Genesis 1:16 and the Age of the Universe

In memory of Cecil William Richard Ball, RN, 1902-1985, a man of integrity, who accepted the biblical creation record and acknowledged the vastness and complexity of the universe, not thinking this to be in any way incongruous.

Genesis 1:16 has been described as a “pivotal” text in the Genesis creation account. Yet it raises questions of profound significance. The NIV translation of this text is representative of most modern English versions: “God made two great lights — the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars.” The questions arise from the final sentence, “He also made the stars.” When were the stars created, and why was the record of their creation included at this point in the creation account? Were they created at the same time as the sun and the moon, as one interpretation of the text might suggest? Were they created for a similar purpose, as adjunct luminaries to the moon to lighten the night sky? And of crucial significance, what are the “stars”? Does the word mean what it still means today? Or might it also imply what it means from the perspective of a more recent cosmology? Can it legitimately be understood to include planets, galaxies and other objects in the night skies from which light can be seen on earth?

It might be thought that the meaning of this brief sentence at the end of v. 16 is clear enough, but of little consequence to the rest of the Genesis creation account, which deals principally with the creation of the earth as a home for living creatures and humankind. Was it perhaps an afterthought, as suggested in the note on v. 16 in the NIV, unrelated to the main thrust of Genesis 1 or included perhaps as a warning against seeing the stars in a similar way as the sun and moon were widely seen in the ancient world, deities to be worshipped? Such conclusions would be seriously flawed.

There are four principal factors which must be considered in any attempt to provide satisfactory answers to these questions: context, the original text, translation, and the meaning of the word “stars,” all of which are critical to the correct interpretation and understanding of this apparently uncomplicated assertion that God created the stars.

Context. The necessity of reading a text in context is one of the fundamental principles of biblical interpretation. Gerald Klingbeil emphasizes that “Context is key when we read scripture.”[1] Ekkehardt Mueller likewise says that “Being able to discern how a text is embedded in its context helps… avoid false or biased interpretations.”[2] In the case of Genesis 1:16 the immediate context is of crucial significance. Verse 16 must be read in the light of the surrounding text, vss. 14-15 and 17-18, which contain the account of the creation of “two great lights” and their relationship to the earth as a suitable habitat for life.

In these verses the functions of the sun and moon are clearly stated. The “two great lights,” sun and moon, were created to:

i) “give light on the earth” (vss. 15, 17)

ii) “separate the day from the night” (v. 14) or “separate light from darkness” (v.18)

iii) “govern the day and the night” (v. 18)

iv) “mark seasons and days and years” (v.14)

The question must therefore be asked, “Were the stars also created for these reasons?” “Are their functions the same as those of the sun and moon?” It goes without saying that to reply “No” to these questions is not to say that God did not create the stars. Verse 16 clearly asserts that He did. What it does not say is that He created them to assist either sun or moon in their designated roles “to govern the day,” “to govern the night,” or “mark seasons days and years.” Verse 16 does not say when or why God made the stars. In context, however, the unqualified assertion that He did make them may be a simple statement of fact, or possibly an indication that they may have been created for a different, undisclosed purpose and that the fact of their creation was included in the overall creation account because it was important for those reading it, then and in the future, to understand and remember their origin.

The Hebrew Text. Hebrew is not an easy language to read, let alone to interpret or translate. It has an unfamiliar alphabet of only 22 letters, some of which are very similar, and in the original has no vowels, punctuation, or uppercase letters, and reads from right to left in unbroken text working “backwards” until the end of the document is reached.[3] While scholars have generally come to grips with these anomalies many difficulties remain, and it is not an overstatement to say that the untrained reader would find many challenging problems, some of which are still encountered in the translated text today.

A cursory reading of Genesis 1:16 in most English translations conveys the idea that the sentence, “He also made the stars,” is directly translated from the original Hebrew, because that is how the Hebrew has been understood in context by many translation committees as well as countless individual Old Testament scholars. The original Hebrew, however, is not so straightforward. It does not have a separate sentence stating, “God also made the stars,” but merely a phrase without a subject or a verb, “and the stars,” which runs on from the preceding text without break or punctuation. The literal translation of Genesis 1:16 in The Interlinear Bible reads as follows: “And made God two luminaries the great luminary for the rule of the day and the luminary small for the rule of the night and the stars.”[4] How do “the stars” relate to the “two great luminaries”? The time or purpose of their creation is not clear and cannot be deduced from the original Hebrew text. Furthermore, there is in the Hebrew no mention of a creator or any creative activity regarding the stars, a fact that cannot simply be overlooked since it allows for an alternative translation and interpretation.

The King James or Authorised Version reads, “And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.” The KJV supplies the words “he made” in italics, thus remaining true to the original Hebrew but giving room in translation for a separate phrase or sentence and the widely-held understanding that the creation of the stars need not be related in time to the creation and function of the “the two great lights.” As noted, many modern English translations give a separate sentence at the end of v. 16: “God also made the stars,” or “God made the stars also,” in either instance without showing any supplied text, although the verb “made” is not present in the original text. Several more recent translations, particularly those from Jewish sources, reflect the absence of the Hebrew verb at the end of v. 16, and conclude the verse with the phrase, “and the stars.”[5] The Hebrew allows either translation, both of which are in harmony with the whole context of Genesis 1:14-18 where, as already noted, the function of the “two great lights” is chiefly “to mark seasons and days and years” (v. 14), and to “separate light from darkness” (v.18), neither of which functions the stars perform.

