3. And God said. Moses now, for the first time, introduces God in the act of speaking, as if he had created the mass of heaven and earth without the Word. Yet John testifies that ‘without him nothing was made of the things which were made,’ (John 1:3.) And it is certain that the world had been begun by the same efficacy of the Word by which it was completed. God, however, did not put forth his Word until he proceeded to originate light; because in the act of distinguishing2 his wisdom begins to be conspicuous. Which thing alone is sufficient to confute the blasphemy of Servetus. This impure caviller asserts, that the first beginning of the Word was when God commanded the light to be; as if the cause, truly, were not prior to its effect. Since, however, by the Word of God things which were not came suddenly into being, we ought rather to infer the eternity of His essence. Wherefore the Apostles rightly prove the Deity of Christ from hence, that since he is the Word of God, all things have been created by him. Servetus imagines a new quality in God when he begins to speak. But far otherwise must we think concerning the Word of God, namely, that he is the Wisdom dwelling in God,4 and without which God could never be; the effect of which, however, became apparent when the light was created.
Let there be light. It was proper that the light, by means of which the world was to be adorned with such excellent beauty, should be first created; and this also was the commencement of the distinction, [among the creatures.] It did not, however, happen from inconsideration or by accident, that the light preceded the sun and the moon. To nothing are we more prone than to tie down the power of God to those instruments, the agency of which he employs. The sun and moon supply us with light: and, according to our notions, we so include this power to give light in them, that if they were taken away from the world, it would seem impossible for any light to remain. Therefore the Lord, by the very order of the creation, bears witness that he holds in his hand the light, which he is able to impart to us without the sun and moon. Further, it is certain, from the context, that the light was so created as to be interchanged with darkness. But it may be asked, whether light and darkness succeeded each other in turn through the whole circuit of the world; or whether the darkness occupied one half of the circle, while light shone in the other. There is, however, no doubt that the order of their succession was alternate, but whether it was everywhere day at the same time, and everywhere night also, I would rather leave undecided; nor is it very necessary to be known.
4. And God saw the light. Here God is introduced by Moses as surveying his work, that he might take pleasure in it. But he does it for our sake, to teach us that God has made nothing without a certain reason and design. And we ought not so to understand the words of Moses as if God did not know that his work was good, till it was finished. But the meaning of the passage is, that the work, such as we now see it, was approved by God. Therefore nothing remains for us, but to acquiesce in this judgment of God. And this admonition is very useful. For whereas man ought to apply all his senses to the admiring contemplation of the works of God, we see what license he really allows himself in detracting from them.
3 This first day of six days of divine activity produces the creation of light. This is quite natural, for the existence of light is the sine qua non for the creation of anything else. All creation takes place in the light.
These three verses contain the words of both God and the narrator. Actually there are only two narrated words of God on this first day: yehî ʾôr, “Let there be light.” Everything else (introduction of the deity, a description of the created object, a statement of evaluation, information on subsequent activities of God, a chronological note) is from the narrator. Yet it is the words of God, however brief, that are paramount. The narrator’s contributions function as something of an appendage. God is the soloist; the narrator is the accompanist.
Verse 3 also introduces the reader to the frequently used phrase of Gen. 1—and God said (vv. 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26). It is the Vulg. translation of v. 3, fiat lux, “Let there be light,” that has given birth to the phrase “creation by fiat.” The emphasis is on creation by speech as command.
All Creation stories, biblical and nonbiblical, describe creation in one of four ways: (1) through action of some deity or deities; (2) through conflict with antagonistic forces; (3) through birth and self-reproduction; (4) through speech. Obviously the second and third are not found in Gen. 1 and 2, but both chapters do reflect the use of the first and fourth.
Worth pursuing is the interpretation that claims that there is a basic distinction between the mode of creation in 1:1–2:3 and that of 2:4–25. The contrast is between creation by word and creation by action, God said versus God formed/planted/took a rib. (By the way, this difference is one of the criteria that source critics use to drive a wedge between these two chapters; they label 1:1–2:4a as “Priestly” and therefore late, and 2:4bff. as “Yahwistic” and therefore earlier, maybe 9th/8th century b.c.)
