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I'm trying to read Genesis 1 very closely and I'm noticing a thing about Genesis 1:3. God says יהי אור. Then it just says "and there was light." The form of "to be" (היה) here is "Qal Imperfect Jussive 3ms."

The jussive mood is distinct from the imperative. It can be used "to indicate a command, permission or agreement with a request" and is distinct from imperative which expresses a command. There is an imperative form in 1:22 and 1:28, "be fruitful and multiply..."

The other places this form (יהי) is used I can understand it as a "letting it be" as in Gen 30:34 and 33:9 where there is a kind of non-action associated with it (as in no interference). Then after the light verse (1:3) in the rest of Genesis 1, there is a distinctly different pattern. God speaks of creation and then acts to make the thing God describes. Here in Gen 1:3, God just seems to say "let light be" and then it is the case that "light was." There is no explicit step where it says that God made light as it says with all the other steps of creation.

Is he acknowledging the light? What is going on here? I'm trying to approach it as best I can without a bunch of preconceived notions of creation (e.g. ex nihilo). I'm wanting to let the text speak for itself. It seems like the earth is emptiness and void, and the darkness over the face of the deep, and the spirit of God hovering over the waters. These all seem to be things that "are" in the perfect tense (הָיְתָ֥ה). In that they are somehow complete, done. This, הָיְתָ֥ה, in Genesis 1:2 is the only instance of explicit "to be" in the perfect tense in Genesis 1. Is the text acknowledging that the light, though there with the stuff of creation, is somehow incomplete in nature and acknowledged as such (it is in the imperfect jussive here).

It seems like God creates distinct from the statements about creation. Is this unique phrasing on the first day somehow speaking of light in motion and part of the creative impulse coming and going in the days? It seems like night/darkness is the basic state of things and with which light is originally co-mingled.

Or was the world originally dark until light was brought into being with this statement? But it doesn't say "God made light" or "God formed light" or anything like that. Like on day 2, God says "let there be a firmament..." and then it says "God MADE (וַיַּ֣עַשׂ) a firmament..." The formula later is not "let there be a firmament..." and then "there was a firmament..."

So can we infer from Genesis 1 that God is separately acknowledging light, acquiescing to its existence, present with darkness and the earth and the deep and the waters (from 1:2), or is there some other meaning to this formula?

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    YLT : and God saith, `Let light be;' and light is. – Nigel J Jan 9 at 22:18
  • God used four work processes in the creation week. He created, made, formed, and established. The latter describes laws that He decreed, including the law of energy. This has the same context as the "Let there be a firmament" in verse 3. This firmament was also simply a decree setting boundaries. There was no sky or atmosphere created here because there was no "inspection or approval of a sky or atmosphere. The "movement" on the face of the waters did the "forming" work that was inspected. He only named Heaven after to outer-and-above portion of waters--one of only two bodies of waters. – Bill Porter Jan 10 at 0:32
  • Technically light and time are not independent of matter, but Genesis isn't a physics book and there are theories about what it means that God created light on the third day. God did create matter, light and time. – Perry Webb Jan 10 at 1:37
  • @PerryWebb Again, you, as others, claim that light was created, which it was not. Nowhere in Scripture does it say that light was created. Please search for proof that it was, and verify your statement. The LORD did not put up a disclaimer saying that "since this was the Bible, He shouldn't have said anything that agrees with reality science of the 21st century" in Isaiah 45:17, neither did Isaiah. Genesis said that darkness was upon the face of the deep--that deep that was filled with dark waters. Light was formed--not created--by the movement of the Spirit upon those dark waters. – Bill Porter Jan 10 at 3:36
  • @GusL. Perhaps, an extended study might help of the primitive root, kûwn (Isaiah 45:18, KJV) as to things of the Day-One creation that are not material, such as decrees, oaths, laws, covenants, ruling principles, etc. This appears to reveal exactly what you have discovered with the text of your question. You can "make" a decree, oath, or law by declaration, but the decree, oath, or law is not yet a physical thing (such as light), even though the Law of Light has already been made of full force and effect. The Law of Light likely also required the Spirit's movement upon the waters. – Bill Porter Jan 10 at 16:18
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It might help to compare the creation verbs used in Genesis 1:

Strong's # Hebrew Transliteration Meaning Verses
H1254 בָּרָא bara' to create the essence from nothing 1, 21, 27
H1961 הָיְתָ֥ה hayah to transform or to have become 2, 3, 5, 6–9, 11, 13–15, 19, 23, 24, 29, 30, 31
H335 יָצַר yatsar to form or shape 2:7
H6213 וַיַּעַשׂ `asah to complete 7, 11, 16, 25, 26, 31
H1288 בָּרַךְ barak to bless 22, 28

— (See discussion in Definitions of Creative Words - Mi Yodeya Stack Exchange.)

Notice that creation from nothing happens only 3 times:

  • the physical universe
  • animal life
  • humans with God's spiritual image

In Genesis 3:3, the verb commonly translated as a form of "to be" has the sense, not of creation from nothing, but of something transforming or becoming. I'd translate it as "Then God said 'become light', and it became light". This more closely matches the "permission or agreement with a request" mentioned in the question.