It is necessary at this point to comment briefly on the Masoretic Hebrew text which, after many centuries, is still the standard text for translation of the Old Testament. The Masoretes were a succession of Hebrew scholars between the 10th and 7th centuries BC, whose primary task was to make the Hebrew text more intelligible by adding vowel markings to the traditional text. Continuing study of this text and other versions of the original Hebrew has shown that the Masoretic text itself is not without problems, and has led to the claim that earlier versions of the Hebrew are more reliable than the annotated version produced by the Masoretes. One source summarizes the issue as follows:

“The Masoretic text was an answer to a problem that had been building in the Jewish community for centuries: biblical Hebrew was ambiguous, and most Jews did not know how to read it anymore. With no vowels, punctuation, or stress marks, the original Hebrew left a lot of room for interpretative errors.”[6]

The Masoretic text does not really solve either the basic problem of ambiguity or the specific problem arising from the unqualified statement, “He also made the stars.”

Translations. All credible versions of the Bible are direct translations from the Hebrew and Greek texts, and are the careful work of duly appointed committees. The procedure established for the translation of the King James Bible of 1611 is a fine example of the care taken to ensure that the translation was as accurate as possible. More than fifty of the best Hebrew and Greek scholars of the day, drawn mainly from the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, were divided into six groups, each group given the task of translating a section of the text. They were required to translate the original text as accurately as possible and to present it in the clearest possible English of the day. Each group’s work was then scrutinized by other scholars to ensure accuracy and to eliminate as far as possible any errors or bias before the entire translation was submitted for publication. The whole process was begun in 1604 and completed in 1611.[7] It is worth noting Alister McGrath’s conclusion to his account of the KJV and its translation. “Our culture has been enriched” by the King James Bible, he maintains. “We shall never see its equal — or even its like — again.”[8]

Since then many new translations have appeared, most of them the work of committees made up of individuals from different backgrounds, with different viewpoints and theological persuasions. The aim is still to be as accurate, readable, and bias-free as possible. This is as true of the Genesis text as it is of all books of the Bible. Regarding Genesis 1:16 and the Hebrew phrase “and the stars” which immediately follows the creation account of the sun and moon, the following translations illustrate the consensus among contemporary scholars of Hebrew about the meaning of the original text:

“He made the stars also” NKJV

“He also made the stars” NIV

“He also made the stars” NLT

he made the stars also” KJV

“he also made the stars” GNT

“he made the stars also” RSV

“He made the stars also” NASB

“He made the stars also” NET

“He made the stars also” ASV

Even acknowledging the absence of a Hebrew verb at the end of v. 16, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the original text is best translated in the light of its context, as it is in all the above translations, as a stand-alone statement of reality, “He also made the stars,” without any textual or theological link to the creation of the sun and moon.

The Stars. The Hebrew word for “star” is kokab. It is used 36 times in eighteen books of the Old Testament and always means what it says as understood in English today. It is the word used in Genesis 1:16 and, for example, in Genesis 22:17 and Exodus 32:13 where God’s promise to Abraham is recorded, “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky” (NIV). There is no distinction in these texts or any others where kokab is used between suns and planets and galaxies and other heavenly bodies which can be seen by the naked eye in the night sky. The same expression is still used today when we look up on a clear night and see “the stars.” In Genesis 1:16 therefore it refers to everything that can be seen in the Milky Way and beyond, planets and galaxies included. It is worth noting that the context in which the sun and moon perform their allotted functions as described in Genesis 1:14-18 implies the existence of what is now known as the Solar System, even though the author of Genesis was probably unaware of it.

The word “star” is still defined today as “a celestial body appearing as a luminous point in the night sky,” seen on earth from a flat, one dimensional perspective, although in reality most of these points of light are huge suns or massive galaxies speeding through space and millions of miles apart in a three-dimensional plane. The “stars” in Genesis 1:16 were just that, no more, no less. Their number is incalculable, which is what Abraham meant when he spoke of his descendants in these terms. The implications of all this are almost beyond comprehension.

We can now return to the questions raised earlier by the reference to “stars” in Genesis 1:16. What are they? What is their function? And why is there reference to them in a passage which is concerned primarily with the functions of the sun and moon in relation to life on earth, functions which the stars do not have?

Perhaps the best way to understand the meaning of the sentence “God made the stars also” is to see it as a parenthetical statement of fact, included in the record of creation at an appropriate point, unrelated to the immediate context, but nevertheless important enough to be part of the creation account itself. God created the stars as He created everything else recorded in Genesis 1, but not necessarily at the same time, and clearly not after the appearance of the sun and moon. This would be in harmony with the statement in Genesis 1:2, where the earth is said to have been “without form and void” with “darkness” covering “the deep” (NKJV) before the work of the six-day creation began with the introduction of light. The note on this text in the NIV Study Bible says that creation as recorded in Genesis 1 “Completes the picture of a world awaiting God’s light-giving, order-making, and life-giving word.”[9] It is not stated how long the earth existed in this chaotic condition before it was given its final form, but however long it was the “stars” were already in existence.

Cosmological Confirmation. Two significant facts emerge from the foregoing: that Genesis 1 is primarily the account of the creation of the earth as a suitable habitat for human existence, and that the earth is part of what we now know as the Solar System, which itself is part of a much larger and older cosmos. Other passages of the Bible reveal that the earth as it is now is not as it was when originally created. There has been a cosmic rebellion, now centered on earth, which is still in the process of being resolved. They also reveal that it is the Creator’s intention to create “new heavens and a new earth” when the cosmic rebellion now working itself out on earth is finally dealt with.

