Friday, April 11, 2008

‘Creation out of nothing’ in Genesis 1?

Terrific discussion in the comments to the post below on 'Was Jesus Wrong?'. Though I haven't had the time to write my own responses yet, I'll do so tonight - especially as a couple of comments are literally begging for response!

Until then, I wanted to draw attention to an online article by Donald E. Hartley: 2 Corinthians 4:4: A Case for Yahweh as the 'God of this Age.' I read the title and thought, 'you have got to be kidding me!', so this is a note to self to give the article a read!

Here are a few useful responses to my 'Was Jesus Wrong?', though I may have missed some: Here, here and here (which has some amusing discussion in the comments).

(The following paragraph may annoy some folk, so be warned)

One final thought on 'creation out of nothing' (or 'cree-ayshun ää ov nuffin', if you are cockney; creatio ex nihilo, if you are clever): 'Given that Genesis 1 does not make explicit that God created the formless and empty earth, or the deep, the existence of both could be presupposition for what follows [in the Genesis creation account], like the existence of the primordial waters in the Babylonian story' (John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology. Volume 1: Israel's Gospel (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP, 2003), 81). Right. The most 'explicit conviction regarding' creatio ex nihilo 'was first clearly formulated in the second century A.D.' (ibid., 78), not in Genesis 1 which simply states: 'At the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth, the earth was an empty void, and darkness covered the face of the deep' (Goldingay translation, ibid., 80). But did God create 'out of nothing'? Yes, I am happy to affirm so as it is the best way for moderns to grasp God's freedom and sovereignty in creation. But the metaphorical language of Genesis 1 arguably does not teach it. As Pannenberg writes: 'Tatian was the first to insist that God must have brought forth the primal matter (Or. 5.3)' (Pannenberg, W., Systematic theology 2:14).


At 4/11/2008 2:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yet another great find...scientist are puzzled because they once again find they were wrong. Again. But tomorrow I'm sure they will find this wrong and come up with yet another new theory. Ahh...the wisdom of man.

At 4/11/2008 3:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It always puzzles me when folks jettison creation ex nihilo on the basis of the ambiguity of Gen 1 when there are a number of relevant New Testament passages. Off the top of my head:
John 1, especially verse 3: "all things were made through him"
Col 1:15-20, "all things were created in him...all things through him and for him were created" etc.

At 4/11/2008 6:47 PM, Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

On a pre-existing earth you might like to see this weird letter which the author attempted to leave on my blog as a comment.

At 4/11/2008 7:17 PM, Blogger Brant Pitre said...

Dear Chris,

If I read your post correctly, I'm not sure how Goldingay could say that the first witness to creatio ex nihilo is not attested until the Second Century A.D. It's pretty explicit in my (Catholic) Old Testament, in 2 Maccabees, when the mother of the 7 sons says:

"I beseech you my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed." (2 Macc 7:28)

Seems pretty clear to me! Is this one of those cases of forgetting about the Catholic books of the OT??

At 4/11/2008 8:21 PM, Anonymous Shane Clifton said...

Chris, it is interesting on one of those posts responding to your comments that you get accused of kenotic Christology. This is indicative of the common misunderstanding of two natures Christology which, it seems to, you are working with.

The brilliance of the insight of Chalcedon is that it asks 2 questions, Who is Jesus (his person) and What is Jesus (his nature). Who is Jesus? - the Word incarnate - the one person - the 2nd person of the Trinity. What is Jesus? - because he is the Word incarnate, he is of divine nature, and because he is incarnate, he is fully human. But, Chalcedeon goes on to say, lets not confuse these natures. The Logos remains logos (with all attendant omni's) and the human Jesus is fully human. You might say that these natures operate in different spheres or dimensions (by definition), but be that as it may, what it does mean is that in his human nature, Jesus was a first century Jew.

This is very different to kenotic Christology, which is itself a confusion of 2 natures Christology (i.e. that the logos, in some way, divests himself of his deity).

Anyway, I am sure you are capable of defending yourself. But it does seem to me a shame that there is not a better grasp of chalcedon in Christian circles.

At 4/11/2008 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John 1, especially verse 3: "all things were made through him"
Col 1:15-20, "all things were created in him...all things through him and for him were created" etc.
These verses verifying ex nihilo cretion also have profound imolication, in that it dispels the myth of "theistic evolution" When God commenced the acts of Creation, He started with there being an earth void and formless. Such a situation predisposes life before the advent of a formed earth, no longer void of life, and attests to a young earth.

At 4/11/2008 9:02 PM, Anonymous Justin Jenkins said...

John H. Walton (Wheaton, author of "The NIV Application Commentary" on Genesis) ... makes a similar point about "creatio ex nihilo" in his discussion here:

His point is the text is not about the creation or existence of matter or "formational history" which we care about, but rather the "function" given to that matter when it is given a name and purpose. Which the people in the near east at the time cared about. You should take a listen.

