As a prologue to Genesis 2-3 in the Garden of Eden, the creation of man is parallel to the creation of vegetation. The text also reveals what would happen if Adam had passed his probation — he would continue to fill the earth and spread the garden and enter Sabbath rest. As a prologue to the story of Israel, it describes the creation of the sea and the land on Days 2 and 3a in a way similar to the Exodus Event. The waters separate and dry land appears. Moreover, the text teaches us that Israel was to be the servant of God and the king of creation (including the nations). In two words, Adam and Israel were to be a ‘servant king’ or, in one word, a ‘son’. As a prologue to Scripture as a whole, it points us to the the goal of creation — a fruitful earth filled with people glorifying God and entering His Sabbath rest.
The days of Genesis 1:1-2:3 are not literal twenty-four hour periods of time. First of all, Day Seven does not end in the text but continues throughout Scripture (Day Eight begins ahead of time with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ). Secondly, the sun, moon, and stars are not created until Day Four. And thirdly, these days while figurative with respect to earthly time are describing a heavenly reality. That is, the days and the speech of God all take place in the invisible heavens.
The days of Genesis 1:1-2:3 are not sequential periods of time on earth. Clearly Day Seven must be last and Day 6b must take place after Days 1-6a, but the days are not arranged sequentially. First of all, Day One and Day Four take place at the same time on earth. Day Four repeats language from Day One. On Day four it says that these lights are “to separate the day from the night” (Gen 1:14) and “to separate the light from the darkness” (Gen 1:18). This is precisely what was accomplished on Day One: “God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness He called night” (Gen 1:5). The text through repetition means to let us know that these two Days take place at the same time on earth. Moreover, we should not expect that God would use His providence (“the earth brought forth vegetation” Gen 1:12 and “When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up–for the LORD God had not caused it to rain on the land” Gen 2:5) in one area and sustain light without His normal means of providence until Day Four.
So Days One and Four are parallel. In fact, Day One describes kingdoms and Day Four describes the kings. “God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern (or rule over) the day, and the lesser light to govern (or rule over) the night” (Gen 1:16). Days Two and Five are also parallel. On Day Two the kingdoms of sky and sea and then Day Five the kings of sea creatures and birds. Notice that the kings are created in the opposite order to the kingdoms (chiastic order). Also, they are described as kings by blessing them with a dominion (kingdom) mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth” (Gen 1:22). Moreover, another thing the author does to make sure you read Days Two and Five as parallel in this literary structure is to leave out the phrase “and God saw that it was good” or something similar on Day Two and to leave out the phrase “and it was so” on Day Five. Thus “and it was so” or “and light was” for Day One (phrases that in Hebrew look much more similar than in English) is said a perfect seven times and “God saw that it was good” or “very good” is said a perfect seven times. The only place these are missing in the structure are on days two and five. Leaving out the comment about it being good is appropriate for Day Two because land has not appeared yet — so in a very real sense it is not good yet.
Days Three and Six are also parallel. The main way this is communicated is through having each have two creative acts. The phrase “And God said, Let…” takes place eight times in the first six days. And to make this work Days Three and Six are both given two. The diagram compared to the text will help you visualize this better. On Day 3a there is the creation of the kingdom called land. On Day 6a there is the creation of land animals. And on Day 3b there is the creation of the kingdom called vegetation, and on Day 6b there is the creation of people as kings. The dominion mandate for man is over the whole of creation in general but more specifically over the garden (preparing us for Genesis 2-3).
Thus at the end of Day Three the formless or more literally “wilderness/desert” earth is on its way to becoming fruitful and at the end of Day Six the void or better empty or “deserted” earth is on its way to becoming full.
Whenever we interpret Scripture we must try to discern what it is that the author is doing. In this text, once you see the structure, it is clear that the Days are not literal nor sequential from an earthly perspective. God is trying to teach us much more important things than a science textbook. And Genesis 1:1-2:3 is fully the word of God and without error.
And this is ‘literally’ a prologue to the book of Genesis. The rest of Genesis, beginning with Gen 2:4, consists in ten books each beginning with a phrase like “These are the generations of…” and Genesis 1:1-2:3 is the kingdom prologue.
I am heavily indebted to the works and teachings of Meredith Kline (even borrowing his book titled Kingdom Prologue for the title of the post), Lee Irons, and Lane Tipton for this post.