1 John 1:5 states that God is light - but Genesis 1:3 describes God creating light. Obviously God cannot create himself; nor does his nature change.

I see a few options here, and I'm wondering which, if any, are preferred by traditional (as opposed to liberal or to heterodox) theologians:

  1. The "is" in "God is light" doesn't imply that light is or is part of God’s essence. For this to be an acceptable answer, there must be another more consistent interpretation of the statement - are there such interpretations in the literature?

  2. The light in Genesis 1:3, 4 isn't being created. The word "create" doesn't appear in the passage, though it is implied, and the implication seems to be confirmed in other places, e.g. Isaiah 45:7. But are there alternative explanations?

  3. "God is light" isn't a literal statement but a metaphor meant to communicate his character. If so, how does one tackle the pan-cultural ladenness of light and darkness which suggest there is something more to them than meets the eye?

  • 3
    Perhaps this is included in your option 3., but 4. The light in Genesis is literal, the light in 1 John 1 is spiritual, and links instead to John 1's 'light', which clearly isn't literal at least part way through the prologue. Jan 3 at 23:56
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    Ya, that's a good question. Jesus says "I am the light of world," and it seems to do with providing spiritual truth or 'illumination'. Jan 4 at 0:02
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    You should interpret Genesis 1:3 as God revealing His light rather than creating light. In Jewish tradition it is called the hidden light, the light of Messiah. Jan 4 at 0:34
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    @Dottard I don't disagree, but does it go any deeper than that? In other words, does "God is light" reduce to "God is like light"? Jan 4 at 1:07
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    Actually, strictly speaking, "God is light" is Greek logical category statement saying that God is part of a class which is light. Whether God exhausts this class or not is the more important question. The fact that we can be the light of the world (Matt 5:16) is an associated question.
    – Dottard
    Jan 4 at 1:25

7 Answers 7


The Bible uses a "God is . . .[a noun]" expression in one of at least five or six ways.

For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24, KJV; c.f. Hebrews 12:29)

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: (Deuteronomy 6:4, KJV; c.f. Galatians 3:20)

For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. (Psalm 84:11, KJV)

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth. (John 4:24, KJV)

This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5, KJV)

He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. (1 John 4:8, KJV)

Of these verses, only the "God is one" is grammatically uncertain as to being a noun [it depends on the Hebrew interpretation, as a number can be a noun or an adjective], and if we were to add titles, we could include statements like "God is the King" (Psalm 47:7). But limiting ourselves to matters of substance, the verses outlined above are fairly comprehensive.

God is . . .

  • fire
  • light
  • love
  • [one]
  • spirit
  • sun and shield

While the concepts of "fire", "light", and "sun and shield" may be more nearly related to each other, they seem to contrast with "love", "spirit", and "one." Clearly, it would be inappropriate to pin God down to any one of these equations to the exclusion of the others. Therefore, one might choose to consider each aspect as true in its own right, yet not fully descriptive of God, nor all-encompassing. If one chooses to accept each on the basis of its metaphorical value, it must still not negate the possibility of having a literal application.

Light, for example, might represent truth. But when people came nearest to seeing God, the brightness was always so intense as cause them to cover their faces, and/or be blinded by it (consider Paul's loss of sight on his journey to Damascus).

And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. (Acts 22:6, KJV)

Notably, this "great light" is contrasted with the light of noonday. This light, then, is more than metaphor. In fact, Revelation informs us that in the earth made new, we will have no need of the light of the sun, because . . .

And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light: and they shall reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22:5, KJV)

Again, this seems more than metaphor; though it could certainly intend a dual meaning--both symbolic and literal.

The metaphorical value of light is that light represents truth. This contrasts with darkness being akin to ignorance and error. But God is a being, and He is more than mere truth.


Yes, 1 John 1:5 may have a symbolic or metaphorical meaning, but it almost certainly means more than this. Throughout the Bible, God is depicted as being light: light is one of His attributes.


“Light” has different semantics: in the direct sense, it is a principle of a physical visibility for human eyes that has its source in a luminous, light-producing object, like the sun, for example.

In a metaphoric sense, it can be a clarity of mind’s vision, when it guesses or thinks something correctly, or “clearly and distinctly” in Cartesian terms and has nothing to do with a physical light: like, when you realize that sum-total of any triangle’s angles equals the sum of two right angles. And here you can say that “light of understanding has been shed in my mind”.

In case of God “light” is used in a far loftier metaphoric finesse, for He is not just a clarity of mind’s vision, but the Source of all clarity, the Fountainhead of any understanding by mind, without participation into which mind remains in obscurity, having no clarity whatsoever, any more than a physical atmosphere can provide visibility by itself without participation in the light coming from the ☀️.

