I had a dialogue on social media recently with someone who objected to the idea that God created the world “out of” or “from” nothing. That brief interaction (which I’ll provide in a moment) gives us the opportunity to think further on what creation ex nihilo means and doesn’t mean.

Creation Ex Nihilo
The early chapters of Genesis describe how God created the totality of all things. Every reader of the Bible is familiar with the creation days of Genesis chapter 1. This critical doctrine is also discussed in various parts of both the Old and New Testaments. And affirmations of creation form the first stanzas of the ancient creeds of Christendom (Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds).

A central feature of how Christians have understood God’s initial role in creation involves the expression creation ex nihilo: creation out of or from nothing. Historical theologian Richard Muller defines the Latin term ex nihilo as a reference to “the divine creation of the world not of preexistent, and therefore eternal, materials, but out of nothing.”1 The doctrine of creation ex nihilo is derived from various biblical passages (Genesis 1:1; Romans 4:17; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 11:3).

Clarifying What Christians Mean by “From Nothing”
With that context, here now is the paraphrased discussion I had with an inquirer on social media:

Correspondent: God most certainly didn’t create “out of” or “from” nothing. Not even the all-powerful Lord could perform such an act. God merely brought that which didn’t previously exist into existence. What he created “from” was himself (who and what he is), not from nothing.

My response: I respectfully think you have misunderstood the historic definition of “out of” or “from” nothing. The historic Christian doctrine of creation ex nihilo says nothing existed but the triune God and then God called all contingent (dependent) entities and beings into existence from nonexistence. God didn’t create out of himself (creation ex Deo) rather he called all things into existence that previously didn’t exist (ergo out of or from nothing). Thus creation ex nihilo means “bring into existence that which did not exist prior.” Creation ex nihilo is historically the biblical and Christian response to the Platonic claim that a deity (the Demiurge) created out of preexistent entities. I hope that helps.

Correspondent: Nothing? What was there other than God from which to bring forth something? Either it came out of God (as the source of all being) or from nothing, the latter of which sounds like hocus-pocus magic.

My response: God, through his incalculable wisdom and power alone, created that which previously didn’t exist. Instead of using preexistent matter or some other substance, God brought all things into existence from nonexistence. I think your misunderstanding is in thinking that nonexistence is a substance. It’s not. It is literally no thing. “Out of” or “from nothing” is not a magical substance. It just means God alone called all things into existence that previously didn’t exist.

Further, the source of creation is God’s power and wisdom and out of nonexistence simply means that which previously didn’t exist. So creation is by God but from nothing (no preexistent materials were used in creating). I think your basic description that “God merely brought that which didn’t previously exist into existence” actually matches with creation ex nihilo, though you have to be careful not to imply that God created out of himself which is known as creation ex Deo and is similar to the Eastern religious view (pantheism).

Takeaway
In thinking carefully about creation it is equally important to understand what the doctrine of creation ex nihilo does not mean. Consider these three points:

  • The cosmos was not created either in God or out of God’s being.
  • The cosmos was not made of preexisting materials, such as matter.
  • God didn’t create the cosmos out of a nothing that was an actual something.

Creation testifies to God’s infinite wisdom and power. Thus, studying the Bible and observing the natural world should lead God’s redeemed people to worship the triune Creator.

Reflections: Your Turn
Does observing nature lead you to worship? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment.

Resources

  • For further study of creation ex nihilo, see Kenneth Richard Samples, 7 Truths That Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012), chapters 5 and 6.
  • For an understanding of science and Christianity, see Kenneth Richard Samples, Christianity Cross-Examined (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2021), chapters 1 and 2.

 

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes

  1. Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1985), s.v. “ex nihilo.”

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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