The Doctrine of Creation (part 3)September 15, 2008 Time: 00:48:25
The bulk of this podcast (up to 34:26) is a discussion on a controversial presentation regarding the Star of Bethlehem. The Doctrine of Creation series continues after this point. "Let there be..."
The last thing I wanted to say something about was the presentation that is coming up on Wednesday and Thursday on the star of Bethlehem. I went to this presentation last year and found it very provocative. I would like to share a few remarks about it so that if you do attend this year you can assess what is said with greater understanding because the presenter’s views are actually controversial but he tends to present them as though they were the whole story, which they are not. There is another side to the story that I think you need to be aware of as you listen to the presentation.
Basically what Rick Larson is doing in the presentation is popularizing a theory by a scholar named E. L. Martin with regard to the date of Christ’s birth. What Martin argued is that certain astronomical data enable us to date the birth of Christ. Let’s let this timeline represent AD on one side of the line and BC on the left side of the line. Let’s mark it off in terms of years – 1 BC, 2 BC, 3 BC, 4 BC. This is a little bit complicated but bear with me and I will try to make this as simple as possible.
What Martin argues is that the star of Bethlehem was a coincidence of two planets in August of the year 3 BC, in particular he thinks it is the coincidence of Venus and Jupiter in the year 3 BC in about August. We could date, say, the birth of Christ according to this theory right about here.
The view that Larson presents is somewhat different than Martin’s. He thinks that the birth of Christ occurred in September of 3 BC not during the coincidence of Venus and Jupiter but rather the coincidence of Jupiter with the star Regulus. If we imagine this star Regulus and Jupiter is moving as a planet it comes down and it coincides with the star Regulus in about August or September of 3 BC. Then, as a planet, it reverses its motion and comes back and re-coincides with it again and then it reverses its motion and passes back for a third coincidence. When it coincides with this star it makes an extra bright star in the heavens which Larson identifies with the star that was seen in the East by the wise men. So they begin their journey toward Jerusalem in search of the Jewish Messiah. They arrive there about fifteen months later in December of 2 BC. That is the theory. What they are following there is Jupiter. As Jupiter moves through the sky around December 25th or so of 2 BC Jupiter stops and then reverses course because the planets have this sort of retrograde motion. He identifies this stopping here as being the halting of the star over Bethlehem. It is the stopping of the planet Jupiter over Bethlehem at that point.
The theory is very attractive because it would provide a natural astronomical explanation for the star of Bethlehem. The star they see in the East is the triple coincidence of Jupiter and Regulus, then they follow the planet Jupiter toward Jerusalem until it finally stops. Then it reverses and that stopping is the star stopping at Bethlehem.
Unfortunately, however, for the theory it requires a date for the birth of Christ which is rejected by the majority of New Testament historians today. That is the problematic portion of the theory that Rick Larson doesn’t explain. How is this the case? The Gospels agree that Jesus of Nazareth was born during the reign of Herod the Great. In Matthew 2:1 and Luke 1:5 Jesus’ birth is described as occurring while Herod was the king in Jerusalem. You will remember shortly after Herod’s death is when Joseph and Mary come with the child back to Nazareth because he had been warned in a dream to flee. It is not until Herod dies that they come back to Nazareth. According to the Gospels, Jesus is born during the reign and lifetime of Herod the Great. So the question is: when did Herod die? According to this theory that Martin and now Larson lay out Herod must have died sometime after this. Sometime during 1 BC is the death of Herod. But the majority of historians don’t think that Herod died in 1 BC. The majority of historians think that Herod died during the year 4 BC. So Jesus must have been born prior to 4 BC, not at the time this coincidence of Regulus and Jupiter appeared or when Jupiter stopped over Bethlehem and the Magi came. So the real question is: when did Herod die? What is the evidence for the time of Herod’s death. Did he die in 1 BC or did Herod die in 4 BC?
There are two primary sorts of evidence supporting the death of Herod in 4 BC. First is literary evidence, and the second is what is called numismatic evidence – the study of ancient coins. Let me say a word about the literary evidence first.
According to the literary evidence that we have from Josephus, the Jewish historian, Herod came to the throne, was appointed king over Judea, when Polio and Calvinus were proconsuls appointed by Rome. This was about 40 BC. So about 40 BC Herod was appointed king. Josephus says that he then reigned 37 years until his death. That would put his death already around 3 BC if Josephus is right. He was appointed in 40 BC by Rome to be king of Judea. He reigned 37 years, and then died. That would be about 3 BC.
