Understandable but Not Convincing Reasons to Affirm Creatio Ex Nihilo

March 12th, 2013 / 19 Comments

In previous blogs, I’ve argued that the Bible doesn’t support creation out of nothing. I’ve shown that Gnostics originally proffered this view, because they thought the world was inherently evil. And I’ve argued that the view of God’s power implied in creatio ex nihilo makes the problem of evil unsolvable. Despite all this, some people still affirm creatio ex nihilo, and they’ve got some pretty good reasons for doing so.

Some of the reasons people affirm creatio ex nihilo are more understandable to me. In this blog, I want to list some of them.

While listing these understandable reasons, I also note that they don’t finally convince me to affirm creatio ex nihilo. Instead, I believe an alternative doctrine can account for these understandable reasons. And the alternative doctrine I’ll proffer affirms with Scripture that God always creates from something, while avoiding Gnosticism and the view of God’s power that makes the problem of evil unsolvable.

Creation depends upon God

Some Christians affirm creatio ex nihilo, because this view clearly says creation depends upon God. I also think a strong creation doctrine should affirm creation’s dependence upon its Creator. To exist, in other words, creatures require God’s initiating and sustaining activity. They require God’s gift of life.

But we can affirm such dependence simply by saying God is a necessary creative cause for the coming to be of all creatures. All things can depend upon God, even though God created them using things God previously created.

A robust alternative doctrine to creatio ex nihilo should affirm creation’s utter dependence upon God. The alternative I propose affirms God is the necessary giver of existence, and it affirms creaturely dependence.

To exist, God does not depend on creation

Some affirm creatio ex nihilo, because they believe this view safeguards Christians from saying God must depend upon the world. Creation out of nothing, they say, allows them to affirm God’s ontological independence as a sovereign being. At stake is what we mean by God “depending” upon creation.

If by “ontological dependence” we mean God’s very existence depends on whether creation exists, I believe God enjoys this kind of ontological independence. I agree that the world is not a necessary condition for God’s existence. I think God exists necessarily. Creation didn’t begin God’s existence, and creation could not end it.

But if by “ontological dependence” we mean the content of God’s experience depends at least partly upon God’s loving relations with creatures, I affirm this view of divine dependence. Affirming this is part of affirming that God is relational toward creation.

The main issue is whether we think God can necessarily exist and necessarily create. Most Christians have no problem believing God both necessarily exists and necessarily relates within Trinity. Many believe God necessarily exists and necessarily loves others. In these examples, we say loving and relating are part of God’s eternal nature. We can also say God necessarily acts, but those acts have contingent aspects.

Given what we’ve seen in the Bible about God always creating from something, it makes more sense to say God necessarily exists and necessarily creates. There’s no logical contradiction in this view. It means that God essentially creates and relates to creatures. Relating, creating, and giving existence are part of God’s essence.

In sum, my alternative doctrine of creation agrees with creatio ex nihilo that God does not depend upon creatures for God’s existence. Instead, God exists necessarily. But the mode of God’s existing, I will argue, involves always creating and relating with creation.

The world is not co-eternal with God

Others affirm creatio ex nihilo, because they worry an alternative theory requires the world be co-eternal with God. If God has always been relating to and creating others, they say, the world must be on the same level as God. Creator and creation are on par.

This worry is understandable, given the Christian conviction that God is sovereign over all creation. Creatio ex nihilo appears attractive, because it clearly rejects the notion that the world is eternal. Fortunately, however, one doesn’t need to affirm creatio ex nihilo to overcome this worry.

I also believe the world had a beginning and is not eternal. But this is consistent with saying God always creates in relation to creatures God previously created. No single world or creature exists eternally. In fact, no creature, world, or universe of any type exists eternally. Only God lives everlastingly.

The alternative creation theory I offer affirms an everlasting chain consisting of creatures God creates. No creature, world, or universe in that chain is eternal. But God’s relentless creating in love means God has endlessly been creating new creatures from those God created previously. In love, God always gives the gift of existence, and God does so in relation to that which God previously created.

