In the previous post, I pointed out several clues in the text of the Genesis creation narratives themselves that the “days” of creation are in fact much longer periods of time. Today, I’m going to show that the biggest difficulty creationists actually have in the creation narratives is actually a vital clue which makes a prediction that would take over three thousand years to be proven true.
When Where the Stars Created?
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 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. And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. (Gen. 1:14-19)
If there is any paragraph in the Bible that undermines its credibility more than this one, I don’t know what it is. At this point, we know for a fact that the stars–and our own sun–pre-existed the earth’s formation, let alone the primordial sea described in verse 2. So having the Bible describe the earth being around and even developing plant life for three days before the sun, moon, stars and planets (the “wanderer” stars) being created looks like a clear error of fact. Young earth creationists simply argue that science is wrong, the Bible is right, and that’s all there is to it–but this ends up simply undermining the faith of young evangelicals.
It turns out that there’s another answer, but it requires both an understanding of the Hebrew and a willingness to dig deeper to get to.
The ancient rabbis, writing long before modern astronomy, realized that the sun, moon, and stars were not actually created on day 4. In the Babylonian Talmud, Chagigah 12a, we find an extensive debate on the order of events in the creation based purely on comparing Scripture-to-Scripture. After a long discussion about the nature of the light created on the first day, the Talmud records, “But the Sages say,” meaning there was a broad consensus among the ancient rabbis, “It [the light of the first day] is identical with the luminaries; for they were created on the first day, but they were not hung up [in the firmament] till the fourth day.” Likewise, Rashi comments on verse 14:
They were created on the first day, and on the fourth day, He commanded them to be suspended in the sky, and likewise, all the creations of heaven and earth were created on the first day, and each one was fixed in its proper place on the day that was decreed upon it. That is why it is written: “with the heavens (אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם) to include their products,” and with the earth (וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ),” to include its products. — [Gen. Rabbah 1:14]
My point here is not to claim that the rabbis had some secret source of knowledge, but that they argued on the basis of the text itself that the sun, moon, and stars existed before the fourth day, though the fourth day was when “each one was fixed in its proper place in the sky.”
The reason why they could understand that the heavenly bodies may have been created beforehand is due to the way Hebrew works. In English, we have past, present, and future tenses, as well as subtle distinctions between them (past perfect, future conditional, etc.). In ancient Hebrew, there are only three tense forms: The perfect tense, which mostly corresponds to our own past tense; the participle form, which refers to ongoing action (e.g., “flying,” “running,” “speaking”); and then there’s the imperfect form.
The Hebrew imperfect form can mean a variety of things depending on its context. It can refer to future events, which is obviously not the case in Genesis. It can also refer to conditional future events, things which may happen, which is why the prophets often write in the perfect form to indicate the certainty of God’s actions. The imperfect form can also be used of past completed action, as in the ESV translation of Genesis 2:19, “Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field . . .”
And finally, the imperfect form is often used in narratives as a storytelling device–as is the case in Genesis. When this happens, it can mask the other uses of the form, like the past completed action. This means that it is possible to read Genesis 1:16 as “And God had made the two great lights . . . and the stars.”
Now let’s back up to the first verbs of the section: “And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse . . .” (v. 14). The phrase, “let there be” translates the Hebrew word yihi, which is the imperfect form of hayah, which simply means “it exists.” However, the verb does not require or even imply that the object never existed in any form before. In the imperfect form, it can refer to someone coming to a place (e.g., Exo. 34:29; Ruth 1:2, 7). In the same way, when God says, “Let there be lights in the expanse . . .” it doesn’t mean that the objects that create the light did not exist before then. It simply means that God is now making those lights manifest visibly in the sky, whereas before they provided only a limited light through the cover of the clouds.
This interpretation also informs our understanding of the first command, “Let there be light.”
Understanding the Point-of-View
In the opening verses of Genesis, we read, “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.” This sets our point-of-view for the succeeding action: As an observer “hovering over the face of the waters,” not one seeing the earth from far off in space.
