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Dennis Phillips

Presuppositions
A very common characteristic among any people group can be found in worship.
Although the object of worship varies greatly, it would appear that all people possess an innate
quality desiring to worship a higher power. Along with the rituals of worship found among these
people groups, would be the tapestries of their belief. These stories intricately woven into their
culture provide the foundation and understanding of life for each people group. Thus,
understanding of God and life diversifies widely from one group to the next.
One such phenomenon can be found in the varied accounts of the beginning. Many
interpretations and versions of the beginning can be found. However, two basic accounts form
the foundational groundwork of all theories. These are: 1) the act of creation by a higher power
(many interpretations of this version exists), or 2) the eternal existence of matter (also with many
interpretations existing). The argument for creation not only by a higher power, but creation from
nothing, shall be advocated as the correct understanding of the beginning.
Creation myths are often among mans earliest attempts to explain the most perplexing
questions about the nature and the origin of the universe. Even within the parameters of these
expressive theories one can find the diverging paths of a primordial universe consisting of some
undifferentiated matter verses a universal creation ex nihilo. 1

Bernard Doyle, Creation Myths, www. pantheon.org/articles/c/creation_myths.html, 9/20/02.

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The argument that has centered on creation of the universe tends to stem from two
distinct ideological foundations; however, there may be widely held variations within each of
these major beliefs. The first general category would be identified as theism, which would
include Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (Christianity will be our focus). The basic tenet within
these monotheistic religions would be that a single eternal being created all that exists, and that
He is completely separate from the creation.2
The opposing argument, for the purpose of this paper, will be labeled as naturalism
which would include most modern and post-modern views of creation. The basic tenet of these
views would be contained in the idea that the universe was not created at all. The universe would
be regarded as self-existing, thereby making God irrelevant. Man; therefore, would be
considered a result of a natural emerging continuous process, evolution. Naturalism does not stop
here, but conveys the idea that God was not relevant in our creation and further more that
humanity possesses a spark of the divine. Thus, in the pantheistic minds-eye, no distinction can
be seen between God and man.3

Terminology
The argument proposed by the proponents of naturalistic thought is that existence came
about through an eternal existing matter. The Merriam Websters Collegiate Dictionary defined
matter as a physical substance, the substance of which a physical object is composed, or a
material substance of a particular kind for a particular purpose. In order for the universe to have
originated from matter a particular and specific catalyst would have had to be involved. This

Jerry Solomon, World Views: What Is True? www.northave.org/MGManual/Foundation/foundtn2.htm,


9/20/02.
3

Ibid.

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theory of origination would suggest that everything was created from matter with no outside
source acting upon it. From a void everything evolved and emerged by pure chance.4
The definition of matter must be extended further for an appropriate understanding of the
term as naturalists have used it. Matter has been given an eternal state of existence which
would imply no beginning or ending. Matter simply has always existed. In order for this to be an
accurate understanding of matter, one must also surmise that matter would be equal to God. Thus
matter and God would be inseparable counterparts of the beginning.5
In stark opposition to the idea of matter simply emerging is the biblical teaching of the
universe and all that is in it being created. Genesis 1:1 of the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia
stated, (in beginning he God created). The Hebrew word bara was
frequently used in the Old Testament in reference to a new activity. God was always the subject
of the activity. Bara also focused on the product that was created and not on the material from
which it was created.6
The choosing of the Hebrew word bara over asa was of notable importance to this
argument. Our translation of the word asa most closely resembled to make or to do. The
importance of this concept would rest in the understanding that asa (to make) would have
required some existing material or matter. However, the recorded words of Genesis 1:1 does not
suggest that God used existing material in the original creation.7

John MacArthur, The Battle for the Beginning, (Nashville: Word Publishing Group, 2001), 31.

Harold J. Berry, The Age-Old New Age Movement www.entw.com/library/NEWAGE/AGE-OLD_txt, 9/20/02.

Kenneth A. Matthews, The New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11:26, (Nashville: Broadman &
Holman Publishers, 1996), 128.
7

Ibid.