Hat analogy

Although comparisons between God and creation have limits, let me offer an analogy to illustrate how God’s necessarily creating doesn’t mean created things are themselves eternal. Suppose we know someone who constantly makes and wears hats. If this person was to do this making everlastingly (which is impossible for a creature, but stay with me), we might think making and wearing hats is a necessary activity of this hat maker.

We wouldn’t also need to believe, however, that any particular hat made and worn is eternal. Instead, we could say hat after hat comprise an endless chain of hats made and worn by the maker. Analogously, transient world after world comprise an endless chain God consecutively makes, and with which God lovingly relates.

In sum, we can reject creatio ex nihilo and still deny that our world or any other exists eternally. God is the only One who eternally and necessarily exists. What is ultimate, I am proposing, is the everlasting Creator who creates from that which the Creator previously created.

God creates all things

Although Genesis 1 says something existed – e.g., “primordial chaos” or “face of the deep” – when God began to create the heavens and the earth, some people affirm creatio ex nihilo because they think it states clearly that God creates all things. To deny creation out of nothing, they say, would mean God used pre-existing materials God didn’t first create when making our universe.

Few Christians worry that after making the universe, God creates using materials previously created. Most think, for instance, God’s creating each human occurs in tandem with the sexual activity of a male and female in conception and the subsequent maturation of the child in relation its mother. The language used in the Bible to speak of God’s creating something new from something previous supports this. The idea God speaks into existence new things (Gen 1), for instance, fits well with the idea God creates something new from something God created earlier.

But when it comes to the initial Big Bang of our universe (or some other theory of initial creation), we rightly wonder from where did the something come God used? Did God just stumble upon some material stuff? Or has it always been existing uncreated on its own, and God finally decided to use it when creating our world?

My creation proposal says God creates everything that exists and has ever existed. Whatever the “something” might be over which the Spirit hovered in Genesis, it consisted of materials God created previously. God didn’t “stumble upon” it. The materials didn’t pre-exist God. And this stuff didn’t come into existence entirely on its own. Instead, God created whatever existed prior to our universe.

In sum, my proposal says God always creates out of that which God created previously. I agree with those who affirm creatio ex nihilo that nothing predates God. Whatever existed prior to our universe, God created it too. Because God creates all things.

The Creator differs from creation

Some affirm creatio ex nihilo, because doing so points to a qualitative difference between God and creatures. Although creatures can join God’s work when creating from something previous, say some, God’s creating from nothing reveals a crucial difference between Creator and creatures. Only God creates ex nihilo.

The intent to identify how God differs from creation is noble. I join those who argue the Creator is not identical to creatures. When taken to an extreme, however, Christians have sometimes claimed God is entirely different from creatures. Such negative theology provides no way to talk meaningfully about God, because it only claims God is not whatever we think God may be.

If no similarities exist between Creator and creatures, we should stop talking altogether. Constructive theology would have no place. Verbal witness disappears, because silence is required. We could have no knowledge of God whatsoever.

In contrast to negative theology, biblical authors often regard some aspects of God as similar to creatures. This seems part of the claim we are made in God’s image (Gen. 1). Although we see through a dark glass dimly (I Cor. 13), some similarities must exist between the Creator and creation if our beliefs tell us anything true about God and how we ought to imitate God (Eph. 5:1).

Instead of requiring the capacity to create out of nothing be what distinguishes God from creatures, it makes more sense (in light of Scripture and arguments earlier) to look to other attributes. For instance, we might say the Creator differs from creation, because only God exists everlastingly. We might say God’s nature is steadfast love, while creaturely natures do not possess steadfast love. God knows all that can be known, while creatures only know in part. God is triune, and creatures are not. Etc.

We can affirm radical and qualitative differences between God and creation without also affirming creatio ex nihilo. The Creator differs in many and important ways from creatures.


I’ve noted that there are good reasons to affirm creatio ex nihilo. But I’ve also argued that an alternative theory of creation – what I will call “God Always Creates out of Creation in Love (creatio ex creation en amore)” can account for these good reasons while also avoiding the problems of creatio ex nihilo.

In my final blog on initial creation, I’ll lay out more details of my alternative doctrine.

