There are (at least) two ways to think about this question. The first is to look for a simple, scientific explanation: does science tell us about any lights that were created before the sun? The second is to look for a different interpretation of the passage: is it definitely the case that we should be looking for a scientific interpretation of Genesis 1, or does it have a different meaning? We should look for answers to both questions.

Is there a simple scientific answer? Physicists distinguish light itself from objects that create light (like the sun). Verse 3 may refer to the creation of the laws that govern light itself, to the light that filled the universe after the big bang, and to the countless millions of stars that fill the galaxies throughout the universe. In contrast, verse 14 describes the sun, which sheds light on the earth and is a clear sign for all people.

How should the passage be interpreted? Notice that there are two cycles of three days in Genesis 1: days 1 & 4 describe the creation of light, day and night, the sun, moon and stars; days 2 & 5 describe the oceans and clouds, the animals that live in the ocean and the birds; while days 3 & 6 describe the creation of plants, land-dwelling animals, and people. This structure is a very strong hint that we shouldn’t be too concerned about reading Genesis 1 as a chronological record, and that we shouldn’t be surprised if things are presented in a different order to what a simple scientific reading of the chapter would suggest.

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25 Responses to What light was there before the sun and moon were created? (Genesis 1:3-4,14-19)

  1. Mike says:

    so your saying to just skip the first chapter then.? cause it really has no meaning….Sorry to bother.

    • David Philp says:

      Mike – not skipping anything, just offering an interpretation of Gen 1 that is compatible with scientific facts. I’m sure that people have other beliefs about what light there was “before day 4”, but in my view acceptable interpretations must be compatible with scientific facts.

      • Rev. Dawson Morrison says:

        Why should it be required that biblical record of created acts of God must be understod through proven acts of science. The Bible says that genesis is the record of being.
        Thanks, Dawson Morrison

        • David Philp says:

          If any interpretation of the Bible contradicts a fact, it is wrong. So a correct understanding of the Bible absolutely must be compatible with scientific facts (and every other set of facts).

          • michael says:

            True, I agree with that, if something contradicts a faith, it is, truth contradicts belief, I personally think belief should not be too focused on, as
            To illustrate, a vase in your house fell, there are many explanations:
            1. You didn’t put it in a stable position since the day you bought it
            2. A ghost came and pushed it, or maybe a cat from nowhere
            3. You forgot to close the door and the wind came in and blew it
            4. Your cat pushed it

            You believe in ghosts, so you think the ghost pushed it

            There is no wind that day
            If it wasn’t stable it would have fallen instantly

            But the clues (facts you have now)
            Your cat is in the same room as the vase
            The only piece of evidence you have is your cat is close to the vase

            The most rational one would be #4 as the fact/truth is the truth, no matter how much you believe that a ghost came it and pushed it.

            And like what I read, the bible needs a guide to be understood, just like Shakespeare.

            I’m just saying, maybe it makes sense to you, maybe not.

  2. Jim Day says:

    I also would like a more convincing answer to Mike’s question but perhaps it is beyond explanation like the 120 plus miracles recorded in the the Bible this one appears to be beyond current scientific explanation – a miracle.
    The shadow that went back 10 steps on the stairway of Ahaz for a sign to Hezikiah that he would live also defies scientific explanation – it means it is a miracle – if scientists cannot find an explanation for Biblical miracles that is not a surprize because they are miracles – outside the normal phenominia. So laws of nature are set by God for us – not for God. God gave us the order of the days for some reason – not for us to ignore them. I love the end of verse 16 chapter one “And he made the stars also” – busy day was the fourth day. Let us not limit God’s power in any way.

  3. Jim Day says:

    David – science changes eg it took medical science as late at the end of C19 to get their procedures to agree with Biblical rules for cleanliness.
    ( Doctor Semmelweis battled against the science of his day and it was not until after his death in 1865 that what he advocated became medical practice.)
    Let us not ignore science, but have the confidence that God is all knowing – not science.

