Out of Nothing:
A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought
Out of Nothing: A History of Creation ex Nihilo in Early Christian Thought
Reviewed by Blake T. Ostler
In their contribution to The New Mormon Challenge entitled “Craftsman or Creator? An Examination
of the Mormon Doctrine of Creation and a Defense of Creatio ex
nihilo,” Paul Copan and William Lane
Craig assert, among other things, that the notion of creation ex
nihilo—creation out of
For good measure, they also assert that this doctrine was not an invention of
the philosophers but has always been the well-established “Christian”
belief. In so doing, they argue against the vast majority of biblical and
classical scholars. I contend that their arguments on these points are
seriously flawed, that there are compelling reasons to support the view of the
majority of biblical scholars that the Bible teaches creation out of a
preexisting chaos, that Copan and Craig have seriously misrepresented the
biblical data to read into it their doctrine of absolutist creation, and that
their argument that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo was not a philosophical development is uninformed
and fails to grasp the essential distinctions necessary to make sense of the
doctrine as it developed in patristic theology. I present good reasons why the
vast majority of scholars agree that the doctrine of creatio ex
nihilo was first formulated around AD 200 in arguments with the
Gnostics, Stoics, and Middle Platonists.
In both publications being reviewed here, Copan and Craig
deal with texts from the Old Testament, philosophical arguments from the
supposed impossibility of the actual infinite, and evidence from big bang
cosmology that they argue supports creation out of nothing. In this review I will
focus only on the New Testament and the rise of the doctrine of creatio ex
nihilo in first- and second-century
Christianity. I will review their article in The New Mormon
Challenge, as well as their recently
published book Creation out of Nothing: A Biblical, Philosophical,
and Scientific Exploration, which expands
upon their article. I have chosen
to review the book together with the article for two reasons. First, the book
plugs many gaping holes that exist in the article, and it does no good to
respond to a weaker argument when a stronger argument has been made. Second, I
believe that dialogue among Latter-day Saints and evangelicals calls for
charity—even when the evangelicals do not reciprocate that charity.
There is a central problem with these works by Copan and
Craig. They make no bones about the fact that they are not engaging in an attempt to provide a balanced
exegesis of the scriptures and documents that they discuss. Rather, their
article and book are like a lawyer’s defense brief for the view that the
scriptures teach creatio ex nihilo.
A careful reading reveals that they are presenting their case as if they were
debaters with no interest in giving a balanced assessment of the evidence. Such a debater’s stance is easily discerned in their
defensive position that “even if” the evidence did not support
creation out of nothing, still their position dictates that we should read the
texts as teaching that doctrine. To defend their position, they explicitly
adopt a prior theological commitment that determines what the evidence must
show: “And even if, as many of [the Jewish and Christian writers]
believed, God did create out of primordial matter, these Jewish and Christian
thinkers held that this matter itself was first created by God and then at a later stage shaped by
him into an orderly cosmos. They uniformly held that God alone is unbegotten
and uncreated; everything else is begotten and creaturely” (Creation
out of Nothing [CON], p. 27, emphasis
in original). This passage displays clearly the two key assumptions that
dictate the outcome of discussion by Copan and Craig: (1) the word create is assumed to mean creation ex nihilo; and (2) even if a text says that God created by
organizing unorganized matter, we must still see the text as teaching creatio
ex nihilo because implicitly it adopts the
view that God first “created” everything out of nothing. While I
doubt that there is such a thing as a presuppositionless or
“objective” stance in reading texts, nevertheless, their attempt to
defend the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is vitiated by the fact that the texts do not support their view unless
these two assumptions are adopted. Yet these very assumptions are themselves
what is at issue. Thus the basic premise of their discussion begs the question
in their favor and often causes them to ignore more convincing readings of the
key texts. They cite several texts that do not discuss how God created, but merely that he did, and Copan and
Craig argue that the text must
mean creation out of nothing even though they admit that the text doesn’t
expressly address the issue as to how God created because it is supposedly “implicit” in the text.
Creation as Described in the New
Copan and Craig
contend that Joseph Smith’s reading of Genesis 1—that it expressly
teaches creation from a prior chaos—is contrary to the biblical text.
However, it is Joseph Smith’s interpretation that enjoys the support of the
majority of biblical scholars. Copan and Craig also assert that several
passages of the New Testament expressly teach creatio ex nihilo. In so arguing they once again swim against the
tide of contrary conclusions reached by the vast majority of scholars who have
treated this issue.
3:5-6. Several New Testament passages are cited by Copan and
Craig that supposedly support creation out of nothing. Their treatment of
2 Peter 3:5 is typical of the way they force the text with assumptions
contrary to the text throughout their book (see The New Mormon Challenge
[NMC], p. 427 n. 136, and CON,
pp. 87-91). Second Peter
3:5-6 presents a New Testament text that clearly refers back to an Old
Testament teaching that God created the heaven and the earth by organizing
preexistent chaos. Genesis 1:1-2 states: “In the beginning God
created the heaven and the earth, and the earth was without form, and void; and
darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2 King James Version [KJV]). The
waters represented the primordial chaos already present when God created the
earth in Genesis 1:2 (and there is no indication in the text that the waters
are ever created). In fact, the scripture in 2 Peter seems to have been
directed to people like Copan and Craig: “They [sarcastic scoffers]
deliberately ignore the fact that long ago there were the heavens and the
earth, formed out of water and through water by the Word of God, and that it
was through these same factors that the world of those days was destroyed by
the floodwaters” (2 Peter 3:5-6 New Jerusalem Bible [NJB]). This
text rather clearly teaches the creation of heaven and earth by verbal fiat out
of waters that existed before the
heavens and the earth and that this preexisting chaos eventually provided the
water for the great flood. In essence, the flood represents a return of the
world to chaos because the people that God had created had not obeyed his
There are five crucial points in 2 Peter 3:5 that
support the view that the author of this scriptural passage believed that
everything was organized from a preexisting chaos. First, the text addresses
the formation of “heaven and earth,” or all that is said to be
created by God in Genesis 1:1-2. Indeed, the parallel with Genesis 1:1 is
unmistakable and clearly signifies that 2 Peter speaks of the same creation
spoken of there. Second, the heaven and earth are said in 2 Peter 3:5 to
be formed ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ δι᾽ ὕδατος (ex
hydatos kai di hydatos), both “out of
water” and also “through water.” The double reference to water
as the material substrate used in creation “out of” and
“from” which the heaven and earth are formed appears to be an
intentional emphasis. Third, the fact that we are dealing with the entire scope
of creation is indicated by reference to God’s Word as the power by which the
heaven and earth are formed from water—τῷ τοῦ θεοῦ λόγῳ (tō tou theou logō). The text is referring to Genesis
1:1-2, which states that God spoke and heaven and earth were created, and
also to John 1:1, which mentions that God creates all that there is by the
power of his Word. Fourth, the heaven and earth are formed from water, which is
recognized in the very next verse as the principle of chaos causing the flood
or the deep in Genesis 1:2. The earth was created from water, and it was
destroyed by water through the flood because water represents the unformed and
chaotic—the deep that is never said to be created in the Genesis account
of creation but is presented as already present at the time God undertakes to
create the heaven and the earth. Fifth, the verb used in 2 Peter 3:5, συνεστῶσα (synestōsa), is a form of the verb συνίστημι
meaning to organize by combining together and not by creating out of nothing.
In an endnote to their article, Copan and Craig claim that
in 2 Peter 3:5 there is a “two-step” creation, with an initial
creation ex nihilo and a second creation
from chaotic water. They claim that 2 Peter 3:5 “focuses on the
second stage” dealing with creation by chaos (NMC, p. 427 n. 136). However, their ad hoc explanation consists of imposing an assumption on the
text for which there is no textual support at all. Second Peter 3:5 gives no
indication of any prior creation ex nihilo. This interpretation is a good example of how Copan
and Craig are willing to gerrymander texts and read into them their own theological
demands in a way that is contrary to the text. They admit that many biblical
scholars, such as J. N. D. Kelly and evangical Richard Bauckham,
interpret this text to teach precisely that water is the “sole original
existent” and the “elemental stuff out of which the universe was
formed” as the Greek philosopher Thales had taught (and as Genesis 1
presupposes in equating the “deep” or the waters with the uncreated
This is where their prior theological assumption supposedly comes to their
rescue. The fact that the text says absolutely nothing about some prior
creation of water from nothing doesn’t deter Copan and Craig from seeing this
belief as the key to interpreting the text. In their book they assert:
This would imply a two-step creation process (already
noted in the previous chapter) involving God’s creating the universe and its
elements. This is supported by the fact that the verb “formed [synestōsa]” is used
rather than the verb ktizein (create).
In Proverbs 8:24, we read that “the deep” did not always exist. God
creates the waters and then uses them in the process of creation. Thus, water
is the material from which the
sky is created and instrument (dia) to create the sky. (CON, p. 88, brackets and emphasis in original)
So Copan and Craig suggest that the statement in
2 Peter 3:5 that God created “the heaven and earth” by
“forming” them out of water really means that God first created water
out of nothing and that he then used that water to create the “heavens and
the earth.” They cite Proverbs 8:24 as a supposed instance of such
creation of water out of nothing and then using that water to create the earth.
Their eisegesis of Proverbs, however, is no more convincing than their attempt
to read creation out of nothing into a text that teaches creation out of chaos.
Proverbs doesn’t teach that God created the waters or “deep” out of
nothing; rather, it expressly states that before God created the earth and thus
before there was water anywhere on earth, God “prepared the heavens”
and he organized the waters not by
“creating” them, but by setting “a compass upon the face of the
depth”—and this before he
created the earth (Proverbs 8:26-27). “While as yet he had not made
the earth. . . . When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he
set a compass upon the face of the depth.”
Thus, the waters are never said to be created in Proverbs 8
(or anywhere else in the Old Testament for that matter), contrary to the
assertion by Copan and Craig. Rather, God prepares the already existent waters
by organizing them through the process of measuring them and plumbing their
depths. The verb used in Proverbs 16:12 and translated as “prepared,”
(yikkôn), indicates a preparation and
establishing of something already existent and mirrors the statement in
2 Peter that “the heavens and earth were formed out of water” (author’s translation).
and Craig next turn to Hebrews 11:3, which says in the KJV: “Through faith
we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things
which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” According to
another translation of the same passage: “It is by faith that we
understand that the ages were created by a word from God, so that from the
invisible the visible world came to be” (NJB). What this text says is that
God created visible things literally “from” invisible things (εἰς τὸ μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων τὸ βλεπόμενον). But the invisible things are not nothing; they
already exist. Copan and Craig wrongly assume that invisible things can be
equated with absolute nothing. They cite Paul Ellingworth in arguing that
creation of the world by the “word” of God “would ‘conflict’
with any idea that the visible world was made out of materials in the invisible
world” (NMC, p. 116).
However, 2 Peter 3:5-6 teaches that God created from the
waters by his word or command. The notion
that creation by God’s command or word must assume creation ex nihilo is simply false. Moreover, Hebrews 11:3 states that
the worlds were “framed by the word of God,” not that they were
created out of nothing. The verb used here, καταρτίζω (katartizō) refers to organizing,
framing, or putting together what is not yet organized or to mend, repair, or
put in order something that has become disorganized.
Citing William Lane, Copan and Craig also argue that the
reference to those “things which are not seen” teaches creatio ex
nihilo because it “denies that the
creative universe originated from primal material or anything observable”
(NMC, p. 116).
Yet this is simply argument by assertion without any evidence or reasoning to
back it up. Moreover, it is demonstrably wrong. For example, Copan and Craig
also cite 2 Enoch (a
document very likely dating to about AD
70-100 and thus contemporaneous with New Testament texts such as Hebrews
and probably the Gospel of Matthew),
which uses very similar language about God’s command and things visible created
from the invisible. Arguing that this text too “reflects the doctrine of
creation out of nothing” in a couple of places, they cite 2 Enoch 25:1-2 as follows: “I commanded
. . . that visible things should come down from invisible” (NMC, pp. 123-24). However, the entire relevant text
reads: “Before anything existed at all, from the very beginning, whatever
exists I created from the non-existent, and from the invisible the visible.
. . . For, before any visible things had come into existence, I, the
ONE, moved around in the invisible things, like the sun, from east to west and
from west to east.”
It is also well known that the Septuagint (LXX) translates
the text of Genesis 1:2 referring to the “desolate and empty” world
in its precreation state as ἀόρατος καὶ ἀκατασκεύαστος—which
means “invisible and unformed.” This same word invisible is similar to Hebrews 11:3 μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων (mē ek phainomenōn), meaning “out of unseen things” the world
was created. However, just as in LXX Genesis the unformed and lifeless world
that is invisible or unseen is not “nothing at all” but, rather,
chaotic and unformed matter that cannot be seen because it does not yet have
form impressed upon it by God.
In the context of 2 Enoch, it is clear that the “invisible things” are not absolute
nothing; rather, they are things that are not visible to mortal eyes. That
these invisible things already exist in some sense is demonstrated by the fact
that God moves among them. The translator F. I. Andersen explains: “The
impression remains that God was not the only existent being or thing from the
very first. . . . God made the existent out of the non-existent, the
visible out of the non-visible. So the invisible things coexisted with God
before he began to make anything. . . . Vs. 4 is quite explicit on
this point: Before any of the visible things had come into existence, God was
moving around among the invisible things.”
Not only does this text not teach creatio ex nihilo, but it teaches the very opposite. This reading of
“invisible things” as already existing realities is also very
strongly supported by Romans 1:19-20 KJV: “Because that which may be
known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible
things of him from the creation of the
world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his
eternal power.” Note that the invisible things already exist and can be
seen through the power of God. This scripture fits well with the Latter-day
Saint view that before God created the earth out of matter that is visible to
us, he had already created a world out of spirit that is not visible to us (see
Moses 6:36). This same view is expressed in Hebrews—things that are not
visible or are unseen are still things that already exist. As James N. Hubler
observes in his excellent doctoral dissertation on the emergence of the idea of
creatio ex nihilo: “the
notion of creation μὴ ἐκ φαινομένων was comfortable for Platonic dualists or
Stoics, because it lacked all qualities.”
In other words, both the Platonic dualists and the Stoics could easily see the
reference to “things invisible” as a type of formless matter that
lacks any qualities of individuation but is matter nonetheless.
The view that the “invisible things” are not
absolute nothing is also supported by Colossians 1:16-17:
For in him were created all things
in heaven and on earth:
everything visible and everything invisible,
thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers—
all things were created through him and for him.
He exists before all things. (NJB)
In this scripture it seems fairly evident that the
“everything invisible” includes things that already exist in heaven,
such as thrones, dominions, principalities, and powers. Further, the invisible
things are also created by God; yet the fact that they are invisible means only
that they are not seen by mortal eyes, not that they do not exist. The
reference to invisible things does not address whether they were made out of
preexisting matter. However, 2 Corinthians 4:18 states that “the things
which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are
eternal” (KJV). It is not difficult to see that Hebrews 11:3 neither
expressly mentions creation out of nothing nor implicitly assumes it. The
argument that the text must somehow implicitly assume creation of out nothing
misinterprets the text and forces it with assumptions that are contrary to the
meaning of “invisible things.” If anything, Hebrews 11:3 implicitly
assumes creation of the earth out of a preexisting substrate not visible to us.
Romans 4:17. Copan
and Craig next cite Romans 4:17 KJV: “even God, who quickeneth the dead,
and calleth those things which be not as though they were (καλοῦντος τὰ μὴ ὄνταὡς ὄντα).” There are two possible
translations of Romans 4:17. The majority translation does not entail creation
out of nothing: “[Abraham] is our father in the presence of God whom he
believed—the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do
not yet exist as though they already do.”
