God created plants on Day Three of Creation Week, the day before he created the sun. But he had already created a light source on Day One that evidently fulfilled many roles the sun would eventually fulfill. This article explores the order of some of the events in Creation Week, the nature of the light that God created on Day One, the length of the “days” of Creation Week, and how God provided for the needs of plants throughout the week.
The Bible states that God created the sun after he had already created plant life, but evolutionary ideas counter that plant life came after the sun. A plain reading of Genesis 1–2 yields a chronology that is incompatible with the proposed evolutionary schedule. Even in an old-earth creationist view where a day could refer to an epoch of time, how could plants survive for thousands of years without the sun? At least two things are important to consider when reading this creation account: the order of events and the length of the days. What does the Bible say, and how are we to understand this issue?
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Genesis 1:3–5)
On Day Three of Creation Week, God made all kinds of vegetation to cover the earth:
And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, the third day. (Genesis 1:11–13)
On Day Four of Creation Week, God placed the sun, moon, and stars “in the expanse of the heavens”:
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)
From this historical account, we can discover many things about the initial light God created as distinct from the sun, how the days were regular 24-hour days, and how plant life would have thrived under these conditions. In all these things we may rest and rejoice in God’s wise provision for his creation.
We may learn several things about the light God created on Day One (Genesis 1:3–5). First, it was a created light, that is, the light did not exist one moment, but it existed the next moment. That light was not eternal, like God, even though “God is light” (1 John 1:5), “the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:22), and he “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16). This light of Day One seems to be separate from God himself.
Second, in order for there to be distinct daytime and nighttime, this light must have been localized and therefore directional (not a diffused or ambient light), and it must have been stationary relative to the earth.1 For “morning and evening” to have occurred successively, the earth must also have been rotating on its axis from Day One, allowing part of the earth to be exposed to the light while the opposite side was in the darkness.
Third, the light possibly also provided adequate heat to warm the earth, allowing water to exist in liquid form. God separated the “waters . . . from the waters” (Genesis 1:7), and he gathered the surface water into seas (verses 9–10). Heat from this light or another source would also be necessary for the plants, trees, and other vegetation prior to the creation of the sun on Day Four.
Fourth, this initial, temporary light was evidently replaced with the sun on Day Four.2 On several occasions we see this pattern of temporary physical realities being removed. The pillar of fire and cloud that led Israel to the Promised Land was a temporary provision from God (Exodus 13:21–22, 40:34–38). So also was God’s gift of manna from heaven to feed the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings (Exodus 16:4, 31, 35). And there was the star that led the magi to the child Jesus (Matthew 2:1–10). Furthermore, the sun and the moon themselves will not be needed in the new heavens and the new earth, “for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23; cf. Isaiah 60:19 and Revelation 22:5).
In Genesis 1–2, the word day is used in several senses:
The text indicates that the days of Creation Week were ordinary days. These are not ages of indeterminate time, but regular 24-hour days. This reckoning applies from the first day of creation, when God created the first light. So the plants he created on Day Three did not have to wait for an indeterminate period of time for the sun to appear, especially since they already had the first light shining upon them.
In the Genesis account, God recorded that he created the heavens and the earth, but he didn’t tell us why he followed this order.4 We may conjecture two possible reasons why the sun was not created on Day One. First, God may have wanted to underscore the supernatural origin of life, clearly showing that life did not come from the sun but from him. To be sure, in God’s design the sun is critical for the continuation of life on earth, but life on earth did not come from the sun. John Calvin, commenting on the text of Genesis 1, says, “The Lord, by the very order of creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon.”5 This, of course, is contrary to the evolutionary idea that the preexistent sun (and other stars) contributed to the rise of all life forms on earth.
Second, God may have wanted to undermine humanity’s inclination to worship the sun as the originator of life, by which they would have regarded the sun as a deity. God specifically forbade his people from worshiping “the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven” (Deuteronomy 17:3; cf. 4:19; Psalm 121:5–6). Sadly, at the time God cast his people out of the land by means of the Babylonians, even in God’s own temple in Jerusalem the people were worshipping the sun (Ezekiel 8:16; cf. Jeremiah 8:2). In a similar case, the people also worshiped the bronze serpent that Moses crafted as a tool of God’s healing of the people (2 Kings 18:4; cf. Numbers 21:9). Unredeemed humanity have throughout history “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen” (Romans 1:25).
We return now to the question of plants being created before the sun. Plants certainly need light to survive, but there are several other necessary elements that God provided in his creation.
God created plants to generate their energy from visible light by the process of photosynthesis. Chlorophyll in plant cells mainly absorb blue and red wavelengths, and largely reflect green wavelengths. Using light chlorophyll transforms carbon dioxide and water into sugars (made of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen atoms). We have seen that God had already created a light source separate from the sun, so the plants created on Day Three would have had the light they needed.
Most plants require a moderate surface and air temperature. Given a relatively constant distance from the sun, this temperature is primarily affected by the earth’s rotation and tilt. Because of the earth’s timely rotation, the heat generated during the day regulates and is regulated by the coolness of the night, thus providing a moderate temperature. Also, the tilt of the earth’s axis of rotation produces the tempering effects of seasons, allowing growing seasons and dormant seasons.
God created the atmosphere on Day Two, thus protecting and providing for the plant life he subsequently created. The atmosphere protects plants from ultraviolet light and other cosmic rays which damage living cells. The air also provides some of the elements needed for plant life, including nitrogen and carbon dioxide.
Plants need water to survive (Genesis 2:5–6). Plants use water as a component of photosynthesis and as a medium to transport nutrients throughout the different parts of the plant. They also use water to cool the plant from the sun’s heat, and water fills the structure of plants to give them shape and support. In that first week of the world, the water vapor in the air as well as surface water contributed to form a suitable habitat for these organisms.
God separated water and land on Day Two, creating a suitable habitat for both aquatic and land plants. The ground provides a stable location for a plant’s root system, and plants return the favor by helping soil against erosive factors like water and wind. The land also holds many nutrients that a plant needs, such as water and nitrogen, which are collected by the plant’s roots.
Plants can reproduce in a variety of ways, but most plants utilize the process of pollination to create seeds. Common pollinators like insects and birds were created on Day Five, in close connection with the plants that needed them. The evolutionary scenario maintains that nonflowering plants (gymnosperms like conifers) evolved first, about the same time that insects gained the ability to fly. Then millions of years later pollen-producing flowering plants (angiosperms) developed. This is another example of how the order of events according to Genesis runs contrary to the order presented by evolutionary ideas.
The creation account in Genesis gives us our only eyewitness testimony of the first events of the universe. A plain reading of this text shows us how God wisely crafted his work to favor life on earth, and we can see how the unfolding of his design runs contrary to manmade evolutionary and other old-earth ideas. He sufficiently provided for plant life and subsequent life, and he continues to sustain all life by his power.
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)
It is the same Creator God who also has made a way for rebellious, sinful people to have eternal life with him. Though each person has earned the penalty of death for his sins, God sent his son Jesus Christ to die in the place of sinners. Those who believe that Christ is the only hope of life receive forgiveness and eternal life. As the Scripture says,
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)