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The first three days were marked by the separation of light from darkness

Genesis 1:3 NLT

Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.:4 And God saw that it was good. Then he separated the light from the darkness.:5 God called the light "day" and the darkness "night." Together these made up one day.

During the fourth day we get the introduction of other lights,sun and moon which are said would regulate days,years and seasons.

Genesis 1:14-19 NLT

And God said, "Let bright lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. They will be signs to mark off the seasons, the days, and the years.:15Let their light shine down upon the earth." And so it was.:16For God made two great lights, the sun and the moon, to shine down upon the earth. The greater one, the sun, presides during the day; the lesser one, the moon, presides through the night. He also made the stars.:19 This all happened on the fourth day.

By the introduction of sun and moon would this not have changed the length of the fouth day vis-a-vis the first three days

Were all days equal in length?

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  • While the Hebrew word "yom" (= "day") is used in a variety of ways, when preceded by either an ordinal or cardinal number, it ALWAYS means a 24 hour period. Thus, "evening and morning was the fourth day" simply means that it was a 24 hour period.
    – Dottard
    Jan 14, 2023 at 21:55

5 Answers 5

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With each "day" having an "evening" and a "morning"--the latter of which was characterized by "light" which was expressly named "Day," and the Bible identifying a "day" as having twelve hours, there is little need to wonder as to the length of each.

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

Jesus answered, Are there not twelve hours in the day? If any man walk in the day, he stumbleth not, because he seeth the light of this world. (John 11:9, KJV)

The hours of the day were numbered, in the days of Christ, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. -- twelve hours in total for "Day". These would be referenced by such as "the third hour" (meaning 9 a.m.), "the ninth hour" (3 p.m.), etc., such as during the final events of Christ's life. (Compare Acts 23:23 to see an equivalent reference to hours of the "night"--which consisted of another twelve hours.)

Beyond these facts, the Bible is silent and it seems valueless to speculate.

Conclusion

The Genesis record ties the name "Day" with the "light", and does so even before the creation of the "greater light" (sun). Jesus himself says that this daytime consists of twelve hours. There is no reason to think this would have changed with the events of the fourth day.

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The Bible does not say. It does say that "One day with the Lord is AS a thousand years, and a thousand years AS one day". This is a simile. That is backed up by the Psalm that adds that a day to God "is AS a watch in the night" - 3 or 4 hours. Another simile. Illustrations are being used to help us Earth-bound, time-bound people grasp that for he who dwells in eternity, 24-hour Earth days are not the dimension he operates in. Yes, he created our planet to be ruled by night then day, with all the seasons by which we measure years, but the Creation account is unique. For a start, the seasons did not kick in until Day Four (Gen.1:14). For those who think that Day was a 24-hour Earth day as we presently know it, gravity would have the unformed, dark, void Earth spinning round far faster, meaning complete revolutions of about 5 hours. The gravitational influence of the moon helped slow the rotations down, but in the future, the moon will slowly move further away from Earth, making its revolutions gradually longer.

Here is what Professor Bob White, Geophysicist, (and Christian) says in answer to the question 'Did God do all this within six 24-hour days?':

"The six days are a literary device of a week's hard work. In any case, as a geologist I find it amusing to reflect that when the Earth was created it was spinning much faster than it does now, so one day lasted only about five hours. Due to the gravitational pull of the moon and the tides, which absorb energy, the Earth's rotation has been slowing down ever since, so actually six 24-hour periods wouldn't fit either!" God, the Big Bang & bunsen burning issues, Ed. Nigel Bovey, pp. 139-151 for Prof. White's full chapter. (Authentic 2008)

We now know from lasers (one planted on the moon) that over thousands of years interacting planets slow down. The moon's orbit continues to vary because Earth's rotation is slowing it down due to 'tidal braking'. Tidal bulges interact with the Moon's gravitation to produce a decelerating torque that slows the Earth's rotation, causing an increase in the length of the day.

The equal and opposite reaction is a torque exerted by the Earth on the Moon's orbit that increases its angular momentum. This is achieved by an increase in the distance between the Moon from the Earth, pushing it 1.25 inches farther away each year, and a decrease in the rotation rate of the Moon about the Earth, which increases the length of the month.

The Earth's rotation decelerates more rapidly than that of the Moon, so eventually the angular velocities of the Earth and the Moon will be equal, a condition called synchronous rotation. At that point, a billion or so years hence [assuming God has not burned this Earth with fire, replacing it with a new Earth], an Earth day and month will be equal, at about 47 current Earth days, and the Moon's distance from the Earth will be 135 per cent of its current value. Then, for millions of years, one side of the Earth will face the Moon. Half the world will see the Moon, while the other half will never see it.