  4. Kev Wardman says:

    Is it not possible that light exists outside of our known and so far discovered realm? You said that Physicists distinguish light itself from objects that create light (like the sun) – therefore it would follow that light cannot be purely determined by the sun and stars alone or any other objects? We have a very limited knowledge as to what is outside the known universe and so I would suggest that Light, day and night and indeed morning and evening exist outside of our universe. That would also explain God’s fellowship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit within a tangible format and one which is independent of our solar system (not that they need it of course). Isaiah and Revelation also describe a day for which the sun and moon will no longer be as light to the earth but the glory of God will be it’s light.
    I’d be careful of using the phrase ‘scientific facts’ due to the ongoing learning curve that science continues to navigate (precariously) and so often has to re-write.
    There is no reason not to believe that God created in 6 literal 24 hour days. Only mans restricted mind and limited understanding (pride) provide obstruction to the most simple communication of Gods handiwork and the most straight forward of biblical passages available in Genesis 1.
    Job 11:7 “Can you by searching find out God? can you find out the Almighty to perfection?”
    The answer – clearly not.

    • David Philp says:

      Is it not possible that light exists outside of our known and so far discovered realm? You said that Physicists distinguish light itself from objects that create light (like the sun) – therefore it would follow that light cannot be purely determined by the sun and stars alone or any other objects? We have a very limited knowledge as to what is outside the known universe and so I would suggest that Light, day and night and indeed morning and evening exist outside of our universe.

      No, it is not possible. A passage like Gen 1 has to be interpreted on the basis that it is written using human language. It is meaningless if words like “light” mean anything other than what we understand to be “light”.

    • Carter says:

      I do not have anything remotely close to a restricted mind. The fact is that as with many things in this world, the idea of God is simply logically impossible.

    • Asad says:

      no ,we are not limiting gods the almights limit but merlly asking since the bible was written by man ,how can light be created before the source of light,and how can there be days (24 hours ) ,if the sun and the moon were created in the 4 day ,becasue day and night  or a day is determine by the position of the moon and sun,so if they werent created till the 4 day how can there be days .

  5. Chris says:

    The heavens and the earth were created before the first day (in the beginning). The first light could be in heaven or referring to spiritual perfection or a mystical phenomenon of some kind and might not be referring to the visible spectrum of electromagnetic radiation on earth or in this universe (although I don’t understand why God would call this ‘Day’) and the second light (1:16) is probably referring to the sun and moon. I don’t know how there can be a day if the earth was without form and void. How can it rotate if it has no form and no axis? (a miracle?) Also why doesn’t the bible mention other types of EMR such as cosmic microwave background radiation?

  6. David Philp says:

    Chris: yes, I wrote that comment quite badly… thanks for picking it up. It is possible that a word such as “light” in Gen 1 is used as a metaphor for something spiritual. What I meant is that it is not possible that “light” is a metaphor for some other aspect of physical creation that we are currently ignorant of.

    I was referring to Kev’s comment “…I would suggest that Light, day and night and indeed morning and evening exist outside of our universe…”. I believe that’s wrong; the reason being that either (a) ‘light’ is not a metaphor, or (b) ‘light’ is a metaphor for an aspect of the creation (presumably something spiritual) that we know about.

  7. Matt Waite says:

    Harking back to the original question, the Bible doesn’t tell us what was generating the light, but the fact that there was day and night tells us that it is likely that the earth was rotating, and the light was coming from one direction.

    There are many other instances in the Bible where light is generated from a supernatural source, so there’s no reason to discount it here.

    My answer would be, the light was coming from God or something that he created. Once the Sun was created, this light was no longer needed.

    In Revelation 22 we are told that in the future heavenly city the Sun will no longer be needed, since the Lord God will give them light.