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Bearing in mind that Genesis taught God created without reference to the use of existing
material, strength would be given to the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing).
Creation would be noted as Gods work which no other entity could match or rival. The ultimate
wonder or miracle was that God created all the raw material used in creating the universe from
nothing. It (the raw material) appeared at the will of God and was used by God in all the other
creative acts that would follow in the creation narrative. All that was to be created was created
from this initial act of God willing and speaking existence from nothing.8 Such creative activity
has been termed creatio ex nihilo.

Comparative Analysis
Naturalism (General Thought)
The term naturalism has been applied to the teachings and thoughts of many secular and
religious bodies concerning their understanding of the beginning of the universe and life. The
attempt of these groups has been to demonstrate God as an impersonal force, to suggest that the
universe is eternal, and to portray an illusory nature of matter. Herein, God would not be seen as
a Supreme Being distinct from creation, but God would be seen as creation. Therefore, creatio ex
nihilo would not be possible.9
The teachings of Mormonism teach against the Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.
According to Mormon teaching creatio ex nihilo was an invention of the apostatized postApostolic church. The clearest indication of this nature was found in a quasi-official statement
made by Joseph Smith at the funeral of fellow Mormon King Follett:
Now I ask all who hear me why the learned men who are
preaching salvation say that God created the heavens and
8

Philip Eveson, The Book of Origins, (Auburn, MA: Evangelical Press, 2001), 24.

Harold J. Berry, The Age-Old New Age Movement, www.entw.com/library/NEWAGE/AGE-OLD.txt, 9/20/02.

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the earth out of nothing. The reason is they are unlearned
God had materials to organize the world out of chaos,
chaotic matter, which is element, and in which dwells all
the glory. Element had an existence from the time He had.
The pure principles of element are principles that can never
be destroyed, they may be organized and reorganized but
not destroyed.10
Mormons clearly hold to the denial of God creating the world ex nihilo. Rather they have
argued that God had something to begin with chaotic matter. The philosophy demonstrated in
Smiths statement appeared to suggest that matter won out by default. Even though matter was
chaotic, according to Smith, it existed. This line of thought would suggest then that chaotic
matter (or perhaps nothingness) has co-existed with God from eternity. Therefore, the denial of
creatio ex nihilo.11
The denial of creatio ex nihilo has also been present in many eastern faiths such as
Buddhism. Sntideva has provided several arguments for this denial. First, vv. 119-126 contained
the argument of the lack of elements the Lord cannot be the elements out of which the world
is composed. The rationale has been stated that the creation does not possess any of the qualities
that the Nyya has attributed to the Creator eternality, purity, etc.12
Sntideva, vv 122-123, also questioned what the Lord could possibly have created, since
the self is believed to be eternal. With the belief that the world and self were eternal, creation of
knowledge, joy, pain, etc., could not have been created either. VV. 124-126 posed the argument
that if an effect depends on the totality of its causes, then God could not be the sole creator,
since in the presence of the totality of causes God could not fail to create. If there were an

10

James Patrick Holding, Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained, www.tektonics.org/JPH_NVNG.html, 9/20/02.

11

Ibid.
John Ryder, Creation Ex Nihilo A Mdhyamika Critique, Eastern Buddhist15.2 (August 1982), 110-124.

12

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absence of totality of causes, then God would not have the power to create. If creation is
doubted, then there certainly can be no cretio ex nihilo.13
Postmodern theology has also made considerable contributions to the weakening of
creatio ex nihilo. (The entire scope of the various postmodern movements cannot be stated here,
but three common themes will be noted.) The modern thought science of chaos has suggested
that God actually created from something chaos. Thus creatio ex nihilo would not be the case
at all, since some existing element had been used.14
Another emerging modern though has been rendered. God had to create a nihil in order to
create ex nihilo. This proposal suggested that God had to remove Himself, limit His power and
presence, in order for nothingness to appear. Moltmann stated,
This points to a necessary correction in the interpretation
of creation: God does not create merely by calling something into existence, or by letting something afoot. In a more
profound sense he creates by letting-be, by making room,
and by withdrawing himself. The creative making is expressed
in masculine metaphors. But the creative letting-be is better
brought out through motherly categories.15
Moltmann further contended that we need no longer attempt to distinguish between God and the
world, but to discover God in all the beings he has created.16
The third postmodern thought to be mentioned here came from the New Age psychic
Sylvia Browne. Reflected in the ideology of her followers one would find the idea that separate
sparks emanated from the Divine Sparkler, which produced life. The infusion of new life was

13

Ibid.

