Why how and when did God create the universe Explanation And Scriptural Basis1

How did God create the world? Did he create every different kind of plant and animal directly, or did he use some kind of evolutionary process, guiding the development of living things from the simplest to the most complex? And how quickly did God bring about creation? Was it all completed within six twenty-four-hour days, or did he use thousands or perhaps millions of years? How old is the earth, and how old is the human race?

These questions face us when we deal with the doctrine of creation. Unlike most of the earlier material in this book, this chapter treats several questions on which evangelical Christians have differing viewpoints, sometimes very strongly held ones.

This chapter is organized to move from those aspects of creation that are most clearly taught in Scripture, and on which almost all evangelicals would agree (creation out of nothing, special creation of Adam and Eve, and the goodness of the universe), to other aspects of creation about which evangelicals have had disagreements (whether God used a process of evolution to bring about much of creation, and how old the earth and the human race are).

We may define the doctrine of creation as follows: God created the entire universe out of nothing; it was originally very good; and he created it to glorify himself.

A. God Created the Universe Out of Nothing 1. Biblical Evidence for Creation Out of Nothing. The Bible clearly requires us to believe that God created the universe out of nothing. (Sometimes the Latin phrase ex nihilo "out of nothing" is used; it is then said that the Bible teaches creation ex nihilo) This means that before God began to create the universe, nothing else existed except God himself.2

This is the implication of Genesis 1:1, which says, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The phrase "the heavens and the earth" includes the entire universe. Psalm 33 also tells us, "By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and all their host by the breath of his mouth For he spoke, and it came to be; he

1 1. I am grateful for many helpful comments on this chapter made by friends with specialized knowledge about some aspects of it, especially Steve Figard, Doug Brandt, and Terry Mortenson.

2 2. When we say that the universe was created "out of nothing," it is important to guard against a possible misunderstanding. The word nothing does not imply some kind of existence, as some philosophers have taken it to mean. We mean rather that God did not use any previously existing materials when he created the universe.

commanded, and it stood forth" (Ps. 33:6, 9). In the New Testament, we find a universal statement at the beginning of John's gospel: "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3). The phrase "all things" is best taken to refer to the entire universe (cf. Acts 17:24; Heb. 11:3). Paul is quite explicit in Colossians 1 when he specifies all the parts of the universe, both visible and invisible things: "For in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him" (Col. 1:16). The song of the twenty-four elders in heaven likewise affirms this truth: "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things and by your will they existed and were created." (Rev. 4:11)

In the last phrase God's will is said to be the reason why things even "existed" at all and why they "were created."

That God created both the heavens and the earth and everything in them is affirmed several other times in the New Testament. For instance, Acts 4:24 speaks of God as the "Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them." One of the first ways of identifying God is to say that he is the one who created all things. Barnabas and Paul explain to the pagan audience at Lystra that they are messengers of "a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them" (Acts 14:15). Similarly, when Paul is speaking to pagan Greek philosophers in Athens, he identifies the true God as "The God who made the world and everything in it" and says that this God "gives to all men life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:24-25; cf. Isa. 45:18; Rev. 10:6).

Hebrews 11:3 says, "By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible" (NASB). This translation (as well as the NIV) most accurately reflects the Greek text.3 Though the text does not quite teach the doctrine of creation out of nothing, it comes close to doing so, since it says that God did not create the universe out of anything that is visible. The somewhat strange idea that the universe might have been created out of something that was invisible is probably not in the author's mind. He is contradicting the idea of creation out of previously existing matter, and for that purpose the verse is quite clear.

Romans 4:17 also implies that God created out of nothing, even if it does not exactly state it. The Greek text literally speaks of God as one who "calls things not existing as existing." The RSV translation, "calls into existence the things that do not

NASB nasb—New American Standard Bible NIV niv—New International Version

3 3. The RSV translation ("so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear") apparently affirms that God made the universe out of invisible matter of some sort, but the word order of the Greek text (^ ¿k ^aivo^evwv) shows that the word "not" negates the phrase "out of appearing things." The RSV translation reads as if the word "not" negated the participle "appearing," but it would need to appear immediately before it in order to do that. See discussion in Philip Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977), pp. 443-52.

