A New Doctrine of Initial Creation – 1

February 27th, 2013 / 15 Comments

I’m editing a ground-breaking book of essays on initial creation. Like most of the Christian theologians writing essays for this project, I think Christians need a doctrine of initial creation other than creation from nothing (creatio ex nihilo).

Starting with Scripture

To me, it’s important to start exploring the doctrine of initial creation with Scripture. It’s no surprise Christians place a premium on what the Bible says.

It does surprise many who look at Scripture carefully, however, to find the Bible never says God creates out of nothing. The Bible does not explicitly affirm creatio ex nihilo.

Instead, biblical authors consistently say God creates out of something. When exploring options for how Christians might best think about God as Creator, it’s difficult to overemphasize this biblical point: according to Scripture, God creates from something.

The Old Testament

Biblical writers offer various descriptions of the “something” out of which God creates. In Genesis, the Spirit works with tohu wabohu (formless void), or what is often translated “primordial chaos” or “shapeless mass” (1:2). God creatively transforms chaos and shapelessness into something new: the heavens and the earth (1:1). God creates out of something, even if the “something” is initially vague, disordered, or messy.

Genesis also speaks of the tehom, or “face of the deep,” over which God hovers when creating (1:2). The “deep” is a something, not literally nothing. Many biblical scholars believe tehom signifies primeval waters present as God creates the heavens and the earth. The New Testament’s most explicit theory of initial creation, 2 Peter 3:5, supports this interpretation: “Long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” Water, of course, is something not nothing.

A large number of Bible scholars reject the idea that Genesis describes creatio ex nihilo. Terrence Fretheim says, for instance, “God’s creating in Genesis 1…includes ordering that which already exists…. God works creatively with already existing reality to bring about newness.”

Claus Westermann says, “Our query about the origin of matter is not answered; the idea of an initial chaos goes back to mythical and premythical thinking.”

Rolf P. Knierim links creation with salvation: “It can be said that Yahweh is the creator of the world, because he is its liberator from chaos…” The list of Bible scholars denying creatio ex nihilo is long.

The New Testament

The New Testament also does not support creatio ex nihilo. We’ve already seen that the most explicit initial creation passage – 2 Peter 3:5 – says God brings the earth into existence by means of water.

Other New Testament passages say God creates from something, or these passages simply say God is Creator. For instance, God made the universe from things unseen, says Hebrews (11:3). Unseen things exist, even if they can’t be seen. And the verb translated “made” in the Hebrews passage is translated elsewhere in Scripture as organizing, framing, or repairing. Those are activities done to something not nothing.

The Apostle Paul says God “calls into being things that were not” (Rom. 4:17).  He says this in the context of God’s promise to make Abraham the father of many nations. This calling does not refer to creatio ex nihilo; calling a people into existence doesn’t literally mean no one existed previously.

Instead, Paul’s remarks mirror God’s creating activity, which brings something new from something else. This is creation out of something. The list of New Testament examples saying God creates from other things is long. 

Biblical Conclusion

In sum, we search Scripture in vain for passages supporting creatio ex nihilo. Biblical writers say God initially (and continually) creates from something. For those Christians who consider the Bible a primary authority, this fact should significantly influence how they think about God’s creating. And it presents a strong element in the search for a Christian doctrine to replace creatio ex nihilo.

This blog is the first in a series I will write on initial creation. In the next blog essay, I’ll look at reasons why Christians in the past and present continue to affirm creatio ex nihilo, despite lack of explicit biblical support for this view.

 

_________

[1] See Jon D. Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994; New York: Harper & Row, 1987), xx, and Joseph Blenkinsopp, Creation, Un-Creation, Re-Creation: A Discursive Commentary on Genesis 1-11 (London: T & T Clark, 2011), 30. Some object that the word “chaos” is not quite appropriate to describe what Genesis 1 authors describe as present to God at the initial creation. David Toshio Tsumura and William P. Brown object in this way, but they admit God created from something (“empty space,” “amorphous state,” “undifferentiated mass,” etc.). See Tsumura, The Earth and the Waters in Genesis 1 and 2: A Linguistic Investigation (Sheffield: JSOT, 1989), and Brown, The Ethos of the Cosmos: The Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

[1] Ibid., 122.