But it wasn't until verse 16 that the light sources became visible from the surface of the Earth. The verb usually translated as "made two great lights" and "made the stars" isn't one of creation from nothing, nor of transformation, but of putting into a final state.

I interpret the first four days as:

  • The Earth had a shroud of thick cloud.
  • On the first day, the cloud became transformed to be thin enough that light could shine through.
  • On the second day, God completed the separation, lifting the cloud layer from the surface leaving a layer of clear air, with the cloud above and sea below.
  • On the third day the land and seas became transformed into distinct areas.
  • On the fourth day the cloud layer became transformed into individual clouds so that the universe was visible from the surface of the Earth. This completed the appearance of the Sun, Moon, and stars.

To answer the original "Genesis 1:3, Did God Make Light?" question: No. God created light in Genesis 1:1; transformed the waters-above to allow the light ito reach the Earth's surface in Genesis 1:3; and completed the process allowing light to be directly seen in Genesis 1:16.

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    bara' is used 3 times in 1.27, and Adam was not made from nothing, but from dust and God's breath, whereas Eve was made from Adam's rib. There appears to be significant semantic overlap between ‘asah and bara', and I would argue the same issues arise for the other verbs. – Robert Jan 10 at 5:17
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    That's an interesting point @Robert. bara is also used in Joshua 17 to speak of humans clearing a forest. I'm getting the feeling that "ex nihilo" is a doctrine back projected to justify other theological positions. I feel like bara was used here in Gen 1 for poetic repetition within "barasheet bara" in verse 1. It is clearly used for Adam who is made from dust. It seems to be a synonym with "asah" (to make), but just less frequently used. – Gus L. Jan 10 at 12:10
  • Also, the Septuagint's author (well before the christian period) used the greek verb "εποίησεν" for bara. That's a pretty standard "made" as in something that people and God does. That verb is used almost 600 times in the NT. – Gus L. Jan 10 at 12:43
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Excellent question that we can only understand in rather limited human terms.

I agree that gen 1:3 does NOT demand that God created light on the first day - the text does not say that. Now, while gen 1 and 1 John are quite different contexts, (1 John is more theological and sometimes metaphorical) they cannot be divorced because Gen 1 is so clearly salvific in theme.

I get stuck on 1 John 1:5 where we read that "And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you: God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all." This is clearly somewhat metaphorical BUT I struggle to understand God existing in eternity past without light.

Since gen 1 is written from the perspective of a terrestrial observer, the landscape (covered in water) was obviously dark as Gen 1;2 states. Now, Gen 1:2 is important because it sets up the chiastic structure for what follows. The earth is described with three words (as the OP states):

  • formless
  • empty
  • darkness

The creation account then proceeds to undo this state of affairs by

  • V3 (day 1) - light is shed on the earth
  • V6-13 (days 2 & 3) - form and shape is given to the earth
  • V14-31 (day 4-6) - the earth is filled with creatures

Thus, I do not believe it is necessary for God to have created light in day 1 - but simply to have "shown up" on the scene and that light appeared on the earth. The perceptive comments about the jussive mood illustrate this well.

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    Thanks Dottard. I get the feeling that there is a big gap in mythological symbolism between Genesis 1 and John 1. I think that light and dark in the time of Jesus where highly influenced by the time as a Persian Vassal state where these were associated then with good and bad (For Zoroastrians, the world was pure light before the fall). I think in the time of writing Genesis 1, these motifs mapped onto transcendent (light) and immanence (darkness) which were both aspects of God. This is where you get something like Isaiah 45:7 from Babylon with Cyrus on the horizon. – Gus L. Jan 9 at 22:34
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    That is, in this mythic understanding, darkness would be Jesus and light would be "the father" which animates in and through Jesus. This is NOT how John would have understood light, but how the same mythic principle would have been expressed in both times using different metaphors. I get the feeling like there was no moral dimension to the light and dark here in Genesis 1. For John light and dark are more like awareness and ignorance. That is not what I read in Genesis 1. – Gus L. Jan 9 at 22:35
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    @GusL. John understood the waters that were created on Day-One as a type of of the Word of God. How then could John not also consider the inherent energy--"light"--proven by science to be part of the waters--as being the Word--latent until revealed by the Spirit's movement? We must cease this nonsense of refusing the reality of science as to Biblical Hermeneutics merely because some did not understand. Clearly, God, the one who "established" the universe upon the particulate/molecular concept understood. First century Jewish, and before, fathers understood. (Hebrews 11:3) – Bill Porter Jan 10 at 0:50
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    @Dottard You just think you are creating something. No elementary student would even thing of saying such a thing. Moreover, you understate that law, even as you understate the knowledge and power of God to tell us like it is, not like we have stumbled across. – Bill Porter Jan 10 at 1:20
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    @Dottard Discussing the creation of the universe, together with the processes used to physically bring about the worlds, is not allowed? Yet you can't even agree upon which day that God said that He formed light. So daydreams, pipe dreams, imaginations, god-chaser flat-earth imaginations are allowed here, why? Is thought now placed in a straight jacket. Is understanding now muzzled here? Yet you can make up your own laws of physics? Simply put, No waters on day-one = no light. No light on Day-One = no Day-One. No Day-One on Day-One = No Day-Two, and on and on. – Bill Porter Jan 10 at 2:53

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