Before the First Day

Every church-going kid learns the six days of creation and the things God created on each day. But here’s a question they are never taught to answer: On which day did God create the earth? Did God create the heavens and the earth on the first creation day? Or did the creation of the universe precede the six creation days described in Genesis 1?

The first chapter of Genesis describes the creation and formation of the earth. It describes six days and the works of creation that God performed on each day. These days are laid out in a repetitive1 structure in the chapter.  Each day is described individually in its own paragraph (or stanza). Each day begins with, “And God said,” and each day ends with, “And there was evening, and there was morning—the [somethingth] day.”

The paragraph that describes the first day begins in verse 3 with, “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” Because the structured description of the days does not begin until the third verse, let us look back at the first two verses and see what precedes this description of the first day. Verse 1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Because this verse precedes the description of the first day, it could be taken to imply that God created the heavens and the earth prior to the first day. It could also be taken as a summary statement because all six days together can be considered, in a sense, the creation of the heavens and the earth. In the context of this chapter, I think both interpretations are plausible, so let us move on to verse 2.

clouds covering the earth

Verse 2 describes the initial state of the earth. It was formless, empty, and dark. It is interesting to note that the earth clearly existed in a dark state prior to the creation of light on day 1. It is also interesting to note that the three things observed about the earth in verse 2 are precisely the problems that are addressed by God’s work of creation on the following six days. The earth was dark; God lit it and placed the sun, moon, and stars in the sky to provide light. The earth was formless; God gave it form by separating the waters to create the sky and by creating the continents. The earth was empty; God filled it with all sorts of living things.

Because the problems enumerated in verse 2 are solved over the course of all six days, it seems reasonable to conclude that this verse describes the condition of the earth prior to the entire set of six days. In this interpretation, it is not clear how much time passes from the creation of the earth to the beginning of the first day. Although the scripture does not directly contradict the idea that the earth was created on the first day, and thus verse 2 is included in this day, I find this interpretation less convincing because the structure of the chapter implies that the first day does not begin until verse 3.

In my next couple of posts, I will discuss further the account of Genesis 1. I encourage you to click the Follow button in the sidebar and to become a part of this conversation. But what is my conclusion for today? Either the young-earth or the old-earth interpretation of Genesis 1:1–2 is valid. In my judgment, however, the conclusion that the earth itself was created at some time before the beginning of day 1 is more consistent with the structure of the chapter.

[1] Some describe the chapter as poetic in structure. I am avoiding this term because the chapter does not have attributes of Hebrew poetry found elsewhere in scripture. I also do not want to imply that the creation events should not be interpreted literally. I am simply observing the structure of the writing.

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