The Sun's tidal pull on Earth is only half as strong as the Moon's, so as the Moon departs, the Sun will grow relatively more influential. Ultimately, it will make Earth spin even slower, and the Moon will start falling toward us. It will break apart before it reaches 10,000 miles away because its silicate rocks are only half as dense as the Earth's heavier materials. Of course, God is sovereign, and we know He has promised that the present Earth and Heavens will be replaced with "a new Heavens and a new Earth, in which righteousness will dwell." (2 Peter 3:10-13)

When we look at the different meanings of the ancient Hebrew word for 'day', we see that the six days of creation need not be the usual meaning of a 24-hour Earth day. In Gen. 2:4 (KJV) all six 'days' are called "in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens." The six days become one day. And in verse 17 God warns Adam that "in the day you eat" (of the forbidden fruit) "you will surely die". But we know Adam lived for 930 years. Clearly a 'day' has various meanings. The Bible states that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years - that seems to fit Adam's dying before he reached 1,000 years - a day in God's sight.

When we read the Genesis days as being epochs - eras - then there is no problem. After all, God is known from what the Bible says as being very patient and not in any rush to do things. He allowed 400 years to pass before bringing judgment on the Amorites (Gen. 15:16; 1 Sam 15:2). He allowed thousands of years before the promised Messiah was born. Nearly two thousand years have now passed and still we await Christ's return but, from God's point of view, that could just be 2 days!

Back to various interpretations: the idea then arose that the seventh day (of rest) has to be on-going even till now, because the Bible speaks of people being able to enter into God's rest, and that that day continues - see Hebrews chapter 4. It had been 4,250 years since creation (according to young Earth creationists) when Hebrews was written. Now they would say its 6,190 years, and God's day of rest still has not ended. This indicates to many that the seventh day could be 7,000 years in length (making Earth 42,000 years old by the start of Day Seven).

Then there are creationists who believe in an old Earth - that the universe was created by God first, and it took however long it took for the Earth to be formed to get to the start of the Genesis description of it being dark, void, and covered in water. Then God started with bringing light into the darkness, order out of chaos, and land out of water. Perhaps when God said, "Let there be light" (on Day One) that happened suddenly, in a moment. Or perhaps the language incorporates billions of years for the myriad forms of light to be in place before visible light then erupted when the first suns burst into incandescent visible light. Note that light that is visible to human eyes is but one form of light. Check this link - http://study.com/academy/lesson/light-waves-definition-types-uses.html

That is a brief summary of various interpretation. I'm not coming 'down' on any side. This is for your consideration, to show the difficulties involved in answering your question. The Genesis account may be deliberately short on details because nobody's salvation depends on knowing how long each day of creation lasted. We are called to believe that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" and that all life on our planet was created by God, with Adam deliberately formed perfectly, in the image of God, by God's hand. We are not called to put dates on any of that, or to know HOW God created - just that He did.

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TL;DR:

The light seen during the first three days was the Sun's light, with the dark and light periods repeating as usual every 24 hours as the Earth turned on its axis. The skies were obscured by clouds though, so there was no obvious source for this light other than the glowing sky.

As the NLT translation quoted in the Question says: "God made this space to separate the waters of the earth from the waters of the heavens.", (the seas and the clouds).

Explanation

Genesis 1:1 uses the Hebrew verb בָּרָא (bara'), meaning to create from nothing. This beginning was when the Universe was created, including the Sun and Moon.

Genesis 1:2 begins "The earth was …", where "was" is the Hebrew verb הָיְתָ֥ה (hayah) meaning a transformation or becoming.
Young's Literal Translation begins 1:2 with "the earth hath existed … .".

  • The same verb is used in Genesis 1:1 for all the "let there be"s, "was so"s, and "were the nth day"s.
  • It indicates a change, not an existing condition.
  • The Earth became the way it was before "the first day".
  • The same verb is used when Lot's wife became a pillar of salt.

And what the Earth became was "tohu and bohu", often translated as "without form and void", though "waste and empty" (DBY Version) would be a better description.
Several translations (e.g. NASB and LSB) included a footnote saying "Or, ‘a waste and emptiness’".

Isaiah 45:18 says "God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain …". The word translated as "in vain" is that same "tohu" used in Genesis 1:2, confiming that the Earth became tohu, a wasteland, it wasn't created that way.