Be that as it may, it is indisputable that there is today abundant cosmological confirmation that the universe is older than the earth in the form in which it now exists, older even perhaps than the dark, uninhabited mass from which the earth was created and which became the battle-ground of the cosmic conflict. Cosmology and the findings of astronomy have revealed more knowledge of the universe than could ever have been imagined when Genesis was written. When cosmologists and astronomers speak today about the starry heavens as they have been revealed by the most powerful and accurate telescopes yet invented, they still speak of “stars,” in much the same way as did the author of Genesis — distant pinpoints of light in the night skies. But they also speak of planets, constellations, galaxies, star-fields like the Milky Way, comets, globular clusters, nebulae and deep space, of light-years and an expanding universe, of suns so large that they make our sun seem insignificant and our own planet infinitesimal, of untold millions of other galaxies many of which make our home galaxy, the Milky Way, very ordinary by comparison. Jo Dunkley, Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at Princeton University and one of today’s most accomplished and respected astronomers, writing in 2019, states that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe, each galaxy made up of around 100 billion “stars,” many of which “will have their own systems of planets orbiting around them.”[10]

One of the best-known star-groupings in the night sky is the constellation Orion, visible in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres at the right time of year. It appears like a flat one-dimensional star formation when viewed from earth with the naked eye. But if we could view it side-on, it would be seen as it really is, in three dimensions, each “star “of the constellation separated from the others by huge distances. Orion contains two of the brightest stars in the sky and, in addition, countless others of varying size and at various distances. Somewhere near the middle of the constellation we would be able to see the Great Nebula in Orion, perhaps the best-known feature of this majestic constellation and one of the most beautiful and breath-taking of all celestial sights.[11] And we would be able to see it, through a telescope or even through a pair of good binoculars. It is a mere 1,350 light years from earth. Dunkley reminds us, “Light travels extraordinarily fast, 10 million times faster than a car on a motorway… at the incredible speed of 700 million miles an hour,”[12] or about 300,000 kms per second. The light from Orion’s Great Nebula has taken 1,350 years to reach us. It is approximately 7.9 trillion miles away. Whatever the precise figures might be, that is a very long time and a very long way. Orion and its famous nebula are a useful yardstick for trying to grasp the immense distances from earth of other stellar wonders in the universe.

There are other nebulae in the heavens around us, innumerable, distant, and beautiful. A nebula is a large cloud of distant stars or a glowing cloud of inter-stellar gas or dust and very, very large. The Gum Nebula is a case in point, only discovered in 1951, 1,600 light years away from earth. Photographs which may take over an hour to develop have revealed that it glows crimson with bright blue streaks and patches and has three attached nebulae strung out along the edge of the Milky Way.[13] Further telescopic study of this small area of the universe by the astronomer Colin Gum, after whom the Nebula was named, revealed 85 more nebulae in the same region. How many more Gum might have discovered is unknown, since he died in a skiing accident in 1960.[14] Bright and beautiful as it appears through a telescope, the Gum Nebula is nothing in comparison to the Tarantula Nebula. One description says the Tarantula is “possibly the most splendid of all nebulae in the night sky, displaying convoluted, textured loops of nebulous light set against a star-rich background…, the densest regions on the surface of this convoluted cloud glow brightly, forming an interwoven pattern of bright arcs that gave the Tarantula its form and name.”[15] It is approximately 158,000 light-years away.

In addition to nebulae there are galaxies, in huge numbers, which are also of great interest to astronomers and cosmologists. A galaxy is a star system of millions or billions of stars, of which our Milky Way is one of four types, a spiral galaxy. The Hubble telescope has confirmed an estimated 100 billion galaxies in the universe. To be more specific, there are two large areas of galactic activity only seen in Southern Hemisphere skies which have been of interest to astronomers for many centuries — the Clouds of Magellan. I know they exist for I have seen them myself, distant patches of light to the naked eye, but when seen through the eye of even a modest telescope, much clearer and more well-defined, complex and breathtaking.

The Small Magellanic Cloud contains ten or so “bright deep-sky objects and many more fainter ones, including nearly 2,000 star clusters and 2 billion stars.”[16] Many of the latter are so far away that while appearing as single stars, they are in fact entire galaxies, making the number of celestial objects in the Small Magellanic Cloud innumerable. The Clouds of Magellan appear to the naked eye like separated pieces of the Milky Way, but in fact are themselves huge galaxies, now known to orbit the Milky Way. The Large Magellanic Cloud is at least 160,000 light-years from earth,[17] and it has been calculated that the Small Magellanic Cloud is over 190,000 light-years distant.[18] In comparison to either, the more familiar Great Nebula in Orion is “just up the road.” Some of this can still be seen in the night sky, looking the same as it did when Genesis was written. “He also made the stars” is just as true today as when it was written, and just as relevant and just as necessary to remember as it was then. If we are to grasp the full significance of Genesis 1:16 it must be read in the original Hebrew, in context, and in the light of all that is now known about the vast universe to which our small earth belongs.

In Conclusion. We have spoken of galaxies and nebulae visible in just two or three very small areas of the sky. What lies beyond can only be imagined, even by astronomers sitting at powerful telescopes which continue to probe the night skies from all parts of the world, making discoveries about the surrounding universe of which our planet is just one tiny part. Yet enough has been said in the previous paragraphs to confirm that the universe is vast beyond conception, mysterious and wonderful, and indisputably old. It brings to mind statements which appear frequently in the Bible: “The Lord God has made you as the stars of heaven in multitude” (Deuteronomy 10:22, NKJV) and “He who sits above the circle of the earth… stretches out the heavens like a curtain” (Isaiah 40: 22, NKJV) and notably Psalm 19:1-4 (NIV):

“The heavens declare the Glory of God;

The skies proclaim the work of His hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech;

Night after night they display knowledge.

There is no speech or language

where their voice is not heard.

Their voice goes out into all the earth,

Their words to the ends of the world.”

This remarkable poem, written some three thousand years ago (c. 1000 B.C.) seems almost prophetic in some of the concepts it enunciates and the language it uses of a cosmology that would not be known for over two and a half millennia in the future.[19] And it confirms the essential truth of Genesis 1:16, “He also made the stars” yet not, as the text itself in context indicates, at the same time He brought into being the earth as we now know it, making two great lights to rule day and night on the earth as it speeds around the sun in a solar system, itself a tiny speck in a vast and complex universe.

Furthermore He made the earth, locating it in just the right place between the arms of a spiral galaxy, from which earth’s inhabitants could see and study the universe beyond, a position known as the Goldilocks zone — “just right,” not too far from the sun so that it would freeze, not too near so that it would burn, and with clear vision of the surrounding universe.[20] It is easy to understand why earth has been called the “privileged planet,”[21] and why it is incumbent on earth’s inhabitants to understand their own planet, its history, and its place in the vast cosmos to which it belongs.

