Doctrine of Creation (Part 2)

August 26, 2012     Time: 00:30:21

We began discussing last time the Doctrine of Creation and specifically the topic of creation out of nothing – that God has made the universe and all that is in it without any sort of material cause. He, himself, is the cause of the matter and energy out of which physical things are made.

We began to look at the first chapter of the Bible in Genesis where it says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” We saw that that, at face value, seems to teach creation out of nothing. God alone exists in the beginning and he created the universe. Some have sought to deny this by interpreting verse 1 as a subordinate clause rather than an independent clause, “When in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void,” etc. But we saw from Claus Westermann a five point case for taking verse 1 to be an independent clause that, therefore, does teach a beginning of the universe.

We then inquired as to whether or not verse 1 might be taken to be merely a chapter title or a sort of heading – a summary of what transpires in the rest of the chapter. I argued against that because the verse includes, in the Hebrew, “and” – “God created the heavens and the earth and the earth was without form and void” indicating a chronological connection between verses 1 and 2. It is not simply a chapter title or a heading. On this interpretation we can take verse 1 to indicate that God, in the beginning, created all the matter and energy in the universe – he created the universe – and then in verse 2 the focus dramatically narrows to the earth and the remainder of the chapter describes how God then transformed the earth from an uninhabitable waste (which is what tohuwabohu in Hebrew indicates – an uninhabitable waste) into a paradise fit for human beings.

Someone might object to this interpretation by saying that in verse 14 the creation of the heavenly bodies indicates that a universal creation is in view, after all, in the remainder of chapter 1, not simply the transformation of earth into a habitable place. Genesis 1:14-15 says,

And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.

However, it is very interesting that the Hebrew construction used here is not the same as in God’s previous creatural acts such as in verse 3 where it says, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light” and verse 6, “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters’,” etc. The construction here in the Hebrew is the word hayah plus an infinitive. What this literally means is “Let the lights in the firmament be for the marking of days and seasons and separation of day and night;” unlike the earlier passages of 3 and 6 where God says “let there be” these things. In verse 14 what it says is “let the lights in the firmament be for this purpose.” So what is described here is not the creation of the lights in the firmament but rather the designation of the purpose that they will serve marking seasons and times and so forth. It specifies what they are for and thereby already presupposes that they exist. It presupposes that the lights and the firmament are already there and then God declares their purpose.

Someone might say, well, that is well and good but look then at verse 16 and following where it goes on to describe God’s creation of these things.[1] It says,

And God made the two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth, to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.

So it might be said that verses 16-19 do countenance here God’s creation of the sun and the moon and the stars; we are not talking just about a transformation of the earth. We are talking here about a more cosmic creation. As powerful as this objection is, it overlooks a very interesting and intriguing feature of Genesis 1. That is the sort of duplex nature of the creation narrative in chapter 1. Many commentators have observed that Genesis seems to combine, or interweave, two patterns of creation. One is creation by God’s Word; the other is creation by God’s action. We see, for example, creation by his creative Word in verses 3, 6, 9 and 11. In verse 3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light’,” in verse 6, “And God said, ‘Let there be a firmament’,” in verse 9, “And God said, ‘Let the waters under the heavens’,” in verse 11, “And God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth vegetation,” and so on. This would be creation by God’s powerful Word – he speaks and these things are done. On the other hand, you have this other tradition, or pattern, of creation by his action that appears in verses 7, 12, 16, and 21. In verse 7, “And God made the firmament,” in verse 12, “The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed,” etc., in verse 16, “And God made the two great lights,” in verse 21, “So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves.” How do you explain, or what is the explanation, for this odd duplex pattern that kind of duplicates itself in Genesis 1? You have creation by the Word and then creation by God’s act. What is the best explanation for this?

