Why does plant life precede the Sun in the order of creation given that plants need the Sun to do photosynthesis?

  • 5
    If Creation happened like it says in Genesis 1 then I don't think science like this should be much of a question
    – Double AA
    Nov 19, 2013 at 3:13
  • I was thinking other things might fall under the category of plants like radiotrophic fungi: scienceagogo.com/news/20070422222547data_trunc_sys.shtml
    – הראל
    Nov 21, 2013 at 4:13
  • 1
    plants need the Sun to do photosynthesis - Plants need light to do photo-synthesis, and light was created on the first day.
    – user18041
    Sep 9, 2019 at 10:01
  • Ah. Thank you very much @Lucian.
    – הראל
    Sep 9, 2019 at 17:00

4 Answers 4


First, it may not be valid to assume that creation was bound by the laws of science as we now understand them. Why should we assume that the very first plants grew by photosynthesis in the same way that plants do now? Or if we do, why not assume that the primordial light created on the first day was enough to produce this effect?

But setting all that aside, Bereishit 2:5 presents us with a related question:

Now no tree of the field was yet on the earth, neither did any herb of the field yet grow, because the Lord God had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil.

It's not clear when this text refers to; it falls after vay'chulu and and before the (second) creation of Adam. This verse seems to say that plants depended on man being available to work the soil. But chapter 1 says we got plants on day 3, so how do we resolve this? Rashi offers the following interpretation:

neither did any herb of the field yet grow: [I.e.,] had not yet grown. And on the third [day], where it is written: “Let the earth bring forth,” they [the plants] had not yet emerged, but they stood at the entrance of the ground until the sixth day. And why?

Because… not caused it to rain: Because there was no man to work the soil, and no one recognized the benefit of rain, but when man came and understood that they were essential to the world, he prayed for them, and they fell, and the trees and the herbs sprouted. — [from Chul. 60b]

According to Rashi, when God created the plants, trees, and grasses on day three, they didn't actually start growing -- they were, essentially, "queued up" underground, waiting for rain, which in turn waited for a man to recognize the need for rain and pray for it.

With Rashi's interpretation, the sun, moon, and stars were well-established before the need for photosynthesis arose.

  • 2
    +1 for the first pgh. Haven't even started reading the rest yet.
    – Seth J
    Nov 20, 2013 at 18:08
  • 2
    OK, now I want to +2.
    – Seth J
    Nov 20, 2013 at 18:10
  • +1 I would only add that perhaps this order was chosen specifically because it does not conform to the rules of nature. No other creation had a natural creation, man and beasts from dirt, everything from nothing specific. Creating plants after sunlight would have been the odd one out.
    – user6591
    Feb 23, 2017 at 18:20
  • And congrats on 30k!
    – user6591
    Feb 23, 2017 at 18:21

Ralbag has two explanations of the order of creation that can address this. The first explanation is that everything existed at once. The sequence delineated in Genesis is just the order in which they were revealed. This is likened to someone who plants various seeds at the same time but some sprout before others. The second explanation is that existence is attributed to some things before others in order to show their priority in essence and cause (i.e. the sequence is not meant chronologically).

והנה המשילו החכמים הגלות ההויה בקצת הדברים קודם קצת במעשה בראשית למי שזרע זרעים חלוקים יחד בארץ ויצמחו קצתם קודם קצת וכן אמרו שהיה הענין בהוית העולם שהכל נתהוה יחד מהשם יתע' ונגלה קצתו קודם קצת או נאמר שכבר נתיחסה ההויה לקצת הדברים קודם קצת להעיר על היותם קודמים בעצם ובסבה כי כונת התורה היא להעמידנו על חכמת הנמצאות בזה הספור הבפלא כמו שקדם

(See also his similar discussion in Wars of the Lord ('מלחמות ה) Book VI Part 2 Chapter 8.)

R. Abraham of Vitirbo (Sefer Emunas Chachamim Fifth Essay)applies the general rule of "ein mukdam u'meuchar b'torah" to the account of creation, in which case the sequence of six days does not necessarily represent the true chronological sequence.

