The following article is from my Bible Investigation website, and seems to belong on this site as well. It’s a couple of years old, and is slightly edited in the version that appears below.
This article will fall far short of definitively answering the question it poses. And it will most certainly fall short of answering all the further questions that will naturally follow the evidences I will show herein. Rather, the goal of this article is to raise these questions for the consideration of the reader. As you will see, the questions are prompted by the very texts of the Bible.
Is Genesis 1 really about literal sun, moon, and stars?
Right from the beginning, we have a least a small reason to wonder. Here’s the passage for Day 4:
Genesis 1:14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
Let us notice some things:
- Regarding these “two great lights”, the words “sun” and “moon” are not used here. These words don’t appear in the Bible until Genesis 15 and Genesis 37 respectively. Why not? If this present passage is talking about literal “light” and about the literal “sun” and “moon”, this would have been a natural place to use these words. (The Hebrew words are shemesh for “sun” and yareach for “moon”.)
- How is it that these “two great lights” were supposed to “rule”? If this is talking about the literal sun and moon, then the “ruling” is figurative. Or if the ruling is literal, then the “two great lights” must not be literal heavenly bodies, since heavenly bodies do not have any natural faculty for ruling over anything.
- If Day 4 was about creating the literal sun and moon, how is it that the plants were created on Day 3? We observe that plants require sunlight and heat to survive. Wouldn’t this order of events be backward if it were a literal account of the cosmos being put together?
- If the literal moon was supposed to “rule over the night”, just how is that supposed to work? The moon is not visible every night. And sometimes, the moon is quite visible in the daylight. In this case, it would seem to be breaking a rule set by a literal interpretation of this text. Rather than one body for the day and the other for the night, it would go more like this: The sun rules the day, and the moon sometimes helps to rule the day, and sometimes rules the night, and sometimes does not rule at all at night.
These questions are fairly salient and give us good reason to look more deeply into the possibility that Genesis 1 was intended in some figurative sense—or better yet, in some literal sense that we miss because of either poor translation or the biases we may bring to the texts. And that brings us back to the word “rule”. If these “two great lights” were meant to “rule” over something, this suggests they were living beings. Am I suggesting that the literal sun and moon are living beings? No, not at all. What I’m suggesting is that this passage is not talking about the literal sun and moon, but about literal living beings who were given authority for certain tasks. Thus, in addition to ruling, these beings were specifically charged to “give light on the earth”.
Should it surprise us that the Bible uses the word “light” in some spiritual and non-literal sense?
Consider these passages:
Luke 1:78 Through the tender mercy of our God,
With which the Dayspring from on high has visited us;
79 To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death,
To guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Matthew 4:16 The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned.”
Matthew 5:14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
John 9:1 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.”
So what if this manner of “light” was what was intended in Genesis 1? Jesus himself was called a “light” and he told his disciples that they, too, were “light”. So should it surprise us if God had appointed two great beings to bring “light” to the world in Genesis 1?
Indeed, such a reading could even change the way we look at the very first verses in Genesis. Note the light/day and darkness/night aspects of this passage:
Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 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 waters. 3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.
What if most of this language of dark and light, night and day was about good and evil, rather than about photons and the absence of photons? Would that help to explain the need for two great “lights” to rule over the “day” and the “night”?
Yet if you track the history of the world from Chapter 1 forward, this rule did not go very well.
The Sun and Moon: Not always “on”!
In a prophetic passage about an upcoming “Day of the Lord”, Isaiah wrote the following:
Isaiah 13:9 Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
Cruel, with both wrath and fierce anger,
To lay the land desolate;
And He will destroy its sinners from it.
10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not give their light;
The sun will be darkened in its going forth,
And the moon will not cause its light to shine.
This might readily be taken to be talking of some cosmic meltdown in which heavenly bodies are destroyed, but a closer look shows us that no such thing is written here. The model here has a sun still “going forth”, but in a “darkened” state. And the “stars of heaven” are not said to have ceased to exist, but not to be “giving” their light. And if all this weren’t enough, we see that the “moon” mentioned here has the capability to “cause” its light to shine, but that it is not doing so at the time described in the passage.
Is this passage, therefore, about beings that were supposed to be overseeing the Earth? Yes, I think it is.
One may wonder whether this failure to give their light was the result of rebellion, or of a command from God.
