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Creation 41(4):52–54, October 2019

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Literal days before the sun

(Adapted from the author’s The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1–11, ch. 8, 2015.)

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Critics of biblical creation often use ‘days before the sun’ to try to prove that the days were not ~24 hours. This old canard is usually raised as if creationists have never thought of it.

In fact, this ‘problem’ was answered centuries ago. Christians have long realized that God can create light without a secondary source, and the Bible tells us clearly that God created light, as well as the earth, on the first day.


We are told that in the new heavens and earth there will be no need for sun or moon, because God’s glory will illuminate it, and the Lamb will be the lamp (Revelation 21:23). In Genesis, God even defines a day and a night in terms of light or its absence.

Reformers’ answers

For example, the leading French Reformer John Calvin (1509–1564) had no problem, for he taught:

  • The day-night cycle was instituted from Day 1—before the sun was created [commenting on ‘let there be light’ (Genesis 1:3)]:

    Therefore the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and the moon. Further, it is certain, from the context, that the light was so created as to be interchanged with the darkness … there is, however, no doubt that the order of their succession was alternate … .1
  • The sun, moon and stars were created on Day 4—after the earth—and took over the role as light dispensers to the earth [commenting on ‘let there be lights …’ (Genesis 1:14)]:

    God had before created the light, but he now institutes a new order in nature, that the sun should be the dispenser of diurnal light, and the moon and the stars should shine by night. And he assigns them to this office, to teach us that all creatures are subject to his will, and execute what he enjoins upon them. For Moses relates nothing else than that God ordained certain instruments to diffuse through the earth, by reciprocal changes, that light which had been previously created. The only difference is this, that the light was before dispersed, but now proceeds from lucid bodies; which, in serving this purpose, obey the commands of God.2

The Father of the Reformation, Martin Luther (1483–1546), was similarly clear and emphatic about the sun,3 moon and stars being created on Day 4. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1701–1791), agreed.4

Ancient and medieval rabbis

Earlier still, many ancient Rabbinic interpreters taught that God created a primordial light not dependent on the sun, which came into existence at God’s command but was later withdrawn and stored up for the righteous in the messianic future.5 This is feasible, and in line with John’s teaching in Revelation. Also, the Jewish commentator from medieval Spain, Abraham Ibn Ezra (c. 1089–1164), wrote:

One day refers to the movement of the celestial sphere. …

The heavenly sphere made one revolution. The sun was not yet seen in the firmament; neither was there a firmament.6

These great exegetes were right not to see this as a problem for the God of the Bible. But modern geokinetic astronomy (i.e. earth moving) makes the solution even easier. All it takes to have a day-night cycle is a rotating earth and light coming from one direction. Thus, we can deduce that the earth was already rotating in space relative to the light created on Day 1.

This unusual, counter-intuitive order of creation (light before sun) actually adds a hallmark of authenticity. If the Bible had been the product of later ‘editors’, as alleged by the Documentary Hypothesis,7 they would surely have modified this to fit with their own understanding. Absent divine revelation to the contrary, having ‘day’ without the sun would have been generally inconceivable in ancient times. Similarly, Hamilton points out the unusual nature of the story, whereby:

The creation of light anticipates the creation of sunlight. Eventually the task of separating the light from the darkness will be assigned to the heavenly luminaries (v. 18). It is unnecessary to explain such a claim as reflecting scientific ignorance. What the author states is that God caused the light to shine from a source other than the sun for the first three “days”. 8

Having the sun appear after the light would likely have been very significant to pagan worldviews which tended to worship the sun as the source of all life. God seems to be making it pointedly clear that the sun is secondary to Himself as the source of everything. He doesn’t ‘need’ the sun in order to create life, in contrast to old-earth beliefs.

[Church] fathers knew best

In fact early church writers used the historical fourth-day creation of the sun as a polemic, i.e. aggressive refutation, against paganism. For example, in the second century, Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch, wrote in an apologetic work to the learned pagan magistrate Autolycus:

On the fourth day the luminaries came into existence. Since God has foreknowledge, he understood the nonsense of the foolish philosophers who were going to say that the things produced on earth come from the stars, so that they might set God aside. In order therefore that the truth might be demonstrated, plants and seeds came into existence before the stars. For what comes into existence later cannot cause what is prior to it.9

In the 4th century, Basil the Great commented on the same passage:

Heaven and earth were the first; after them was created light; the day had been distinguished from the night, then had appeared the firmament and the dry element. The water had been gathered into the reservoir assigned to it, the earth displayed its productions, it had caused many kinds of herbs to germinate and it was adorned with all kinds of plants. However, the sun and the moon did not yet exist, in order that those who live in ignorance of God may not consider the sun as the origin and the father of light, or as the maker of all that grows out of the earth. That is why there was a fourth day, and then God said: “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven.”10

Note that this is different from a common argument against Genesis as history, that it is just a polemic against paganism. In reality, Genesis itself is historical narrative, and these church fathers depended on this true history as the basis for their polemic against the false myths of paganism.

So not only does ‘days before the sun’ not present any scientific problem to the days being real days, it seems the order of these creation events was uniquely important in other ways also.

