Cosmology, the Study of Origins

by WordExplain

Then God said, Genesis 1:3

How Did Our World Get Here?

An Exegesis of Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

By James T. Bartsch


Day One of Creation: Then God Said

Genesis 1:3. The Significance of the Word Order, "Then God said,"

Then God said,” Gen. 1:3.

With the exception of Day One (in my view), these words mark the beginning of each of the six days of creation (Gen. 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24). For this reason, many evangelical writers have insisted that Genesis 1:3 rather than Genesis 1:1 marks the beginning of Day One of creation (e.g. Allen P. Ross, Genesis, (see his comments on Gen. 1:3-5), Vol. I, The Bible Knowledge Commentary; Thomas Constable, Dr. Constable’s Notes on Genesis. (Constable has labeled Gen. 1:3-31 as “The six days of creation,” and he has labeled Gen. 1:3-5 as “The first day.” In fairness, he does state that “Gen. 1:1 may be part of the first day of creation,” but he has not labeled it that way.)

Admittedly, the positioning of the phrases, “Then God said” (vayomer Elohim) is mildly problematic for the exegete defending the view that Genesis 1:1-2, as well as Gen. 1:3-5, describes what happened on Day One of creation. A closer examination of the actual text, however, reveals that the phraseology used is far from formulaic in Genesis 1:1-2:3. In fact, as we shall see, it is easy to defend the notion that there is not a uniform formula. The following table illustrates the variety of uses of the Hebrew words God (Elohim) and said (amar) in Genesis 1:1–2:3.

In the table below, green represents as formulaic (column 4) the Hebrew phrase “then said God” using the proper words in the proper order (column 2) at the start of a given day (column 3), and as expressing a command of creation (column 5). Similarly, yellow represents as non-formulaic (column 4) words out of order or using a different verb tense or omitting a word (column 2) and as expressing something other than a command of creation (column 5). Finally, magenta represents as non-formulaic the placement (column 4) of phrases after the start of a given day (column 3).



Heb. Word Order


Location in Day




Gen. 1:3 Then said God After the start of day one

Words, Yes

Placement, No
Command of Creation of Light
Gen. 1:6 Then said God Start of the second day

Words, Yes

Placement, Yes
Command of Creation of “Expanse”
Gen. 1:9 Then said God Start of the third day

Words, Yes

Placement, Yes
Command of Arrangement of Waters and Dry Land
Gen. 1:11 Then said God After the start of the third day

Words, Yes

Placement, No
Command of Creation of Vegetation
Gen. 1:14 Then said God Start of the fourth day

Words, Yes

Placement, Yes
Command of Creation of “Lights”
Gen. 1:20 Then said God Start of the fifth day

Words, Yes

Placement, Yes
Command of Creation of Fish and Fowl
Gen. 1:22 And blessed them – God – saying After the start of the fifth day

Words, No

Placement, No
Verbalization of Blessing issuing in a Divine Command of Productivity to Fish and Fowl
Gen. 1:24 Then said God Start of the sixth day

Words, Yes

Placement, Yes
Command of Creation of Land Animals
Gen. 1:26 Then said God After the start of the sixth day

Words, Yes

Placement, No
Divine Discussion of Creation of Man (followed by Creation)
Gen. 1:28 And blessed them - God – and said to them - God After the start of the sixth day

Words, No

Placement, No
Verbalization of Blessing issuing in a Divine Command of Human Productivity and Rule
Gen. 1:29 Then said God After the start of the sixth day

Words, Yes

Placement, No
Divine Speech of Provision and Instruction
Gen. 2:3 Then blessed - God Indeterminate with reference to the seventh day Words, No Placement, No Description of Divine Blessing of the Seventh Day

In the table above, we give the reference in Genesis (column 1), duplicate the Hebrew word order (column 2), indicate the location in each day when God (Elohim) said (amar) something (column 3), and categorize the nature of that conversation (column 5). In column 4 we have attempted to identify if there is a repeated formula (a) in what God says and (b) in the placement of His communication in regard to the start of the day. What we observe is that the text is not nearly as formulaic as some have made it out to be. Let us note the specifics.

