Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Problem

January 19th, 2010 / 83 Comments

I believe God created the heavens, the earth, and every living thing. But I think Christians should reject the idea that God created the universe from absolutely nothing.

Theologians typically use the Latin label, “creatio ex nihilo,” to identify the idea that God created the universe from absolutely nothing. While a few have said that the nothing of “nihilo” refers to chaos, the vast majority of theologians have insisted on the literal meaning of nothing. God began with absolutely nothing when creating our universe.

I find few Christians who seriously consider the assets and liabilities of creatio ex nihilo.  Few study the biblical, historical, theological, and scientific dimensions of the doctrine. This is in many ways understandable. Until we have some reason to question traditional assumptions, we tend to accept what we’re told.

I first became suspicious of creatio ex nihilo in the mid 1990s. At first, my worry was what the doctrine implied about God’s power and the problem of evil. If God had the power to create something from absolutely nothing, God would have the power to prevent genuine evil unilaterally. Genuine evils exist that a loving God would want to prevent. So I began to entertain the idea that creatio ex nihilo may not be worth affirming.

Over the years, I’ve realized that the doctrine has many other significant problems. I list nine below. For most of the nine, I add a brief sentence giving support or justification.

The Bible plays a central role in my theology. But I list the biblical problem with creatio ex nihilo last, so I can supplement it with a few quotes from biblical scholars.

Problems with Creatio Ex Nihilo

  1. Theoretical problem: absolute nothingness cannot be conceived.

  2. Historical problem: Creatio ex nihilo was first proposed by Gnostics – Basilides and Valentinus – who assumed that creation was inherently evil and that God does not act in history.  It was adopted by early Christian theologians to affirm the kind of absolute divine power that many Christians – especially Wesleyans – now reject.

  3. Empirical problem: We have no evidence that our universe originally came into being from absolutely nothing.

  4. Creation at an instant problem:  We have no evidence in the history of the universe after the big bang that entities can emerge instantaneously from absolute nothingness.  Out of nothing comes nothing (ex nihil, nihil fit).

  5. Solitary power problem: Creatio ex nihilo assumes that a powerful God once acted alone.  But power is a social concept only meaningful in relation to others.

  6. Errant revelation problem: The God with the capacity to create something from absolutely nothing would apparently have the power to guarantee an unambiguous and inerrant message of salvation (e.g, inerrant Bible).  An unambiguously clear and inerrant divine revelation does not exist.

  7.  Evil problem: If God once had the power to create from absolutely nothing, God essentially retains that power.  But a God of love with this capacity is culpable for failing to use it periodically to prevent genuine evil.

  8. Empire Problem: The kind of divine power implied in creatio ex nihilo supports a theology of empire, which is based upon unilateral force and control of others.

  9. Biblical problem: Scripture – in Genesis, 2 Peter, and elsewhere – suggests creation from something (water, deep, chaos, invisible things, etc.), not creation from absolutely nothing.

Genesis 1 and other biblical passages do not claim that God created the world from absolutely nothing. Here is what biblical scholars say:

Jon Levenson: “Properly understood,” Genesis 1:1—2:3 “cannot be invoked in support of the developed Jewish, Christian, and Muslim doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.”

Claus Westermann: creatio ex nihilo “is foreign to both the language and thought of P (the unknown author of Genesis 1); it is clear that there can be here no question of a creatio ex nihilo; our query about the origin of matter is not answered; the idea of an initial chaos goes back to mythical and premythical thinking.”

Terrence Fretheim: “God’s creating in Genesis 1…includes ordering that which already exists…. God works creatively with already existing reality to bring about newness.”

Rolf P. Knierim: “it can be said that Yahweh is the creator of the world because he is its liberator from chaos, just as he is the creator of Israel because he is its liberator from oppression.”

Catherine Keller summarizes recent biblical scholarship: “Among biblical scholars there has existed on this matter a near, if nervous, consensus for decades. The Bible knows only of the divine formation of the world out of a chaotic something.”

The only significant thing creatio ex nihilo has going for it is that so many Christians through the ages have supported it.  The earliest Christians, however, embraced the idea God created the world out of something.

For instance, Philo postulated a pre-existent matter alongside God. Justin, Athenagoras, Hermogenes, and Clement of Alexandria spoke about the creation of the world. Origen of Alexandria and, later, John Scotus Erigena argued that God is essentially creative.

Historian Gerhard May, when noting the early Christian theologian who did not affirm creatio ex nihilo, says they “could hold that acceptance of an unformed matter was entirely reconcilable with biblical monotheism and the omnipotence of God.”

But the majority of later Christian theologians affirmed creatio ex nihilo. There’s no getting around this. And because Christian tradition is important to me, I do not take lightly the idea that I oppose the majority.

In my mind, however, the nine problems I have listed above are so strong that opposing the majority of the Christian tradition seems the sensible thing to do. Besides, the tradition does not jibe with the biblical witness on this issue. I typically opt for the Bible over tradition.

I happen to think that pointing out problems in the existing theory is not enough. A constructive Christian theologian like me should suggest a replacement. I will propose an alternative theory of creation in a subsequent essay. I call it creatio ex creare en amore — God creating out of creation in love.

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Charlie Collier

Thanks for the post. I would love a follow-up post that engages theologians like Aquinas and Augustine on the topic of creatio ex nihilo. Since the tradition/Bible distinction didn’t really get going until the Reformation, I worry when this distinction is hauled out against the long consensus of pre-Reformation theologians. Augustine and Aquinas certainly never thought they were doing anything other than interpreting Scripture. And Lord knows Augustine knew his Scripture! I doubt there’s ever been a text more suffused with biblical citations and allusions than his Confessions, and who else comes to mind who preached five huge volumes of sermons on the Psalms alone? To put the concern differently, I doubt very seriously that one can both affirm that the doctrine has tradition on its side and deny that the doctrine has any strong basis in Scripture.

Also, it would be interesting to see you reflect on the work of particular contemporary interpreters of the doctrine. I have in mind first and foremost the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe (see esp. his “God Matters”, and there esp. part one), but also Rowan Williams (see scattered reflections in “On Christian Theology”). In these contemporary theologians’ work, I think you’ll find a position that evades many, perhaps all, of the difficulties you enumerated in your post.

Tony Scialdone


Thanks for inviting me to comment. I hope to be constructive. While I share some of your concern over the Biblical and philosophical arguments for creatio ex nihilo, I don’t share your reasoning:

1. What do you do with the possibility that, while beyond our conception, absolute nothingness may have actually been? Our conception doesn’t limit historical reality, does it?

2. You’re committing the genetic fallacy: rejecting an idea on the basis of its origin, rather than on its merits alone.

3. To the contrary: there’s plenty of evidence, even if much of it is theoretical and philosophical. Scientists and theologians agree that the universe had a beginning…so, prior to it existing, it had to not exist.

4. First, what kind of evidence would you expect to find if something WERE created out of nothing? Second, you’re not answering the question, but pushing it further back. Is the universe eternal, or did it come to be at some point?

5. Power is the ability to do work. There’s no implication in the word that a social component is required…it appears you’re imposing your own meaning on the word.

6. Let’s turn this around for clarity: you seem to be saying that because clear revelation doesn’t exist (your words, not mine), God lacks the ability to create from nothing? Non sequitur.

7. I agree with the general principle that a powerful God would be responsible for not preventing evil (if culpable, I’m not sure to whom He would report)…but your presumption is that God would not allow evil at all. Without more evidence, I’m not sure we can draw such a conclusion. Non sequitur.

8. On what basis do you reject this idea…is it because you don’t like it, or because you have evidence that it’s incorrect?

9. On this we agree.

I’d like to add another point of contention. Let’s suppose for a moment that God DID indeed simply order the existing chaos at the beginning of our universe. You seem to be suggesting that this is evidence that God COULD NOT create from nothing. It’s not. If I take a vacation to Seattle, that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have just as easily gone to Phoenix…does it? What God DID is not necessarily an indication of the extent of His ABILITY.

I don’t mean to be harsh or unnecessarily argumentative, Tom. I look forward to hearing more from you, especially in response to the kinds of questions I’ve raised above. I’m not done learning, and I’m sure you have much to teach me. =)

Dan Smitley


I look forward to your forthcoming essay. You may address my concern in it, so feel free to say “just wait”, but if we say God created out of something doesn’t that require that something to be eternal as He is eternal? What are you willing to say is eternal with Him other than Himself?

I have a feeling you gave a glimpse of your answer in the title of the next essay but I still wanted to ask. Thanks,


Charles W. Christian

My main question, then, is more a theological one, Tom: Was there a time when all there was was God?  Some Jewish commentaries of Gen. 1:1 understand it to be something like this: “Before there was anything else, there was God; then God spoke.”  This, of course, is an “ex nihilo” account.  However, what about the ancient creedal statements regarding “before there was anything, there was God.”  I believe one can affirm the idea of a God who precedes all other things without a specific ex nihilo reading of Gen. 1; however, I don’t see you addressing that question, and I’d like your take on it.