Another translation indicates that God “calls into existence the things
which do not exist” (New American Bible, NAB). The first translation is
preferred for several reasons. First, Keith Norman has pointed out that it is
contradictory for God to call to that which does not exist.
Second, as Moo stated, “this interpretation fits the immediate context better than a reference to God’s creative
power, for it explains the assurance with which God can speak of the ‘many
nations’ that will be descended from Abraham.”
Thus, the preferred translation merely states that God summons the future
reality of the resurrection as if it already existed. This seems to me to be a
far better fit with the context.
Third, as Hubler comments: “The verse’s ‘non-existent’
need not be understood in an absolute sense of non-being. μὴ ὄντα (mē onta) refers to the previous non-existence of those
things which are now brought into existence. There is no direct reference to
the absence or presence of a material cause.”
In other words, the Greek text suggests the view that God has brought about a
thing that did not exist as that thing before it was so created. For example, this use of μὴ ὄντα is
logically consistent with the proposition that “God called forth the earth
when before that the earth did not exist.” However, the fact that the
earth did not exist as the earth before
it was so created does not address the type of material that was used to make
Note also that Romans 4:17 uses the negative μή, which refers to merely relative nonbeing
and not to absolute nothing, as required by the doctrine of creation ex
nihilo. At this point it is important to
understand a bit about the ancient concept of matter in the Greek-speaking
world and the distinction between relative nonbeing (Greek μὴ ὄντα)
and absolute nothing (Greek οὐκ ὄντως). Platonic philosophy—both
Neoplatonism and Middle Platonism—posited the existence of an eternal
substratum that was material but was nevertheless so removed from the One
Ground of Being that it was often said to not have “real” existence.
As Jonathan Goldstein observes: “Platonists called pre-existent matter
This relative nonexistence is indicated by the Greek negative μή,
meaning “not” or “non-,” in conjunction with the
word for existence or being.
When the early Christian theologians speak of creation that denies that there
was any material state prior to creation, however, they use the Greek negation ουκ, meaning “not in any way or
mode.” As Henry Chadwick explained the usage in Clement’s Stromata: “In each case the phrase he employs is ek
me ontos not ex ouk ontos; that is to say, it is made not from that which is absolutely
non-existent, but from relative non-being or unformed matter, so shadowy and
vague that it cannot be said to have the status of ‘being’, which is imparted
to it by the shaping hand of the Creator.”
Edwin Hatch explained that, for Platonists, “God was regarded as being
outside the world. The world was in its origin only potential being (το μὴ ὄν).”
He explains more fully:
The [Platonic] dualistic hypothesis assumed a co-existence
of matter and God. The assumption was more frequently tacit than explicit.
. . . There was a universal belief that beneath the qualities of all
existing things lay a substratum or substance on which they were grafted, and
which gave to each thing its unity. But the conception of the nature of this
substance varied from that of gross and tangible material to that of empty and
formless space. . . . It was sometimes conceived as a vast shapeless
but plastic mass, to which the Creator gave form, partly by moulding it as a
potter moulds clay, partly by combining various elements as a builder combines
his materials in the construction of a house.
Aristotle wrote that: “For generation is from
non-existence (ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος)
into being, and corruption from being back into non-existence (εἰς τὸ μὴ ὄν).” Generation is the act of a new animal being derived from an existing one, or a
plant deriving from an existing plant. It is new life from life. He used the
phrase from non-existence in a sense of
relative nonbeing, where “things” do not yet exist and there is only
a formless substratum that has the potential or capacity to receive definite
form. This substratum is not absolutely nothing but is not yet a thing. It is
“no-thing.” Thus, to say that God called to existence that which does
not exist, as in Romans 4:17, actually assumes a preexisting substrate that
God, by impressing form upon it, organizes into a thing that exists. Copan and
Craig simply fail to note this important distinction, and thus their exegesis
is critically flawed.
In their book, Copan and Craig cite a number of evangelical
scholars who share their theological presuppositions and who opine that this
verse refers to creation out of nothing (CON, pp. 75-78). Yet none of these authors provide any analysis
or exegesis beyond asserting that the “non-existent” must mean that
which does not exist in any sense. For example, Copan and Craig quote James
Dunn’s commentary on Romans 4:17, which reads in the relevant part: “‘As
creator he creates without any precondition: he makes alive where there was
only death, and he calls into existence where there was nothing at all. Consequently
that which has been created, made alive in this way, must be totally dependent
on the creator, the life-giver, for its very existence and life'” (NMC, p. 117).
However, it is easy to see that the scriptural analogy of God bringing the dead
to life in the same way that he creates “things which are not” does
not support creatio ex nihilo.
Resurrection does not presuppose that the dead do not exist in any way prior to
their resurrection, nor does it presuppose that previously they did not have
bodies that are reorganized through resurrection. Just as God does not create
persons for the first time when he restores them to life through resurrection,
so God does not create out of absolute nonbeing.
Moreover, note that Romans 4:17 doesn’t expressly address
whether things are created out of nothing or from some material substrate. It
simply says that God “calls” things into existence that are not.
Moreover, such a statement in no way entails or requires creation out of
nothing implicitly. If I create a table then I create a table that did not
exist before I created it, but it doesn’t mean that I create it out of nothing.
In this text, the word create is not
even used. Rather, what God does is to “call forth” the non-existent.
The verb καλέω
means to call out loud to something, or to invite.
It presupposes something there to be called to or invited. God calls out to the
non-existent by his Word, an act described by a verb used elsewhere in Paul’s
writings (Romans 9:11; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Galatians 5:8;
1 Thessalonians 5:24). Thus, the most natural reading of this text is that
the “non-existent” or μὴ ὄντα refers to a preexisting reality that does not yet
exist as God calls it to be. Such a reading has nothing to do with creation out
of absolute nothing.
and Craig also argue that John 1:3 supports the idea of creation out of nothing
(here given in KJV): “All things were made by him; and without him was not
any thing made that was made” (πάντα δι᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο, καὶ χωρὶς αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν). Copan and Craig assert of this verse:
“The implication is that all things (which would include preexistent
matter, if that were applicable to the creative process) exist through God’s
agent, who is the originator of everything” (pp. 117-18). But
this verse says nothing about the creation of “preexistent matter.”
One must assume beforehand that the word create must mean to create ex nihilo in order to arrive at this conclusion, for this verse says only that
if something was made, then it was made through the Word. It does not address
anything that may not have been made. More important, it does not address how those things were made, its point being through
whom the creation was made. Anything that
was made was made by Christ. Since the translation one reviews is so critical
to interpretation, I will provide another translation: “All things came
about through him and without him not one thing came about, which came
question in this case is whether the final phrase which came about is part of this verse or the beginning of the next
verse. Hubler explains:
The punctuation of [John 1:3] becomes critical to its
meaning. Proponents of creatio ex materia
could easily qualify the creatures of the Word to that “which came about,”
excluding matter. Proponents of creatio ex nihilo could place a period after “not one thing came
about” and leave “which came about” to the next sentence. The
absence of a determinate tradition of punctuation in New Testament [Greek]
texts leaves room for both interpretations. Neither does creation by word imply
ex nihilo (contra Bultmann) as we
have seen in Egypt, Philo, and Midrash Rabba, and even in 2 Peter 3:5,
where the word functions to organize pre-cosmic matter.
Of course, the reality of this text is that it does not
consciously address the issue of creation ex nihilo at all. It states who accomplished the creation, not how it was done.
A person who accepts creation from chaos can easily say that no
“thing” came about that is not a result of the Word’s bringing it
about but agree that there is a chaos in which no “things” exist
prior to their creation as such. Copan and Craig hang their hat on the
connotations of the word πάντα,
meaning “all” in an inclusive sense. They argue that because
“all” things that come about are brought about by the Word, there is
no possibility of an uncreated reality that has not been brought about by God.
However, the final phrase, ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν, translated “nothing
made that was made,” limits the scope of the creative power to the order
of the created and implies that whatever is not made was not made by him. If it
is created, he created it; if it is not, then it is not within the scope of
“what is made.”
Assessing New Testament Statements about Creation
Copan and Craig end their treatment of those New Testament
texts that, in their opinion, imply creatio ex nihilo with this charge:
In light of the above discussion, it is a serious distortion
to portray the doctrine of creation out of nothing as a purely postbiblical
phenomenon, as some Mormon apologists have done. Where in the relevant
scholarly references to which LDS scholars point is there rigorous exegetical
treatment of the relevant biblical passages on creation? The silence is deafening. (NMC, p. 118, emphasis in original)
Such an assertion by Copan and Craig seems to be mere
bravado. Keith Norman and Stephen Ricks have provided at least an initial start
to such an exegesis, which I take up here.
Even so, there is really no need for Latter-day Saints to provide such an
analysis at all because it has already been provided by non-Mormon Christians
who believe that there is more justification for belief in a creation ex
materia—and, indeed, by some who
accept the doctrine of creation ex nihilo but are honest enough to admit that they cannot find such a doctrine
in the Bible. Hubler’s
dissertation engages in a fairly rigorous exegesis of the relevant biblical
passages. He reaches a conclusion radically different from that of Copan and
Several New Testament texts have been educed as evidence
of creatio ex nihilo. None makes a clear
statement which would have been required to establish such an unprecedented
position, or which we would need as evidence of such a break with tradition.
None is decisive and each could easily by accepted by a proponent of creatio
Similarly, in his extensive study of the origin of the
doctrine of creatio ex nihilo in
Christian thought, Gerhard May explains why he does not believe that the New
Testament texts can be taken to refer to creatio ex nihilo.
The passages repeatedly quoted as New Testament witnesses
for the idea of creatio ex nihilo are
Romans 4:17, where Paul says that God “calls into being the things that
are not,” and Hebrews 11:3, where it says that “the visible came
forth from the invisible.” But these formulations fit in with the
statements of Hellenistic Judaism . . . about the creation of
non-being, or out of non-being, and mean, no more than those, to give
expression to creation out of nothing, in the strict sense, as a contradiction
in principle of the doctrine of world-formation.
May explains that creatio ex nihilo is a metaphysical doctrine that requires conscious
formulation, and that such an approach was completely foreign to any of the
biblical writers: “The biblical presentation of the Almighty God who
created the world . . . possessed for early Christianity an
overwhelming self-evidence and was not perceived as a metaphysical problem.
This new question first concerned the theologians of the second century, deeply
rooted in philosophical thinking, and wanting consciously to understand the
truth of Christianity as the truth of philosophy.”
Hubler and May feel that a “rigorous” exegesis is
not needed to show that these biblical passages do not address the issue of creatio
ex nihilo because it is fairly obvious on
the face of such passages that they do not consciously formulate such a
metaphysical doctrine. The argument that these texts must assume the doctrine of creation out of nothing simply begs
the question—especially where the text does not address the issue and
does not engage in the type of philosophical analysis necessary to formulate
the doctrine. Asserting that a view is
“implicit” in the text without explaining why the implication is
necessary to the text amounts to simply reading one’s own view into the text. I
believe that is precisely what Copan and Craig have done. An approach that
resists reading creatio ex nihilo
into the text unless it is expressly formulated is especially appropriate
because, as we shall see, the earliest Christian philosophers assumed that the
doctrine of creation from preexisting chaos was the Christian view. The issue had not been addressed or
settled prior to the end of the second century, when the adoption of a Middle
Platonic view of God and matter as a background assumption of discourse made
adoption of creatio ex nihilo the
only rational doctrine to adopt.
Copan and Craig also assert that Latter-day Saints have
failed to address the biblical evidence:
One wonders what LDS scholars would take as unambiguous
evidence for creation out of nothing in Scripture (or even extrabiblical
sources). It seems that they would not be satisfied with any formulation in a
given text other than “creation out of absolutely nothing” or the
like before admitting to the possibility of finding clear evidence of the
doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. Apart
from the strong case just made for the biblical doctrine of creation out of
nothing, we must note that even if the biblical evidence were ambiguous and the biblical writers took no position
on this issue, the LDS view would not win by default. . . . On the
one hand, Mormons have neglected to interact with biblical scholarship on this
subject; on the other, they have put forth no significant positive exegetical
evidence for their own position. (NMC, p. 119)
Well, I can’t speak for other Latter-day Saint scholars, but
what I would like to see as “unambiguous evidence” in scripture of creatio
ex nihilo is evidence that truly is
unambiguous and is not better explained as
teaching the contrary doctrine of creatio ex materia. I would like to see a text that directly addresses
the issue of creatio ex nihilo in
a conscious way and not a reading of the text that merely assumes the doctrine
of creatio ex nihilo. I would
like to see a discussion of the biblical text that does not ignore the
background assumptions of the world out of which the text arises.
If a text is truly taking a polemical position, then it
should make clear that it is rejecting one position and espousing another. To
see the New Testament text as teaching creatio ex nihilo when it comes out of a religious and cultural
context that, up to that time, had universally accepted creatio ex
materia requires that it actually
formulate, discuss, probe, and evaluate the kinds of philosophical distinctions
that underlie the doctrines in the first place. Not only do the New Testament
texts not make such distinctions consciously, but they in fact show every
evidence of maintaining the position prevalent within their historical context.
So intent are Copan and Craig on reading creatio ex
nihilo into any text that says that God
“created that which is from that which is not” that they have blinded
themselves to the many and genuinely convincing textual and historical
evidences for creatio ex
materia. They ignore the arguments in favor
of seeing Genesis 1 and 2 Peter 3:5-6 as texts teaching creation out
of chaos. They ignore the fact that in the ancient world “invisible
things” are still things that are simply not seen. And finally, they
ignore the work of fellow evangelicals, such as Bruce K. Waltke and William R.
Lane, who have already done a fine job of arguing the very position that
Latter-day Saints assert.
These omissions have serious implications for the strength of the arguments
Copan and Craig propose.
Creation as Described in Extrabiblical Texts
The Dead Sea Scrolls.
Copan and Craig suggest that texts from the Dead Sea Scrolls, produced around
the time of Christ, assume creation out of nothing (CON, pp. 105-7). For example, they quote the Rule
of the Congregation (1QSa) found among the
scrolls: “From the God of Knowledge comes all that is and shall be. Before
ever they existed He established their whole design, and when, as ordained for
them, they come into being, it is in accord with His glorious design that they
accomplish their task without change.”
They also quote 1QS XI, 11:
By his knowledge everything shall come into being,
and all that does exist
he establishes with his calculations
and nothing is done outside of him. (NMC, p. 122)
They assert that in these texts they see an ex nihilo understanding of creation during this period (pp.
122-23). Such a reading forces the text with assumptions that simply are
not addressed in it. These texts do not address whether God used prior material
or how God created the earth. All the texts from the scrolls cited by Copan and
Craig address only the fact that God has predestined the course of the world
and has knowledge of all things before they occur. Nothing happens without God
having a knowledge before it happens or “comes to be.” The mere
assertions that God knew of something before he brought it about and that he
brought it about through his power are not inconsistent with creatio
ex materia. Latter-day Saints believe that
before God created the earth he knew its whole design, that by his knowledge he
created all things that came into existence, and yet that he created them by
organizing a chaos. In other words, there is nothing asserted in these texts
that is inconsistent with what Latter-day Saints believe (except that they
reject the all-pervasive predestination that the Dead Sea covenanters believed
Rabbi Gamaliel. Copan
and Craig next refer to a statement by the first-century rabbi Gamaliel as
support for creatio ex nihilo:
A philosopher asked Rabban Gamaliel, “Your God was a
great artist, but he found himself good materials which helped him.”