With respect to column 2, we find eleven uses of Elohim and amar in close proximity. Nine of them are identical with regard to vocabulary and word order. The two that break the pattern both have to do with God’s blessing. In Gen. 1:22 God blessed the fish and fowl He had created at the beginning of the Fifth Day, instructing them to be fruitful and multiply; in Gen. 1:28 He blessed the humans whom He had created after the start of the Sixth Day, instructing them to be fruitful and multiply. In Gen. 2:3, on the Seventh Day, the pattern breaks down altogether. Though the word God (Elohim) is used, the word for speaking (amar) is not used at all. However, just as in the two previous instances of disjuncture, God does indeed bless, but what He says is not quoted. This time He does not bless physical entities He has created, but He blesses a unit of measurement of time He has instituted, the Seventh Day.

With respect to column 3, which is really the main point of this table, a startling departure from formula exists with regard to the words Elohim and amar. There are five instances of uniformity as regarding maintaining the formula of God speaking as inaugurating a new day. Thus, God (Elohim) speaks to inaugurate the Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Days. (I believe I am justified in excluding Day One from this category (a) on the basis of a proper understanding in context of the vocabulary used on Day One (Gen. 1:1-2) and (b) on the basis of Yahweh’s having explicitly stated that He had created the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything that exists in them in the space of six days [Ex. 20:11]. That being the case, Gen. 1:1-2 must necessarily describe that which occurred on Day One. There is no other feasible option.) But though there are five instances of uniformity, we find that there are at least six instances of non-uniformity! Let me list them.

(a) God (Elohim) spoke (vayomer), commanding light into existence after the start of Day One (Gen. 1:3).

(b) God (Elohim) spoke (vayomer), commanding vegetation into existence after the start of the Third Day (Gen. 1:11).

(c) God (Elohim) spoke (lemor), verbalizing blessing upon fish and fowl after the start of the Fifth Day (Gen. 1:22). The precise words are as follows: “And blessed them, God, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply…’” The verbal form saying is lemor, a Qal infinitive construct of amar. Heretofore, the pattern has been, “Then said God,” Vayomer Elohim. Vayomer is a Qal waw consecutive imperfect, third masculine singular. (The initial letter waw is translated “and” or “then.”) Some might object that this instance in Gen. 1:22 does not fit the pattern because amar is an infinitive construct (with the initial letter lamed), and should therefore be excluded from evidence. I agree that it does not fit the pattern, but I argue that evidence should not be “cherry-picked.” This evidence should be included in the discussion since it is an occurrence of God (Elohim) and speaking (amar). My point is that a neatly-packaged uniformity does not exist, and that the evidence shows it is not abnormal for God to speak after the start of a given day.

(d) God (Elohim) spoke (vayomer), discussing His imminent creation of man after the start of the Sixth Day (Gen. 1:26).

(e) God (Elohim) spoke (vayomer) to the newly created couple in the format of a blessing after the start of the Sixth Day, commanding their performance (“be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”), and empowering their limited sovereignty (“and subdue it and rule over” [the animals]) (Gen. 1:28).

(f) God (Elohim) spoke (vayomer) to the newly created couple after the start of the Sixth Day, informing them He had provided both them and the animal kingdom with every kind of vegetarian provision they needed for their sustenance (Gen. 1:29).

(g) As we have already learned, the pattern breaks down altogether on the Seventh Day (Gen. 2:1-3), for though the text states that God (Elohim) blessed the Seventh Day, it nowhere records that He spoke. Every form of amar is absent. Therefore the data on the Seventh Day is indeterminate. As such, the Seventh Day, along with Day One, represent a departure from the formula introducing days two through six.

Conclusion: The evidence is conclusive that there is not a consistent pattern in the uses of God (Elohim) and said (amar). It is true that God says something to inaugurate the Second to the Sixth Days, but it is equally true that, just as often, He says something after the start of certain days. If Day One appears to be an anomaly, then the Seventh Day is an even greater anomaly, for though the word God (Elohim) is used, the word said (amar) never is! My whole point is that it is a fallacy to argue that, just because the words God (Elohim) and said (amar) inaugurate the Second through Sixth Days, they must necessarily inaugurate Day One. The evidence does not fit that arbitrary conclusion.

With respect to column 4, which is really a summary column, we can see visually that the instances of disjuncture, or non-formulaic uses of Elohim and ’amar actually outnumber the formulaic instances. Instances in which the words, in their proper order, and their placement at the beginning of a day are five in number, and are thus formulaic. These include Genesis 1:6, 9, 14, 20, 24. Instances in which the words are formulaic, but their placement after the start of a given day are non-formulaic, are four in number. These include Genesis 1:3, 11, 26, 29. Instances in which the words are out of order (or words are missing) and, in addition, their placement is after the start of a given day are three in number. These include Genesis 1:22, 28; 2:3. Thus, with respect to word selection and placement in a given day, there are five formulaic occurrences, but there are a total of seven non-formulaic occurrences. The conclusion is that there is no statistical or linguistic evidence that Genesis 1:3 must necessarily mark the start of Day One of creation.