Finally (for here), the two statements that address the problems with a God who is able to create ex nihilo yet doesn’t stop evil are not convincing to me.  What about the Trinitarian model of a God who is perfect community who wishes to take a risk to reproduce this perfect community by creating?  The risks involved CAN (and do for many) address the problem of evil while still positing a God with the power to create ex nihilo.  Again, I like many of your comments, but I don’t see these two things addressed, and they are historically significant concerns.  Blessings! ~ Charles


Tom, as usual your thoughts are cogent and worth pondering.

I wonder if there is a middle ground between the extremes of creatio ex nihilo and creation from chaos. My problems with creation from chaos, as I understand the idea, is:
-Chaos seems to become the default reality. Chaos is the natural state of all things. This seems to suggest that we are not ultimately the creation of God but are God’s ordering of a chaotic primordial state or substance. We are, most basically, chaos given order.

-This also seems to smack of dualism. If God is in an eternal “battle” with chaos, how is this different from other forms of dualism in which God eternally battles evil in one form or another?

-While I think the problem of evil’s origin may be solved with creation out of chaos… the problem of evil’s exodus is glaring!

I wont offer my underdeveloped theory here but I think there is a third way in which we can see God as creator in the fullest sense and yet still affirm that chaos is a necessary element of the creation.


OK Tom,

Let’s say after 10 years your starting to win me over on this one.

let’s say to summarize some key points of your of your argument (maybe some previous discussions we have had on the same subject mixed in)

God is by nature both relational and creative.

If he created out pre existant matter, He would have had to created the pre existant matter which he created from pre existant matter and so on creating a sort of ‘creation loop’

where i get lost is humanity and as we know it is relatively young even by the longest estimates.

My current understanding of God’s nature is so relational that i have trouble with the notion that God would have created over and over again with out also creating community/love capable live prior to us.

then my mind starts really spinning could heaven already be populated?

maybe it sounds crazy but it seems the natural next step

Lori Ward

If not creation ex nihilo, then creation from what?  If ordering of chaos, from whence cometh the chaos? 

Also, regarding the power of God over against the power of evil, you seem to imply that God must not be able to overcome the power of evil—otherwise, God is culpable for not doing such.  Are you suggesting that there is some other—some power—outside of God that limit’s God’s power?


Please forgive my spelling everyone.

Man it must have been torture reading my papers in my pre- secretary years

Dan Martin

Hi Tom,

I only recently started following the blog and I’m lovin’ it! Thank You.

I love theology.

(Okay, love is a strong word there but my D.S. may read this blog and I’ll take the brownie points whenever I can get ‘em – Go Yankees!)

That being said, in order to cling to my passion for theology I need it to translate into action and real life so here’s my question.

What does all this do for Meth Addicts?

I tell our people everyday that by fully submitting to God’s loving strength they can conquer Meth, which tends to be just one particularly nasty bit of chaos in their lives. Sadly, more often than not they fail that battle. 

Are we saying God is limited in dealing with chaos in general, or is he only limited when dealing with pre-creation chaos? If those limits exist at all are they self-imposed by God, which would seemingly only make him stronger, or is he unable to fully remove chaos?

(Yikes, that has the potential to mess with traditional Naz theology.)

Sorry if I stepped outside of the scope of the post. Thanks again.

Grace and Peace, Dan

Jack Holmes

Tom, I think we are so trapped in our limited, finite, physical thinking that we do not/cannot understand God. He is spiritual. He exists in a different state of being. We have no way of understanding Him outside of His explanations of of Himself expressed in our finite language, with our physical terms, and concepts. That is one reason why Jesus is so important to us.

I think it is absurd for us to make speculations about the spiritual realm unless we can form them from what He has told us. The word “nothing” has no meaning in the spiritual. What was created just did not exist before. It is that simple. Romans 4:17, and Hebrew 11:3 gives us a little insight to God’s perspective.

The whole world has a physical picture of God, including the old philosophers, which we seem to revere, but the spiritual and physical are completely different states of being. Contemporary Christian theology has not corrected that either. God is just the big man upstairs. The spiritual is beyond our comprehension. We need to understand that part, at least, and let His word help us understand Him and His heart toward His creation.


Wm. Andrew Schwartz

The position that “before there was anything, there was God”, reminds me of the mystical Jewish concept (picked up by Moltmann) called zimsum. This is the idea before there was anything, there was God, which means that in order for something non-God (something finite) to exist, God would have to withdrawn unto God’s self, making room for the finite. While this is a very sophisticated position, it does not help us with two key issues: theodicy, and “out of nothing comes nothing” (ex nihil, nihil fit).

Wm. Andrew Schwartz

I appreciate your questions – “If ordering of chaos, from whence cometh the chaos?” In response to your question, I pose a parallel question “If creation/ordering by God, from whence cometh God?” In both cases, God and chaos have no beginnings. The same logic/faith that is applied to a God with no beginning, is the same logic/faith that is applied to a chaos with no beginning.

Eric Vail

Tom, you are raising some good critiques of the tradition that I believe do need to be addressed.  I think we need to examine further some of the unintended implications of traditional ways of speaking about creation.  Like many who have already posted, I do not agree with all of your critiques.  Also, Charlie Collier mentioned a few contemporary theologians whose articulations of the doctrine are not guilty of many if any of your critiques.  In my own dissertation I too tried to develop a language for talking about creation out of nothing that avoids your critiques.  I welcome anyone’s thoughts on whether I was successful or not.  See “Using ‘Chaos’ in Articulating the Relationship of God and Creation in God’s Creative Activity” at

Preston Hills

I enjoyed reading this blog. The idea of creatio ex nihilo raises questions in my mind as to why, if God is all powerful and did create the universe from nothing did he create evil and other negative factors? Does God allow calamity to grow perseverance? Also, where did God come from if nothing was there? In my personal faith I strongly believe that God is all powerful and all knowing, but I now question in a sense creation, because of the arguments posted.

Greg Borger

Good stuff! I eagerly await your alternative.

As theists, problem one seems to remain an insurmountable problem. If we accept the idea of an eternal/infinite God then absolute nothingness is very much impossible to conceive.

Reguarding the question of creation out of what, that many have already raised, I am guessing that we may see an alternative that proposes that God has created out of Himself, maybe God created out His nature, will, desire, or even His Love.

Thomas Jay Oord


Thanks for your helpful comments!  I’m posting my follow-up blog, which has my alternative theory.  Your comments helped me fine-tune my arguments.  Thanks!



Hey, TJ,

I responded to and linked to your post on creation ex nihilo. You brought up some very good points.


David Egger

Creatio Ex Nihilo:  “No Problem”

To believe that God created the heavens, the earth, and every living thing is an act of faith.  We have no proof that God created it, we only know that it exists.  Whether God created this world   from absolutely nothing or by organizing chaos is of little consequence.  But to accept the idea that God created the universe yet limit our belief in His creating ability to what we can explain or understand is absurd.  How can you so easily accept the notion that God can create all the intricacies of this world only if it is prefaced with the idea that it was created out of something?  Christians should not reject the idea that God created the universe from absolutely nothing…unless His Word rejects the idea.  But this would seem to place the authority of God’s Word above man’s wisdom.  Can we do that?  Well, Proverbs 3:5 says “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”  It would seem that God wants us to trust Him, by trusting in His Word.

Now we are getting to the crux of all the questions being raised.  Can we trust a God who allows evil in this world when He could have created a world without evil?  Or was He just powerful enough to set this world in motion but is powerless to control it?  The implication seems to be that God is either responsible for evil or not powerful enough to stop it.  Maybe it is because He gave us all free choice to either choose Him or allow the consequences of sin to be carried out.  If He created us to glorify Him, to honor, love and serve Him it would mean very little to Him if we couldn’t choose an alternative.  That alternative is separation from God, sin, evil, and it has consequences.  If we ignore the law of gravity and get hurt should we blame God?  Maybe He should have made us with bodies that can’t be broken, not susceptible to disease and able to live forever.  Oh, yea, He does have a plan for that…for those who trust in Him and His Word.

How do we know if any part of God’s Word is true?  Considering the assets and liabilities of a Biblical concept is the wrong approach.  Truth is not proven on the basis of its assets and liabilities.  It is not based on what feels right or what the majority considers to be Truth.  What is True is True even if not one person believes it to be True.  What about all those miracles?  Should we consider the assets and liabilities of them to decide if they were real or fictitious?  How could we prove them?

The real problem is how we view God’s Word.  Once you start doubting God’s Word and deny that it is inerrant, where do you draw the line?  Do you draw the line at the “creation story”, the “virgin birth”,  the “miracles”, or maybe the “resurrection”?  Once you decide that you can not trust God’s Word is in fact God’s words, you end up with man trying to dissect and prove each and every aspect of the Bible through man’s infinite wisdom and deciding what to keep and what to throw out.  Oh, but then you would have to throw out that whole Proverbs verse above.  I am not that smart so I tend to just believe God’s Word is His Word and it is inerrant.  Now I can learn about God by reading His Word.  I don’t have to guess which parts to believe, I can safely believe it all.  If it says God created…then He did, period. 

Colossians 2:8

Tracey Berry

But doesn’t scriptures say that God spoke and then there was his creation? Doesn’t that imply that there was nothing before God spoke?

