What Was that “Light” before the Sun (Genesis 1:3)?
“In Genesis 1:3, the Old Testament records that God said: ‘Let there be light.’ Since the sun, moon, and stars were not made until the fourth day (1:14-16), what was the nature of the ‘light’ mentioned in verse 3?”
The Bible student must deduce that the “light” of Genesis 1:3 was not that which subsequently (three days later) emanated from the sun, the moon, or the stars. The fiat of verse 14, “Let there be lights,” expresses the same sort of creative activity — out of nothing came something by the command of God — that is affirmed in verse 3.
Nor can it be argued legitimately that the sun, moon, and stars were “created” on the first day of the initial week, and then were simply made to “appear” on the fourth day, as advocates of the Gap Theory have attempted to establish. There is no basis in the Hebrew text for that conclusion.
The fact is, it is not possible to know exactly what the initial light-source was, for we have no information beyond what is affirmed in verse 3, and that is merely stated, not explained. There are, however, a couple of logical conclusions that may be drawn from the sketchy data presented.
- The “light” of Genesis 1:3 obviously radiated from a “fixed” source, in its relationship to the earth, inasmuch as it facilitated the dark-to-light arrangement, as the primitive orb rotated upon its axis.
- This initial “light” was temporary, for the sun was assigned the function of the “greater light” on the fourth day.
There is nothing at all strange about the reality of light existing independent of the heavenly bodies. It is a well-established fact, illustrated in multiple ways, that “light” certainly is not restricted to the sun and the other luminaries of our universe. Just consider that phenomenon known as “lightning,” or ask the friendly “firefly” about the matter.
It is interesting to reflect upon the fact that the science of archaeology has thrown some “light” on this issue as well.
- The ancient Babylonian creation record, known as Enuma Elish — copies of which were discovered as a part of the library of Ashurbanipal (c. 668-626 B.C.) — dates back, it is believed, to perhaps 1800 B.C. In this narrative there are some striking similarities to the Genesis account (though the latter is the original, while the former is a degraded descendant). Significant, in view of this present study, is the fact that in the Babylonian record, “light” existed before the creation of the lightbearers (see Charles Pfeiffer, The Biblical World, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1966, pp. 224ff). Again, let us emphasize that though Enuma Elish is highly mythological, it obviously retains a remnant of truth inherited from the sacred record.
- It is also worthy of mention that the discoveries at ancient Ebla, in Northern Syria (excavated from 1964 onward), contain a creation account. In this narrative it is stated, regarding the “Lord of heaven and earth,” that: “The light of day was not; you created it” (see Time, September 21, 1981, p. 76).
Thus, there really is nothing problematic in Genesis 1, with reference to the mention of “light” before the sun, moon, or stars.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.