For centuries, the stars have attracted the attention of poets, philosophers, prophets, and people from all walks of life and every continent on earth. One of them was the renowned French statesman and military genius Napoleon Bonaparte who, contrary to popular belief, was not an atheist, but professed belief in God, and who in the later years of his life frequently read the Bible and held an exalted view of Christ.[22] It is said that at the height of the French Revolution, Napoleon was sailing in the Mediterranean with a group of his officers one starlit night, listening as they discussed the objectives of the revolutionaries in Paris, noting their determination to rid France once and for all from the shackles of religion and all vestiges of belief in God. He heard them discussing the reasons why God did not exist, and how it was necessary to remove the very concept of God from the minds of the populace. While Napoleon sympathized with many of the aims of the Revolution, he did not agree with its disbelief in God or the reasons for it. As the discussion drew to a close Napoleon is reputed to have said, pointing upwards, “But gentlemen, they will leave us the stars.” Apocryphal or not, this statement reflects the thinking of many who through the ages have come to the same conclusion by gazing in wonder at the night sky. It also reflects the unqualified assertion of Genesis 1:16, “He also made the stars.” Tennyson wrote, “I found Him in the shining of the stars.”[23] Untold millions would testify to a similar experience.

When considered in the light of all the available evidence, textual, contextual and cosmic, the declaration at the end of Genesis 1:16 that “God made the stars also” no longer appears as an anomaly, a problem text, but a parenthetical statement of fact, crucially important in its own right for all who would read Genesis 1 in the attempt to grasp the content and intent of the creation record. The Genesis scholar Victor Hamilton, writing in The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, came to a similar conclusion. Commenting on the order of the words in the original Hebrew text of Genesis 1:16, he wrote “One may safely describe the creation of the stars as almost an afterthought or a parenthetical addition.”[24] This brief but all-important parenthetical addition to the text of Genesis 1:16 also reminds us that earth’s existence and checkered history can only be fully and accurately understood in relation to the solar system as we know it and to the rest of the vast universe, with all the inescapable implications this entails. Perhaps this was why it was written and included in Genesis 1:16 at a pivotal point in the creation account. It would be a serious error of judgment to ignore the accumulated evidence without careful and objective consideration.

Notes and References:

[1] Gerald Klingbeil, “Making Sense of the Holy,” in Bill Knott, ed., Adventist World, Silver Spring, MD, January, 2020, 11.

[2] Ekkehardt Mueller, “Guidelines for the Interpretation of Scripture,” in George W. Reid, ed., Understanding Scripture, Biblical Research Institute, Silver Spring, MD, 2005, 118.

[5] I am grateful to Dr. Steven Thompson for drawing my attention to recent Jewish translations.

[12] Dunkley, op.cit., 13, 79.

[19] For an analysis of Psalm 19 as a whole, see Grenville Kent, “The Heavens are Telling: A Biblically Informed Cosmology,” in Bryan W Ball, ed., In The Beginning: Science and Scripture Confirm Creation, Nampa, ID., Pacific Press Publishing Association, 2012, 176-183.

[20] See, for example, www.wikipedia.org s.v. Milky Way, and Kent, “The Heavens are Telling” in Ball, op.cit., 171-175.

[21] Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards, The Privileged Planet, Washington D. C., Regnery Publishing, 2004 and www.privilegedplanet.com, citing “Contrary to all expectations, the laws of physics seem ‘fine-tuned’ for the existence of complex life” on earth. The DVD of this publication with the same title is well worth seeing.

Bryan Ball received his tertiary education at Andrew University and the University of London. Formerly President of Avondale College and then President of the South Pacific Division, he is the author of several books and articles, described in Wikipedia as a "widely-cited scholar who has written extensively on current and historical theological issues." His books have been published by denominational publishers in several countries and by secular publishers including Oxford University Press, E.J. Brill of Leiden and James Clarke, academic publishers, Cambridge, UK.

Photo by Manouchehr Hejazi on Unsplash

We invite you to join our community through conversation by commenting below. We ask that you engage in courteous and respectful discourse. You can view our full commenting policy by clicking here.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/10315
2 Likes

Regarding stars. As the Earth makes its rounds in the Universe
we have the phenomenon of various constellations coming and
going in the sky. Some constellations are more or less
prominent whether winter, spring, summer, fall.
The Sun and Moon did not need optics to keep up with them.
and with the changing position of the moon to the sun during
the every 28 days [month] they were easy to use as “clocks”
and calendar.
Eventually there was created the “Sun Dial”.
Not having optics the stars could look like pin holes in the dome
revealing spots of light. The moving “stars” – planets were more
interesting to the ancients.
With optics and other measuring devices the universe is estimated
to be 13-15 Billion years old. Which if we believe God is ETERNAL
that should be OK with us. We don’t have to put God in a “box”
and force Him to be creating all that time. He could create at His
leisure.
Scriptures are man’s attempt to find God, ways to relate to God, to
embrace the magnificence of God, and understand His working
relationships with the Children of Men. The wonder and awe as
persons observe Creation. God made huge things. God has all
of these tiny almost microscopic plants and flowers. Plants that
only grow and bloom during certain months of the summer. Some
summer months have a preponderance of certain colors of wild
flowers that come up and bloom. Such as blue, yellow, white.
Certain ancient groups in our own Southwest were accurate
astronomers. Knew accurately how long it took for the earth to
circle the sun and had devices to show a shadow or light through
a hole once a year.

2 Likes

Dr Ball makes the good point at the start of his article that we need to look at the context when reading the Bible. This is a basic rule of reading comprehension that we learnt in primary school. It would be very helpful when trying to understand Genesis 1:16 and the rest of Chapter One properly to confirm the definition of ‘earth’ and ‘heaven’ as they are used in that chapter, which is what I do in the following.