  8. Elia Dragone says:

    Sometimes many of us look at things strictly as either or and not necessary from both, a material and/or spiritual perspective. If my understanding of the word of God is correct, it is very possible that while God created the heavens and the earth (the universe) as we know it, the verses in Genesis might also refer to other layers of realities that are not relegated strictly to our physical universe. Example, the word “Word” it could refer to logos (written) or rhema (spoken). The word “stars” is sometimes refferred to angelic being not only luminaries. The “light of the world” can be interpreted in two obvious ways. What holds our physical bodies together (Leminin at the a biological level-look up its symbol and Christ at a spiritual level)? What holds matter together (a force found nowhere else in the universe completely opposite of electro-magnetism at a subatomic level and Christ at a spiritual level)? And so on! On a personal note, having a strong interest in science and having a good grasp of some of the scientific laws I can actually see the signature of God in these laws as they might also apply to spiritual laws although I believe that the spriritual always precedes the physical. My pastor refers to this duality as us “being spiritual beings having an earthly experience.”
    Back to the original question, where did the light originate from. was it created by God or released by God?
    How does light travel through the vacuum of outer space, why is it bent by strong gravitational pull, why does it disappear in a black hole? WOW! How Great is our God!

  9. Charles Harris says:

    Isn’t it amazing? God created light rays four days before He created the source of the light rays! God in His wisdom puzzles the greatest of scientific minds. The solution is to just believe God is wise enough and powerful enough to do it.

    • Asad says:

      the salution is that many people edit the bible and wrote in there own imiginations.there can be no day or night without the sun and moon ,so to even say that the sun and the moon was created in the fourth day is a big mistake.What it says in the bible is illogical ,it can not be done,you can not have a sandwich without bread ,you can not have clouds with out the water can not have a day with out light and darkness.i am sorry but the truth is that the bible has been changed through out history by people ,yes there would be some miricals and sienticif facts in it but the beautiful bible or arabic name injel which was given to jesus(peace be upon him) is not the same one that we humans have now.

  10. Elia Dragone says:

    That is truly awesome! I wrote a few thoughts on the subject in my new blog if anyone is interested in reading. I would love to read your comments and critique.
    God Bless!

  11. Steven Embree says:

    I love the back door way everyone tries to answer this question. The simple explanation is that it’s just a story. Don’t bother trying to establish a scientific explanation. There is none. The passage refers to light without a sun, moon, or stars (none of which exist at the time). Don’t try to attach it to the big bang either, the earth exists at this time, so it must be well after the big bang. So in the end, what you’re reduced to is the supernatural presence of light with no source. And the fact that it is supernatural leaves it well outside the realm of science, period.

    Someone mentioned that it simply displays the awesome power of God that he can create light without the sun. You’re kidding, right? Why does God, of an all-powerful nature, require light in the first place? The answer is that he doesn’t. He created the heavens and the earth prior to creating this mysterious magic light so obviously the guy can work in the dark. So now we’re down to two facts.

    1. He doesn’t need light to work.

    2. He supposedly created the light before the sun and moon.

    What does all this mean? Simply it means he’s wasteful or he’s full of pride. He created the light for no actual purpose whatsoever or his purpose was to just show us that he can do it. He doesn’t need the light to work as evidenced by the fact that he was already creating stuff prior to the light. And he didn’t even bother creating a substitute for the light source (the sun) until three days later.

    And the 1&4, 2&5, and 3&6 groupings absolutely do NOT hint that you can disregard the chronology. Consider the following:

    8:00am – ate breakfast
    10:00am – got dressed
    12:00pm – went for a run
    2:00pm – ate lunch
    4:00pm – shopped online for a sweater
    6:00pm – took my dogs for a walk

    You can group them in the same groupings as you grouped Genesis 1. 8 & 2 (food), 10 & 4 (clothing), 12 & 6 (exercise). Does it mean that it’s evidence that you should disregard the chronology? Absolutely not. The apparent similarities (which are far from rock solid) do not suggest they were done together at all. The fact that the day 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6 are mentioned specifically ensure that you MUST take the chronology into account. To suggest that you can disregard this is a typical reaction in order for people to try to force the bible into fitting the natural world. It’s desperate and really kind of sad.

    Another thing, why does everyone trying to defend the bible insist that everything that doesn’t seem to make sense is only a metaphor? This is convenient. “Well, if you have the faith of a mustard seed, it doesn’t literally mean you can move a mountain. It’s only a metaphor.” Is that how it works really?