14

Sjoerd L. Bonting, Chaos Theology Revisited, http://home-1.tiscal.nl/~sttdc/bointingtheology.htm, 10/24/02.

15

Jrgen Moltmann, God In Creation, Translated by Margaret Kohl, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 86-88.

16

Ibid, xi.

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placed on earth, which already existed eternal in nature. Basically, this argument against
creatio ex nihilo stated that the universe is the totality of God, and is God.17
Three assumptions were generally applicable to the attackers of creatio ex nihilo. First,
there appeared to be some pre-existing matter life or chaos. Secondly, there was a smooth
transition from non-life to life. Thirdly, the Bible contained no usable or relevant ideas
concerning creation. Thus, the Bible must be reinterpreted as the later pronouncements took
priority over Scripture.18

Christian Thought
Bonting had argued that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo was the invention of Theophilus
of Antioch (cira AD 185) as a defense against Marcion and the Gnostics. From there Irenaeus
and Augustine adopted it, and even later universally adopted by the church never to be rejected
again.19 However, one must quickly question the validity of this allegation.
Documents of great historical value have shown that there were people who held to the
doctrine of creatio ex nihilo prior to Theophilus of Antioch. The Shepherd of Hermas (c150)
unambiguously affirmed that God made all things out of nothing. This placed great emphasis on
the sovereignty of God and on monotheism.20 The theory of another existing sovereign being
was denied, as was the theory of existing matter.
Perhaps the earliest non-biblical writing concerning creatio ex nihilo was found in the
Apocrypha. II Maccabees 7:28, I beseech thee, my son, look upon the heaven and the earth, and
17

Sylvia Browne, God, Creation, and Tools for Life, (Carlsbad, CA: Hay House, Inc., 2000), 67-70.

18

Werner Gitt, 10 Dangers of Theistic Evolution, Creation Magazine 17.4, (Sep-Nov 1995),
http://christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-c015.html, 9/20/02.
19
Sjoerd L. Bonting, Chaos Theology Revisited, http://home-1.tiscal.nl/~sttdc/bontingtheology.htm, 10/24/02.
20

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority Volume VI, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 122.

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all that is therein, and consider that God made them of things that were not; and so was mankind
made likewise (authors italics). It would appear that early writers and philosophers believed
that God created the universe from non-existent, non-eternal elements.
Skeptics of creatio ex nihilo still issued their rebuttals as to why this would be
impossible. Essentially the work of creation is a correction of chaos. Emptiness, formlessness,
darkness, and the deep are replaced or altered with a creation that is pronounced good and is
blessed by God.21 The key terms of the skeptic were replaced or altered. This view would deny
the act of creation itself and substitute in its stead an act of formation, which was not congruent
with the biblical teaching of Genesis 1.
In all reasonableness, we must agree that the earth had a beginning. There was a time in
which the earth was wound up and from that time has appeared to be running down or falling
apart. Thus, it would not be probable that the earth be eternal, nor the material elements that
comprised it. But rather it would seem that a catalyst was the cause of existence. This cause was
exactly what Genesis 1:1 and Romans 1:20 taught.22
Evolutionary philosopher Herbert Spencer outlined five ultimate scientific ideas: time,
force, action, space, and matter. Spencer believed this taxonomy encompassed all things that
truly existed. The problem with this taxonomy was that at least one of its elements must be
accepted as eternal in order for evolution to be viable. Genesis 1:1 summed the taxonomy up
completely. In the beginning (time), God (force), created (action), the heavens (space),
and the earth (matter). This simple verse addressed not only the evolutionary taxonomy (that
they developed), but it also spoke to the creation of matter itself creatio ex nihilo.23
21

Allen P. Ross, Creation & Blessing, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 74.

22

Don Batten ed., The Revised and Expanded Answers Book, (Green Forest, AR.: Master Books, 1990), 20-24.

23

John MacArthur, The Battle for the Beginning, (Nashville: Word Publishing Group, 2001), 40-41.