Thus, God is “light” as the transcendent and uncreated Source of all enlightenment that creatures - angels, humans - can participate in. When the Lord says “I am the Light” (John 8:12), He means that, unlike Plato, Buddha or Moses, He is not enlightened, i.e. does not possess understanding in a participatory manner, but is, alongside with the Father, the very transcendent uncreated Source of any human understanding and enlightenment.

  • +1 Light in Genesis 1 is the light of physics. Light in John 1 is absolute truth that rests with God. This is an important theme in the Gospel of John.
    – Perry Webb
    Jan 4 at 1:55
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    So "God is light" is basically metaphoric in your view. Or is God the Form of which physical light is an instance? Jan 4 at 2:17
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    @ChristopherGood Not basically, but absolutely metaphoric, as the Uncreated is absolutely distinct from anything created, to the effect that the latter can in no manner feature as an instance of the former there being the unbridgeable gap in between. Jan 4 at 2:31
  • @PerryWebb Thanks for giving your clarifying feedback and the up-vote! Jan 4 at 2:35
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    @ChristopherGood For example, God is called also “fire” (Hebrews 12:29), but of course this “fire” is absolutely distinct from the campfire 🔥 on which I can make a barbecue. Jan 4 at 2:46

In him was life and the life was the light of men. John 1:4.

It is the life of the divine being which lights the consciousness of the created creature. If not, the creature has only darkness within itself, it being unable to see anything real in the darkness of its own conscious and cognitive ability.

Thus John says :

God light is . . . . .ο θεος φως εστιν . . . or, 'the deity light is'

The word order represents an equivalence. Both God is and light is ; and God-light is.

There is an equivalence in the grammar.

His very living being is that which lights us.

Or . . . . should do so.

Else, we are in darkness.

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! [Matthew 6:23 KJV]

Yes, the grammatical structure, and the meaning of the words, is much stronger than a metaphor.


Given that the writers of the Bible had no idea about the many forms of light that are not visible to human eyes, their appreciation of the extent to which God is light was mainly by way of comparing God to created (visible) light, showing that he was infinitely greater than any visible light. For example, in 1 Timothy 6:16 God is spoken of as dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto. Paul, who said that, knew from experience (on the Damascus Road) of a light greater than that of the sun when a limited experience of Christ appearing in that light physically blinded him until he was miraculously healed.

Bible writers also regularly contrasted the light of fellowship with the God who is light, with walking without God in the darkness, as the two verses following verse 5 go on to show. This is clearly showing 1 John chapter 1 verse 5 to be a metaphor.

That is confirmed by the Greek word used in verse 5: it is not the one for the light of a torch or lamp, or to enlighten (by giving light), or the light of the moon. It is a word meaning 'radiance'. That Greek word is used five times in 1st John.

You ask in one of your comments, 'does "God is light" reduce to "God is like light"?' To try to reduce that word about God being light, to compare it to what we know about visible light, is back-to-front. Our problem is that we need to expand our understanding of how God is light, but we cannot! Well, not apart from all the knowledge we are given throughout the whole Bible about how light relates to God (and never the other way around!) That is why this is a topic that needs to be addressed in the Christianity site.

Likewise, some people wonder if the phrase in 1 John 1:5 can be turned around to say, "Light is God." Absolutely not, for light (in all its myriad forms) was created by God. There could be no light unless God was light! The radiance of God's light has always existed, aeons before he decided to create material light in our material universe. Further, there is such a thing as artificial light. Humanity has comparatively recently come out with a whole raft of their own forms of light - artificial light. That is both true literally, and metaphorically!

So, the answer incorporates both a brilliant radiance about God that amounts to "unapproachable light", and metaphoric meanings. To explore that, a question could be posted in the Christianity site.



This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. (ESV)

As other answers show, light is a metaphor, but, as Paul states, things such as light also tell us about God and are more than metaphors:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1)

The created world testifies to God's existence; specifically it demonstrates God's eternal power and divine nature. This did not happen by chance. Just as God created specific things, He created the way in which those things would continue to exist. So if the continuing aspect of the natural world also gives testimony about God, then God created the natural world to ensure that specific testimony was present. In other words, if there are specific things which God calls upon to describe Himself, or more commonly, to illustrate God's point of view about a subject, then God knew that when creating. In effect those things are created object lessons God is able to use with man. The underlying principle is God's omniscience.

For example, Jesus used objects from the natural world to illustrate a point He wanted to teach. Therefore, when He used something from the natural world, these were not something that "happened" to be a good illustrations; rather, they were specifically made to be the example for the point Jesus was making. Jesus often used sheep, and, when one examines the natural behavior of sheep, one finds more than a "good example." The all knowing God knew what He would teach and created that which He could use when He did teach. Very simply, if there is something in the natural world which testifies about God, that is not by chance. It is from God and purposely made with observable properties to give a specific testimony about God.

