The story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis is a highly-organized, masterfully-written account of the origin of the universe, including the earth. Each of the seven days is unique and corresponds to the other days in the sequence. What did God create on the fourth day, and how does it relate to what he made on the first day?
God created the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day of creation to illuminate the earth and measure days, years, and seasons. The first chapter of Genesis refers to the sun and moon as the greater and lesser lights, terms which distinguish the luminaries from pagan religious beliefs.
How does the fourth day of creation correspond to the first day? How is not using the normal Hebrew words for sun and moon a response to pagan beliefs in the ancient world? How could there be light and vegetation without the sun? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Let There Be Lights in the Expanse: Day Four of Creation
What God made during the first three-day period of the creation account mirrors what he made during the second three-day period, i.e. days four, five, and six. This preparation-completion symmetry means that the fourth day signifies an important development as God fashions the earth for human habitation.
During the first three-day period, God created and separated different aspects of the natural world, like light from darkness and the land from the seas. During the second three-day period, he created and completed different realms of the earth.
In this way, the sun, moon, and stars that God created on the fourth day correspond to the light he called into being on the first day.
|“without form” (Gen. 1:2) to form||“void” (Gen. 1:2) to fullness|
|Day 1: God created light, separating it from darkness (v. 3-5)||Day 4: God placed luminaries in the heavens (v. 14-19)|
|Day 2: God created the expanse, separating the waters above it from the waters below it (v. 6-8)||Day 5: God placed fish and birds in the sky and seas (v. 20-23)|
|Day 3: God created land and vegetation, separating the waters below the expanse into seas (v. 9-13)||Day 6: God placed people and animals on the land (v. 24-31)|
God commanded lights to appear in the expanse (or the “firmament,” KJV, NKJV) to illuminate the earth and arrange days, years, and seasons (Gen. 1:14-15). The passage highlights two luminaries — the sun and moon — which are referred to as “the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light” (ESV).
Why don’t English translations call the luminaries the “sun” and “moon”? The Hebrew text literally reads “greater light” and “lesser light.” Not even English translations that paraphrase the original languages (like the NLT or CEV) render the descriptions as “sun” and “moon.” The Amplified Bible puts the words “sun” and “moon” in parentheses, which is consistent with its translation approach.
Genesis scholar Kenneth Mathews explains, “The passage contradicts common misconceptions. The usual Hebrew terms for ‘sun’ (semes) and ‘moon’ (yareah, lebana) are avoided: they are described as the ‘greater’ and ‘lesser’ lights (v. 16). Genesis shows that the sun and moon are not cosmic deities worthy of reverence; the stars are no more than light-bearing bodies that are subservient to the needs of the earth.” 
Why does the creation account use the word “stars”? Genesis may not avoid the Hebrew word for “stars,” like it does the words sun and moon, because their names may not have contained pagan beliefs. The Hebrew word kokab (כּוֹכָב) appears 37 times in the Old Testament. The NASB, one of the most precise English translations available today, renders the word “star” or “stars” every time.
How could there be light and vegetation without the sun?
Readers who believe that the first chapter of Genesis is poetic, and not scientific, don’t have a burden of explaining how light (day one) and vegetation (day three) initially appeared without the sun. however, for readers who contend that the creation account is literal history, the question is an important one.
Of the scholars who believe that the first chapter of Genesis is a historical account of creation, most think the light God created on the first day was natural, but its source was God, not a celestial body.
The same natural light supported the plants and trees God made on the third day of creation. Then, on the fourth day, the celestial bodies God created became the source of light and life.
A few interpreters suggest that on the fourth day, God cleared the expanse of visual obstacles like clouds, which enabled the sun, moon, and stars to appear for the first time. However, many commentators don’t believe this theory does justice to a straightforward reading of the first four days of the creation account.
Other scholars, like Douglas Kelly, who believes that the creation account is a historical description, admit not knowing the answer: “We are not given the slightest suggestion in this text — or in any other — how all this took place… it seems best to admit our ignorance of ‘the mechanics’ of light on the first and fourth days.” 
The Creation Account: Table of Contents
Readers are welcome to read follow the links below to learn more about the seven-day creation account in Genesis. For convenience, this table of contents is found at the conclusion of each article in the series.
|7 Days of Creation|
|What did God make on day one?|
|What did God make on day two?|
|What did God make on day three?|
|What did God make on day four? (see above)|
|What did God make on day five?|
|What did God make on day six?|
|What did God do on day seven?|
Psalm 8:3-4 read, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”
 Genesis 1-11:26 by Kenneth Mathews. p. 154.
 Creation and Change by Douglas Kelly. p. 264.
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