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Based on Genesis 1:1 God is the autonomous Creator. He is the Creator of all that exists,
He is antecedent to it, distinct from it, yet intimately involved with it.24 The passage further
stressed the sudden and immediate ex nihilo creation of everything in the universe.25 Creation
was completed in six days. Nothing existed before hand but God In the beginning God.
Although it was discussed in the terminology section, attention must be given to the word
bara. Rosss etymology of the term bara suggested that the closest meaning in our language
would reference fashioning something anew.26
Interesting enough, John Calvin in his Genesis commentary also held this view. Bara
signifies to create meaning that the world was made out of nothing. Calvin continued his
thought:
Hence the folly of those is refuted who imagine that unformed
matter existed from eternity; and who gather nothing else from
the narration of Moses than that the world was furnished with
new ornaments, and received a form of which it was before
destitute. This indeed was formerly a common fable among heathens,
but for Christian men to labour in maintaining this gross
error is absurd and intolerable. Let this, then, be maintained in
the first place, that the world is not eternal, but was created by God.27
As Calvin alluded to, an interesting note must be made in the word choice of Moses. Of
all the Hebrew words that could have been chosen to express the act of creation, the word bara
was selected. This meant the words do, make, found, form, establish, prepare, engender, and
others common in the Hebrew language were omitted. Being aware of these distinct expressions,
one must at least question whether any of them actually contained the essence of creation? Thus,
24

Kenneth A. Mathews, The New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11:26, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman
Publishers, 1996), 129.
25

John A. MacArthur, The Battle for the Beginning, (Nashville: Word Publishing Group, 2001), 64.

26

Allen P. Ross, Creation & Blessing, (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 728.

27

John Calvin, Genesis, Translated and edited by John King, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth, Reprinted
1979), 70.

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the selection of bara was made so as to address the divine creativity, which brought forth
something new and astonishing from nothing.28
The Christian doctrine of creation has appeared through the ages to contain one central
emphasis on how God created the universe. It is that God created by the instrumentality of His
Word and that He created ex nihilo. Scripture has never attempted to align God side-by-side with
any pre-existing matter or eternal chaos. The only alignment that Scripture had done was to align
Word and Wisdom with God. God created by His Word (Genesis1; Isa. 41.4, 48.13; Amos 9.6;
Ps. 33.6; John 1:1-3). He alone had independent reality. All else came from His act of creation.29
When God and the Old Testament patriarch Job engaged in dialogue, God did not address
the issues of Jobs circumstances; rather, He spoke about creation (38-41). Surely, this must be an
indicator of how important creation was to God and equally so that a proper and accurate
understanding of creation be known by the creature.30
Believing that Gods Word is inerrant and inspired, final consideration will be given to
what God had to say about the act of creation by exploring some of the biblical teachings.
Proverbs 8.24, When there were no depths, I was brought forth; when there were no fountains
abounding with water. Herein lies a clue that matter was not eternal. There was a time when
nothing existed but God.
Paul wrote in Colossians, For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on
earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities all things
have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold
together (1.16-17 NASB). The inclusive term all would contain even primordial matter,
28

Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 104.

29

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority Volume VI, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999), 120.

30

Henry Morris, The Long War Against God, (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2000), 319.

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which could not have existed eternally beside God. Pauls understanding was clearly presented to
us, all things were created.
Hebrews 11.3, By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of
God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible (NASB). Romans 4.17,
as it is written, A Father of many nations have I made you in the presence of Him whom he
believed, even God, who gives life to the dead and calls into being that which does not exist
(4.17 NASB). These passages affirmed creatio ex nihilo by bearing testimony to a sovereign God
who called forth from that which was not.
These passages and others spoke of nothing except the original creation. No other
implication was given that promoted any other type of formation or existence. Apart from the
original creation, interpreted to be creatio ex nihilo by the author, the Scriptures are silent. No
hints emerged of a ruin-restoration or creation that emerged from organization of chaotic matter.
Could this be that early writers knew of no such event or interpretation of the Genesis account?31

Conclusion
The philosophical options concerning creation are now reduced to three: 1) the universe
is eternal, 2) the universe was self-caused, or 3) the universe exist because of an independent
being who made it.32 At the absolute best only weak theories without substance can be produced
to support an eternal universe. If the universe was not eternal, then how can it be self-caused? It
would appear that anything which does not exist can not cause itself to act or react to a stimuli or
catalyst. Therefore, only a universe caused by an independent cause can be reasonable and
logically deduced.
31

Weston W. Fields, Unformed and Unfiled, Collinsville, IL.: Burgener Enterprises, 1976), 11.