RSV rsv—Revised Standard Version exist" (similarly NASB) is unusual but possible grammatically,4 and it makes an explicit affirmation of creation out of nothing. Yet even if we translate it so that the Greek word wq takes its common sense "as," the verse says that God "calls the things which do not exist as existing" (NASB mg.). But if God speaks to or calls something that does not exist, as if in fact it did exist, then what is implied? If he calls things that do not exist as though they existed, it must mean that they will soon exist, irresistibly called into existence.

Because God created the entire universe out of nothing there is no matter in the universe that is eternal. All that we see—the mountains, the oceans, the stars, the earth itself—all came into existence when God created them. There was a time when they did not exist: "Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." (Ps. 90:2)

This reminds us that God rules over all the universe and that nothing in creation is to be worshiped instead of God or in addition to him. However, were we to deny creation out of nothing, we would have to say that some matter has always existed and that it is eternal like God. This idea would challenge God's independence, his sovereignty, and the fact that worship is due to him alone: if matter existed apart from God, then what inherent right would God have to rule over it and use it for his glory? And what confidence could we have that every aspect of the universe will ultimately fulfill God's purposes, if some parts of it were not created by him?

The positive side of the fact that God created the universe out of nothing is that it has meaning and a purpose. God, in his wisdom, created it for something. We should try to understand that purpose and use creation in ways that fit that purpose, namely, to bring glory to God himself.5 Moreover, whenever the creation brings us joy (cf. 1 Tim. 6:17), we should give thanks to the God who made it all. 2. The Creation of the Spiritual Universe. This creation of the entire universe includes the creation of an unseen, spiritual realm of existence: God created the angels and other kinds of heavenly beings as well as animals and man. He also created heaven as a place where his presence is especially evident. The creation of the spiritual realm is certainly implied in all the verses above that speak of God creating not only the earth but also "heaven and what is in it" (Rev. 10:6; cf. Acts 4:24), but it is also explicitly affirmed in a number of other verses. The prayer of Ezra says very clearly: "You are the Lord, you alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them; and you preserve all of them; and the host of heaven worships you" (Neh. 9:6). The "host of heaven" in this verse seems to refer to the angels and other heavenly creatures, since Ezra says that they engage in the activity of worshiping God (the same term host is used to speak of angels who worship God in Ps. 103:21 and 148:2).6

4 4. See C.E.B. Cranfield, A Critical andExegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans ICC, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1975), p. 244: Greek wq (G6055) as expressing consequence.

mg mg.—margin or marginal notes

5 5. See section C below (pp. 271-72) on God's purpose for creation.

6 6. The word translated "host" (Heb. , H7372) is sometimes used to refer to the planets and stars (Deut. 4:19; Isa. 34:4; 40:26), but none of the examples cited in BDB, p. 839 (1.c) speak of the stars worshiping God, and most speak of the heavenly

In the New Testament, Paul specifies that in Christ "all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities—all things were created through him and for him" (Col. 1:16; cf. Ps. 148:2-5). Here the creation of invisible heavenly beings is also explicitly affirmed.

3. The Direct Creation of Adam and Eve. The Bible also teaches that God created Adam and Eve in a special, personal way. "The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" (Gen. 2:7). After that, God created Eve from Adam's body: "So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man" (Gen. 2:21-22). God apparently let Adam know something of what had happened, for Adam said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." (Gen. 2:23)

As we shall see below, Christians differ on the extent to which evolutionary developments may have occurred after creation, perhaps (according to some) leading to the development of more and more complex organisms. While there are sincerely held differences on that question among some Christians with respect to the plant and animal kingdoms, these texts are so explicit that it would be very difficult for someone to hold to the complete truthfulness of Scripture and still hold that human beings are the result of a long evolutionary process. This is because when Scripture says that the Lord "formed man of dust from the ground" (Gen. 2:7), it does not seem possible to understand that to mean that he did it over a process that took millions of years and employed the random development of thousands of increasingly complex organisms.7 Even more impossible to reconcile with an evolutionary view is the fact that this narrative clearly portrays Eve as having no female parent: she was created directly from Adam's rib while Adam slept (Gen. 2:21). But on a purely evolutionary view, this would not be possible, for even the very first female "human being" would have been descended from some nearly human creature that was still an animal. The New Testament reaffirms the historicity of this special creation of Eve from Adam when Paul says, "For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man" (1 Cor. 11:8-9).