[1] See for instance, Brevard S. Childs, Myth and Reality in the Old Testament, Studies in Biblical Theology, No. 27 (London: SCM, 1960), 33.

[1] In addition to the scholars cited in the ensuing paragraph, see also Bruce K. Waltke, Creation and Chaos (Portland, OR: Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, 1974); Shalom M. Paul, “Creation and Cosmogony: In the Bible,” Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter, 1972), 5:1059-63; Frances Young, “Creatio Ex Nihilo: A Context for the Emergence of Christian Doctrine of Creation,” Scottish Journal of Theology 44 (1991): 139-51; Keith Norman, “Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation in Early Christianity,” BYU Studies 17/3 (1977): 291-318; John H. Walton affirms creatio ex nihilo, but he argues that Genesis 1 doesn’t teach the doctrine (The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate [Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2009], 42).

[1] Terence E. Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville: Abingdon, 2005), 5.

[1] Claus Westermann, Genesis 1-11. A Commentary, John J. Scullion, S. J., trans. (London: SPCK, 1994), 110, 121.

[1] Rolf P. Knierim, Task of Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1995), 210.

[1] See Richard J. Bauckham’s analysis in Jude, 2 Peter (Waco: Word, 1983), 297-302; and J. N. D. Kelly, A Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 358-59.

[1] Paul Copan and William Lane Craig offer a defense of creatio ex nihilo in their book, Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical, and Scientific Exploration (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004). The biblically-based arguments offered by the authors, however, are extremely weak, amounting to little more than reading a view into the text not already present therein. They rely upon arguments by assertion. For a comprehensive review of the Copan and Craig’s book, see Blake T. Ostler, “Out of Nothing: A History of Creation Ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought,” The Farms Review 17/2 (2005): 253-320. Ostler’s criticism of Copan and Craig gets at the problem with their book: “Asserting that a view is ‘implicit’ in the text without explaining why the implication is necessary to the text amounts to simply reading one’s own view into the text. I believe that is precisely what Copan and Craig have done” (271).

 

 

Add comment

Comments

Greg Crofford

Tom –

No doubt you, Lodahl, and others have answered many of the common objections, and I’m just not aware of it. Usually the doctrine of creation ex nihilo is said to guard the unique nature of God’s eternity. If something existed already from which God created, then wouldn’t that something be co-eternal with God?

– Greg


Tony Scialdone

Nicely done, Tom!


Eric Maggard

Hi Tom… yes, this is an interesting topic.  I have come to it from a physics and thermodynamics background, so it would be interest to hear your views.

The thing that I noticed however is your order of referring to chaos and void… From Genesis 1: “1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was [a]formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was [c]moving over the [d]surface of the waters.”  This is from the NASB.

The first verse simply states: God created the Heavens and the Earth.  Then it goes on to talk about this Earth.  So, the void and waters refer to this Earth which God created.

Genesis 1 doesn’t say “how” God created, but from my studies of physics, thermodynamics and reading up on the background temperature of the universe, there had to be a certain amount of energy at creation (around 4 degrees above absolute zero).  I guess what you have to answer is: was this energy there before God created or did God supply this energy when He spoke?


garycondon

Seventy something geezers still enjoy the process of chewing new food. Thank you.


Daryl Densford

Tom,

Two questions come to mind as I read this post:

1) Is there something from Scripture that suggests that Gen 1:2 shouldn’t follow Gen 1:1 in God’s activity?  It seems that if Gen 1:1 comes first, then this could be seen as God creating the “something” from which he continues to forms in Gen 1:2.

2) Considering Theistic Evolution which denies a literal reading of the Genesis creation narrative, how can you then take the same Scripture you deny to use as proof in the case of this post?

Thanks!

Daryl


Hans Deventer

Tom, I’m cool with the idea that there is no creation ex nihilo in the Scriptures. Mainly, because for all I can see, the Scriptures don’t intend to write about how God created the universe. That’s way beyond their scope. So all that’s happening is that we push back the question to a point where we can say nothing about. It’s not much of an issue for me. To me, the heart of the matter is that God can do what the Scriptures do say He can. If, as Christians, our hope is in God, I´d say THAT does matter.


