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Genesis 1:4 NIV
God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.

God separated the light from the darkness.

I don't get this part.

Does it mean that light and darkness were one?

I know that there was darkness before God created the light.

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IMO, this is the simplest explanation:

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. (Gen. 1:2)

At this point everything is dark.

And God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. (3)

Now everything is light.

And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. (4)

It wasn't God's intention that everything should be dark or everything should be light. Instead light and darkness must both coexist and therefore the two must be separated and designated to its own domain. Verse five contains a more explicit description of that separation/designation:

And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night... (5) KJV translation

Edit in response to a question about the sun, moon and stars:

Twice a day, at dusk and at dawn, our planet is well lit without the sun being visible. I don't think it's a problem that the sun moon and stars are created later on day four, because light doesn't depend on the sun from the perspective of humans living at that time period in history.

enter image description here Image source, wikipedia

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The only problem I have with this interpretation is the sun, moon, and stars were not created until v.14-18. Which begs the question, what light is being referred to here? – cegfault Mar 17 '15 at 7:35
@cegfault, I responded to your question in an edit to my answer. – Amichai Jul 17 '15 at 13:48
(a) if the sun doesn't exist, it's light won't reach the earth; and (b) saying they weren't directly visible from earth/man's perspective begs the very simple problem of earth's rotation around the sun. Are you suggesting it was in a perpetual state of not revolving around the sun yet? A perpetual dawn for 4 days? In other words, I still don't think this interpretation makes any sense. – cegfault Jul 18 '15 at 11:58
Adam Clarke makes the case in his commentary for Genesis 1:4 that God started the Earth's rotation at this point, thus why in verse 5 'Day' and 'Night' are named. So God creates light and starts the Earth's rotation, thus allowing the first (and each subsequent) evening/morning cycle to occur. (Note that 'rotation' is our 24-hour night/day period, and 'revolution' is our 365 day yearly journey around the Sun.) – Brian Weigand Dec 11 '15 at 1:42

It's helpful to note that in Genesis 1, God not only separates light from darkness on the first day, but also waters from waters on the second day, and day from night on the fourth day.

And God said, "Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters." And God made the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven.[c] And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.
Genesis 1:6-8 ESV

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

You're right that before there was light, all was darkness.

It seems that the key distinction is that the creation of light did not extinguish all darkness in all places, but rather that there were places for both light and darkness, just as day does not annihilate all night. Light would be limited in its reach.

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God is laying the foundation for the definition of a day. Notice the flow and progression of the text. Darkness (v.2) - Light had not been created, God creates light (v.3), God sees (of course He already knew) the light is good, God separates the light from darkness (He creates distinction), God names light and darkness (v.5) which defines a day, and then Moses recaps with “one day” which was defined by God.

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Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange! Thank you for taking the time to share your insights. Be sure to visit the tour to learn more about this site. Due to the nature of this site, a reference may be required to support your conclusions. – Paul Vargas Nov 13 '14 at 16:53

This was always a fascinating thing for me, the creation of light.

Gen 1:3 (KJV)

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

The best explanation for me of what light is, is what we now call the electromagnetic spectrum.

electromagnetic spectrum enter image description here

At this stage only the ability for the existence of light was made, there was no energy to to make darkness or light, everything was standstill and at zero kelvin.

Gen 1:3 (KJV)

And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

Here we see for the first time interaction of God with creation, this "divided" I always see as an impartation of energy into creation. Here is where energy is given to protons to emit energy in the form of radiation to produce light.

enter image description here

Now for the first time there is energy and movement of electrons.

The day and night has to do with the sun, but the sun does not exist yet.

But we do have matter, thus this is where I think God made Black body radiation to produce visible light. Or at least established law that governs thermodynamics. Black body radiation

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+1 for interesting speculation. I hadn't heard this one before. Honestly, it seems like a bit of a leap given the language of the first few verses. But that's not to say you're wrong, just that I see it as a bit of a stretch. But certainly lays an interesting thought process for creation of energy in that sense. – cegfault Mar 17 '15 at 7:39
@cegfault I'm glad you found it interesting :D – Barnstokkr Mar 17 '15 at 8:15

I was actually trying to get my head around how could light and dark exist in one? they can't! So how does this work? Best answer I can come up with is that the 'big bang' theory is actually true. God says let there be light! Boom! As the universe expands, light is separated from darkness...literally. I was thinking how could the author of Genesis describe this if God showed it to him in a vision. First he sees God says let there be light. Then bright flash. God saw that the light was good. Then the universe expands and the light was separated from darkness as the cosmos came to existence. Of course, trying to explain the details of galaxies, stars etc to an ancient Jewish person would be impossible. So this is the best we got...

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Personally I find trying to relate Genesis 1 to modern science to be a bit quixotic ( But if the Big Bang was the "let there be light" then what is all the other stuff that preexisted? IE: the abyss? Your post puts forth a hypothesis but does it match all the data? Not if it doesn't account for the preexistent abyss. – WoundedEgo Apr 21 at 2:02

In sensus plenior darkness is Love as expressed in unity, grace, mercy, long-suffering, patience, etc. and Light is Holiness, as expressed in separation, law, justice, judgement, patience etc.

The Trinity existed in darkness/love before creation, but the Light/holiness was hidden in God, as expressed in the pun for Elohim (alo khoom - meaning 'not dark'). The Light, or the revelation of God as Holiness did not exist because there was nothing for him to be separate from. As soon as there was a creation, holiness could be expressed.

Light, as a metaphor for holiness, was pre-existent, but hidden in God himself.

God's revelation of himself is given in two paths Holiness and Love. When we understand them individually, He reconciles them on the cross. What was parted at creation is joined at the cross.

From a physics point of view: Experiments concerning "Shrodinger's cat" basically create light in opposite phases from nothing. Since the law of conservation of energy is not violated, quantum leaps of information can be created. Light and 'anti-light' are separated from nothingness.

This article shows one implementation using entangled particles. Another implementation in Australia accomplishes it within a light tube where the energy pattern put in one end exists the other simultaneously by splitting off an energy pattern traveling in reverse through the tube, originating at the exit face.

At the exit face, the two expressions of the pattern are created out of 'nothing' and express the input pattern in two ways. If people could actually understand what is going on it would be a great picture of splitting two expressions of God's revelation of himself out of nothing at His command.

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