There is a parallel between days 1, 2, and 3, and days 4, 5, and 6: they deal with the sky, the sea, and the land, and how they were first changed and then completed into their intended forms.

The first day's creation is "Let there be light", which in effect creates days defined by skies with a period of dark and a period of light. Immediately before that though, God's spirit was hovering over the surface of the sea. And immediately before that we are told that the Earth was a waste. This means that before the initial "Let there be light", the Earth already existed, as did the rest of the Universe.

Genesis 1:16 (God made two great lights …) uses the verb וַיַּעַשׂ (`asah), meaning to complete, not to create from nothing. The Sun and Moon already existed, he simply made them directly visible by removing the cloud layer that was covering the Earth.

As the NLT quoted in the Question says: "Let bright lights appear in the sky". They appeared, became visible on the fourth day when the clouds were dispersed; they had already been created long ago as mentioned in Genesis 1:1.

Wikipedia talks about this view that Genesis 1:1 could have been billions of years before the literal "days of creation", keeping geology and scripture in harmony.

This theory predates, and so was not created in order to accommodate astronomy and the geological record:

From 1814, Thomas Chalmers popularized gap creationism; he attributed the concept to the 17th-century Dutch Arminian theologian Simon Episcopius. Chalmers wrote:

"My own opinion, as published in 1814, is that it [Genesis 1:1] forms no part of the first day, but refers to a period of indefinite antiquity when God created the worlds out of nothing. The commencement of the first day's work I hold to be the moving of God's Spirit upon the face of the waters. We can allow geology the amplest time...without infringing even on the literalities of the Mosaic record."

12th century (Hugh of Saint Victor):

"Perhaps it is already enough to have discussed these things up to now, if we only add this how long the world continued in this confusion, before its arrangement began. For that the first matter of all things arose at the beginning of time, or rather with time itself, is evident from what has been said: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. But how long he remained in this formlessness or confusion, Scripture does not clearly show."
— Hugh of Saint Victor, De Sacram., Lib. i., part i. chap. 6.
Geology and Revelation., by The Rev. Gerald Molloy, D. D.,--a Project Gutenberg eBook, p.366

3rd century (Origen):

For it is certain that the firmament is not spoken of, nor the dry land, but that heaven and earth from which this present heaven and earth which we now see afterwards borrowed their names.
Church Fathers: De Principiis, Book II (Origen)

Neither is it an obscure position, being held by many notable modern near-mainstream proponents:

Religious proponents of this form of creationism have included Oral Roberts (1918-2009), Cyrus I. Scofield, Harry Rimmer, Jimmy Swaggart (1935- ), Perry Stone, G. H. Pember, L. Allen Higley, Arthur Pink, Peter Ruckman, Finis Jennings Dake (1902-1987), Chuck Missler, E. W. Bullinger (1837-1913), Charles Welch, Victor Paul Wierwille, Donald Grey Barnhouse, Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986), Garner Ted Armstrong (1930-2003), Michael Pearl and Clarence Larkin.
— Same Wikipedia article as cited above.

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    That's not what the Bible says. The Bible says it was made on the fourth day. Human logic might try to explain it otherwise because the light had to come from somewhere for the other days--but I suggest one need look no further for an explanation of this than 1 John 1:5, then consider that God did His work during the "days" and not the "nights."
    – Biblasia
    Jan 14, 2023 at 15:52
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    @Biblasia, Genesis 2:3 says "Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because that in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.". The "created" and the "made" are בָּרָא and וַיַּעַשׂ, clearly distinguishing between creation from nothing and the completion of that creation. In 1:1, God created the heavens and the earth (i.e. the universe), and in 1:16, God completed the Sun and Moon by allowing them to shine on the Earth's surface. That is what the Bible says. ¶ Compare with creating a baby and raising it to be a decent citizen; two different verbs. Jan 14, 2023 at 17:12
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    -1 It’s clear the sun was made to give light to the earth and to rule over the day and night on the 4th day. The evening and morning on days 1-3 cannot be from the sun. Jan 15, 2023 at 0:16
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 15, 2023 at 7:50
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The Bible tells in Rev 1:8 that God is A and O; the beginning and the end. From this little hint we can conclude that the beginning was created from the end, not just the other way around. Because something always comes from something else, an uncreated God could not therefore have come from the past, because then something/someone must have created God, and something/someone must have created the creator of God, etc. But if he came from the future no such thing is needed.

