Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The significance of the fourth day

The fourth day in Gen 1 poses a traditional crux interpretum. It appears to be out of sequence. For you have the diurnal cycle in place, on day 1, prior to the creation(?) of the sun on day 4.

Unbelievers treat this apparent anachronism as damning evidence for the prescientific character of the account. However, even if we deny the inspiration of Genesis, the narrator was certainly aware of the fact that daylight normally comes from sunlight. That’s not a scientific discovery. Indeed, people living before the advent of artificial lighting had to regulate their lives by daylight.

So even assuming, for the sake of argument, that Gen 1:14-19 is out of sequence, the dischronologous arrangement would be deliberate. A way of throwing something into high relief, in studied contrast to what surrounds it. But what?

In v14, the referent of “seasons” is ambiguous. Does it denote festal seasons or agricultural seasons? These are not mutually exclusive interpretations. Since Israel had an agrarian economy as well as a religious calendar, it makes sense if this reference sets the stage for farming as well as Jewish holidays later in the Mosaic.

On a related note, the “separation” motif (vv14,18) anticipates the distinction between sacred and profane in the Mosaic covenant.    

Assuming that 1:14f. has an agricultural connotation, that foreshadows the postdiluvian restoration of the agricultural cycle in Gen 8:22, which was disrupted by the yearlong flood.

Assuming that 1:14f. has a cultic connotation, that foreshadows the Mosaic law, with its sacred festivals and regulations distinguishing the sacred from the profane.

As I say, one doesn’t have to choose between these two interpretations. Both may well be in play.

Gen 1 is part of a literary unit, comprising the Pentateuch as a whole. And it was written for the immediate benefit of Jews in the wilderness, to prepare them for life in the Promised Land.

Assuming that these identifications are correct, that would account for the emphatic, nonsequential position of the fourth day. The placement of the fourth day prefigures these later events or subsequent developments. A way of cuing the reader by accentuating the fourth day, which–in turn–throws emphasis on what follows. 

If it seems to be out of sequence, perhaps that's because it really is out of sequence. It is what it seems to be, as a part of the narrator's rhetorical strategy.   

Of course, whether the fourth day is actually out of sequence is disputable. But even if it were anachronistic, that would be intentional. A studied anachronism. And this would be the most likely explanation. As one commentator notes:
If the Genesis 1 creation account is at least partly nonchronological, several puzzling problems can be easily solved. For example, how can it be that God “separated the light from the darkness” and that he “called the light ‘day’ and the darkness…’night’” on day 1 (1:4-5) if the sun was not created until day 4? The simplest answer would seem to be that these two days are not related to each other chronologically but that they both refer to the same event–the creation of the sun. Indeed, this would seem to be implied in 1:17-18 where it is stated that God set the sun “in the expanse of the sky…to separate light from darkness” (the latter phrase, in fact, is quoted directly from 1:4). In other words, we are told in Genesis 1:4 that God separated light from darkness and in 1:18 how he did it. R. Youngblood, The Book of Genesis: An Introductory Commentary (WS, 2nd ed., 1999), 26-27.


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  2. In v14, the referent of “seasons” is ambiguous. Does it denote festal seasons or agricultural seasons? These are not mutually exclusive interpretations.

    Verse 14 is of course the key verse used to support the "Gospel in the Stars" theory that revived in popularity in the 1980s. I wish the theory were true, but most apologetical ministries reject it for various reasons (e.g. historical, astronomical, etymological, theological etc). People can decide for themselves.

    The first 3 links argue FOR the theory, the last 4 links argue AGAINST it.


    The Witness of the Stars by E.W. Bullinger

    Mazzarath or, The Constellations by Frances Rolleston

    The Gospel in the Stars: or, Primeval Astronomy by Joseph A. Seiss


    Is There a Gospel in the Stars? by Danny R. Faulkner http://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j12_2/j12_2_169-173.pdf

    Is There A Christian Zodiac, A Gospel In the Stars? By Charles Strohmer

    The "Gospel in the Stars" Theory (statement by the Christian Research Institute)

    Is there a gospel in the stars?

  3. At the end of the article for the first link against the theory, there's a "friendly (adversarial)" comment by Carl Wieland that's cut off. By using Google, I found a link that finishes Wieland's comments.

    They can be found near the end of this webpage: http://berry2.tistory.com/archive/200808?page=2

    Just do a CTRL + F search and type in "Danny Faulkner writes that Psalm 19" to continue where it got cut off.

    I think it's worth reading.

  4. Doesn't the fact that the substance/energy of light was created on the first day solve the issue? Light as an entity / substance is all over the universe, not only sourced or coming from our own sun of our particular solar system. It seems that the substance/energy of light was created on the first day, but our particular sun was created on the fourth day, which give the substance/energy of light for our particular solar system.

  5. I don't think that's an exegetical conclusion. That's more in the nature of a superficial harmonization.

    The light source on days 1-3 is functionally indistinguishable from the light source on days 4-6 in separating light from darkness and generating/regulating the diurnal cycle. It's doing exactly what the sun does. To say it's not the sun, but something just like the sun, is rather strained. It's not just generic "substance/energy of light," but something far more specific and focused. Its effects are identical to those of the sun, producing day and night, morning and evening.

    The main difference is that, on day 4, an additional function is assigned to the sun: a calendrical function.

  6. Oh, so, do you think "let there be light!" on day one, means our sun in our solar system?

    If so, now you have messed up the way I understood that before. I was under the impression that it was the creation of the substance/essence/energy of light on day one, and that day 4 was specifically our sun in our specific solar system.

    What do you think is a good exegetical commentary on Genesis 1-2 that also brings in scientific issues, knowledge, data?

    Have you studied John Sailhamer's view in Genesis Unbound? If so, what do you think?

    1. Ken

      "What do you think is a good exegetical commentary on Genesis 1-2 that also brings in scientific issues, knowledge, data?"

      None that I know of. There are good exegetical commentaries on Gen 1-2, but the commentators lack scientific expertise.

      "Have you studied John Sailhamer's view in Genesis Unbound? If so, what do you think?"

      i) He has an eccentric view of the "land," which he equates with Eretz Yisrael rather than the earth or Mesopotamia. I think that's mistaken.

      ii) He has an interesting take on the Hebrew syntax of Gen 1:14ff. but you'd have to be a Hebraist to evaluate the claim. I once asks three Hebraists (John Currid, Bruce Waltke, David Clines) what they thought of his argument, and I got three different answers!

    2. So, do you think "Let there be light!" on the first day is our sun in our solar system?

    3. I think that's the most rhetorically plausible interpretation of the passage. How the narrator intended the reader to relate day one to day four.