Add comment


David Verzyl

Sounds like avoidance to me. You can’t resolve the problem of evil inside the limits of intellect so you change the game—like scientists who can’t resolve the origin of life moving it outside the discussion by saying it came from somewhere else in the universe. All you are doing is narrowing the horizon to avoid the issue. If God is prime (only eternal) cause, suffering and evil are subsequent (part of A created order if not ours) and originated on God’s watch.

Hans Deventer

Tom, can you please help me out. I feel a bit stupid, but I don’t get it. You wrote: ” The materials didn’t pre-exist God. And this stuff didn’t come into existence entirely on its own. Instead, God created whatever existed prior to our universe.”

If creation didn’t pre-exist God, then at one point, God started the creation process out of nothing. That He continued creation from that point on out of pre-created stuff is clear. But if He is eternal, and creation is not, then how can you avoid saying he started creating from nothing at that first point?

Patrick Eby


There is one thing I do not follow here.  Isn’t there a “time” when God first created matter (if not it seems matter is coeternal)? If so, all I think you have done is moved the creation out of nothing further back in “time”.  Am I missing something, or is this what you are intending to say (that matter has a beginning and is not coeternal with God)?




@Dave – It does, doesn’t it? Sound like avoidance? Or is Doc just thinking rationally, like a scientist, rather than irrationally and wishfully, like a theology student? Of course suffering and evil originated on God’s watch. That’s because God manufactured a flawed component in his creation. Mary Lee (see comment on previous post) isn’t flawed; she just eats. There is no malice in Mary Lee. Your average seal or wahoo or yellowfin may disagree as Mary Lee snacks her way across the Atlantic, but I doubt it; I don’t think they are capable of understanding the concept of ‘victimhood.’ OTOH, Adam and Eve et al were/are quite capable of malice aforethought, as we see daily. Don’t we all agree that Adam and Eve are fine examples of a flawed component? That’s God’s fault, too, isn’t it? Or, is ‘malice’ not really a flaw? Did God build in malice? If God is omniscient and omnipotent, then the malice inherent in mankind, that ‘malum/mala in se’, (thousands of preachers tell us we are losers, every Sunday) had to be deliberate on God’s part. Isn’t that rather malicious on God’s part. Or … toss out that ‘omnipotent and omniscient’ thing … was it a mistake? If a mistake, does God accept responsibility for his mistakes? Did he beat his breast and moan ‘mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa’ when the lad and lass screwed the pooch there in the Garden? Or did he do a Divine Pontius, and wash his hands of the matter, sending them out to commit mayhem upon the rest of his Works? Or is ‘evil’ simply a theological grasping at straws, an attempt to explain away a variation of Mary Lee’s seal-gobbling, to convince us that we are more than a snack in the scheme of things?  And how about how some critters do engage in bloodsport, as anyone who has ever watched bluefish feeding on menhaden will tell you, feeding till they can eat no more, then puking up and gobbling some more. It’s just the way it is. There’s no malice there, just a killing frenzy. So is malice necessary for ‘evil’ to exist? Way back when I was dumping tons of bombs on villages, I felt no malice at all. Did I sin? Did I commit ‘evil?’ Will I rot in hell for it, tormented by the ghosts of slaughtered children? Is God going to frown at me, and smack me with a rolled up celestial newspaper? Or does he even care? Should I even care? If so, why? One of my favorite flick quotes is from ‘Blood Diamond’, when DiCaprio’s character muttered, “God left this place a long time ago …”. I can tell you that I understand that very well, having felt it many times, in many places, in many circumstances, in the past. It illustrates perfectly God’s utter indifference.

What has Doc written here that counters that?

Tony Scialdone

Hans asks my question, but I’ll rephrase: aren’t you both denying and affirming creatio ex nihilo here?

Thomas Jay Oord

Thanks for all of your comments.

Hans and Tony – Perhaps I should start by saying that my proposal has no “first,” if by first you mean the first in a series. I do claim God acts first in each moment to create, but I’m saying that there was never a first moment.

It might help if you think about the possibility that God had no first moment in God’s everlasting life. We don’t typically say, “But when was the first moment God existed?” It does not contradict logic to say that an everlasting being had no first moment of existing.

I’m taking that same logic to God’s creating. There was no first moment of creation, but I’m speculating God has always been creating. And to add to this, I’m saying God always creates out of that which God previously created… everlastingly.