At 4/12/2008 1:12 AM, Blogger Looney said...

Chris, I guess I will join you in the heresy here. Sometimes God creates out of nothing. Sometimes out of something, as in Eve coming from Adam's rib. There is some ambiguity in the Bible and we are not provided the complete change history of life (or the universe) required for a six-sigma compliant quality control system. Biologists, cosmologists and creationist need to begin to accept this fact.

Being an engineer, sometimes we create from scratch. Sometimes we modify an existing design. Usually we leverage off of familiar design patterns with modifications. We never sit around and expect the design to spontaneously evolve into a better design while we snooze. Maybe scientists do that, but engineers don't!

At 4/12/2008 8:20 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Anon: I think you are being unfair to scientists. That they see new evidence and are willing to change their view accordingly is a good sign! It shows that our knowledge is limited, yes, but the only reason we can have this conversation on the ‘internet’ in this way is because of science. They only reason you can have good dentistry, medicine when you get ill, a TV ... science, science, science. Ero, I think the wisdom of man is, yes, limited. But the human ability to reason and speculate and think deserves more credit than you give it, I think.
Nathan: I don’t want to jettison creation ex nihilo! But those passages to presume a certain way of looking at the world. I suspect ex nihilo only came on the scene explicitly a little later. But in light of later developments I am glad to read that back into these texts; I think we would be correct to do so, as I said in the post.
Doug: Bit weird that! I get some like that every now and then.
Brant: Great to hear from you! Actually, Goldingay does look at 2 Macc. 7:28. He writes:
‘The statement is an aspect of the book’s stress on monotheism and on God’s absolute sovereignty. But similar language occurs in other Greek writings without implying that creation did not start from preexistent matter, so 2 Maccabees need not have that implication’ (OT Theology. Volume One p .78)
Pannenberg, noting G May’s work on this subject, writes: ‘In 2 Maccabees the phrase does not rule out any forming from existing matter. It simply means that the world was not previously there’ (Systematic theology. 2:13).
Shane: Thanks for your brilliantly comment, Shane, which got me reading my old systematic theology books! I cut and paste it in the direction of my detractor!
Anon: You are reading way too much into those verses – cf. my comments to Brant above.
Justin: THANKS for that link!
Looney: ‘Chris, I guess I will join you in the heresy here.’

At 4/13/2008 1:46 AM, Blogger Jeremy Priest said...

I think this little piece from the Catholic Catechism helps to put the kenotic and Chalcedonian Christology nicely together.

This human soul that the Son of God assumed is endowed with a true human knowledge. As such, this knowledge could not in itself be unlimited: it was exercised in the historical conditions of his existence in space and time. This is why the Son of God could, when he became man, "increase in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man", and would even have to inquire for himself about what one in the human condition can learn only from experience. This corresponded to the reality of his voluntary emptying of himself, taking "the form of a slave".

At 4/13/2008 9:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris: "Ero, I think the wisdom of man is, yes, limited. But the human ability to reason and speculate and think deserves more credit than you give it, I think."

I loved your last 2 words! Keep thinking! I certainly understand as we become more knowledgeable in science we tend to think out of our little boxes...but from how I read your understanding of it all, it seems there really is no need of Jesus and His purpose of restoration of creation, even though you are trying hard to keep Jesus and His Dad in part of the plan.

At 4/14/2008 9:21 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

Thanks, Jeremy, I read that (I think) on your blog recently - very helpful.

"but from how I read your understanding of it all, it seems there really is no need of Jesus!

Well, then read again, cos that is WAY off. Jesus is absolutely essential to the way I have outlined. How can I clarify matters?

Keep thinking!

At 4/15/2008 5:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris, I suggested that though you keep Jesus and the Father in the would seem by the way you believe, there really is no need for Jesus since we evolved from whatever. Taking scripture and using it as moral/social information on how man evolves (when you need that type of understanding) deletes the miraculous creation of mankind and God's purpose to allow man to fall and redeem man from the fall. As hard as I am trying to wrap my brain around your arguments of evolution, I would have to come to understand scripture as nothing more than information and silly stories that really mean nothing.

At 4/19/2008 4:37 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...

Goldingay is right.


Let us compare the opening verses of the Babylonian and Hebrew creation epics:

ENUMA ELISH [28] (on seven clay tablets)

Tablet I


1-2) When on high the heaven have not been named, firm ground below had not been called by name,

3-9) none but primordial Apsu, their begetter, (and) Tiamat, she who bore them all, their waters commingling as a single body; when fields were still unformed, reeds still nowhere to be seen, when no gods whatever had been called into being, when no name had been named, when no fates had been determined.