A good place to start is the Third Day. Here we are told that God gathered the water into what He called ‘seas’. A consequence of making the seas was the appearance of DRY land. We are not told of God specifically doing anything to get the DRY land because it was an automatic result of making the seas.

God called this DRY land, ‘earth’. We see here that the ‘seas’ and the ‘dry land/earth’ are separate things, which implies that the word ‘earth’ is not referring to the whole planet that we are on. By saying DRY land the implication is that BEFORE the seas were made that that particular land was WET. So we now have DRY land existing alongside of WET land. What we now have is the same land under water and above the water, but in different conditions because of the immediate environment.

Since seas have BASINS then it is apparent that God had made the basins out of the wet land already there. I say ALREADY there because at no stage in that day or the previous two days are we told that God had made the land on those days and neither did He make the water on those days. We must be careful not to read into the Bible our preconceptions and let the Bible truly interpret itself.

My main point here is that the word, ‘Earth’, in Genesis and the rest of the Bible does NOT refer to the PLANET that we are on, which is how we use the word today. It only refers to the land that is above the water level of the seas. We need to keep this in mind as we read the Bible so that when discussing Genesis or other parts of the Bible that we are talking about the same thing.

The Biblical definition of ‘earth’ as being the land which is above the water level of the seas (dry land for short) makes a difference to how we read verses 1 and 2 in Genesis Chapter One.

The same goes for the word, ‘heaven’. Looking at the Second Day we at first have one body of water. From what we saw in the Third Day we know that underneath that water was land, all wet, which would help us understand verse 2 better. We are told that God turned the middle portion of this water into a ‘firmament’. God named this firmament, ‘Heaven’. Notice that we now have a layer of water above the firmament and a layer of water below the firmament. This lower layer of water would be the water that God put into seas the next day. Let us find out what substance the firmament is made of, what God turned the water into.

Using the whole chapter as the context let us go to the Fifth Day. Here we are told that, besides water animals, God made WINGED fowl to FLY above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. So the firmament is made of a substance that birds etc can fly in. The Sixth Day associates fowls with ‘air’. Birds can’t fly to the moon or the Orion Constellation etc. They need to push against air to fly. So we can define ‘heaven’ as being our atmosphere. We need to be careful in the Bible not to confuse heaven with the universe or the place where God’s throne is. The atmosphere is transparent so we don’t notice it as we gaze at the stars unless there are clouds around. From our place on the earth’s surface we cannot discern the distance between us and the upper limit of our atmosphere and the distance to any of the stars. Visually the clouds and stars could all be on the same plane of glass in our windows.

We can now see how the land became dry on Day 3. The atmosphere made the previous day had followed the surface level of the lower water layer as it went down into the sea basins. Eventually the atmosphere came into contact with the parts of the land that were sticking up above the water level around the seas and dried that land. The land itself didn’t change, just its degree of wetness.

Applying the above to verses 1, 2 and 3 we can see that it is not correct to use the term ‘chaotic’, which suggests to me an evolutionist or theistic-evolutionist mind set. The Genesis fact is that this planet was naturally covered with water and had no atmosphere. Obviously God had to make an atmosphere and dry land for Adam and Eve and other life to live on before He made them. The universe doesn’t figure in the events of this week. The fact that there was an evening and a morning for the first day shows that the solar system was already in place, as Dr Ball indicates. The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Cor 4:6 that the light of the First Day came from the DARKNESS in the water of verse 2. Comparing this with Day 4 it appears that there is a connection between the sun and the light of the First Day, which may be the Visible Light Spectrum since human beings who have eyes to see were to be made.

EGW (see The Truth About Angels up to page 48 or so) makes it very clear that the purpose of the Genesis creation event was to fill the vacancies left in God’s Tabernacle caused by the angels that left it to join Lucifer in his rebellion. We were to be at first a little lower than the angels and then made equal to the angels to be placed in God’s Tabernacle. Isaiah 45:18 plainly states that God created/made/FORMED the earth to be inhabited (by Adam and Eve). In verse 2 the earth was WITHOUT FORM and couldn’t have inhabitants (VOID) because it was underwater. On the Third Day God FORMED the earth by making seas that bought down the surface of the lower layer of water that had appeared on the Second Day.

I believe that a correct understanding of what actually happened in the Genesis creation week makes it a lot easier to understand the Hebrew of verse 16 and probably the Hebrew of the whole chapter. I believe that the purpose of the term ‘the stars also’ is simply to give God the credit for making the stars to counteract the influence of the Egyptian and other religions on the Israelites.

What about the age of the universe? For the Christian it is not important because God made everything by His Word. God can make things instantly out of nothing or, as He did in the Genesis creation week, use things He had made at an earlier time. Only God could do any of these things. Just when He made anything may interest historians, but it doesn’t matter if it was billions or trillions of years ago or 10,000 years ago. Given how vast the universe is it is logical to think it has been around a long time. We will find out all the facts soon.

2 Likes

What about the age of the universe?
I agree we should leave this alone. We cannot get the right answer in this lifetime. We can try to determine, but we have to draw our assumptions from what we see around us. Remember this planet is not an ideal place to draw our assumptions because it was in the process of corruption since the fall of man.

1 Like

From MSN.COM. There is an article on Antarctica having at one the
Tropical weather and Plants the same as on the Southern part of
New Zealand.
A good read [as one reads the Slide Program with Pictures.]
Parts of the earth were a LOT warmer then than they are now.
Climate change BEFORE industrialization.

I have been watching the new season of Cosmos, with Neal DeGrass Tyson on the National Geographic channel. What ever God turns out to be it will be consistent with science. All scripture and writing must be viewed in context and in light of what the writers could have imagined and written. We make God very small when we ignore science. Much better, in my thinking. to broaden our thinking in light of what we now know vs trying to deny it.