One explanation would be that the author of Genesis has taken two independent creation narratives and he has braided them together rather like a rope or a braid where you take these two traditions and you interweave them together. So you have Genesis 1 with a braid of these two traditions. On the other hand, the unity and the coherence of this chapter suggest an alternative explanation which might be more satisfactory in light of its coherence and unity. That could be that this duplex pattern is a pattern of report and the author’s commentary on it. For example, in verse 12 when it says, “The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed,” etc., it doesn’t actually describe something that God does. This is what the earth does; the earth brings forth these things. And verse 12 doesn’t really follow temporally on verse 11 because verse 11 says, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation” and it ends by saying “And it was so.” It was done. This happened. So verse 12 doesn’t follow temporally on what’s done in verse 11. Rather, verse 12 is the author’s parenthetical commentary on the report given in verse 11. God has said “Let the earth bring forth things” and then the author comments about this. Similarly, look at verse 15. Verse 15 also concludes “And it was so.” God says “Let the lights in the heavens be for the purpose of marking seasons and days and years” and it was so, indicating that this has been done. In that case, verses 16-18 would simply be the author’s commentary on this. He would be saying that it is God who made these things, unlike all of the creation myths of Israel’s neighbors.[2] The sun and the stars and the moon are not astral deities. They are not gods or supernatural entities. They are just things that God made. He is saying God made them. That is all. There is a complete demythologizing here in Genesis 1 of nature that goes on. So it describes how God says, “Let the lights in the heavens be for this purpose” and then he makes the commentary “God made the great lights, God set them in the heavens, they are not deities, they are just things that God made.” This would make sense of what is otherwise the very, very peculiar problem that the sun and the moon would otherwise be created after the existence of day and night. You already have day and night in the first day where it says “There was evening and there was morning. One day.” And then you have the second day and the third day. So how can the sun not be created until the fourth day if there are already days and light and darkness – night and day – prior to this? This would make better sense of verses 16-18 then thinking that it wasn’t until the fourth day that God made the sun and the stars and the moon, because then you have got this inexplicable situation of day and night existing prior to the creation of the sun that the earth is illuminated by. If this is right, that would mean that verses 14 and following do not indicate that God actually created the heavenly bodies on the fourth day. Rather it is on the fourth day that God declares the function of these heavenly bodies in marking days and seasons and times and years which were of course very important for the religious life of Israel given that it followed a Sabbath pattern and there were certain feasts and things of that sort.

If this makes sense then we can understand verse 1 as being universal in its scope. In the beginning, God created the cosmos, the universe, the heavens and the earth. Then verse 2 shifts radically down to the earth, narrows the focus, and the earth was without form and void and the rest of the chapter then describes God’s transformation of the earth into a habitable place for man and thereby the tension between verses 1 and 2 is removed. It seems to me that there is no good reason to interpret Genesis 1:1 any differently than it has normally been interpreted. Namely, it teaches that God alone existed in the beginning and that he created everything else out of nothing. That is the natural interpretation of the verse and it is the interpretation of the New Testament authors. If that interpretation is to be wrong then I think we would need to have some very powerful reasons for thinking otherwise – reasons which I do not think exist.


Question: Does this mean that there was no actual creative act on the fourth day at all? The fourth day was just about declaring a purpose for that which had already been created?

Answer: Right. I asked my Old Testament colleague, John Sailhammer, about the Hebrew of this passage. I said, “John, it is never translated that way as far as I know. Are you absolutely certain that this is the way the Hebrew reads?” And he said, “Yes, there is no doubt. What it says is ‘Let the lights in the firmament be for’, etc, etc.” So it doesn’t need to be understood as an actual creative act on the fourth day.

