Order of the Days of Creation

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth

Some assume the creation story described in the opening chapter of the Bible is a literal description how the universe unfolded. Efforts have been made to try to fit the order of the seven days of creation into our scientific world view. But trying to explain the order of creation as described in Genesis 1 stands at odds with modern understanding.

There are problems that are difficult to reconcile in a literal interpretation of the creation story. For example, day and night occur before the sun is created on the 4th day. The waters are created before the earth. The earth is created on the 3rd day before the stars or sun.  Plants are created on the 3rd day before the Sun is on the 4th.

Literalist defenders are left trying to explain various difficulties such as how plants could survive without the sun.

There are other ways to explain the ordering of the events of the creation story. Genesis was written in the pre-scientific era. The Hebrews and their neighbors used literary parallels in their writings. A look at parallels in the opening chapter of the Pentateuch can shed some light (pun intended) as to why the events were ordered as they were.

Akkadian and Ugaritic literature indicate seven consecutive periods were considered a perfect period of time to do an important work, with action lasting six days, reaching its conclusion/outcome on the 7th. In their traditions, 6 days of labor were divided into three pairs, 1&2, 3&4, 5&6 with completion occurring in the 7th period. [UC 13]

The Hebrews did this a bit differently in Genesis 1 with 1&4, 2&5, 3&6 periods being related with completion on the 7th day. Creations are also grouped into static relationships (days 1-3) and animated relationships (days 4-6).

Stationary Creation Animated, Moving Creations
1; Light 4; Luminaries (sun , moon & stars)
2; Sea and Heaven 5; Fish and Fowl
3; Earth (with its plants) 6; Land Creatures and Man


Note the conceptual relationship in the symmetric pairs (rows).  The 1st column lists the static phenomena or place, while it’s parallel (2nd column) occupies and moves through the 1st.[1] During the first three days, the stationary aspects of creation are made. During the 2nd three days, the creations occupy and move through the corresponding medium created earlier. [UC 17, 42]

There is no need to try to reconcile the order of the six periods of creation with a scientific understanding of creation of the universe. This literary parallel seems to provide a simpler explanation.

[1] Regarding light, the Hebrews did not understand that light moved as we do today. Light appeared to statically fill the air – and therefore fits in as a stationary creation. The sun, moon and stars, however, had movement and fit in the “animated” group.

UC: Cassuto, Umberto. A Commentary on the Book of Genesis. Jerusalem: Magnes, Hebrew University, 1961. Print.


Order of the Days of Creation — 22 Comments

  1. Actually, I personally think Genesis is underrated for how much it got right. In the early days one of the biggest reason to reject the big bang model was it sounded to much like Genesis:

    1. The universe becomes created.
    2. Then earths, the sun and stars.
    3. Humans are formed “from the dust” and the order follows a water animals, land animals, human animals trajectory.

    I realize many of the technical details are wrong, (And the story is thousands of years old so who knows the exact format of the original.) but the Genesis story qualitatively is remarkably similar to the big bang + evolution from dust to man scenario. (Way before Moses could have known *any* of this.)

    So, I personally think Genesis deserves more credit.

  2. Interesting observation. Notice that the J account in Genesis 2 doesn’t follow the order in Genesis 1 (P).

  3. Dave & Greg, I think it would be interesting to compare the order of the creation accounts between P (Gen 1), J (Gen 2), Book of Moses (which I suspect is the same as Genesis 1 & 2), Book of Abraham and the endowment.

    And going along with Joseph Smidt’s observations, which of these accounts most closely resembles the Big Bang / scientific view?

  4. Good post. I remember we used Cassuto in elementary school. Probably overkill for second and third grade, but still fun.

  5. @Clair,
    None of them.

    One is a scientific theory, the other mythology of assorted chronologies. That one of the chronologies more closely resembles scientific thought makes in no more plausible.

  6. Cassuto in in 2nd and 3rd grade? Wow.

    And Luis, yes, I agree, and this was the point of my post. The creation stories should not be confused with a scientific understanding of how the universe was created. The stories are metaphorical, symbolic, spiritual stories.

  7. Yeah, I still think it was a little too much. I didn’t pay attention to him that much, the pictures of Bedouins in our other book were more interesting.

  8. Or, we can just believe what Moses and Abraham taught in the books of Moses and Abraham and what Joseph F. Smith taught in “The Origin of Man” which is that the accounts given in Gensis 1, Moses 2, and Abraham 4 are accounts of the spiritual creation or the planning of the creation and the accounts given in Genesis 2, Moses 3, and Abraham 5 are accounts of the physical creation.

  9. DB,

    By coincidence, today is the 60th anniversary of Joseph Fielding Smith’s BYU speech “The Origin of Man” which emphasized Joseph Smith’s scriptural teachings on creation, declared that evolution is false, and called into question other aspects of science. The premise of this speech would later become part of his influential, book ‘Man: His Origin and Destiny.’

    The contradictory aspects of the two creation stories have generated a lot of thought and proposed solutions. New ways of looking at the creation stories have emerged through the tools of biblical criticism. And another creation story has emerged in modern times — that of a scientific understanding of the creation of the universe, earth, life and mankind.

    And, as you point out, Joseph Smith dictated scripture that expands the extant biblical text to provide an approach to harmonizing the two creation stories.