Rabban Gamaliel replied, “What are these?” The philosopher said,
“Chaos, darkness, waters, wind, and depths” (see Genesis 1.2). Rabban
Gamaliel replied, “May the breath go forth from this man. It is written
concerning each of these. Concerning the creation of chaos, ‘Who made peace and
created evil’ (Isaiah 45:7). Concerning darkness, ‘Who formed the light and
created darkness.’ Concerning the waters, ‘Praise him, heavens and the waters,
etc.’ (Psalm 148:4). Why? Because, ‘He commanded and they were created’ (v. 8).
Concerning the wind, ‘For behold he forms the mountains and creates the wind’
(Amos 4:13). Concerning the depths, ‘When the depths were not, I danced'”
However, Gamaliel does not adopt the doctrine of creatio
ex nihilo. David Winston and Hubler both
argue that Gameliel denies that any of these cosmic forces aided God in
creation. He does not deny that there was a passive material, merely that there
was any material that aided God in the construction of the cosmos.
Hubler places this text in the context of other rabbinic texts that strictly
prohibit any speculation about what there may have been prior to the creation
in Genesis. In this context, it seems fairly evident that Gamaliel is actually
teaching that God did not have any helpers in the creation—but, in good
rabbinic fashion, that he refuses to go beyond that principle and speculate
about what might have existed before the creation.
2 Enoch. Copan
and Craig also argue that 2 Enoch
(Slavonic, probably dating from the first century) teaches creation out of
nothing. In their book, they correct a critical mistake in their understanding
of 2 Enoch in the article,
where they argued that the assertion that God made “the visible from the
invisible” teaches creation out of nothing. There they argue that what is
invisible (as in Hebrews 10:3) is “nothing” and that 2 Enoch teaches that “visible things are created from
invisible things” (see NMC, p. 124).
In their book, however, they recognize that it is clear that the invisible
things are not “nothing” but rather are things that exist, though
unseen. Nevertheless, they extend their argument to insist that 2 Enoch teaches a two-stage creation: first the invisible
things are created from nothing and then the visible things are created from
the invisible things (CON,
pp. 100-102). Second Enoch 24:2 asserts: “Before anything at all existed, from the very
beginning, whatever exists I created from the non-existent, and from the
invisible the visible.” Thus, Copan and Craig claim that 2 Enoch teaches creation out of nothing.
However, Copan and Craig miss the schema of creation
presented in 2 Enoch. First, the
assertion in 2 Enoch that
God created all that exists “from non-being” (recension A) or
“from the non-existent” (recension J) appears to use the term “non-being”
as a reference to the underlying, formless substrate. It is clear that the
invisible from which the visible things are created is not absolutely nothing,
because “before any visible things had come into existence, I, the one, moved around in the invisible
things” (2 Enoch 24:4).
God cannot move around in what does not exist in any way. Moreover, 2 Enoch says that God himself is invisible among the
invisible things (2 Enoch
The Lord is the one who laid the foundations upon the
unknown things, and he is the one who
spread out the heavens above the visible and the invisible things. And the
earth he solidified above the waters, and waters he based upon the unfixed
things; and he (alone) created the uncountable creatures. . . . From
the invisible things and the visible he created all the visible things; /and/
he himself is invisible. (2 Enoch 47:3-5 [J]; 48:5, emphasis added)
This passage makes it clear that the invisible things are
indeed things and that the uncreated God is counted among the invisible things.
Moreover, in creating, God sets the foundations for the creation (the first
thing used in creating) upon the already existent “unknown things.”
Copan and Craig point out in their book that 2 Enoch asserts that God created the invisible things as
well as the visible. Second Enoch 65:1[J]
states: “Before ever anything existed, and before ever any created thing
was created, the Lord created the
whole of his creation, visible and invisible.” They take this passage to
teach creation ex nihilo (CON, p. 102). However, it is clear that God did not
create all the invisible things
out of nothing because the text expressly states that God is uncreated (2 Enoch 33-25)—and God is also one of the
invisible things. Moreover, the language used is very precise: “before
ever any created thing was created.”
The text carefully limits the scope of God’s creation to what is created,
implying that there is something uncreated. Moreover, the text expressly speaks
of the “light” as the uncreated reality. As F. I. Andersen noted:
“Out of the original invisible things, God calls two beings: Adoil, from
whom is born the great light, and Arukhas, from whom comes the darkness. Water
is made by thickening a mixture of light and darkness. But light, if anything,
is the great elemental substance.”
Copan and Craig are correct indeed that a multistage
creation is presented in 2 Enoch,
but 2 Enoch does not accept
creation ex nihilo. Several
Jewish texts and Romans 4:17 state that God creates by calling to or giving
commands to “non-being.” Second Enoch explains what it is that God calls to: he calls to
the light and the darkness as if they were two sentient beings—Adoil,
from whom light issues, and Arukhas, from whom darkness issues (2 Enoch 25:1-5). As Andersen affirms: “The
dualism of light and darkness arises from two primal beings, Adoil and
Ar(u)khas. 2En does not say that God created them, but they are clearly under
From these two invisible things the rest of creation is created. Second
Enoch thus expressly teaches creation from
a preexisting substrate of invisible things that do not have form and thus are
referred to as “non-being.” The process of creation, according to 2 Enoch, is (1) God commands “the lowest
things” (or the most fundamental)—Adoil (to disintegrate into light)
and Arukhas (to disintegrate into darkness); (2) light solidifies into the
upper foundation (25:4) and the darkness solidifies into the lower foundation
(26:2); and (3) water is created from the mixture of light and darkness
(27:2). In any event, Copan and Craig have misconstrued 2 Enoch and once again taken a text that teaches creation
from preexisting realities as if it were evidence of creation out of nothing.
Second Enoch is also a crucial example of the use of the term create to refer to commanding already existing realities
and organizing a cosmos out of formless light.
The Shepherd of Hermas. Copan and Craig next cite the Shepherd of Hermas, a Christian text
from the middle of the second century (about AD
140). They begin by citing a text from the Mandates: “First, one must
believe that God is one and that he has created and organized and made them
from the non-existence into existence, and contains all, but alone is
uncontained” (πρῶτον πάντων πίστευσον ὅτι εἷς ἐστὶν ὁ θεός, ὁ τὰ πάντα κτίσας καὶ καταρτίσας, καὶ ποιήσας ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος εἰς τὸ εἶναι τὰ πάντα, καὶ πάντα χωρῶν, μόνος δὲ ἀχώρητος ὤν).
Copan and Craig take this passage to be a clear reference to creation out of
nothing because God alone is uncontained whereas matter is contained (CON, p. 128). But such language only means that the
scope of God’s power is not limited to or contained by his physical presence,
whereas matter is so contained. This text carefully uses language that
indicates relative non-being, the ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος (ek
tou mē ontos), rather than absolute negation. Georg Schuttermayr
has presented a very detailed study of the use of οὐκ ἐκ ὄντων in early Christian authors and Philo and
concluded that one must be careful not to read the notion of creation out of
nothing from such language.
As Hubler commented,
Once again, ἐκ μὴ ὄντος‚ alone cannot be taken as
an absolute denial of material substrate. By itself this phrase is insufficient
to carry the burden of a decisive and well-defined position both because ἐκ and ὄν are
notoriously equivocal. Ὄν does not necessarily designate material
cause, but it can be used temporally. ‘Ον
does not necessarily refer to absolute non-being, but the non-existence
of what later came to be. To read creatio ex nihilo in Hermes
[sic] goes far beyond the warrant
of the text, which makes no clear claim to the presence or absence of material
and provides no discussion of the position.
Copan and Craig also cite the Visions: “God, who dwells
in heaven, and created that which is out of non-existence (κτίσας ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος).”
Once again, the technical phrase for relative non-being is used: ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος. As we have seen, Aristotle used the
phrase ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος (ek tou mē
ontos) to refer to relative non-being
generating new life from parents already existing. Incidentally, it is
extremely significant that the first “scriptural” arguments in
history to support the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo—formulated by Irenaeus (about AD 185) and Origen (AD 220)—did not cite scriptures
from the canon accepted by evangelicals and Latter-day Saints. Rather, Irenaeus
and Origen cited the Shepherd of Hermas and 2 Maccabees 7:28.
The reason they cited these texts is obvious—these writers did not know
of any scriptures within the canon that supported the doctrine of creation
ex nihilo. It is ironic, therefore, that
even these two texts do not teach the dogma of creatio ex nihilo. It is also significant that the Shepherd of Hermas
adopted the technical language for creation from the term that describes
relative nonbeing—ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος—which
makes it fairly clear that God created what is from potential being, not from
absolute nothing, or ex nihilo.
Joseph and Aseneth.
Copan and Craig next cite the Jewish pseudepigraphical book Joseph
and Aseneth, written sometime between the
second century BC and the second
century AD: “Lord God of the
ages, . . . who brought the invisible (things) out into the light,
who made the (things that) are and the (ones that) have an appearance from the
non-appearing and non-being” (p. 123).
However, once again Copan and Craig do not note that God’s “making to
appear those things which are invisible” (cf. Hebrews 11:3) actually
imputes an existing status to those things that are not seen. Just as in 2 Enoch and Colossians, the assertion that God made visible
things “from the non-appearing and non-being” simply refers to the
already existing, invisible substrate out of which God created visible things.
Invisible things are still things; they simply have not been made visible by
God. Indeed, this view is strongly supported by the fact that the phrase
“he brought the invisible (things) out into light” relies on the
Septuagint, Genesis 1:2, and thus refers to bringing light out of the already
existing darkness of the abyss. The same thought is expressed again in 8:10,
which also relies on the Septuagint text of Genesis 1:2: “Lord God of my
father Israel, the Most High, the Powerful One of Jacob, who gave life to all
(things) and called (them) from the darkness into the light” (author’s translation).
The statement that God calls forth invisible things into the light to be seen
posits the invisible things as already existing in the darkness of unformed
Odes of Solomon. Copan
and Craig also cite the Odes of Solomon,
which were probably composed about AD
And there is nothing outside of the Lord,
because he was before anything came to be.
And the worlds are by his word,
And by the thought of his heart. (NMC, p. 124)
Again they read the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo into a text that does not address the issue. This
text stresses that, before the world was created, God existed, and that God
created the world by his Word. However, such beliefs are not inconsistent with creatio
ex materia. In particular, this Ode is a
poetic expression of Genesis 1. Copan and Craig do not note that, earlier in
this same Ode, God is said to investigate “that which is invisible,”
and it thus posits an already existing reality prior to God’s creation. Before
the creation of the world, God began his creative activity by investigation of
the substrate of invisible things:
For the word of the Lord investigates that which is
and perceives his thought.
For the eye sees his works,
and the ear hears his thought.
It is he who spread out the earth,
and placed the waters in the sea. (Odes of Solomon 16:8-10)
As Mario Erbetta notes in his commentary on the Odes of
Solomon: “The poet, taking up again
the theme of the word of the creator, finds that it examines that which up
until now does not appear; it does not yet exist, but it still unveils the
divine thought. This thought is nothing other than the divine plan before being
realized in being.”
These invisible things which have not yet been created are not absolute
nothing, for they have the power to reveal themselves to God in their potential
being and to bring about the thought that gives rise to God’s plan to create.
The Lord investigates “that which is invisible,” and thus, once
again, the “invisible things” are not absolute nothing but potential
existence ready to have form impressed upon it by God. What does not exist in
any sense could not have such creative causal powers. As such, the invisible
things from which God creates the visible things already exist as a
potentiality. This passage is actually contrary to the doctrine of creatio
Second Baruch. Copan
and Craig next cite 2 Baruch 21:4 as
evidence for creation ex nihilo:
“You who created the earth, the one who fixed the firmament by the word
and fastened the height of heaven by the spirit, the one who in the beginning
of the world called that which did not yet exist and they obeyed you.“
However, this text clearly does not
express creatio ex nihilo, for
God calls to “that which did not yet exist,” and it obeys him.
Ironically, this text seems almost identical to Joseph Smith’s expression in
the Lectures on Faith: “God
spake, chaos heard, and worlds came into order by reason of the faith there was
This text is an especially poignant reminder that the phrase that
which did not exist refers to something
that exists already in potentiality and has capacities to receive yet greater
being from God. In particular, “that which [does] not yet exist” has the capacity to obey God’s command and to
be given form by God’s word.
Aristides of Athens.
Copan and Craig also assert that perhaps the earliest philosophical
apologist for Christianity, Aristides of Athens, expressly taught the doctrine
of creation out of nothing. Their analysis is seriously flawed and, indeed,
borders on being irresponsible. Aristides reportedly delivered an apology to
the Roman emperor Hadrian about AD 130.
Copan and Craig fail to inform the reader that the textual sources vary and are
There are three recencions of Aristides’ Apology: a shorter Greek version, a much longer Syriac version, and Armenian
translations of the Syriac. Aristides reportedly stated:
Let us come now, O king, also to the history of the Jews
and let us see what sort of opinion they have concerning God. The Jews then say
that God is one, Creator of all and almighty: and that it is not proper for us
that anything else should be worshipped, but this God only: and in this they
appear to be much nearer to the truth than all the peoples, in that they
worship God more exceedingly and not His works.
They also cite a passage found only in the shorter Greek
recension: “O King, let us proceed to the elements themselves that we may
show in regard to them that they are not gods, but perishable and mutable,
produced out of that which did not exist (ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος) at
the command of the true God, who is indestructible and immutable and invisible,
yet he sees all things and, as He wills, modifies and changes things.”
Copan and Craig argue that these statementsimply creation out of nothing because Aristides claims that God is both
“Artificer and Creator.” They thus claim that the text asserts:
(1) “there is an ontological distinction between Creator and creature
. . . ; and (2) God created in stages, first bringing into being the elements and then
shaping them into a cosmos” (CON, p. 131).
Neither of these assertions is supported by the text. There
is not a word about a two-stage creation in Aristides’ Apology. There is a distinction between
creator and creature, but it is not an ontological distinction as claimed by
Copan and Craig. Rather, the text merely states that God is incorruptible and
unchangeable, whereas “the elements” (not “matter”) are
subject to decay and change.The
elements were always seen as created from a preexisting substrate that the
Greeks called the τοῦ μὴ ὄντος (tou mē ontos) or
“non-being.” Those who believed in creation ex materia never claimed that matter should be worshipped or
that it is somehow equal with God. It was lifeless and liable to fall into
chaos, whereas God is the source of life and order. Moreover, those who accept
creation from preexisting matter also saw a distinction between the creator who
organizes everything that is created and the created, which would be no-thing,
completely devoid of order and form, in the absence of God’s creative activity.
Thus, merely recognizing that God is creator and that he created all that is
created does not imply or logically require creation out of nothing.
More important, this analysis shows very clearly that Copan
and Craig have failed to grasp the essential distinction between relative
non-being, which refers to a material substrate without form, and absolute
nothing in these texts. Aristides (if he said it at all) uses the exact phrase
used by Aristotle to refer to generation of life “out of non-being” ἐκ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος. The technical language used shows that
this text actually refers to the creation from the preexisting material
substrate of relative non-being without form. Thus, May concludes quite
accurately that: “Aristides means that the elements are created by God;
but it does not appear from his book that he consciously distanced himself from
the philosophical model of world-formation and . . . creation.”
Second Maccabees. The
“poster-child” scripture to support creatio ex nihilo in Jewish sources prior to the time of Christ has
always been 2 Maccabees 7:28, a text found in the Apocrypha and considered
scripture by the Catholic Church but not by either Latter-day Saints or
Protestants. Copan and Craig assert that it “states clearly the traditional
doctrine of creatio ex nihilo”
(NMC, p. 122). It reads: “I
pray you son, look to heaven and earth and seeing everything in them, know that
God made them from non-being [οὐκ ἐξ ὄντων ἐποίησεν αὐτα],
and the human race began in the same way [καὶ τὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος οὕτω γίνεται].”