With respect to column 5, we are able to visualize the content of the words associated in the context of God (Elohim) speaking (amar). We can observe that there are some qualitative differences in the content of God’s speech.

First of all, there are six instances in which God’s speaking amounted to a “Command of Creation.” These include Genesis 1:3, 6, 11, 14, 20, 24. By “Command of Creation,” I refer to the instances in which God spoke, commanding some new entity or entities into existence. These new entities include light (Gen. 1:3), an “expanse” (atmosphere) (Gen. 1:6), vegetation (Gen. 1:11), celestial bodies (sun, moon, stars) (Gen. 1:14), fish and fowl (Gen. 1:20), and land animals (Gen. 1:24). These six instances reveal a certain formula used in Genesis 1:1-2:3 describing God’s speech. The formula is that God speaks, commanding something into existence that has not been there before, and that entity is created by God’s speech.

Second, there are another six instances in which God’s speaking amounted to something other than a “Command of Creation.” These represent a departure from formula. (1) At the start of the Third Day, God’s speech amounted to an arrangement or rearrangement of existing entities, not an actual creation. Nothing new was formed, but existing entities were rearranged (Gen. 1:9-10). Water and soil already existed, but all of the soil was submerged, and most likely a significant portion of the soil was in suspension. God’s creative speech rearranged the water and soil so that a certain quantity of soil was elevated above water level. This elevated soil is identified as “dry land” (yabbasah). God called it “earth” (erets). This “Command of Arrangement” is a departure from the formula since nothing new was created, but only rearranged. (2) After the start of the Fifth Day, God’s speech consisted of a blessing upon His newly created fish and fowl (Gen. 1:22-23). In blessing, He commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply” in their respective environments. This Verbalization of Blessing, followed by a Command of Productivity represents a departure from formula, since nothing was created. (3) After the start of the Sixth Day there was a Divine discussion about creating man (Gen. 1:26): “Then God (Elohim) said (amar), “Let us make man in Our image according to Our likeness.” So God discussed creating man, but that discussion is different than a “Command of Creation,” “Let there be man!” In fact, no “Command of Creation” was stated to be used in the creation of man. The text merely states, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Elohim is present in the text, but amar is missing. This Divine Discussion of Creation represents a departure from formula. (4) After God had already created man, the text states that God blessed man, and that this blessing issued in a “Command of Productivity” followed by a “Command to Rule.” Literally, the text reads, “Then blessed them – God – and said (amar) to them – God (Elohim), ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth [Command of Productivity], and subdue it; and exercise dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens, and over every living thing, the one moving about on the earth” [Command to Rule] (Gen. 1:28, author’s literal translation). Again, since there is no “Command of Creation,” there is a departure from formula. (5) After God has completed His work of creation on the Sixth Day, God said something (using the formulaic words), but what He said was non-formulaic (Gen. 1:29-30). God spoke to the couple, instructing them that He had given to them every plant which had seed and every tree bearing fruit with seed as a source of food both for humans and for animals. Since what God said amounted to a Divine Speech of Provision and Instruction, and did not create a new entity, it was a departure from the formula.  (6) On the Seventh Day, there was a profound departure from formula. God created nothing, and He rearranged nothing. Of greatest significance to our present discussion is this: though Moses used the word God (Elohim), He did not use the word said (amar) at all in discussing the Seventh Day. God had completed His work of creating the heavens and the earth and everything in them. Consequently, He rested from all the work He had done. Because He had completed His work, God “blessed (barak) the seventh day and sanctified it” (Gen. 2:1-3). Since God rested and did not create, and because the word said (amar) is not even used, the Description of Blessing on the Seventh Day constitutes a remarkable departure from formula. If it be argued, “We cannot count the Seventh Day in our discussion of formula and non-formula because God had finished creating,” I would respond, “Ah, but the Creation Week consisted of seven days, not six.” Further, I would argue, “If the Seventh Day is fundamentally different, why can there not be a less remarkable difference on Day One?” At least God said (amar) something on Day One. The fact that God said something after the start of Day One is not so remarkable when one examines all the other departures from formula in the Creation Week.