A closer examination of the two chapters shows that such a distinction is not maintained in the text itself. One observes that the only item in Gen. 1 that is created by fiat, strictly speaking, is light: “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Everything else is created, or emerges, in Gen. 1 by fiat plus some subsequent activity that is divinely instigated. Thus, there is no “ ‘let there be a vault,’ and there was a vault,” nor any “ ‘let there be lights/animals/man,’ and there were [was] lights/animals/man.” So, after the “Let there be” of day 2 (v. 6a) comes “And God made the vault.”
4 This verse logically follows v. 3, for x can be separated from y only on the assumption that both x and y are already in existence. separated means here not to pull apart, but to assign each part to its respective sphere and slot.
God’s work in Gen. 1 is often a work of separation. The verb is used five times in this chapter (vv. 4, 6, 7, 14, 18), once with light and darkness, twice with the celestial vault, and twice with the luminaries. A. Kapelrud has suggested that this verb appears as often as it does in Gen. 1—and nowhere else in Genesis—for a deliberate reason. Beginning with the idea that this story was composed for the sake of exiled Judeans who were in jeopardy of compromising their faith, Kapelrud makes the point that the proliferation of “separate” in Gen. 1 functions as a subtle exhortation to the exiles to separate themselves from every possibility of contamination with pagans.
This suggestion strikes us as more fanciful and imaginative than exegetical. If anything, these opening chapters of Genesis provide a contrast between a separation that is wholesome and a separation that is malignant. In creation there is separation toward order: light from darkness, waters above from waters below, day from night, woman from man. In sin and trespass there is a separation toward disorder: man and woman from God; man from woman; man from the soil; man from a garden.
The major difference between this work of separation and the other two in Gen. 1 is that here the pronouncement of God’s benedictional statement—God saw how beautiful the light was—precedes the separation. In vv. 6–8 and 14–19 this sentence of evaluation follows the separation. Thus it is the light itself that is beautiful (or good, Heb. ṭôḇ), not the creation per se of time into units of light and darkness.
Still, it is important, as was indicated above, that we place in proper perspective what happens on the first day in comparison with following days. God’s first creation is time (vv. 3–5). His second creation is space (vv. 6–10). Can it be without significance that this Creation story commences in the context of time and concludes (2:1–3) with a return to that category, a day of rest? A civilization whose concept of time is essentially cyclical will for obvious reasons not sanctify the category of time. Its exclusive obsession will be with the sanctification of space. The Genesis concept of the sanctification of time (compare the root qdš in Gen. 2:3) receives more prominence than does the concept of the sanctification of space; in fact, not until Exod. 3:5, which is incidentally the next occurrence of the root qdš (“sanctify”), does one encounter the concept of the sanctification of space—“for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.”
It will perhaps strike the reader of this story as unusual that its author affirms the existence of light (and a day for that matter) without the existence of the sun, which is still three “days” away. The creation of light anticipates the creation of sunlight. Eventually the task of separating the light from the darkness will be assigned to the heavenly luminaries (v. 18). It is unnecessary to explain such a claim as reflecting scientific ignorance. What the author states is that God caused the light to shine from a source other than the sun for the first three “days.”
3. God said—This phrase, which occurs so repeatedly in the account means: willed, decreed, appointed; and the determining will of God was followed in every instance by an immediate result. Whether the sun was created at the same time with, or long before, the earth, the dense accumulation of fogs and vapors which enveloped the chaos had covered the globe with a settled gloom. But by the command of God, light was rendered visible; the thick murky clouds were dispersed, broken, or rarefied, and light diffused over the expanse of waters. The effect is described in the name “day,” which in Hebrew signifies “warmth,” “heat”; while the name “night” signifies a “rolling up,” as night wraps all things in a shady mantle.
4. divided the light from darkness—refers to the alternation or succession of the one to the other, produced by the daily revolution of the earth round its axis.