This text is quite unclear, however, as to whether creation from absoute
nothing is intended. Many scholars believe that 2 Maccabees teaches
creation ex nihilo because it uses the
phrase οὐκ ἐξ ὄντων (ouk ex ontōn), which in the much later Christian apologetic of
the late second century was a technical term of art signifying creatio
ex nihilo. In this context, however, it is
inappropriate to see the phrase as a philosophical term of art—after all,
it is a mother speaking to her son, not a philosopher addressing learned
interlocutors. The text is probably best read as creation from nonbeing in the
sense that “an artist who, by impressing form on matter, causes things to
exist which did not exist before.”
An artist creates something completely new by using preexisting materials.
Werner Foerster quotes Scharbau, who maintains that in 2 Maccabees
“the non-existent is not absolute nothing but . . . the
metaphysical substance . . . in an uncrystallized state.”
The best known text, constantly brought forward as the
earliest evidence of the conceptual formulation of the doctrine of creatio
ex nihilo, is 2 Maccabees 7:28. The
need for caution in evaluating this is apparent from the context in which there
is talk of creation “out of nothing.” There is here no theoretical
disquisition on the nature of the creation process, but a parenthetic reference
to God’s creative power: . . . A position on the problem of matter is
clearly not to be expected in this context. The text implies no more than the
conception that the world came into existence through the sovereign creative
act of God, and that it previously was not there.
Thus, May suggests that the words οὐκ ἐξ ὄντων in
2 Maccabees should be translated “not out of things being, i.e.
already existent individual things.”
Hubler is in agreement: “Non-being [in 2 Maccabees] refers to the
non-existence of the heavens and earth before God’s creative act. It does not
express absolute non-existence, only the prior non-existence of the heavens and
earth. They were made to exist after not existing.”
More important, the text of 2 Maccabees 7:28 immediately follows the
assertion that God created the world “out of non-being” by saying
that “the human race began the same way.” This phrase suggests that
creation of humanity is parallel to creation of the heavens and earth. Yet
“mankind” was not created from nothing but by organizing the dust of
the earth (Genesis 2:7). Verse 7 of 2 Maccabees 28 is a mother’s expression of
faith that since God created the world in the first place, he can bring her
dead son back to life. Thus, the context suggests very strongly that she is
speaking of re-creating what has been. The mother is not making a claim about
creation out of nothing, but about God’s ability to reorganize what had
previously existed in the same way that he had originally organized it. She
sees that God can bring back her son because he created all things in the first
place. Yet the act of bringing a person back to life certainly does not require
creation where there was absolutely nothing before. Further, we have already
seen that Aristotle also stated that generation of life is from relative
non-existence (τοῦ μὴ ὄντος)—and it is probable that 2 Maccabees has in mind
the same notion of relative nonbeing as a preexisting substrate.
In their book, Copan and Craig attempt to counter the
assertion that God created man “in the same way” that he created the
world. They retreat once again to their two-stage theory of creation: first out
of nothing and then from the chaotic materials to an organized creation. They
admit that it is true that humans were not created out of nothing in the
biblical text, but since humans are created from the dust of the earth, and the
earth is created (they claim out of nothing), they claim that it is the same in
2 Maccabees where reference to creating man refers to a two-stage creation
out of nothing (CON, p. 98). Yet
there is absolutely no evidence of a two-stage creation theory in
2 Maccabees. Their ad hoc two-stage
theory of creation is imposed on the text as a maneuver to rescue their
interpretation from what the text expressly states. Moreover, just a few verses
earlier, the text states: “It is the creator of the universe who moulds
man (πλάσας ἀνθρώπου) at his birth and plans the origin of all things (γένεσιν καὶ πάντων). Therefore, he, in his mercy, will give
you back life and breath again” (2 Maccabees 7:23). The text
expressly states that in creating man, God “moulds” or shapes man in
his creation (πλάσας),
in the sense of shaping a pre-existing clay or matter (see Romans 9:20;
1 Timothy 2:13). Thus, when 2 Maccabees 7:28 affirms that the heavens
and earth are created “in the same way” that God moulded man, the
text presupposes formation from a preexisting matter.
Jewish and Christian Texts Teaching Creatio ex Materia
As demonstrated, it is quite certain that several Jewish
texts expressly teach the doctrine of creation out of preexisting matter or a
substrate of potential matter (potential matter is sometimes called
“non-being” or “that which does not exist”—τὸ μὴ ὄν).
As shown, 2 Enoch and Joseph
and Aseneth taught that God created visible
things from already existing invisible things.
Similarly, 2 Peter 3:5 teaches that God created the world from the already
existing waters, and Hebrews 11:3, written by a Jew expressly to Jews, teaches
creation from invisible things.
The Wisdom of Solomon. To these texts can be added the Wisdom of Solomon, a Jewish work
dated by David Winston to AD
expressly teaches the doctrine of creation from matter: “For not without
means was your almighty hand, that had fashioned the universe from formless
matter” (Οὐ γὰρ ἠπόρει ἡ παντοδύναμός σου χεὶρ καὶ κτίσασα τὸν κόσμον ἐξ ἀμόρφου ὕλης) (Wisdom of Solomon 11:17 NAB). Amazingly,
Copan and Craig ignore this text altogether in their article but cite it in
their book as a possible example of creation out of nothing! They assert:
At first glance, the
apocryphal book of Wisdom of Solomon (11:17) appears to posit a formless
archmatter: God created “out of formless matter [ex amorphou hylēs]” (NRSV). This
may be true, but even here, we should proceed with caution. In Wisdom 1:14,
there could be in view a two-stage creation: “he created all things [ektisen
. . . ta panta] that they might
have being [to einei]”
(NEB). . . . It is plausible to argue that the hylē (primal matter) out of
which the cosmos was made was the uninhabited “earth [gē],” which was
already created in Genesis 1:1. God shaped the world out of material he
previously created. (CON, p. 97)
Hubler appropriately expresses his contempt for such reading
into the text of one’s own preconceived theology. He claims of that argument
that “Wisdom of Solomon must have
tacitly held that a creatio ex nihilo occurred before the stated creatio ex materia because the author could not have accepted the Greek
notion of eternal, formless matter. At best this begs the question. At worst it
ignores the evidence of creatio ex materia found in Midrash and Philo.”
In fact, the text of the Wisdom of Solomon makes clear that creation out of
unformed matter was seen by Jewish authors as consistent with assertions that
God is all-powerful (παντοδύναμος)
(11:17), that he creates the entire cosmos or universe (κτίσασα τὸν κόσμον) (11:17), and that he creates
“the all” or the entirety of all there is (ἔκτισεν . . .
τὰ πάντα) (1:14) out of unformed matter
(ἐξ ἀμόρφου ὕλης) (11:17). Thus, this text undercuts all of
Copan and Craig’s exegetic arguments. They continually argue that if God is
all-powerful and creates all there is, then creation out of nothing must be the
conclusion (see, for example, CON,
pp. 43, 74-75, 84-87, 105-6, 127-28). These terms
are all used in Wisdom of Solomon, however, which expressly teaches creation
out of formless matter.
To assert, as Copan and Craig do, that this text must have a
two-stage creation in view, where the creation of the cosmos out of formless
matter must be preceded by creation out of nothing, imposes on the text a
notion that not only does not appear there but is expressly contrary to what it
does state. In light of their eisegesis
of the Wisdom of Solomon, we have to ask: What kind of evidence would
be sufficient to show creation out of formless matter if a text that expressly
states that God created the entire cosmos using unformed matter and says
absolutely nothing about a creation out of nothing doesn’t suffice? Copan and Craig finally retreat to their debater’s
stance and a weak concession:
For the sake of argument, however, let us assume that
Wisdom holds to this Greek hylomorphism (i.e., an eternally preexistent
substrate is given form) and that a two-stage ex nihilo creation is completely excluded. We can still make a
contrast here in that “the Palestinian [perspective] (II Mac. vii.
28) insists that all was made by God ‘out of nothing.'” (CON, p. 97)
Their claim that the Hellenistic Jews believed in
creation out of preexisting material, whereas Palestinian Jews believed in
creation out of nothing, is based upon a very questionable reading of
2 Maccabees 7:28, as we have seen.
Philo Judaeus. These
texts also offer some understanding of the context of the writings of Philo
Judaeus, the Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, and the Christian writers
contemporary with him who referred to the creation in their works. Writing in
the first century, Philo expressly taught that God created from already
existing matter: “This cosmos of ours was formed out of all that there was
of water, and air and fire, not even the smallest particle being left
Philo stated that “when the substance of the universe was without shape
and figure God gave it these, when it had no definite character God molded it
Philo also asserted that, in the creation of the world, God
summoned what had previously no being into existence,
creating order out of disorder, and distinctive qualities out of things which
had no such qualities, and similarities out of things dissimilar, and identity
out of things which were different, and intercommunion and harmony out of
things which had previously no communication nor agreement, and equality out of
inequality, and light out of darkness; for he is always anxious to exert his
beneficent powers in order to change whatever is disorderly from its present
evil condition, and to transform it so as to bring it into a better state.
Philo’s statement that
God “summons what previously had no being into existence” must be
seen as asserting only that the underlying chaos did not have existence in the
form of an ordered reality such as God creates of it by impressing form onto
the formless. Copan and Craig suggest that in Philo’s writings perhaps the
matter organized by God was itself created at a prior instant ex nihilo.
Frances Young has demonstrated why such a reading of Philo’s texts forces an
unstated and contrary assumption into the text, attributing to it something
that it does not address at all.
Copan and Craig rely heavily on the 1966 study of Harry Wolfson in which he
argued that Philo ultimately teaches that the chaotic and unformed matter
referred to in Genesis 1:2 is created and that the chaos relies on Platonic
ideas for its form and creation.
They also rely on the 1970 study by Ronald Williamson to argue that Philo’s
view of creation diverged from Plato’s view of an eternal preexistent
substratum of existence from which all else was created by the Demiurge
imposing Form upon it.
However, they virtually misrepresent the much more complete and better-reasoned
studies of David T. Runia. They cite Runia in support of the view that Philo
taught creation out of nothing (CON,
p. 110). But Runia expressly rejects their two-stage theory of creation
from nothing. Rather, he asserts that, in Philo’s writings, “God the
creator bears a definite resemblance to the Platonic Demiurge, who creates
order out of an already existing chaos. Philo nowhere explicitly indicates that
God himself first created the primordial matter, as would later be formulated
in the classic doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.”
Runia (whose dissertation addressed the relation between the thought of Philo
and Plato) corrects the mistakes made by Wolfson and Williamson. As Runia
Although in the Timaeus Plato explicitly declines to elaborate on the ultimate principles of
reality, the cosmological dialogue was extensively used in order to formulate
precisely such a doctrine. The influence of such attempts can be strongly felt
in the Jewish exegete and philosopher Philo and the early Christian thinkers
Justin and Clement. All three appear to espouse what one might call a
“monarchic dualism.” There is but one first cause or principle, but
beside it a shadowy passive or negative matter is assumed, which is given form
in the act of creation. This line of thinking is abandoned by Tatian,
Theophilus of Antioch and Irenaeus, who for the first time develop a reasonably
clear doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.
Copan and Craig make a fundamental assumption about Philo
that turns out to be critically erroneous: they assume that if Philo believed
that God creates the Ideas or Forms, and these in turn give form to the chaotic
matter, then it follows that God also creates the chaotic matter out of
nothing. Philo, however, held that God in fact eternally creates the Forms and
(unlike Plato) that these Forms reside within God or his Logos rather than
independently of God. Still, it does not follow, if the Forms are eternally
created and they give form to the chaotic substrate, that the underlying chaos
is itself created. All that follows is that the Forms give form to an
underlying preexisting chaos—which was Philo’s view. As Philo famously
But Moses, who had early reached the very summits of
philosophy . . . , was well aware that it is indispensable that
in all existing things there must be an active cause, and a passive subject;
and that the active cause is the intellect of the universe, thoroughly
unadulterated and thoroughly unmixed, superior to virtue and superior to
science, superior even to abstract good or abstract beauty; while the
passive subject is something inanimate and incapable of motion by any intrinsic
power of its own, but having been set in motion, and fashioned, and endowed
with life by the intellect, became transformed into that most perfect work,
In this passage we see clearly the distinction between God’s
intellect as the active cause of creation and the “passive subject” (τὸ δὲ παθητὸν) that is given form in the act of
creation. This passive substrate already exists to receive form from the divine
intellect. Philo also expressly denies that anything can come into being from
absolute non-being or, having once existed, pass into non-being.
Moreover, Philo is very clear that unformed matter is not among the realities
created by God:
But there is no material which has any value in the eyes
of God, because he has given all materials an equal share of his skill. In
reference to which it is said in the sacred scriptures, “God saw all that
he had made, and, behold, it was very Good.” [Gen. 1:31.] But the things
which receive an equal degree of praise, are by all means held in equal
estimation by him who confers the praise; and what God praised was not the
materials which he had worked up into creation, destitute of life and melody,
and easily dissolved, and moreover in their own intrinsic nature perishable,
and out of all proportion and full of iniquity, but rather his own skillful work, completed according to one equal and
well-proportioned power and knowledge always alike and identical. In reference
to which all things were also accounted equal and similar by all the rules of
proportion, according to the principles of art and knowledge.
Thus Philo could not allow God to be involved in the
creation of matter because it is evil and Philo is crystal clear that God does
not bring about anything that is evil. It is true that Philo believed that time
had a beginning when God ordered the world and the heavenly bodies began their
revolutions. But it
appears that Philo believed that the eternal material substrate was perfectly
inactive and passive, and thus it would have existed as motionless and outside
of a time unmeasured by movement.
It seems to me that Philo’s view is best seen in light of his view of creation
proceeding from the dividing of opposites. God begins by dividing “the
essence of the universe,” from which he organizes the four essential
elements of earth, air, water and fire. This “essence of the
universe” is a formless and motionless substrate that is capable of
receiving form from the divine Ideas through the action of the Logos. Philo
For as the Creator divided our soul and our limbs in the
middle, so also, in the same manner, did he divide the essence of the universe
when he made the world; for, having taken it, he began to divide it thus: in
the first instance, he made two divisions, the heavy and the light, separating
that which was thick from that which was more subtle. After that, he again made
a second division of each, dividing the subtle part into air and fire, and the
denser portion into water and earth; and, first of all, he laid down those
elements, which are perceptible by the outward senses, to be, as it were, the
foundations of the world which is perceptible by the outward senses.
Thus, the order of creation according to Philo seems to be:
(1) God eternally generates the ideas that constitute forms perceptible
only to the mind or invisible things (the κόσμος νοητός); (2) God imposes order upon
a passive and motionless, eternally preexisting substrate by impressing form
upon it and dividing it into equal opposites; (3) God first creates water,
air, earth, and fire; (4) from these four elements God creates the
remainder of the creation; (5) the world or cosmos thus has a beginning
because it is created from “what is not” and time begins with the
creation of the cosmos.
1 Clement. Clement,
bishop of Rome, shared the same worldview as Philo of an eternal fabric or
constitution of the world from which the world was created. Clement stated: “Thou . . . didst make manifest
the everlasting fabric of the world. Thou, Lord, didst create the earth.”
The terms used here by Clement are significant. He asserts that God did
“make manifest” (ἐφανεροποίησας)
the “everlasting fabric of the world” (Σὺ τὴν ἀέναον τοῦ κόσμου σύστασιν).
He is referring to an eternal substrate that underlies God’s creative activity.
