A More Natural Understanding of the Creation of Light, the Expanse, and Waters Above the Expanse in Genesis 1

A common view is that the light that God created on day one of the creation week was a light without a natural source. This understanding is a major reason given by Christians who advocate an old earth, Big Bang model to argue that the days of Genesis 1 are not meant to be taken literally.  They argue that the absurdity of the existence of day and night on earth before the sun existed as a light source is a signal to the reader that Genesis 1 is a poetic description of creation that is not meant to say anything about literal chronology during creation.[1]  One old-earth advocate even complains that God would not create light on day one and then replace it with the sun three days later because that “seems unlike the actions of an all-wise God.”[2]  Who is he to tell God that His way creating light is not very smart?  At any rate, an explanation of the creation of non-solar light on day one that shows how it is consistent with the other creation acts in Genesis 1 would add to the reasonableness of God creating light in that way and add to the reasonableness of the literal view of Genesis in general.

As any informed creationist knows, the view that Genesis 1 is poetry rather than historical narrative of literal events has several problems.  As Sarfati explains in his recent book, The Genesis Account, one problem is that it does not exhibit the parallelism of Hebrew poetry.[3]  The parallels between the first three days and second set of three days (4-6) are very superficial, and there are many non-parallel features.  And Genesis 1 exhibits the use over and over again of the waw consecutive in the Hebrew, which is characteristic of historical narrative (“and then this happened, . . . and then this happened”).[4]  The poetic, non-chronological view is also self-defeating because these same people appeal to the Big Bang as proof that the Bible is right that there was a beginning to the universe; yet, if Genesis 1 is poetic rather than literal, then the “in the beginning” phrase is just as much a poetic rather than a literal reference to time as the six days of creation.  If Genesis does not teach a literal beginning to the universe, then the Big Bang can’t be cited by Christians as proof of the Bible’s accuracy in teaching a beginning to the universe.

While Jonathan Sarfati’s new book is great as an encyclopedic defense of literal, young-earth creationism, he takes a view, held by many other creationists, I think that there is a more natural reading of the creation of light and the expanse in Genesis 1.

Sarfati’s view of the creation of light on day one is that God created light with no material source of light.  He speculates that God Himself is the source of light, the Shekinah glory of God spoken of in other places in the Bible.[5]  In favor of his view, the Hebrew word translated “light” here is different from the Hebrew word for “lights” created on day four.  The word for “light” (ohr) that is created on day one usually refers to light rays rather than a light source; whereas the word used on day four for “lights” or “luminaries” (ma’ohr) refers to a light bearer.  Also, there are prophetic sections of Scripture that speak of there no longer being a sun because God Himself is the source of light (cf. Isa. 60:19; Rev. 21:23).  On this view, the post-doomsday state of the world is a return to the situation on day one of creation when light was created.

One problem with Sarfati’s view of God as the source of light from day one to day four is that it is out of character with everything else being described in Genesis 1.  For everything else in Genesis 1, self-sustaining natural features of the world are created.  At the close of each day of creation, nothing created on that day needs further miraculous action to be sustained in its existence.  After their initial creation, plants and animals are able to reproduce after their own kind in the natural manner that they do today.

As for the difference in the Hebrew words “light” and “luminaries,” there are some instances of the Hebrew word ohr, “light,” being used to describe light bearers:  Ps. 136:7 (“to him who made the great lights”) and Job 31:26 (“if I have looked at the sun [ohr] when it shone, or the moon moving in splendor”).  So calling something “light” does not necessarily rule out a luminous source for the light being described.  But it would also be appropriate to use the word “light” rather than “luminaries” for what is created on day one even if there is a physical source for this light because the text draws a contrast between light on day one and the luminaries – the concentrated, individual sources of light – that first appear on day of four of creation.  We might understand the source of the light on day one as a spread-out cloud of gas or plasma that is burning, which God then forms into individual luminaries on day four.[6]  John Gill takes this view, describing the light on day one as “a lucid body, or a small lucid cloud” that “had no doubt heat as well as light; and which two indeed, more or less, go together; and of such fiery particles this body may well be thought to consist. The word ‘Ur’ signifies both fire and light.”[7]  He says that “ur” (which I transliterate as ohr) signifies both fire and light because the original Hebrew did not have vowel markings, and the only distinction between the two words “fire” and “light” is the vowel markings.  “Light” is אֹ֑ור and “fire” is א֥וּר.  They are both spelled אור without the vowel markings.  Without the vowel markings, the context must distinguish between the two meanings.  But where the context is not determinative, one meaning cannot be excluded in favor of the other.  The vowel markings were added to the text hundreds of years after Christ, in the early Middle Ages.  I am not denying that the more general “light” rather than “fire” should be seen as the primary referent intended for the Hebrew word in Genesis 1:3, but neither should fire be excluded as part of the creation of light on day one of creation.[8]

Contrary to the old-earth argument that the days of Genesis are not literal because the sun did not exist to allow periods of day and night until day four, the text of Genesis 1 says that the light created on day one was able to make a distinction between day and night on the earth.  This means that the light created on day one must have been concentrated on one side of the earth to give the earth a period of light and darkness each day from day one through day three, just as the sun was able to do beginning on day four.  The light created on day one would have been produced by a diffuse, burning cloud, but a cloud with limited extension.