32

Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority Volume VI, (Wheaton, IL.: Crossway Books, 1999), 124.

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Understanding that God existed entirely alone, the existence of matter must have been
through divine creation, negating all other options of origins. It was Gods irresistible creative
act, independent of all earthly preconditions, revealed in the Word of creation, that life came to
be. Thus, the real concern behind creatio ex nihilo is thereby satisfied.33
If God is not limited in power and He has given us a written record of the events that can
not be disproved by scientific evidence, then upon what pretenses do I have to question Gods
creative act and propose alternate theories of creation? The written record plainly extols, In the
beginning God No quantitative or qualitative description of matter was rendered in Genesis 1,
thus I sense no relevance in the attempt to create such.
Should evolution be a possibility of the origin of mankind, would it not negate the need
of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Death would already have been widespread before mankind
emerged; therefore, death would not be the direct result of sin. Sin would be fictional. If sin were
fictional, then we would have no need for a Savior.34 This argument alone is sufficient for me to
believe in a sovereign God which created the universe ex nihilo.

33

Walther Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 106.

34

Walt Brown, In The Beginning, (Phoenix, AZ.: Center For Scientific Creation, 1995), 200.

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Selected Bibliography

Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics. Edited by G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance, Edinburg:
T & T Clark, 1936-1969; Naperville, IL. Alec R. Allenson. 1969.
Batten, Don, ed. The Revised & Expanded Answers Book. Green Forrest, AR: Masters
Books. 2000.
Berry, Harold J. The Age-Old New Age Movement, Confident Living (June-August
1989). www.entw.com/library/NEWAGE/AGE-OLD.txt.
Bonting, Sjoerd L. Choas Theology Revisited. http://home-1.tiscal.nl/~sttdc/bontingtheology.
htm. 10/24/02
Brown, Walt. In The Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood. Phoenix, AZ:
Center for Scientific Creation. 1995.
Browne, Sylvia. God, Creation, and Tools for Life. Carlsbad, CA: Hay House. 2000.

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Calvin, John. Genesis. Carlise, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust. Reprinted 1979.
Doyle, Bernard. Creation Myth. www.pantheon.org/articles/c/creation_myths.html.
Eichrodt, Walther. Theology of the Old Testament. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press.
1964.
Everson, Philip. The Book of Origins. Auburn, MA: Evangelical Press. 2001.
Fields, Weston W. Unformed and Unfilled. Collinsville, IL: Burgener Enterprises. 1976.
Gitt, Werner. 10 Dangers of Theistic Evolution, Creation Magazine, 17.4 (Sep-Nov 1995),
pp. 49-51. www.christiananswers.net/q-aig/aig-co15.html.
Henry, F. H. God, Revelation and Authority Volume VI. Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books. 1999.
Holding, James Patrick. Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained: An Examination of Creation Ex
Nihilo. www.tektonics.org/JPH_NVNG.html.
MacArthur, John. The Battle of the Beginning. Word Publishing Group. 2001.
Matthews, Kenneth A. The New American Commentary: Genesis 1-11:26. Nashville, Tennessee:
Broadman & Holman Publishers. 2002.
Moltmann, Jrgen. The Future of Creation: Collected Essays. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press.
1979.
---------, God in Creation: A New Theology of Creation and the Spirit of God. San Francisco,
CA: Harper & Row. 1985.
Morris, Henry. The Long War Against God. Green Forest, AR: Master Books. 2000.
Ross, Allen P. Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Grand
Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books. 1998.
Ryder, John. Creation Ex Nihilo, Eastern Buddhist 15.2 (Autumn 1982) : 110-124.
Solomon, Jerry. World Views: What Is True, Mind Games and Survival Manual. Richardson,
TX: Probe Ministries. 1998.
http.//www.northave.org/MGManual/Foundation/foundation2.htm.
Turner, Allen. The Footprints of Satan. http://www.allanturner.com/sample05.html.

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