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The Doctrine of Creation from Nothing (Part Two)

June 16, 2019     Time: 17:05
The Doctrine of Creation from Nothing (Part Two)


Dr. Craig continues a discussion on creation out of nothing".

KEVIN HARRIS: “God Created the Universe From Nothing—Or Did He?”[1] It is from Bob Seidensticker. He goes on in the second page and says the New Testament agrees. He quotes 2 Peter: “By God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water (2 Peter 3:5).”

DR. CRAIG: Clearly this author is reflecting back on Genesis 1:2 where it says that God said let the dry land appear and the Earth came out of this primordial ocean as the hills and mountains rose and the ocean drained into the seas and the lakes and the rivers. But where the New Testament does, I think, clearly imply creatio ex nihilo would be a passage like John 1:3: “In the beginning was the Word.” He is imitating the language of Genesis 1:1 in John 1:1. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” He was in the beginning with God. And then verse 3: “All things were made through him, and without him not one thing was made that was made.” He is saying there that everything other than God and the Word in the beginning came into being through the Word. And without the Word not one thing came into being. That implies creatio ex nihilo.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bob then goes to,

Combat Myth

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have already noticed hints of the Combat Myth (also known as Chaoskampf, German for “struggle against chaos”). This is a common story structure that appears in the mythology of many cultures. Some of the cultures in the ancient Near East with this myth are (oldest to youngest) Akkadia, Babylon, Ugarit, and Israel. The details were unique to each culture, but the outline is largely the same.

DR. CRAIG: Now, this is so much fun for me that you've chosen this podcast because this is what I've been studying lately as I've been exploring the historical Adam. I've been reading these ancient Akkadian and Sumerian and Egyptian creation myths and cosmogonies, theogonies, and so forth. So I know what's going on here. What's striking about Genesis 1 is the absolute absence of any Chaoskampf or any struggle or fight or battle against primordial monsters or other gods or forces resisting God. The remarkable thing that every commentator on Genesis remarks on is the ease and effortlessness with which God creates these things. He gives his almighty command and it comes to pass, and is so. There is no trace whatsoever of these myths of battling dragons or gods or war against chaos or things of that sort.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bob tries to make the case. Here he says:

First, there’s a threat to the status quo. The threat isn’t evil, it’s chaos. The council of the gods argues about what to do, and none of the older generation of gods steps up to fight the chaos monster. A younger god (unimportant to this point) volunteers. After a fierce battle, this god defeats chaos, order is restored, and he takes his place as the chief god. The human world is formed from the body of the slain chaos monster.

DR. CRAIG: It hardly needs comment that Genesis is utterly unlike this pattern.

KEVIN HARRIS: Don't you think Genesis is so superior?

DR. CRAIG: Yeah. This is the thing that just stuns me. When you read these ancient creation myths, I am shocked – I'm stunned – that Israel could have had such an elevated and philosophically sophisticated concept of God as this transcendent creator beyond the universe that speaks it into being and is the creator of all these other things that exist. This is so unlike the creation myths of Israel's neighbors. It's just stunning to think that an ancient people could have come up with something like this.

KEVIN HARRIS: Don't you read in the Epic of Gilgamesh that they were afraid of the flood and they hid.

DR. CRAIG: It says they were cowering like dogs against the wall when the Flood occurred, and then after the Flood is over the person who survives the Flood offers sacrifice. It says the gods swarmed around the sacrifice like flies. It is a very, as you say, crude and primitive conception of God that you have in these polytheistic Mesopotamian myths. They're vile. They’re primitive. They're crude. It's so utterly different than this philosophically sophisticated notion of God that you have in ancient Israel.

KEVIN HARRIS: I was trying to remember what the dogs were. They were cowering like dogs.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, that's right. You got it right.


For example, the Akkadian myth has Enlil as the king of the gods. Anzu steals the symbol of kingship, creating chaos. Ninurta steps up to fight Anzu. A clever trick allows Ninurta to defeat Anzu, and he becomes the new king.

Elements of the Genesis story are a little easier to see in the Babylonian version of the combat myth, documented in their creation myth, the Enuma Elis. Tiamat (the female dragon who represented salt water) and Absu (the male fresh water god) were the first gods, and their children formed the younger generation of gods.

Absu eventually grew annoyed with his noisy children and planned on killing them, but they discovered his plan and killed him first. His consort Tiamat was furious and planned revenge. Marduk the storm god responded to the threat, and he killed Tiamat, making him the king of the gods. He formed our world from the body of Tiamat, splitting it and making the heavens from one half and the earth from the other.

DR. CRAIG: We're supposed to see Genesis in this Babylonian myth?


Note the similarities:

Yahweh and Marduk were both storm gods.

DR. CRAIG: I think that’s false on both accounts! Neither of them were storm gods.


Each fought and defeated a threat by chaos, the sea monster.

DR. CRAIG: We’ve seen that in Genesis that is not the case. There is no fight against chaos, and the primordial ocean is just an ocean. It is just water. It is not a chaos. It is not a monster.


For Marduk, it was Tiamat. For Yahweh, it was Leviathan (also known as Rahab).

DR. CRAIG: Neither of which is mentioned in Genesis 1.


Job 41 is an entire chapter devoted to its description: “double coat of armor . . . fearsome teeth . . . its back has rows of shields . . . flames stream from its mouth.”

DR. CRAIG: Here in Job you have a poetic description of either a mythological monster or else, as many commentators think, of a crocodile. But it is irrelevant to Genesis 1 which includes no such description or battle.