Ver. 3.—Day one. And God said. This phrase, which is ten times repeated in the narrative of the six days’ work, is commonly regarded as an instance of anthropomorphism, a peculiarity of revelation, and of this chapter in particular, at which rationalism affects to be offended. But any other mode of representing the Deity would have failed to convey to finite minds an intelligent idea of his nature. “Touching the Almighty, who can find him out?” The most that God himself could do in communicating to his creature man a conception of his ineffable and unapproachable Godhead was to supply him with an anthropomorphic image of himself—“the Word made flesh.” Deeper insight, however, into this sublime statement discerns that “anthropomorphism” does not exhaust its significance. God spoke; but to whom? “This was an omnipotent word,” says Luther, “spoken in the Divine essence. No one heard this word uttered but God himself.… The Father spoke within.” It is observable too that every time the word goes forth from Elohim it is followed by instantaneous movement in the chaos, as if the word itself were inherently creative. Remembering, then, that the doctrine of a personal Logos was not unknown to the later theology of the Old Testament (cf. Ps. 33:6; 148:5), and is clearly revealed in the New (John 1:1; Heb. 11:3), it is difficult to resist the inference that here we have its roots, and that a correct exegesis should find in the creative word of Elohim an adumbration of the Devar Jehovah of the Hebrew Psalter, the Logos of John’s Gospel, and the Rema Theou of the writer to the Hebrews. Let there be light: and there was light. The sublimity of these words, which arrested the attention of the heathen Longinus (‘De Sublimitate,’ ix.), and which Milton (‘Paradise Lost,’ vii.) and Du Bartas, an elder poet (vid. Kitto in loco), have tried to reproduce, is in great measure lost in our English version. Γενηθήτω φῶς καὶ ἐγένετω φῶς (LXX.) and sit lux et fuit lux (Vulg.) are superior translations of יְהִי־אור וַיְהִי־אור which might be rendered, “Light be, and light was.” With reference to their import, the least satisfactory explanation, notwithstanding the eminent names that have lent it their support (Bush, Kitto, Murphy, Wordsworth), is that which understands the sun to have been created a perfectly finished luminous body from the first, though hitherto its light had been intercepted by the earth’s vapours, which were now dispersed by Divine command. But the language of Elohim is too exalted to be applied to so familiar a phenomenon as the dissipation of terrestrial mists, and, besides, expressly negatives the hypothesis in question by affirming that the light was summoned into being, and not simply into appearance. The historian, too, explicitly asserts that the light was, i. e. began to be, and not merely to be visible. A modification of this view, viz., that the sun and moon were now created, but did not become visible until the fourth day (Inglis), must likewise be rejected, as according neither with ver. 1, which says that the heavenly bodies were created in the beginning, nor with vers. 16, 17, which declare that not until the fourth day were they constituted sources of light for the earth. The exigencies of the text, as well as the ascertained facts of physical science, require the first day’s work to be the original production of light throughout the universe, and in particular throughout our planetary system (Kalisch, Lange, Delitzsch, Dawson). Calvin, though much more deeply concerned about the refutation of Servetus, who maintained that the Word only began to be with the creation of light, was able to perceive that this light was independent of the sun and moon; in this agreeing with Augustine, who, however, conjectured it to be not material, but spiritual in its nature (‘De Genesi ad Literam,’ lib. i. c. 3). Nor does it in the slightest conflict with ver. 1 to suppose that light was now for the first time produced, light being a mode or condition of matter, and not a distinct element or substance, as was at one time believed. Luminosity is simply the result of incandescence, although what specific change is effected on the constitutions or adjustments of the molecules of a body by the process of heating which renders it luminous science is unable to explain. Any solid body can be rendered incandescent by being heated up to between 700° and 800° Fahrenheit. Any liquid that can absorb as great a quantity of heat likewise emits light. Gases do not appear to be capable of incandescence, though the phenomena attending their sudden condensation discover light-producing properties in their composition. As to how the light of incandescent bodies is transmitted to the eye, the Pythagorean and Newtonian theory of small, impalpable particles of luminous matter being constantly emitted from their surfaces towards the eye may be said to have been successfully displaced by that of Descartes, Huygens, and Euler, which accounts for the phenomena of vision by the existence throughout space, and in the interstitial spaces of bodies, of an infinitely attenuated ether, which is thrown into undulations by luminous bodies precisely as the atmosphere is made to vibrate by bodies which are sonorous. But whichever theory be adopted to solve the mystery of its transmission, that of emanation or of undulation, it is impossible to resist the conclusion that the creation of light, which formed the opus operatum of the first day, was in reality the evolution from the dark-robed, seething mass of our condensing planet (and probably from the other bodies in our solar system) of that luminous matter which supplies the light. It seems unnecessary to add that it could not have been either the subterranean fire which produced the igneous rocks of geology (Tayler) or caloric (Clarke); though, as aor is used in Scripture for heat (Isa. 44:16), fire (Isa. 31:9; Ezek. 5:2), the sun (Job 31:26), lightning (Job 37:3), and there is every reason to believe that light, heat, and electricity are only modifications of the same force, we may be warranted in embracing all the three in its significance.