I realize that this idea is difficult to get our heads around. But it neither breaks the rules of logic nor does it require one to believe any creature or universe has always existed (see hat analogy above).

I hope that helps,


Mark W. Wilson

Like others who have responded, I find your proposal logically incoherent. If God is eternally creative, but always creating out of something previously created, mustn’t we conclude that the something has been eternally present? You object to the idea of first in a series, but if there is no first creation of that something—co-eternal primordial stuff seems unavoidable.

Your exegesis on earthly creation is sound and supported by careful study of the Hebrew. However,I don’t see how the Biblical account of creation robs God of interventionist powers. A God who can command chaos into order seems to possess enough power to prevent evil. Even if we rob God of ex nihilo creative powers, don’t the biblical texts still grant Him interventionist powers?

And like others who have commented, I think your claim that God has created all that exists amounts saying God at some point exercised creatio ex nihilo. So does your proposal really help with the problem of evil?

Hans Deventer

Tom, I pretend to understand how God is eternal and hence, has always been creating. I can at least logically follow that idea. But if matter is not eternal, and it seems science does indeed talk about a moment the universe started, then at one point in eternity, matter was created.

Like God being eternal and still, at one point in time, became flesh. The two aren’t a contradiction. Even if we talk about how the cross has been in God’s heart from all eternity, which I think is true.

Perhaps you need another blog post to work this out. I’ve not yet been able to understand you.


First, I think the issue of evil having occurred “on God’s watch” misunderstands the point entirely.  I recommend that the above commentators read Dr. Oord’s book A Theology of Love where he makes the distinction between coercion and love.

Secondly, Dr. Oord, how does your theory of creation technically differ from the concept of begotten-ness?  Perhaps begotten-ness is only for personal entities?

Lastly, what’s the point of animals anyway?  If God communicates what He’s like through His creation, what are we to learn through pigeons and snakes?

Thomas Jay Oord


Thanks for your comments. I’ll address them paragraph by paragraph, because I think your concerns are shared by others.

1. You ask, “If God is eternally creative, but always creating out of something previously created, mustn’t we conclude that the something has been eternally present?”

I respond: Yes! There is always something nondivine that is present to God. But as I say in the essay, no single nondivine thing is itself eternal. (see hat analogy) So no single thing is co-eternal, but there is always some thing or another God has created from that which God created previously.

2. You say, “A God who can command chaos into order seems to possess enough power to prevent evil. Even if we rob God of ex nihilo creative powers, don’t the biblical texts still grant Him interventionist powers?”

I respond: My argument is that God is culpable for evil if God could totally control others (coercion). I don’t think creating something from that which God previously created requires totally controlling others.

I also respond: The word “intervention” is tricky. If you mean by it that God is active in creation, I affirm it. But if by “intervention” you mean complete control, I reject it. (By the way, the next edition of Zygon has an article I wrote on divine action. I address the issue of intervention in it. If you don’t get this journal, send me a private email and I’ll send you a copy of the paper.)

3. You say, “I think your claim that God has created all that exists amounts saying God at some point exercised creatio ex nihilo. So does your proposal really help with the problem of evil?”

I respond: I’m happy to see that you agree that creatio ex nihilo involves the kind of coercive power that makes the problem of evil unsolvable. Of course, my fundamental claim is that God always creating from that which God previously created is an explicit denial of creatio ex nihilo.

Thanks again!


Thomas Jay Oord


Thanks for your good post, and thanks for continuing to help me work through the lack of clarity in my proposal!

I don’t think science can tell us with any validity that matter had an absolute beginning. That’s a metaphysical issue. I do agree that the Big Bang suggests and absolute beginning to our universe. But it doesn’t answer the question, “What existed before the Big bang?” A number of physicists who venture into metaphysics think there was something prior to the Big Bang. See the work of Turok and Steinhardt (physicists at Cambridge and Princeton) and their writing on cyclical universes. (I also note in my book, Defining Love, other prominent scientists who agree.)


Thomas Jay Oord


Thanks for chiming in and mentioning the work I’ve done defining coercion in my book.

As to begottenness, I’m not sure what you mean. Is this a line of research? If so, send me a private note with some readings. I’m interested in learning more.

