Ex Nihilo (Part 2)
In my previous article I laid out the initial developments and the study that I had early on as a Christian regarding the creation debate. In this article what I want to do is explore some broad perspectives on this discussion. Due to the vast corpus of material that's being written, and has been written on this topic, I'm not going to go into every different viewpoint on the topic. What I'm going to do is give a broad potential of views that I have in regards to this conversation. Suffice to say my overall view, and my specification of details, are very different in regards to my certainty and permanence. On one hand, what I believe about the age of universe and the association with scientific discovery is quite solid, however, the ways in which that works together is very transitory. It is both open to discussion, discovery, and new information.
Genesis 1:1 is one of the most contested and argued passages in all of the Bible. On one hand we've got people that say that (any) god creating the universe is incompatible with modern scientific discovery or wrong on the basis of philosophical assumptions. Within the creation debate itself we've got people who believe that this is an indefinite period of time in regards to the creation of the cosmos, and on the other side we have this being an introduction to the chapter that has no designation to creation itself. I tend to broadly maintain the position that John Lennox does which is that Genesis 1:1 is the creation of the cosmos over an indefinite and unspecified period of time. He says:
"This is made clear in the original text for the fact that the verb “created” in Genesis 1:1 is in the perfect tense, "The normal use of the perfect at the very beginning of a periscope is to denote an event that took place before the storyline gets underway. The use of the narrative texts begins in verse three.” -John Lennox, 7 Days That Divide the World
Now, to be clear, the pattern for the days of creation begins in verse three, not in verse one. This would mean that the verses in Genesis 1:1 and 1:2 are not part of the creation day sequence, but are something distinct and altogether different. If Genesis 1:1 did not take place on day one, as is frequently assumed, then the time that elapsed between Genesis 1:1 and the first creation day in Genesis 1:3 could be a very long period of time, and would have no bearing on the creation sequence.
The Word Yom
This would be a good point to take into considering something about language. First, the word ‘Yom’ in the Genesis 1 narrative has 4 possible meanings, again being drawn from ‘7 Days That Divide the World’ by Dr. Lennox. Here are the 4 uses of the word ‘Yom’:
- Genesis 1:5 uses the word in reference to day and night. This could be thought as saying ‘daytime’, or a period of roughly 12 hours.
- Genesis 1:5 uses the word in reference to the entirety of the day including evening and morning as one day.
- Genesis uses the word also in reference to God’s Sabbath rest, which is, as far as we can tell, ongoing.
- Finally, Genesis uses the word is used in Genesis 2:4 for “When God created”, which can also be translated to say “in the day.” This is similar to someone saying, “In my day we had to walk to school uphill both ways.”
When we realize the word is translated into 12 hours, full days, a continued period of time, and in reference to when, we see a far more complicated and intricate text than we previously may have envisioned. What's interesting is that this information about this particular word seems to go unknown in the minds of most modern Christian’s in reference to the Genesis narrative. The reality that our English translations are so unable to convey these nuances, is unknown by most Christians. This is a good time to mention a quote from Dr. Martin Luther who said that ‘The Jews drink out of the original spring, the Greeks drink out of the stream flowing out of the stream, the Latin’s, however, out of the puddle.’ How much worse is it then for the English reading Christian, who is more removed from the original languages? As we shall see this issue applies to other words.
As we saw previously, the Genesis 1:1-2 text are in the perfect Hebrew tense which means they’re something that happened before the creation week narrative gets underway. This is a monumentally important considering the fact that if these are pre-narrative events that took place, then we have no designation for the amount of time that it took. Now I do want to take a moment to say that when we talk about the creation week a lot of discussion goes on the idea of whether or not the word translated for day means an epoch of time. While this is obviously a beneficial discussion, and obviously plausible, I think the focus is placed too highly on this understanding.
I have to mention that in Hebrew the definite article, which it does have, is not used for the first 5 days. The Hebrew word ‘ha’ is the definite article, however it is only used in reference to day 6 and 7. This means that the first five days are not to be thought in terms of "the first day” but more precisely as “day one.” It is only day 6 and 7 that have a definite article applied to it. The only question I have regarding this is whether we go from “the sixth day” closing, and immediately into the 7th day of God’s rest, or if we still have an indefinite period of time between the 6th and 7th day.
Now this is hugely significant because what this is saying is that we're not looking at successive 24 hour days but at creation days where God injected new levels information into creation. What’s fascinating is that micro-evolutionary processes could be the outworking of each creation day, so long as they are separated by long periods of time. We could consider it the settling and assimilation of each new piece of information. Everything from geology, biology, chemistry, etc. have an explanation in regards to Genesis, that is both Biblically tenable and scientifically sound. This becomes, not an unguided process, but a process by which God gradually introduces new complexity into the system. Just as we need processing and assimilation time when we learn something new, we could conceive of the world needing to take time to assimilate what God has introduced as well.
One side not here is that we can remove the long passage of time between the days of creation, and make them the actually days of creation without muddling with the previous points much. What we would be doing is taking, lets say for example, 1 billion years and instead of it being between each 24 “day”, we would make each day 1 billion years. In that case it just becomes a matter of whether we want to think that God injected new information and let it unravel, or whether he took His time to slowly fashion it like a potter. Either way, the issue here is where the time is placed, not that time is in itself placed at all.
To Create or to Fashion
Another element to address are the Hebrew words ‘bara’ and ‘asah’ in regards to this narrative. In Hebrew the word ‘bara’ means to create from nothing, or create something new. This is consistent with our concept of ex nihilo, as this is God making the first move to make something never made before. Something brand new. I don’t have time to get deeply into this. I would merely like to mention that nothing never creates anything. If nothing is what rocks think about, then we see the dilemma. If nothing (no thing) exists, that means no laws, no matter, no quantum physics. Literally nothing. If God is the uncaused first cause of the universe, and existed at any point with no universe, he would have to create, from His own power, everything. This is consistent with Genesis 1:1.
Where we run into something different is with the word ‘asah’, as it means to fashion. The entire creation week is not part of the creation process, as that already happened in Genesis 1:1, but in the fashioning, or preparation, for human life. If God is fashioning something, and not creating something, that must mean that it was already created in the first place. This seems to be a silly point to make but I believe it is quite important. This means that the creation weak is not the creation ex nihilo that young earth creationist may suggest, but it is the beautiful preparation of the earth for sentient life.
As I bring this to a close, I want to say that this information is in no way exhaustive or terribly comprehensive. It is meant provide a basic model, albeit my own basic model, of how I view the creation narrative. We could apply on top of what we have spoken about here a temple creation model that is supported by John Walton and N.T. Wright, especially when we consider that the creation of a house functions similarly. When we read this text of Genesis 1 we should always realize that it is more complicated and intricate than we may initially give it credit for.
What I would encourage you to do is study the material in the original language, from both young earth creationist and old earth creationists. If all we do is read from our own camp, and in a translated language, we will inevitably miss the vastness of the creation narrative. God may put into place potentialities or he may do the ground floor work the whole way. But at least we can say this, if anything about modern science, reality, and observation is true then we can safely say that God created a universe that is rationally intelligible from the top down. Indeed, it is.
Editor's Note: This post is a part of the larger Torrey Gazette's "Creation Week." Multiple opinions are being expressed throughout the week and reader participation is encouraged.