Josephus also says that there was a lunar eclipse just prior to Herod’s death. Interestingly enough, astronomical phenomena also enter into this story. There was a lunar eclipse just before he died. This is in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, chapter 17, section 167, if you want to look it up. If there was a lunar eclipse prior to the death of Herod, when did this occur? There was a lunar eclipse that occurred on the evening of March 12 to 13 in the year 4 BC. March 12 and 13 – that night – there was a lunar eclipse in 4 BC. So that would suggest that Herod died sometime in the spring of 4 BC just after this lunar eclipse. Therefore, Jesus had to have been born prior to that – prior to the death of Herod in 4 BC. That is the literary evidence from Josephus.
What about the numismatic evidence – the evidence from ancient coins? Archaeologists have found coins from Herod’s reign. His first coin is dated “Year 3.” That was the date that Herod’s first coin carries - “Year 3” of his reign. The coin probably comes just after his capture of Jerusalem in 37 BC. He was appointed king in 40 BC, three years later in 37 BC he took Jerusalem. He conquered it. At that time he minted his coin proclaiming his kingship and he dates it “Year 3.” It is the third year of his reign. Again, that would suggest that he began to reign three years earlier in 40 BC. If Josephus is right, that would put his death again around 3 BC. So the evidence again from these coins suggest that Herod died in 4 BC and Jesus therefore had to be born before that.
The difficulty with Martin and Larson’s view is that it just gets the dates wrong. It gets the birth of Jesus at a wrong date. It is very pleasing to have these astronomical phenomena occurring in these years, but it doesn’t line up with the historical evidence with respect to Herod’s death. That is why the majority of historians don’t accept this theory that is being presented.
I want to emphasize all of this is as uncertain as the evidence for ancient history is. All of this literary and numismatic evidence is susceptible to interpretation. So I think that Martin and Larson’s view is certainly a defensible view. Maybe Herod did die in 1 BC. Maybe we misinterpreted the evidence. But I am just saying that it is not the full story that you get in this presentation. You need to be aware of the evidence on the other side. In fact, this is a position that is a minority point of view that is rejected by most scholars.
I think some of what Larson does in the presentation is really just fanciful exegesis of New Testament passages. For example, he has a great deal to say about Revelation 12, a vision that John has. Let’s look at Revelation 12. Here John is describing one of his visions that he has. In verse 1 he says,
And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars; she was with child and she cried out in her pangs of birth, in anguish for delivery. And another portent appeared in heaven; behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems upon his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven, and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, that he might devour her child when she brought it forth; she brought forth a male child, one who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was caught up to God and to his throne, and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which to be nourished for one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
This is a sort of symbolic vision that John is describing here. Although the woman isn’t named, it is not implausible to think that this represents Mary and that the child that is born from her would therefore be the Jewish Messiah, Jesus – the one who is to rule the nations with a rod of iron as it says in verse 5. But what Larson does is he interprets this not as a sort of symbolic vision that John is seeing, but as a description of constellations in the sky. He tries to show that at the time of Jesus’ birth when Jupiter is stopping over Bethlehem it stops in the constellation Virgo which is the constellation of the virgin, and that Virgo at that time of the year during the day would have the sun appear right behind it. So that is what it means when it says “the woman is clothed with the sun.” The new moon would come up under the constellation Virgo, and that is what it means when it says it is “under her feet.” I don’t know what he does with the crown of twelve stars. I don’t think he has an interpretation for that, or for the dragon, or for the third of the stars falling from heaven. In other words, it is a very selective kind of exegesis. But I think what we can say here is there is just no reason to think that John in Revelation 12 is talking about constellations or zodiacs or things of that sort. He is talking about this image that he has of perhaps Mary, perhaps the Messiah, and his battle with Satan. But there is no reason to think that what we are describing here are constellations. Particularly when you think about it, the constellation Virgo would only appear at night. You couldn’t see it during the day when the sun was there. So what does it mean to say that she was clothed with the sun. During the daytime when the sun is visible you can’t see it. A new moon, which he says would rise under the Virgo constellation, is invisible anyway. You can’t see the new moon because it is dark. So I think this is just a very fanciful use of Scripture where he is reading all sorts of things in between the lines.