Also, I don’t quite see how your 9 reasons are so solid that you don’t have any more evidence for it. I would be interested to see more support for the statements.


Genesis 1:1 tells us what God did. The rest of the chapter gives some details on the order in which He did it. The text does not tell us that God created the primordial waters. The narrative begins with the Spirit of God hovering over them. God then begins His acts of creation, or bringing order out of chaos. Creation ex nihilo may be true, but that’s not what this story is about. In any case, the essay above could open the door to somewhat of a panentheistic view of God—i.e., the cosmos is IN God, even if that means the “energies” as opposed to the essence of God(to borrow from the Eastern fathers). Thus, the primordial waters are not so much the waters of chaos as a metaphor for the divine energies from which an ordered cosmos evolved.


The fundamental fallacy above, is that you assume that being exists beyond God. This has the consequence of making God a part of the natural order as opposed to above and outside of the natural order.

If you conceive of God as being ontologically beyond nature, then your issues are solved.

To understand this most basic and crucial starting point in theology one should consult Van Til “defense of the faith”

darrell a. harris

Lovely, catalytic piece, Thomas Jay Oord. Thanks for it. Have you ever done the promised follow-up post? If so what is its title?

Stephen Michael Purdy

“5 Solitary Problem: Creatio ex nihilo assumes that a powerful God once acted alone. But power is a social concept only meaningful in relation to others.”

But Thomas, you are missing so many other aspects that derive from the same point.

If God was alone… then there was no such thing as “good” because good has no meaning unless compared to “evil”. God was not “holy” because there was no such thing as “unholy”. There is no such thing as mercy, because there was nobody to be merciful to.

In a way, you can argue that God (in this scenario) was not God.

Furthermore, God would have no reason to create in the Ex Nihilo scenario, because existence was perfect.  Simply by creating … God “downgraded” existence.

I reject that.  I believe that God IMPROVES on existence by creating/organizing chaos or creating from some kind of infinite potential that is outside and apart from God.


The way to deal with this question is easy, just take into account 2 things:

1. Pose ANY alternative to ex nihilo, and carry it out to it’s logical end. You’ll see that alternative is ultimately nonsensical and illogical.

2. Don’t subject the Father God Himself to material, naturalistic attributes and confines – Scripture doesn’t allow for it.

For example, God is not merely “older than we are” – God is the very source of the physical property known as time, He crafted it and rules outside and over time itself.

God is Spirit, and is not what we call “complex”(as if he were made of smaller materials and systems), He is the originating principal behind matter and complexity itself.

“All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. John 1:3” – All things. “pre-existing material” would still be a thing, so it’s just deferring your problem.


I have a real interest in this subject and just ran across this discussion.. I find it fascinating!..Some thoughts:

1)There will never be an answer to the Ex-Nihilo scenario..simply because the finite cannot conceive of the infinite.We simply have no way to get to “nothing”. We have no concept or reference point for it.
2)Science and Theology both point to the same thing – All scientific evidence points to the fact that the Universe/Multiverse (the science based “worldview”s name for GOD)have a starting impetus..a T-MINUS 0.00. moment…. What is that? what was that impetus?..what is the causality?
3).If you are taking the “naturalist” worldview (and without parsing words – that is the only real alternative here)In what other state do you find order out of chaos when there is no design to the ordering mechanism? Where do we see in the naturalist view a repeatable,consistent model of order from random chaos without the benefit of an intelligent or at the very least a coherent set of principals?

I so much want to learn more about this subject but my mind will not allow me to have a discussion when so much of what I hear from science seems to want to “move the goalpost” or change the meaning of words. To me, there is a very large difference between the word “empty’ and the word “nothing”. Science seems to want me to accept “empty” as meaning “nothing” and I simply cannot accept that. When I drink all the water that is in this bottle beside me – The bottle will be “empty”.. that is far different than there being “nothing” in the bottle.

“From where do things come to be that were not come to be”

Phillip Anderson

The idea that there was “something” for God to work with somehow makes sense. Even as I read the first few verses of Genesis, I find I agree with the theory of creating from something rather than nothing. For example, the ESV uses words that describe substances such as, deep, waters, and hovering over. Then God speaks, and “creation” begins. But, the argument for this could be in that verse one said, “God created the heavens and the earth,” thereby creating first, the substances that His Spirit hovered over, with the next phase being to form it all.
Finally, from your introduction to the book, I have a thought in regards to the idea of God creating out of God’s own self. I think this brings up the problem of sin. Divine, in the sense of God’s divinity or perfection, could not include sin. If creation was out of God’s own self, God set Himself up to allow sin as part of God. This in my mind makes God way less then a perfect sinless God who hates sin. But, how does this fit in with your understanding of God being culpable? To who whom would God be answerable, creation?

Psalms 5:4 For You [are] not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; evil may not dwell with You. (ESV)

I have to admit that the arguments for one theory or the other is convincing. Thus, I am not ready to commit to either. I also have to think of all of this in terms of salvation and how it fits into my personal transformation and walk with Christ. Does Creatio Ex Nihilo matter? I suppose it does in terms of divinity and reason for creation.


Prof Oord,Thank you for this opportunity to think deeply about my Faith.
#4. Is it necessary for there to be subsequent events of the same nature in order for there to be evidence of an original event? We have no evidence in the history of the Universe of a virgin birth, should we reject that concept in light of the fact that this had not happened before or after the Jesus event? Should we limit God to the proof of science and evidence? Because God may have chosen to do something in one particular way does not mean that He is limited only to that way. Does He have to repeat an experience for it to be believable? Is it possible that our Universe is the point of its existence and not a point to prove God’s power? My house exists to shelter my family not to provide me with data about the builder.

g lieuwen

I agree all created for a purpose and function as we that in creation but not necessarily in actuality as we see chaos such as volcano’s which replenishes the earth. All will be completed someday

Clayton Lopez

Take a look a Romans 4:17 for a shot at creation “ex nihilo.”

I would also inject a comment about our ability to understand matter. We are currently, as a species, dealing with the issues of quantum mechanics, and even on to string theory where the existence of matter is being reduced to information.

If there is any merit to these ideas then we should be searching more in the are of idea, thought. This will lead us back to the inherent presence of the great I AM in whom resides from forever past the fact, or reality of existence.

Linsey Mather

This was an interesting read. I will admit, this is the first time I have pondered creatio ex nihilo. My initial reaction was not necessarily for or against your view. I simply have more questions. For example, if God created the universe out of something, where did this “something” come from?

Also, why do you think the idea of creatio ex nihilo gained so much popularity? Was it simply an easy answer? Or is there some merit to the idea?

In regard to problem number one, why does the fact that something is hard to conceive rule it out as a possibility? Was everything created or acted out with our comprehension abilities in mind? This is then a problem because not all humans have the same levels of comprehensibility.
Your list of problems was quite interesting. Thanks for sharing.

Jerimy W.

I appreciate the essay for the way it wades into unpopular waters.  Understanding and strengthening our faith requires that we continuously analyze (and adjust if necessary) our presuppositions.  I struggle with the thoughts presented in this essay, however.  Of course, I hold to the popular view that God created ex nihilo, yet, I approached this essay with an open mind, willing to listen to the evidence that existed for a different perspective.  Much of the evidence, however, seemed to only point toward the fact that there is a lack of evidence regarding creatio ex nihilo.  For me, depending on a lack of evidence to prove something proves little at all.  Too many questions still remain.
I also struggle with ascribing human logic to all of God’s attributes and abilities.  Certainly, God provides principles, laws and other means of order as boundaries for God’s creation, but does that mean that God must also function within those boundaries?  In particular, does the finite human need to be able to conceive all that God was, is or ever will be in order for God and God’s ways to be legitimate?  Absolute nothingness may be inconceivable for the human, but one can argue that incarnation, resurrection and ascension is also inconceivable.  Is there anything that is impossible with God?

Dustin J.

In relationship to your first point of absolute nothingness not being able to be conceived do you think we can understand absolute perfection? It seems as though these two points are similar when in your introduction you mentioned genuine evil existing.

One thought I had through your nine points been the idea of that which existed along with God or God was the only entity to exist. If something existed alongside of God would it have the power or authority in which is often attributed to God?

Another thought I have with this thought is if we think of God as all powerful then why is the thought of Him being able to do something which is unconceivable for us be out of the question? I appreciate your points as the idea of thinking against creation ex nihilo is not one I have entertained before.

Mark M.

I was particularly struck by point number five or the solitary power problem.  I haven’t ever thought about power being a social component.  In this case, God does have power over someone else thus, there seems to be something already existing rather than nothing.  I am also really intrigued to read your alternative, as stated in the conclusion, because as we venture down this road it seems necessary to ‘wonder’ about the possibilities.

Thinking about creation and the first book of Genesis has me wondering what other parts of the Bible have I skimmed, read, or interpreted without trying to examine the whole picture.  Once again I return to the idea that I am not always going to understand God, nor, truly conceive His ways, so some things are just better left uncovered.