Clement is important because he is at the very center of the Christian church
as it was then developing. His view assumed that God had created from an
eternally existing substrate, creating by “making manifest” what
already existed in some form. The lack of argumentation or further elucidation
indicates that Clement was not attempting to establish a philosophical
position; he was merely maintaining a generally accepted one. However, the fact
that such a view was assumed is even more significant than if Clement had
argued for it. If he had presented an argument for this view, then we could
assume that it was either a contested doctrine or a new view. But because he
acknowledged it as obvious, it appears to have been a generally accepted belief
in the early Christian church.
Justin Martyr. There
are at least four late second-century Christian philosophers who believed that
creation out of matter was the established Christian doctrine. It must be
noticed that as we pass from the biblical texts into the patristic writings of
the late second century, the scope of discourse passes from a nontechnical
devotional and revelatory literature to the technical discussions of
philosophy. By this time, philosophical distinctions and assumptions are used
to make sense of the received doctrine. The importance of these philosophers,
however, is not found in their arguments or philosophies but in the fact that
they accepted the background assumption of creation from already existing
matter precisely because they thought it was the received Christian doctrine.
For example, Justin Martyr, writing about AD 165, taught that Plato had received
his doctrine of creation from Moses’s writings:
And that you may learn that it was from our
teachers—we mean the account given through the prophets—that Plato
borrowed his statement that God, having altered matter which was shapeless,
made the world, hear the very words spoken through Moses, who, as above shown,
was the first prophet, and of greater antiquity than the Greek writers; and
through whom the Spirit of prophecy, signifying how and from what materials
God at first formed the world (ἐδημιούργησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν κόσμον),
spake thus: “In the beginning God
created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was invisible and unfurnished,
and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God moved over
the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and it was so.” So that both
Plato and they who agree with him, and we ourselves, have learned, and you also
can be convinced, that by the word of God the whole world was made
out of the substance (Ωστε λόγῳ Θεου ἐκ τῶν ὑποκειμένων . . .
γεγενῆσθαι τὸν πάντα κόσμον) spoken of before by Moses.
Like Philo, Justin Martyr thought that there was no problem
in interpreting Genesis in Platonistic terms—God had created by
organizing matter. Yet Justin’s statement that this is a doctrine “we
. . . have learned” gives pause, for he is speaking to Greeks
who agree with Plato. He is claiming that he has learned in the Christian
tradition that via his Word, God created all things by organizing matter and
that this view is older than Plato’s. The verb used by Justin to indicate that
God created by “altering matter” is στρέψαντα (strepsanta), meaning “rotating
or turning.” Such language echoes Plato’s view, taught in the Timaeus, that the Demiurge created the cosmos by setting the
world soul in rotation and that by the same act matter is ordered.
Further, Justin uses the Platonic term for creation, ἐδημιούργησεν (edēmiourgēsen), “to fashion or form.” Note also that it
is the entire world—τὸν πάντα κόσμον (ton
panta kosmon)—that is formed out of
the amorphous matter. Moreover, Justin gives this explanation in light of the
statement in Genesis 1:1 that “In the beginning, God created the
world.” What God did in Genesis 1:1, according to Justin, was to give form
and shape to the underlying material substrate through the action of his Word.
Earlier in his First Apology, Justin declared: “God, in the beginning, in His goodness made (δημιουργῆσαι) everything out of shapeless matter (ἐξ ἀμόρφου ὕλης)
for the sake of men.”
Again, Justin signals that he is referring to the opening statement in the
Genesis creation account, “in the beginning God made” (Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἐποίσεν ὁ Θεὸς). Justin is quoting the Septuagint text of
Genesis 1:1. Moreover, the scope of what God organized from shapeless matter is
“everything” (τὰ πάντα).
Once again he uses the Platonic term for creation, demiurgesai, the act of the Demiurge in Plato’s thought. These
statements leave little doubt that Justin has embraced Middle Platonism and
that he views everything created as having been fashioned out of a material
substrate and that this mode of creation is the meaning of the Genesis creation
Nevertheless, Copan and Craig once again insist that Justin
adopts a two-stage creation in which Justin believed that the formless matter
was first created ex nihilo (CON, pp. 131-34).
Their primary argument is that God is referred to by Justin as the only
and “incorruptible” (ἄφθαρτος) (CON,
They equate being unbegotten and incorruptible with being uncreated, and being
begotten and corruptible with being created out of nothing. Yet it is an
equation that is not found in Justin’s writings. He never connects these terms
with creation at all. Their argument will not bear the weight they place on it
in light of Justin’s explicit statements to the contrary. Once again, we see
Copan and Craig forcing their preconceived view onto the text even against
explicit and clear statements to the contrary. It seems to me that Copan and
Craig have highlighted a problem that begins to manifest itself in Justin’s
works. The notion of God adopted by Middle Platonists was not consistent with
the earlier Christian views and was inconsistent with Justin’s views about
creation. His adoption of Middle Platonic terms to describe God placed a gulf
between the created and God just as it did for Philo. It is no mistake that
Justin also adopts the Logos as halfway between God and creation. He did not
realize this inconsistency, of course. Justin continued to hold to the view
that God created out of a preexisting substrate that was not created by God. He
states clearly that “everything” is created by giving order to this
unformed matter. He is crystal clear that he is referring to the entire
creation recounted in Genesis 1. It is only with Tatian and Theophilus that we
first see a clearly articulated statement as to why the Middle Platonic view of
God that they all adopted was inconsistent with creation out of a preexisting,
Athenagoras of Athens. Athenagoras of Athens, writing about AD
170, also taught that God created by crystallizing an already existing
substrate: the Logos, or Word,
“came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all material things,
which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive earth, the grosser
particles being mixed up with the lighter.” However, Copan and Craig believe that
Athenagoras adopted a two-stage creation where the “inactive earth”
from which all things were created was itself created ex nihilo. Athenagoras, of course, never says that there is a
two-stage creation, but Copan and Craig maintain that Athenagoras implicitly
adopted creation out of nothing in the following passage:
But to us, who distinguish God from matter, and teach
that matter is one thing and God another, and that they are separated by a wide
interval (for that the Deity is uncreated and eternal, to be beheld by the
understanding and reason alone, while matter is created and perishable), is it
not absurd to apply the name of atheism?. . . But, since our doctrine
acknowledges one God, the Maker of this universe, who is Himself uncreated (for
that which is does not come to be, but that which is not) but has made all
things by the Logos which is from Him. (CON, p. 134)
Copan and Craig assert that “unquestionably,”
Athenagoras teaches creation out of nothing here (CON, p. 144). Here they seriously misrepresent
Athenagoras’s teachings. Once again we have a text that explicitly and
repeatedly states that God creates by organizing an underlying material
substrate, and yet Copan and Craig wrest the text in an attempt to make it
conform to their two-stage theory of creation ex nihilo. It is undeniable that here Athenagoras does
not assert that all things are created
“out of nothing,” but merely that, unlike God, they are
“created.” Copan and Craig assume that if Athenagoras says that
everything is created, that means they are created ex nihilo. However, Athenagoras did not use the word create to mean creation out nothing. His statement is
consistent with the view that God organized the material substratum in creating
and that all things are therefore created whereas God is not organized by himself.
So I agree that Athenoragoras distinguishes between creator and the created,
but it is not the ontological distinction between the absolutely non-existent
and self-existent, but between what can fall apart and perish because it has
been organized and given form and that which is eternal and imperishable.
and Craig cite another passage (p. 135) that they believe supports
creation out nothing; but in reality it supports the view that Athenagoras
thinks of creation as organized unformed matter:
Because the multitude, who cannot distinguish between
matter and God, or see how great is the interval which lies between them, pray
to idols made of matter, are we therefore, who do distinguish and separate the
uncreated and the created, that which is [τὸ ὄν] and that which is not [τὸ οὐκ ὄν], that which is apprehended by the
understanding and that which is perceived by the senses . . .
It is clear that Athenagoras distinguishes between the
creator and the created, yet Copan and Craig fail to acknowledge that this
assertion is followed by an explanation that undercuts their entire argument.
First, the phrase τὸ οὐκ ὄν refers to the underlying material
substrate and not to absolute nothing.
More important, and decisively, Athenagoras is explicit that his view of
creation is organization and framing and that God is like an artist who stands
in relation to the matter he has created as a potter stands to the clay:
But if they [God and matter] are at the greatest possible
remove from one another—as far asunder as the artist and the materials of
his art—why are we called to account? For as is the potter and the clay
(matter being the clay, and the artist the potter), so is God, the Framer of
the world, and matter, which is subservient to Him for the purposes of His art.
But as the clay cannot become vessels of itself without art, so neither did
matter, which is capable of taking all forms, receive, apart from God the
Framer, distinction and shape and order. And as we do not hold the pottery of
more worth than him who made it, nor the vessels or glass and gold than him who
wrought them; but if there is anything about them elegant in art we praise the
artificer, and it is he who reaps the glory of the vessels: even so with matter
and God—the glory and honour of the orderly arrangement of the world
belongs of right not to matter, but to God, the Framer of matter. So that, if
we were to regard the various forms of matter as gods, we should seem to be
without any sense of the true God, because we should be putting the things
which are dissoluble and perishable on a level with that which is eternal.
So God is one who organizes matter in the same way that a
potter forms the clay—and such an analogy certainly is inconsistent with
creation ex nihilo.
In fact, Athenagoras is explicit that his view of creation is the same as
Plato’s, who also says that God creates all things:
But, inasmuch as it is impossible to demonstrate without
the citation of names that we are not alone in confining the notion of God to
unity, I have ventured on an enumeration of opinions. Plato, then, says,
“To find out the Maker and Father of this universe is difficult; and, when
found, it is impossible to declare Him to all,” conceiving of one
uncreated and eternal God. And if he recognises others as well, such as the
sun, moon, and stars, yet he recognises them as created: “gods, offspring
of gods, of whom I am the Maker, and the Father of works which are indissoluble
apart from my will; but whatever is compounded can be dissolved.” If, therefore,
Plato is not an atheist for conceiving of one uncreated God, the Framer of the
universe, neither are we atheists who acknowledge and firmly hold that He is
God who has framed all things by the Logos, and holds them in being by His
It is transparent that Athenagoras believed that his views
of God as the uncreated creator were the same as Plato’s. He states that, just
as Plato believed that one God framed the universe, so Christians also believe
that God framed all things through the Logos or Word of God. He expressly
states that Plato makes the same distinction between creator and created that
Christians do. Yet it is clear that Plato believed that the universe had been
created by organizing a preexisting material substrate. Thus, Copan and Craig
have failed to read Athenagoras within the context of his own statements about
the creator/creature dichotomy and have imposed their own theological agenda on
him. Athenagoras is very clear that when he refers to “created
things” he means those things that have forms or “patterns”:
“for created things are like their patterns; but the uncreated are unlike,
being neither produced from any one, nor formed after the pattern of any
It must be recognized that Athenagoras’s doctrine is
thoroughly Platonic, notwithstanding the fact that he seeks to defend Christian
doctrine. He posits a vast chasm between the created and the creator such that
an intermediary is necessary for God to have contact with the world. He
presents a thoroughly Middle Platonic view of God. His view of the Logos, in particular, is derived from Stoicism and
Platonism. The Logos is the energizing instrument of God through whom the
underlying substrate of matter is given form from the Ideas of God:
But if, in your surpassing intelligence, it occurs to you
to inquire what is meant by the Son, I will state briefly that He is the first
product of the Father, not as having been brought into existence (for from the
beginning, God, who is the eternal mind [νοῦς],
had the Logos in Himself, being from eternity instinct with Logos [λογικός]);
but inasmuch as He came forth to be the idea and energizing power of all
material things, which lay like a nature without attributes, and an inactive
earth, the grosser particles being mixed up with the lighter.
writings of Tertullian tell of Hermogenes, another Christian philosopher
writing around the end of the second century who believed in creation ex
materia. Hermogenes wrote after Tatian and
Theophilus had formulated the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. By this time, all parties discussing the issue were
working from Middle Platonic assumptions about God and matter. Tertullian tells
us that Hermogenes argued for the existence of eternal matter based on the
Middle Platonic assumption that matter is evil and therefore cannot be created
by a good God:
But we find evil things made by him, although not by
choice or will. Because if they were made by his choice or will, he would have
made something inconsistent or unworthy of himself. What he does not make by
his choice, must be understood to be made by the fault of another thing: from
matter without doubt.
Clement of Alexandria. Finally, Clement of Alexandria, writing about AD 220, also adopted the view that
matter is eternal and that God created by organizing a chaotic substratum.
Indeed, Clement used the phrase made out of nothing three times in the Stromata, but each time he used the technical term ἐκ μὴ ὄντος, which shows that he was discussing
creation from relative nonbeing rather than creatio ex nihilo.
Clement clearly favored creation ex materia
in a poem:
O King . . .
Maker of all, who heaven and heaven’s adornment
By the Divine Word alone didst make;
. . . according to a well-ordered plan;
Out of a confused heap who didst create
This ordered sphere, and from the shapeless mass
Of matter didst the universe adorn.
These texts are significant because they show that creation
out of matter was still the accepted view. Further, as Young indicates, these
texts show that creatio ex nihilo was
not an inheritance from either the Jewish or the earliest Christian tradition
during the apostolic period. Young’s reasons for rejecting the assumption of a
Jewish origin for the doctrine include:
(i) the sparsity of reference to the doctrine in
Jewish texts, and indeed in the earliest Christian material, and the problem of
interpreting those references that do exist . . . ;
(ii) the contrary evidence of the Wisdom of Solomon and the works of Philo, and in early Christianity,
of Justin, Athenagoras, Hermogenes and Clement of Alexandria. All these authors
seem quite happy to adopt without question the Platonic view of an active and
passive element, namely God plus matter. The fact that Philo can even so speak
of things being created ex ouk ontōn shows that the term could be understood as
consistent with the notion of pre-existent matter which he takes for granted
elsewhere. Middle Platonism was married with Jewish tradition without any sense
(iii) the lack of interest in creatio ex nihilo in Jewish tradition prior to the Middle Ages: the
Rabbis condemn speculation about creation as much as about the chariot-throne
The Creation out of Nothing of the Doctrine of Creation ex Nihilo
The significance of these texts for Latter-day Saints is not
that they teach a Latter-day Saint view of matter and of God—they do not.
Rather, they show that the view that God created ex nihilo was an innovation that occurred around the end of
the second century AD. They show
that a wholesale adoption of Middle Platonist views had overrun the Christian
apologists. As Hubler puts it:
Creatio ex nihilo
marked a major redefinition of the material cosmos by the Christian apologists
of the late second century, Tatian and Theophilus of Antioch. . . .
For Stoic, Platonist, and Peripatetic alike matter imposed the natural
necessity of corruption upon the body. The moral limitations imposed by matter
made a bodily resurrection seem offensive. Christian hopes for a resurrection
seemed misguided both intellectually and morally. The Christian apologists of
the late second century struck back by redefining matter as a creature of God,
which he directed to his purpose. The religious claims of the Christian
apologists signaled a major philosophical change.
It must be noted, however, that the position adopted by
Justin, Athenagoras, Hermogenes, and Clement of Alexandria that God created by
organizing matter was inherently unstable within the context of their theology
because each of them had espoused a thoroughly Middle Platonic view of God. The
early Christians had been accused of being atheists (much the same way
Latter-day Saints are now accused of not being Christian) because they did not
accept the Greek view of the gods. Instead of responding by defending the
Christian view of a God who could reveal himself in flesh, Athenagoras argued
that Christians believed in the same God as the Greeks:
I have sufficiently shown that they are not atheists who
believe in One who is unbegotten, eternal, unseen, impassible, incomprehensible
and uncontained: comprehended by mind and reason alone, invested with ineffable
light and beauty and spirit and power, by whom the universe is brought into
being and set in order and held firm, through the agency of his own Logos.