The skeptic might demand, “Give me one good reason why, stylistically, I should believe that Day One begins at Genesis 1:1 and not at Gen. 1:3 – because each of the subsequent days, Second through Sixth, all begin with the formula “Then God said.” Let me attempt to answer that objection.

(1) It is impossible to answer that demand with certainty. Some day, perhaps, I will broach that subject with God and Moses. The best answer I can give is this, that apparently the Divine and human authors of Genesis believed it was important to communicate to the readers what God created initially on Day One, and the conditions of the terrestrial part of that creation, and the activity of the Spirit of God upon that creation before they communicated what God said. Genesis 1:1-2 records what God did on Day One, but the earth at that point was completely uninhabitable by design. God’s speaking light into existence on Day One (Gen. 1:3) was the first step in making the fledgling earth habitable. And, to be straightforward, that is what each of God’s speeches and activities on each of the succeeding days accomplished. As it stands, the first verse of the Bible, stylistically, is a supreme perfection of simplicity and profundity: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Stylistically, how can we possibly improve upon that? If Genesis 1:1 had begun, “In the beginning, God said, ‘Let there be the heavens and the earth’”, we would have missed that marvelous word bara, created. And we would feel that there was an opening prologue that was missing. And we still would have been faced with the following: “Now (NIV) the earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the deep” (Gen. 1:2). Those influenced by the dogma of evolution would still be wanting to insert vast eons of time in there somewhere. Gap theorists would still hold onto their Gap Theory. Progressive Creationists would still insist that the days of creation cannot be taken literally, and represent instead, vast reaches of time. Theistic Evolutionists would still insist that Gen. 1 is poetry, not historical narrative, and they would stretch the Biblical days into millions of years in order to accommodate evolution. And those who hold to the Chaos Theory of Origins would still say the original earth had been created in the dateless past. Stylistically, the opening statements of Genesis would suffer. Stylistically, what God said and the way He said it are magnificent. Let it stand as it is!

(2) We have already mentioned that it is imprecise exegesis to exclude the Seventh Day from the discussion. The Seventh Day is just as much a part of the Creation Week as are the preceding six days. God is not reported to have “said” (amar) anything at all on the Seventh Day. The word blessed (barak) is used, but not the word said (amar). Stylistically, there is already a difference in the Seventh Day of Creation. Why not also on Day One?

(3) I believe that the most formidable answer to that objection lies within the larger structure of the book of Genesis as a whole. Every reader of Genesis in Hebrew is familiar with the importance of the word toledoth in the structural, or stylistic format of Genesis. Toledoth appears in Genesis thirteen times: Gen. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1, 32; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 13, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2. Toledoth (a plural noun) most often is translated as generations (KJV, NASB). In Genesis it generally means “the account of” or “what became of”. Thomas Constable uses this word as a basis for outlining Genesis (Notes on Genesis). His outline goes as follows: I. Primeval events (Gen. 1:1-11:26); A. The story of creation (Gen. 1:1-2:3); B. What became of the creation (Gen. 2:4-4:26); C. What became of Adam (Gen. 5:1-6:8); D. What became of Noah (Gen. 6:9-9:29); E. What became of Noah’s sons (Gen. 10:1-11:9); F. What became of Shem (Gen. 11:10-26); II. Patriarchal narratives (Gen. 11:27-50:26); A. What became of Terah (Gen. 11:27-25:11); B. What became of Ishmael (Gen. 25:12-18); C. What became of Isaac (Gen. 25:19-35:29); D. What became of Esau (Gen. 36:1-37:1); What became of Jacob (Gen. 37:2-50:26).

What is particularly germane to the discussion at hand is this: notice that the outline indicators do not start at the beginning of the book! Toledoth does not occur until Genesis 2:4. But Genesis 1:1-2:3 cannot be excluded from what happened in Genesis any more than Genesis 1:1-2 can be excluded from the Creation Week recorded in Genesis 1:1-2:3! Genesis 1:3-2:3 tells how God sequentially upgraded the heavens and earth that God began creating on Day One in Genesis 1:1-2. Had God left the earth in the condition He first created it (Gen. 1:1-2), it would have been uninhabitable and thus empty. But He did not create the earth to be “a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited” (Isa. 45:18). Conclusion: The account of the Creation Week begins at Genesis 1:1; Day One begins at Genesis 1:1! Just because God is not recorded as saying something until Genesis 1:3 does not preclude His creative activity from beginning on Day One in Genesis 1:1.

(Scripture quotations taken from the NASB 1995.)

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Updated February 9, 2022