    How one reconciles these various approaches is not a simple matter IMO. Each has contradictions with aspects of the other approaches, making a solution less than simple.

  10. I’m not familiar with Joseph Fielding Smith’s BYU speech, “The Origin of Man”. I was referring to Joseph F. Smith’s 1909 article, “The Origin of Man”.

  11. Re: #10, other Church authorities strongly disagree that the Genesis or Moses accounts refer to spiritual creation. One can agree or disagree, but we shouldn’t take it as a given that the doctrine of spiritual creation solves this issue.

    JFieldingS- “NO REVEALED ACCOUNT OF SPIRIT CREATION. There is no account of the creation of man or other forms of life when they were created as spirits. There is just the simple statement that they were so created before the physical creation. The statements in Moses 3:5 and Genesis 2:5 are interpolations thrown into the account of the physical creation, explaining that all things were first created in the spirit existence in heaven before they were placed upon this earth.” From Doctrines of Salvation 1: 75

    BRM- “The Mosaic and the temple accounts set forth the temporal or physical creation, the actual organization of element or matter into tangible form. They are not accounts of the spirit creation.” Ensign, June 1982.

    Both of them said this in other places as well.

  12. LDS Anarchist, if I understand planet birthing theory correctly, the sun would exist before the earth.

    The order of the days of creation in Gen 1 are:

    1; Light
    2; Sea and Heaven
    3; Earth (with its plants)
    4; Luminaries (sun , moon & stars)
    5; Fish and Fowl
    6; Land Creatures and Man

    Can you explain your views on planet birthing and the order of the days of creation?

  13. The planet birthing has a two step process, one that occurs on the inside of the star or gas giant, and one that occurs when the planet is expelled. So, an earth could be initiated in “the womb” of a star or gas giant as an electrical discharge (“let there be light”) and the planet begins its formation (rotating) within that womb, just as humans and mammals do, then it is expelled (or birthed) from the womb and undergoes further development. Upon expulsion, new lights are now observable, since the environment is different (the planet is on the outside, not the inside). So, we now have the text talking of sun, moon, stars, which exist as objects in the outer environment.

    So, the apparent discrepancy (light-first day and sun, moon, stars-fourth day) is merely describing inner as opposed to outer, environments, and different luminary sources.

  14. “LDS Anarchist, if I understand planet birthing theory correctly, the sun would exist before the earth.”

    Sorry, I neglected to answer this. Under this theory, the Sun and stars are all gigantic electric arc-lamps plugged into a galactic power grid. Gas giants are also arc lamps (turned off or in a lower powered mode). Depending on the electrical circuit, a sun can be “turned on or off,” so a sun can be “created” (powered on) after Earth’s expulsion and a sun can also exist prior to Earth’s creation. But light can be produced without a sun, also. For example, Earth and all the planets produce light routinely through lightning, etc. So, “let there be light” need not be referring to the creation (or powering on) of a sun.

    Because the theory has all these stars and planets externally powered, through electrical currents, (which, coincidentally, is how the cosmological facsimile in Abraham was interpreted by Joseph, all the planets receiving their power externally through other planets or stars), you can end up with one Sun one day and an entirely different Sun another day (because of a change in the power grid). So, stuff like the ancients referring to Saturn as the “first Sun” and our current Sun as the second one, makes sense using this theory. It just means that in antiquity, the planetary arrangement was different and that Saturn was “powered” as our Sun. Then some catastrophe occurred and we ended up with what we now have in the heavens, a new Sun. Also, taking this view explains the prophecies of the “Sun going dark,” etc., meaning that at some point in the future the electrical power circuit of the solar system will change yet again and we’ll get yet another luminary source as our Sun. (All things will become new, etc.)

  15. Thanks for the explanation. You propose a natural explanation for days 1,3a & 4 (how to explain the earth and light before the sun, moon & stars). Difficulties with this theory still remain, such as how plants or seas could be created inside a burning star.

    I suggest a much simpler explanation by looking at it from a literary standpoint & Hebrew cosmology rather than scientific, IMO.

  16. “I suggest a much simpler explanation by looking at it from a literary standpoint & Hebrew cosmology rather than scientific, IMO.”

    Which is the best way to go about it.

  17. “Difficulties with this theory still remain, such as how plants or seas could be created inside a burning star.”

    It sounds impossible only if insulating plasma double layers, cold plasmas, etc., are not taken into account. Then the theory completely opens up and difficulties are fully resolved. But stick to whatever works for you.

  18. A literary/metaphorical understanding of Genesis is not some kind of new, liberal idea either: Augustine advocated for it, and he got the idea from Ambrose of Milan.

  19. The problem with Mankind is we constantly try to think in 4D terms.
    This is why the creation of the earth will never be fully understood in mortality.
    1- God exists in the highest Dimension where time is not present in the same way as it is for us.
    2 – The earth was created at a higher dimensional level and then literally FELL when death entered the world. That means Creation occurred also at a higher dimensional level then we currently experience.
    It seems all scientific and religious theories are based in over-simplified ideas without understanding of the true far more complex reality of the dimensional layers of the heavens, until mankind has more information on this topic there will always be issues understanding creation.
    Many things in the bible are explained by God so men can understand them from a 4D point of view, I am very convinced the Creation topic is one of these. Many things relating to the heavens are beyond our current comprehension EG the viel, or the fact there is no beginning or end but one eternal sequence or circle.