What Did God Create On the Third Day? [Genesis Explained]

The creation account in the book of Genesis not only begins the story of the Bible, but it’s also referred to throughout the Old and New Testaments as a supernatural act of God that revealed his power and glory. The seven days of creation unfold in a sequence. The third day of creation, which is uniquely related to the sixth day, follows God’s creation of light on day one and the expanse on day two.

God created land on the third day of creation. The dry ground appeared when he separated the surface waters, which had been without boundaries like coastlines, into seas. On the same day, God commanded vegetation to appear on the land in the form of reproducing plants and trees.

How did the third day start? What was the earth like before the third day? When did God create vegetation on the land? What does “each according to its kind” mean? How does the third day of creation relate to the sixth day? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.

Also see Where Was the Garden of Eden Located? to learn more.

God created on day three
What was the world like before land appeared? See below

Let There Be Land: What God Created On Day Three

God’s acts of separation in the first three days of the creation account set the stage for life to exist on earth. On the first day, God created light (Gen. 1:3-5), which broke up the unending darkness (Gen. 1:2), and separated daytime from nighttime. On the second day, God created an expanse above the surface of the earth that separated the waters below it from the waters above it (Gen. 1:6-8).

How did the third day start?

God acted upon the surface waters below the expanse on the third day. First, he separated the waters below the expanse, which had been one large body of water without borders like coastlines. Then, God gathered the waters below the expanse into seas, causing dry land to appear.

God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place.” The waters under the heavens (or “under the sky,” NIV) refer to those below the expanse as opposed to the water above it.

“Let the dry land appear,” God said next, “And it was so.” God called the land that appeared “earth” and the gathered water “seas” (Gen. 1:10).

What was the earth like before the third day?

It may be difficult to imagine a landless world, but that’s what existed prior to the third day of creation. Genesis scholar Douglas Kelly writes, “Until the third day, the earth was completely covered by water, as though it were a shoreless ocean with nowhere for a boat to land.”

Kelly continues, “It, was of course, not yet a habitable environment. So God by his mighty power caused the continents to be formed, and perhaps mountain ranges to be pushed up (even though more of this architectonic building may have occurred during the cataclysm of the Great Flood).” [1]

Psalm 104:7-9 describes God’s activity on the third day. “At your rebuke [the waters below] fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.”

Even though God called the separated waters and the dry ground “good” (Gen. 1:10), he wasn’t finished creating on the third day. Next, he called into being life upon the newly-surfaced land.

Also see Who Wrote the Book of Genesis? to learn more.

plants and trees on the earth
What does “according to its kind” mean? See below

When did God create vegetation on the land?

One result of separating the earth’s surface water, and causing dry land to appear, is that it created an environment for plants and trees to grow.

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” (Gen. 1:11). Readers can find the definitions and translations of three key words from the verse in the table below.

Hebrew WordMeaning and Translation
deshe (דֶּשֶׁא)Literally means grass, but sometimes refers to vegetation in general; in Gen. 1:11, the NIV, ESV, NLT, and NASB translate it as “vegetation,” and the KJV and NKJV, “grass”
eseb (עֶשֶׂב)Literally means herb or plant; in Gen. 1:11, the NIV, ESV, NLT, and NASB translate it as “plant,” and the KJV and NKJV, “herb”
ets (עֵץ)Literally means tree, but is sometimes rendered as wood, timber, or log; all major English translations render the word “trees” in Gen. 1:11

Vegetation according to each kind

God gave plants and trees the ability to reproduce. The plants bear seeds, and the trees bear fruit, “each according to its kind.” Genesis scholar Gordon Wenham writes, “The implication, though not stated, is clear: what God has distinguished and created distinct, man ought not to confuse (Lev. 19:19; Deut. 22:9-11). Order, not chaos, is the hallmark of God’s activity.” [1]

Just like light appeared at the command of God on day one and the expanse came into being when he told it to on day two, vegetation came to life on day three. “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” (Gen. 1:12).

It wasn’t the appearance of land alone that ended the third day of creation, but life upon it that did. Genesis 1:13 reads, “And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.”

Also see What is a Serpent in the Bible? to learn more.

green land blue sky
How did Day 3 look forward to Day 6? See below

The third day was preparation for the sixth day

The creation account exhibits a clear structure of preparation and completion. In this way, the third day uniquely corresponds to the sixth day. The land God created looked ahead to when people and many types of animals would live on it.

“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)

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 create on the first day?
What did God create on the second day?
What did God create on the third day? (see above)
What did God create on the fourth day?
What did God create on the fifth day?
What did God create on the sixth day?
What did God rest on the seventh day?

Also see How Long Did It Take Noah to Build the Ark? to learn more.

[1] Genesis 1-15 by Gordon Wenham. p. 21.
[2] Creation and Change by Douglas Kelley. p. 239.

Daniel Isaiah Joseph

Daniel's seminary degree is in Exegetical Theology. He was a pastor for 10 years. As a professor, he has taught Bible and theology courses at two Christian universities. Please see his About page for details.

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