The Babylonian story begins with the gods of salt water and of fresh water. Water is also essential in the Genesis story, and “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”

DR. CRAIG: A very different presentation where the world at first was this primordial ocean and then God forms the dry land out of that ocean. It's only tangentially similar to other creation stories that involve water.

KEVIN HARRIS: He indicates the next similarity is:

Marduk creates the heavens and the earth from two halves of Tiamat’s body. Yahweh separates the waters into two parts, the sky and the earth.

DR. CRAIG: That's not right. And this is important to see. In the Babylonian Enuma Elish, Marduk fillets open Tiamat’s body like a clamshell and one half is used to create the heavens and on the other half you have the Earth below. But in Genesis, Yahweh is not creating the heavens and the Earth. He's simply dividing the waters into the waters above (which would be the rain, the clouds, that fall from the sky) and the waters below which eventually drain into the seas, the lakes, the rivers, and so forth. It's not a separation of heavens and Earth, or creation of heavens and Earth. That's already been done in verse 1. It's simply a separation of these primordial waters.


Another connection is linguistic. The word Tiamat is a linguistic cognate with the Hebrew tehom (the deep).

DR. CRAIG: Now that's misleading. Akkadian and Hebrew are both Semitic languages. Akkadian is a dead language that was spoken by ancient Babylon. Being a Semitic language, Hebrew and Akkadian are related to each other. But the word tehom (deep) indicating the ocean in Genesis isn't derived from the word Tiamat. They are not genealogically related in that way. That is a point that has been conclusively established by modern linguists. Rather, these are two different words that both go back to a common root word in a Semitic language, but they are not derived one from another.

KEVIN HARRIS: He continues,

What we don’t find in Genesis is the beginning of the combat myth, though fragments of that are elsewhere in the Bible.

DR. CRAIG: Fair enough. That's right. There is no trace of the combat story or combat myth in Genesis 1 which is the object of discussion here. Right? Not whether or not in other poetic portions of the Old Testament you might find reference to this sort of combat myth.


Given the obvious parallels, the earlier Babylonian story must be in the lineage of the Genesis story somewhere, but not every story element made it.

DR. CRAIG: That is a conclusion which contemporary scholarship has come to reject. When these early stories were first discovered back around 1870s or so, there arose a school within Old Testament scholarship called pan-Babylonianism where scholars thought that everything in Genesis was derived from these ancient Babylonian myths. Heroic attempts were made to trace the Genesis stories back to these Babylonian accounts. During the course of the 20th century, scholarship has completely reversed on this issue. These accounts (particularly the Enuma Elish) are no longer thought to be sources for Genesis. That doesn't mean that they're completely unrelated. I think that these ancient myths tell us something about the literary genre of the first 11 chapters of Genesis. Like these ancient myths, Genesis treats the same themes (creation of the world, creation of humanity, the Flood, things of that sort) so that there is a common interest. But there is not borrowing from these ancient myths by and large. It would be very difficult to show any kind of demonstrable borrowing on the part of Genesis 1 from these ancient myths, with perhaps the exception of certain elements of the Flood story which do seem to be similar. But, for the most part, contemporary scholarship has come to reject the thesis that Bob is expressing here.

KEVIN HARRIS: This search for parallels that we're always hearing about always seems to be a dead end. Maybe that's just a dead end study.

DR. CRAIG: I think you're right. It didn't pan out in New Testament studies, and now in Old Testament studies it's not panning out either. The difficulties facing the attempt to base a genealogical relationship between separate accounts upon mere parallels is just fraught with difficulty. In the first place, you can't just compare isolated elements like, “Oh, there's water in the Babylonia account, and there's water in Genesis.” Because you're just cherry-picking then – pulling things out of context. You've got to compare whole passages – whole narratives – if the parallels are to be significant. Then the parallels need to be accurate rather than misunderstood. I think a great example of this would be the misunderstanding of the primordial condition of the Earth in Genesis 1 as chaos. It is not chaos in the proper sense of the term. This is an orderly, familiar state of a kind of primeval ocean that will eventually drain into the seas and the rivers and the lakes and so forth. Finally, you would need to show some sort of genealogical connection – an influence or borrowing – from the earlier source on to the later source, and that's very difficult. One difficulty is we don't know how old these traditions are behind Genesis 1. Regardless of when the Pentateuch eventually came to be written down, we have no idea of how old these oral traditions are. So the task of trying to show from parallels these sorts of genealogical connections is just fraught with difficulty and uncertainty. I think we can repose no confidence in these conclusions.

KEVIN HARRIS: It involves a lot of imposing a pattern. As we wrap up today, even in the event that there's no one go-to verse about “God created from nothing” and you said that there's not – that what we do is we take a full-orbed look at the Scriptures to do that – but would it also be what you would often say as filling in the philosophical blanks to arrive at God creating from nothing?

DR. CRAIG: No, I don't think so. I think that this is a doctrine that is implied or affirmed by the biblical authors themselves, especially John 1:3: All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. The idea that there was a primordial uncreated matter or stuff existing co-eternally alongside of God is excluded by the author of John's Gospel and, I think, also by the author of Genesis 1.

KEVIN HARRIS: So you have a double-warrant then because you can also philosophically look and see what the case is.

DR. CRAIG: That is the burden of the kalam cosmological argument, isn’t it? The second premise of which is “The universe began to exist.” I’ve argued that we have both good philosophical reasons as well as powerful scientific evidence that the universe is not past eternal but had a beginning, just as Genesis said.[2]


[2]           Total Running Time: 17:05 (Copyright © 2019 William Lane Craig)