Genesis 1:5 says God called the darkness Night. Then he turns around and says the evening and the morning were the first day. He does not say the night and the day were the first day.

Why might God have used night in one place here and evening in the other one?

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The KJV translation "And the evening and the morning were the first day" is not really accurate.

The Hebrew is:

וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָאֹור יֹום וְלַחֹשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה
וַֽיְהִי־עֶרֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹקֶר יֹום אֶחָֽד

Literal translation:

And called God to the light "day" and to the darkness "night"
And it was evening and it was morning — day one

So the second part of the verse does not really mean that an evening and a morning comprise one day; it means that it became evening, then it became morning, and that marks the end of the first day, day one.

As a side note, it would seem to me that to say a night and a day are the first day seems rather odd. That only works because day has the meaning of "24 hours" as well as "the part of the 24 hours that we are awake / have daylight / etc." But in fact to say that a day is a day with a night sounds a little odd.

Perhaps the author intentionally used separate terms to make it clear that there is no relation between the two pairs (day/night and morning/evening) intended. But it may also be that evening ... morning was a common pair, a kind of idiom / standard expression. It also occurs, for instance, in different contexts like Exod 16:12; 27:21; Lev 24:3; Num 9:15; etc.

  • The day-night cycle periodicity establishes a basic unit of time. The most accurate measurements of time nowadays still comes from periodicity: according to a recent announcement by physicists "According to the most accurate caesium atomic clock in the world, 1 second is the time that elapses during 9,192,631,770 cycles of the radiation produced by the transition between two levels of the caesium 133 atom." This is why it's nonsense to define a day (yom) as consisting of 24 hours. How long is an hour? How long is a minute? etc. – Dieter Jan 27 '18 at 2:24

Genesis 1 is highly structured

Genesis 1 is a very highly structured literary work. Some actually regard this as a Hymn, poetry, or a type of "high prose"

For example, Biblical scholar Gordon J. Wenham notes in The Word Biblical Commentary Vol. 1: Genesis 1-15 on page 46

...[Genesis 1:1–2:3] stands apart from the narratives that follow in style and content and makes it an overture to the whole work.

On page 50 he continues:

Extrabiblical creation stories from the ancient Near East are usually poetic, but Gen 1 is not typical Hebrew poetry. Indeed, some writers endeavoring to underline that Gen 1 is pure priestly theology insist that it is not poetry at all. There is no "hymnic element in the language" (von Rad, 47). On the other hand, Gen 1 is not normal Hebrew prose either; its syntax is distinctively different from narrative prose. Cassuto (1:11 [1961]), Loretz (1975) and Kselman (1978) have all pointed to poetic bicola or tricola in Gen 1, while admitting that most of the material is prose. It is possible that these poetic fragments go back to an earlier form of the creation account, though, as Cassuto observes, "it is simpler to suppose … the special importance of the subject led to an exaltation of style approaching the level of poetry" (1:11).

Gen 1 is unique in the Old Testament. It invites comparison with the psalms that praise God‘s work in creation (e.g., 8, 136, 148) or with passages such as Prov 8:22–31 or Job 38 that reflect on the mystery of God‘s creativity. It is indeed a great hymn, setting out majestically the omnipotence of the creator, but it surpasses these other passages in the scope and comprehensiveness of vision. In that it is elevated prose, not pure poetry, it seems unlikely that it was used as a song of praise as the psalms were. Rather, in its present form it is a careful literary composition introducing the succeeding narratives.

(emphasis added)

And indeed, scholars like McBride1 and Waltke2 also regard Genesis 1:1-2:3 as prologue and The opening prologue of Genesis has been compared to the opening prologue of John by several scholars. Subsequently, it is pretty clear that this writing was intended to act as a prologue or overture to the book of Genesis.

Days divide the text as a literary framework

Part of the overall structure of this prologue in the first chapter of Genesis creates a division between each day using the phrase וַֽיְהִי עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם which sounds phonetically way·hî ‘e·reḇ way·hî ḇō·qer yō·wm followed by the number of the day which translates to roughly "And there was the evening and there was the morning, day X" in the structure of Genesis 1.

This phrase occurs 6 times in the text and represents a literary division in the that divides the poem or hymn into seven verses. This serves to provide an overall literary framework, but it does not equate to poetry itself according to Wenham. There are many interesting poetry-like elements within the text however. Whenham notes some of these on page 50 of his commentary:

1:1–2:3 form the first section of Genesis; the second starts with 2:4. 2:1–3 echoes 1:1 by introducing the same phrases but in reverse order: "he created," "God," "heavens and earth" reappear as "heavens and earth" (2:1) "God" (2:2), "created" (2:3). This chiastic pattern brings the section to a neat close which is reinforced by the inclusion "God created" linking 1:1 and 2:3.