3 Likes

Steve, It is interesting that you mention Tropical weather in Antarctica. I was stationed in Thule Greenland in the USAF in 1957. A couple of us went on a long (2 day) hike, and stumbled on what looked like to me , a petrified tree. I have its picture still. I have seen petrified trees here in the U.S. and that was a petrified tree if I ever saw one. My first thought was how did it get there. The flood?

2 Likes

I like to think of God as Master-Scientists. When human scientists and explorers make discoveries about our earth planet and our nearby sky and galaxy neighbors, I believe that God is enthusiastic - Yes! Keep going! You’ll get it! It is a characteristic of God to share knowledge, understanding, and the beauty of symmetry and order. Before the Bible, existed Nature, God’s first book, the basis for knowledge of God.

3 Likes

Thanks, Bryan Ball, for this great essay.

Astronomy remains a high passion of mine. It is, so much, that, at an earlier time, I’d hoped to become an astrophysicist. This ended when I took a physics class. I was overwhelmed by the math, for which I’d not been prepared.

However, in adult life, I’ve sought to stay up on many of the popular discussion of these issues. I’m often looking at new books concerning the universe. In my previous work as a radio journalist, I frequently sought out physicists for on-air discussions; people like Brian Greene, Janna Levin, Lisa Randall, Leonard Susskind, Lee Smolin, and others.

A few thoughts:

1) I agree with your essay’s general conclusions about Genesis 1:16, and long have: That those closing words—“He made the stars, also”—include phenomena beyond our solar system as God-made, but not built during the creation week.

2) In your essay, you note that the “two great lights,” sun and moon, were created to:

i ) “give light on the earth” (vss. 15, 17)

ii ) “separate the day from the night” (v. 14) or “separate light from darkness” (v.18)

iii ) “govern the day and the night” (v. 18)

iv ) “mark seasons and days and years” (v.14)

Then you say:

The question must therefore be asked, “Were the stars also created for these reasons?” “Are their functions the same as those of the sun and moon?” It goes without saying that to reply “No” to these questions is not to say that God did not create the stars. Verse 16 clearly asserts that He did. What it does not say is that He created them to assist either sun or moon in their designated roles “to govern the day,” “to govern the night,” or “mark seasons days and years.”

I’m not clear what you mean by this. The stars serve all four functions, which is what I think you are saying, though they do not do so as brilliantly as the sun and moon, which is what I think you are also saying. However, I’m not clear what further conclusion we should make, based on these facts, and the text.

You go on to say:

Verse 16 does not say when or why God made the stars. In context, however, the unqualified assertion that He did make them may be a simple statement of fact, or possibly an indication that they may have been created for a different, undisclosed purpose and that the fact of their creation was included in the overall creation account because it was important for those reading it, then and in the future, to understand and remember their origin.

It seems, then, that one thing the Bible does not say is that the stars were made for us. That is, they benefit us; the nearly 4,500 we see on a dark, night sky benefit us aesthetically, intellectually, etc. But they were not explicitly, demonstrably—or biblically!—made for us. In fact, they are a fraction of all the stars that we can see, and/or that exist.

In other words, the universe is not necessarily “written,” or “laid out,” from our perspective.

3) There is a small math error: At 1,350 light-years from Earth, the Orion Nebula is 7.9 quadrillion miles from our planet, not trillion. In other words, it is a thousand times farther away than stated in your essay.

4) I do not understood the SDA Church’s description of sin, or the sin problem, as cosmic.

The word means, per Merriam-Webster:

1a : of or relating to the cosmos, the extraterrestrial vastness, or the universe in contrast to the earth alone; e.g., cosmic radiation

b : of, relating to, or concerned with abstract spiritual or metaphysical (see METAPHYSICAL sense 2) ideas; e.g., cosmic wisdom

2 : characterized by greatness especially in extent, intensity, or comprehensiveness; e.g., a cosmic thinker, a book of cosmic significance

If the church means the secondary definition, and you do also, then I get it.

If it means the 1b definition, and you do also, I get that, too.

However, my impression is that you, based on supportive language that you apply (“now centered on earth”), and the church, generally, mean to evoke the primary, 1a meaning above, in your use of this word; i.e., that sin is of or relating to the cosmos, the extraterrestrial vastness, or the universe in contrast to the earth, alone, much like the nebulae and galaxies you mention elsewhere in the piece.

If this is the case, I think that the church should say how it is; that is, How is sin more than a condition on Terra?

Many would say, “Sin is a problem that concerns Heaven, in that it began there.” (I’d allow it, and probably agree, though the details of this are fuzzy.)

But by this, are we saying that Heaven is part of the cosmos; that Heaven is X number of light years from Earth? If so, how many, and how do we know any of this?

I currently hold that it’s incoherent to say that an omnipresent God “dwells” anywhere; i.e., these terms are ones that we use to comprehend aspects of God.

Instead, we might say that Heaven is the place where God condescends to be with His creatures; in this case, divine, or heavenly, ones; e.g., angels. Further, I’d hypothesize that Heaven is not part of our cosmos, but transcends it. Therefore, if true, it is incorrect to locate issues concerning it as “cosmic,” because it is not part of the cosmic order.

That is, unless one is talking about sin being an issue pertaining, as well or otherwise, to “unfallen worlds” within the universe. This is what I suspect many SDAs also mean when they speak of sin being cosmic.

However, here, again, the Bible is silent: There is no biblical xenotheology; no explanation of how sin affects other worlds, or even if there are such places.

So, in short, I think SDAs speak about sin being “cosmic” as a form of self-aggrandizement. We say it in much the spirit that we say we are “the remnant church.” We say it as a way of sounding important. In other words, I think that this use of the word “cosmic” is part of the continuum of Adventist exceptionalism.

However, again, I’d argue, the Bible neither supports the “cosmic” nature of the sin problem, or does it support Seventh-day Adventist exceptionalism.

So, if it does not, then why do we?

