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Creation Story in Genesis -
A Study of Some Important Words

The Creation Story in Genesis leaves out a lot of detail. It also uses words in perhaps a different way than we might use them. We do need to allow the Bible to define its own terms. This means looking at original words and seeing how the Bible uses them in various passages and deriving, from the context, what they mean.

Another thing to remember is the fact that words can have more than one meaning. This is certainly true in English. We need to determine if it also true in the Biblical use of words. If it is and we just take the first apparent meaning of a word and assume it always means that (and it doesn't) then we will end up with confusion. An examination of word meanings in Genesis, (the previous page in this series on the time of the start of the Sabbath) in fact words from the first verse of Genesis, shows that words can indeed have different meanings. Please read that page if you haven't before going on - it will help you as we go forward in this study

Word meanings in Genesis

If you have read the page linked to immediately above, you will understand that words, including words in scripture - important words - can have multiple meanings. Now let's take this important point and attempt to determine the correct meaning of Genesis 1:1-5 in regards to this question of when the day starts.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day." (Gen 1:1-5)

In verse five, there is a division and an assigning of names/definitions. We have:

light = day
darkness = night
evening + morning = the first day

Verse five records God giving names - "day" for the light and "night" for the darkness. It then refers to evening and morning which we quickly associate with night/darkness (the "darkness of night") and day/light (the "light of day") respectively. But right away there seems to be a problem because evening and morning together are said to make up the day ("evening and the morning were the first day") and God has just given the name "day" for the light portion.

This "evening and morning" phrase has commonly been understood to be a reference to the 24-hour cycle from one day to the next:

creation story genesis 1

Some have interpreted this, because of the reasoning given above, as the evening and morning together making up not the first 24-hour day but only the light portion of the first day. That understanding would look like this:

creation story genesis 2

In our common usage, we understand "day" to mean both the light part of a day as opposed to a night and the 24-hour time period. There seems to be a difference here - one that needs to be sorted out.

Some Interesting Questions

  1. So what do the words "day" and "evening" really mean?
  2. Is it possible there is more than one correct meaning to these words?
  3. Is it possible that there is more to it than the proponents of the Sabbath starting with the light portion say - that the Sabbath day refers to just the daylight portion of a 24-hour period and that evening is only the time from noon to sunset?

Whenever the Sabbath starts, it has to make sense with the rest of scripture. Let's take a close look. I must say here that what follows includes some of my own understanding of the beginnings of this earth. You may not agree with it all and I may be wrong. But we need to consider what scripture says and do some sound reasoning:

One on-line study of this question poses the following question and answer:

Question 1: According to Genesis 1:1-5, what was the first thing the Creator called forth into existence?
Answer: The first thing He created was "light."

Do you see a problem right away? Getting this right will help.

"In the Beginning"

The phrase "in the beginning" does not have an issue with multiple word meanings - it is simply referring to a point in time - but it is helpful to consider what it means. John's gospel also refers to this time:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God." (John 1:1-2)

When was the word with God?

"I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee." (Psa 2:7)

The Son was begotten, yet we know that He was the active agent in creation - He created everything that was created.

"All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:3)

It seems that "in the beginning" may have been the point in time when the Son was begotten. Perhaps, this was the beginning of time. At the same time "... God created the heaven and the earth." No, light, as we know it, was not the first thing created, certainly not the light referred to in verse three. Genesis 1:1, the first verse of the Bible is plain:

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." (Gen 1:1)

So what about light and dark at that point? All we are told is:

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep ..." (Gen 1:2)

This seems to be referring to the state of the earth from the time it was originally created ("in the beginning") until creation week about 6,000 years ago. There was a history before creation week - the angels were created and Lucifer fell and became Satan before creation week. We don't know how long a period of time this was. The earth may have existed in the state of being "without form, and void" for a considerable period of time. Other planets in our own solar system are presently, I believe, in this state.

Here is a chart showing where the earth being "without form and void" fits in before creation week. Note that the earth will again be, essentially "without form and void" during the millennium.

creation story genesis 3

Then Genesis says:

"...And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light." (Gen 1:2-3)

The light referred to in "let there be light" was apparently not a reference to the sun which was not even mentioned until verse 14. Perhaps this was a reference simply to the presence of the Spirit of God which would be accompanied by the light of His presence as "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." Light is certainly used in scripture in connection with the presence of God:

"This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." (1 John 1:5)
"And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof." (Rev 21:23)

I would say we cannot be certain from the few words given in Genesis 1 what this light was. Perhaps it is something else we do not understand. Evidently, it was related to time because God then said:

"... God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day." (Gen 1:4-5)

It is interesting that, later in Genesis, in connection with the creation of the sun and the moon, we are told:

"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:" (Gen 1:14)

More Questions

  1. These lights - the sun and the moon - were said to "divide the day from the night" and yet light and darkness were already divided in verse 4. That doesn't make sense. Were the day and night divided twice?
  2. How can there be day and night as we know it without the sun and moon, especially the sun?
  3. Why does scripture say "evening and morning (stated in that order) were the first day" (Gen 1:5) and then later, refer to morning and evening (in the opposite order) sacrifices. "Morning and evening" occurs many times and often in reference to the daily sacrifices.
  4. Is it possible that what happens on this earth, in our solar system is not the standard for time-keeping in the universe?

More Thoughts From Scripture

While Genesis 1:1-5 is very important in establishing the major ways the Bible refers to time, if we base our understanding only this passage, we will run into problems. Here are some thoughts based on the book of Job.

"Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them." (Job 1:6)

Later in the book of Job, in talking about the foundation of the earth, God described the reaction of these sons of God:

"When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:7)

If these sons of God were representatives of different world's coming to meet with God on a particular day, then is it possible they are all on the same daily schedule? Is it possible that the day-night schedule and seven-day week was already in place before God began the work of creation week with this planet? Perhaps the rest of the universe already observed day and night before our Sun and moon were created or at least before they were set to regulate day and night for this planet so that we could be coordinated with everyone else. If so, we could have evening and morning the first day (on the clock of the whole universe) whether or not the sun and moon had already been created or set to regulate time for our planet. The "let there be light" of verse three could be just the light of God's presence as He came to this earth for the work of its creation.

We need to recognize that we don't understand all that went on in Genesis 1 and that we may not understand all that is involved in the meanings of the words as used there. We can go to other scripture to help us understand some of the terms in question and we need to. So what does the Bible, as a whole, say about words such as day, night, light, dark, evening and morning?

Can a Word Have More Than One Meaning?

I have no problem with:

   morning (sunrise to noon)
+ evening (noon to sunset or "between the evenings")
= daylight portion of a 24-hour cycle.

But could it also be that:

   evening (sunset to sunrise; the dark portion)
+ morning (sunrise to sunset; the light portion)
= a 24-hour day?

Is it possible that words can have more than one meaning? Isn't that very true in English? And, we have already established that for three words from just the first verse of the Bible - God, heaven and earth. If you have not already read that page, be sure to look at word meanings in Genesis. A look at the definitions in Strong's concordance and at Bible usage will say definitely, yes, many words have multiple meanings. As soon as we say a word can mean this and this only, we have restricted ourselves from other possibilities and may be missing something.

While we need to consider this, we do need to be careful. We cannot make up our own word meanings or just accept meanings of words that are based on traditional understandings of scripture to suit our understanding. Any meanings of words must be based on scripture and how scripture uses those words. So, let's look at some of the words we have been discussing. We'll compare scripture and do some reasoning to see if there could be more than one meaning.

Go to the next page in this series about the start time for the Sabbath which talks about the Hebrew calendar and how it uses terms such as day, light, morning and evening.  

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