The correspondence of the first paragraph, 1:1–2, with 2:1–3 is underlined by the number of Hebrew words in both being multiples of 7. 1:1 consists of 7 words, 1:2 of 14 (7 x 2) words, 2:1–3 of 35 (7 x 5) words. The number seven dominates this opening chapter in a strange way, not only in the number of words in a particular section but in the number of times a specific word or phrase recurs. For example, "God" is mentioned 35 times, "earth" 21 times, "heaven/firmament" 21 times, while the phrases "and it was so" and "God saw that it was good" occur 7 times.


By choosing to divide the text into sections in this manner, this provides the author with an interesting challenge: How can he both describe the creation of the day and night without repeating himself by saying "And there was the evening and there was the morning, day 1"? The simple answer is that the author cannot. In order to preserve the structure of the prologue, it was necessary for the author to repeat himself a bit by using both the word "evening" and the word "night".

  • So, why does the initial colophon in Genesis not provide a name of a person as do each of the others? – Dieter Jan 27 '18 at 2:31
  • @Dieter - are you speaking of the headings? These aren't in the original texts. – James Shewey Jan 27 '18 at 2:34
  • No, I'm speaking of the tolodoths, which provide context to the descriptions that precede each of them. If you're not familiar with the tablet theory of Genesis, you might find it interesting if not compelling, considering that thousands of clay tablets found in Babylon use the same formula: signing a clay tablet or a series of clay tablets with "These are the generations (or account) of (the author's name)" at the end of the tablet series. – Dieter Jan 27 '18 at 21:45

We have to take a longer look at the first chapter of Genesis in order to comprehend the nuances in the role of light in the creation story. Some of understanding Creation begins with assuming certain known facts. First we must understand that darkness is the constant and light is the modifier.

As far as the use of evening in place of night it appears to me to be God’s way of dividing early creation from eternity. While night as interchangeable with darkness, the evening is likely in reference to that portion of eternity dedicated to creating the Universe, while darkness is in reference to the entire period concerning the absence of light.

It is also probable that the use of the word evening; in reference to the first day; rather than the word night is to separate that period between the creation of light and the division of light and darkness, as opposed to the eternity of darkness preceding the creation of the light.

Genesis 1:2 KJV 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.

In this verse we see that there is a permanent darkness, that permanent darkness is only divided by light.

Genesis 1:3 and 4 KJV And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.

With these two verses we are presented with the most difficult to understand verses concerning light and darkness. When God created light, it existed simultaneously with darkness. What must be understood at this point is that light is substance. Prior to creation there was no material realm of which light is a part.

Light as defined by Webster’s all-in-one Dictionary & Thesaurus second edition.

Light\lit\n 1-:something that makes vision possible : electro-magnetic radiation visible to the human eye; : also the sensation aroused by stimulation of the visual sense organs.

At this point we can only assume that creating light is referring to something that makes vision possible. In verse 4 is where God separates light from Darkness. Even though Light and Darkness are separated they are not yet cyclical.

Genesis 1:5 KJV And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

In Verse 5 we come to a point where; since God has now divided the darkness from the light; we must have a determination of just which specific periods of each is being referenced, and in this case God is designating; at least a portion; of the endless period preceding the period of light, which he has just created, as the FIRST Day; and as of verse 8 light and darkness have become cyclic.

Genesis 1:8 KJV And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

There is a valid argument to be made at this point that designation of a specific number of hours to a day is a moot point since the Sun and the Moon are not yet created, let alone the fact that at this point the period of darkness associated with the first day may be an eternity of darkness. The twenty four hour day is actually based on the rotation of the Earth on its axis in relation to the Sun (which is the primary source of the electromagnetic radiation we know as daylight). And although night as we know it is the absence of sufficient light to make things as visible; as during daylight it none the less is not total darkness; as existed prior to the creation of light.

The reason for beginning the day cycle with the evening is simply because the darkness came first in the period of Creation. This is stated in verse 1.

The evening/morning cycle should be considered as God’s division of the period of creation into certain periods of specific creation. For instance day one is dedicated to that period dedicated to creation of the basics of necessity, those being heaven and Earth, and light necessary to illuminate that creation. On the second day he divided the land and the Seas, necessary for providing then proper environments for the different creatures to be created later. And the pattern can be traced through the succeeding days.

While the use of certain words in certain places may be of some import, that is of little import to the overall understanding of Creation.