As we shall see, the adoption of the Middle Platonic notion
of God by Christian apologists in the late second century was a major
motivating factor behind the invention of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. In particular, God was conceived as being completely
beyond and independent of the world. Given the Middle Platonist view of God,
creation out of nothing became a logical extension of God’s otherness and
Copan and Craig argue that creatio ex nihilo did not develop in the late second century as a
result of the interaction between Greek philosophy and Christian philosophers,
that the doctrine was already well established prior to that time. Once again,
though, in taking this position, Copan and Craig are departing from virtually
every other scholar who has carefully treated the issue—except the group
of conservative, evangelical writers that they rely on in their book—and
thus they arrive at a contrary conclusion.
In the extensive investigation regarding the origin of the doctrine of creatio
ex nihilo in his 1995 doctoral dissertation,
Creatio ex nihilo
appeared suddenly in the latter half of the second century c.e. Not only did creatio ex
nihilo lack precedent, it stood in firm
opposition to all the philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world. As we
have seen, the doctrine was not forced upon the Christian community by their
revealed tradition, either in Biblical texts or the Early Jewish interpretation
of them. As we will also see it was not a position attested in the New
Testament doctrine or even sub-apostolic writings. It was a position taken by
the apologists of the late second century, Tatian and Theophilus, and developed
by various ecclesiastical writers thereafter, by Irenaeus, Tertullian, and
Origen. Creatio ex nihilo
represents an innovation in the interpretive traditions of revelation and
cannot be explained merely as a continuation of tradition.
Hubler explores at length why the doctrine of creatio ex
nihilo suddenly appears at the end of the
second century. The answer is that Christian philosophers accepted two key
Middle Platonist doctrines that made creatio ex nihilo the only acceptable position to them. First, they
confronted the Middle Platonic view that “matter imposed the natural
necessity of corruption upon the body.”
The doctrine of bodily resurrection seemed offensive to the Greeks because it
implied that persons would be eternally embodied in corruptible material forms.
The first Christian philosophers to adopt creatio ex nihilo attacked this view of matter by redefining the
matter of which the body was made as a creation ex nihilo of God, which he directed to his purposes.
Second, these same philosophers also adopted the Middle Platonic view that
whatever is eternal is absolutely immutable or unchangeable. They reasoned
(fallaciously) that if God is immutable in this sense, then matter cannot be
unchanging like God. However, given Platonic and Middle Platonist views that
everything that is eternal is immutable and that matter cannot be immutable, it
followed that matter must be created ex nihilo.
May reaches a similar conclusion in his extensive study:
If one reviews only the orthodox line of the development
that leads to the formation of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, there emerges a picture unambiguous in its main
outline. For the primitive Christian thinkers the origin of the world does not
yet present a problem. Even in the early second century, after the intensive
concern of gnosticism with cosmology had set in, the spokesmen for church
Christianity still stand by the traditional statements about the creation of
the world and do not allow themselves to get involved in controversy over the
new questions. At the same time philosophically educated teachers like Justin
interpret the creation as world-formation and establish a relationship between
the “cosmogony of Moses” and the myth of world-creation in the Timaeus. . . . Then in the controversy, partly
conducted in parallel and partly overlapping with both the gnostic and the
philosophical cosmologies, the world-formation model is overcome and the
doctrine of creatio ex nihilo
formulated as a counter-proposition, which as early as the beginning of the
third century is regarded as a fundamental tenet of Christian theology.
Thus, it is not just Latter-day Saints who argue that
the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is
essentially a philosophical innovation dating from the end of the second
century AD that was not contained
in scripture—it is the accepted view of virtually every scholar who has
reviewed the evidence at length, except Copan and Craig.
Though Tatian was a pupil of Justin, his views were quite
different from those of his teacher. He began by defining a new view of God:
“Our God has no origin in time, since he alone is without beginning and
himself is the beginning of all things.”
The Middle Platonists had adopted a view of God as transcendent and utterly
independent while limiting his involvement with the world to creation by matter
and the necessities inherent in matter. Tatian created a new view of God, who
is alone in his power and able to create matter out of nothing. Apparently,
Tatian is the first person in history to expressly teach the doctrine of creatio
ex nihilo. The reason
that matter had to be created ex nihilo,
according to Tatian, is that otherwise it would be equal to God:
Neither is matter without cause as is God, nor is it equal
in power to God because it is without cause. It was generated and it was not
generated by anyone else, but it was expressed only by the demiurge of all.
Therefore, we believe that there will be a resurrection of bodies after the
consummation of everything, not as the Stoics who dogmatize about cycles of
things becoming and the same things becoming again without purpose. When the
ages are once completed for us at the end, there will be a resurrection of
humans alone for ever for the purpose of judgement.
Tatian adopted the notion of the necessity of creation of
matter to address two problems: first, he sought to avoid the theory of eternal
cycles of matter taught by the Stoics; and second, he sought to establish the
concept of God transcending a world caught in such an eternal cycle of material
necessity. Tatian argued that matter is not an ultimate principle (á¼„ναρχον)—it
is not uncaused—countering the Stoic view that a personal resurrection
makes no sense because everything is bound by the necessity of an eternal
recurrence in a never-ending cycle (ἐκπύρωσις).
Tatian’s rejection of eternal matter as an ἀρχή,
or uncaused principle, like God, removed matter from the eternal cycle of
never-ending recurrence and the necessity of ἐκπύρωσις.
Tatian also argued that it is not impossible for God to restore the dead to
life through resurrection because he can create individuals out of nothing
initially: “God the regent (μοναρχία),
when he wills, will completely restore the substance which is visible alone to
him to its original state.”
For Tatian, matter is the sensible expression of the rational Logos, derived from the Middle Platonic doctrine of
internal reason that gives form to matter through verbal expression.
As Hubler concludes in his section on Tatian:
The coincidence of μοναρχία,
the need to defend the resurrection and the Logos theology, conspired to
produce an entirely new understanding of the material cosmos and its dependence
upon God in Tatian’s work. His new vision was seized upon almost immediately by
other Christian writers and soon became the new orthodoxy.
So far as we can see, Tatian never considered the
alternative of simply rejecting the Stoic view of eternal recurrence as a
necessary property of matter. Yet he could easily have done so without adopting
an entirely new doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.
Theophilus was the second person in history to expressly
adopt the view of creatio ex nihilo. He
wrote shortly after Tatian, around AD
180. However, Theophilus’s reasons
for adopting this new dogma went beyond Tatian’s. Rather than addressing the
Stoics, as Tatian had done, Theophilus argued directly against the Middle
Platonists. His argument accepted the basic premises of the Middle Platonists
about matter and then attempted to reduce them to absurdity by showing that
they led to an anthropomorphic view of God—which Middle Platonists
rejected. Thus, it is clear that both Theophilus and the Middle Platonists had
a common nonanthropomorphic concept of God; they differed over a concept of
matter that they believed was necessitated by a view of God as absolutely
immutable in the Platonic sense. Whereas the biblical authors had thought of
God as unchanging in character and commitment to justice, the Middle Platonists
and Theophilus thought of God as unchanging in a metaphysical sense. Theophilus
Plato and those of his school agree that God is
ungenerated and the father and maker of all. Then, they suppose matter is
divine and ungenerated and they say that it was flourishing with God. If God is
ungenerated and all matter is ungenerated, no longer is God the maker of all as
the Platonists say, neither is the sovereignty of God shown, by their own
account. Further, just as God is changeless because he is ungenerated, so also,
if matter is also ungenerated, it is also changeless and equal to God. For that
which is generated is mutable and changeable. The unregenerated is immutable
For how is it great, if God made the cosmos from subject
matter? For even the human artisan when he receives matter from someone, can
make what he wants from it. The power of God is made manifest in this, that he
made what he wanted from the non-existent (ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων).
Theophilus’s use of the expression ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων
expressed rejection of the idea that matter is in any sense eternal. It is a
clear expression of creatio ex nihilo.
Theophilus thought that the notion of creatio ex nihilo was necessary to adopt for three reasons. First, if
God were limited to creating by organizing matter in the same way as humans,
then the way in which God manifests his power would not be unique. Such a view
of creation was contrary to a principle adopted by Middle Platonists themselves
that God is not anthropomorphic.
The Middle Platonists had adopted a program of ridiculing the common anthropomorphic
view of God expressed in the poetic and popular writings of the Greeks.
Theophilus argued that the common view of God that both he and the Middle
Platonists adopted entailed the view that God cannot create in the same manner
as mere humans by organizing already existing matter; rather, God’s mode of
creation must be utterly different and unique.
Theophilus had thoroughly imbibed the Middle Platonic view of God, for he
argued that God is “ineffable . . . inexpressible
. . . uncontainable . . . incomprehensible . . .
inconceivable . . . incomparable . . . unteachable
. . . immutable . . . inexpressible . . . without
beginning because he was uncreated, immutable because he is immortal.”
Theophilus backed this argument for creatio ex nihilo with another common argument adopted by the Middle
Platonists, that God must be self-sufficient:
And first they [the prophets] taught us in harmony that he
made all things from non being [ἐξ οὐκ ὄντων τὰ πάντα ἐποίησεν],
for nothing is as ancient as God, but he is his own locus and without need and
existing before the ages, he wished to make the human so that he would be known
by him. For him he prepared the cosmos. For the generated is needy, the
ungenerated needs nothing.
Second, Theophilus argued that God would not be the creator
of all things if some things existed without God’s having created them. Yet if
God were not creator of all, then the divine monarchy (μοναρχία) would not be
preserved. Thus God’s omnipotence required creation out of absolute nothing.
Given the Middle Platonist view of matter as something evil and recalcitrant,
it was unthinkable that God’s power could be so limited as to require matter
from which to create. I have argued elsewhere that such a position is not
necessary to all views of God’s relation to eternal matter, for the Latter-day
Saint concept of uncreated matter in particular does not adopt the view that
matter is either inherently evil or recalcitrant; rather, in the Latter-day
Saint view, matter is entirely subject to God for any expression of its causal
and lawlike properties.
Of course, such a view of uncreated matter wholly subject to God was quite
foreign to Theophilus and the Middle Platonists.
Third, Theophilus argued that matter cannot be eternal
because what is eternal must be immutable in the Platonic sense, and matter is
subject to change. In the Platonic view, what is real and eternal is absolute
and unchanging in every respect, and those things that change are real only to
the extent that they participate in these unchanging ideas or forms. In effect,
Theophilus’s reasons for adopting the new doctrine of creatio ex nihilo were based on his adoption of the Middle Platonic
view of God, which was also a radical innovation in Christianity—a God
who is seen as immutable, self-sufficient, and utterly unlike humans in every
respect. Platonists, both Middle and Neo-, assumed as a given fact the view
that humans inhabit the lowest realm of reality, furthest from the one ground
of actual being. Only God inhabited this ideal realm. Thus, anything embodied
was not pure and real. Christians had been repeatedly attacked by Platonists
for their childish view of a God who could be embodied and could change in this
realm of crass matter, so far removed from the pure realm of being. Hubler
concludes his discussion of Theophilus by writing:
Theophilus used the Platonist doctrine of God not only to
attack their view of matter but to develop a new view. In choosing the
Middle-Platonist doctrine of God over their view of nature, he left nature
entirely subject to God. As a result, although his doctrine is Middle-Platonist
in its expression, it is steadfastly non-Middle Platonic in its outcome,
both in its monism and in the radical dependence of nature upon God. Theophilus
foreshadows the coming of monism to Platonist philosophy in the next century in
the work of Plotinus.
Of course, Theophilus’s resolution of the problems posed by
Middle Platonic philosophy created additional problems for Christian theology.
Because it reinterpreted the biblical concept of creation within the scope of a
Middle Platonic view of God, the new concept generated all kinds of new
problems about how God was described in the biblical documents—but that
issue was not addressed by Theophilus and had to wait for Origen and Augustine,
who created a thoroughly Neoplatonic view of God within the Christian
tradition. As May
Theophilus did not of course fully realise what a radical
break with the theological tradition the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo constituted. He can even himself still talk of
creation out of nothing in the older undifferentiated sense: as a proof of the
possibility of the resurrection he points out that God created man out of
nothing, in that he formed him from a tiny drop of seed which did not exist
before. Theophilus takes no account of the question whether in that case one
can talk of a creatio ex nihilo
in the real sense at all. He simply wants to exalt the miraculous factor in the
process of begetting and developing human beings, while in his statements about
the creation of the world out of nothing the decisive factor is the idea of
The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo found its most developed formulation among early
Christians of the late second century in the writings of Irenaeus, bishop of
Lyon. Irenaeus battled the gnostic myths that had infiltrated Christianity
almost since its beginning. However, Irenaeus himself had been influenced by the
very philosophies he battled. May describes the situation: “Irenaeus is a
clear thinker and by no means uneducated. His concept of God is, like that of
the Apologists, strongly marked with popular philosophical ideas. God is
unoriginate, eternal, needs nothing, is self-sufficient, and confers existence
on everything that is. . . . As the Unoriginate he stands over against every
Irenaeus also taught that God is simple in the sense that one cannot divide his
being into a series of effects that proceed from another—a doctrine that
marked the simplicity of God in the then-emerging precepts of Neoplatonism:
For He is Himself uncreated, both without beginning and
end, and lacking nothing. He is Himself sufficient for Himself; and still
further, He grants to all others this very thing, existence; but the things
which have been made by him have received a beginning. But whatsoever things
had a beginning, and are liable to dissolution, and are subject to and stand in
need of Him who made them, must necessarily in all respects have a different
term [applied to them] . . . so that He indeed who made all things can alone,
together with His Word, properly be termed God and Lord: but the things which
have been made cannot have this term applied to them, neither should they
justly assume that appellation which belongs to the Creator.
Elsewhere, Irenaeus claimed: “While men, indeed, cannot
make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God
is in this point preeminently superior to men, that He Himself called into
being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence.”
The same argument, claiming that God’s mode of creation must be unique and
utterly unlike human modes of creation, had been used by Theophilus. This
doctrine created problems for Irenaeus’s soteriology (theory of salvation),
which taught that salvation consisted in persons becoming perfect like God and,
indeed, gods themselves: “For we cast blame upon Him, because we have not
been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length
explained that “God had power at the beginning to grant perfection to man;
but as the latter was only recently created, he could not possibly have
received it, or even if he had received it, could he have contained it, or
containing it, could he have retained it.”
But it then appears that God cannot, after all, create persons perfect and must
be responsible for having created something imperfect. However, Irenaeus argued
that even though God can create man perfect; he nevertheless cannot create man
capable of accepting perfection because man is only recently created: “For
from the very fact of these things having been created, [it follows] that they
are not uncreated; but by their continuing in being throughout a long course of
ages, they shall receive a faculty of the Uncreated, through the gratuitous
bestowal of eternal existence upon them by God.”
Irenaeus thus claims that God will bestow the “faculty of the
Uncreated” on humans, even though they are created. Yet Irenaeus’s claim
here seems simply incoherent, for God cannot give the status of being uncreated
to created things. Nor can God create man with the capacity for perfection and
deification if what he creates is incapable of receiving perfection, when it is
given, because of man’s status as a contingent creature. In the end, being gods
and divine means nothing more for Ireneaus than becoming immortal through
Of course, the tension between the doctrine of creatio ex
nihilo and the view that human nature must
be created became the central issue only later, during the Arian dispute. Arius
held that Christ, as a begotten son, must have been a created being and thus
ontologically contingent in his being, whereas the Father was uncreated, or
ontologically necessary. Thus, the divide between creator and creature became
so pronounced that it is logically impossible that they both be found in the
same person, Christ. I have argued elsewhere that the attempt to resolve this
basic logical contradiction at the very center of creedal beliefs is not
resolved by the two-nature theory of Christology adopted at Chalcedon in AD 421.