Let me just quote from John Meier in his book on the historical Jesus. Meier is one of the most prominent historical Jesus scholars writing today. In his footnote on page 414 this is what he says,
The attempts by a few historians to prove that Herod the Great died in some other year [than 4 BC] have not met with general acceptance. For example, W. E. Filmer ("The Chronology of the Reign of Herod the Great," JTS 17  283-98) uses contorted arguments in an attempt to establish that Herod died instead in 1 B.C. As Timothy D. Barnes points out very well ("The Date of Herod's Death", JTS 19  204-9), Filmer's thesis collides with two major pieces of evidence: (1) Herod's successors all reckoned their reigns as beginning in 5-4 B.C. [So the kings that came after Herod all said they began to reign as his successor in the year 5-4 BC.] (2) The synchronisms with events datable in the wider context of the history of the Roman Empire - synchronisms made possible by Josephus' narrative of the circumstances attending Herod's death - make 1 B.C. almost impossible to sustain. . . .
The question of Herod's death is taken up once more in a number of essays in the Chronos, Kairos, Christos volume edited by Verdaman and Yamauchi. Ernest L. Martin ("The Nativity and Herod's Death," 85-92) revives the theory that Herod died in 1 B.C., with Jesus' birth placed in 3 or 2 B.C. This does not receive support from the other contributors to the volume who address the same issue.
Those are other evangelical theologians. If you are interested in reading more about this I commend that volume to you – Chronos, Kairos, Christos which has several essays on the birth of Jesus and the time of it.
I am not saying don’t go to the presentation. Go to it and listen to it with an open mind, but be aware of these other pieces of evidence that are relevant to it.
One of the things I think that bothered me particularly about the presentation as I heard it was not what he had to say about the birth of Jesus; it was what he says about the death of Jesus. There is a kind of bait-and-switch in the show that Larson gives where he says, The real reason that I brought you in here is not to talk about the star of Bethlehem. It is to talk about the date of the crucifixion. What he again does is attempt to present astronomical evidence to show that Jesus was crucified in the year AD 33. The basis for this partly is because of a lunar eclipse that occurred in the year AD 33. He interprets this lunar eclipse in terms of Peter’s sermon in the book of Acts. If we could turn to that together – Acts 2 at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit falls upon the disciples and they begin to speak in other tongues. Acts 2:15-23 he says,
For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days
I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heaven above
and signs on the earth beneath,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned into darkness
and the moon into blood,
before the day of the Lord comes,
the great and manifest day.
And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.
What Larson says is, Look what Peter says about these signs and wonders. These were signs and wonders as you yourselves know. Everybody in Jerusalem knew about these signs and wonders. What were they that everyone knew about? It had to be these astronomical signs in the heavens like this lunar eclipse. He says when the moon is in lunar eclipse, as it would rise on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion would look reddish because it is eclipsed. That is what it means when it says “the moon shall be turned to blood” in this prophesy. He imagines in a very descriptive way the terror of these Roman guards as they see this blood moon rising on the evening of Jesus’ crucifixion.
It seems to me that this, again, is just fanciful exegesis of this passage. Peter, when he says that “you yourselves know about these signs and wonders,” he says because these are signs and wonders which God did through him in your midsts. He is talking about the miracles of Jesus. Those are the signs and wonders he is talking about. Not things in the heavens. He is saying Jesus was attested by his great miracles that you yourselves saw and experienced. These are the signs and wonders which God did through him in your midsts.
As for the apocalyptic imagery that is in the prophesy of Joel, this is typical Jewish apocalyptic writing where you use all sorts of dramatic symbolism to describe events that are of great earth-shattering importance. He says they are not fulfilled on the day of the crucifixion, they are fulfilled on the day of Pentecost. He says this is to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Joel. Then he quotes the passage. It is interesting when you look at the Gospels, there is nothing in the Gospels about a lunar eclipse occurring on the night of Jesus’ crucifixion. There is no story of Roman guards being terrified by seeing a lunar eclipse or a red moon. The only thing that the Gospels talk about is the darkness at noon. That is what they were impressed with – the sun was darkened during the time of the crucifixion. But there is nothing in the Gospels about a lunar eclipse that evening.