A Quick Look at the Stars
Before I go on about the Sun and the Moon, let’s take a quick peek at the stars—in part, because of how obvious it gets that they were definitely references to angelic beings in various places in the Bible. Here is an unmistakable reference to “stars” as angels:
The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in My right hand, and the seven golden lampstands: The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands which you saw are the seven churches.
These appear to be good angels overseeing Jesus’ churches in some manner. And now let’s see some bad angels, also described as “stars”:
Revelation 12:3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
This is a reference to those angels Satan had enticed to follow him. For more about angels as “stars”, see my article here: http://www.temporaryekklesia.com/2013/03/18/angels-as-stars-in-the-bible/
Guilt by Association?
If we know that “stars” is a frequent figure used in the Bible to speak of angels, does this impact our short list of suspects? That is, since “sun”, “moon”, and “stars” are so frequently mentioned together in the Bible, does this lend any weight to the idea that the “sun” and “moon” were also spiritual beings?
Take a few moments and peruse these 14 passages in which all three terms appear together in Bible verses:
- Genesis 37:9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”
- Deuteronomy 4:19 And take heed, lest you lift your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them, which the Lord your God has given to all the peoples under the whole heaven as a heritage.
- Psalm 148:3 Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all you stars of light!
- Ecclesiastes 12:2 While the sun and the light, The moon and the stars, Are not darkened, And the clouds do not return after the rain;
- Isaiah 13:10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not give their light; The sun will be darkened in its going forth, And the moon will not cause its light to shine.
- Jeremiah 31:35 Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for a light by day, The ordinances of the moon and the stars for a light by night, Who disturbs the sea, And its waves roar (The Lord of hosts is His name):
- Ezekiel 32:7 When I put out your light, I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, And the moon shall not give her light.
- Joel 2:10 The earth quakes before them, The heavens tremble; The sun and moon grow dark, And the stars diminish their brightness.
- Joel 3:15 The sun and moon will grow dark, And the stars will diminish their brightness.
- Matthew 24:29 “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
- Luke 21:25 “And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars; and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring;
- 1 Corinthians 15:41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.
- Revelation 8:12 Then the fourth angel sounded: And a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. A third of the day did not shine, and likewise the night.
- Revelation 12:1 Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars.
Much could be examined in each of these passages, but let us briefly look at just one for now:
1 Corinthians 15:40 There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory. 42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. 43 It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.
In a passage discussing how the Christians would be raised to heaven with a “spiritual body” that had a “glory” unlike their natural bodies, Paul picks three examples of “glory”: the sun, the moon, and the stars. But before we dismiss this merely as a figurative device—a metaphor—let us remember that Jesus promised his followers that they would one day be made “like the angels”:
- Matthew 22:30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven.
- Mark 12:25 For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
Is it merely a coincidence, then, that these particular heavenly bodies that are spoken of elsewhere as if they were angelic beings, were what Paul used to speak of the “glory” that the Christians would experience when given their spiritual bodies?
Punished, Imprisoned, Disgraced, and Ashamed?
Consider this passage from Isaiah regarding a judgment that was coming because:
Isaiah 24:5 ″The earth is also defiled under its inhabitants, Because they have transgressed the laws, Changed the ordinance, Broken the everlasting covenant.
Notice as our usual suspects are mentioned as being subject to that judgment:
Isaiah 24:21 It shall come to pass in that day
That the Lord will punish on high the host of exalted ones,
And on the earth the kings of the earth.
22 They will be gathered together,
As prisoners are gathered in the pit,
And will be shut up in the prison;
After many days they will be punished.
23 Then the moon will be disgraced
And the sun ashamed;
For the Lord of hosts will reign
On Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
And before His elders, gloriously.
Just how is it that the literal sun and moon could be “disgraced” and “ashamed”? And for what would they be punished? Indeed, being inanimate objects, what could they possibly have done to deserve punishment? Yet here they are!
Let us not miss the connection here with prisoners being held for a long time in the pit, for it is a reference to angelic unruliness from of old, as found here:
2 Peter 2:4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;
Jude 1:6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;
If Isaiah then, lumps together the punishment of the sun and moon with the punishment of literal angels who sinned, how shall we make sense of that if that “sun” and “moon” are taken as literal and inanimate heavenly bodies?
The Epistle of Barnabas also lumps them together, and makes an explicit statement that Jesus would “change the sun, and the moon, and the stars.”
…..This meaneth: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the-sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day.
Much, much more could be made of all of this. This present article is only meant to scratch the surface well enough to convince the reader that it definitely needs to be scratched.