Natural Light
If God points to light as an example of Himself, there must be aspects of light which are aspects of God. Therefore, it is important to speak correctly about natural light. Nowhere does Scripture say light was created. Rather God spoke and light was. Scripture later explains:

I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

Light is formed; darkness is created. Therefore that which is created has a specific beginning where that which is formed has no created beginning. Light formed reflects God's eternal nature.

Contemporary science has made two interesting discoveries about light which also reflect aspects of God's nature. First, man has discovered that regardless of one's relative position, the measured speed of light does not change. The name given, relativity, misstates the unchanging aspect of God's nature. The speed of light is always the same, because God does change. God made certain there is a physical property of light which does not change because God does not change.

Second, light does not exist in a singular state. Rather, light exists simultaneously as both particle and wave. The wave-particle duality follows what Jesus taught about God:

I and the Father are one (John 10:30)

They are one, yet different. At the same time, they are inseparable. One may perform individual experiments to show one specific nature. Yet the same light can be shown to have the other nature. That which can be seen individually is known to exist simultaneously in the other state which cannot be seen. Therefore, man has discovered physical light has a threefold nature:

  1. It always exists as a wave
  2. It always exists as a particle
  3. It always travels at the same speed

Anyone with a question about the triune nature of God needs only to look at light in the natural world to see that which is true about God is true about light.

God is light. And in Him is no darkness at all. When man demonstrates the particle nature of light, man also sees darkness. Effectively, light obscures the darkness which is present. This darkness is not present in God. In the Old Testament this is called the shekinah glory of God. The New Testament records an incident of light brighter than natural light:

2 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. (Mark 9)

Obviously, light is used throughout Scripture as a metaphor for different things such as good, wisdom, right living. At the same, the natural world has been made to given testimony about God. Therefore, when Scripture itself points to the natural world, there must be more than a metaphoric component to that which Scripture points.

  • Also, darkness has no source other than absence of light. +1 Jan 5 at 14:20
  • This is an ingenuous analogy but be careful not to lean to heavily on it, because light, specifically each photon, increases its wavelength and therefore decreases its energy as the universe expands.
    – Johannes
    Jan 26 at 1:06
  • It was "too heavily".
    – Johannes
    Jan 26 at 1:48

I suggest that the meaning of 1 John 1:5, "God is Light" can be readily discovered from John succeeding statements and the parallel statements John records about God and light. First the Biblical data:

1 John 1:5-7 - 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. If we say we have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

  • John 1:4, 5 - In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
  • John 1:9 - The true Light who gives light to every man was coming into the world.
  • John 8:12 - Jesus spoke to the people and said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows Me will never walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.”
  • John 9:5 - [Jesus said,] While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.

Several things become clear from this brief survey:

  • "light" is used in explicit contrast to "darkness" (presumably modelled in Gen 1:2, 3)
  • the "light" is associated with the phrase, "light of life", ie, as the source of eternal life.
  • "Light" is also associated with "truth", of the gospel. That is, to not have the truth is to walk in darkness.

Paul's use of this idea is even greater but less dramatic but that is beyond the scope of this question.

Thus, John appears to be using the metaphor of the creation to show that only God is the source of eternal life and the saving truth of the Gospel.

By contrast, Jesus calls Satan, "the power/authority of darkness" in Luke 22:53; He said this at night.

Ellicott suggests the following in his comments on 1 John 1:5.

These ideas John comprehends: God is Light. Light physical, because

  • (1) it was He who called everything first out of darkness, and
  • (2) from whom proceeds all health and perfection;

light intellectual, because

  • (1) He is the source of all wisdom and knowledge, and
  • (2) in His mind exist the ideals after which all things strive;

light moral, because

  • (1) His perfection shows that the difference between good and evil is not merely a question of degree, but fundamental and final, and
  • (2) the life of Christ had exhibited that contrast sharply: once for all.

Thus, on this declaration depends the whole doctrine of sin: sin is not merely imperfection; it is enmity to God. There can be no shades of progression, uniting good and evil: in Him is no darkness at all. Good and evil may be mixed in an individual: in themselves they are contrary.


Understanding "light" as "electromagnetic radiation of wavelength in the visible part of the spectrum", options 1 and 3 in the question are not mutually exclusive and their combination provides the answer:

The "is" in "God is light" doesn't imply that light is or is part of God’s essence. "God is light" isn't a literal statement but a metaphor meant to communicate his character.

Orthodox (small "o") Christianity presupposes classical theism, according to which the divine nature is spiritual, absolutely simple, and immutable. Anything which is not the divine nature, including the physical light and electromagnetic radiation in general referred to in Genesis 1:3-4, has been created by God.

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