Creation Days in Genesis: How John Calvin helped put my mind to rest

Our adult Sunday school class is beginning to wrap up our study on creation. This weekend, and possibly next, we’ll finally finish up before we move on to God’s providence. One of the last things we have to cover is the interpretation of Genesis 1 and whether or not the days described in it are literal. I’ve read multiple views within Christianity that espouse a non-literal interpretation and there are a few that actually make sense to me. At the beginning of this week a big part of me was honestly convinced that by Friday I would have my feet firmly planted in one of these non-literal views. In attempting to teach on the subject I was overwhelmed with information – overwhelmed to the point that I felt like I needed a “mind-diaper” just to keep all the information from getting away from me. It seemed like just as soon as I had a hold of something firm it would get away from me when confronted with a new opinion.

Here’s how the problem with my literal interpretation of Genesis crystalized.
 In Genesis 1:3 God creates light.

“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

That seems straight forward and easy to understand does it not (as easy as creating light out of nothing can be anyway)? Here’s the problem. God doesn’t create the sun until day 4!

Genesis 1:16,

“14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 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.”

Now, I had some additional problems with a literal view, such as, the presence of vegetation in day 3 before the sun is created, and the idea that Adam named all the animals, found no suitable helper, is lulled to sleep, has a rib removed, is presented a wife, and composes a poem to celebrate her, ALL in one 24 hour day. For the sake of space I won’t bother explaining why I think a literal interpretation is abundantly able to explain these things, but for some reason, the presence of light before the creation of the sun continued to make my mind trip over a literal interpretation.

I spent hours listening to sermons and seminary professors expound on their views. I read Grudem (who I actually found relatively unsatisfying) and my brand new copy of Old Testament Theology by Waltke. I consulted friends, elders and pastors and I poured over Genesis one again and again, finding no explanation that satisfied my curiosity, convinced that I would soon plummet deep into a figurative or literary (rather than literal) interpretation of Genesis 1.

But then, I thought, “Perhaps my old dead friend John Calvin would have an opinion.” In a mere paragraph, Calvin was able to expose the Scriptures in such a way that immediately put my mind to rest. One paragraph!  This is why I love the old dead guys.

He says in his commentary on Genesis,

“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.”

And there it is. God did this on purpose, in order to show us that we do not depend on the sun for light and therefore ascribe any worth to the sun in and of itself, nor to light in and of itself, but rather we owe God all the glory for supplying the sun with light. Should the sun dissolve tomorrow we would not be without a God that could and would give us light and heat.

There are two reason that I like this interpretation and why I think it is the best one.

1. It is an interpretation of Genesis 1 that is concerned primarily with God’s glory.

2. It is an interpretation that is most consistent with all aspects of the context of Genesis 1, namely, the vocabulary in the passage, the historical context, the culture to which it was written, and the material that follows it.

What I mean is this:
A literal interpretation of the creation days in Genesis 1 ascribes all glory to God as the sovereign creator of all things. Additionally, Calvin’s view of light takes into consideration Moses’ (the man who wrote Genesis) intention to show the desert wandering people of Israel that the Egyptian sun god is not where light comes from. Israel left Egypt with heavy pagan baggage and Moses is revealing the creation story in a way that refutes each and every pagan idea that the Israelites have about the nature of their world. Therefore, he tells the people that God created light and he created light before the sun so that Israel would be confronted with the fact that the sun should not be worshipped because we get light from it.

Thank you God for giving us expositors like John Calvin.
To God be all the glory!


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