So I think this is just reading things into the text that aren’t there. In fact, once again, this leads Larson to a date of Jesus’ crucifixion in AD 33 when in fact I think most scholars would say that probably AD 30 is a more likely date for the crucifixion of Jesus. The problem, if you date the crucifixion in AD 33, is that by pushing it this direction you begin to squeeze the rest of the chronology of the book of Acts and the New Testament. Because Paul was converted, he says, on the Damascus Road about three years after the death of Jesus. Then three years after that he went to Jerusalem. If you date it in AD 30 (the crucifixion) that would place Paul’s conversion about AD 36. Then you can fit the rest of Paul’s chronology into that efficiently. But if you date the crucifixion at AD 33 that is going to push back Paul’s conversion to somewhere like AD 39 or so. Then that is going to mess up the rest of the chronology of the book of Acts, the life of Paul, and his various visits to Jerusalem.
Again, it is not an open-and-shut case. There is uncertainty on all of these things. I would say that either AD 30 or AD 33 are possible dates for the crucifixion of Jesus, but the evidence of Acts 2 is not going to decide the issue. I think that is just bad exegesis. You need to be aware of these facts as you listen to the presentation so that you can listen critically and with understanding to the evidence. Then you can make up your mind.
Dr. Craig: Yeah, thank you for that. I thought it was interesting that the bulletin announcement for this says, “Was the star of Bethlehem a legendary myth or was it a miracle?” In Larson’s view, it wasn’t either one. It was just a purely natural phenomenon. In fact, this is really, oddly enough, kind of a piece of those who want to explain away the miracles in the Bible by providing naturalistic explanations for them. It is not a miraculous sort of thing – it is just nature. These Magi saw this thing occur and so they went to Jerusalem looking for the King of the Jews. I don’t know whether it was natural and able to be explained. As I say, the theory is very attractive. I love the stuff about Jupiter and the retrograde motion and all of that. It really appeals to me. I like it! But you’ve got this other evidence with the death of Herod that gets in the way. If it isn’t something that you can explain naturalistically then I think we’ll just have to say it was a supernatural phenomenon that was caused by God. It was a miracle like so many other miracles in the Gospels and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about that. We don’t try to explain away the other miracles of Jesus – how he turned water into wine or rose from the dead by giving naturalistic explanations. I am not an expert on this, but I’ve done just enough reading to realize that the experts are not behind this view (most of them), and that there is another side of the story that you need to be aware of.
Dr. Craig: It does make it sound in the story that Matthew tells that the star or whatever it was actually stopped over the place where Jesus lay, like you see on Christmas cards. Yeah, you are right, Jupiter can indicate the direction to follow but it wouldn’t indicate where it was to be found.
Dr. Craig: Right. His point was that they didn’t go straight to Bethlehem. They went to Jerusalem first, and then asked around, “Where is the Messiah to be born.” That would fit in nicely with the other theory.
Dr. Craig: As you noticed, on all of these scenarios, Jesus is born before “BC.” That is because the Gregorian calendar which was adopted around 1582 or something like that recalculated the years and it was intended to be the birth of Christ in 1 BC or 1 AD (there isn’t any year 0 unfortunately, so that makes it even more confusing). It was because of the switch from one calendar to a Gregorian calendar that things got messed up, so Jesus isn’t born exactly at 1 AD.
Dr. Craig: Yeah, it was the best they could do. If you are interested in reading some more about this besides the book that Meier referred to, you might want to look at the InterVarsity dictionary called Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels. That has a very nice article on the birth of Jesus in there that discusses these things.
Dr. Craig: I think the lunar eclipse is in AD 33. That is why Larson likes to date the death of Christ in AD 33. But that would be much more persuasive if the Gospels referred to a lunar eclipse, which they don’t. This is all based on this thing in Acts 2 about the moon being turned to blood and so forth.
Dr. Craig: Yes. He makes an allusion to this that some new manuscript of Josephus has been discovered that will alter this. Unfortunately he doesn’t go into it any further in the presentation. I am intrigued by this because Meier’s book has been written since that supposed discovery. It may just be one manuscript of Josephus. We are not dependent upon just one manuscript of Josephus for his writings. So I would just like to hear more about that. You are quite right. He does claim that the literary evidence has been affected by this discovery with respect to the text of Josephus, but he doesn’t give any details about that and I’d like to hear more.
Dr. Craig: Yes. Remember as I said he does take cognizance of that. He says that the first thing they saw was the coincidence of Regulus and Jupiter. Then they begin to follow Jupiter as it moves, and they arrive fifteen months later in Jerusalem. So fifteen months after Jesus’ birth they arrive in 2 BC. So, right, he does take cognizance of that. As I say, if it weren’t for this evidence about Herod’s death, this theory would be really great. It really would fit beautifully with the naturalistic explanation of this.