The view that light was created “formless” on day one and then divided into more distinct units on day four is consistent with the creation of other features of the world in Genesis 1.  The earth was “formless” on day one, but then the water that covered the earth was divided into the lower water and upper water; then the lower water was divided by the land.  Likewise, the largely formless light created on day one was divided into individual lights on day four, and the light on day one was just as real and physical as the earth and the water were real before they were divided into more distinct areas.

In fact, it is reasonable to understand Genesis 1 to teach that the only matter created ex nihilo is the heaven and earth mentioned in Genesis 1:1.  God formed everything else during the creation week out of the matter of “heaven and earth” created on day one.   In other words, God creates everything after Genesis 1:1 by dividing something that already existed and forming something new out of one part that is divided off.  The creation of Adam and Eve clearly involves this process.  Concerning Adam, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground” (Gen. 2:7).  And then Eve was formed out of rib separated from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21).  The creation of land animals is described as, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures” (Gen. 1:24).  Interpreting this in light of the creation of Adam in Genesis 2:7 rather than from a gradualistic, evolutionary view, the earth bringing forth the animals must describe God forming the animals out of dirt, supernaturally like He does with Adam.  There is no mention of the swimming and flying animals created on the fifth day being produced from the earth or from anything else, but given that that is how God created the land animals, and even the highest of God’s creation, Man, it is reasonable to assume that the same process was involved.  The creation of plants on day three is described like the creation of land animals: “The earth brought forth vegetation” (Gen. 1:12), using the same Hebrew verb, yatsa, in both cases.  In isolation, we can imagine this phrase to mean that God created the seeds ex nihilo, and then “the earth brought forth vegetation” in the same way that the earth brings forth plants today – plants grow out of the ground (although, since trees were fully grown with fruit when Adam was created, God would have had to accelerate the growth from the seeds).  But since the animals are brought forth from the earth, and this does not mean growing out of the soil but being formed from the earth like Adam, we should understand “the earth brought forth vegetation” (v. 12) to mean that God used dirt to form the first plants.  The word “sprout” (dasha in Hebrew) in verse 11 seems to imply growth from a seed; but regardless of whether God initially created seeds whose growth was accelerated (cf. Num. 17:8, Jonah 4:10) or adult plants, the first plants are formed from the dirt, and thus amount to a creation by separation from previously created matter.

Coming back to the creation of light on day one, that is explicitly described as causing a division between darkness and light.  But beyond that, if the light of day one was from burning matter, then this matter was most likely some or all of the matter of “heaven” created in Genesis 1:1.  If only some of the matter in the heavens was ignited to provide light on day one, then there is an additional division on day one of the dark, cold matter of the heavens into a portion that is ignited and a portion that is not.  In my view, explaining the creation of the heavenly bodies on day four out of the burning matter created on day one makes a lot of sense because it is consistent with the pattern of creation through division used in several or possibly all other aspects of creation during the creation week.

This model of the creation of light and heavenly bodies directs astrophysicists to look in particular directions to explain the phenomenon of the universe as we see it today.  If the light of day one of creation was an ignited gaseous cloud that consisted of all of the matter in the heavens, then all of the matter in the heavens would have to be on one side of the earth so that it could divide between days and nights on earth.  That would mean that the formation of the stars on day four required, at a minimum, for that matter to move half way across the universe.  If we accept the standard calculation that the universe is 93 billion light-years across, then on day four of creation, the matter burning in the heavens since day one had to move at least 46.5 billion light-years in one day.  I am no astrophysicist, but to the extent that current laws of nature were involved, that would seem to necessitate time dilation as proposed by D. Russell Humphreys in his book Starlight and Time.  Moving matter at over a trillion times faster than the current speed of light would, I assume, involve some physics calculations and effects on matter that scientists currently know little about.  The current movements of celestial bodies may be a continuation of that initial expansion, although there has to have been a sharp reduction in momentum after the initial expansion.  The earth’s moon would have to reflect light the same day it was created, so if was created out of hot material, it would have had to cool rapidly.