The special creation of Adam and Eve shows that, though we may be like animals in many respects in our physical bodies, nonetheless we are very different from animals. We are created "in God's image," the pinnacle of God's creation, more like God than any other creature, appointed to rule over the rest of creation. Even the brevity of the Genesis account of creation places a wonderful emphasis on the importance of man in distinction from the rest of the universe. It thus resists modern bodies as "the host of heaven" who are wrongly worshiped by pagans (Deut. 17:3; 2 Kings 17:16; 21:3; Jer. 8:2; et al.).

7 7. In spite of this explicit statement in Gen. 2:7, Derek Kidner (who holds a view of the truthfulness of Scripture compatible with that advocated in this book), does advocate the possibility of evolutionary development of a long line of pre-Adamite creatures into one of whom God finally "breathed human life" (Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary TOTC [London and Chicago: InterVarsity Press, 1967], p. 28). But he then affirms a special creation of Eve (p. 29).

tendencies to see man as meaningless against the immensity of the universe. Derek Kidner notes that Scripture stands against every tendency to empty human history of meaning in presenting the tremendous acts of creation as a mere curtain-raiser to the drama that slowly unfolds throughout the length of the Bible. The prologue is over in a page; there are a thousand to follow. By contrast, Kidner notes that the modern scientific account of the universe, true though it may be, overwhelms us with statistics that reduce our apparent significance to a vanishing-point. Not the prologue, but the human story itself, is now the single page in a thousand, and the whole terrestrial volume is lost among uncataloged millions.8

Scripture gives us the perspective on human significance that God intends us to have. (This fact will be discussed in more detail in chapter 21, below.)

4. The Creation of Time. One other aspect of God's creation is the creation of time (the succession of moments one after another). This idea was discussed with respect to God's attribute of eternity in chapter 11,9 and we need only summarize it here. When we speak of God's existence "before" the creation of the world, we should not think of God as existing in an unending extension of time. Rather, God's eternity means that he has a different kind of existence, an existence without the passage of time, a kind of existence that is difficult for us even to imagine. (See Job 36:26; Ps. 90:2, 4; John 8:58; 2 Peter 3:8; Rev. 1:8). The fact that God created time reminds us of his lordship over it and our obligation to use it for his glory.

5. The Work of the Son and of the Holy Spirit in Creation. God the Father was the primary agent in initiating the act of creation. But the Son and the Holy Spirit were also active. The Son is often described as the one "through" whom creation came about. "All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:3). Paul says there is "one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist" (1 Cor. 8:6), and, "all things were created through him and for him" (Col. 1:16). We read also that the Son is the one "through whom" God "created the world" (Heb. 1:2). These passages give a consistent picture of the Son as the active agent carrying out the plans and directions of the Father.

The Holy Spirit was also at work in creation. He is generally pictured as completing, filling, and giving life to God's creation. In Genesis 1:2, "the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters," indicating a preserving, sustaining, governing function. Job says, "The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life" (Job 33:4). In a number of Old Testament passages, it is important to realize that the same Hebrew word (H-H, H8120) can mean, in different contexts, "spirit," or "breath," or "wind." But in many cases there is not much difference in meaning, for even if one decided to translate some phrases as the "breath of God" or even the "wind of God," it would still seem to be a figurative way of referring to the activity of the Holy Spirit in creation. So the psalmist, in speaking of the great variety of creatures on the earth and in the sea, says, "When you send forth your Spirit, they are created" (Ps. 104:30; note also, on the Holy Spirit's work, Job 26:13; Isa. 40:13; 1 Cor. 2:10). However, the testimony of Scripture to the specific activity of the Holy Spirit in creation is scarce. The work of the Holy Spirit is brought into much greater prominence in connection with the inspiring of the authors of Scripture and the applying of Christ's redemptive work to the people of God.10

10 10. See chapter 30, pp. 637-56, on the work of the Holy Spirit.

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