GENESIS [29] (a seven day creation tale)

Chapter 1


1) When God began to create the heaven and the earth,

2) the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water.


Contrary to popular opinion, there exists more than one accurate translation of Genesis 1:1-2:

A. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was unformed and void.” [30]

B. “When God began to create the heavens and the earth -- the earth being unformed and void.” [31]

C. “At the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, the earth was unformed and void.”

D. “At the beginning of the creation of the heavens and the earth, when the earth was unformed and void.” [32]

Notice that none of these translations state, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth ‘out of nothing.’” Rather, “In the beginning” only means “at the commencement of time, in the remotest past that the human mind can conceive, God created the heavens and the earth.” How God did that is depicted in the verses that follow Genesis 1:1-2. [33] For instance Genesis states that heaven was formed on the second day of Creation “in the midst of the water.” And the earth was called forth on the third day from the watery “deep.” But what was this primordial “water” from which (or in which) heaven and earth were created? Nought but primordial Apsu and Tiamat, their waters commingling as a single body (Enuma Elish)! Because it was agreed among all the Hebrew’s neighbors that vast primeval “waters” existed “in the beginning”:

“At the beginning the world was a waste of water called Nu, and it was the abode of the Great Father. He was Nu, for he was the deep...and Ra bade the earth and the heavens to rise out of the waste of water.”
-- Creation Myth of the Sun Worshippers (Egyptian) [34]

“Nothing existed except the vast mass of Celestial Waters.”
-- The Book of Knowing How Ra Came Into Being (Egyptian) [35]

“In the beginning there existed neither heaven nor earth, and nothing existed except the boundless mass, of primeval water which was shrouded in darkness.”
-- Another Telling of the Origin of the Gods (Egyptian) [36]

“Sing the sacred race of immortals...who sprang from Earth and starry Heaven, and murky Night, whom the briny Deep nourished...In truth then foremost sprang Chaos.”
-- Selections from Hesiod’s Theogony (Greek) [37]

“The beginning of all things was a...windy air...and a chaos, turbid and black...destitute of form. But when this wind became enamored of its own first principles (the chaos), an intimate union (commingling) took place...(and) from its embrace with the wind was generated Ilus (Mud)...the putrefaction of a watery mixture, And from this sprang all the seed of creation and the generation of the universe.”
-- A Phoenician (Canaanite) Creation Myth [38]

Eusebius of Caesarea quoted Philo Byblius on the ancient Phoenician cosmogony, “As the beginning of all things he assumes (i.e., Philo Byblius) a dark and windy air or a blowing of dark air and a marshy, dark chaos.” [39]

One cannot fail to see how much the Hebrew creation story owes to its neighbors’ conception of “primordial waters.” However, the Hebrew God, unlike the rest, is not portrayed as being born of those waters. Instead, He is with them in the beginning, commanding them. No doubt the beginning of all things did appear both “watery and chaotic” to ancient minds, but by placing one God at the forefront of creation the Hebrews were proclaiming to the nations around them that their God ruled those waters, unchallenged, right from the beginning. So the Hebrew author was making a theological statement in ancient Near Eastern terms, and by employing ancient Near Eastern ideas of creation.


Genesis 1:2 has frequently been translated “the Spirit of God moved over the face of the waters.” However, the Hebrew term for “spirit” also means “breath” and “wind.” In fact, according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, all references to “wind” (or “winds”) in the Hebrew scriptures are derived from the same term translated “spirit” in Genesis 1 :2. [40] Moreover, wherever this wind-spirit-breath (Heb. ruach) meets water, as it does in Genesis 1:2, a stirring up occurs:

1) “A wind (ruach) from God sweeping over the water.” Genesis 1:2
(The Hebrew term for “sweeping” is also found in Deut. 32:11 and Jer. 23:9 where it is translated, respectively, “fluttering (stirring up)” and “trembling.”)

2) “And God caused a wind (ruach) to pass over the earth, and the water subsided.” Genesis 8:1
(We know that this was a mighty wind since Ps. 104:6-7 depicts the same event: “The waters were standing above the mountains. At Thy rebuke they fled.”)

3) “The Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind (ruach)...and turned the sea into dry land, so the waters were divided.” Exodus 14:21

4) “At the blast (ruach) of Thy nostrils the waters were piled up.” Exodus 15:8

5) “He spoke and raised up a stormy wind (ruach), which lifted up the waves of the sea.” Psalm 107:25

6) “The channels of the sea appeared...The foundations of the world were laid bare, By the rebuke of the Lord, at the blast (ruach) of His nostrils.” II Samuel 22:16 = Psalm 18:15

7) “The four winds (ruach) of heaven were stirring up the great sea.” Daniel 7:2

Thus, Genesis 1:2 depicts the “mighty wind-spirit” of God [41] reigning over, perhaps even “rebuking,” the primordial waters, thus heralding the commencement of Creation. One cannot deny that this Biblical picture is more sublime than that found in other ancient cosmogonies.