Veronica Roesly

I found this article very appealing.  This brought deep thought pertaining to “did God create from nothing”.  Scripture tells us that God is eternal (Deut 33:27); that He is the first and the last (Rev 22:13) and that He is, was and always will be (Hebrews 13:8 & Rev 1:8).  Therefore, if God created from something, then since He is eternal, He made that something too.  I have to admit, I have not formulated an opinion on this subject, yet I find it very perplexing.  If we concede and agree that God created from something, then are we saying that there are other things that are more eternal then God?  This article states that the early Christians (about 200 AD and earlier) believed that God created from something.  This thought derived from Gnostic s who had a bent view of God.  However, to say God created from something does pose its own problems as I mentioned above.

Susanne Blake

This is a very complex discussion in the way we look at God and how he operates.  So if I do not know the “MInd of God” how can I assume anything except that God is the source? If God has always existed and will continue to exist. The God breathed inspiration of the Genesis account give a sequence that does have order.
God has already placed earth in a position to recreate in an orderly manner.  This gives room for wide speculation.

I guess the dinosaurs and artists early picture of man look somewhat like a “Planet of the Apes” movie. I have always wondered what Adam and Eve really looked like.  Always the perfect couple in the minds of artists.

We as humans need to see something we can grasp in order to understand.  The vastness of God and his universe is quite overwhelming to get my mind around.

I do not think that it is all that important that God did or did not create this earth from nothing or from something already here. 

God spoke the world into existence.  Whether he had already a preexisting framework or decided to make it happen right then does not appear to me to be a subject I wonder about.

Are we not going to believe in God the creator because we do not know for sure when he created and how he created this earth?

We know the word “chaos” is a word that means without much organization and could possible mean evil was rampant.  Either way God has overruled evil in the world to make some semblance of rhythm and organization.

We enjoy living in the world God created. Time and environmental changes have made life difficult for many who live in places where natural disasters have happened.  This is still a fallen world because of Adam’s sin.  I see both side of this debate and will continue to listen to more evidence for future discussions.

Austin Lamos

Tom, the problem I have with this post is that I do not find your arguments entirely convincing. I know that you are the doctor and I am the student, but I don’t find your arguments against Creatio Ex Nihilo to hold a lot of water.
For instance your first premise that since one cannot conceive of “nothing” there was therefore never “nothing” is laden with error. I cannot conceive of heaven, does heaven not exist (Jesus seemed to speak of heaven as a real place)? I cannot conceive eternity, does/will eternity not exist (The Bible seems to speak of eternity)? I cannot truly conceive of a billion dollars, does that mean it doesn’t exist?
The solitary power problem only exists if you do not believe in a Triune God. If God is Triune, as in three-in-one, God cannot, by definition, act alone. God exists in community and therefore always has, does, and always will, act in community.
These are, I think the two biggest problems I have with these arguments.
I’m open to the possibility that Creatio Ex Nihilo is incorrect. But I have not yet heard a sufficient argument for a different argument. Just because it was not brought up until later in Christian history doesn’t mean that it is untrue. Just because the Bible doesn’t explicitly say “Creatio Ex Nihilo” doesn’t mean it isn’t true (The Bible doesn’t say Trinity either).

Melinda Helena

What a wonderful topic!  This topic encouraged an interesting conversation in my home, thank you for that.  I want to start with the thought of this “something” that was present during the creation of the Earth.  We could go all day long trying to figure out who created the “something” and why, but what interests me the most is the relationship God had with the “something”.  It is apparent that God has power over the “something” and created, out of love, for His children an Earth.  Let’s examine the thought that the “something” is chaos and among the chaos is not only God but also evil.  We know that God did not create evil and He does have power over evil, but if God created something beautiful out of chaos, created man with free will, it would make sense that evil, or chaos could have already been present at the time of creation.

I absolutely loved this topic and can’t wait to research it further.

Mary Forester

The controversy between the creation out of nothing and the creation out of something is an issue that has been ongoing. Many Bible scholars point to meaningful scripture that they believe points to a creation that was made out of nothing, and other scholars simply can’t find written evidence in the scriptures to base a claim that the world was ever “nothing” because even the word chaos is something. I can’t wrap my head around the idea of where the chaos came from? Is the chaos self-created? And if not, then wasn’t it created from God out of nothing. I’m sure that there are much smarter people than me who can figure this out quite easily, but it seems to me that it is a mystery.
I do very much agree that creation is a co-creator as far as playing a part in being a sustainer of the world. God uses people to continue His work in the world: through other people, resources, etc. Without people, by the grace of God, continuing to create in this world, it would be potentially empty at some point.

Paul Darminio

The “ex nihilo” debate brings many questions.  Scripture does not require an ex nihilo perspective, but neither does it disprove this view.  We can consider how theology has developed over time as we also consider the moral and ethical considerations that come from a God who can create from nothing.  We can also consider what physics, both Newtonian and Quantum have to add to the conversation through the Laws of Thermodynamics and the Big Bang Theory.  Whichever way you take it, we are left with the many pieces of a complex puzzle and no box lid to guide our progress.
  I agree with the difficulties of a God who could create from nothing and what that has to say about the presence of evil and sin in the world.  I also wonder how we would even begin to consider matter as co-eternal with God, even if it had no form.  I am very interested in exploring these questions, but I wonder how we could ever hope to solve these riddles.

David Hater

This essay was very thought provoking for me, but also very troubling for me in certain ways as well.  Although I appreciate the perspective on creatio ex nihilio, I tend to disagree with what is stated in the article.  One of the issues is not being able to conceive nothingness.  If God is God, and we are not, then when are we ever supposed to be able to completely understand or conceive what God can?  Just because we cannot conceive something does not mean that it cannot exist or God cannot do it.  Also, I may be misunderstanding the connection between the 7th and 8th point in the essay, but it would seem that God having the power to create makes him controlling as mentioned in the 8th point, and yet the argument is made that God is not controlling because evil still exists as mentioned in point 7?  My understanding is and always has been the idea that God has the power to control, yet chooses to allow free will, and therefore evil exists by choice, not by lack of control.
I respect the article and the perspective although I must disagree and sometimes I wonder if by trying too hard to understand God that we actually confuse ourselves even more.  As mentioned above, if God is truly God, then maybe we are not capable, or even meant to fully understand Him or His ways, that is where faith takes over.

Jared Trygg

Tom, you wrote that you first became suspicious when you considered the following: “If God had the power to create something from absolutely nothing, God would have the power to prevent genuine evil unilaterally.”

I suppose much of this depends on how you define evil. As I understand evil, it is the resulting brokenness of the world from the fall. Sin entered the world God created through an act of disobedience made possible by the blessing of free will, which also enables creation to experience an actual relationship with God. The hard part for me to get past is that your statement seems to grant evil so much power. If God were to restore the evil, or the brokenness, outside the actions of God’s creation God then suppresses, if not takes away, the free will he so willing gave to us for the sake of having relationship. This does not necessarily affirm creation ex nihilo, but it shows that God’s love is deeper than simply not allowing his creation to experience the brokenness of the world that we are a part of. God’s love longs for relationship that is mutual in choice.

Kelli Simmons

I really do not know what to think or how to comment regarding this topic.  I honestly am going to have to “digest” not only your argument, but also some of the comments and theories of those who have posted to the site.  Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This would suggest that God always was, and chose to create something good. The Scripture refers to the Spirit of God” hovering over the waters as he continues to create, again (at least in my mind) suggesting God always was, is, and will be, the Alpha and Omega, beginning and end.  I am looking forward to your future comments on this fascinating subject.

Creatio ex Nihilo: Is it Found in the Bible? | Eclectic Orthodoxy

[…] Genesis also speaks of the tehom, the “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 the presence of primeval waters as God creates the heavens and the earth. The New Testament’s most explicit theory of initial creation, 2 Peter 3:5, supports this view: “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. … In sum, we search Scripture in vain for passages supporting creatio ex nihilo. Biblical writers say that God initially (and continually) creates from something. (“God Always Creates Out of Creation in Love,” in Theologies of Creation, pp. 109-110; also see “Creatio Ex Nihilo: The Problem“) […]


Thanks for the post. This is really interesting. The way I have always reasoned through the odd impliciture of Ex Nihilo concerning evil (I always put it up as the two necessary assertions that 1. God didn’t have to create (because he was already in a perfect state) 2. He must have known evil would arise 3. He did create 4. He permitted evil. Some people would like to draw the conclusion here that 5. God caused evil (because in this context allowing implies causing due to assumption 1), but that of course would be a contradiction so we would have to say 6. That God doesn’t exist. Being a Theist though, I’m not to fond of formulations that say God doesn’t exist. The error in 5 an 6 is to assume that God would have no reason to permit evil that was not nefarious. I sound classical here I’m sure, but the way I conceive of this is that A. Evil is temporary/contingent B. Goodness is not (Plato or the redeeming work of Christ, take your pick, but I find no problems in accepting B by either justification). Therefore evil cannot undo the value of any good. Add in a theology of an eternity without any evil and its easy to see why God, though he be infinitely good in of himself, would go through all the trouble of creating/maintaining the finite good of creation. And that is preciously the kind of God we read about in Israel’s story. (Deuteronomy 7:6-8ish “The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but because the LORD loved you…”). That of course, is post creation, and thus outside the lines of this argument, but it shows I’m not just making philosophy up to maintain a belief.