  • @NigelJ there is nothing to substantiate. Darkness is the absence of light. If light which is inarguably material has not been created the only thing left is darkness. You may wish to question how long eternity is, but if eternity ends, what was before that. – BYE Jan 26 '18 at 20:57
  • Space is a created thing. Whether quantum fluctuation/Higgs field/String series/ it is a construct. From the beginning. With all due respect, I think you are trying to imagine something that did not exist. – Nigel J Jan 27 '18 at 0:28
  • @NigelJ not true what you describe is what we currently regard as Space, but prior to any Material objects. That Space, existing for endless Eternity, was the absence of all material objects. All descriptions of what we call Space today depend on reaction of some material objects. Even the Big Bang Theory depends upon a material existence in order to explain the Universe. Truth requires that any material thing has to have a beginning. Prior to that beginning can only be Spiritual which has no material properties. this is not the place to argue personal opinions and this is my last post. – BYE Jan 27 '18 at 14:52
  • I absolutely agree with your statement : Prior to the beginning can only be Spiritual which has no material properties. I think there is a misunderstanding. – Nigel J Jan 27 '18 at 15:34
  1. Waste and Void
  2. Darkness and Light
  3. Day and Night
  4. Evening and Morning
  5. The Sabbath of Rest

1. Waste and Void

This section is not wholly relevant to the question and required too many pages to prove the proper translation so it is available HERE to view as a PDF on my website or to download, free of charge.

2. Darkness and Light

After God made the heavens and the earth, darkness was observed.

God did not make that darkness. The only clue as to where it came from is that 'heavens' is in the plural. God is he who made light. Whence the darkness ?

The book of Job reveals that there is a Satan who had access to God among the sons of God when they appeared before him in heaven. Job 2:1

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan came also among them. KJV

Arguably, Job is the first book of the bible and is to be assumed when one reads Genesis.

3. Day and Night

God named the Light and therefore attention is drawn to that name. What does it signify ? There are ten words which are associated in the Hebrew by reason of their very structure. This list is from Young's Analytical Concordance :

yobel jubilee/yom day/yonah dove-pigeon/yoneq tender plant/yoneqeth branch/ yophi beauty/yoreh first rain/yosher uprightness/yother better-further/ yothereth fat (caul)

The nine other words appear to be derived from yom day. These things are of the day :-

the freedom of jubilee, the free flight of doves and pigeons, the tender plant which grows, the branch which sprouts from the living trunk, beauty in all its manifestations, the first rain which falls, uprightness which maintains integrity, all that progresses further and better, the fat which is within storing energy and warmth.

The Night ? What is associated ?

Layelah night and then only layish lion.

Outside the perimeter of the village as it sleeps, is just darkness. No-one ventures outside the perimeter at night. Because out there, somewhere, lurks a beast so fearsome, so strong, so overwhelmingly powerful that one will be devoured, almost certainly.

Unless one be a Samson [Judges 14:6] or a David [I Samuel 17:36] or a Daniel [Daniel 6:22].

Or a Paul [II Timothy 4:17].

4. Evening and Morning

And was the evening and the morning, day the first (literally) [Biblehub]

Six times is this said, after each, progressive activity in the creativity of God.

All of this activity is subsequent to 'God created the heavens and the earth'.

Subsequent to the existence of darkness.

Subsequent to the waste and void state of earth.

It is a new creation. And it is Elohim who does it.

Despite the presence of darkness, for God has separated the Light from the Darkness. Day by day - for day unto day uttereth speech [Psalm 19:2] and night unto night sheweth knowledge. For the knowledge of good and evil is of the night. But the speech of God is in the daytime.

Day by day, despite the recurrence of a time of darkness at night, God labours still.

My Father worketh hitherto and I work. [John 5:17]

5. The Sabbath of Rest

Day by day, despite the recurrence of intervening darkness, evening and morning - in the dying light of twilight and again as the sun's rays pierce the departing darkness; he works

Despite setbacks duringthe night, despite opposition in the dark hours, despite the roaring of the lion as it devours its prey (but never a Samson or a Daniel or a David or a Paul) ; he works.

Six cycles of recurrence. Six cycles of labour. Six progressions towards an eventual goal.

And then 'tis done.

There remaineth, therefore a rest. [Hebrews 4:9] A sabbath for ever.

This is a New Creation. [II Corinthians 5:17]

  • Nice answer--you even earned the initial apparently obligatory -1 for this site. Consider that there are two transitions between day and night: evening and morning. – Dieter Jan 27 '18 at 2:17
  • @Dieter Two transitions, yes understood. And I will think about that. My focus was on one daily occurrence of light and one daily occurrence of darkness. But, as I said, I will ponder on what you have said. – Nigel J Jan 27 '18 at 2:44
  • 1
    This answer does not even address the initial question of using differing words to designate the period of darkness. – BYE Jan 27 '18 at 15:19

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