The Problem of the Fourth Day

The fourth day of creation in Genesis 1 raises a question. How do you have day and night before you have the sun and moon? Howard J. Van Till in his book, The Fourth Day, would basically say that you can’t. As an astronomer, he begins with natural processes and concludes that Genesis 1 is not to be taken literally. Instead, Van Till thinks the chapter is a literary picture of God as a craftsman going about his work week. He believes that God is the creator, but he can’t take Genesis 1 literally.

Others suggest that the sun and moon were created on Day 1. That what is happening on Day 4 is the appearance of the sun and moon from the vantage point of the earth’s surface and their appointment to the task of marking seasons, days, and years. The NLT captures this interpretation: “Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years” (Genesis 1:14, NLT). Questions arise as to how natural this translation is, and whether the approach violates the overall symmetry of the account.

I have to admit I was troubled by this question as a young man. But I wonder whether we are buying into a presupposition of natural processes that is not fair to the narrative. God is the one who begins the natural processes, but he does so by supernatural act. What do I mean by this?

Umberto Cassuto, a Jewish commentator, approaches the question like this:

… so throughout those first three days God caused light to shine upon the earth from some other source without recourse to the sun; but when He created the luminaries He handed over to them the task of separation, that is, He commanded that the one should serve by day and the others should serve at night, and thus they would all become signs for distinguishing the two periods of time.1

Others have made this same suggestion. There is nothing unreasonable about this interpretation (except to materialists and the media) once you begin with an omnipotent God. The question then becomes somewhat like complaining that Jesus didn’t use vineyards in turning water into wine. But that is the point. He didn’t use natural processes; he performed a miracle. God created the natural processes and an orderly creation, so that science is possible. But he started with a supernatural act.

Is our too small of view of the omnipotence of God the problem of the fourth day?

1Umberto Cassuto, A Commentary on the Book of Genesis: from Adam to Noah, p. 38.

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