Question: I heard an interesting interpretation of “evening and morning” the other day especially when you compare it to the commentary on this passage in the book of Exodus when they are using it to refer to the Hebrew’s work week. You work during the day and you sleep at night and you work again the next day. The evening and morning was not necessarily a literal evening and morning but saying God did his work then and, like the Hebrews, had an evening period of not working, then he gets back to work the next day and there was evening and morning and so forth. If that were the case – and I am not trying to make an argument for a long period of time between those, it is irrelevant to what I am saying – it would avoid the question of the sun and the moon having to be around from the beginning when God created the light.[3]

Answer: Yes. There are a number of interpretations of Genesis 1 that I think are open for the biblically faithful Christian. When we get to this section we will talk about this again more later on when we talk about origins. But my question for that view would be: then what is meant in verses 4 and 5 when it says that God separated the light from the darkness and he called the light day and the darkness he called night? That doesn’t just sound like his ceasing from work and then his beginning work again. It does sound to me there that they are talking about periods of daylight and periods of darkness.

Question: When you use the words “made” and “created”, are those words a process or an event?

Answer: I don’t think that you can determine the meaning of words apart from the context. You need to see how they are used in the context. For example, it uses the same word “create” not only in verse 1, “For God created the heavens and the earth,” but when it talks about his creation of the sea monsters which is in verse 21, “So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves.” Whereas elsewhere it uses the word “made” – “God made the firmament” and “God made the great lights” and so forth. But he created the sea monsters. I don’t think there the author means to be drawing some kind of significant distinction between “to make” and “to create.” It is not as though the firmament and the stars and so forth were made out of previous material but the sea monsters were created ex nihilo. It seems to me that you need to understand it in the context. And in the context it seems to me that verse 1 is talking about creation ex nihilo – creation out of nothing. It is the very beginning. But thereafter when he makes these things they could well be made out of material causes that are around that he then fashions into the thing that exists. For example, it says that he gathered the dust of the earth when he made man and then breathed into him the breath of life. He didn’t just make man ex nihilo.

Question: On the light appearing in verse 3 and then the sun and the moon appearing on the fourth day, some have suggested that God is the light initially and creates this pattern and then subsequently creates the sun and the moon. Can you solidify that?

Answer: Yeah, I don’t know. I find that hard to believe because it says in verse 5, “God called the light ‘day.’” God is not literally photons. He is not radiation. That would be pantheism to suggest that he is literally the light in that way. So while God is certainly a spiritual light in that he illumines our minds and so forth, I take it that Genesis 1 is talking about daylight and nighttime, darkness.

Question: Going back to Genesis 1:2, God said let there be light, there was light and he saw that it was good. Do you see the Trinity in that at all?

Answer: I don’t. It does mention the Spirit of God – doesn’t it? – moving over the face of the waters. But I think it is dangerous to try to read back into these narratives ex post facto too rich a theology. It seems to me you need to read it from the standpoint of the original author and how would an ancient Hebrew who was writing these words think of them. What was his meaning? I am therefore very cautious about interpreting things back into them. I say that, not just about theology, but also about modern science. I think that certain people make huge mistakes when they try to say, “Ah, verse 1 is referring to the Big Bang” and then “This is referring to certain other events that we know through modern biology or science.” That is called eisegesis, rather than exegesis. You are not discerning what the meaning of the text is; you are reading in between the lines and importing things into the text.[4] I think we need to be very cautious about that kind of hermeneutic, which is how you interpret literature. You need to let the author speak for himself in his own terms.

Question: God reveals himself in this creation. Verse 1 is a creation of everything in this realm. God has existed well before that so has God always had creations so he could express himself in and, if so, then would this creation have to be metaphorically describing previous ones as well? Maybe that is why you have things written in this way.

Answer: It doesn’t tell us in Genesis 1 when God created the angelic realms. We know biblically that in addition to the physical universe also part of creation would be these angelic or spiritual realms. We don’t really have any indication in the text when they were created. Did he create these angelic spiritual realms prior to his creation of the physical universe or was it afterwards? It seems to me that either way that you take it, you don’t want to say that creation is co-eternal with God. God didn’t have to create – creation is the freely willed choice on God’s part and, therefore, there is a state of affairs in the actual world which is God existing alone without creation. We will see some verses that indicate that in a moment – where God talks about “who was with me in the beginning when I made everything?” and the answer is nobody. There was nothing there. So it seems to me that whether you take the spiritual realms to be created prior to the physical universe or at the same time or subsequent to the physical universe, we should not affirm that there is anything that is co-eternal with God. It’s just God himself.