    And finally, if you can’t use metaphors, use translational errors. I mean, it’s only the perfect word of God. But really if you take the literal translation of light from it’s original context, it actually translates to a candle. But of course, this translation could also mean a flashlight. Really, who knows? It could also translate to a supernova occurring in some far off galaxy. The simple fact is, the bible says light, it means light.

    But it doesn’t just say light. It uses night and day. Matt Waite actually started to pick up on this and grabbed my attention because he’s absolutely right. Night and day absolutely implies light and dark of a single rotation of the earth as it is faced by the sun. Emphasis on BY THE SUN. Any other light source would be, as I mentioned before, wasteful. And then Matt Waite went on to disappoint me as suggesting that since the Bible mentions supernatural light it MUST be true. Matt Waite, again, you’re correct in saying that the Bible mentions supernatural stuff elsewhere within it’s covers. However, does anyone besides me realize that the ONLY place you see supernatural lights are within stories? Come on, people! The answer is staring you in the face.

    Let’s not forget the fact that the people who wrote this story also thought that we were the center of the universe. This is implied by the idea that the earth was created first, before the sun. When scientifically, it is well known that the earth came about after the sun was born. In fact, not only was the earth born after the sun, the earth was born AS A RESULT OF the sun being born in the aftermath.

    In the end, you really need to stop mixing the science and the magic. It just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

    • David Philp says:

      Steven, with respect to “the groupings”:

      We must assume that the author of Gen 1 was at least as smart as you and me. He (or maybe she) would have been quite well aware that the sun is the primary source of light, and that it could not have succeeded the natural day and the night. Seeing that he did not try to describe the hypothetical supernatural light source you are talking about, we can conclude that he or she was happy with a metaphorical understanding of the passage.

      If you want to comment generally on the existence of the supernatural, please frame it as a question about the Bible and submit it.

  12. Brad Lee says:

    My investigation to the creation of light on the first day was not a visible light. God does not need to create light because He is light Himself – see Revelations 21.23.

    I believe the “light” in Ge 1.3 was a “revelation” light not a physical light as in Day 4. Since the earth was formless, void and chaos, it required laws to govern and bring order in preparation for what was to be created in the next few days.

    Jesus, who was not necessarily subject to the laws, was able to defy gravity, transfigure, resurrect from death to life, create life, revert things from chaos and disorder to order. Each of those “miracles” violated a law that governs this earth. What is so ironic is that it was He that created them.

    And on a side note, I think it was brilliant that God created the trees and shrubs the day before He created the sun and moon just to show us that it was 1 literal day or 24 hours. If each day of creation had taken a thousand or millions of years as scholars think (and I previously thought) all the trees and plants created on Day 3 would have died before Day 4.

    • Asad says:

      now you are interpatating the meaning to your own will ,what you are doing is that you are fooling yourself,the sienitifc facts which are in the bible are wrong yes some would be right but the holy bible is now gone whats left is some correct chapters and the rest are magical  stuff.

  13. ez says:

    “16 Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.” (1Ti 6:16 KJV)

    With this verse in mind it is not hard to believe that God provided an alternative to the Sun for light until the 4th day. God ‘created’ the sun and moon (and stars) distinctly for their purpose, so it’s not hard to believe a God that can place a Sun can supply alternative light until day 4.

    The Sun and Moon were created on the 4th day not just for light but for markers of time. For ‘seasons, days and years’.

    The ‘big bang theory’ lives in the realms of conjecture and is quite simply unconfirmable.
    Besides, to believe an ‘explosion of pre-organised’ matter created ‘something from nothing’ is delirium. This argument in itself requires greater ‘faith’ than a belief in an all powerful God.

    God’s power is not diminished by ‘science’s understanding’ of it. In fact the lack of knowledge in regard to God’s power underlines man’s ingrained need for God

    • Doug says:

      This light was the glory of God that shed light on darkness as when the glory of God shines on a sinner they can see what they really are and what they need. This light being created before the sun shows that we dont need physical light as much as spiritual light JESUS is the light of the world the first SON

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