So why is there darkness over the deep, the primordial ocean that covered the whole surface of the planet? Well, we know from the events of day 2 that there was no separation of the waters below, the ocean, and the waters above. The waters above “the expanse” were how the ancient Israelites described where rain comes from, which Job 26:8 recognizes were the clouds. This implies the earth was wrapped in extremely thick cloud cover that touched the primordial sea and completely blocked out the sun. When God says, “Let there be light,” he doesn’t mean let there be light in the universe, but let there be light on the earth–the thick cloud cover begins to lessen, becoming translucent enough for the light of the sun to reach the surface, but not so transparent that one on the surface could make out the source of that light.
On day 2, God transforms the atmosphere so that the clouds no longer reach all the way to the surface of the sea. On day 3, he creates life forms that the ancient Israelites would have been able to identify as plants. (I suspect the first micro-organisms were actually created on the first day, but of course there was no way for the ancient writers to know about such things, let alone describe them.) Then, on day 4, the atmosphere finally becomes transparent enough to actually see the sun, moon, stars and planets. Amazingly, this fits perfectly with what secular science tells us happened in the earth’s development, with the plants scrubbing the atmosphere of carbon dioxide (which, like on Venus, tends to block light) and replacing it with the far more transparent oxygen/nitrogen mix that we enjoy today.
Not the First Stars
But it gets better. Implicit in the text is the statement that the stars the original author could see with the naked eye are not the first stars ever created.
Genesis uses a number of verbs to describe God’s acts of creation, but for the moment let’s focus on two of them: “Created” translates the verb bara (imperfect form yivrah) while “made” translates the verb ‘asah (imperfect form ya’as). ‘Asah can refer to any act of making, manufacturing, and/or working something, and is often used of man’s activities.
Bara, on the other hand, has a very specific connotation. To again quote the Theological Workbook of the Old Testament, the word bara
denotes the concept of ‘initiating something new, in a number of passages. . . Marvels never seen before are described by this word (Ex 34:10). . . [S]ince the primary emphasis of the word is on the newness of the created object, the word lends itself well to the concept of creation ex nihilo, although that concept is not necessarily inherent within the meaning of the word. (p. 127)
In other words, bara means to create something completely new, while ‘asah indicates creating or working something after an established pattern. Since human beings can only make things after the pattern of that which is already found in nature, this is why only God is able to perform bara in the Scriptures.
Genesis itself demonstrates this meaning. On the fifth day “God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind” (Gen. 1:21). But on the sixth day, we read, “And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds . . .” (v. 25). On the fifth day, God created complex multi-cellular animals for the first time. On the sixth day, God made more in the already-established patterns.
Likewise, when contemplating creating Man, God says to his heavenly court, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . .” (v. 26). This is because, contrary to some theologies, at least some angelic orders known as Sons of God (Job 1-2, Psalm 83, etc.) are made in God’s image, which is to say, for the purpose of representing God (see Michael Heiser, The Unseen Realm, pp. 40-43). However, God then turned around and “created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (v. 27). This indicates that not only did God directly create man himself, but that there are at least three aspects to mankind which had never been possessed by any “image of God” before: Dominion over the physical earth (v. 28), sexuality, and the ability to reproduce.
So when we read on the fourth day that God “made (or had made) the two great lights . . . and the stars,” what does that imply?
It implies that the sun, moon, stars and planets that we can see with our naked eyes are not the first stars and planets that God created. If the heavenly bodies that became visible on the fourth creation day were the very first, then the author should have used the term yivra (“created”), not the term ya’as (“made” or “had made”). And now, through astronomy, we know that what the Bible said thousands of years ago is incredibly accurate. The first generation of stars were fast-burning hyper-giants which all went supernova long ago–and in which God forged the elements that he would later use to make solid planets, like our own earth.
Many of the rabbis have stated in their midrashim that God created and destroyed many worlds before he created this one. This site provides a good survey of the relevant material. Again, my point in drawing attention to this is not to say that the rabbis had a secret source of information. In fact, you can see in that link that they were simply drawing inferences from the text itself. Recognizing the subtle hints of Scripture that the universe is far older than 6000 years began long before rationalistic challenges in the modern era.
In the next post, we’ll look into just what Genesis means when it describes “evening” and “mornings” in conjunction with the days of creation. It turns out that there’s a lot more going on behind those word choices than fixing the duration of the days.