This central dispute also divides creedalists from Latter-day Saints, for it is
precisely this ontological gulf between creator and created that makes it
impossible for creedalists to accept the early Christian doctrine that we, mere
humans, can nevertheless “be partakers of the divine nature,” as
2 Peter 1:4 KJV affirms. It is the central conundrum that plagued Irenaeus’s
theology, which also shows why the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo is pivotal to theological and philosophical issues
dividing Latter-day Saints from conservative Protestants like Copan and Craig.
The apologists of the late second century adopted creatio
ex nihilo primarily because it was required
by the Middle Platonic view of God, which they had also adopted. They were
quite correct to point out that God, as conceived by the Middle Platonists, had
to be completely independent of the world and stand over against it. But this
is not a Christian view of God that they are defending. Rather, it is the
adoption of the God of Greek philosophy that required them to modify the
biblical doctrine of creation so radically. The eminent historian Robert Wilken
Since the time when the Apologists first began to offer a
reasoned and philosophical presentation of Christianity to pagan intellectuals,
Christian thinkers had claimed that they worshipped the same God honored by the
Greeks and Romans, in other words, the deity adored by other reasonable men and
women. Indeed, Christians adopted precisely the same language to describe God
as did pagan intellectuals. The Christian apologist Theophilus of Antioch
described God as “ineffable . . . inexpressible . . . uncontainable
. . . incomprehensible . . . inconceivable . . .
incomparable . . . unteachable . . . immutable
. . . inexpressible . . . without beginning because he was
uncreated, immutable because he is immortal.” This view, that God was an
immaterial, timeless, and impassible divine being, who is known through the
mind alone, became a keystone of Christian apologetics, for it served to
establish a decisive link to the Greek spiritual and intellectual tradition.
The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo followed from the adoption of the Middle Platonic
view of God’s transcendence of the created order. It was the doctrine of God
that, above all, heralded the shift from the biblical view of God, whom persons
may encounter in sacred experience, to the God of the philosophers, who is
grasped by reason alone. Hatch summarized the difference between the
transcendent God of the Middle Platonists and the God of faith:
From the earliest Christian teaching, indeed, the
conception of the transcendence of God is absent. God is near to men and speaks
to them: He is angry with them and punishes them: He is merciful to them and
pardons them. He does all this through His angels and prophets, and last of all
through His Son. But he needs such mediators rather because a heavenly Being is
invisible, than because He is transcendent. . . . There was no taste
for metaphysical discussion: there was possibly no appreciation of metaphysical
Tertullian, writing near the beginning of the third century,
also adopted the dogma of creatio ex nihilo. Employing an argument that was later adopted by Augustine and still
later by Aquinas, albeit in a different form, Tertullian reasoned that the idea
of creatio ex nihilo followed
from God’s unconditioned power: “He cannot be known as God and be called
Almighty, save that He is no longer almighty, if His might did not extend to
this also—to produce all things out of nothing! . . . He cannot
say that it was as its Lord that God made use of matter for the work of
coequal with Himself.”
It was this argument that won the day for creatio ex
nihilo more than anything else. I think
that the earliest Christians would not have been open to the notion of creatio
ex nihilo if it had not captured at least a
flavor of the biblical doctrine of creation and God’s power. This new doctrine
embodied the sense that God was completely sovereign in every respect. Nothing
could oppose him. There is no threat of a primeval chaos rushing into God’s
creation from above the vault or firmament that God had created, as appeared in
Genesis 1:6-8. There is no sense that God consulted with other divine
beings in the creation, as in Genesis 1:26-27 and Psalm 82. There is no
sense that God might confront a real evil that he could not simply wipe out at
will, at any time he wanted. Yet even this sense of unconditioned power gave
rise to philosophical questions regarding the compatibility of the existence of
such a God with the reality of evil—questions that would not be addressed
until the time of Origen and that remain unresolved within the creedal
tradition even today. If God can wipe out any real evil at will, then anything
we take to be evil is, in reality, all for the greater good because whatever truly
exists is good. Evil, then, cannot be real. For this reason, Augustine argued
that what we take to be evil is not real being; it is merely the privation or
lack of being. Thus evil in this life is like everything we experience within
the Platonic tradition: a mere appearance and not really real.
In addition to the problem of evil that this doctrine of creatio
ex nihilo renders so stark and
unfathomable, there is the question of whether God must create out of nothing
to be considered almighty. I have contended elsewhere that this argument based
on God’s omnipotent power is not sound, for the reason that God need not be
able to alter the past to be considered omnipotent.
One cannot reasonably argue, as Tertullian tried to do, from the definition of
omnipotence to rule out the possibility that matter is eternal in the sense
that it has always existed.
I believe that we can conclude quite confidently that Copan
and Craig have seriously misunderstood the evidence that they present in
support of creation ex nihilo. Based on
the evidence that I have reviewed, the following conclusions seem warranted:
1. The New
Testament does not teach creation ex nihilo. On the contrary, 2 Peter 3:5-6 expressly teaches that God
created out of the already existing chaotic waters, Hebrews 11:3 expressly
teaches that God created the visible world from the already existing invisible
world, and Romans 4:17 teaches that God created from an already existing
claim made by Copan and Craig that the dogma of creatio ex nihilo was already well established in the Jewish texts
about the time of Christ is simply false. None of the texts they cite for this
conclusion addresses the doctrine of creation out of nothing. Indeed, some of
the Jewish texts that they claim teach creatio ex nihilo, such as 2 Enoch and Joseph and Aseneth, expressly teach that God created the world by making
visible those invisible things that already existed. In addition, none of the
Christian texts cited by Copan and Craig, such as the Shepherd of Hermas and
the Odes of Solomon, actually
teach creatio ex nihilo. Indeed,
these texts better exemplify the doctrine of creatio ex materia. Further, it is clear that several Jewish texts from
around the time of Christ, such as the writings of Philo Judaeus and the Wisdom
of Solomon, as well as several early Christian writers such as Clement, Justin
Martyr, and Athenagoras, expressly teach the doctrine of creatio ex
doctrine of creatio ex nihilo seems to
appear rather suddenly about AD 180
in the writings of Tatian and Theophilus in their arguments with Stoics and
Middle Platonists. It is fairly clear that it arose as a philosophical
consequence of their adoption of a Middle Platonic concept of God. What we see
in all texts from about AD 165 and
after is that Platonic philosophy, both Middle and Neo-, had infiltrated
Christian thought and become a basis for major innovations in doctrine.
Latter-day Saints see this as the apostasy in action, in living color. The
personal God of the Bible, known through revelation and personal encounter, is
suddenly too far removed from the human sphere of existence to be involved in
such things as interactions with humans. The notion that humans are created in
the image and likeness of God must be reinterpreted to fit the Platonic view
that God is utterly unique and entirely unlike humans. God’s mode of creation,
therefore, must be completely different from any human mode of creation. The
Middle Platonic assumption that only the absolutely immutable can be eternal is
used as a background assumption to argue that matter cannot in any sense be
eternal because it is subject to change. The Middle Platonic view that matter
necessarily entails an eternal cycle of recurrence leads to adopting a view of
God that altogether transcends the material sphere. If one accepts the
assumptions from which the Christian apologists of the late second century
begin, then creatio ex nihilo
becomes the only logical conclusion. It apparently never occurred to them to
reject these Platonist assumptions.
The adoption of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo had other far-reaching implications for the history
and form of “Christian” theology, extending even to our own day. The
doctrine of creation out of nothing led inevitably to the Council of Chalcedon,
in which Christ was described as one person having two natures, consubstantial
with the Father in his deity. This two-nature theory of Christology assured
that the Platonic view of natures and substance would be essential to make
“sense” of the doctrine of God within the creedal tradition. The
doctrine of creatio ex nihilo
also gave rise, and continues to give rise, to arguments that everything that
occurs must be caused by God, for if he did not cause each substance to exist
anew in each moment, it would cease to exist. Thus, a very strong form of
divine determinism and predestination seems to be entailed by the
doctrine—though a thorough discussion of these issues would take me far
afield from the purpose of this essay.
It seems to me, therefore, that Copan and Craig have
overstated their case. They speak in their essay and book as if anyone who
disagrees with them is simply in error and ignorant of the facts, heedless of
the overwhelming number of respected scholars who do in fact disagree. They
give a false impression of the evidence and fail even to note the necessary
distinctions between absolute negation of existence and relative non-being that
are necessary to make sense of the texts in the postbiblical era. All in all,
their argument for creatio ex nihilo as
the universally accepted doctrine of early Christians simply does not withstand
 The first section of
their essay, dealing with scriptural arguments, is essentially the same as
Copan’s article “Is Creatio ex Nihilo
a Post-Biblical Invention? An Examination of Gerhard May’s Proposal,” Trinity
Journal, n.s., 17 (1996): 77-93.
Stephen D. Ricks deals with creation ex nihilo in “Ancient Views of Creation and the Doctrine
of Creation ex Nihilo,” in Revelation,
Reason, and Faith: Essays in Honor of Truman G. Madsen, ed. Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and Stephen
D. Ricks (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 319-37. See Daniel C. Peterson,
“Does the Qur’an Teach Creation Ex Nihilo?” in By Study and Also by Faith:
Essays in Honor of Hugh W. Nibley (Salt
Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 584-610, since at several
points his argument is analogous to mine.
 They say: “In defending the doctrine of creation out of nothing, we do not
delve into many of its theological implications and ramifications.
. . . This book offers
reasons for claiming that creation out of nothing is a biblical concept. The biblical data are not ambiguous, as
some contend; indeed, creation ex nihilo is the most reasonable inference to make in light of biblical texts.
Even if the doctrine of creation out of nothing is not explicitly stated, it is
an obvious inference from the fact that God created everything distinct from
himself. ‘Implicit’ should not be watered down to ‘ambiguous'” (CON, pp. 26-27, first emphasis added). Their
view that they are engaging in some debate in which there are winners and
losers is expressly stated: “The view proposing creation from preexistent
matter would not win even if the Bible were silent on the matter” (CON,
 See for example, Shalom M. Paul, “Creation and Cosmogony: In the
Bible,” in Encyclopedia
Keter, 1972), 5:1059-63; David Winston, “The Book of Wisdom’s Theory of
Cosmogony,” History of Religions 11/2 (1971): 187-91; Frances Young,
“‘Creatio Ex Nihilo': A Context for the Emergence of the Christian
Doctrine of Creation,” Scottish Journal of Theology 44 (1991): 139-51; Gerhard May, Creatio
ex Nihilo: The Doctrine of ‘Creation Out of Nothing’ in Early Christian
Thought, trans. A. S. Worrall (Edinburgh: Clark, 1994); Keith Norman, “Ex Nihilo: The Development of the Doctrines of God and Creation
in Early Christianity,” BYU Studies 17/3
 See Richard J.
Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter (Waco:
Word, 1983), 297-302. Bauckham is an evangelical who admits that
2 Peter draws upon the worldview of the ancient Near East and Genesis to
form a concept of creation of the world out of water.
 See “συνίστημι,”
in Joseph H. Thayer, trans., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1977), 605.
 J. N. D. Kelly, A
Commentary on the Epistles of Peter and of Jude (New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 358, 359.
 Paul Ellingworth, Commentary
on Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
 See “καταρτίζω,” in Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon,
336, and “καταρτίζω,”
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 1:476.
 Quoted from William L.
Lane, Hebrews 9-13 (Dallas: Word,
 This date is debated by some
scholars but is supported by F. I. Andersen in The Old Testament
Pseudepigrapha, ed. James H. Charlesworth
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983), 1:94-97.
 2 Enoch 2-4, from F. I. Andersen’s translation in Old
Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:142.
 Lane, Hebrews 9-11, 332; Arnold Ehrhardt, “Creatio Ex
Nihilo,” Studia Theologica 4 (1951-52): 27-33; and P. E. Hughes,
“The Doctrine of Creation in Hebrews 11:3,” Biblical
Theology Bulletin 2 (1972): 64-77.
 2 Enoch, in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:142 n. f. Copan and Craig point out that, later in
the text, it states that God “created” both the visible and the
invisible. However, they fundamentally misconstrue 2 Enoch. See below.
 James N. Hubler, “Creatio ex
Nihilo: Matter, Creation, and the Body in Classical and Christian Philosophy
through Aquinas” (PhD diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1995), 108.
 Author’s translation; Douglas J.
Moo, trans., The Epistle to the Romans, rev.
ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans,
1996), 279, translated the passage: “Even as it is written, ‘I have appointed
you as the father of many nations’ before the God in whom he believed, the one
who gives life to the dead and calls those things that are not as though they
 Norman, “Ex Nihilo,”
 Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 282, emphasis in original; so also William Sanday
and Arthur C. Headlam, The Epistle to the Romans (Edinburgh: Clark, 1977), 113. Further, this view is
in line with a Pauline idiom_namely, verb followed by ὡς‚
plus participle (of the same verb or, in certain contexts, its antonym)
to compare present reality with what is not a present reality (cf.
1 Corinthians 4:7; 5:3; 7:29, 30 [three times], 31; Colossians 2:20
[similarly, 2 Corinthians 6:9, 10]).
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
 Jonathan A. Goldstein, “The
Origins of the Doctrine of Creation Ex Nihilo,” Journal of Jewish
Studies 35/2 (1984): 127.
 Young, “Christian Doctrine of
Chadwick, Early Christian Thought and the Classical Tradition (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984), 46-47. See Norman,
“Ex Nihilo,” 300-308.
 Edwin Hatch, The Influence of
Greek Ideas on Christianity (Gloucester,
MA: Smith, 1970), 178.
 Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas, 194-95.
 Aristotle, De Generatione
Animalium B5, 741 b 22f, ed. H. J.
Drossaart Lulofs (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965), 74f.
 Quoted from James D. G. Dunn,
Romans 1-8 (Dallas: Word, 1988), 237,
omitting emphasis added by Copan and Craig.
 See “καλέω,” in Thayer, Greek-English
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
 There is a major punctuation
problem here: Should the relative clause “that was made” go with
verse 3 or verse 4? The earliest manuscripts have no punctuation (P 66,
75* A B D and others). Many of the later manuscripts
that do have punctuation place it before the phrase, thus putting it with verse
4 (P 75c C D L Ws
050* and a few others). Nestlé-Aland placed the phrase in verse 3 and moved the
words to the beginning of verse 4. In a detailed article, K. Aland defended the
change. K. Aland, “Eine Untersuchung zu Johannes 1, 3-4: ?ber die
Bedeutung eines Punktes,” Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche
Wissenschaft 59 (1968): 174-209. He
sought to prove that the attribution of ἐγένετο οὐδὲ ἕν ὃ γέγονεν to verse 3 began to be
carried out in the fourth century in the Greek church. This came out of the
Arian controversy and was intended as a safeguard for doctrine. The change was
unknown in the West. Aland is probably correct in affirming that the phrase was
attached to verse 4 by the Gnostics and the Eastern Church. It was only after
the Arians began to use the phrase that it became attached to verse 3. But this
does not rule out the possibility that, by moving the words from verse 4 to
verse 3, one is restoring the original reading. Understanding the words as part
of verse 3 is natural and adds to the emphasis which is built up there, while
it also gives a terse, forceful statement in verse 4. On the other hand, taking
the phrase ὃ γέγονεν with verse 4 gives a
complicated expression. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John, 2nd ed. (London: SPCK, 1978), 157, says that both
ways of understanding verse 4 with ὃ γέγονεν included “are almost
impossibly clumsy”: “That which came into being—in it the Word
was life; That which came into being—in the Word was its life.” The
following points should be noted in the solution of this problem: (1) John
frequently starts sentences with
ἐν as verse
4 begins; (2) he repeats frequently (“nothing was created that has
been created”); (3) 5:26 and 6:53 both give a sense similar to verse
4 if it is understood without the phrase; (4) it makes far better
Johannine sense to say that in the Word was life than to say that the created universe
(what was made, ὃ γέγονεν) was life in him. In
conclusion, the phrase is best taken with verse 3.