References and notes

  1. Calvin, J., Genesis, pp. 76–77, 1554/1984. Return to text
  2. Calvin, Ref. 1, p. 83. Return to text
  3. Luther, M., Luther’s Works, Vol. I: Commentary on Genesis 1–5, Pelikan, J., (Ed.) Concordia, St Louis; see his comments on verses 1:5–6 and 1:14ff, 1958. Return to text
  4. Wesley, J., Sermon 56: God’s Approbation of His Work, 1872; wesley.nnu.edu. Return to text
  5. Lewis, J.P., The Days of Creation: An Historical Survey, JETS 32: 449, 1989. Return to text
  6. Ibn Ezra, Commentary on the Pentateuch, Genesis (Bereshit), translated and edited by Strickman, H.N. and Silver, A.M., Menorah Publishing Co., p. 33 and footnote, 1999; cf. Creation days and Orthodox Jewish tradition. Return to text
  7. See Grigg, R., Did Moses really write Genesis? Creation 20(4):43–46, 1998;, also Holding, J.P., Debunking the documentary hypothesis, J. Creation 19(3):37-40, 2005;. Return to text
  8. Hamilton, V.P., The Book of Genesis, chapters 1–17, p. 121, 1990. Return to text
  9. Theophilus, To Autolycus 2:15, AD 181, Ante-Nicene Fathers 2:100. Return to text
  10. Basil, Hexaëmeron 6:2. Return to text

Helpful Resources

The Genesis Account
by Jonathan Sarfati
US $39.00
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Readers’ comments

Duncan B.
I like how it says “God caused the light to shine from a source other than the sun for the first three days”. I have never thought or recognized it in this way before. It’s hard to think how there could be light before there was no light. I loved that part. He truly is a creative creator.
William M.
Always amazes me that a human can walk into a dark room and flip a light switch while saying “let there be light.” but the Creator of the Universe is somehow limited? That is just arrogance and terminal ignorance in its highest forms.
Michael B.
To me, one of the first testimonies to the Truth of God’s Word was/is the creation of light. The fact that the ancients penned it as a separate entity of creation not tied to any source other than God. It is ironic that this idea is such a stumbling block for non-believers in the scientific community that it often gets pointed to as a contradiction in the Scriptures since sun, moon, and stars aren’t around until Day Four or “scientific evidence of errors in the Bible”.
I can create photons with my flashlight pointed to the sky and any that are not absorbed by the atmosphere will continue to exist and travel through space long after I’ve turned off the source because they exist as an object in and of themselves not constrained to the source that created them.
Your Brother in Christ,
Michael
Celeste P.
Dear Sir

When I read about the Cosmic Background Radiation photographed by the Hubble, I wondered if it could be related to this Light, First created by God, before the creation of the Sun.
But if not, it is still awesome.
Tim L.
The argument that Genesis is intended to be a polemic against pagan ideas (and therefore not intended to be taken literally) is an interesting one that I’ve heard people making more recently. It’s interesting because it slips in a presupposition that you have to be paying attention to catch: that Genesis was written after what it is polemicizing against. In other words, this position is only viable to a person who holds to a late authorship of the Pentateuch (e.g. the Documentary Hypothesis). In reality, these people have flipped around completely backwards: the Pentateuch came first and the pagan ideas are corruptions of the original.

It should also be mentioned that those who believe Genesis is a polemic (not in the sense the church fathers from the article meant) completely ignore the fact that the similarities between Genesis and the pagan ancient near eastern myths that are used as evidence to support the idea that it is a polemic are not exclusive to the ancient near eastern myths. Indeed, as CMI has documented before, the accounts recorded in Genesis have similarities with stories from cultures all around the world, not just the ancient near east.
Jonathan Sarfati
I address the polemic claim in The Genesis Account: A theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1–11. One refutation is just what you said above: the polemic claim presupposes that Genesis was written after what it was claimed to be polemicizing against. Another is that it's nothing like the real polemics by Elijah and Isaiah, and is very straightforward historical narrative. Still another is as mentioned in the article: the true history can be used polemically against false history. One fairy tail is not much of a polemic against another.
Lewis S.
From 1 John 1:5 we learn that physical light was made to correspond to what God is spiritually: “This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.”

Then, 2 Corinthians 4:6 reiterates the correlation:
“For God, who said, “ Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

From Luke 1:69, 78–79 and numerous other references we see that the luminary, the sun, corresponds to Jesus Christ: “And has raised up a horn of salvation for us In the house of David His servant … Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, To guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Given, therefore, that light is God and the luminary, the sun, is the incarnate God-man, is it any wonder that light preceded the sun?
John L.
God created light before there was a source of light. Never taught of it this way. Wonderfull! We have an awesome God. He is not dependend on anything but Himself.
Yvonne R.
Thank you for the understanding. By the creation of light before the sun, GOD has shown HE is above HIS creation. That the sun is not the source of all light—GOD HIMSELF is the source of all light. This causes a reflection upon my life becoming a Christian—whereas previous to my conversion by the light from GOD, I thought I made right decisions which later I was sorry for but now the decisions I make are wise and benefit others. This experience can only be understood by those who are Christians. I cancelled an appointment with the Optometrist, then being given an understanding that GOD was the ONE to instruct me to cancel due to knowledge later gained from blood tests through my doctor. We can only be wise and discerning by the light of GOD shining through HIS goodness and HIS grace. Praise to GOD

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