It may be that this celestial movement was performed supernaturally so that it is useless to explain it by natural laws.  When God created Adam out of the pre-existing dust, we should not expect to be able to explain that process by the current laws of nature.   On the other hand, the formation of Adam required the creation of complex specified information and irreducibly complex processes, whereas the disbursement of matter around the universe does not necessarily involve intelligent design in that way; so maybe, to some extent at least, we can use natural laws to look into how God moved the light of day one of creation across the entire universe on day four of creation to form the distinct heavenly bodies.

A second possibility is that the light of day one involved the ignition of only some of the matter in the heavens.  The other matter in the heavens was possibly created ex nihilo on day one in or near their ultimate destinations, but then on day four, this cold, formless matter was formed and ignited to make stars.  But that God would use the burning matter created on day one to form the burning stars on day four is more consistent with God’s formation of the various features of earth.


Integrating cosmic formation with the “expanse” of Genesis 1

Sarfati sees the creation of the expanse on day two as the expansion of the space of the universe, and as the event to explain the formation of the universe.[9]  But a problem with his view of the expanse is that space outside of earth is already created on day one, when God created the heavens, as well as the earth.  Genesis 1:1 must be seen as an actual creation event rather than a heading to summarize what follows for reasons that Sarfati himself gives.[10]  One reason is that the “and then” (the “waw consecutive” construction) that begins verse 2 means that verse 2 describes the next historical event after the action described in verse 1.

Also, viewing the expanse as outer space results in an inconsistent use of the phrase “on the face of.”  If the expanse is outer space, then when the birds fly “on the face of the expanse of heaven” (Gen. 1:20), the “face” of the expanse is above them. Yet, the Hebrew preposition that precedes the “face” is al, which means “upon, above, over.”  Sarfati’s understanding of the birds in relation to the expanse reverses the vertical order from every other use of the phrase “on the face of” in Genesis 1.  When “darkness is on the face of the deep” (Gen. 1:2), the idea is that there is no light shining down (from the perspective of a person standing on the surface of the earth) on the water because light has not been created yet.  The next sentence implies the same vertical arrangement:  “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”  And of course, the plants “on the face of the earth” (Gen. 1:29) are above the earth too.  Therefore, interpreting “on the face of” the same way in every instance it appears in Genesis 1 means that birds are flying above the expanse, not below it.

Also, if the expanse is outer space as Sarfati contends, then the “waters above the expanse” are pushed to the edge of the universe or beyond.  He cites Russell Humphries, who has developed a model of the expansion of the universe that allows for water to be at the edge of the universe.[11]  Aside from whether such a scientific claim can hold up to scrutiny, an exegetical problem with a view of “the waters above” as water at the edge of the universe, or the view that it is the crystal sea under the throne of God as someone else has proposed,[12] or any similar view in which the waters above are placed out of the sight of an earthly observer, is that Genesis 1 is describing the universe from the perspective of an earthly observer.  As Sarfati himself notes, the description of the sun and moon as the “two great lights” (Gen. 1:16) is from the perspective of an earthly observer rather than from the perspective of a space traveler who could view each object in the universe from a uniform distance from the object.[13]  There are stars that are thousands of times brighter and ones that are thousands of times bigger than our sun and, of course, the moon.  Yet the sun and the moon are called “the two great lights” and the stars are mentioned more as an afterthought:  “And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.”  For God to talk about water so far out in space that no human will likely ever see it, even with advanced telescopes, is inconsistent with the earth-centered description of the features of the universe created in Genesis 1.

Someone might object that this view of what God says about the sun, moon, and stars in Genesis 1 is deceptive, since no person prior to the invention of the telescope could tell that the stars are really large objects much further out in space than the sun and moon.  But Sarfati refutes that objection by quoting the following passage in the commentary of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), who quotes John Chrysostom (c. 349 – 407):

Objection 5.  Further, as astronomers say, there are many stars larger than the moon.  Therefore the sun and the moon alone are not correctly described as the “the two great lights” . . .

Reply to Objection 5.  As Chrysostom says, the two lights are called great, not so much with regard to their dimensions as to their influence and power.  For through the stars be of greater bulk than the moon, yet the influence of the moon is more perceptible to the senses in this lower world.  Moreover, as far as the senses are concerned, its apparent size is greater.[14]

A view that is much less exotic than water surrounding the universe or forming a sea under the throne of God in heaven is that the “waters above the expanse” simply refer to the clouds.  The expanse created on day three is the atmosphere around the earth, which allows the formation of clouds high above the earth.  This puts the vertical relation between the birds and the expanse consistent with the rest of Genesis 1:  The birds fly above the “face of the expanse” in the sense that air is holding them up, just as everything else described in Genesis 1 being “on the face of” some other thing is above that other thing.  Even though they are not at the outer limits of the earth’s atmosphere, high-soaring birds can appear to be above the expanse from the perspective of an earthly observer.  Calvin is one prominent theologian who has taken the view that the clouds are the waters above:

Moses describes the special use of this expanse, “to divide the waters from the waters,” from which words arises a great difficulty. For it appears opposed to common sense, and quite incredible, that there should be waters above the heaven. Hence some resort to allegory, and philosophize concerning angels; but quite beside the purpose. For, to my mind, this is a certain principle, that nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world. He who would learn astronomy, and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere. . . .  Whence I conclude, that the waters here meant are such as the rude and unlearned may perceive. The assertion of some, that they embrace by faith what they have read concerning the waters above the heavens, notwithstanding their ignorance respecting them, is not in accordance with the design of Moses. And truly a longer inquiry into a matter open and manifest is superfluous. We see that the clouds suspended in the air, which threaten to fall upon our heads, yet leave us space to breathe.[15]

Gill also takes this view:

And God said, let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, . . . . On which the Spirit of God was sitting and moving, Genesis 1:2, part of which were formed into clouds, and drawn up into heaven by the force of the body of fire and light already produced; and the other part left on the earth, not yet gathered into one place, as afterwards.[16]

Gill’s comment reveals another reason for understanding the light created on day one as a burning cloud:  It provided the heat for the water to evaporate into clouds once the atmosphere is created on day two.

The most obvious objection to the view that the “expanse” is the atmosphere around the earth is that the sun, moon, and stars are said to be placed in the expanse, which would be in the earth’s atmosphere:  “God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth” (Gen. 1:17).  That is the best argument for the expanse including outer space, but it faces problems that I already mentioned.  The way to reconcile this language with the position that I am defending is to note the earth-bound perspective taken in Genesis 1.  God “set” (assigned, designated) the greater and lesser lights and the stars “in the expanse of the heavens” in the sense of having their light shine into earth’s atmosphere to the earth’s surface.  The sun and moon are greater lights in terms of the light that penetrates the earth’s atmosphere to give light on earth, not in terms of their absolute physical features.

The implication of all this for creation scientists is that they should look at astrological evidence for a process in the creation of the sun, moon, and stars in which two things occur simultaneously or nearly so:  1) The condensation of a large fiery gas cloud into the denser celestial objects that now populate the universe, and 2) a disbursement of the original luminous substance (before, during, or after its condensation into distinct celestial bodies) from its original position on just one side of the earth to every side of the earth and throughout the universe.  This process could involve the expansion of the space of outer space, but Genesis 1 does not require it because 1) the creation of the heavens on day one necessarily involved the creation of space in outer space, and 2) the expanse created on day two is the earth’s atmosphere and not outer space.


[1]  Hank Hanegraaff,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11s5KCaDBGQ

[2]  Benjamin D. Smith, Jr., Genesis, Science, and the Beginning (North Charleston, SC:  Theolosaurus Rex Publications, 2015), p. 48.

[3]  Jonathan D. Sarfati, The Genesis Account:  A Theological, Historical, and Scientific Commentary on Genesis 1-11 (Powder Springs, GA:   Creation Book Publishers, 2015), pp.49-56.

[4]  Sarfati, The Genesis Account, pp. 48-49.  Donald B. DeYoung, Thousands, Not Billions (New Leaf Publishing Group, 2005), ch. 10.

[5]  Ibid., p. 116.

[6]  A plasma state may play a part in the acceleration of radioactive decay on earth since it can accelerate radioactive decay a billion-fold.  (John Woodmorappe, “Billion-fold acceleration of radioactivity demonstrated in laboratory,” Journal of Creation 15(2):4–6, August 2001.)  However, we should also remember that plants were created on day three, before the individual celestial bodies were created on day four, so any earthly effects from a plasma cloud in outer space would have to occur in such a manner as to avoid killing the plants.

[7]  Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Biblehttp://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/genesis/1.htm.

[8]  On problems with the Masoretic vowel pointings, see Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman, Early Hebrew Orthography (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1952); Eduard Kutscher, A History of the Hebrew Language (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1982); and Harry M. Orlinsky, “The Masoretic Text: A Critical Evaluation,” in The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible (ed. Sid Leiman; New York: Ktav, 1974).

[9]  Sarfati, The Genesis Account, p. 150, 157-58.

[10]  Ibid., pp.103-104.

[11]  Ibid., p. 158.

[12]  James B. Jordan, Creation in Six Days:  A Defense of the Traditional Reading of Genesis One (Moscow, ID:  Canon Press, 1999), pp. 180-181.

[13]  Sarfati, The Genesis Account, pp. 204-05.

[14]  Summa Theologica, Question 70.  The work of the adornment, as regards the fourth day, newadvent.org/summa/1070.htm; quoted in Safarti, The Genesis Account, pp. 204-05.

[15]  John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (tr. John King; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software), Vol. 1, pp. 79–80.

[16]  Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Biblehttp://biblehub.com/commentaries/gill/genesis/1.htm.

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