Kristopher Powell

This is a theological issue that I have never thoughtfully considered, but it apparently was something in the back of my mind as the argument being presented was not at all contratry to my beliefs. While reading this essay, I found myself generally agreeing with the “problems” of Creatio Ex Nihilo, aside from the first point given, just because it is beyond humanities ability to conceive the possibility does not mean it is beyond God’s ability, there are still many things in this world that our human minds have not been able to full reconcile. That being said scripture does point to an ordering of something into the creation we enjoy today. In the Book of Revelation, “the new heaven and new Earth” also seem to be a restoration of something into a new distinct creation. Though I cannot truly “wrap my mind” around the possibility of the “something” that existed and was used in the creation process of God, my mind is open that this is indeed a plausible possibility.

Dennis Mohn

I can find myself in the idea that God didn’t create out of nothing. As the argument provided states the Bible doesn’t mention anything about it. Passages point to something, like chaos. Personally, I prefer the chaos idea. I believe it was Scott Daniels talking about how God created saying that He cleaned up the mess, separated the different elements (like sea and land) and then filled what He had separated. On the last day He blessed it all. And sometimes the chaos just breaks out over us because of sin as the story of Noah illustrates.
My point is this, there was something and it was a mess. But God took it and made it into something beautiful. And we’ve got responsibility to manage that which will go back to its original state of chaos if we don’t learn to take care of it appropriately. I believe God picked up the pieces.

Buford Edwards II


One of the things I see in play with the discussion of creation is that many will use the creation of the world and the creation of the universe interchangeably, when the reality is that these are two separate events. Most scientific theories would argue that the universe proper was created first and later the planets and stars out of the ever expanding universe. If we hold this theory to be true, could it not be possible that the universe was created out of nothing but then later the earth (and other planets) created out of something, thus satisfying both theories and also explaining why the Bible does not explicitly talk about the creation of the world out of nothing?

Given that regardless of how far we trace creation back, there would have to be a beginning point. At the beginning point, God would have had to create something out of nothing to begin the process. The only way around this would be to assume that there has always been something and never a time when there was nothing. However, even this is a circular argument because it begs the question of where did the something come from?


jason newman

I came to consider God’s role in creation because of the same reason — the problem of evil. Part of me would like to be very agnostic about the whole concept. In the long run, does it even matter whether God used something already in existence or if he created something out of nothing.
Every time i I think that is the way to go, something bad — evil — occurs. God could have done better. Uh oh.. we are back at the way God created the world. Several responses are about taking everything by faith. That feels naive. Worse it seems to minimize the suffering of people. Wave of the hand , have faith.
The Scripture and experience have to balance out. Creatio ex nihilo does not fit experience. So we need to look at how we are reading Scripture.

Don Smith

In reading this blog I will have to admit that I am one of those who have just always gone along with tradition. The arguments that Tom offers does bring one to think of other possibilities, and it is not hard to see that God is still in the creating process. But when the argument of God being culpable for evil if God created from nothing is an area that I do not necessarily agree with, and would love to hear more on how this conclusion is drawn. I do not see evil as a substance as one would see the universe or even earth on its own or anything that has matter. If one ascribes to free will and I do, I see evil, as actions taken against the way God intended, but because God is love God does not keep humanity from expressing its free will even when it means they do evil. I do not see that if God created from nothing or whether God created order out of chaos matters when evil is the subject. This once again does not mean I fully understand and this does push me to take a closer look into our subject of creation, especially as it can or cannot be proven by the Scriptures, which is most important.

Keith A. Jenkins

I’m no biblical scholar (I don’t even play one on TV), but I took a crack at addressing this subject in “Something and Nothing,” one of the conversations in God Explains It All. My approach is intentionally couched in simple, humorous vernacular and everyday images, to make it more accessible to people who don’t have any particular expertise in theology or biblical studies. Much of it isn’t necessarily drawn from scripture, but I do try to take the big ideas and themes in the Bible seriously. It is an attempt to use speculative fiction to encourage reflection on God and Creation.

I wanted to create, but since I am all-in-all, I didn’t have anywhere to put what I created . . . anywhere that wasn’t part of me. Nothing that wasn’t me could exist because the strength of my Being would “step on it.”

Like the CB radio. I get it. But you figured out something, obviously, because we’re here, and I don’t think we’re part of you. So what did you do?

I withdrew. . . . I limited myself. I withdrew my Being in order to create a space where I wasn’t. . . . I created an ontological location where I wasn’t, and when I did, the most amazing thing happened.

Don’t tell me. Let me guess. The universe sprang into existence.

Have we had this conversation before?


Though I have not considered this subject in depth yet I see the value of its consideration in this postmodern era. “So, the big question is – did God create everything from speaking everything into existence, or did He create everything from material that already existed?” In reflection on the Biblical facts and the reading I would want to postulate that God did it both ways, by speaking everything into existence and then “making” things out of the materials that He had just created. Example, God “made” Adam’s body from the elements of the planet (Earth) that He had just “created.” We would not want to ignore significant words in Scripture that will prove instructive in this endeavour. It is apparent that the word “create” was from the Hebrew word, “barah” and the word “make” was from “asah.”
Interestingly, these two words are very often used synonymously in the Old Testament, so it would be somewhat overreaching to insist that “barah” must always mean to create ex nihilo while “asah” must always mean to fabricate, or form, from materials previously created. So, it seems evident that God employed the use of both forms … creating from nothing and making from materials that He had previously brought into existence. As with many Hebrew and Greek words, it is important that we allow the context in which they are used to determine the meanings. However, the nature of this class allows us to process the idea of
“creatio ex nihilo” as a theological and philosophical position but on the other hand the reality of “creatio ex continua” can be considered as a plausible scientific position.

Kevin Juliano

It is logical that something cannot come from nothing. I hold in my open hand nothing – I should not expect something to appear. Unless I’m a magician? It defies logic. Can God create something from nothing? I guess he can. But would he? Would he go out of his way to defy logic? And added to the question would be why?? He was bored? “I think I’ll make something today, after I have my morning coffee and read the newspaper….”
So there had to be something. If God is going to follow logic, he will make something from something. And there will be a catalyst for the effort. So what was there? Some carbon atoms? A few gases? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. ”
Whether it be carbon atoms or nebulous gases, it came through God. Was it part of God? Like using God’s DNA to produce something? Probably not. I think it was more a part of the nature of a Tribune God. Through us…through our will…through our nature….through our relationship with each other….we will create something that is dependent on relationship. As we interact, let us create a world that interacts. And maybe the interaction was a few molecules colliding or just a high five between Father and Son that produced a big loud bang, but creation came, not from nothing, but from the essence and nature of God.

Maybe I’m knocking on the door of creatio ex creare en amore. I’ll be interested to see….

Joshua Stines

Tom, you mentioned Rolf P. Knierim’s quote. It would make sense the categories through which Israel understood its inception- “oppression”/“liberation”- would, then, be the same categories through which they would use to articulate their own understanding of how the world was created- “choas”/“order.” Since Exodus was so instrumental in Israel’s identity, some camp of scholars suggest that this paradigm of “choas”/“order” found in Exodus should be the lens through which we read the Old Testament.

The major implication of this, then, is that if Exodus is the lens through which we are to view the creation account in Genesis, then it does not lend itself to an ex nihilo understaning. In the same way that chaos existed in the form of oppression in the life of Israel, so chaos existed in the beginning of which God would use to create the world.

This makes sense to me. I have not worked out all of the implications of this yet. One question I do have, however, is how are these categories of chaos/order shaped by Christ and the work that was accomplished through Him? If Exodus is the great identity event in the history of the Israelites, then what is that event for Christians? If that event is resurrection, then does chaos/order fit within the lens of resurrection? If so, how?

Gerald Roesly

Creating out of something is a very interesting view but yet I cannot agree with it. Looking at the premises of creating out of chaos a chaos that has always existed kind of makes me feel that both God and Chaos are coeternal. That is both good and evil have always existed together in the same realm. Now the author also says that there is the problem with the existence of God creating out of nothing and the issue of evil being in the word, but we can also have a problem with a God of love would take something of chaos which has evil within it and use it to make that which He says is good. So if evil came out of the very thing in which was used by God to form everything than a knowing God used that which had evil in it to create everything from. Instead I view that God created from nothing. I see that out of that initial creation everything came into existence and then God created human beings with the freedom to choose.

Jared Callahan

The line “I typically opt for the Bible over tradition” feels so wonderfully irreverent and yet almost passive aggressive. The origin (pun intended) of the theory of creatio ex nihilo coming from outside of orthodoxy was striking to me. What do we do when Scripture does not clearly prove or draw a simple conclusion about a topic? As this post clearly points out, Scripture cannot be used to clearly prove any one idea about creation. How do we act towards God, ourselves, our neighbors, or the rest of creation despite not having a concrete answer as to the origin of all things?