However, the picture itself, of “wind subduing water” was a common one in the ancient Near East. For instance, the Canaanites wrote of a primeval wind commingling with muddy chaos, and thus “begetting” creation. In a similar fashion the Hebrew scriptures speak of God commingling His windy breath with the dust of the earth to create living things. [42] (And speaking of ancient notions of gods “begetting” creation, Psalm 90:2 speaks of the Hebrew God “begetting” the earth.)

In Egyptian cosmogonies (Hermopolitan and Theban), the god Amon represents the primeval wind that moves across the surface of stagnant Nu (the primeval waters), imparting to them the motion necessary for creation. [43] Also, compare the Babylonian cosmogony (Enuma Elish) in which Marduk raised seven great winds to subdue the primeval waters of Tiamat after which creation commenced. Thus, God stirs up the waters in Genesis with His mighty ruach (spirit-wind-breath) to subdue, rebuke or enliven the primeval waters.

At 4/19/2008 4:54 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...


Doesn't a belief in creation "out of nothing" make the problem of pain even more of a problem?

Because if everything came out of God's power, mind, and will, and if God was absolutely perfect, whence came imperfection?

Subtract two points if you answer it was the fault of humanity's "free will" because doesn't God also have "free will?" What keeps God from anything "evil?" And why can't that also be true of everything that comes directly out of God alone?

The Genesis account seems to be saying that the Elohim (plural) used what the ancients considered to be the "four primeval elements" which were water, air/wind, fire/light, and earth--controlling them and making something "good" out of them, but such elements are simply assumed to be there by many ancient creation myths as I already stated in my previous entry.

Having everything come only out of a perfect Being's power, mind, and will, means something imperfect entered the scene, but how exactly do you get imperfection when it originates ONLY out of a Being that represents absolute all-powerful perfection?

And then there's the spacial question. If everything including "space," came out of God directly, and out of God alone, then where there ROOM for "imperfection" or something "less than good" to even ENTER THE PICTURE?

At 4/19/2008 5:36 AM, Blogger Edward T. Babinski said...


Chris, I'm not a young-earth creationist but there are plenty of articles over at ANSWERS IN GENESIS that address your (and N.T. Wright's) perspective that Genesis should be taken metaphorically by Christians today, and that Genesis has metaphorical value. That group has even produced a book that explains why interpreting the creation story in Genesis as metaphorical rocks the whole Christian edifice since it makes Christianity begin with a metaphorical event yet end with a physical (non-metaphorical) crucifixion for the very real sin of a very real first man, Adam. The book is titled, REFUTING COMPROMISE.

I even read an amusing letter to that effect in a recent issue of CHRISTIAN CENTURY magazine. The letter writer, 'Terry W. Ward' stated in CHRISTIAN CENTURY, April 22, 2008:

It is a difficult task fitting evolutionary ideas into the Christian framework, beginning with Paul's exposition in Romans 5:12 that 'Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned'--not to mention Augustine's more complete formulation into church doctrine of the idea of original sin--which both collapse in the light of evolution.

And what about Paul's thoughts on the direct connection of sin with one man and redemption with another in Romans 5:18, which becomes ludicrous in the light of evolution: 'Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.'

Was the trespass that Paul mentions above perpetrated by some particularly evil Australopithecus or an especially cunning Homo habilis?

Without original sin and a Fall, what becomes of Christ?

The common modern explanation that Genesis 1-3 is to be interpreted metaphorically. If that is so, why does God require a bloody, horrific, non-metaphorical sacrifice of his Son?

This is the difficult task of reconciling evolutionary thought and Christianity. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin tried to finesse the conflict by arguing about an omega point toward which all creation was straining. But, after witnessing the depradations of the 20th century his ideas of progress seem tragically misplaced. One also has to wonder what it means to live in a 'fallen' world where no such fall has occurred [and where death--including six mass extinctions in the geological past--have never been a 'curse' but simply 'a fact of life' since long before any species vaguely resembling an 'Adam' has ever evolved].

So without an historical creation and an historical Adam and Eve and an historical fall, the problem of natural evil becomes one of even more stark contrast.

The answer to suffering parishoners that we 'live in a fallen world' makes less sense if every living thing was cursed with death--and over 90% of every ancient species was cursed with extinction--long before human beings even showed up in this less than Edenic cosmos.

[I edited some of Terry's letter--Edward T. Babinski]

At 4/20/2008 1:12 PM, Blogger Chris Tilling said...

I wish I had more time to engage with your comments here, Edward. Thanks so much for the info, though. Certainly one should read Enuma Elish to best undersatnd what is going on in the first chapters of Genesis.


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