Dr. Craig: Let’s be clear here that a solar eclipse is not the same as a lunar eclipse. If there was a solar eclipse then there cannot have been a lunar eclipse at the same time because a solar eclipse is when the moon comes between the Earth and the sun, and a lunar eclipse when the Earth comes between the sun and the moon and casts its shadow on the moon. So obviously they can’t occur on the same day. I asked Larson about this when he was here. He says he thinks there was some kind of volcanic activity, earthquake, and this produced clouds of dust that obscured the sun during the day. That is why you have the darkness at noon. So he doesn’t attribute to it a solar eclipse. He wants to have a lunar eclipse. It is interesting though. If you date the crucifixion in AD 30 then you do have a solar eclipse that occurs roughly around that time. This could be what is referred to by, for example, Julius Africanas, refers to the darkness as well as some other early church fathers. It is all extremely fascinating and I just want you to be aware of the full debate going on.
Dr. Craig: As I said, there are a few church fathers who refer to this darkness at noon, like Julius Africanus. Then there is an early Roman historian named Thallus. This is especially interesting, I think. Thallus was a Roman historian whose work is now lost. He wrote a Roman history sometime around AD 51. It is quoted, I believe, by Eusebius or maybe it is quoted by Julius Africanus. One of the church fathers quotes Thallus about the darkness at noon. What is interesting about that is this is a secular source of a Roman historian, and that it is written prior to the typical dating of the Gospels. So it can’t be that Thallus is simply reporting what he read in the Gospels, because the Gospels are written later than AD 51. This would show you have independent testimony to the darkness about the time of the crucifixion.
Dr. Craig: I don’t remember, so I can’t address that.
With that in mind, let’s go to our lesson for today, which is on creation. We’ve been talking about Genesis 1, so get out your Bibles and let’s have a word of prayer and we’ll look at Genesis.
[Opens lecture with prayer]
We have been talking about the relationship between verses 1 and 2 of Genesis 1. I suggested that in verse 1 God creates the universe and then in verse 2 the focus dramatically narrows to describe how God then transforms the Earth to become a habitable place for humanity.
Someone might say, No, this doesn’t work because look at verse 14 of Genesis 1. There it does seem to describe the creation of the heavenly bodies. Verse 14,
And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.
Evidently, it might be said, it is not simply describing the creation of a habitable Earth or biosphere for humanity; there is a kind of cosmic creation going on here. Is that clear, however? When I talked to my Old Testament colleague John Sailhammer about this, he pointed out to me that the Hebrew expression in verse 14 “let there be” is actually different from the other Hebrew expressions where God says “let the waters under the sea be gathered,” “let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures,” “let the Earth bring forth creatures.” He says the Hebrew in verse 14 actually says, “Let the lights in the firmament be for the separating of day and night and for the marking of seasons and years,” and so forth. In other words, unlike the earlier expression and later expressions of “let there be” what is stipulated in verse 14 is not the creation of these things but rather the purpose that they will serve. Let the lights in the firmament be for the marking of seasons and days and years. I said to him, “Are you absolutely certain about this as you read the Hebrew?” He said, Absolutely. It is a different expression that indicates the purpose of these things. That would indicate that the lights and the heavenly bodies already exist and verse 14 simply specifies their purpose.
Somebody might say that that can’t be right because look at verse 16-18. It says,
And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good.
That would surely indicate that this is the day on which God made the sun and the moon and so forth. But this objection ignores a very interesting structure of Genesis 1 that you might miss at a surface reading. Many scholars have noticed that in Genesis 1 you seem to have a twin sort of creation scenario. One is a creation by God’s word in which God says, “let there be.” Then there is a second sort of creation by God’s act where it says, “and God made” or “God did” something. For example, we have creation by his word in verses 3, 6, 9, and 11:
Verse 3: “And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”
Verse 6: “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’”
Verse 9: “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so.”
Verse 11: “And God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.’ And it was so.”
There you have creation by God’s word. God says and these things happen.
The other strand of creation is by God’s deed or action. This you find, for example, in verses 7, 12, 16, 21, and so forth.
Verse 7: “And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so.”
Verse 12: “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.”
Verse 16: “And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also.”
Verse 21: “So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.”
