Did God create the universe from nothing?

Luke Wayne
3/14/17

God alone is eternal, uncreated, and self-existent. Everything else came into existence by God's power through His Word. All matter, energy, spirit, time, space, and anything else that exists owes its very being to God alone. He called the universe into existence from nothing. Creation had a beginning, and before that beginning, there was God alone, nothing else. God did not become creation or form the universe out of His own substance or essence, nor did He merely craft it out of some other substance that eternally existed with Him. God commanded the world to exist, and it did. Before that, it was nothing. God brought into being that which was not. This is the amazing truth of creation, which is often called creation "ex nihilo" or "out of nothing."

The Biblical Testimony

The Bible opens with the words:

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters" (Genesis 1:1-2).

In the beginning, there is God. God then creates the heavens and the earth. Some have tried to argue that verse two implies preexisting matter, a formless and void deep which God transforms into an organized universe. This isn't what the text says, however. It says that God created the earth. It then tells us that the earth was formless and void. The earth is something that we were literally just told that God created. The formless and void deep on which God will subsequently act is something that God brought into existence. The fact that God continues to shape, form, fill, and bring additional order to the heavens and the earth does not contradict the fact that God first created them. Indeed, the fact that the earth was formless and void after God initially created it proves that there could not have been preexisting matter. If there was preexisting formless and void matter, and then God creates the earth with it, but it is still formless and void matter, what did God do? Nothing changed! Formless and void matter remained formless and void matter. No, the passage is clearly saying that God brought the substance of the heavens and the earth into existence where they did not exist before. God, by the power of His command, created the world from nothing. As the Psalmist declares:

"The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours; The world and all it contains, You have founded them. The north and the south, You have created them" (Psalm 89:11-12).

And that this was done merely by God's almighty Word:

"By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host," (Psalm 33:6).

And this includes every kind of created thing:

"Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; Praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; Praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light! Praise Him, highest heavens, And the waters that are above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, For He commanded and they were created. He has also established them forever and ever; He has made a decree which will not pass away" (Psalm 148:1-6).

This is affirmed by other biblical authors as well, for example:

"For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him" (Colossians 1:16).

"You alone are the Lord. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them and the heavenly host bows down before You" (Nehemiah 9:6).

"Thus says the Lord, 'Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool. Where then is a house you could build for Me? And where is a place that I may rest? For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,' declares the Lord. 'But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word'" (Isaiah 66:1-2).

"Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created" (Revelation 4:11).

Things came into being where before they had no being. The were created, brought into existence, by the power, will, and Word of Almighty God. This is the biblical teaching:

The Historical Testimony

It is worth noting how those who believed these Scriptures in the ancient world understood their meaning. This is only a sampling, and there are many more examples beyond these. One Jewish source from over a century before the time of the New Testament declares:

"I beg you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed" (2 Maccabees 7:28-29).

An early Jewish Midrash also preserves a conversation between a gentile philosopher and the first-century Jewish sage, Gamaliel, in which Gamaliel refutes the idea that God was merely an artist working with existing material. Gamaliel walks through a variety of biblical texts to argue that each of the supposed pre-existing materials was itself a creation of God, thus showing that God brought into existence even the substance from which creation is made.1 Even if this conversation were a fable that never actually occurred, it would be a very ancient fable that testifies to a Jewish understanding that the Old Testament Scriptures affirm creation out of nothing.

A Christian writer named Aristides, very early in the second century, wrote:

"Let us proceed then, O King, 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 at the command of the true God, who is indestructible and immutable and invisible" (Apology of Aristides Chapter 4).

And around the mid-second century, a Christian leader named Hermas wrote:

"God, who dwells in the heavens and made out of nothing the things that exist" (Shepherd of Hermas, Book 1, Chapter 1).

In the latter half of the second century, Irenaeus wrote of God's creation of the universe:

"While men, indeed, cannot make anything out of nothing, but only out of matter already existing, yet God is in this point pre-eminently superior to men, that He Himself called into being the substance of His creation, when previously it had no existence" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 2, Chapter 10, Section 4).

Other second-century Christian leaders concurred in passages such as:

"The case stands thus: we can see that the whole structure of the world, and the whole creation, has been produced from matter, and the matter itself brought into existence by God" (Tatian, Address to the Greeks, Chapter 12).

"For the heavens are His work, the earth is His creation, the sea is His handiwork; man is His formation and His image; sun, moon, and stars are His elements, made for signs, and seasons, and days, and years, that they may serve and be slaves to man; and all things God has made out of things that were not into things that are, in order that through His works His greatness may be known and understood" (Theophilus of Antioch, To Autolycus, Book 1, Chapter 4).

Tertullian, a leading figure in Latin Christianity in the later second and early third centuries, professes that the church held it to be a "rule of faith," or an essential Christian doctrine, that "nothing except God was uncreated."2 He elsewhere defines this "rule of faith":

"There is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word," (Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heresies, Chapter 13).

And further explains:

"The conclusion of the whole is this: I find that there was nothing made, except out of nothing; because that which I find was made, I know did not once exist. Whatever was made out of something, has its origin in something made: for instance, out of the ground was made the grass, and the fruit, and the cattle, and the form of man himself; so from the waters were produced the animals which swim and fly. The original fabrics out of which such creatures were produced I may call their materials, but then even these were created by God" (Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, Chapter 33).

The earliest Christians clearly understood the Scriptures to teach that God created even the very substance, essence, and material of the world from nothing. He brought it into existence by the power of His Word.

The Scientific Testimony

It's worth very briefly noting how scientific observations are consistent with the idea that the universe came into existence out of nothing rather than existing eternally or forming from pre-existing material. Modern astrophysics has confirmed by both mathematics and observation that the universe is continually expanding.3 This does not mean that the matter in the universe is spreading out into open space, but rather that space itself is expanding. This being the case, the universe was smaller in the past than it is today. If we trace it back, there is a maximum age for the universe. There is a point at which the universe reduces down to a single point, and then to nothing. Even time and space could not exist before this point. Without any sort of universe, without even time or space, there can be no preexisting material substance. There is no matter from which the universe could be formed. Thus, even secular scientists agree that the universe came into existence from nothing.4 While there are a variety of models that, at best, delay the problem further into the past, none can escape the ultimate reality that even the very substance of the universe has a beginning. These facts also negate eternal, cyclical models of the universe found in many eastern religions in which the universe has always existed, and God shares in its eternal, immortal essence. The universe is finite. It began to exist, and there was no matter before it.

Conclusion

The Bible is clear that God commanded even the very substance of all created things into existence from nothing. Those who revered the Bible in ancient times understood and repeatedly articulated this. Modern scientific observations have only further verified this divinely revealed truth. God commanded things that did not exist to exist, and they did. This is the power of our omnipotent God.

  • 1. Midrash Rabbah Genesis, Chapter 1, Section 9
  • 2. Tertullian, Against Hermogenes, Chapter 33
  • 3. William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith - Third Edition (Crossway Books, 2008) 125
  • 4. ibid, 128