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.


7 Answers 7


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

  • 1
    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
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 7:35
  • @cegfault, I responded to your question in an edit to my answer.
    – Amichai
    Commented Jul 17, 2015 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
    Commented Jul 18, 2015 at 11:58
  • @cegfault that's too much a 'modern' reading of the text. The ancient Israelites didn't have the same conception of the cosmos as we do in the 21st century, so all the talk about rotation and revolution wouldn't make sense to them. I don't fully agree with the OP's comment (i.e. there still remains the problem of 'evening-morning' sequence) but at least he tried to look at it based on ancient man's perspective. Commented May 21, 2019 at 13:01
  • @cegfault - your assertion is false - the sun and moon are never mentioned in Gen 1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 23:35

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.


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

  • 2
    +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
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 7:39
  • @cegfault I'm glad you found it interesting :D
    – Barnstokkr
    Commented Mar 17, 2015 at 8:15
  • If the earth existed (even thought it was 'without form' and 'void') then atoms existed. If atoms existed, then there was energy - in the atoms : binding energy, electromagnetic energy, spin energy. My point really is that Genesis 1 is not a technical description at all. It is a spiritual description of what creation (as such, in itself considered) is - in essence.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jun 23, 2018 at 14:52

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.

  • 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. Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 16:53

Yeah - too much modern physics, not enough Hebrew Scriptures as they are.

Darkness is a THING.

Ex 10:21 says וְיָמֵשׁ חשֶׁךְ: darkness which may be felt. Aryeh Kaplan's translation has "God said to Moses, 'Reach out toward the sky with your hand, and there will be darkness in Egypt. The darkness will be palpable.'"

Next verse: "So Moses stretched forth his hand toward the heavens, and there was thick darkness over the entire land of Egypt for three days." חשֶׁךְ אֲפֵלָה .

Note Genesis 31:34 "and Laban felt through the whole tent" (i.e. searched it). Same word.

HELPS Word-studies says: 2217 zóphos – murky, appalling gloom, referring to darkness so dense and foreboding it is "felt"; gloomy darkness associated with the nether world (BAGD) bringing its indescribable despair (incredible gloom). I don't know Greek, but that seems to convey the right intent.

  • 1
    You've made this answer very hard to check by getting both your verse references wrong! I have suggested corrections as an Edit for you. So you've proven the darkness in Egypt was a thick darkness (ie like cloud), rather than just a blotting of the sun. That's not the same as proving this is always the meaning of 'darkness', because otherwise it would not need the adjective 'thick', right? Reading a similar Greek word's meaning back into an equivalent ancient Hebrew word is not a great strategy for understanding Hebrew - though it may occasionally help.
    – Steve can help
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 9:29
  • The verse you've chosen from Exodus actually works against your argument, because if this is the normal way to understand darkness, why does it make a distinct point of saying "Extend your hand toward heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness so thick it can be felt." It would be a bit redundant to say it twice if the extra words weren't adding more meaning which wasn't implicit in 'darkness', right?
    – Steve can help
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 9:35
  • 1
    I don't mean to argue, Mr. Taylor, but Ex 10:21 DOES refer to a "palpable darkness" and the Hebrew word is the same as in Gen 1:4. Ditto Ex 10:22, which I also quoted. And Gen 31:34 DOES use the word "felt", which is another usage of the word for "palpable". That's how Hebrew Scriptures work. Strong's 2217 is a direct reference to חֹשֶׁך־אֲפֵלָה, Exodus 10:22 - the blackness of (i. e. the densest) darkness. And all I said was "that seems to convey the right intent." Commented May 12, 2016 at 15:28
  • I was not clear above. I fail to see how I got both my verse references wrong, when my verses say what I said they say. Commented May 12, 2016 at 15:32
  • 1
    Fair enough - it could very well be that your conclusion is spot-on, it's just the argument you've presented for it in the Answer so far isn't particularly strong. I suggest Editing the answer further to include your other arguments you've begun to present in the comment. You may notice that my proposed Edit to your verse numbers was accepted, which is why they're now right :)
    – Steve can help
    Commented May 12, 2016 at 16:08

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...

  • Personally I find trying to relate Genesis 1 to modern science to be a bit quixotic (merriam-webster.com/dictionary/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.
    – user10231
    Commented Apr 21, 2016 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.

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