Ver. 4.—And God saw the light, that it was good. The anthropomorphism of this verse is suggestive, as teaching that from the first the absolute and all-sufficient Elohim was an intelligent Spectator of the operation of his own laws and forces, and was profoundly interested in the results which they achieved—an amount and degree of interference with the vast machine of nature which would satisfy any rational theist of today. God saw, i. e. examined and judged the newly-finished product, investigated its nature and its properties, contemplated its uses, admired its excellences, noted its correspondence with his own Divine idea; and in all these respects he pronounced it good. Afterwards it is the particular arrangement effected, or condition induced, by the creative word that evokes the Divine commendation; here it is the creature itself—“perhaps as the one object in nature which forms the fittest representation of the Creator himself, who is Light, and in whom is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), and of the true Light, which lighteth every man (John 1:9)” (Macdonald). And God divided between the light and the darkness. The celestial bodies not having been constituted “light-holders” for the earth until the fourth day forbids the supposition that the luminous matter, on being eliminated from the chaotic mass, was forthwith transported towards and concentrated in the sun. The sun itself, it is now well known, is “a solid mass of highly igneous matter engirt by a bed of dense clouds, on the top of which there lies, encircling all, a floating phosphorescent or luminous atmosphere, the lower part of it splendid, but the upper of lustre altogether dazzling, from which streams the flood of light that enlivens all surrounding spheres” (Nichol’s ‘Cyclopedia,’ art. Sun). “If, therefore, with Laplace, we may assume that the physical history of the sun was the archetype of that of the various planetary bodies that compose our system, we must think of them also, in the process of condensation, developing luminous atmospheres, which would continue encircling them, and in fact making them suns, until, through their further condensation, those phosphorescent bands were broken up, and, becoming disengaged from their parent globes, were attracted towards, and subsequently centralised in, the photosphere of the sun. So far as our earth is concerned, that happened on the fourth day. On the first day the light would either sphere it in a radiant cloud, or exist apart from it, like a sun, though always in the plane of its orbit” (Delitzsch). If the former, then manifestly, though revolving on its axis, the earth would not experience the vicissitude of day and night, which some conjecture was not at this time established; if the latter, then the same succession of light and darkness would be begun as was afterwards rendered permanent by the fourth day’s work. The chief reasons for the latter alternative are the supposed necessity of understanding the term day as a period of twenty-four hours, and the apparent impossibility of explaining how the light could be divided from the darkness otherwise than by the diurnal revolution of the earth. The Hiphil of בָּדַל, however, means to disjoin what was previously mixed, and may simply refer to the separation of the luminous particles from the opaque mass. By that very act the light was divided from the darkness. It was henceforth to be no more commingled. “The light denotes all that is simply illuminating in its efficacy, all the luminous element; the darkness denotes all that is untransparent, dark, shadow-casting; both together denote the polarity of the created world as it exists between the light-formations and the night-formations—the constitution of the day and night” (Lange).
 Calvin, J., & King, J. (2010). Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis (Vol. 1, pp. 74–77). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.
 Hamilton, V. P. (1990). The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17 (pp. 119–121). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
 Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Vol. 1, p. 17). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
 Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Genesis (pp. 9–11). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.