Let there be light? What is the light in Genesis 1

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 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. 

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 
-Genesis 1:1-5

In Genesis 1, when God says “let there be light,” what does that mean? 

If you’re a Christian who belives in the Bible, that may sound like a silly question. 

Light is light! 

But what is the light on the first day of creation? 

Genesis 1 doesn’t talk about the sun until day 4. 

14 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, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 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. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 
-Genesis 1:14-19

So then what is the light on day 1? 

This is a question that theologians and scholars have pondered since before Jesus walked the earth. 

Explanations people have given

There are no shortage of explanations. One is that the sun was always shining but that it is not given its function until the fourth day. 

One ancient view is that God had created another source of light on the first day that he extinguished on the fourth day with the creation of the sun. That might seem far fetched, but remember this. In the Old Testament, when the Israelites are in their desert wanderings, God leads them by a pillar of fire in the sky. 

Second century theologian Tertullian believed that the light was the glory of Christ. 

The fourth and fifth century theologian Augustine believed that the light came from the angels. And a number of Biblical texts could be pointed to in support of that view. 

Psalm 104:4:  he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. 

Ezekiel 1:13-14: As for the likeness of the living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire, like the appearance of torches moving to and fro among the living creatures. And the fire was bright, and out of the fire went forth lightning. 14 And the living creatures darted to and fro, like the appearance of a flash of lightning. 

Acts 12:7: And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands.

Revelation 18:1: After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. 

All three of those theories point to the light being supernatural, and that the light on the first day is not merely about light in the way we think of light in the modern world. 

Light is an important image in the Bible that points to moral righteousness. It’s contrasted by darkness which symbolizes what is sinister and evil. Nowhere is this language stronger in the Bible than the Gospel of John, where we see Jesus as the light that shines in the darkness (John 1:5), the true light which gives light to everyone (John 1:9), and the light of the world (John 8:12). 

In John, we see that men love darkness rather than the light because their works were evil (John 3:19).

Light and glory

I take the light in Genesis 1 to be the glory of the Triune God. Genesis 1 does not say that God created this light, because the Lord is eternally glorious. But that God acknowledges the light of his own glory when he says let there be light. 

Further reading: 


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