Does Genesis 1 Contradict Itself?

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The first chapter of Genesis handles the first 6 days of creation. Day 4 is one that has received its fair share of commentary over the years. A cursory reading of the creation account in Genesis 1 has even led some to cry “contradiction!” when they parallel Day 1 (1:2-5) with Day 4 (1:14-19). I think it is a worthy dialogue to engage if you’re studying this text.

The perceived contradiction:

On Day 1 God says, “Let there be light” and there was light. It seems quite clear that on Day 1 “the lights were turned on” as it were. At the conclusion of Day 1 God also “separated light from darkness,” naming the light “Day” and the darkness “Night.”

On Day 4 God says, “Let there be light in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night.” Further, verse 16 says about Day 4, “And God made the two great lights- the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night- and the stars…”

The trouble for some readers is this: How was there light on day 1 if God didn’t create the sun, moon, or stars until day 4? Further, how could the author of this account (Moses) describe “evening and morning” within the first three days of creation, if God didn’t create the sun and moon, day and night, until the 4th day?

For those hankering for a contradiction in this account, it seems the parallel of Day 1 and Day 4 may be just that. How could God create the light on Day 1 when the text itself says that He created the source of light (as we know it) on Day 4? Did Moses make an oopsie in this text that Jews and Christians have been winking at for the last 3500 years? What’s going on here?

It is probably obvious that I don’t think the text actually contains a contradiction. Here are two theories that I find convincing in regard to the Day 1/Day 4 conundrum.

Theory #1:

John Sailhamer, in Genesis Unbound, asks this simple question: “Does the text actually say that the sun, moon, and stars were created on the fourth day?”[1]

The simple answer is “no.” Sailhamer holds that Genesis 1:1 reveals that God created the whole universe (including sun, moon, and stars) “in the beginning.” He then proposes that the rest of the chapter (1:2ff) is the account of God ordering that which He already made in the beginning as He prepares the land for humanity to dwell in.

Sailhamer explains:

What the writer wants to show in this narrative is not that on each day God “made” something, but that on each day God “said” something. The predominant view of God in this chapter is that He is a God who speaks. His word is powerful. As the psalmist who had read this chapter said, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Psalm 33:6). Thus, often when God speaks, He creates. But that is not always the case in this chapter…On this day God “makes a proclamation” about that which He has already created (the sun, moon, and stars)…God announced His purpose for the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day.[2]

Sailhamer goes on to say that he would translate verse 16 more clearly as “So God (and not anyone else) made the lights and put them in the sky.”[3]

To summarize: God created the sun, moon and stars “in the beginning” (Genesis 1:1), and then throughout the days detailed in Genesis 1:2ff God ordered all he had created with the express purpose of preparing the land for humanity to dwell in. This eliminates any perceived contradiction, because the sun, moon, and stars were not created on Day 4.

Theory #2:

Simply put: light isn’t dependent on sun, moon, and stars, because God is the source of light.

A number of other scholars have proposed theories similar to this, including Douglas Kelly in Creation and Change and Bruce Waltke in his commentary, Genesis.

To me, the best evidence for this claim is Revelation 21:23. As John reports on the New Jerusalem he says,

“And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”

Isaiah 60:19 carries a similar theme with it:

The sun shall be no more your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give you light; but the LORD will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.”

Waltke says:

“Since the sun is only later introduced as the immediate cause of light, the chronology of the text emphasizes that God is the ultimate source of light.[4]

Kelly says:

“We are simply not told what the source of light was before the sun was placed in the sky. All the text says is that God spoke and the light was there.”[5]


I see validity in either theory. I tend to favor Sailhamer because his entire viewpoint on the initial chapters of Genesis holds significant consistency. When reading the text in Hebrew and taking into account the historical and grammatical context of it all, the text doesn’t claim God “created” those pieces (sun, moon, stars) on day 4. It seems clear that he created them in Genesis 1:1 in the beginning, and then the literal week dictated in 1:2ff is when he appropriated them on the land which he was making inhabitable for humanity. I buy Sailhamer’s reading of Genesis 1-2, but for those that don’t; I think the other theory also stacks up.

[1] Sailhamer, p. 137, emphasis mine.

[2] Sailhamer, p. 142.

[3] Ibid, p. 143.

[4] Bruce Waltke, Genesis, p. 61. Waltke also postulates that this “dischronologization” is probably for the purpose of differentiating this creation account from the pagan religions of the time–which would worship the sun and stars because of the role they play in giving light on earth.

[5] Douglas Kelly, Creation and Change, p. 76.