Lisa

So, according to Initial Creation,God is into recycling and upcycling.

Awesome.


Thomas Jay Oord

Thanks for all your kind comments. Most of the questions some of you raised will be addressed in subsequent essays.

Tom


Todd Holden

Tom

I wandered back to your page and VOILA!

I find that here you are writing on a topic that has been greatly on my mind as well.

What do you think of this?

God did not create out of nothing. In fact, perhaps, to say so is downright blasphemous.

God creates out of; or from Himself. So that it is that all creation not just has God’s fingerprint, but that creation is of God, Himself. Perhaps this is why Paul writes in Romans that God is evident simply by looking at the created world. No doubt! Since when we look we are truly looking at God or maybe we could say the essence of God.

Your thoughts??


Samuel F.

Eric wrote:  The first verse simply states: God created the Heavens and the Earth.  Then it goes on to talk about this Earth.  So, the void and waters refer to this Earth which God created.
————————————

I hope you don’t mind if I attempt to answer your question Eric. 

The grammatical construction of the first chapter of Genesis is the same as Jeremiah chapters 26, 27, etc.

Now look at some of the translations for Jeremiah 27
“Early in the reign of Zedekiah…”
“When Zedekiah began to reign…”
“In the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah”

Now, clearly Jeremiah 27 saying “In the beginning” does not imply that nothing existed before it.

Therefore, Gen 1:1 may read
“In the beginning of God creating the Heaven and the Earth, when the Earth was without form or void…”

Young’s literal translation of the verse reads, “In the beginning of God’s preparing the heavens and the earth, the earth hath existed waste and void, and darkness is on the face of the deep, and the Spirit of God fluttering on the face of the waters…”

With this understanding of the original Hebrew, the very first thing God said and did was, “let there be light” in verse 3, and the previous two verses were just background information.  The same is true in the chapters that I mentioned in Jeremiah, where background information is given previous to the focus culminates on what God spoke.

-sam


Stephen

Todd wrote: “God creates out of; or from Himself. So that it is that all creation not just has God’s fingerprint, but that creation is of God, Himself. Perhaps this is why Paul writes in Romans that God is evident simply by looking at the created world. No doubt! Since when we look we are truly looking at God or maybe we could say the essence of God”
———————————————-

There are 3 possibilities
1) Creatio Ex Deo (creation from God’s own substance
2) Creatio Ex Materia (creation from something else)
3) Creatio Ex Nihilo (creation from nothing)

Although, concerning option 3, I believe that it can be argued that even with creatio Ex Nihilo, it can be considered creation “from God” in the sense that it is from God’s own imagination and thus would be an exact representation of God’s own thoughts.

The trouble with creation from God’s own self is that you would expect that anything coming from God’s own person would be absolutely pure/perfect.  It does not explain the world we live in i.e. the evil and suffering that exists.

It may sound blasphemous, but I believe that the only reasonable explanation for evil and suffering would be from a theological framework of creation “from something”, and that something or infinite somethings include non-divine entities which have always existed.

-Stephen


Kevin

It is strange that I happened upon this blog. It seems that I have the particular answer to the problem you are trying to solve.
For most people the question of how everything came to be is full of imagination for its answer. For me the answer was given over time after I asked for it as a child.
I am making this post as it seems that it was by more than chance that it came to my attention so I will pass on what was given to me and you can accept it or deny it as you wish.

Let’s begin with Gods description of the beginning.

1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Here we must part with the usual concept that Genesis 1:1 is describing the formation of all matter, space and time. Genesis 1:1 is a statement by God describing what he would do before he did them. This is exactly how God performs, this is exactly how he defines his works. look at this verse to see his words;
Isaiah 42:9 Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare: before they spring forth I tell you of them.
God is telling his prophet what he was going to do before he actually performed the acts even though it happened long before the prophet existed. Gods revelation is true to form even when he describes historical accounts.
Genesis 1:2 is in fact Gods description of the conditions at the beginning and his description of his first act in the performance of the creation he foretold in Genesis 1:1. 
In 1:2 he says;

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

The earth being spoken of here is not what people think. It is a description of the unenergized components of matter before he energized them into the atomic structures we now comprehend. This void or deep or waters as it is described is really what we now perceive as dark matter. The unenergized particles that God is going to energize and form into organized forms we call atomic structures.

