Genesis 1:3-5 indicates that God created light on day one of the Creation week. It was not until day four, however, that He made the Sun, Moon, and stars. How could there have been light in the beginning, before the Sun was even created? What was that light?
The first thing to note is that whatever the light was, God divided it from darkness and then defined “Day” and “Night” based on the distinction (vss. 4-5). Moses highlights that “the evening and the morning” were in effect at the end of that first day, even though the Sun had not yet been created. Apparently, the light was directional and fixed, like the light from the Sun, allowing a light period for day and a dark period for night as the Earth turned on its axis as it does today, also allowing for an evening and a morning. Wayne Jackson noted that “[t]he ‘light’ of Genesis 1:3 obviously radiated from a ‘fixed’ source, in its relationship to the earth, inasmuch as it facilitated the dark-to-light arrangement, as the primitive orb rotated upon its axis” (2014). Henry M. Morris concurred, stating, “Such a cyclical light-dark arrangement clearly means that the earth was now rotating on its axis and that there was a source of light on one side of the earth corresponding to the sun, even though the sun was not yet made (Genesis 1:16)” (1977, p. 55). Biblical scholars Spence and Exell explain, “On the fourth day the light [that was—JM] developed on the first is concentrated and permanently fixed in the celestial luminaries” (2007, Genesis 1:3-5).
Can we surmise anything else about that light? Spence and Exell point out that Augustine argued that the light was spiritual in nature (2007). However, such a postulation does not harmonize well with the rest of the chapter. How could spiritual light be divided into the days and nights that are described throughout the rest of Genesis one to denote God’s activity on each of the days of the Creation week?
Though “light” was once thought to be inherently a substance or element, we now understand it to be merely a result of matter being in a certain condition. Spence and Exell point out that it would not conflict with the text to argue that the light of Genesis one referred to the “mode or condition of matter,” with luminosity, for example, being merely the result of incandescence (Genesis 1:3-5). This hints that some physical source could have been present to emit the light, unless, of course, the light was purely supernatural and temporary. Adam Clarke and Spence and Exell note that the Genesis one word for “light” is used elsewhere in the Bible to denote fire (Isaiah 31:9; Ezekiel 5:2), the Sun (Job 31:26), lightning (Job 37:3), and even heat (Isaiah 44:16). Clarke concluded “that it is caloric or latent heat which is principally intended by the original word” (2013, Genesis 1:3).
There is no doubt that when the Earth was created on day one, likely with its mantle intact, light (and heat) was immediately in existence due to the nature of the magma therein. Keep in mind also that “light” occurs in a wide spectrum—a range which far exceeds what humans can visibly detect. Henry Morris noted, “[I]t is obvious that visible light is primarily meant [in Genesis 1:3—JM], since it was set in contrast to darkness. At the same time, the presence of visible light waves necessarily involves the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Beyond the visible light waves are, on the one hand, ultraviolet light and all the other shortwavelength radiations and, on the other hand, infrared light and the other longwave phenomena” (p. 56). John D. Morris observed:
Actually there are many sources of light, not just the sun. There are also many types of light, not just visible light. Short-wave light includes ultraviolet light, X-rays, and others. Long-wave light includes infrared light, radio waves, etc. Light is produced by friction, by fire, by numerous chemical reactions, as well as the nuclear reactions of atomic fission and fusion, which is what we think is occurring in the sun. God had at His fingertips many options to accomplish His purposes. Light does not automatically require the sun (2008, p. 14).
Bottom line: while we know the light spectrum and heat (entropy) were created on day one, there is simply not enough information in the text to understand the nature of the fixed, directional light source that allowed for a division of night and day during the first three days of Creation. Whatever it was, no sustained contradiction can be levied against the Bible due to its commentary on the events of the Creation week. [NOTE: Consider that such charges, if sustainable, would have likely caused the Bible millennia ago to be patently rejected by all rational people, fading into obscurity along with the mythological stories of old. Humanity has simply understood that there is an explanation to the enigma, even if the details are not known, and that a legitimate absurdity cannot be levied against the biblical text.] Interestingly, Jackson points out that the ancient, mythological Babylonian account of creation, Enuma Elish, dating back as far as 1800 B.C., also claimed that light was in existence before the lightbearers themselves (2014). For thousands of years, humanity has had such texts, and while not understanding the full implications of such accounts, people have understood that such a concept is not inherently inaccurate. Interestingly, if the Bible were written by humans conning the masses, one might imagine a re-write of the events of day one would be the first edit to be made to give us some more insight.
Clarke, Adam (2013), Adam Clarke’s Commentary (Electronic Database: WORDSearch).
Jackson, Wayne (2014), “What Was that ‘Light’ Before the Sun (Genesis 1:3)?” Christian Courier, https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/882-what-was-that-light-before-the-sun-genesis-1-3.
Morris, Henry M. (1977), The Genesis Record (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).
Morris, John D. (2008), “Sunlight Before the Sun,” Acts & Facts, 37:14, http://www.icr.org/article/sunlight-before-sun/.
Spence, H.D.M. and Joseph S. Exell (2007), The Pulpit Commentary (Electronic Database: WORDSearch).