Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Creation out of Nothing in the New Testament and Genesis

In his NIV Application Commentary on Genesis, Walton states,
When we are doing exgesis, we are not asking the question, "What does my belief system affirm God has done?" nor even, "What would Israel's belief system affirm God was responsible for?"  Rather we must ask, "What is the text asserting that God did in this context?"  The above analysis suggests that in the seven-day initial period God brought the cosmos into operation (which defines existence) by assigning roles and functions.  Later Scripture supports our belief that God also made all the matter out of which the cosmos is composed (and that he made it out of nothing, Col 1:16-17; Heb 11:3), but that is not what Genesis means by bara'.
- Walton, Genesis, 2001, p71

I think his main point is excellent, but what troubles me is the quick use of NT proof texts which don't seem to me to say that the world was made out of nothing anymore than Gen 1 does.

Hebrews 11:3 is perhaps the most obvious here, in that all we are given to understand is that the visible universe was made from invisible matter,

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

But Colossians 1:16-17 is perhaps even clearer than Gen 1 in its use of "create" to imply organisation and function, the examples Paul gives (yes Paul! but that is for another day) are so abstract as to be practically immaterial, "thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities."  Of course you don't have to read it this way, but if Paul read Gen 1 in the way Walton thinks he should have done, we are more than justified in reading Col the same way.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Interestingly enough, the greek verb ktizo, create, is only used in the NT as a verb for God's action, just like the Hebrew bara' is only used in the OT for God's action. So it is reasonable to suppose the Hebraic connotations pass into the NT equivalent.  Equally "all things" (pas), need not imply the basic stuff of matter as Paul could hardly be expected to be referring to atomic particles and such, but merely what is formed and built (ktizo) out of such matter.

Of course it is philosophically important to us moderns to know whether God, Jesus, etc were ontologically prior to the existence of the material universe, but it wasn't important to the biblical authors who really didn't care about our 21st century philosphical problems.  They had enough problems of their own.

Let me know what you think :-)


  1. for more on Wlaton and bara' see his blog post here


  2. I certainly agree that in Genesis and in the many other Creation tales in the Old Testament (particularly in the Psalms), creation is not ex nihilo, but is the organization of chaotic matter — the primeval cosmic ocean — into order.

    I'm not sure about the Colossians passage. It could be a reference 2 Maccabees 7:28, which seems more clearly to describe creation of the world from nothing, undoubtedly due to Hellenistic influence. Personally, I find the chaoskampf motif of the OT more interesting.