There was evening, and there was morning—the first day(Genesis 1:5b)
What do the “evenings” and “mornings” of Genesis 1 have in common with entropy? Could the physics of entropy help us understand the nature of the creation days?
God’s Heavenly Court
Genesis 1 describes God’s creation of the visible universe and earthborn life. But God also created an invisible universe.
. . . all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created . . . (Colossians 1:16).
You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship you (Nehemiah 9:6).
Angels are created beings, and “thrones or powers or rulers or authorities” are in heaven as well as on earth. Multiple biblical passages refer to a heavenly court, which is described like an earthly king’s court in visionary experiences:
I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him (1 Kings 22:19)
One day the angels came to present themselves before the Lord (Job 1:6)
The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne (Psalm 11:4)
In the council of the holy ones God is greatly feared; he is more awesome than all who surround him (Psalm 89:7)
I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne (Isaiah 6:1)
The heavenly court motif also appears in Genesis 1. Old Testament scholar Franz Delitzsch says Genesis 1:26 is a “communicative plural,” implying God conferring with his council.1
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness (Genesis 1:26)
In fact, the biblical language throughout Genesis 1:3–31 hints at heavenly court scenes in which God speaks the universe and life into being in six successive yom. The Bible concludes each yom with:
. . . there was ‘ereb (evening), and there was bôqer (morning) . .. (Genesis 1:5, 8, 13, 19, 23, 31)
The yom are translated “days.” Yet a 24-hour earth day is problematic for many reasons—including that the Sun does not appear until the fourth yom (Genesis 1:14–19).
Might the yom represent sequential heavenly court sessions of indeterminate Earth time? Yom has a broader meaning than just “day”; but Hebrew lexicons consistently describe ‘ereb and bôqer with variations of evening and morning. What might they mean in this context?
Creation from Chaos to Order
Hebrew linguistics provides an answer. The medieval Jewish sage Naḥmanides observes that the root of ‘ereb 2 is “mixing up” and the root of bôqer is “to distinguish.”3 His commentary on Genesis 1:5 states:
The beginnings of the night is called ‘ereb (evening) because shapes become confused in it. And the beginning of the day is called bôqer (morning) because a person is then able to distinguish between them.4
The mi yodeya website of Jewish law and tradition follows this line of reasoning:
The Hebrew word ‘ereb as used in Genesis 1:5, means “mixed up” in English or “confusion.” This is because when things get darker, the human eye cannot properly identify forms; and reality is blurred.
The Hebrew word bôqer means “clarity” or “break-through” (of light). This is because the coming of light will allow the human eye to once again recognize distinct forms and end all confusion.
This understanding and translation can be seen in the commentaries of Ibn Ezra, Radak, and Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch on Genesis 1:5.
Therefore, I simply like to translate the verse as:
There was chaos, and then there was order, one day.
If you follow the pattern of the creation account, you will see that the six days each have a starting point of “chaos” that is set right and becomes “orderly.”
This may be an unconventional interpretation but it seems plausible: it’s grounded in exegesis and Jewish tradition and matches observation. Moreover, Genesis 1 contains more unconventional language; for example, Genesis 1:14): “And God said, ‘Let there be lights [mâ’ôr] in the . . . sky to separate the day from the night, and . . . to mark . . . days and years.’” These mâ’ôr are clearly the sun and moon; yet elsewhere in the Bible, mâ’ôr is a lamp in the tabernacle or a general light—never the sun or moon.
Entropy and the Ongoing Seventh Day
Now to the law of entropy: natural systems tend toward a state of disorder. This is the condition of the universe at the “beginning”:
Now the earth was formless (tôhû) and empty (bôhû) (Genesis 1:2).
The law further states that energy is required to create order, which describes the balance of Genesis 1: the power of God transforms disorder into an ordered universe. We believe God likewise decreed natural laws such as gravity to maintain order.
God saw that his workmanship was tob (“good”) after each of the first five yom (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21), and tob meod (“very good”) after the creation of humans on the sixth yom (Genesis 1:31). Perhaps tob and tob meod represent order and perfect order.
Genesis 2:1–2 summarizes Genesis 1 and introduces a seventh yom:
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day [yom] God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day [yom] he rested from all his work (Genesis 2:1–2).
The universe and life reached perfect order after six yom, so God ceased his creative activity. He had incorporated natural laws to govern his tob meod universe and had created humans in an unfallen state as his image-bearers to “subdue” and “rule” (Genesis 1:28) on his behalf. Thus God could “rest” on a seventh yom.
The seventh yom is fundamentally different from the first six. The Bible cites no beginning or “evening”—consistent with the above analysis, since there is no more chaos. The Bible also cites no end or “morning”—so the “day” is ongoing, as confirmed by Hebrews 4.
God’s “rest” does not imply he is not active today; Jesus himself said: “My Father is always at his work to this very day” (John 5:17). But God’s work today is providential; creation has concluded. The universe is governed by God’s natural laws—including DNA self-repairing mechanisms, mutation of viruses, and countless other examples.
If the above is correct, why did God choose to use ‘ereb and bôqer and yom in Genesis 1–2:3? Perhaps it’s another example of multiple meanings in the Bible. For primitive humans the motif of creation “days” and of “evenings” and “mornings” was something simple they could identify with. And as for the seventh yom: the “day” motif provides continuity and perhaps presages God’s later commandment of a day of rest for humankind.
Thus, it seems reasonable to posit that in six heavenly court sessions (yom) of unspecified duration, God followed the law of entropy and other laws of physics that he created to bring order out of chaos. God’s creative work culminated and concluded with “very good” perfect order after the creation of humans on the sixth yom (day).
F. Delitzsch, A New Commentary on Genesis (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1888) 98–99. Delitzsch says this is also true of Genesis 3:22 and 11:7.See Exodus 12:38.J. Newman, trans., The Commentary of Nahmanides on Genesis Chapters 1–6 (Leiden, Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1960) x.J. Newman, trans., The Commentary of Nahmanides, 40.