And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

In the second part of 1:2 God is acting upon the dark matter and imbuing it with energy which if we pay attention leads to 1:3;

And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.

When he energized dark matter it changed from darkness and void to components filed with energy able to form light. Notice that God did not speak until he had acted upon the components of dark matter. Once the components were energized he was able to utter a command in the physical realm since he could now control the structured matter he had filled with energy from himself.
It should also be understood that these first words are his Son without whom nothing was made that was made. His word became a living being apart from himself who performed the actions intended by his father.  Christ is a being of light, a morning star who came from the father before any construction of matter into physical forms occurred.

1:4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness

This is a time when all the beings of light or the host was generated… the angels if you will. Satan too was a created being of light as it was written.
Once the host was formed God now had a way to command the formation of all the subsequent structures he was going to design starting with Heaven…

Continued in next post


Kevin

Continued from last post
1:6-8 And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day
God and his word separated and organized matter according to his design. Next we see the first occurrence of earth.
1:9-10 And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good.
God separated liquids from solids when he formed our planet. At this point you should note that there were no stars yet formed including our sun nor the moon to reflect the sun.
1:11-13 And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.
God sets up the earth with the structures required to eventually form life on his new planet. Note that nothing has actually grown yet. There is no sun light nor is there a water cycle.
1:14-19 And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And 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.  And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,  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. And the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
All light emitting worlds / stars were formed on the fourth day.  This was the beginning of all cycles and the beginning of measurable time. Prior to this there was no specifiable measure of time in what we might call minutes. All that was a measure for time before the planetary periods began was simply periods of light and periods of darkness. Light occurred as energy was expended to form the structures that make up our physical realm and was deemed light, so when people think that creation happened in 7 days they are imagining beyond what is written. God never defined how long the periods of light (creative periods) and darkness (times of rest) were according to any reference point we now understand. His creation simply reflects that there were periods of darkness followed by periods of light and he defined these periods as simply night and day. Note that we are supposed to work in the day and rest at night… just as our creator did.
If you now look back to verse 1:1 you will see that we have just seen the story of the generation / creation of the Heavens and the earth exactly in the order that God described that it would occur… first the heavens and then the earth although the earth as it was intended in the verse one description actually needs the rest of the Genesis 1 story to be complete according to Gods meaning of it.
So what this all comes out to mean is that God / energy has always existed along with dark matter in both space and time. Neither God nor space nor time were created. The Big bang as many perceive the beginning was in fact the formation of matter from a specific point in the existing space at some distant time in the past which can be on the scale of millions / billions of years according to our current cycling of time based on planetary rotations but to God who is eternal and has existed from everlasting our scale of time doesn’t reflect his. All his planetary formations were intended to reflect were periods of darkness to light. All other explanations imagined by man are above and beyond Gods simple truths. God will always exist and he will form / structure all in existence to obey his commands which includes the dark matter that also existed from everlasting in space and time.


John I.

Creation from nothing is also not excluded from the text (which is perhaps what W.L. Craig means by “implication”, given that he believes that perfect being theology is a good source of understanding about God).

The Bible does not explain a lot of things, such as the actual appearance of life-with-material-bodies in the universe. So the fact that it does not address the issue of creation from nothing is really neither here not there in regard to whether it happened. Given that time is bound to physical existence and given the problem of actual infinities, I don’t see how creation ex nihilo is either a problem or unlikely.


It’s “Nothing” All the Way Down! | Eclectic Orthodoxy

[…] even if the ‘something’ is initially vague, disordered, or messy” (“A New Doctrine of Initial Creation“). As an alternative to the traditional creatio ex nihilo, he proposes instead creatio ex […]


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.