2 Likes

I found this to be a fascinating essay. It brought my attention to several elements of my own understanding that now strike me as unproven, if not unwarranted assumption. Thank you for helping me see this.
If we were to encounter the text as presented above, “And made God two luminaries the great luminary for the rule of the day and the luminary small for the rule of the night and the stars,” it seems to me we might understand the role of the “luminary small” to include ruling both the night and the stars.
A casual observation of the moon on any two clear nights will reveal that it’s position among the stars changes. Indeed, it can be seen to move among the stars over the course of a few hours within a single night.
While the stars are subject to the night, (they are rarely visible during daylight hours), but not a fixed part of the night (for which stars are visible on a given night varies throughout the year) the freedom with which the moon moves through the night sky, and among the stars, clearly reveals it’s behavior as independent of the stars, and perhaps even to trule over them.
A question that comes to mind related to the grammar of what we see as the ending phrase. I have no idea how Hebrew reflects relative “case” of nouns. Some languages would modify a noun to indicate if it took an action, or was acted upon.
A lifetime ago, I know we studied nominative, dative, accusative, objective and other “cases” as key to recognizing the intent of a passage.
Perhaps additional shades of meaning exist in Hebrew that might clarify if the stars are the object of the smaller luminary’s rule, or of God’s creation. Thus, it may be no parenthetical construction is implied: God created two lights, one to rule the day, the second to rule the night and the stars.
Thanks again for a thought provoking piece.

1 Like

Decades ago I read that on a good clear night [like out-west
with no city lights to reflect on the atmosphere – as when God
told Abraham to look at the night sky] – one can see about
7000 stars.
Seems like a lot! But with our telescope orbiting about the Earth,
we are aware of massive numbers not available to the naked eye
standing on Earth and looking up.
Also needed, is the ability to understand how LONG light shining
from one of those has taken to pierce the glass of the telescope
so we could see and record it.
Unless light reaches our “receptors” that black space out there is
“assumed” to NOT contain anything.
According to calculations it is assumed that some light has been
traveling for 13 BILLION years just so we would “see” it.

An assumption itself. So is this-corruption has existed here prior to the fall of man.

This assumption raises (at least!) another question. If, as is widely held within post Milton (particularly adventist) understanding that prior to creation of man, God had created before. He had to-the angel called lucifer was demanding to sit in on the creation tribunal (Ellen, draws from Job, and others), and he (lucifer) even asks in Job (about Jesus) “WHO is THIS fellow”, trying to draw in doubt to curry favor for his demand to sit in with those who said “let us create man”.

According to Job, Lucifer had throne access even after dissembling amongst the angels.
Assuming again, at some point Lucifer “fell from heaven” (was he dispelled, or voluntarily leaving?). Again, assuming God is beyond time, is it far fetched to entertain idea that God may have spent 14 million, or 40 billion years, trying to draw back his first “lost son”?

He says he would go to the ends of the earth for the last, lost one. Would He not also go to “the end of time” to try bring back the FIRST lost one?

Further-consider that other ‘son’ (after Adam and Lucifer) chose to come into this creation and become-potentially-“lost” in order to bring ALL the lost back. At Jesus death, it was a type of the “end of time”, and as such those fallen angels and lucifer were forever denied throne room access. Ellen did (in an obscure writing that my memory is failing me on) state that not only was there a resurrection of sorts-but that until that fateful friday night, some number of fallen angels renounced their allegiance to the lucifer and sought-and were given grace to return.

Would God allow a pesky few billion years to deny all his lost every opportunity, prodigal-like, to return?

I can picture Him there, sandals in hand, ring proferred, robe at the ready to clothe the naked returning son, sitting at the end of the cosmic driveway, just waiting, hoping, looking for a glimmer, a dust cloud, some indication of his beloveds return.

Of course, this also requires the perhaps (for some) untenable assumption that God loved lucifer-at least at one time.

In slightly related news:
Just released data from a Dark Energy Survey posits an additional confirmed 100-plus TNO’s (trans neptunian objects). Fascinating study-and one which tantalizes with the tidbit there may be over 70,000 such micro-planets. The ones they identified were larger than 60 miles wide-and there are large, still unimaged ones. Imagine!

Updated peer-reviewed findings gleaned over 6 years by Pedro Bernadelli at the U of Pennsylvania were published in The Astrophysical Journal Supplement Series on March 10, 2020.

1 Like

I’m not sure that the writers would even have concept of a planet at that time. They seem to refer to all of these from their POV of observable phenomenon, not from some third-party “God POV” that would convert broader perspective of Universe and things they didn’t have conceptual understanding to consider.

For example, I don’t think they considered that God wouldn’t be flying over water in space without sun. It would be a giant block of ice. Of course they had a concept and word for ice. The fact that they imagined water likely stems from their observation that vast seas of water don’t exist a ice, but then again, they likely never travelled to Arctic regions to compare.

It’s not that they were dumb. They actually seemed to have more brain mass than we do. They simply lacked cultural and scientific platform on which to build more accurate narratives.

So, it really doesn’t work out well when we attempt to shoehorn their misconceptions about reality into some objective origins narrative that we must accept in order to maintain Christian faith. It’s actually rather absurd to both imply and demand that as a norm.

We could just say that they painted narrative through their conceptual understanding. It may have some conceptual equivalence, but not at the broader level of how we understand the world to be. Sky isn’t a solid dome, and there’s no ocean above it that rains down on us when God opens the floodgates of heaven. All of that was ancient misconception embedded in Biblical narrative. We need to stop doing both, implying that that narrative is more accurate than what we understand today, and shoehorning these ancient narrative into our scientific models.

3 Likes

A good and concise way to understand the situation that we are in is to read “The Truth About Angels”, a compilation of Ellen G White’s writings. The first 48 pages would cover this, but reading the rest would be good. If you read over what I said in my earlier response you may agree that in the Bible the word, ‘Heaven’, refers only to our atmosphere where the fowl can fly, and that the word, ‘Earth’, refers only to the land that was above the water level after God made the seas and was dried out by the atmosphere that God made the previous day.