The concept of time draws me in, both in regards to God’s relation to it for the act of creating, and our relationship with it as the creation. We have been invited to create alongside the Creator. As for the alternative ideas (out of God, out of “something,” or even “creatio ex creare en amore”), if God IS love, then God cannot do anything outside of love, and so whatever style of creation we are going to attribute to God has to be out of, or in, love. We are invited to create the same way. If every action creates a reaction, then with every action we can participate in creating/inviting the Kingdom of Heaven to earth, or we participate in a system of death, hurt, and destruction. I believe this is why Jesus speaks so clearly about forgiveness. The past is simply stories we are telling ourselves that shape our current moment. Our interaction with these concepts of origin and development, be it the of the world or our own origin, only matter as they shape the ways we interact with each other now.


Dr. Oord,

I have always appreciated your ability to look deeper into an issue and endeavor to think critically about the implications of any position. You are also gracious, rather than dogmatic, even concerning the things with which you have a problem. I guess that is why you have been, in my mind, one of the best teachers I’ve had at NNU, although I am quite sure we do not agree in some key areas connected to this topic. Personally I have never delved too deeply into the ex nihilo debate, so I read with curiosity the issues you regard as problems. I can’t say though that I found them to be such that necessarily merits challenging traditional Christian thinking. I think there are alternative ways of thinking about, or looking at, most of them that negate the crisis point here. Yet, perhaps I have not thought deeply enough.

In touching the last problem, I take the point of the verses that indicate creation from something have to be considered. Indeed a proper biblical hermeneutic must weigh everything scripture says on the topic. Yet to use the example (as biblical proof) of a tree bearing fruit and reproducing the same type of tree, or cattle giving birth to other cattle, as a point for creation out of something, while indicating ex nihilo is perhaps only suggested or implied, is I believe an injustice to John and Paul. John 1:3 (ASV) says, “All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made”. I Cor 8:6 (NIV) “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came…”. Col 1:16 (KJV) “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible Even the unknown Hebrew writer gets in on it. Heb 11:3 (WEB) “By faith, we understand that the universe has been framed by the word of God, so that what is seen has not been made out of things which are visible.” It is my opinion that just as a proper biblical hermeneutic must account for Gen 2, it must also take into account the verses that do indicate that God created “all things”. I just don’t think these examples are on the same level, and I can’t see that we can put an asterisk beside “all things” and say with the exception of the chaos that came before God. The whole concept of causation, as it relates to philosophy, ends up with God as the natural first cause, since he would not be God if something came before him that could cause him.

That may not explain the chaos, yet the empirical point (3) is also just as applicable the other way. In fact it is typically the burden of the plaintiff to provide proof. You are undoubtedly aware of the theories that attempt to explain the chaos, and the “something” that God apparently works with as we understand the biblical account. This does not mean to indicate that there is a Gap in Gen. 1:1, or that in the fall of Satan, as he was cast out of heaven, God’s initial creation was subjected to chaos. This is all speculation (#3), but the point is that there are alternative explanations. I think that more of your points can be debated, but others in this thread have done so I believe I will stop here. In all of this I desire a carefulness. I do not wish to remain a traditionalist just because I don’t want to think critically (and I do not consider myself to be closeminded), yet neither do I wish to jump on the bandwagon of contemporary discussion just because I don’t want to think critically about the issues.


If we are to truly consider that God did not create everything out of nothing, then where did the chaos that existed come from? Are we suggesting that it always existed? If that is true, then are we suggesting that God’s “always-ness” is minimized?
I can understand giving Genesis 1-2 the interpretation that God took the chaos and formed the heavens and the earth out of it. Do we want to not give Him credit for the chaos that existed before that? Does the problem of evil really become a determining factor for not believing that HE did?
If I am to allow the notion that the “all creating” God would be culpable for evil’s existence, then I have to ask myself the question “is that really a problem?” Had HE not given the opportunity for some level of failure, then there would have not been any opportunity to truly choose Him.
I will enjoy the dialogue and the digging, but I am just not sure that I am ready to go to this extent…

Stephen Phillips

This post is very challenging as it contrary to what I viewed as creation. To say that God created the universe from absolutely nothing can be the most logically answer to creation, as one can then suggest that evolution makes sense as well. However, if this argument is true does it not change our concept of God. Do we not question the sovereignty of God; I some how think we suggest that God does not exist out of time , space and matter. If God does not exist out of time, space and matter; the next logical question is who created God.

The one point that carries much weight is the fact of evil. If God did create everything from nothing, then God should have the power to remove evil unilaterally and without much effort.

Ric Smith

Tom, in considering your thoughts on the topic of creating something out of nothing, I will admit I have never considered this fully. Most people, if they are honest with themselves, have sit and wondered “where did God come from,” “how was the earth formed, etc.?” Like many others, I have sit and wondered and thought on questions and issues such as these. I have thought and considered them but have never really dived into it to research it and consider it, etc.
I will agree with your statement that there is no “evidence” of God creating something out of nothing. Actually, it is not stated in Scripture whether creation was from something or nothing. The book of Genesis does say that the “earth was without shape or form” when God began to create the heavens and the earth. (Common English Bible 2012) I believe this shows there was “something” there when God formed the earth. The question is if there was always something there. If so, where did it come from? I am willing to consider your thoughts and be open to digging deeper with you but wonder where any “substance” came from unless God first made it.
You mention the issue of evil and God’s failure or lack of action to prevent it. My understanding of evil is it comes from the free will each of us has and acts upon. If this is the case, would it not change free will to predestination or something similar if God did “intervene” in order to stop whatever evil act or action was occurring? I believe it would be “limiting” God to say the evil could not be stopped, yet I believe free will would be challenged with some interventions. It is difficult to wrap my mind around this fully to be honest. One thing that really makes me struggle with this thought is the depth of the fathers of our faith and church, who believe creation came from nothing. These were some very deep and well educated and grounded individuals. I am sure they did not take this topic very lightly either. This is a very deep topic. I can see how one could continue to wrestle with these questions and issues for some time.
Ric Smith

Work Cited
Common English Bible. Nashville: Common English Bible, 2012.

Ric Smith

Tom, in considering your thoughts on the topic of creating something out of nothing, I will admit I have never considered this fully. Most people, if they are honest with themselves, have sit and wondered “where did God come from,” “how was the earth formed, etc.?” Like many others, I have sit and wondered and thought on questions and issues such as these. I have thought and considered them but have never really dived into it to research it and consider it, etc.

I will agree with your statement that there is no “evidence” of God creating something out of nothing. Actually, it is not stated in Scripture whether creation was from something or nothing. The book of Genesis does say that the “earth was without shape or form” when God began to create the heavens and the earth. (Common English Bible 2012) I believe this shows there was “something” there when God formed the earth. The question is if there was always something there. If so, where did it come from? I am willing to consider your thoughts and be open to digging deeper with you but wonder where any “substance” came from unless God first made it.

You mention the issue of evil and God’s failure or lack of action to prevent it. My understanding of evil is it comes from the free will each of us has and acts upon. If this is the case, would it not change free will to predestination or something similar if God did “intervene” in order to stop whatever evil act or action was occurring? I believe it would be “limiting” God to say the evil could not be stopped, yet I believe free will would be challenged with some interventions. It is difficult to wrap my mind around this fully to be honest. One thing that really makes me struggle with this thought is the depth of the fathers of our faith and church, who believe creation came from nothing. These were some very deep and well educated and grounded individuals. I am sure they did not take this topic very lightly either. This is a very deep topic. I can see how one could continue to wrestle with these questions and issues for some time.
Ric Smith

Work Cited
Common English Bible. Nashville: Common English Bible, 2012.


I know this is an older post (original comments are from 2010), but it was recently shared on facebook so, viola, I came here from something.

I resonate with this post, and I resonate as well with Kevin Juliano’s post above. Even as an undergrad religion major, these types of thoughts were occuring to me in around 2004 or so, when I was 24 years old. It was actually an intro to philosophy class at a Naz University that opened me up to my own thoughts and beliefs that were pretty contrary to what many other of my fellow undergrads believed and confessed at the time. With Tom’s work, and my being exposed to it the past few years, I’ve realized that I’ve long been an open and relational theist, but never knew how to name it. So thanks Tom. I may not agree with everything because I’m continually learning and shaping my own theological thoughts, but much of open theology simply “makes sense” to me. It seems natural to me. I agree with the nine points, but I also concur that some valid counterpoints have been made that I really appreciate so my thinking and theology can be further formed.

Grant M.

The thing that I find most interesting among the criticisms of creation out of nothing is that the Biblical witness does not affirm such a doctrine and in fact affirms something totally separate from the notion. While I understand the appeal to Biblical scholarship that disallows the introduction of the Genesis myth to be used for the doctrine of ex nihilo, I find it troubling to presume that the vast majority of Christian theological figures who affirmed the doctrine also somehow missed this fact or glossed it over, especially when we appeal to their work on a host of other topics. I’m interested to see how a full Biblical deconstruction of ex nihilo works out in favor of an argument that supports eternal matter.