Followup: I wasn’t saying anything existed with him co-eternally. What I was saying (this is what was passed on to me from people in the church a long time ago) is that the angelic realms existed before; the first great fall was with them and this last creation, all of this creation, was to resolve that issue.

Answer: That I don’t agree with. I have heard this floated as well that somehow the angelic fall was defective and that therefore God has created this physical universe as some way of doing remedial work on this earlier spiritual creation. I don’t see any basis for that in the Scriptures. There is just nothing that I know of to suggest that the purpose of this universe is to rectify some kind of a previous spiritual creation that went wrong. Indeed, just the opposite seems to be the case it seems to me. This creation is something that God made, he saw that it was good and then this creation fell into sin and corruption and the whole project of Christ and the plan of salvation is to rescue this creation, not some sort of prior spiritual realm. It is this creation that is the object of God’s salvific plan.

Question: First of all a quick comment. In verse 16, “and God made the two great lights,” the verb there is asah, “to make”, not barabara is the making out of nothing. So this is not the creation of the sun out of nothing.

Answer: I don’t think bara has to carry that connotation. Like I said, in the creation of the sea monsters, there the word is bara, verse 21. But I don’t think that commits you to saying that God created everything else out of material things but the sea monsters popped into existence ex nihilo in the water. I think you can’t determine the meaning of a word in isolation from its context. In the context here, I think bara in verse 21 is used with the same sort of meaning as asah – to make something.

Question: In verse 14, it says, “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years’” is that second part of that verse a subordinate clause or is it an independent clause?

Answer: I don’t know. I haven’t looked at it recently so I couldn’t say.[5]

Other Old Testament Passages

Let me say that many other Old Testament passages confirm this reading of Genesis 1:1 as teaching creatio ex nihilo. For example, Isaiah 44:24 says, “I am the LORD, who made all things, who stretched out the heavens alone, who spread out the earth – Who was with me?” This again suggests the idea that God existed alone and it was he, then, who created the world. Isaiah 45:18 says, “For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it a chaos, he formed it to be inhabited!): ‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’” God did not create it to be a chaos; he created the world in order to be a habitable place for human beings. In the Psalms we have various creation Psalms and there is no suggestion in any of these that God was confronted with some sort of pre-existing material that he had to work on. Psalm 33:9, for example, says, “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood forth.” Here it is just God’s fiat, his declaration by his Word, and the world was created.

God’s eternality thus contrasts with the temporality of creation. Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting thou art God.” This seems to suggest God’s existence alone without any other thing with him. It would have been unthinkable that there was some sort of co-eternal, uncreated stuff existing along side God. Look at Job 26:7, “He stretches out the north over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing.” For Job, these creatural acts are just a whisper of God’s power.

Finally, I want to look especially at Proverbs 8:22-31. This is God’s creation of the world through his wisdom who is personified as a woman who exists with God in the beginning and she says,

The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of old. Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water. Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth; before he had made the earth with its fields, or the first of the dust of the world. When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the sons of men.

What is especially significant about this is not only did wisdom exist with God before the world was made but notice especially the phrase “when there were no depths, I was brought forth” because it is the depths that are described in Genesis 1:2, “darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit was hovering over the face of the waters.” Even before the depths spoken of in verse 2 were brought forth, God existed with his wisdom and he created everything else. It is God who created the depths, took their measure and then prescribed their limits. So this is a powerful statement reflecting on Genesis 1:1 of the doctrine of creation out of nothing.

Next time we will see how this doctrine emerges even more clearly during the intertestamental period and then on into the New Testament.[6]


[1] 4:52

[2] 10:02

[3] 15:14

[4] 20:00

[5] 24:51

[6] Total Running Time: 30:21 (Copyright © 2012 William Lane Craig)