ויש מן הפילוסופים שהקשו כי היאך נתהוה האור ביום הראשון והלא עדין לא נבראו המאורות ולאו קושיא היא כי אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה

  • It's so heretic and silly to claim that the explicit numbering of days in Creation is meaningless. אין מוקדם ומאוחר (if anything) can be said of unrelated events, but not of a sequence of a single event. Otherwise, there's no Bereshit.
    – Al Berko
    Oct 14, 2021 at 10:57
  • @AlBerko you are mechavein to R. Aharon Feldman’s critique of R. Natan Slifkin.
    – Alex
    Oct 14, 2021 at 12:11

On the initial premise of plants requiring the sun for photosynthesis, and it certainly is the best light for developing plants, this site reports how scientists developed plants WITHOUT anything but artificial light.

As for the light before creation, see Alex's great answer here where he discusses the gemara Chagiga (12a) saying "the light created on the first day is the same as that we get from the sun and other heavenly bodies. The verse tells us G-d created them on the first day, and then placed them in their proper positions on the fourth day." Consequently, the plants would presumably have the necessary light energy to survive and thrive. More on this light can be seen here.

  • Good points mevaqesh, thank you for having me take another look at this. The artificial light was mentioned to question the premise that plant life required sunlight. The 2nd point of the Ohr HaGanuz was clarified above.
    – NJM
    Feb 24, 2017 at 2:43
  • You are very welcome.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 24, 2017 at 3:13

Obviously it is the case of textual corruption. Some verses got mixed up. The Sun and the Moon had to be created before the trees and grass because the latter can't grow without the former.

Here is how I think original text looked like:

Bereshit 1:9 And God saith, 'Let the waters under the heavens be collected unto one place, and let the dry land be seen:' and it is so.

Bereshit 1:10 And God calleth to the dry land 'Earth,' and to the collection of the waters He hath called 'Seas;' and God seeth that it is good.

Bereshit 1:14 And God saith, 'Let luminaries be in the expanse of the heavens, to make a separation between the day and the night, then they have been for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years,

Bereshit 1:15 and they have been for luminaries in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth:' and it is so.

Bereshit 1:16 And God maketh the two great luminaries, the great luminary for the rule of the day, and the small luminary--and the stars--for the rule of the night;

Bereshit 1:17 and God giveth them in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth,

Bereshit 1:18 and to rule over day and over night, and to make a separation between the light and the darkness; and God seeth that it is good;

Bereshit 1:13 and there is an evening, and there is a morning--day third.

Bereshit 1:11 And God saith, 'Let the earth yield tender grass, herb sowing seed, fruit-tree (whose seed is in itself) making fruit after its kind, on the earth:' and it is so.

Bereshit 1:12 And the earth bringeth forth tender grass, herb sowing seed after its kind, and tree making fruit (whose seed is in itself) after its kind; and God seeth that it is good;

Bereshit 1:19 and there is an evening, and there is a morning--day fourth.

Since MT=SP=DSS it means that the change occurred before 2nd Temple period.

  • 2
    Obviously it is the case of textual corruption. Some verses got mixed up This is incorrect. It is not at all obvious.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 22, 2017 at 4:22
  • 2
    Since MT=SP=DSS it means that the change occurred before 2nd Temple period. Or it means that your "obvious" conjecture is simply wrong.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 22, 2017 at 4:24
  • Actually, this is incorrect as the Torah was not changed from the way Hashem dictated it to Moshe. Since the world had not started running on its own, the order was not critical. Feb 22, 2017 at 4:40
  • 2
    All facts and evidence suggests that these verses got mixed up What evidence? We have a textual anomaly, and several hypotheses to explain it. One of them is textual corruption. The phenomenon being explained, isn't proof for the hypothesis! Indeed, you acknowledge that all textual witnesses support the massoretic text, and by extension, weaken your thesis, which remains merely the opinion of an anonymous internet character, falsely presented as unassailable fact.
    – mevaqesh
    Feb 22, 2017 at 5:26
  • 2
    If God is able to create all the plants and stars and animals and minerals out of nothing in a few days time, don't you think he's capable of keeping the plants alive for 24 hours till the next sunrise? "the latter can't grow without the former" is irrelevant; they just need to survive for 24 hours of darkness, like they do all the time on stormy days. I can't help but feel the OP just hasn't thought things through.
    – Double AA
    Feb 22, 2017 at 13:47

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