There are numerous ways in which Christianity differs from many other world religions, and from ancient mythologies. One of the most significant is the concept of creation ex nihilo. Ex nihilo is a Latin phrase that means “out of nothing.” The doctrine of creation ex nihilo asserts that before the creation of the cosmos, nothing existed but God alone. No thing at all. Then God spoke into existence the material universe. It was created by divine fiat, by the order of God. The universe was not created out of any kind of preexisting material, for nothing existed before the creation.
This doctrine is implicit in both the Old and New Testaments. So it is therefore implicit in both Judaism and Christianity. It is also found in Islam, which is not surprising since much of Islam is basically a reworking of biblical ideas. (Although twisted to Muhammad’s skewed way of thinking.) However, the idea of creation from nothing is not typical in most religions, especially in the ancient world. Other creation stories always begin with some “thing” or “things” in prior existence. Consider a few examples:
Egypt has several creation myths. One typical myth says that in the beginning there was the primeval ocean, then an egg rose to the surface, and Ra emerged. Ra gave birth to the first gods.
The ancient Norse believed that in the beginning there was a great void. On one side of the void was a region of fog and ice called Niflheim, on the other was a region of fire called Muspelheim. The ice and fire mixed and formed a huge cow, and also a giant named Ymir. Ymir fed on the milk of the cow. Other giants were formed from Ymir’s armpit sweat. These giants mated and gave birth to the gods. Odin, chief of the gods killed Ymir, and used his body to form the earth and heavens.
In China it was traditionally believed that in the beginning there was a cosmic egg. Inside this egg was a being named P’an Ku, who lived in the egg for 18,000 years. Finally P’an Ku broke out of the egg. He used the top of the egg to form the sky, and the bottom of the egg became the earth. Then P’an Ku fell to pieces, and the remnants of his body became all of creation.
Creation myths among Native Americans show this same tendency of creation ex material, that is, creation out of matter. For example the Cherokee believed that in the beginning there was nothing but water and the sky, which was a stone vault. All animals lived in the sky. But the sky became overcrowded, so the animals came to earth. They formed everything on earth.
The ancient Greeks said originally there was Chaos, the abyss. Chaos was made up of the four elements, earth, air, fire and water. Out of Chaos arose Gaia, the earth. Gaia gave birth to Ouranos. They had children together, who became the Titans, and from them the gods. Other aspects of nature also arose from the primeval Chaos.
This sampling of different views illustrates that the biblical account stands in stark contrast to what was generally believed in the ancient world, and is still accepted by multitudes today.
Two of the biblical passages that affirm this concept are found in Genesis 1:1 and John 1:1-3 where we see God creating ALL things through His word. (Also see Eph. 3:9, Nehemiah 9:6, Col. 1:16, Rev. 4:11 as affirming that God created every thing that exists.) If He created all things, then that means that before creation there was no thing that existed. Therefore, He created ex nihilo. We also see this teaching implicit in Hebrews 11:3 and Romans 4:17. It should be noted that the contrast in Heb. 11:3 is between the physical world (visible) and the world of the spirit (invisible). The reference is not to unseen physical entities, e.g., atoms.
This doctrine asserts that creation had a start, the cosmos had a beginning. Since God did create ALL things, then matter is not eternal. The physical universe is not eternal. Thus material naturalism is denied any ground for credence.
This teaching also asserts that creation was instantaneous. This is implied in the very concept of ex nihilo, viz., there was nothing, and then there was something. Note Psalm 33:6-9 in this regard.
It must also be emphasized that God and God alone created. He had no help. He needed no help. The Father, acting through the agency of His Logos/Word, with the active presence of the Holy Spirit, created all that exists. This was a divine act of the Deity Himself (see Nehemiah 9:6). In this divine act of creation we see the Triune God causing all that exists to come into being. This includes all space, all matter, and all time. Thus, in Genesis 1:1, we see the transcendent, eternal, all-powerful, all-wise God creating the very fabric of the space-matter-time universe. All that exists, from the tiniest quark to the largest galaxy, came into being at the command of God’s word.
Okay, so this is all very interesting. (Well, it is to me anyway.) But why talk about it? What’s the big deal? Is it even a big deal?
Yes, it definitely is a big deal. It is a big deal for several reasons. First of all, it gives us insight into the nature of God Himself. It defines Him as all-powerful and all-wise. Imagine the incredible capacity required to create the entire cosmos, from beginning to end, from atom to cosmos. It is staggering to think about. But this is our God! It also defines God as the sole deity and sovereign in all existence. There are some who have questioned the doctrine of creation ex nihilo, saying that it is not explicitly taught in the Scriptures. However, the very idea is integral to our understanding that God is truly God, and that He is the only God. If anything, or anyone, existed apart from and prior to the creation, then that thing/being would exist on par with God. We would then be forced to believe in dualism. But we do not. We know that God is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). And creation ex nihilo affirms this.
There is another reason this teaching is a big deal. And this is a very practical reason. I remember years ago leading a home Bible study. It was in the home of Bruce and Barbara Hayes, in Richmond, Virginia. I asked the group to share their favorite Bible verse. Bruce’s answer surprised me. He said that Genesis 1:1 was his favorite. I asked why. I will never forget his answer. He said that he figured that if God was big enough to create everything with a simple command, that He was big enough to handle anything that happened in his life. What a powerful insight! And so true. God who created all existence through divine command, by just speaking His word, can He not take care of you and me. He is that big, that powerful, that wise, that capable. Child of God, we can have confidence in our Creator. He who is both Maker and Master of our lives, our Father and our Fashioner, He will watch over us, provide for us, hear our prayers, meet our needs.
“Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—he remains faithful forever” (Psalm 146:5-6).
Truth Builders is a ministry initiative of Advancing Native Missions. However, the content of this site is the personal opinion of the author, and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, views or conclusions of Advancing Native Missions, its leaders or staff.