While not posted here on the site, I remain troubled by the notion that we can simply dismiss time as a metaphysical notion when discussing God. Removing time from the discussion, as with the topics of power and empire that Tom raises in this post, seems to be more of a semantic game when raised as a critical point of ex nihilo, especially when we consider that the passage of “something” is what fuels the breakdown of materials in the universe. I also am troubled, as I’m sure many are, about the idea that some other “stuff” is eternal, because while the notion that God retains creative relationship with that stuff is acceptable, it raises the question of the kind of “stuff” which composes the person of God and which empowers God to be over it. This seems to be a question that lacks a clear answer when we discuss the eternality of matter, but I am eager to dive into this topic to find answers to some of these questions.


The reason from the nine that stood out to me the most was #8, The Empire problem. Considering that different ways of understanding God’s power would play out in how those who claim to walk in God’s Name would live, unilateral force of ‘ex nihilo’ creation is a worrisome thing. If there is a nothing from which things come, would that mean things worn out head back to that nothing? Contrast that to the idea that God remakes and renews and reinvents with freshness from brokenness or chaos, there are a lot more helpful and hopeful branches of practical application. Obviously the provability of a one time event would be difficult, but the livability of God’s love demonstrates the kind of life transforming power that is witnessed to through Scripture and history.

Arthur J. Hughes III

You have brought up some interesting points regarding creation. When we think of the beginning of the universe, we need to decide if we believe that an actual infinity can exist. Do we think that there is a defined beginning? Also on the other end, do we see a defined end to the universe and its existence? Then comes the issue of time and God’s interaction with it. Granted, I am putting human perspective in this, but was there time before creation assuming there was chaos or something else instead of nothing. How long was it like this? There are so many questions and so many theories with each one creating more questions. When I think of the ethical dilemmas of the power of God, I find myself thinking about the nature of free will. By acting on the existence of evil, does God remove our free will? Regardless of what position we take, I do not think that we will ever find a definite answer unless God gives us one. When we think of creation and whether or not it was created out of something, nothing, or whatever we find that here is a good opportunity to apply and marry science with theology.

Andie Avram

First of all I can say that I could easily be lumped in with a group that did not spend a great deal of time thinking about the implications of thinking that God created everything out of nothing, that said I have and do give a great deal of thought into creation. I simply never asked the question, I did assume that the thinking that he started with nothing was sound and not one I needed to question. I will also admit to giving up on pondering such questions when they became to complicated and used the terrible excuse that there are simply things I cannot fully understand because I am not God. Reading through the list of “problems” I was shocked by the second. Gnostics? Am I really holding on to a thought or tradition that began with a group of people who denied the deity of Christ? So with the question now present and with all effort not to give up on this question what can I reason? I am still able to “picture” so to speak, that God started with nothing, then created everything. I can also wrap my brain around a God who is not confined by my understanding of time and eternity. Like most people I do end up in the same place of wondering where God came from, where he was if there was nothing. Is there no start, no end? I have also found myself shaking my head as I find that I have trusted a lesson taught to me without really testing it against scripture. Genesis does not give an inventory of what existed before God created the heavens and the earth, but that does not mean that there was nothing there.

Matthew Henman

This article poses some great points to understanding creation. While I think the strongest and most difficult part of creation is that of evil and its existence in the world. I would have to question in this topic this. If God formed the world out of preexisting matter, where did that matter come from? To me, God had to create all things out of nothing in order for God to be God. If an infinite, all knowing, all powerful being is who God is, He would have had to create out of nothing. When I look at evil, something that comes to my mind is the absence of good. In the human heart we see the ability to choose. To love God and know that He is the author of our soul and salvation, or to choose to reject Him. Evil is simply the absence of God in the situation, and in a free will environment, in which we must choose to love God or love something else, evil will exist.

Banning Dawson

After reading this blog post, I am eager to read your suggested replacement theory for creatio ex nihilo. I would affirm that it is not enough for theologians to stand back and critique various understandings and doctrines without contributing an alternative opinion. Critique alone isn’t helpful.
It was fascinating to learn that Gnostics proposed creatio ex nihilo. That alone carries plenty of questions to keep us busy. If the demiurge had the power to be the creator of the material world, which was viewed as evil, what kind of power did the Supreme being have? It’s also curious why many early Christian theologians affirmed this doctrine. Were they eager to affirm it because of the implications it had concerning the type of power their God had? And the implications that could have for their relationship to the empire of the day?
The biblical witness seems to indicate that God created out of something. Would our understanding of that something need to be the same as our understanding of God? God and the “chaos” always were. Should that lift our view of creation? If creation is the work of a creative God, creating out of the chaos, is the chaos somehow divine because it’s always been?

Karen Humber

The debate over how the earth was created is one that I figured we wouldn’t know until we met God in heaven and asked Him. But since I now get to play with the various ideas: Aren’t all the ideas theories? Is there really more evidence for one idea over another? The idea that we are all made from dust material of stars (in a different article) was new to me and could be correct. That same idea could come to help explain the creation of people (dust of the earth) which came later in the process. Was the first step of the creation process out of “nothing” and the rest out of “something” because God had already created something with the first step? If there was “something” first, what was it and was the Big Bang really part of the process? When we use the word “evidence” what do we mean? How are we defining “power”? Could it also mean ability or authority? Does power have to be social concept? Oh, so many questions!

Julia W.

How can anyone know what truly happened when there was no one there? Genesis 1: 14-19 is when God created the sun and the moon how is He creating this if there was something already there? Also if there was something already there then doesn’t that eliminate the concept at the beginning of Genesis? God created the Heavens and the Earth…if God took that time to create the Heavens then later on created the stars, moon and sun how can one say that He didn’t create the Universe? I know there are many things in our life that help us understand the Bible and its writings better but I wonder if the Creation story is one that we get to sit on God’s knee and know the truth when we are in Heaven.

Jim Butkus

I was pondering what possibilities the definition of “nothing” in the ex nihilo view might entertain. If it means the absence of our definition of matter, that is one thing. If it means the absence of all spiritual existence outside of God, that is still another. Another possibility is that it might mean the absence of a human perception of reality (i.e. there is an eternal reality which we cannot fully perceive or understand). A related thought would be to consider that God created what we know as scientific reality as part of the process of creation. Or, to pose it as a question: did God exist outside the constraints of mathematics and physics prior to creation and then provide these lenses of perception through the creative process as a reality in which we could exist and perceive? Perhaps it’s all just semantics, but it’s something to ponder.


‘chaos’ or ‘nothing’? Perspectives can never be blank, fully objective, so claiming an unfathomable beginning helps little in understanding the nature of God or why God would create or choose to redeem creation. Can we be part of a creative process when we have ‘nothing’ to offer God? We know our own chaos and that we perceive around us, but does this knowledge enhance our awareness and appreciation for God’s creation? Does the Spirit of God still hover over the waters, bringing cause to the chaos? Can we be part of the Spirit’s movement, bringing something beautiful from what might be dismissed as nothing?

alan riley

I am very interested in your replacement theory for creatio ex nihilo. I have never question the ability of God having the ability to Create the universe, or something out of nothing. I have never thought that it is well within God’s ability to create and do everything and for us never to question it, or find ways to question His abilities, skill sets, or motives.
I do agree with the “Evil Problem”. Why would God create Evil, allow truly evil things to happen? If God is the creator of all things, this would mean that He is the author of sin and evil, which puzzle me just as much as thinking that God did not create the universe, or create it from nothing (which could be within His realm, because all things are possible through God).
One thing that I need more time to pray about is the aspect brought up on God and ordering the already excising matter. Terrence Fretheim thinks about “God’s creating in Genesis 1…includes ordering that which already exists…. God works creatively with already existing reality to bring about newness.” This sounds very close to what is believed to be the same creational doctrine held by the Mormon faith and there are significant issues that are prevalent if we start to go down that theology.
All this is to say that I look forward to diving into a deeper perspective on the theories of creation, Gods role in it, and how we can learn from all views. I look forward to seeing a new perspective and gaining clarity that on the creation of the universe.

B Carr

The questions concerning creation are countless, where I have had questions concerning the creation of the world. The varying views on creation are still on – going, with Christians being in agreement with “Creatio Ex Nihilio.” After reading the article, I have several questions concerning creation; the questions are “If God did not create the world out of nothing, how did the earth and all that is in it come into being”? “Why do most Christians agree with theistic version of creation”? What does “creation out of nothing truly mean”? “If God is the creator of the universe, why doesn’t the Bible support this question”?
The 9 reasons leave me in a great deal of confusion, to the point where the scriptures in general leave a great deal of room for speculation of its being valid, concerning the creation of the world. The article states that Christians over the years have supported “Creatio Ex Nihlio,” where early Christians embraced the idea that God created the world for something.

Carrie Goldsmith

I am trying to be open-minded about this idea in order to have a good dialogue and to learn. However, I have a very hard time with the idea of something existing alongside God. How did that “something” come into existence? Why is that “something” not God as well if it is also eternal and uncreated?

I found a couple of the nine arguments compelling (the historical and biblical problems), a few I have no understanding about why they even matter to the discussion (like having empirical evidence—perhaps we just do not yet have the evidence), and a couple on which I would like to comment here.

Theoretical problem: absolute nothingness cannot be conceived.
Neither can we conceive of eternity, especially eternity with no beginning. Neither can we truly understand God. My lack of comprehension does not make me believe something is not true. Why should my little human brain be able to comprehend the eternal God? Even Einstein said that it was incomprehensible that our universe is comprehensible. Why should God be comprehensible in God’s fullness?