Furthermore, man didn’t show up on the scene until the second half of the creation week so the days of creation would have been days how God experienced them, not man.

Consequently, it is highly plausible that the six creation days were six Terra forming trips from the future, of which each trip could have had hundreds, if not thousands, of years of impact on the past, but could have been carried out during a week, or 6/7 separate days, in the future.

But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. (2 Peter 3:8)

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AFAIK, the best treatment of this subject is in a 2016 article by Dr. Rabbi Zev Farber, "If the Sun Is Created on Day 4, What Is the Light on Day 1?" 1. The sections of interest to us are the first, "The Double Creation of Light" and the third "Historical-Critical Approach" to the end. The rest of this answer is just an extensive quote from the article.

From section "Historical-Critical Approach: Separating between Daylight and Sunlight"

The Bright Blue Sky: The Tyndall effect

Why is the sky blue during the daytime? The scientific answer is that molecules of air in the atmosphere scatter blue light from the sun. At night, when the earth is facing away from the sun, there is no light to scatter and the sky is black. The scattering of light by the atmosphere is called the Tyndall effect, named after the scientist John Tyndall who first suggested this mechanism in 1859.

But the ancient cosmologist was living in a different world than Tyndall. In his conception, the earth is the center of the universe, and the sun, moon and stars travel above it, in the firmament. When this ancient cosmologist asked himself why the day-time sky is blue, his answer was because there is light in the heavenly water above the firmament. As he would have seen from earth, water is blue and thus when the light enters the water, the sky looks blue. When the light leaves the water and darkness creeps in, it is black.

The light and darkness in this conception should be pictured as diffuse physical substances that permeate the waters of the heavens. The sun, in this conception, is a totally separate light. Richard Elliott Friedman, in his gloss on v. 15, describes this view in the following manner:

Note that daylight is not understood here to derive from the sun. The text understands the light that surrounds us in the daytime to be an independent creation of God, which has already taken place on the first day. The sun, moon, and stars are understood here to be light sources—like a lamp or torch, only stronger. Their purpose is also to be markers of time: days, years, appointed occasions. [9]

Moshe Weinfeld (1925-2009), in his commentary on Genesis (1:3), offers the same overall reading:

The light is not dependent on the lights created on the fourth day, in accordance with the viewpoint popular during that period that light and darkness are independent entities that exist in hidden places [of the heavens] dedicated to them (Job 39:19-20). [10]

The text to which Weinfeld calls the readers’ attention is God’s speech to Job:

Job 38:12 Have you ever commanded the day to break, assigned the dawn its place […] 38:18 Have you surveyed the expanses of the earth? If you know of these -- tell Me. 38:19 Which path leads to where light dwells, and where is the place of darkness, 38:20 That you may take it to its domain and know the way to its home?

God here asks Job whether he knows where light and darkness are stored, implying that these two substances are discrete entities in and of themselves. When one is spread out in the heavens, the other is sitting in its appointed spot awaiting its turn.

From section "Separating between Ancient and Modern Cosmologies"

Nowadays, however, a conception of daylight removed from the sun is virtually impossible to even picture, since in our view of the universe, the earth is sitting in the middle of the dark vastness of space and the only nearby light source is the sun. Interpreting the Genesis creation story against the backdrop of modern notions of the universe can yield readings that are fatuous and/or apologetic.

Friedman makes the point well at the end of his above referenced gloss:

People have questioned whether the first three days are twenty-four hour days since the sun is not created until the fourth day. But light, day, and night are not understood here to depend on the existence of the sun, so there is no reason to think that the word “day” means anything different on the first two days (sic)[14] than what it means everywhere else in the Torah. People’s reason for raising this is often to reconcile the biblical creation story with current evidence of the earth’s age. But it is better to recognize that the biblical story does not match the evidence than to stretch the story’s plain meaning in order to make it fit better with our current state of knowledge.

Note by J.: I emphasized the text in the quote from Friedman than is the short answer to the original question.

Footnotes (within Dr. Farber's article)

[9] See Richard Elliott Friedman, Commentary on the Torah (San Francisco: Harper, 2001), 10-11.

[10] Weinfeld’s commentary is part of the revised version of the Samuel Gordon’s commentary, reprinted by Galil B.D. Nagar ltd. in 1992.

[14] I [i.e. Zev Farber] assume he means “the first three days,” i.e., before the sun was created.

Reference (at the answer level)

1 Farber, Zev (2016). If the Sun Is Created on Day 4, What Is the Light on Day 1?. TheTorah.com.

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