So you have this kind of duplex structure in Genesis 1 of creation by the word and creation by God’s action. How do you explain this? Some scholars have said maybe what the author of Genesis has done here is he has combined two different creation accounts and sort of interbraided them like a woman braiding her hair where she braids two strands together. So you get this structure “God said” and then “God did.” Another way to look at this that might preserve, I think, the coherence and unity of the chapter better would be to look at this as God’s creation by his word and then the author’s commentary on it. So it is not word and action but rather it is creation and commentary or report. For example, verse 12 says “the earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds.” It doesn’t actually describe something God did. It says the Earth did this on its own. Nor is verse 12 meant to follow chronologically verse 11 because in verse 11 God says, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” “And it was so.” At the end of verse 11, it was so. It happened. Then the commentary comes about the Earth bringing forth the vegetation. So it may not be meant to follow chronologically upon verse 11. Rather, it is simply the author’s parenthetical report on what happens in verse 11.
Similarly, in verse 15 with respect to the creation of the heavenly bodies, it says “And it was so.” God says, “Let the lights and the heavens be for separating day and night marking seasons. And it was so.” Then comes the author’s parenthetical comment on this – God is the one who made the great light to rule the day and the smaller light to rule the night. Remember that in Canaanite myths and Israel’s pagan neighbor’s myths, the sun and the moon were regarded as astral deities or gods. What the author does here is demythologize these astronomical bodies. He says, They are not gods. God made them! They are just big lights. One is a big light. One is a little light. God made them. So it is not necessarily meant to be a chronological account in which verse 16 follows upon 14 and 15, but rather could be this creation by the word and then commentary by the author.
So if we understand it that way, that would mean that what happened on day 4 is not the creation of the sun and the moon and so forth. That would make sense of the fact that there is already light and night and day prior to this, right? You’ve already got in day 1 and day 2 and day 3 night and day. So it would make sense that the sun and the moon already existed. What he is saying in verse 14 is simply the purpose for which these heavenly bodies exist, this is what they will serve to do – they will mark the seasons and so forth. And God made them. He is the Creator. They are not gods.
I think that would resolve the tension and would make sense out of chapter 1.
We would understand then chapter 1 to say that in the beginning God created the universe. Then you have a dramatic shift of focus to the Earth. The planet Earth is an uninhabitable waste at that time – a sort of dark primordial ocean. Then what is described in the ensuing days is God’s transformation of this Earth into a biosphere suitable for human existence.
In conclusion on this part then, I don’t think we have any grounds for denying the traditional interpretation of Genesis 1:1 as teaching creation out of nothing. I think it makes good sense to say in verse 1 we have the absolute creation of the universe, the beginning of the universe, and then the description of how God turns the Earth into a biosphere for human existence. That would mean that the traditional understanding of creatio ex nihilo in verse 1 would be the correct understanding of this passage.
Dr. Craig: You could say that, but, again, go back to the point I made before. We must not interpret the book of Genesis in light of the book of Revelation. We need to let the book of Genesis interpret itself. We want to know what the author of Genesis mean when he wrote these words. It would be bad literary interpretation to bring things from other authors written thousands of years later and then import that meaning here. Certainly that is possible, but is that what the author meant? I don’t see any reason to think that that is what the author meant here.
Dr. Craig: It wouldn’t seem like it. It would seem that this would simply be the stipulation of what they would be for. I know that there are some scholars who would say that maybe there was a cloud cover that parted at this time so the sun and the moon became visible so that they could serve the purpose of marking seasons and years. I don’t see any way of knowing that from the text. Again, that is reading things in. On the interpretation that I’ve given, I guess you would say no, nothing really happened. They were all in place, but God just says Let them be for marking seasons and days and years.
Dr. Craig: I take it that by shifting this focus from the universe as a whole down to the Earth that the Earth here is already, as you say, a kind of primordial ocean of dark water. That would fit very nicely in to what modern science has to say about the condition of the primitive Earth. First the Earth was this molten mass that then cooled. As it did so, it would form clouds around it that would then rain down on its surface, and there would be this primordial ocean. That would be very descriptive. What that would require would be a considerable time lapse between verse 1 and verse 2. But I don’t see any reason to think that there couldn’t be such a time lapse. Between verse 1 and verse 2 there could be an enormous amount of time in which the Earth got into this condition of being this sort of primordial dark ocean, and then now God is going to transform the Earth to make it a habitable place.
 Total Running Time: 48:25 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)