As to animals, I’m not sure entirely what we can learn from animals. But the biblical witness suggests they are helpful vehicles of revelation. I teach a backpacking/theology of nature course that focuses on Jesus admonition to “consider the birds of the air” and “consider the lilies of the field.” And we talk about the Apostle Paul’s belief that “since the creation of the world, God’s attributes, invisible though they are, have been clearly seen through that which God has made.”

Thanks again,



Thanks for the quick feedback.  I wasn’t thinking of a particular line of research in regards to begotten-ness.  I was thinking more of the ancient controversy that surrounded the Nicene Creed and, in particular, the phrase, “begotten, not made.”

I think the Begotten-ness of the Son is a helpful category in grounding your creation theory; namely, there is precedent for God doing x (not making or creating, but begotting?) and continuing to do so (the Son proceeds from the Father) within Trinitarian relations. It seems to me that the statement “begotten not made” provides another category for understanding the productivity of a God Whose love essentially is always producing. 

As I was processing your alternative to creatio ex nihilo I set up the picture in my mind of God, a single, white-haired individual with His sleeves rolled up, looking either at something or nothing and tried to conceptually understand your argument.  However, the main problem with that is that in both conceptualizations of either theory, there is the category God doing something called creation either from nothing or from something.  As I reflected, I realized that the issue wasn’t so clear cut.  My problem wasn’t in the verb with God as the subject.  As I went back and looked at the Scriptural evidence you give for your theory, I noticed that there were a few elements missing; this God, is a Begottor and Begotten, this Jesus is the recipient of this begotting and Agent of this “creating” and, to be Orthodox for a second, the Son and Spirit are proceeding from Him.  There is a lot more going on on the God side of Creation from x or y or z or nothing.  I have a hunch that the Begotten Mediator as Agent of Creation is a theological goldmine for deepening your approach, but I don’t have the brain power to develop it anymore than I’ve tried to rather unsuccessfully here. 

If anything, perhaps begotteness bridges the gap between the “inter-Trinitarian relations as all-necessary and inclusive rendering love for creation unnecessary” line of thought and the “God essentially loves creation and everlastingly creates” argument.  If inter-Trinitarian relations were all that God needs to be loving, why does the buck stop with the eternal begotten-ness and procession of the Son and Spirit?  Surely it doesn’t since there is something in the Father that flows outward and sources the Trinitarian life as well as the created order.  Moreover, since there is a Creation and not just a Trinity, obviously inter-Trinitarian relations don’t make love for the creation superfluous. 

Just some thoughts.

Tarl H

I am not as well versed in this subject as the rest of you, so excuse me if this is an ignorant statement, but what if the something that God creates from is God itself.

This does away with the argument that creation was from “nothing”, as it is from God’s own being, while affirming his creative ability.

As we are created in God’s image, maybe it is because we are all formed of the essence of God, the very star stuff of Sagan’s thoughts.  Thus creation in a sense existed before the biblical account, but is still technically a created thing.

Just an idea that popped in my head, probably full of holes, but maybe worth considering.

Also, there may be a reason that evil must exist in this life, to be the “anti good” that we must form against and that functions as a necessary friction to polish our souls in this life. Making evil not a mistake or flaw in design, but a part that still functions to cause a greater good.

Thanks for hearing out the ideas of an amateur and I am curious to see what you all might think about it.

Thomas Jay Oord


That’s not an amateur proposal! Some very important thinkers in the past and present have suggested creatio ex deo. The usual problem noted with this is that it seems to suggest that creation is divine. If God creates out of God, the result would be God. And most Christians—for a host of reasons—have rejected this pantheism.

In a book I’m editing on creation options (coming out by Routledge), one of the contributors proposes creatio ex deo. I encourage you to read that essay especially!

Tarl H

Thank you for your response, Dr. Oord.

I come from a bit of a mystic background when it comes to Christianity, so I for one have no problem seeing creation as part of the divine. Does this mean we should worship creation? No, of course not, but we should still see the creator and God’s essence in all things.

One of the biggest issues I see in the church, and it is an old problem, is the old idea of separation of the physical and spiritual.  When we have a problem seeing God in and through creation we are giving in to a dualistic view of the universe. This causes some to devalue the created by ignoring the divine that is in all things.