I think that if you checked those two things that you would find the Biblical perspective is very simple. It is human traditions and selfish tendencies that make things complicated. A brief overview is that the universe including our planet was made long before the First Day of the Genesis creation week. Not only were there angels around back then, but also inhabited worlds. One day Lucifer committed himself to rebel against God. It was some time before this became obvious to the rest of the angels. Eventually there was a grand meeting that resulted in Lucifer and his angels being banned from entering God’s Tabernacle, although they could come up to an entrance.

Eventually God decided to refill the vacancies left in the Tabernacle by the angels who left to join Lucifer. Instead of creating more angels immediately by His word, God decided to make Adam and Eve to bring about a people who would be made equal to the angels and placed in the vacancies in the Tabernacle. God also decided to do this on a water-covered planet that had no atmosphere. All of this served as an illustration to the universe about how God thinks and does things.

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve sinned, which affected the entire planet because it was under their dominion. So there are two related issues that God is dealing with at the same time, Lucifer’s rebellion against God and attempting to save the human race.

I think all the above greatly simplifies the issues of real life.

Dene –
Yes. Heaven began at the top of your feet. That is the view of
those who lived in Bible times.

Adam and Eve and their children taking the place of Lucifer and
his crowd is NON BIBLICAL. Yes this is in a Ellen compilation and
in the SDA Bible Commentary, but it sounds pretty far fetched.
ALSO - another REAL QUESTION is :-- IS there a Tabernacle in
Heaven, or are the description of one in Heaven just representative
idea and not really tangible. Revelation tells us that where the Father
and the Lamb [Christ] are IS the Temple. Perhaps that has been the
way it has always been.

2 Likes

Did the birds etc only fly in the atmosphere in Bible times, eh? Where do they fly now?

Is what I said about ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’ from the Bible viewpoint correct?

Why did God change this planet from a water-covered, airless and lifeless one to one with an atmosphere, seas, dry land, various life forms and two people who are male or female that are both in the image of God? The answer is in His first command to them Gen 1:28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth….

Why did God do what He did in Genesis Chapter One. Why would He use a slow method like sexual reproduction followed by child upbringing to produce this population? Why produce this population in the first place? The important point is that this was happening in the context of the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan? That is why! Satan was saying false things about God. Many of the angels believed him. God needed to show what He was really like. Therefore it makes sense that God would refill the vacancies in His Tabernacle this way, since a lot of angels had left it permanently. This is all Biblical. See further on.

Can you see any reason why Satan and his angels would want to stop the woman from having babies and bringing them up? Can you think of how Satan and his angels are going about doing this today?

As for the Temple of God consider Hebrews 8:2 and 9:11. This temple is obviously not on earth.Since God is invisible He always uses various physical illustrations to help His creatures understand Him. The expression ‘Temple IN heaven’ is not the same as ‘Temple INSIDE heaven’. By saying ‘IN heaven’ we are not referring to a place called ‘heaven’, instead we are saying, ‘not on our planet’ or ‘somewhere on the other side of the place where birds fly’.

There is definitely some kind of physical location referred to as the Tabernacle somewhere in the universe since physical persons go there, as we see in the Book of Job and elsewhere. Since one member of the Godhead is now a human, one of us, there is a big change, as Revelation 21:3 and 22 indicate. There will still be a physical location for the angels and the inhabitants of other worlds to come to. I know what you mean in what you said, but there would be some physical things since its in a physical location.

What I have given is a logical and sensible scenario. Why would it be far fetched?

Jude 1:9 And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he hath reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day.

These angels left to join Lucifer.

Psalm 8:5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

Luke 20:36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.

So we have angels leaving the Tabernacle, then God setting up humans who are a little lower than the angels, and then Jesus telling us that when He comes He will make us humans EQUAL to the angels. Jesus said that He is coming back that where He is we may be also.

It appears that you reject EGW as a prophetess of God. Korah and his friends did the same with the spirit of prophecy as it was in Moses. You need to reconsider your attitude to EGW, as it was clear to me when I first opened one of her books that she was indeed a prophetess of God and a very nice person. What she says complements and supports the Word of God and she was always urging people to study the Bible for themselves. I have not had any problem with EGW or her writings. Attempts to make her a plagiarist and other petty complaints have nothing valid about them.

Please consider.

You seem to have a stone-age cave dweller concept of our history? Arctic regions are a result of the flood.

I am giving the Biblical perspective, comparing Bible texts with each other rather than imposing a fantasy from my own mind. I recommend reading the Bible through along with Prophets and Kings and the Desire of Ages etc.

What you say is very interesting! Yes God would not have left option untried in an attempt to win Lucifer back to Him. He would not have taken any short cuts, but would have wanted to take any number of billions of years. Of course you need to think of the rest of the loyal universe and not prolong things when it is obvious that Lucifer etc had passed the point of no return. For this reason I doubt even 1 billion years passed by, however, we will find out all the facts of the case after Jesus comes again.

EGW does say in The Truth About Angels that a long period of time went past after Lucifer had committed himself to rebel. When Satan and his angels were banned from the Tabernacle an unknown amount of time went by before Genesis Chapter One, the fall of Adam and Eve and then the War in Heaven happened. I think it was before Genesis happened that Lucifer had gone beyond the point of no return, from what EGW said in one part of the above book.

When Lucifer (and each angel) walked out for the last time God would have wept like David wept for his son, Absalom, even though his son wanted to kill him.

Reminds me of a great sermon I watched on Barabbas. Watch it on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2E4Pdik0wuY (btw at 1:10 the text should say He’s a rebel against Rome. Whoever did this video put wrong instead of Rome.)

But-to the rest of the loyal -assuming they are not trapped in kronos like we are-time is entirely immaterial in kairos.

Another question-would a loving God not put a moratorium on new creation(s) until this infection is controlled? “All creation groans” adds a whole 'nother dimension (assuming God intends all what he creates was intended immortal). With an infinity to inhabit, will creation ever cease in an eternity?