A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

Science-minded people today may find it surprising to learn that a person who lived 1,600 years ago offers sensible insights on creation, but such is the case with Augustine of Hippo (354–430). St. Augustine is arguably the most influential Christian thinker outside the biblical authors. According to historical theologians he has influenced Protestant theology nearly as much as Catholic theology in his overall prodigious imprint on Western Christendom.

Augustine had much to say about the Christian doctrine of creation in his many writings. Here are three specific areas of thought.

1. On the Creations Origin

In his most famous work, Confessions, Augustine seems to foreshadow modern cosmological understanding:

Therefore you must have created them from nothing, the one great, the other small. For there is nothing that you cannot do. You are good and all that you make must be good, both the great Heaven of Heavens and this little earth. You were, and besides you nothing was. From nothing, then, you created heaven and earth.1

Augustine lived more than a thousand years before the seventeenth-century scientific revolution in Europe that gave birth to modern science. Yet his study of Scripture led him to conclude certain things about cosmology that parallel scientific thinking today. Augustine argued that God created the world ex nihilo (Latin for creation literally “out of nothing” or “from nothing”). This means that God created the universe without recourse to anything but his infinite wisdom and awesome power. There was no preexistent matter, energy, or some other “stuff.” Only God existed, and he alone created the universe (including matter, energy, and time). Augustine’s fifth-century cosmological thinking derived from Scripture concerning the universe’s origin seems strikingly similar to big bang cosmology.

2. On the Creation of Time

Also from Confessions, Augustine’s view of time appears to resonate with contemporary science:

You are the Maker of all time. If, then, there was any time before you made heaven and earth, how can anyone say that you were idle? You must have made that time, for time could not elapse before you made it.2

Drawing on Genesis 1:1, Augustine came to the powerful insight—which even modern cosmologists accept today—that “the world was not created in time but with time.”In other words, even time had a beginning with the origin of the universe. Cosmologist Paul Davies has acknowledged that Augustines view of the creation of time is consistent with what physicists basically think today.4

3. On the Genesis Creation Days

Heres Augustine from his classic work City of God:

What kind of days these are is difficult or even impossible for us to imagine, to say nothing of describing them.5

Augustine believed God had created all things, including time, from nothing. Yet he was perplexed as to how to rightly interpret the Genesis creation days. He addressed the issue of creation in several different places in his extensive writings (of more than five million words), speculating in various ways on the meaning of the six creation days. However, he remained noncommittal on how to best understand the specific creation days. Augustine finally came to the tentative exegetical conclusion that God created only one day (an instantaneous moment), but that single creation day was presented in Scripture as recurring seven times.

Some biblical scholars later criticized Augustine for not placing creation within the biblical parameters of what Reformer John Calvin called “in the space of six days.” However, it is important to understand Augustine’s approach to the issue. He insisted that, given the profundity of the topic, believers should avoid dogmatism and be cautious in proffering novel interpretations of these seemingly unique days. But he also remained open to the possibility that a more reasonable and plausible interpretation of the creation days would emerge and could replace his own.

In light of the factors that caused Augustine’s cautious ambivalence to interpreting the early chapters of Genesis, it is not surprising that evangelical biblical scholars today hold a number of different interpretations of the creation days. We may disagree with Augustine’s specific interpretation of the creation days yet still learn from his reasoned reflections and prudent handling of controversial theological and apologetics issues.

Reflections: Your Turn

How important is the doctrine of creation in terms of the Christian worldview? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment with your response.

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes
  1. Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (New York: Penguin, 1961), Book XII, Section 7, 284–85.
  2. Saint Augustine, Confessions, Book XI, Section 13, 263.
  3. St. Augustine, City of God (New York: Penguin, 1984), Book 11, Section 6, 436.
  4. Paul Davies, “Physics and the Mind of God: The Templeton Prize Address,” First Things, August 1995, https://www.firstthings.com/article/1995/08/003-physics-and-the-mind-of-god-the-templeton-prize-address-24.
  5. St. Augustine, City of God, 436.

 

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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