemically, on the same referential level as that of any arbitrarily chosen finite observer, an unacceptable consequence. An analogous argument can be made with regard to Einstein's denial of absolute space. (Copenhagen Quantum Mechanics with its metaphysical (not merely epistemological) "Heisenberg uncertainty" must also be rejected by Christians, but I can't go into that here.) One often hears the rejoinder from those who have compromised with Einstein's relativity that "this theory is in a different intellectual arena from that of evolution because it has been experimentally verified." This, however, is a false claim. A theory is verified by observation only if it EXCLUSIVELY accounts for the data. When it is merely one of a number of theories which are all consistent with observational data it has no advantage, with respect to empirical verification, vis-a-vis the other theories. This is the most that can be claimed for Einstein's theory, and even this much is subject to doubts since recent experiments have suggested that General Relativity is actually inferior to some theories which are based upon an absolute reference frame. I am in the process of researching an essay that will argue the above case in detail.
You are mistaken about both relativity and quantum mechanics, which informed biblical creationists accept.
Einstein replaced absolute space and time with absolute velocity of light. Indeed, he wanted to call it the ‘invariance theory’. And God is outside time and space, and created both, so is not limited by either.
Quantum mechanics, like relativity, has so far passed all experimental tests. No rival theories can explain as much. See Should creationists accept quantum mechanics?
Two other Bibletexts that support your explanation are : Job 38 vs 19 : Where is the way to the dwelling of light , and where is the place of darkness?
Also Job 38 vs 24 : What is the way to the place where the light is distributed...............?