Our theology has become a bit too tainted by Greek and western philosophy, causing many to see false divisions where none exist. 

Once again, I have not researched or examined this idea as much as I would like, though I plan to rectify that. 

I am very interested in the essay and book you mentioned and will be sure to check it out.

Also, thank you for being my introduction to open theology.  I find it and your writings to be very interesting and informative.

Bev Mitchell

I really enjoyed the post and the thoughtful discussions. As an amateur in these matters, I sort of hesitate to plunge in, but here goes anyway. I hope this stays on topic. As you know, I have trouble just talking about creation of the world without talking about other major creative acts of God.

If we begin with the essence of God as spirit, love, truth, and add creative, and relational (for example) perhaps we see apples and oranges. Spirit is, love is, truth is – but creative and relational are ways of behaving. There seems little problem in seeing God as essentially creative and relational, but we have to ask when was God’s first relational and creative act. (These questions don’t necessarily arise with spirit, love or truth).

With relational, we can easily solve the problem within the Trinity, but with creative, we have to step outside the Triune God because something created must flow out from God. If we say that God always has produced something outside Trinity, than something must have always existed alongside the Trinity (though simultaneously created out of love by God).

What was this ‘thing’ that is being (was) created? Here we come to something only briefly mentioned in the discussion. We know about matter-energy (or energy-matter) but Scripture also tells us about something called spirit that exists apart from God, even though God is also spirit. Could it be that spirit has been flowing from God (from the Trinity) since the beginning?

We know next to nothing about the mechanistic relationship between spirit and energy-matter. But we are told and believe that God (spirit) can and did become flesh (energy-matter). We can imagine a close relationship between spirit and energy-matter that can help us here. But, is it possible that spirit (outside of Trinity) existed before energy-matter?

This leads naturally to the controversial question of God facing opposition in creating. Scripture certainly can be interpreted such that creation of energy-matter was opposed by rebellious spirit (Levenson “Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence”). Is it possible that in creating energy-matter God was (is) saying no to the spiritual rebellion that would have chaos, darkness and purposelessness instead.

This is not saying that rebellious spirit created, in fact, rebellious spirit existed before energy-matter and opposed it’s creation. God’s answer was creation out of this rebellion (this chaos, this darkness). It was and is a process that respects the freedom granted to created spirit. However, energy-matter still was/is made free to emerge as it has and free to yield sentient beings, as God knew it would. Its existence is made possible by a loving God in the same sense that spirit’s existence (rebellious and non-rebellious) is made possible by this loving God.

God making something from what evil destroyed is the heart of what happened at the Cross. Atonement and redemption are perhaps the same sort of thing as creation against opposition. But, with the Resurrection, we see a creation in the risen Lord that occurs after the power of evil has been completely defeated. This is what God can do and always wanted to do. And this is what God will do when Christ takes his rightful place. For now, we have a beautiful creation that is still limited due to the spiritual rebellion that existed before energy-matter came to be. But this creation is still glorious because it has brought forth what God knew it would – flesh and blood beings who can respond to his Spirit and to Christ’s saving grace.

This went on too long, and no doubt rambles. But it seems to me that spirit must be included in any creation theology (along with energy-matter). This is because spirit is so emphasized in Scripture. It is also difficult to separate original creation from the creation that is the Incarnation and the Resurrection. And, it’s impossible to come up with a reasonable or biblical theodicy without taking serious spiritual resistance to God’s will into account. This begins with creation.



“This went on too long, and no doubt rambles.”

And this differs from others how?

Welcome to the club.


It seems to me like you skip between creatio ex nihilo as understood on the temporal plain (there was nothing and boom God created stuff), and creatio ex nihilo as understood on the ontological plain.  It is the latter that theologians of the ages such as Aquinas thought creatio ex nihilo affirms.  All that is depends for its existence on the creative and sustaining activity of God.  Without God creatively sustaining at all times there would be nothing.  All talk about what matter God created with, all talk of the Big Bang and the temporal origin of the universe is irrelevant.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

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

Type in all 5 of the digits below to leave a comment. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.