Evil problem
What about free will? I know the discussion of why evil exists is a huge topic, but God gave humans free will, and we disobeyed. People continue to exercise their free will in evil ways. Should God take away our free will in order to remove evil? God did do something about evil—He came into our world as a human in order to defeat it forever. I guess I do not really see why the problem of evil means God did not create from nothing.

Rebekah Adams

I think the theories about creation will always be up for debate and discussion. I believe this to be the case because no one person ( human) knows everything about the creation of the world. We may have an understanding of such things as an empire or that evil exist but ultimately, we do not know everything and we must ask ourselves, ” Are we believing that God exist out of just our knowledge?” Do we create explanations about such things as creation to fit into a certain academic group or religious group? It is possible to to make a statement that rejects or accepts Creatio Ex Nihilo but we must take into consideration what it says in Isaiah 55, God’s thoughts are above our thoughts. Therefore, we should trust that one day we will know.
I guess, Christianity will always contain topics with different viewpoints and perspectives. I know that I am now looking at this topic from different perspectives and will continue to look at it and do some more thinking.

Tyler Abraham

This has made my head spin a little bit but I’m gonna give it my best go. First off, I find the notion to reject creatio ex nihilo and interesting one. Mainly because I have never been presented with an idea like this. Much like you spoke of Tom, I was fed by the numerous Christians the idea of creatio ex nihilo. I struggle with the notion that something pre-existed alongside God. It would seem to imply that said matter is also divine as you said but then that implies pantheism.

I understand the problem with evil in the creatio ex nihilo. If God could withhold evil, why wouldn’t he? But is it possible that in creating free will in love, evil was just the flip side of the coin? It would be a necessary component in order to have free will. But what does that say about God? Either he is A.) Willing to allow evil to exist in the world or B). He was so focused on creating good that he didn’t think about the flipside. But a God who doesn’t plan that out does not seem consistent with who God is. I think though that these are topics and questions that are too often overlooked or not engaged at all. It is definitely easier to just affirm tradition and move on but I think at least having these conversations is healthy.

Laurett L MARKET

Tom – I found this blog quite interesting. As I did not grow up in the church, I have the benefit of not (or even desiring to) make a lot of assumptions. Did God create the universe out of “nothing” or was there something there from which to create? I agree with you that something was there. God was there. The Genesis account simply states “In the beginning, God created the heavens and earth” (Gen. 1:1). We don’t fully know how it all began. Certain scientists would describe the sudden appearance of “hot dense spot” from which came everything that exists. From whence did that spot come from? God created the heavens and the earth by speaking it into existence (Psalm 33:6). Spoken into existence from something or nothing?
This takes us to your second point about the implied power of God, when assuming God created the heaven and earth from nothing. If God is that powerful why doesn’t God stop abject evil? Evil came into the world because God granted humanity free-will. God is love. The only way we really understand the full breadth and meaning of that love, is through seeing world is like without it. God did not design robots. God designed humanity for relationship with God. People don’t like to take responsibility for their actions. We don’t have all of the answers as to why God sometimes intervenes, and other times does not. I do know that God does prevent things from being a lot worse than they are.

Kristen Browns

Genesis 1:1-8 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 God saw that the light was good, and he 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—the first day. And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.”
I have for a long time been struck by this passage wondering how this could have been the beginning if there was water and why was there water? My thoughts on this passage have also turned to other planets that have been discovered as of late which contain water. Is there life on other planets? Did God create other worlds besides our own? I really do not understand how God creating something from nothing has to do with evil being prevented. I believe that God has the power to prevent evil but does not always do so because His thoughts are greater than our thoughts and His ways are greater than our own. I can’t pretend understand everything about God but I know enough to know that He loves me and you and everyone else on this planet we call earth enough that even when we deny Him through our actions or our words or even our lifestyle, He still loves us. The passage in Genesis that I brought up earlier has caused some confusion for me because wouldn’t there have to be a “true” beginning on earth? If God is all powerful, why does it appear as if God holding all the power bothers you ( Dr. Oord) ?

Jason Kuhns

I know that words like the Trinity and ex nihilo are not in Scripture, but I think that they are part of traditional Christian orthodox belief. Wayne Grudem says this about ex nihilo: “if matter existed apart from God, then what inherent right would God have to rule over it and use it for his glory? And what confidence could we have that every aspect of the universe will ultimately fulfill God’s purposes, if some parts are not created by him?” (Grudem 1994, 264). Dr. Oord, I don’t like the implications of your position. When you said, “If God had the power to create something from absolutely nothing, God would have the power to prevent genuine evil unilaterally. Genuine evil exists that a loving God would want to prevent”. I believe that your position comes from necessity because of your belief in free-will. I would almost say that this is an idolatrous view because you are uncomfortable with the idea that if God loves us how could he allow evil.

Addressing another one of the issues, I think that Scripture affirms ex nihilo in Hebrews 11:3 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible”. I don’t believe that this is a salvific issue, but I don’t like how it changes the character and attributes of God. I don’t think that God created out of preexisting matter, but out of nothing and by His word.

Jason Kuhns 256

Aneel Mall

Thank you for this very interesting conversation and one that may never have a finite answer. I find your argument to be a very valid one that Creatio ex nihilo does not have enough scriptural support and perhaps the influence of the Gnostics may have influenced early Christians in their thinking. Humanity itself is given as a ‘creation’ of God and yes it can be said that we were also created from “existing” dust of the earth. Yet after being recreated from dust mankind again became “ruined and chaotic” through sin and needed another renewal in the image of Christ or to be “born again” or be made anew in the image of Christ. Meaning how many creative and recreations processes existed? Also supposedly God through Lucifer and the rebellious angels out from the presence of God and the question is where were they thrown? Were they thrown in the prior earth and did they become the cause of darkness and chaos upon the face of the earth. I think you make a good argument that God does recreate from existing creative material which speaks powerfully to His grace and power to renew and restore what has been ruined by sin. Yet this does not also negate the possibility that God retains the power and authority to create out of nothing or Creatio ex nihil and may have done so prior to the world as we know it.

Topher Taylor

One of the ideas of creatio ex nihilo that I have enjoyed reading about is the idea that suggests God created out of nothing because nothing else could have existed before God. I think we are still far away from understanding how the universe and creation came into being but I am still interested in the varying ideas from scientists and theologians that dream up and research how God created, initially. One of the advantages for agreeing with Dr. Oord’s assessment on the issues with believing in creatio ex nihilo is that I am not a fundamentalist, so I don’t take issue with the idea that, “An unambiguously clear and inerrant divine revelation does not exist” but I am sure that there are many that don’t agree with statement. I also understand where Dr. Oord is coming from in his theoretical problem that, “absolute nothingness cannot be conceived.” However, many atheists use the same argument to say that an absolutely perfect, loving, omniscient, omnipresent being, called God, cannot be conceived, so I wonder if this isn’t necessarily a problem that needs addressed.

Aaron Mednansky

There is much about this post that I struggle with, so I would like to focus on only two of them. The first is not looking at all of what the Scriptures have to say about God and just selecting a few to try and prove a point or belief. To begin it is stated that there will not be much if any biblical backing to what is being said about God creating out of nothing, but there are a few verses that we are lead to believe mean that there was matter present before God. It is a slippery slope when we try to read things into verses to support our beliefs and do not explain other verses throughout the Bible. How are we to make sense of verses like John 1:1-3? “In the beginning was the Word… Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” This passage does not say in the beginning was the Word and evil; and I believe that if evil existed before God our outside of God’s created things that is worthy of some mentioning somewhere throughout Scripture. It goes on to say that through him ALL things are made that have been made. So if evil exists, then at some point it would have needed to be created or made which would conclude that evil was made through God.

My second and perhaps biggest issue with the post is argument number one. Which states that, “Absolute nothingness cannot be conceived.” So I ask the question, “By whom?” In my finite-ness I am not able to conceive this but that does not mean that it does not exist. I am not able to conceive the vastness of the universe or eternity. For that matter I do not believe that I can conceive an Almighty God, and by this reasoning God cannot exist. However, I believe that it is possible to believe that God can conceive all things even the things I could never even begin to imagine. Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” If we were able to comprehend and explain everything about God, God would cease to be God. We are not able to conceive certain things about God, but I think that in that mystery of the unknown we can appreciate the magnitude of God.

Andrew Taufa’asau

Dr. Oord,

This was an interesting read for me as I tried to be open minded about about your blog but still struggled. In the last paragraph you mentioned, “A constructive Christian theologian like me should suggest a replacement. I will propose an alternative theory of creation in a subsequent essay. I call it creatio ex creare en amore — God creating out of creation in love.” At first I thought I could accept this but then ventured with the thought of “What is love?” Is it a verb? A state of being? A feeling? Physically it would still be nothing . It is the actions that we see or the outcome of this thing called love. I thought of comparing it to the wind but even the wind can be felt physically, sort of like a hug from another person because they are in love, but this is still an action so it would not work. Apparently I am still struggling with this theory, but trust that maybe God will bless me with the answer.

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