 Norman, “Ex Nihilo,”
294-301; Ricks, “Ancient Views of Creation,” 319-37.
 Frances Young and Bruce Waltke are
excellent examples of such brave traditional Christians.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
 May, Creatio Ex Nihilo, 27.
 May, Creatio Ex Nihilo, 29-30.
 Bruce K. Waltke, Creation and
Chaos (Portland, OR: Western Conservative
Baptist Seminary, 1974); Bruce K. Waltke, “The Creation Account in Genesis
1:1-3. Pt. III: The Initial Chaos Theory and the Precreation Chaos
Theory,” Bibliotheca Sacra
132/527 (1975): 222-28. See also William R. Lane, “The Initiation of
Creation,” Vetus Testamentum
13 (1963): 64-65. For a response, see Mark F. Rooker, “Genesis
1:1-3: Creation or Re-creation?” Bibliotheca Sacra 149/595-596 (1992): 316-23,
 Geza Vermes, The Dead Sea
Scrolls in English (Baltimore: Penguin
Books, 1968), 75.
 Bereshit Rabbah 1.9, in Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,” 100,
 See David Winston, “Creation
Ex Nihilo Revisited: A Reply to Jonathan Goldstein,” Journal of Jewish
Studies 37/1 (1986): 88-91; Hubler,
“Creatio ex Nihilo,” 101.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
Nihilo,” 94-101. However, May believes that Gamaliel “denies
that Genesis 1:2 refers to unformed matter and thereby implicitly asserts creatio
ex nihilo.” May, Creatio Ex
Nihilo, 23. Similarly, Goldstein accepts
Gamaliel’s statements as an express adoption of creation ex nihilo. See Jonathan A. Goldstein, “Creation Ex Nihilo:
Recantations and Restatements,” Journal of Jewish Studies 38/2 (1987): 187. Nevertheless, Gamaliel is not
asserting that these realities were not created out of a prior chaos, for he is
not addressing that issue; rather, he is asserting that they are not helpers to
God any more than the clay is a helper to the potter.
 See 2 Enoch 24, in
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:140-43.
 2 Enoch 24, in
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,
1:142 n. g.
 2 Enoch 26, in
Old Testament Pseudepigrapha,
1:144-45 n. d. The name Adoil
probably refers to either the light or the sun (which is never said to be
created in 2 Enoch and is
assumed to be uncreated).
 Shepherd of Hermas, Mandates,
1.1.1, in PG 2:913, author’s translation.
 Georg Schuttermayr,
“‘Schopfung aus dem Nichts’ in 2 Makk. 7,28?” Biblische
Zeitschrift 17 (1973): 203-28.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
 Shepherd of Hermas, Visions, 1.1.6,
cited by Copan and Craig as “1.6” (NMC, p. 429 n. 166) and corrected as 1.1.6 (in CON, p. 127). Author’s translation.
 See Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 4.20.2; and Origen, De Principiis 1.3.3 for references to the Shepherd of Hermas.
 See Hatch, Influence of Greek
 Joseph and Aseneth 12:1-3.
 Odes of Solomon 16:18-19, in Old Testament
Pseudepigrapha, 2:749. Copan and Craig did
not quote the relevant text regarding God’s being among the invisible things,
just as they did not acknowledge similar language in 2 Enoch.
 Mario Erbetta, Gli Apocrifi del
Nuovo Testamento (Turin: Marietti, 1975),
 A. F. J. Klijn, trans., “2
(Syriac Apocalypse of) Baruch,” in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, 1:628, emphasis added. Copan and Craig did not quote
the relevant text regarding not-being obeying God’s word.
 Lecture 1:22, in Joseph Smith, Lectures
on Faith Delivered to the School of the Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio
1834-35 (Salt Lake City: Deseret
Book, 1985), 5.
 For the textual history and recent
discovery of the Syriac text and the very late textual evidence for the Greek
recension, see Edgar Hennecke, ed., Die Apologie
des Aristides (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1893);
and J. Rendel Harris, ed. and trans., The Apology of
Aristides on Behalf of the Christians
(Cambridge: University Press, 1891).
 Aristides, Apologia 14, in Harris, Apology of Aristides, 48.
 Aristides, Apology 4 (Greek), in Harris, Apology of
Aristides, 101, author’s translation.
 May, Creatio ex Nihilo, 119-20.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
Nihilo,” 90, emphasis added.
 Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas, 197 n. 3.
 Werner Foerster, “Ktizo,”
in Theological Dictionary of the
New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans.
Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:1001 n. 6.
 May, Creatio Ex Nihilo, 6, 7.
 May, Creatio Ex Nihilo, 7 n. 27.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
 Aristotle, De Generatione
Animalium B5, 741, b 22f. J. C. O’Neill,
“How Early Is the Doctrine of Creatio ex Nihilo?” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., 53/2 (2002): 449-53, argues that
2 Maccabees reflects a well-established Jewish view of creation ex
nihilo. However, he fails to note the
parallel use of Aristotle’s phrase, which shows that “non-being” used
in the context of generation means relative non-being from an already existing
substrate. Almost all of O’Neill’s arguments are anticipated by Craig and
Copan—and my response to them also answers O’Neill.
 2 Enoch 25:1-2 and Joseph and Aseneth 12:1-3.
 David Winston, The Wisdom of
Solomon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1979), 3.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
Nihilo,” 89-90 n. 25.
 Philo, De Plantatione 2.6.
 Philo, De Somniis 2.6.45. However, it has long been debated whether
Philo taught creatio ex nihilo.
See, generally, Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,” 91-93; and May, Creatio
Ex Nihilo, 10-21.
 Philo, De Specialibus Legibus 4.187, in The Works of Philo, trans. C. D. Yonge (n.p.: Hendrickson, 1995), 634.
 Young, “Christian Doctrine of
 Harry A. Wolfson, “Plato’s
Pre-existent Matter in Patristic Philosophy,” in The Classical
Tradition, ed. Luitpold Wallach (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell, University Press, 1966), 414-16. See also Henry A. Wolfson, Philo:
Foundations of Religious Philosophy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1968), 1:172.
 Ronald Williamson, Philo and the
Epistle to the Hebrews (Leiden: Brill,
 David T. Runia, Exegesis and
Philosophy: Studies on Philo of Alexandria (Aldershot:
Variorum, 1990), 8.
 Web abstract of David T. Runia,
“Plato’s Timaeus, First
Principle(s), and Creation in Philo and Early Christian Thought,” in Plato’s
Timaeus as Cultural Icon, ed. Gretchen J. Reydams-Schils (Notre Dame:
University of Notre Dame Press, 2003), 133-51.
 Philo, De opificio mundi 2.8-9, in Works of Philo, trans. Yonge, 3.
De aeternitate mundi 2.5, in Works
of Philo, trans. Yonge, 707.
 Philo, Quis rerum divinarum
heres 32.159-60, in Works
of Philo, trans. Yonge, 289, emphasis
added. See also, David Winston,
“Philo’s Theory of Cosmogony,” in Religious Syncretism in
Antiquity, ed. Birger A. Pearson (Missoula,
MT: Scholars, 1975), 157-71.
 Philo, De aeternitate mundi 10.52, in Works of Philo, trans. Yonge, 712.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex
 Philo, Quis rerum divinarum
heres 27.133-34, in Works
of Philo, trans. Yonge, 287.
 1 Clement 60, in J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic
Fathers, ed. J. R. Harmer (1891; repr.,
Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book, 1956), 1:176.
Lightfoot translates this text as:
“Thou through Thine operations didst make manifest the everlasting fabric
of the world” (1:303). See Oscar de Gebhardt and Adolphus Harnack, Patrium
Apostolicorum Opera: Clementis Romani
(Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1876), 1:100.
 Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 59.1-5, in The Writings of Justin
Martyr and Athenagoras, trans. Marcus Dods,
George Reight, and B. P. Pratten (Edinburgh: Clark, 1867), 57.
 Plato, Timaeus 34a-b, 36e. Copan and Craig claim that Justin
believed in a prior creation ex nihilo that is not mentioned in the text—but if it isn’t mentioned in
the text then there is no evidence to support their view.
 Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 10.
 They rely heavily on the
conclusions of Eric Osborn, Justin Martyr
(Tubingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 1973); and Eric Osborn, Irenaeus of Lyons (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Osborn takes issue with Gerhard May’s conclusion that Justin Martyr did not
teach creation out of nothing but expressly adopted creation out of unformed
 Citing Justin Martyr, 2 Apology 13, in PG 6:465; and Dialogue 5, in PG 6:488.
 Athenagoras, Legatio pro
Christianis 10, trans. B. P. Pratten, in Ante-Nicene
Fathers (hereafter ANF), ed.
Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (1885; reprint, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson,
 Quoting Athenagoras, Legatio pro
Christianis 4 (ANF 2:131).
 Athenagoras, Legatio pro
Christianis 8 (ANF 2:132-33).
 Athenagoras, Legatio pro
Christianis 15 (ANF 2:135).
 May, Creation Ex Nihilo, 163.
 Athenagoras, Legatio pro
Christianis 15 (ANF 2:135).
 This view of God as artist and
artificer because he creates by molding matter is further expressed in
Athenagoras, Legatio pro Christianis 16:
“Whether, then, as Plato says, the world be a product of divine art, I
admire its beauty, and adore the Artificer; or whether it be His essence and
body, as the Peripatetics affirm, we do not neglect to adore God, who is the
cause of the motion of the body, and descend ‘to the poor and weak elements,’
adoring in the impassible air (as they term it), passible matter; or, if any
one apprehends the several parts of the world to be powers of God, we do not
approach and do homage to the powers, but their Maker and Lord. I do not ask of
matter what it has not to give, nor passing God by do I pay homage to the
elements, which can do nothing more than what they were bidden; for, although
they are beautiful to look upon, by reason of the art of their Framer, yet they
still have the nature of matter. And to this view Plato also bears testimony;
‘for,’ says he, ‘that which is called heaven and earth has received many
blessings from the Father, but yet partakes of body; hence it cannot possibly
be free from change.’ If, therefore, while I admire the heavens and the
elements in respect of their art, I do not worship them as gods, knowing that
the law of dissolution is upon them, how can I call those objects gods of which
I know the makers to be men?” (ANF 2:136).
 Athenagoras, Legatio pro
Christianis 6 (ANF 2:131-32).
 Athenagoras, Legatio pro
Christianis 10 (ANF 2:133, brackets in original).
 Tertullian, Adversus Hermogenes 2.5.
 Norman, “Ex Nihilo,” 308.
 Clement, The Instructor 3.12, as quoted in Norman, “Ex Nihilo,”
 Young, “Christian Doctrine of
 Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,” v.
 Athenagoras, Legatio pro Christianis 10.
 See May, Creatio Ex Nihilo; Winston, “Philo’s Theory of Cosmogony,”
157-71; Winston, Wisdom of Solomon, 3, 38-40; Ian G. Barbour, Religion in an Age of
Science (San Francisco: Harper and Row,
1990), 144-46; Young, “Christian Doctrine of Creation”;
Goldstein, “Recantations and Restatements,” 187-94. Goldstein
argues that Rabban Gamaliel II taught the doctrine of creatio ex
nihilo but admits that no Jewish text
adopted it before or after his time until about the mid-ninth to mid-tenth
centuries. However, Young and Hubler disagree with Goldstein and hold that not
even Gamaliel taught creatio ex nihilo.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,”
 Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,” v.
 See Hubler, “Creatio ex
Nihilo,” 117-21, referring to Tatian’s writings.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,”
121-22, quoting Theophilus, Ad Autolycum 2.4.
 May, Creatio Ex Nihilo, 179.
 Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos 4.2, in Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos and
Fragments, ed. and trans. Molly Whittaker
(Oxford: Clarendon, 1982), 9.
 May, Creatio Ex Nihilo, ch. 3, argues that Basilides, a Gnostic writing
about AD 160, was the first person to develop a
notion of creatio ex nihilo.
Basilides stated: “There was a time . . . when there was
nothing; not even the nothing was there, but simply, clearly and without
sophistry, there was nothing at all. When I say ‘there was’, . . . I
do not indicate a Being, but in order to signify what I want to express I
say. . . that there was nothing at all.” Hippolytus, The
Refutation of All Things 7.20.2. While I am
open to this view, I tend to agree with Young and Hubler that Basilides is not
expressing the concept of creatio ex nihilo but speaking of the limits of language regarding
nonbeing. See Young, “Christian Doctrine of Creation,” 147-50.
 Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos 5-6, in Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,”
 Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,”
 Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos 6, in Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,” 119.
 Tatian, Oratio ad Graecos 5, in Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,” 120.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,”
 Theophilus, Ad Autolycum 2.4, in Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,”
 Celsus, writing about AD 177,
and Porphry, writing a century later, were among the leading antagonists to
ridicule Christian views of God and resurrection; see Hubler, “Creatio ex
Nihilo,” 115-17. For a sample of the Christian philosophical
response, see Origen, Contra Celsum 5.14,
ed. Henry Chadwick (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965).
 See Apuleius, De Platone et Eius
 Theophilus, Ad Autolycum 1.3-4, quoted in Robert L. Wilken, The
Christians as the Romans Saw Them (New
Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984), 151.
 Theophilus, Ad Autolycum 2.10, in Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,” 123.
 See Blake T. Ostler, Exploring Mormon
Thought: The Attributes of God (Salt Lake
City: Kofford, 2001), 105-35.
 Hubler, “Creatio ex Nihilo,”
 See May, Creation Ex Nihilo, 160-63.
 May, Creation Ex Nihilo, 163.
 May, Creation Ex Nihilo, 165.
 Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3.8.3 (ANF 1:422).
 Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 2.10.4 (ANF 1:370).
 Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 4.38.4 (ANF 1:522).
 Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 4.38.2 (ANF 1:521).
 Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 4.38.3 (ANF 1:521).
 See Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, 409-50.
 Wilken, Christians as the Romans Saw
 Hatch, Influence of Greek Ideas, 251-52.
 Tertullian, The Treatise against
Hermogenes 8.2 and 9.1, trans. J. H. Wasznik (New York: Newman, 1956), 37;
Latin text in Patrologiae Latinae, ed.
J.-P. Migne (Paris: n.p., 1878), 2:227. Augustine’s argument to the same effect
is in De civitate dei 5.10.
 Ostler, Exploring Mormon Thought, 105-35. Once a given state of affairs (SA1)
occurs, all states of affairs inconsistent or noncompossible with SA1 are
logically precluded as possibilities. There is therefore a distinction between
the logically possible and the actually possible. Though a state of affairs is
possible in a broadly logical sense, it may be excluded as an actual
possibility on the grounds that another logically possible state of affairs has
already come to pass. Thus, if SA1 is a logically possible state of affairs,
then it is possible for SA1 never to actually occur; but once SA1 has occurred,
it is no longer possible for SA1 never to occur. If physical realities have
always existed in some form or another—a state of affairs SA2—then
what it is actually possible for God to bring about is logically limited to
states of affairs compossible with SA2. It seems that any coherent idea of
omnipotence must take into account what has occurred in the actual world at any
given time. Thus, it follows that a coherent account of divine omnipotence must
inquire whether material states have always existed to determine what is within